Spotting an elk on the side of the road while visiting Kalyna Country is not a common occurrence, unless you happen to be driving through Elk Island National Park. Just 48 kilometers east of Edmonton, this beautiful sanctuary is home to nearly 1,800 elk, which are kept in good company by the large population of bison, deer, and moose.
The park was established in 1906 to preserve a herd of about 20 native elk that roamed the area. Eventually, the sanctuary became home to an elk population that is larger than that of Jasper. Originally, the park was called the “Cooking Lake Forest Reserve”, but in 1913 the name was changed to “Elk Island National Park” to better represent the abundance of elk inhabiting the area. The town of Elk Point, located in the northeastern corner of Kalyna Country, was not given this name because of the elk that inhabited the area, but because a man from Elk Point, Wisconsin, discovered the natural beauty of the area and decided to name it after his home town. In an attempt to escape his drinking problem, he drifted down the North Saskatchewan River from Vegreville to what is now known as Elk Point, Alberta. There were no actual elk inhabiting the area at that time.
The American elk (Cervus elaphus) is the largest-bodied and most vocal member of the deer family. Also known as red deer or wapiti (Shawnee Indian for “white rump”), the elk prefers to keep a low profile, although you can often catch them grazing in forest clearings. Their distinct bugling and coughing is a sure sign that rutting season is in full swing. This is when the elk are most irritable, and it is important that they never be approached or disturbed during this time. The park is the only one in all of Canada to be completely fenced off. This prevents elk, moose, and deer from traveling in and out of the park, risking the chance of bringing in disease, and upsetting the ecological balance of the park. It is rare to see elk outside of the park.
Elk farming is becoming increasingly popular in Alberta. In fact, Alberta’s booming elk industry is the largest in all of Canada. There are about 409 elk farmers in all of Alberta, around 70 of those are located within Kalyna Country. Elk products such as elk velvet antler and elk meat are quickly becoming high in demand, creating the need for more commercial elk farms. Raising elk on game farms is also popular in Alberta. Elk Island National Park is renowned for its conservation efforts as a primary source for reestablishing elk populations throughout Canada. Some of the elk from the park are sold to local, national, and international farms and others are shipped to natural areas in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Tennessee, where elk populations are either non-existent or quickly diminishing. This program also keeps the number of elk in the park at a healthy and safe level.
While in Kalyna Country, be sure to visit the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, located immediately east of Elk Island Park, and learn all about the rich Ukrainian culture and heritage through guided tours of actual homesteads. Take in some of the attractions in and around the local towns, such as the World’s Largest Pysanka in Vegreville, or the Shandro Museum in Willingdon. Whether you are interested in wildlife or unique historical treasures, Kalyna Country is the place to visit.
By Alison Cole