Six Attractions You Must Visit in Southern Alberta
Six Attractions You Must Visit in Southern Alberta July 25, 2018 · 11 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're visiting Alberta this summer, you probably have your heart set on visiting the mountains. After all, places like Lake Louise, Banff, Waterton and now Castle Provincial Park are some of the most beautiful sites in Canada, and they're always a hit on Instagram (if you're into that kind of thing). But, between Regina and the mountains is a whole province with plenty of sights to explore.
Last year I took more trips than I could count to southern Alberta, but most of them ended near Medicine Hat. Had I gone a bit further, I would have found myself in a myriad of attractions to see, from historical museums to sites of natural disasters and just about everything in-between.
For those looking to make a few stops on their way to the Rocky Mountains, or for those who are just looking for an Alberta road trip, here are six attractions you must visit while in southern Alberta.
On my last count I had about seven articles about Medicine Hat, and collectively they only skin the surface of what to see in this city. This city is full of culture, heritage and rivals any major city for year-round festivals.
While you're in "The Hat", make sure to visit some of the cute and quirky cafes throughout the city, like MadHatter Roastery or Heartwood Café. I visited MadHatter Roastery last summer and watched firsthand as they ground, steamed and cooked fresh coffee beans.
Beyond the cafes, pubs, breweries and distilleries in Medicine Hat, one of the city's biggest attractions is Medalta. This former brick processing plant was closed several years ago and was converted into a gallery, museum and local market. This national historic site not only showcases the industry that gave birth to Medicine Hat, but also the resilience of the community after it closed.
One of the most iconic sights in southern Alberta is the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This dramatic geological cliff formation, and the interpretive museum built into the side of it, discussed the history of the Blackfoot people and their way of life. The museum explains how the Blackfoot people would lure the buffalo near the cliff, and then have members of their tribe dress up as wolves to chase them over the edge. Running the buffalo over the cliff would provide the tribe with more than enough meat, fur, fat and sinew to last through to the winter.
Fort Macleod was incorporated in 1892, but twenty years later the Canadian Pacific Railway moved locations to Lethbridge, devastating the local economy. From 1912 until the 1970s the city remained untouched, almost as if it was in a time capsule. In the 1980s, the downtown area was declared a "Provincial Historical Area" and is preserved for future generations.
This same concept of preserving history can be seen throughout the town, especially at The Fort. Rebuilt in the 1950s, The Fort is a recreation of the N.W.M.P fort that stood in the same spot in the late 1800s. The purpose of the fort is to preserve the history of the police, the First Nations people and the history of the town.
Cardston, Alberta might be a small community, but it's home to the largest carriage museum in Canada. The Remington Carriage Museum showcases over 250 different carriages from around North America and England, dating back to the late 1800s. Some of these carriages were used by settlers as they moved west, while others were used by politicians like Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II.
One of the newest exhibits in the museum opened in May of 2017 and focuses on Robert McLaughlin. McLaughlin is the owner and operator of McLaughlin Carriages Co., the largest carriage manufacturing company in the British Empire. Based out of Oshawa, the carriage manufacturing plant is responsible for bringing General Motors into Canada in the early years of the 20th Century but is also responsible for the creation and distribution of Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
An hour south of Calgary is Turner Valley, and within this valley sits one of Alberta's most iconic symbols: a natural gas manufacturing plant. However, this plant isn't any ordinary plant. It is the very first plant to ever exist in the province and is the one responsible for making Alberta into the economic powerhouse it is today.
The plant closed in 1985 after being in operation for nearly seventy years, but it was quickly converted into a museum, full of the original mechanics, machinery and tools. There is also an exhibit in the museum that marks the exact spot Dingman No. 1 went into operation back on May 14, 1914 where natural gas began seeping from the earth. This sight, as commonplace as it is today, changed the future of Alberta forever.
Before there was Turner Valley, there was Turtle Mountain and the town of Frank. The town of Frank sits at the bottom of Turtle Mountain, and in early 1900s the residents of the town started mining the mountain. The First Nations people warned them not to set up a village there, as the mountain tended to move, but their worries fell on deaf ears.
On April 29, 1903 the mountain moved, and 90 million tones of limestone moved with it. A complete side of the mountain collapsed and started a landslide that – although lasted less than 2 minutes – took the lives of 90 people and buried the community.
Today an interpretative center sits near the edge of the stony field, and a seismic measuring system is placed at the peak of the mountain. The mountain shifts once and awhile, but it has never collapsed again.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
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.
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.