Ice Magic Festival, Lake Louise
Ice on Whyte Ice Carving Festival, Edmonton
Sled Island Music and Arts Festival, Calgary
Waterton Wild Flower Festival
Canadian Badlands Passion Play, Drumheller
Edmonton International Street Performers
Big Valley Jamboree, Camrose
Canmore Folk Music Festival
Edmonton International Fringe Threatre Festival
Agri-Trade Exposition, Red Deer
Canadian Finals Rodeo, Edmonton
www.travelalberta.com/things to do/events and festivals/festivals and special events.aspx
Writer: Susan Mate
Aside from the allure of the Rocky Mountains and the prehistoric badlands, Canada’s fourth largest province counts resilience as one of its many attributes. Bred from its Wild West heritage mixed with the boom-and-bust drama of its oil-driven economy, Alberta has overcome its share of adversity with a characteristic “Let’s get ’er done” attitude that ensures the welcome mat is always unfurled.
Alberta’s diverse heritage is a varied offering of First Nations history, pioneer spirit and rich immigrant culture that draws New Canadians from all parts of the globe. The annual 10-day whoop-up called the Calgary Stampede celebrates all things cowboy and rodeo early each July. Edmonton’s K-Days follows up with a tribute to northern Alberta’s Klondike heritage, while dozens of other festivals across the province celebrate its unique pockets of regional pride—think perogies in Vegreville, or beef jerky in Longview.
From the granite spires of Waterton Lakes in Alberta’s south to Wood Buffalo National Park in the rugged north, the Wild Rose province delivers hall-of-fame experiences including five sprawling national parks and 300 provincial recreational areas such as Kananaskis Country, Cypress Hills, Writing-On-Stone and Dinosaur Provincial Park.
The two biggest urban centres, Edmonton and Calgary, are cosmopolitan cities, while smaller cities including Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Airdrie serve as important regional hubs for shopping, government, tourism and agriculture/industry.
Alberta’s dining scene is innovative and local, emphasizing Rocky Mountain cuisine such as game, fish and world-famous grain-fed beef. From upscale hotel dining rooms in the big city to eclectic alpine bistros in Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, the restaurants consistently win international awards. So, too, do Alberta’s major attractions—like the retail city/theme park of West Edmonton Mall, or the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in Red Deer.
Provincial recreational areas help keep Albertans and their visitors outdoors. Spread across 661,848 sq. km (255,541 sq. mi.) of pristine terrain, the five major snow resorts and sprawling backcountry lure powder-hounds from November to May. Try dogsledding through the untouched Spray Lakes valley, or take a guided ice walk in frozen Maligne Canyon near Jasper. The lakes of Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary, are a paradise for ice fishing in winter, and boating, hiking and cycling in the summer. Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton offers a great opportunity to photograph wildlife, including its resident buffalo and, of course, elk.
Rent a mountain bike in West Bragg Creek, or enjoy a more sedate bike ride on the paved path between the towns of Canmore and Lake Louise. Alberta’s glacier-fed waterways—particularly the Bow and Red Deer rivers—lure anglers with the promise of top-notch trout fishing. In the same day, visitors can play the back nine of a world-class golf course, hopscotch past cactus patches in search of ancient rock carvings in the desert, and then retire to the hotel hot tub to watch the sunset.
Float your boat down a river or head for calmer waters along Lake Minnewanka or Moraine Lake in picturesque Banff National Park. Bonus: hear the crack of avalanches overhead, well out of your path but still powerful. Chase champagne powder from the top of first-rate resorts such as Sunshine Village, Lake Louise or Marmot Basin, or explore them in summer to unveil a hiker’s paradise of abundant wildlife and colourful carpets of wildflowers. Canada Olympic Park in northwest Calgary has a national athlete training centre, a snow park and Olympic museum, while Peter Lougheed Provincial Park boasts unparalleled opportunities for adventure all year round.
Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, south of Calgary, chronicles pioneer life from 1882-1950; this pristine setting in the shadow of the southern Rockies is featured on many postcards. Travellers with time on their hands head north to Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 44,807 sq. km (17,300 sq. mi.) of protected wilderness where the endangered whooping crane and the world’s largest herd of free-roaming wood bison can be found.
The highly touted National Music Centre depicts Canada’s musical heritage. Built to sprawl overtop of a street running through Calgary’s East Village, the five-storey building, which opened last summer, features high-tech music studio space, live programs, numerous stages and theatres, and more than 2,000 instruments and artefacts spanning several centuries (www.nmc.ca).
