September 2010 SaskSecrets

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Welcome! You are viewing an archived issue of SaskSecrets, Tourism Saskatchewan's Online Newsletter, from September 2010. To read the current issue of SaskSecrets, click here.

Saskatchewan’s Mysterious, Ancient Bog World 

A national park features odd areas known to compel human sacrifice and create magic

By Carol Perehudoff, Travel Reporter

Most people don’t travel to Prince Albert National Park, 230 km north of Saskatoon, for the bogs. They come for the camping, the fishing and the cool blue lakes splashed throughout the boreal forest. Home to bison, bear, lynx and wolves, the 3,800-square-km park has vast tracks of wilderness. Its heart, however, is Waskesiu, a lively lakeside resort town with hotels, cafés and beachside activities.

Prince Albert National ParkBut give the bogs their due. Today they’re recognized as important carbon sinks, sucking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it, yet throughout history they’ve been seen as places of mystery, inhabiting a realm midway between water and land. The green sphagnum moss that covers the ground may look solid but it can be deceptive, a rug over water. During the Iron Age, northern Europeans considered them places of magic and power. Offerings, even human sacrifices, were made. 

They’re also a world where time stands still. Bog water, cold and acidic with very little oxygen can preserve the skin, hair and nails of a corpse for millennia.

Curious, I sign up for a tour with a park guide. Once inside, we’re surrounded by the silvery trunks of black spruce. Green glowing moss coats the ground, blurring hard edges and draping the forest in a soft mystical atmosphere.

The more I learn, the more I appreciate the tour and when Colleen, our Parks Canada nature guide, asks for a volunteer to stick her arm into a bog hole with a thermometer I raise my hand.

Lying flat over the boardwalk, I plunge my hand through a hole barely visible through a grassy covering. Underneath, the peat-black water feels icy and bottomless, but surprisingly clean and muck-free. It’s eerie, like reaching into prehistory. Irrationally I’m convinced my fingers will touch on a relic, an arrowhead or a knife, or even a body. After all, First Nations history in the area dates more than 8,000 years. 

Instead, my fingers go numb. The cold squeezes my arm, a suffocating pressure. Suddenly nervous, I pull free. The thermometer reads 2C degrees. No matter how hot the summer temperatures, Colleen explains, the bog always stays cold.

“Everyone feel her arm,” she says. 

The group crowds around, touching cold flesh as if it’s part of the bog itself. I haven’t found an artifact, I realize. I’ve become one.

This story originally appeared in the Toronto Star, August 4, 2010. This article has been edited for space. To read the entire article, click here. Carol Perehudoff's blog is wanderingcarol.com. Photo by Carol Perehudoff/For The Toronto Star.