Explore Alberta

Spring 2009 CSANews Issue 70  |  Posted date : Apr 30, 2009.Back to list

Alberta is Canada's fourth-largest province, so there is much to see and do. Let's start off by spending a couple of days (or longer) discovering Calgary, known worldwide as 'Stampede City'.

First, take a good look at your surroundings from the top of the Tower (yes, Calgary has one too). Get your first glimpse of the foothills from the 160-metre (525-foot) observation deck that features an 11-metre (36-foot) glass floor. Below you is the city centre. One of Calgary's main attractions is Glenbow Museum and Blackfoot Gallery with enticing displays that describe the lives of Aboriginal people, frontier exploration and early days of Western life. Then for a real feeling of pioneer living, find yourself at Heritage Park, Canada's largest historical village with hectares of early settlement homes, stores, blacksmith shops and saloons, all staffed by costumed personnel. You can even take a ride on a train drawn by a steam engine! You will undoubtedly work up a fine appetite after checking out all there is to experience at the Park. Remember, you are in ranch country and an Alberta steak would be most appropriate.

Before you leave the Calgary area, point your vehicle west and do a circle tour. Don't be lured into Banff just yet. I suggest that you follow signs to Kananaskis, a village that hosted the G8 summit meeting in 2002 and where at Nakiska, ski events took place during the 1988 Winter Olympics. Stop for refreshments at the Executive or Delta Mountain Lodge.

Suitably refreshed, head south toward Fort Macleod. Your destination is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. The site REALLY IS on the map. In fact in 1981, it was selected as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Find out why as you tour the modern interpretive centre. You'll find it staffed by native people who are anxious to answer questions and tell the story of how, for literally thousands of years, their ancestors used the cliff as a spot to hunt and kill bison for their use as food, clothing and shelter. Dried buffalo meat called pemmican was stored and used during long winter seasons.

Kananaskis to Head-Smashed-In can be done as a day trip out of Calgary. On your way back, you could have a look at the "Big Rock" standing proud against a prairie landscape. Glacial movement thousands of years ago deposited the enormous monolith near Okotoks. A Calgary brewery took its name from the geologic oddity.

Time permitting, you may also take another day trip east to the village of Rosebud. It is home to the Rosebud School of the Arts, a faith-based college that offers professional theatre training. Founded in 1973, the school breathed new life into the tiny community that had seen its population drop from around 300 to just 24. Still tiny by any standard, Rosebud draws more than 40 thousand people each year to see professional live theatre staged in the community 'Opera House'. The showplace operates from July to December, and prides itself on being an 'adventure of the heart'.

A few kilometres beyond Rosebud, in the heart of the Badlands, is Drumheller. This is another must-see location. Stop first at the Drumheller Valley Interpretive Centre to get your bearings.

About 15 minutes east of town, visit the Atlas Coal Mine, a national historic site. Six kilometres north of the town is the world's largest collection of dinosaur fossils. Housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, thousands of displays and exhibits highlight the earth's geologic history. Spend a day on a self-guided tour of the facility, then take a tour of the Badlands where many prehistoric remains were discovered. Arrangements can be made to go out on an archaeological dig.

Now, let's go back to Calgary and this time head to Banff, a town in a setting that begs photography. The main street, Banff Avenue seems to run into the Rockies. Stop in at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, one of the world's most elegant hostelries, overlooking the Bow River Valley and backed by Fairholme Mountain Range. Marvel at the views – inside and out. It's worth it, even if you don't stay there. Then take a ride in a cable car to the top of the mountain for a magnificent panorama.

Alberta's pièce de résistance is the Icefields Parkway beginning at Banff and running along the continental divide displaying majestic grandeur at every turn. Lake Louise, the so called 'Diamond in the Wilderness' is breathtaking. In front of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the glacier-fed lake from which the town (and hotel) gets its name. The image of another nearby body of water, Lake Moraine, for many years appeared on the Canadian 10-dollar bill.

Move onward to the Columbian Icefields, where the Athabasca Glacier descends six kilometres to the Parkway from a saddle along the Continental Divide. As the glacier melts, streams form sending icy water to three oceans: Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic. Specially built vehicles carry visitors onto Icefields where they can walk on 400-year-old ice. Following that unique experience continue north, exit Banff National Park and enter Jasper National Park. Keep a watchful eye for wildlife, as it is not unusual to spot bighorn sheep, wolves, elk, black bears and mountain goats in these protected areas. The town of Jasper makes for a pleasant stop. Choose from a wide range of accommodation that includes Jasper Park Lodge with its world-famous golf course, stunningly surrounded by fantastic mountain scenery.

From Jasper, head east to Edmonton. Did you realize that Alberta's capital city grew from roots planted back in 1795? Fort Edmonton was established as a trading post on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River and, from that small start, grew one of Canada's finest cities. Let's take a look at what a visitor can enjoy now that we are into the fourth century since those first pioneers arrived.

The original fort is long gone, but has been replaced; the most recent incarnation is a theme park. The staff, dressed in costumes of the era, describe life and conditions as they would have been in the late 18th century. Fort Edmonton was also a staging point for prospectors during the late 19th-century gold rush.

Edmonton has 460 parks, more per capita than any other city in North America. One of them, Sir Winston Churchill Park, is right downtown surrounded by such entities as the Stanley Milner Public Library, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Churchill Theatre Complex with six stages for live performances.

Gardeners in particular will love the setting of the Muttart Conservatory, housed in four glass pyramids. One represents jungle conditions, another, a desert, a third offers a temperate scene with changing conditions according to the season. Finally, take a stroll through the lovely floral area and, as they say, take time to smell the flowers. Drive or take the 'Pedway', a foot bridge over the river from the expansive park area, where you'll find the Royal Museum. The designation 'Royal' was consented to by Queen Elizabeth II, following her visit in May 2005. The facility was a 1967 Centennial project that started out as the Provincial Museum of Alberta. Four sections feature wildlife, native history, pioneers, and natural history and geography. Not far away is the Rutherford House, now a museum, built by Alberta's first premier and founder of the University of Alberta. The university enrols more than 30,000 students each year.

We Canadians have so much to be proud of! Mother Nature's hand is certainly high on our list of blessings. One can run out of adjectives trying to describe indescribable beauty. If you have yet to visit Alberta, put the province at the top of your 'must see' list.