Archaeological evidence suggests Indigenous people settled on the Canadian Prairies around 11,500 years ago. Indigenous oral history tells that they have been caretakers of the region since time immemorial, living off the land and following the migratory path of the bison across the Prairies. The survival of the Indigenous people depended on the bison—food, clothing, tools, shelter, and later, trade, were all derived from this animal.

Today, out on the grassy, open terrain of FortWhyte Alive, guided tours take visitors to five lakes, through forest, wetlands and prairie landscape populated by a 30-strong herd of plains bison. A more-than-250-hectare environmental, education and recreation centre, the attraction is located 20 minutes southwest of downtown, within Winnipeg’s city limits.

On a blustery day, the bison huddle together, facing the wind with heads down and eyes closed. “While most other species turn their backs to inclement weather, this hardy creature, the largest land animal in North America, is like a motivational poster for facing adversity head on,” says Kalyn Murdock, the centre’s tourism and events coordinator. This resilience and strength is echoed by those who first hunted it. “The bison grow thick, incredibly insulating furs in the winter that help protect them from the wind and the cold and the most insulated part of their body is their heads,” adds Murdock.

Featuring a network of self-guided trails, the centre offers a Bison Safari that ferries private groups of up to 10 visitors deep into the prairie on a passenger bus (visit the website to learn about sanitizing procedures and mask requirements). Click here for a full list of current tours and activities offered at the centre.

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated.