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.
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.
I'm proudly Canadian, and I accept the fact that a lot of people know very little about my country. A lot of people also seem to think cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver "define" Canada. Just to set it straight, while these are beautiful cities, they don't represent the whole of Canada.
Being such a quiet country, we often keep our secrets to ourselves... and often from ourselves. This is a list of 7 things you -- and maybe other Canadians -- don't know about Canada.
Located southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia is a small island where the average citizen are not allowed. This island is called Sable Island, and is a fragile ecological environment home to the unique Sable Island Horse. Over 400 horses live on this island, with only 5 humans there to watch over them.
When I first started this project, I didn't know what would come of it.
During my interview with the Saskatchewanderer, she recommended I approach Tourism Regina and see if I could write for them. Tourism Regina agreed and published my article, but due to it's size restrictions, I wasn't able to talk about as many places as I wanted to.
Since beginning this project, I have sent over three dozen emails to many organizations and businesses around the city. Once I was done my initial research, I had more questions than answers, some of which I don't think I'll ever know. Once realizing the vast amount of information out there, I decided to cut this project down substantially. But, although it ended up different then I thought it would, I am happy to finally present to you, "8 Places to Visit in Regina".