Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump has element of surprise for humans and buffalo.
Just like the buffalo from thousands of years ago, you'll be hard-pressed to see Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site until you are on the doorstep. For you, its because the award-winning building is tucked under the cliff. For the buffalo, it was a sad fate, but that same cliff was what the First Nations people depended on for survival. A visit to Head Smashed In is another must-do on your #BucketListAB adventures.
In Blackfoot the centre is called "Estpah-skikikini-kots" but to make it easy we'll just say Head Smashed In. The history behind the name dates back thousands of years to when a young Blackfoot wanted to watch the buffalo plunge off the cliff. He hid below the cliff not thinking about what could be the outcome of his decision. He was found crushed under the pile of buffalo.
Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is one of many historical sites in southern Alberta that you can visit on the same excursion. Check the Alberta History website to learn about Leitch Collieries, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre and the Remington Carriage Museum. Or visit the full version of this story on the SnowSeekers website.
Telling of the legends, folklore and history
Inside the centre, the story of life on the prairie unfolds, following the nomadic life of the First Nations. The presentations start on the top floor displaying how First Nations people survived though thousands of years with only their skills, strength and spiritual beliefs. As you descend through the levels, you move with time until you are standing under the trio of buffalo that dominate the cliff inside the building. Below them is a replica of the archaeological digs that uncovered the past hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
"I like to call the buffalo a "Four-legged Walmart," says Quinton CrowShoe, Marketing and Special Events Coordinator at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. Crowshoe is a direct descendant of those people that followed the herds. "Our ancestors used almost every part of the buffalo to survive."
Be one with the buffalo
The Piskun program is very popular experience Mondays and Fridays throughout July and August. The three-hour immersive experience not only tells guests about buffalo hunting, it has them experience it for themselves. Right from the traditional Blackfoot blessing where sweet grass is burned to learning to use an ancient spear thrower to tasting dried buffalo meat; the guests are involved. They participate in a mini buffalo jumping, re-enacting roles from buffalo runners to driving buffalo (people get to be buffalo too) to spearing the animal (no, you don't really spear anyone!). Not only is it educational, it's a fun experience for the entire family.
Other special events are held throughout the summer including hikes to the drive lanes where you can see the Rocky Mountains to the west and well, forever to the east. Geocaching, drumming and dancing events, and harvest celebrations are also held. Check the full line of events on the official site here.
Head Smashed In is open year-round, and here's a hint - the quiet winter is the perfect time to slow down and absorb it all. Interpreters from the Blackfoot Nation have wonderful stories that have been passed on through generations.
Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site is 160 km south of Calgary on highway 2. Watch for the giant metal buffalo sign at Highway 785. Turn west and in 16 km you will still be looking for the building, but it's there hidden in the cliffs.
Snowseekers.ca is an excellent source of other destinations, festivals and events in Western Canada.
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.
Imagine the bustling streets of New York, then times it by ten. Add a dash of Chinese culture, a wallop of nature and half dozen fish balls that don’t actually contain any fish, and you have the beautiful city that is Hong Kong.
At 7.2 million people, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with an incredible history, towering skyscrapers and a unique mix of English and Chinese that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While Hong Kong has existed for a millennium, it was officially founded in 1842 to solidify a truce between Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China during the First Opium War. A decade after the British took control of Hong Kong, the Black Death swept into China, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It would remain part of Hong Kong’s life for a century.
During World War II, Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. For three years and eight months the British-Chinese culture of the city was destroyed, replaced with Japanese text, language and art. The booming city of 1.6 million people was slashed to only 600,000. Japanese occupation was incredibly harsh for the Hongkongese, being the darkest part of their history. Japan ceased occupation on August 6th, 1945, in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty-two more years, Hong Kong was controlled by the British, with the reunification between Hong Kong and mainland China finally occurring in 1997.
Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania shut its doors in 1970. A year later, in 1971, it would briefly reopen and house inmates from Holmesburg Prison after a devastating riot. After the prisoners were returned to Holmesburg, Eastern State would sit empty for over two decades. It would rot, decay and collapse. Trees and shrubs would grow into the structure and a clowder of cats would take residence. These hallowed halls would sit empty, the only noise being the chatter of startled birds and the trotter of feline paws.
The following decades would see various discussions of what to do with the building. Eventually, it was decided to preserve it and turn it into a tourist attraction. Although it officially opened for tours in 1994, attendants would have to sign a waiver and wear hardhats before entering until 2008. They had 10,000 visitors the opening year, a number of tourists not seen in the prison since 1858.
From 1829 to 1970, Eastern State Penitentiary underwent a variety of changes and transformations. This massive, sprawling, 11-acre complex was founded under the belief that solitary confinement was the cure needed to prevent criminals from committing future crimes. It was believed criminals who served in solitary confinement would turn to a higher power to reconcile with themselves for their crimes – hence feeling "penitent". To assist in this process, each cell was equipped with a slit window on the ceiling nicknamed "The Eye of God". It would be the only light source available to the inmate.