Five Historic Alberta Highlights
· 9 min. read
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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.
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One of the first historic places you should visit in Alberta is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This location is a UNESCO Heritage Site and is dedicated to preserving a 6,000-year-old First Nations hunting ground.
Although I’ve known about Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump for years, I was surprised to learn about the museum they build right into the iconic cliff. This museum explores the Blackfoot culture and talks about many aspects of their lives outside of just the jump and its hunting uses. It talks about how the Blackfoot lived, how they tamed wolves to help them hunt, and how they survived the harsh prairie winters.
The Buffalo Jump is an incredible display of human ingenuity. Some hunters would dress up in wolves’ fur to chase the buffalo, while others would dress up as buffalo to lure them down the path. Others would then line the path towards the cliff with buffalo hides and slowly narrow the path until the animals ran straight over the cliff. When done successfully, the tribe would have more than enough meat, bone and sinew to survive a winter.
Another historic site worth visiting is in Cardston, Alberta, which is just an hour south of the Buffalo Jump. This community might be small, but it is home to one of the most unique museums in all of Alberta: The Remington Carriage Museum.
This museum is housed in a 64,000 square-foot building, with over 270 carriages from across North America and Britain. Some carriages date back to the 1800s and were used by the pioneers that came and settled in Alberta while others were used by dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Beyond the carriages, the museum also has several types of horses on-site for visitors to see. These include Clydesdales, Canadians and quarter horses. If you’re lucky, you might even catch them changing the horse’s hooves!
Pioneers came to Alberta for the freedom of a new world but stayed for the mining industry. In southern Alberta, along The Crowsnest Pass, you’ll find lush green valley disappear to a sea of rock and stone. This sea of limestone is what remains of the town of Frank, a once booming mining community referred to as the upcoming “Pittsburgh of Canada”.
The town’s main industry was mining, and they mined the nearby Turtle Mountain. They were warned by local First Nations people that the mountain wasn’t safe to mine as it tended to move, but they disregarded their warnings. On April 29th, 1903 the mountain moved, and 90 million tones of limestone fell off the mountain and buried the town. The landslide, today known as Frank Slide, lasted less than 100 seconds and took the lives of over 90 people, making it one of Canada’s deadliest natural disasters.
Today the site is a popular tourist attraction and is home to an impressive information centre. The slide also offers a driving tour, named “Drive Through the Slide” which takes guests into the heart of the stony field and up to the mountain. One of the stops even takes you to Manitoba Avenue, one of the streets in the town where many of the miner’s cottages once stood.
Although some say the mountain will fall again, the mine has been closed for a century and they are monitoring the mountain’s movements, so feel free to take your time when exploring the area.
Mining has always been a dangerous activity, but the need for mining changed in 1914 with the discovery of oil and natural gas in Alberta. This boom ? which still drives Alberta’s economy today ? had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the Turner Valley Gas Plant. This gas plant is a national and provincial historic site and is the first commercial oilfield processing plant in Alberta.
Today the building is a museum, but much of the original early 20th Century processing equipment is still inside, such as the compressor plant, the scrubbing plant, and the gasoline and propane plant. Between the machinery and the equipment is a spot dedicated to where, on May 14th, 1914, wet natural gas first sprayed out of a wellbore and changed Alberta’s history forever.
For historians, oil workers, and anybody else interested in how Alberta became Canada’s economic powerhouse, this plant is located just an hour outside of Calgary and is open throughout the year.
As the years roll by, the resource that made Alberta such a wealthy province changed, and although it is still driven much by the oil and gas industry, today the province is also known for its natural beauty. Last year, during Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, Alberta punctuated this by opening Castle Provincial Park.
This park is over 105,000 hectares of mountains, hills, forests, meadows, waterfalls and rivers, all with the idea of preserving the original land of the Piikani Nation people. Similar to how Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump shares the stories of the Blackfoot, Castle Provincial Park embraces that of the Piikani.
One of the Piikani people that shared their stories about growing up in the park was 86-year-old Elder Margaret Plain Eagle. Margaret was born in a tipi on these lands and explored them as a child. She even went on a vision quest to the massive Table Mountain in the park, which is today a popular hiking trial.
The mixing of the past and present histories in the park makes it the perfect place to escape this summer, but also to learn about what makes Alberta, such an incredible place to visit.
If You Go
Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is around two and a half hours south of Calgary, near Fort MacLeod.
Cardston and the Remington Carriage Museum is about a 2.5-drive south of Calgary.
Frank Slide is around two and a half hours south of Calgary on Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail.
Turner Valley is about an hour’s drive south of Calgary.
Castle Provincial Park is around two and a half hours south of Calgary.
Learn more about BucketlistAB here.
Grab an awesome itinerary and start your Southern Alberta adventure.
Check into Alberta Parks to start planning your trip and other activities in the area.
Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Castle Provincial Park.
Canalta Hotels has partnered up with a collection of destinations across Southern Alberta. Stay a Night & See a Sight. They’re set to help you plan your trip.
Images by Matt Bailey and Chris Istace Mindful Explorer.
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Categories: Alberta, Canada