The Waskesiu Foundation is an outstanding example of how a community has created a volunteer-run, registered charity to partner with Parks Canada Agency and other community groups to enhance the visitor experience in Prince Albert National Park.
National Parks and Historic Sites have played an important role in Canada almost since the founding of the nation. Parks Canada’s Briefing Book describes the agency as "inviting guests from Canada and abroad to visit our nation's family of protected places and enjoy moments of discovery, learning, recreation and reflection." Since its establishment in 1928, Prince Albert National Park, located 200 kilometres north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has attracted many loyal visitors. Currently, visitors number over 200,000 per year. The Park has been appropriately called "Saskatchewan's Playground" by historian Bill Waiser, the first stop usually being Waskesiu townsite where Park Headquarters is located. Yet visitors can leave Waskesiu and within minutes be in the 3,874 square kilometres of pristine boreal forest. Over the years, many local bodies have stepped up to assist in promotion and preservation of parks, including the Friends of Prince Albert National Park in 1983, which still operates a bookstore in Waskesiu. Members of the active and mainly summer community saw the need for more cooperative initiatives on park matters. Thus, gradually came into being the registered charity known as The Waskesiu Foundation Inc.
The Waskesiu Foundation Inc. was originally founded as a charitable organization in 1999 as The Waskesiu Townsite Enhancement Society Inc. (WTESI) and its first activity was to improve the local tennis courts. By 2001, the widespread effects of a particularly severe outbreak of spruce budworm posed a threat to the white spruce trees in Waskesiu. The community made an agreement to pay for two-thirds of the cost to protect the trees within the townsite in an environmentally-sound manner, with Parks Canada paying the other third. The WTESI terms of reference, objects, and bylaws were revised to include an environmental component and the name was revised to The Waskesiu Foundation Inc. "After the community successfully rallied behind the spruce budworm tree protection program, I realized The Waskesiu Foundation could do more - much more," said Don Ravis, who at the time was the Chair of The Waskesiu Community Council and a Director on the Board of the Foundation.
The Foundation at work
The mission of the Waskesiu Foundation is to provide financial support for recreational, social, cultural and environmental activities that enhance the Waskesiu experience for visitors. Since inception, it has raised and invested over $2 million in Waskesiu and area in partnership not only with Parks Canada, but also with other community organizations. Many upgrades and signage placements are in evidence at heritage buildings including the Community Hall, Recreation Building and the former dance hall called Terrace Gardens. Other cultural projects have included refurbishing the former bandstand site, and working with the Waskesiu Heritage Museum on heritage publications as well as building a replica of an outdoor log kitchen. The Foundation partnered with Friends of Prince Albert National Park to create Grey Owl's Beaver Lodge Display, a furnished interior replica of Grey Owl’s cabin. Support has also been given to cultural events such as the Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival and the Reel Rave International Film Festival.
Various environmental projects have been supported, including reforestation with the Waskesiu Community Council, native plant and flower gardens with the Friends of Prince Albert National Park, and enhancement of the firefighting equipment available to the volunteer fire fighters. In 2013, the Foundation partnered with the Lobstick Golf Club to replace the iconic Lobstick tree that stood in the middle of the first fairway. It had been there since the course opened in 1929 but had reached the end of its natural life.
Other projects include a network of 100 benches which are erected in memory of specific community members, a disc golf course and hiking trail improvements. A series of camp kitchens for day-use picnickers has been refurbished or rebuilt in the townsite and picnic sites surrounding the lake. "It's the strong community support and a willing Park administration that allow the Waskesiu Foundation to complete a significant project like the Bears on the Beach playground," says Derwin Arnstead, Chair of the Waskesiu Foundation. The striking, nature-themed playground is centrally located on the main beach and features a life-sized mother bear with cubs as well as a two-storey climbing tree.
The great advantage of the independent nature of the Foundation is that it can be nimble - entering into agreements easily and quickly with the Park Superintendent, who is in the happy position to clear policy issues quickly, on his own authority. The Waskesiu Foundation's projects are coordinated with the community's Vision 2020 Action Plan which helps guide the future planning process. Facilitated by the Waskesiu Community Council, the Vision 2020 Action Plan was developed with public consultation and with the Park Superintendent. It is consistent with, and a supplement to, the Park's Community Plan and Management Plan. The Foundation brings supplementary funds to projects which then need not be supported fully from federal funds. The Park budget is both leveraged and freed up to concentrate on other operational and capital programs. The Foundation has recently launched an endowment fund and a planned giving program to continue its funding sources into the future.
Donors make it possible
Donor recognition is key. "We can't forget our donors. It is only because of their generosity that the Foundation is able to do anything," says Derwin Arnstead. The Foundation has a kiosk on the main beach that recognizes every donor and their cumulative donations. The Foundation keeps in communication with newsletters, Twitter, Facebook and makes it easy to donate on a new website at waskesiufoundation.ca. Each July, donors are invited to a popular donor recognition and fundraising dinner in the Community Hall.
Parks Canada CEO visit
The community is not shy about celebrating its success. In August 2016, the Waskesiu Community Council and Park Superintendent David Britton invited Parks Canada's CEO, Daniel Watson, to visit Waskesiu and meet with community leaders. "We were proud to show the Waskesiu Foundation's success to Daniel Watson and suggested it is a successful partnership that could, and arguably should, be duplicated in other Parks," says Jim Kerby, Chair of the Waskesiu Community Council and Past Chair of the Waskesiu Foundation.
(L to R) Daniel Watson, CEO of Parks Canada, with Derwin Arnstead, Chair of the Waskesiu Foundation and Jim Kerby, Chair of the Waskesiu Community Council at Bears on the Beach playground.
The replica of the interior of Grey Owl’s cabin where he lived with his beavers, Jelly Roll and Rawhide. Note the branches in the foreground which are an extension of the beavers’ lodge which allowed them access to both the cabin and to Lake Ajawaan.
The Bears on the Beach playground was built by 60 community volunteers over a three day period with Parks Canada providing construction equipment and operators.
Terrace Gardens is a heritage building where the Foundation has upgraded the floor, kitchen, and washrooms so it can be used for meetings and other events.
The Waskesiu Foundation’s Annual Donor Recognition and Fundraising Dinner is held at the historic Community Hall.
Waskesiu Foundation - Enhancing the Waskesiu Experience
Community members posing for a last photo with the original Lobstick tree before it was replaced.
Credit: Lobstick Golf Club
Community volunteers with the new camp kitchen they built at South Bay picnic site.
Memorial Bench by Waskesiu Lake.
A registered charity supporting recreational, social, cultural and environmental activities that enhance the Waskesiu experience