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John DeWolf


The Parks Canada Agency has been working to increase both revenue and visitation to parks across the nation as attendance has been slipping over the past five years. 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, and Parks Canada saw it as an opportunity to increase awareness of parks and sites by distributing free passes to historical sites and parks like the one at Batoche.

The Batoche National Historical Site was designated as such in 1923 and is located in central Saskatchewan on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. This prairie and aspen forest-filled site stretches for 955 hectares, with only a few buildings left where the community once stood there. [1]

This experiential design undertaking is aimed at strengthening ties between the Canadian Government and the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan. At the heart of this history is a land dispute—the source of inspiration for our core concept. Two opposing methods of landholding: a thoughtful linear and river-oriented allotment by a semi-nomadic turned agrarian people versus an unnatural grid-based system imposed on one nation by another. Herein lies a testimony of a land that follows from non-issue to conflict, through an entente to a formal collaboration between a First Nation and a government.

Rather than imposing numerous and frequent insertions, we unite this expansive cultural landscape through the delicate placement of four conspicuous elements. Minimal intervention and a light footprint were key goals. For example, a simple mowed/burned strip that reinforces the linearity and direction of the river lot. Structures are raised up on piles to reduce impact on this archaeologically sensitive site. Robust materials—weathering and galvanized steel, cedar, and stone—minimize maintenance and evoke themes of permanence. Efficiency pervades the details–best demonstrated by innovative batten joinery developed to significantly reduce the size and quantity of fasteners.

As a team of multiple professions, the synthesis of method, process, and workflow of our colleagues enriches our designers. For example, our architects and landscape architects think not only of the natural/built environment, but consider interpretation and graphic details as part of their interdisciplinary design process. This is an account of disciplines collaborating to use the landscape not merely as a setting, but rather as a lead character. [2]

Situated on Lot 47 – the original belt of land owned by Batoche founder Xavier Letendre – Living with the Land is first experienced through the viewing lens. A 2.4-by-2.4-by-3.3-metre open-ended volume, it frames a westward view towards the river, bringing into focus the Métis’ relationships with the land and water. The interior of the Corten-clad box is lined with horizontally situated eastern white cedar planks, their plane a correlation to the direction of the plot the box sits on.

From here, a 730-metre meditative walk leads to the platform, two chambers linked by a stage. Again, Corten covers the exterior, and cedar envelops the inside, creating a material connection between the two land-separated buildings. In each, the wood panelling is held together by western red cedar battens, set at a 45-degree angle. “While developing the panels, we discovered, that like a woven textile, these inset battens acted as structural support, minimizing the reliance on fasteners,” says Chris Crawford, lead architect of the project.

“Our hope is that Métis visitors have a sense a pride that their story is now being represented, specifically that they are here today as a proud and important part of our country,” adds Crawford. “I hope that visitors from afar grasp a better understanding of what a rich and important culture the Métis offer, that through these large-scale architectural and landscape features they physically experience the life of this site, and that by reinforcing this story with the land that people leave with a deeper understanding of what life was and is like for the Métis people.” [3]

Parks Canada’s goal is for an architecturally interesting, one-of-a-kind, and interactive design that incorporates historically significant themes and activities of Batoche. Parks wished to use this project as a bridge to allow a landscape scarred by resistance to tell a story of a thriving culture, to create a destination, and to re-establish ties. Through design, we hope to honour the Métis story and to improve cultural relations. [2]


Azure AZ Awards – Experiential Graphic Design, People's Choice, 2017

Azure AZ Awards – Experiential Graphic Design, Award of Merit, 2017

Society of Experiential Graphic Designers (SEGD) – Global Design Awards, Finalist, 2017


[1]      Heller, Kate. “Story on the Landscape in Batoche.” SEGD, March 7, 2017. https://segd.org/formmedia-creates-story-landscape-batoche.

[2]    “Batoche National Historic Site.” Fathom. Accessed August 24, 2021. https://fathomstudio.ca/our-work/batoche-national-historic-site.

[3]    “A Corten-Clad Monument in the PRAIRIES Reflects ON Métis Life.” Azure Magazine, June 6, 2019. https://www.azuremagazine.com/article/batoche-installation-metis-saskatchewan/.


Additional information:

deWolf, John. “Storyboard on the Landscape.” Fathom. Fathom, June 17, 2019. https://fathomstudio.ca/news/2018/9/14/storyboard-on-the-landscape.


“How We Work.” Fathom. Accessed August 24, 2021. https://fathomstudio.ca/how-we-work-1.


“Storyboard on the Landscape / EKISTICS Planning & Design.” ArchDaily. ArchDaily, February 24, 2017. https://www.archdaily.com/806012/storyboard-on-the-landscape-ekistics-planning-and-design.


Project Title: Storyboard on the Landscape
Artists: Fathom Studio
Year: 2016

Place: Batoche, Saskatchewan

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