Five Historic Alberta Highlights July 24, 2018 · 9 min. readWhile the thoughts and opinions are my own, this article was brought to you by a third party. Also, this article may contain affiliate links.
If you follow my blog, you know I love history. History is what makes us who we are today. It defines our accomplishments and highlights our failures. Most importantly, it helps us move forward as a society.
A lot of my focus is Saskatchewan's history, but there's plenty of amazing history to be told in our neighbour province of Alberta too. From First Nations culture, through to early pioneers, the oil boom and the legacy the province today, there is always something to learn about when visiting Alberta.
One of the first historic places you should visit in Alberta is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This location is a UNESCO Heritage Site and is dedicated to preserving a 6,000-year-old First Nations hunting ground.
Although I've known about Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump for years, I was surprised to learn about the museum they build right into the iconic cliff. This museum explores the Blackfoot culture and talks about many aspects of their lives outside of just the jump and its hunting uses. It talks about how the Blackfoot lived, how they tamed wolves to help them hunt, and how they survived the harsh prairie winters.
Another historic site worth visiting is in Cardston, Alberta, which is just an hour south of the Buffalo Jump. This community might be small, but it is home to one of the most unique museums in all of Alberta: The Remington Carriage Museum.
This museum is housed in a 64,000 square-foot building, with over 270 carriages from across North America and Britain. Some carriages date back to the 1800s and were used by the pioneers that came and settled in Alberta while others were used by dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Pioneers came to Alberta for the freedom of a new world but stayed for the mining industry. In southern Alberta, along The Crowsnest Pass, you'll find lush green valley disappear to a sea of rock and stone. This sea of limestone is what remains of the town of Frank, a once booming mining community referred to as the upcoming "Pittsburgh of Canada".
The town's main industry was mining, and they mined the nearby Turtle Mountain. They were warned by local First Nations people that the mountain wasn't safe to mine as it tended to move, but they disregarded their warnings. On April 29th, 1903 the mountain moved, and 90 million tones of limestone fell off the mountain and buried the town. The landslide, today known as Frank Slide, lasted less than 100 seconds and took the lives of over 90 people, making it one of Canada's deadliest natural disasters.
Today the site is a popular tourist attraction and is home to an impressive information centre. The slide also offers a driving tour, named "Drive Through the Slide" which takes guests into the heart of the stony field and up to the mountain. One of the stops even takes you to Manitoba Avenue, one of the streets in the town where many of the miner's cottages once stood.
Mining has always been a dangerous activity, but the need for mining changed in 1914 with the discovery of oil and natural gas in Alberta. This boom – which still drives Alberta's economy today – had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the Turner Valley Gas Plant. This gas plant is a national and provincial historic site and is the first commercial oilfield processing plant in Alberta.
Today the building is a museum, but much of the original early 20th Century processing equipment is still inside, such as the compressor plant, the scrubbing plant, and the gasoline and propane plant. Between the machinery and the equipment is a spot dedicated to where, on May 14th, 1914, wet natural gas first sprayed out of a wellbore and changed Alberta's history forever.
As the years roll by, the resource that made Alberta such a wealthy province changed, and although it is still driven much by the oil and gas industry, today the province is also known for its natural beauty. Last year, during Canada's 150th birthday celebrations, Alberta punctuated this by opening Castle Provincial Park.
This park is over 105,000 hectares of mountains, hills, forests, meadows, waterfalls and rivers, all with the idea of preserving the original land of the Piikani Nation people. Similar to how Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump shares the stories of the Blackfoot, Castle Provincial Park embraces that of the Piikani.
One of the Piikani people that shared their stories about growing up in the park was 86-year-old Elder Margaret Plain Eagle. Margaret was born in a tipi on these lands and explored them as a child. She even went on a vision quest to the massive Table Mountain in the park, which is today a popular hiking trial.
For many of us in Saskatchewan, summer means it's time for an Alberta road trip. Although the endless stretches of prairie have their appeal, there is nothing quite like seeing the mountains rising over the horizon.
One challenge that comes with taking a summer road trip is the heat. Much like on this side of the border, it isn't uncommon for summer temperatures to get to the extreme. I know a few people who have had car problems in the heat, and my family is one of them. Nothing ruins a trip more than an unexpected visit to the mechanic.
Thankfully, Alberta has a myriad of places to go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing. This not only gives your vehicle time to cool off, but also gives you a chance to escape the heat as well.
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
It took a while, but summer has finally arrived! With any city, these three precious months of summer bring their fair share of activities, and Regina is no different. There is a lot to do in Regina so let me know in the comments if I missed anything!
This should be obvious for anybody living in Regina, but for tourists Wascana Park offers a plethora of activities. From fireworks on Canada Day to festivals to just enjoying a quiet stroll, there are countless things to do in the park. Being three times larger than Central Park in New York, the park is full of pathways, bridges, tunnels and islands for you to explore. Self-guiding walking tours are also available, which showcase the monuments, statues, architecture, history and natural flora and fauna that is in the region. Sections of the park are protected for wildlife so you may see foxes, rabbits, raccoons, weasels, beavers, turtles and, if you're lucky, goats. There's also a swimming pool, bird sanctuary, a habitat conservation area and marina. Speaking of the Marina…
Wascana Park is beautiful from the land, but it is even more gorgeous from the water. Imagine floating in the heart of the city, surrounded by nothing but the silence of water. Motor boats aren't commonly found on the lake, so renting a canoe with a loved one can be a personal and private experience. If you're more of a physical person you can also rent a kayak or try stand-up paddle boarding, which recently opened up thanks to Queen City Sup. The marina is also home to the Willow on Wascana, a beautiful outdoor lakeside restaurant. If you're into brunches or wine tasting, or just enjoying eating outdoors, this is a place you must visit!