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New Elk Island Visitor Information Centre unveiled ahead of busy summer season

Officials unveil the new Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre at Elk Island National Park.
Officials unveil the new Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre at Elk Island National Park. Global News

Dozens gathered for a grand opening celebration in Elk Island National Park Saturday for the official unveiling of the park’s new visitor information centre.

A massive renovation on the decades-old facility was recently completed, thanks in part to a grant from the federal government.

“There’s a focus on Indigenous culture and Indigenous traditions and an involvement in the design,” said Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources, describing the facility.

READ MORE: Attendance down at almost every national park in Alberta, but it isn’t all bad news

The new facility includes more interpretive displays, along with a detailed history of the area before the park was created.

Indigenous history is highlighted at the new Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre.
Indigenous history is highlighted at the new Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre. Global News

The renovation also included structural upgrades along with a new Cree name, Wahkotowin, which means kinship.

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Indigenous elders performed a traditional blessing at the new centre.

A signature feature of the new centre is a traditional bison-hide star blanket, created by the women at the Edmonton Institution for Women.

WATCH: First Nations students successfully petition B.C. government for provincial park name change

First Nations’ students successfully petition B.C. government for provincial park name change
First Nations’ students successfully petition B.C. government for provincial park name change
“We use them [star blankets] to remember our history and acknowledge where we come from,” said Bonny Spencer who created the blanket.

“We tell the story of the place before settlement and Indigenous history,” said park superintendent Dale Kirkland.

“The new centre provides a wonderful sense of arrival to the park,” Kirkland added. “It’s going to tell the story of the park and help visitors find their way through the park.” We have a lot of information here that will help visitors made their trip here even more memorable.”

Meanwhile, attendance was down at nearly every national park in Alberta in 2018, including at Elk Island, according to numbers collected by Alberta Tourism.

There was a two per cent decrease at Banff National Park, a 29 per cent decrease at Elk Island National Park, a 31 per cent decrease at Waterton Lakes National Park and a 39 per cent decrease at Wood Buffalo National Park.

There was no change in attendance at Jasper National Park this year, compared to 2017.

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READ MORE: Canada 150 by the numbers: 87% of Canadians participated in at least one event

In 2017, admission to national parks across the country was waived for all visitors as part of the Canada 150 celebrations, prompting enormous interest from visitors. Parks Canada has since announced that the fee is permanently waived for children, though adults will still have to pay.

The new Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre and gift shop is located at the main park gate off Highway 16 and is open daily from May 17 to October 13th.