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Exploring Alberta’s First Métis Cultural Site


Perhaps the No. 1 reason to visit Métis Crossing is to have the chance to glimpse the white bison, a sacred and rare species. (Garrett Iverson photo)

The undisturbed snow glistened like a blanket of pearls in the afternoon sun as I gazed out at the farm fields and made the final turn off the main highway to Albertas first Métis cultural site. You get a sense of the vastness of the Alberta prairies during the 120-kilometre (75-mile) drive from Edmonton to Métis Crossing. Built on the original river lots of Métis settlers to this region, the beautiful cultural gathering centre, historic buildings, and new guest lodge are somewhat isolated, but that is part of the appeal. The site was conceived and built by Métis people to tell their story in a place that has long been their home.  

After we settled into our cozy room in the 40-room lodge, my partner, Garrett, and I took a short tour of the building. Set to officially open this month, we were some of the first guests to experience the lodge, which contains both traditional and modern elements of Métis culture. Rooms are comfortable and spacious. A two-storey stone fireplace, a giant outdoor deck overlooking the North Saskatchewan River, a homey coffee bistro, and an upstairs cocktail lounge make the lodge a perfect place to unwind and recharge after a day spent learning and exploring. 

We ventured next door to the spacious cultural gathering centre, where we spent a few minutes soaking in the architecture and the Indigenous artwork. Though the building is large and modern, it hints at the traditional style of the fur trade era and was designed by a Métis architect. A large stone fireplace sits in the middle of the building and provides a comfortable space for small groups. 

Metis Crossing-exterior

The Métis Crossing’s gathering centre rises out of the snowy ground in the traditional style of the Indigenous groups of Alberta. (Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada)

As we geared up for a tour of the new wildlife park, we were introduced to Lilyrose Meyers, the elder and knowledge holder at Métis Crossing. She joined us on the tour and informed that the wildlife park, which officially opened in September, saw the return of bison to a place where the species had been extinct since 1865. 

“Vision, Hopes and Dreams at Métis Crossing” was a partnership with Len Hrehorets, a non-Indigenous area rancher. The partnership was an important step towards reconciliation because Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners worked together to bring the species back to the land. 

Our tour was led by Hrehorets and we all piled into a truck with tires that looked like they could get us through the worst Canadian snowstorm. Hrehorets explained that the park contains wood bison, plains, bison, white bison, elk, white elk, and Percheron horses. Our first stop was a field containing some of the biggest horses I had ever seen. The friendly Percheron horses came right up to the truck and peered their black manes into the open windows of the vehicle, as if to say hello. As we admired the beauty of the heritage equines, Hrehorets explained that one of the amazing things about the “Vision, Hopes, and Dreams” wildlife park is the differences each season brings. He also let us know that many of the female animals are expecting babies in the spring, adding another reason to visit this year. (Métis Crossing is ranked No. 15 on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2022.) 


Explore the beautiful river valley in winter by snowshoe or on cross-country skis at Métis Crossing. (Garrett Iverson photo)

Our next stop was a bison field. As we made our way up a steep snow-covered hill, it was very apparent why we needed a heavy-duty truck. At the top of the hill, we caught our first glimpse of the animals.  

The bison will come within a few feet of us if we play country music,” Hrehorets stated as he turned up the radio. Slowly, he drove us closer to the bison, windows down so they could hear the music. The herd of plains bison curiously perked up and allowed us to get incredibly close before they jogged in unison to the other side of the large field. 

MORE INDIGENOUS: Culture Benefits Tourism

As we continued into the next pasture, a herd of white bison could be viewed across the field. Meyers explained that white bison are extremely rare and considered to be sacred by some Indigenous groups. Surprisingly, this herd allowed us to get within a few metres of them without running away. As we soaked in this once-in-a-lifetime closeness, Meyers shared historical experiences such as the bison hunt that brought thousands of Métis people together. She emphasized the significance of the return of bison to Métis Crossing. Emotion was in her voice as she spoke about the animals and how they shaped Métis culture. Her words were so passionate I felt myself getting emotional too.

We concluded the tour with a drive through the elk, white elk, and wood bison pastures. Upon arriving back at the cultural gathering centre, Garrett and I sat down around the cozy stone fireplace to learn more about Métis history. Meyers shared some of her own experiences growing up Métis and showed us many traditional artifacts such as the hide used to make clothing, moccasins, the traditional Métis sash, and various tools. 


Visitors to Métis Crossing have the chance to experience ways of life in centuries past, including trying their hand with a cross-cut saw. (Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada)

We enjoyed a traditional bison stew with bannock for dinner, had a peaceful night in the lodge, and a hearty breakfast the next morning. On our second day, we enjoyed the snowshoe trails, cross-country ski trails, and the sledding hill. 

I grew up knowing that I was Métis, but I have only just begun exploring my Métis heritage and learning about the culture. Métis Crossing was a good place to start. When I spoke with Meyers about it her eyes lit up when she said, This is just the beginning of your journey — youve got an exciting time ahead of you.” As I left Métis Crossing, I knew she was right. 



A cozy bed awaits you in the brand new guest lodge at Métis Crossing. (Kelsey Olsen photo for Vacay.ca)

Location: 17339 Victoria Trail, Smoky Lake, Alberta (see map below)
Website: metiscrossing.com
Getting There: Métis Crossing is located 1.5 hours northeast of Edmonton and 10 minutes South of Smoky Lake on the Victoria Trail. Métis Crossing is a place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to learn about the fascinating culture and history of the Métis Nation, one of the recognized Indigenous Peoples of Canada. It is open year-round.
Rates: Daily general admission is $15.75 for adults. For children (aged 5-17) and seniors (aged 65+) general admission is $10.50. Snowshoes are available for rental. (Adult pricing: $25 full-day, $15 per half-day. Youth pricing: $20 full-day, $12 half-day.)
Notable COVID-19 Protocols: Métis Crossing follows all of the guidelines related to COVID-19 outlined by the Government of Alberta and the Métis Nation of Alberta.