Where to Experience Alberta's Wild West Heritage July 28, 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.
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.
One of the most well-known examples of this is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This buffalo jump has been used for over 6,000 years by the local Blackfoot people. They would work together as a community to drive the buffalo towards the cliff, and then over to their death below. This technique was not only very successful, but provided them with enough meat, bone and sinew to survive the harsh winter.
In the mid 1800s this part of the country changed. Pioneers, settlers and explorers came from the east out into the untamed west and were promised land, money and a future. But before the west was settled, it needed to be tamed. The North-West Mounted Police arrived with the sole purpose of policing an area around 40 times larger than Ireland. Throughout the land they set up forts, many of which still exist today.
One of these forts was Fort Macleod. The purpose of this fort, like so many before and after it, was to be a camp for the mounted police. It was here they would rest, relax, mingle, work, parade and practice. It was here they were trained and where they went over surveyor's findings of the vast wilderness beyond the horizon.
Half an hour away from Fort Macleod is the bustling city of Lethbridge. In 1912, the railway was moved from Fort Macleod to Lethbridge, withering the economy of one community and blossoming the other. One hundred years later, both communities have worked on similar heritage development projects, with Lethbridge's answer to Fort Macleod being the historic Fort Whoop-Up.
In the late 1800s, Fort Whoop-Up was the original destination of the NWMP. They were to travel across the country, arrive at the fort and begin policing the province. This iconic moment set the groundwork for taming the Canadian Wild West, and the town of Lethbridge wanted to keep that history alive. Today you can visit a recreation of the fort and learn all about the Blackfoot people and their initial contact with the settlers, the policing efforts of the NWMP and what changed once settlers arrived.
Once the guns were quieted and the settlers arrived, towns began propping up all over the countryside. Some communities were able to survive the centuries, but others were forced to disappear. Pincher Creek's Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village was created to prevent these town from disappearing completely. With 24 heritage buildings, two museums and a gift shop, this village embraces a wide range of different pioneer perspectives.
The oldest property in the village is the cabin of Kootenai Brown. Brown was the first pioneer to settle what is today Waterton Lakes National Park, close to the Rocky Mountains. Since the addition of his cabin, the village has since grown to include stores, workshops and even a school. Each building offers a unique glimpse to turn of the century lifestyles in the west.
Heritage is important not only for Saskatchewan, but also Alberta and beyond. Losing it is like losing the stories that set the groundwork for our current society, and once it is gone, it can never be reclaimed.
Is there anywhere in Alberta you would like to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
If You Go
Fort MacLeod is around two and a half hours south of Calgary.
Lethbridge is around two-hour drive south of Calgary.
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.
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.
They say hope was the last thing to die in Auschwitz.
It's been just over 70 years since the Allies liberated the death camp and the horrors of the "Final Solution" were revealed to the world. Prior to their arrival, Auschwitz was the most effective death camp ever created, having taken the lives of over 1.1 million Jews.
Block 4 of Auschwitz holds the museum, explaining the best it can about what happened seven decades past. The museum explains what Auschwitz was originally built for – a camp for Polish prisoners of war – and how it became key to the Nazi's "Final Solution". The museum goes over the construction of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the increased sizes and effectiveness of gas chambers and the factories of death that stood and smoked over the camp during its operation.