Exploring Wood Buffalo National Park and Fort Smith
With a total area of about 45,000 square kilometers, Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada, spanning the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. A World Heritage Site, this vast conservation area extends across one of the world's largest inland deltas (the Athabasca-Peace River Delta), an immense wilderness of dried-out salt plains, and a wild landscape dotted with lakes and swamps. It is habitat for numerous, now-rare species of wildlife, including wood buffalo and whooping cranes.
The Park was established in 1922 with the purpose of saving from extinction the last free-roaming herds of wood buffalo. Today, thousands of these animals graze the park, together with moose, black bear, caribou, beaver, and a great variety of smaller mammals. Huge flocks of migratory birds visit the Athabasca-Peace River Delta on their annual pilgrimage south. Every year, whooping cranes arrive from Texas to breed and rear their young. Wood Buffalo National Park is one of the last, if not the very last refuge for this extremely rare species of crane, now in desperate need of protection. Near the Slave River rapids, white pelicans breed and feed from the park's many lakes.
Fort Smith evolved from a one-time fur-trading post on the Mackenzie River route, to a multicultural community in the far north of Canada. From 1911 to 1967, it was the administrative capital of the Northwest Territories, a role later assumed by Yellowknife. A number of NWT government departments are still located in Fort Smith, and the town's schools and training colleges have a national reputation. The Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith concentrates on the human history of the region, and has an Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Exhibits include everyday First Nations and Inuit artifacts and handiwork, photographs and other documents relating to the pioneering days and early settlers, and detailed craftwork.