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.
Last week Ford Canada flew my sister Krystal and I out to Prince Edward Island to take part in their Cross-Canada #FordEcoSport Tour. We were only the fifth of fifteen groups that will take part in the tour, so be sure to follow the hashtag to see what everybody is getting up to as well.
Our section of the tour was probably one of the longest in the program, as we had to drive from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to Saint John, New Brunswick, then to Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec and ending in Quebec City. The whole distance is about 1,020 kilometres, which is about 10 hours of driving, assuming we didn't stop to see anything along the way.
After a long, dark, frigid winter, Canadians love the few months of summer we get every year. Once the snow melts and the mud dries, we are out hiking, picnicking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, climbing and exploring this wonderful country of ours.
Of all the provinces to explore, Alberta ranks at the top of many adventurers' list. From hoodoos to waterfalls, mountains to valleys, deserts to tundra and everything in-between, Alberta offers any outdoorsman the perfect place to embrace nature.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.