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.
Ever since visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg last summer, I've wanted to include more about First Nations culture on my blog. Being of European descent, I often feel I am culturally blind to First Nations culture, and I noticed a severe lack of it in my writing. In fact, I feel in past articles a lot of my focus has been on European history in the New World, with only a side note regarding First Nations history. Now, I am trying for there to be more equal representation in my blog.
To finish off my #BucketlistAB series, I thought this article would be the perfect place to flip the tables, and instead focus on First Nations culture, with a European side note. Sometimes it is impossible to talk about one without the other, but I tried to focus more on the First Nations people and their story in this article. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.
My article "8 Places to Visit in Regina" is by far my most popular article, being read over 7,000 times in the past 6 months. In honour of the anniversary of my blog (and because 1 of the 8 locations mentioned before is now closed), I decided to do a sequel and talk about 8 more places to visit in Regina. This was really easy as Regina is growing at an extraordinary rate and new, incredible places are opening almost every week.
After the Regina Cyclone huffed and puffed and blew down the majority of houses across the city in 1912, Annie Darke asked her beloved Francis Darke to build her a house that could withstand even the worse things Saskatchewan could blow at it. Being one of the richest and most influential men in Regina’s history, Francis Darke took up the challenge and began to create his wife their very own stone castle.
This massive fortress served as their dwelling for the remainder of their days, until Francis Darke passed away in 1940 and his widowed wife passed away in the very house he had built her, twelve years later.
About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.