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.
About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.
For many of us in Saskatchewan, summer means it's time for an Alberta road trip. Although the endless stretches of prairie have their appeal, there is nothing quite like seeing the mountains rising over the horizon.
One challenge that comes with taking a summer road trip is the heat. Much like on this side of the border, it isn't uncommon for summer temperatures to get to the extreme. I know a few people who have had car problems in the heat, and my family is one of them. Nothing ruins a trip more than an unexpected visit to the mechanic.
Thankfully, Alberta has a myriad of places to go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing. This not only gives your vehicle time to cool off, but also gives you a chance to escape the heat as well.
Part 12 of my cross Canada series takes us to the smallest province in Canada, Prince Edward Island. However, don't let the name confuse you: PEI is actually 232 islands!
PEI also happens to have smallest population of any province in Canada, with only 146,300 people as of 2014. This means this province has less people than my hometown Regina!
Being so small, however, it was difficult to find images on Instagram. That isn't to say there's nothing there worth seeing! Quiet the quandary, actually. PEI has a few very unique locations that drive their tourism. One of them is the gorgeous themed village of Avonlea, named after the village in the hit novel "Anne of Green Gables" published in 1908. This story, and the subsequent stories, follows Anne, a red-haired "fiery" orphan who grows up on PEI. The story is an international bestseller, and is strangely very popular in Japan (or so I've been told)!