National Park ‘bear aware’ for Canada Day

Veronica Kmiech shows off the bear costume used in the Parks Canada float at Waskesiu’s Canada Day parade. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

While last year’s Canada Day festivities at Prince Albert National Park had a celebratory feel to mark the nation’s 150th birthday, this year, park staff took a more educational tone.

The annual parade, a cornerstone of the national park’s Canada Day celebrations, featured a few different approaches for floats, including the national park’s own Bear Smart theme.

That theme was dreamed up by the park’s interpretive staff as a way to raise awareness about a pair of new programs designed to teach newcomers and kids the respectful way to treat the national park’s wild animals.

‘We have different programs here at Prince Albert National Park, and a few of the programs aim at telling visitors how to be a good visitor,” said Cree Longjohn, one of the interpretive staff members.

“One of the programs we have is the ‘Be Bear Aware’ program, and it explores the world of the black bear. It tells of proper camping etiquette, bear park management and what to do if the visitor meets a bear on the trail.”

The other new program is a puppet play where people can learn more about protecting themselves and the animals in the park, straight from the mouths of the animals themselves

“We have a number of different animal puppets and they interact with each other, having conversations and discussions about what they like that visitors do, and something that visitors do that have freaked them out or made them ill,” said Veronica Kmiech.

“It’s all about educating people on how best to interact with animals, because there are a lot of amazing wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and we want to make sure that goes well for the people and the animals.”

To promote those programs, and to show people what not to do, the interpretive staff set up a mock campsite on the back of their float, with coolers and cooking equipment left out. One of the team dressed as a bear and went through the campsite, as the campers nearby looked on, horrified.

“The bear will have found this campsite because there are some things left out that it likes,” Kmiech said.

“In previous years, we’ve had musical performances on the float. But given that we have an increase in animal conflict programming, we thought it would be a neat idea to promote those programs on the float as well by doing a bear aware theme for the float too.”

The national park float was not, of course, the only entry into the parade. Other highlights included a bike parade, a pipe and drums band and a kayak towed by a Fresh Air Experience van. Other interesting ideas were on display too, such as the grocery store handing out heads of lettuce.

While the weather wasn’t as warm and sunny as the week leading up to the celebrations, it was clear from the photos that the rain didn’t stop people from coming out to enjoy the parade.

In addition to the parade, the Waskesiu celebration had a volleyball tournament, bike decorating, a giant cake made out of cupcakes, and a beer garden with entertainment by Prince Albert bands All Mighty Voice and Flashback.

After a slower May Long Weekend, the Waskesiu community was looking forward to an expected busy kick-off to the summer.

“It should be a good day,” said Lisa Rowe, chamber of commerce administrator during an interview Saturday.

“This will be our first big weekend of the year, so we’re all geared up and really looking forward to a successful weekend.”