Where to Experience Alberta's Wild West Heritage July 28, 2018 · 9 min. readDisclaimer: While 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.
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.
Canada's 150th birthday cannot be complete without visiting the country's capital city... but which one should you visit? While Ottawa is the current capital of Canada, there have been four other capital cities, and it has changed seven times. It started in Kingston (1841 – 1844) and then moved to Montréal (1844 – 1849), believing it to be safer from the Americans. After the citizens of Montréal burnt it down, it rotated between Toronto (1849 – 1852 and 1856 – 1858) and Québec City (1852 – 1856 and 1859 – 1866). Finally, it was placed right on the border between the two provinces in Ottawa (1866 to present day). This tour ventures into each of these five cities and explores what makes them so unique.
Since the capital flip-flopped location seven times, it would be much more convenient to go through the cities geographically then historically. If we started in the West, we would start in Toronto, Ontario, Canada's biggest city. While G Adventures only mentions the CN Tower and Kensington Market, there is much more to see in this city. You could visit the 18th century Casa Loma Castle, stroll through the artistic Graffiti Alley, visit Ripley's Aquatic Aquarium, or go drink and dine in the Distillery District. Looking for more outdoorsy stuff? Check out the Toronto Islands, the famous High Park or the Toronto Zoo. You can even take a boat out onto Lake Ontario and see the city's iconic skyline!
I was recently asked if I preferred my time in Montreal or Quebec City more, and while Montreal is a gorgeous city, decorated with thousands of green copper spires, hosts incredible festivals, has some of the most fantastic food I have ever tasted, and is spotted with beautiful parks, there was just something about Quebec City that spoke to me. Being over four hundred years old, Quebec City is one of the last remaining "walled cities" in North America, and is the only one north of Mexico. Quebec City was the location of some of the greatest conflicts in Canadian history, including the Siege of Quebec by the British.
Belonging to three very different countries (France, England, and Canada) in its four hundred year existence, Quebec City is a mixing pot of old traditions, new ideas, cobblestone streets and modern architecture. Since there is so much to see in Quebec City, I figured I would narrow it down to a couple and let you discover the rest! Here is "8 Places to Visit in Quebec City".