The relocated Royal Alberta Museum is scheduled to reopen later this year. The new facility, including exhibit space devoted to human history, a children’s gallery, bug room and Manitou Stone Gallery, will be the largest museum in western Canada (www.royalalbertamuseum.ca).
Renovations have made the popular Banff Gondola terminal more accessible and also more informative. It now features a sparkling new mountaintop indoor interpretive centre to accompany the existing exterior boardwalk and hiking trails. Open year-round, it affords spectacular views of nearby peaks as well as the town of Banff (www.brewster.ca/attractions-sightseeing).
Alberta’s two major cities offer quite different insights into the province, though they share a love of green space, sprawling river pathways and tidy, bustling downtowns.
The provincial capital of Edmonton is a government city with a grand legislature building, a thriving arts community and numerous galleries, craft stores and art shops. Most can be found along trendy Whyte Avenue or in the downtown arts district, the location of the modern Art Gallery of Alberta, the Winspear Centre and the Citadel Theatre. The meandering North Saskatchewan River cuts a steep swath through the city north of downtown, and can be explored by canoe, raft or the Edmonton Queen Riverboat (www.edmonton.ca).
The “Festival City” boasts more than 60 events a year. Its long winters are cause for several events including the Ice on Whyte winter festival in January/February. Summer offerings include the Fringe Theatre Festival, the Folk Music Festival, K-Days and Heritage Festival. North America’s largest indoor shopping complex is like a self-contained mini-city. West Edmonton Mall spans the equivalent of 48 city blocks, has 800+ retail/food outlets and the year-round World Waterpark. Fort Edmonton Park along the North Saskatchewan River showcases the fur trade and Gold Rush eras.
Calgary’s office towers, which contain the majority of Canada’s oil and gas company headquarters, were built to capture the Rockies on the western horizon. An inner-city energy hub called the Bow Tower is a modern architectural skyscraper that spans two city blocks. Nearby Chinatown segues to the Bow River pathway and the ongoing redevelopment of the East Village has revitalized this historic section of downtown.
The city has preserved much of the sandstone buildings along Stephen Avenue Walk, where many great restaurants and shops are found, along with the Glenbow Museum, Olympic Plaza and the Calgary Tower. Numerous retail stores and eateries are also part of The CORE complex (www.visitcalgary.com).
Residents are devout nature lovers, flocking to the city’s network of river pathways as well as the inner city Prince’s Island Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Bowness Park lagoon, where families can skate in winter and canoe and paddleboat in summer. Just west of City Hall, Olympic Plaza is a busy festival and performance venue that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic ceremonies. The Calgary Zoo is renowned for its conservation initiatives, while south of the city, Spruce Meadows attracts equestrians to several international show-jumping competitions each summer.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Head for the hills from summer to fall for a guided multi-day backcountry pack trip on horseback. Sleep under the stars and listen to coyotes howl in a riverside tent camp in Dinosaur Provincial Park, home to some of the planet’s largest fossil beds and fantastic interpretive programs. Or scramble up the Via Ferrata (Italian for iron path), a rope and cable-assisted mountain journey at Mt. Norquay near Banff. Should winter be your season, abundant ice-climbing, skiing, fishing, snowshoeing and ATV journeys can be found across the province.
Explore the snow-caked Spray Lakes valley on dogsled. Drive the winter ice road to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta’s oldest First Nations community north of Fort McMurray, or photograph wildflowers among the alpine lakes at Sunshine Village resort west of Banff or the Plain of Six Glaciers trail near Lake Louise.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
The province’s history is just over a century old, but the First Nations heritage dates to prehistoric times. Métis Crossing, northeast of Edmonton, offers a taste of the musical culture created by the melding of First Nations Peoples with European settlers in the 19th century. Fort Edmonton tells of the city’s Gold Rush era, when these same voyageurs paved the way for the fur trade. Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village overlooks the calm waters of the Glenmore Reservoir—which has dragon boat racing and other water sports. History is also chronicled at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, one of five UNESCO sites in Alberta, or Blackfoot Crossing—a modern interpretive centre built into the Bow River bluffs east of Calgary.
Explore transportation history at the Remington Carriage Museum at Cardston, or hop aboard an open air Tiger Moth at Reynolds-Alberta Museum for a bird’s-eye view of the prairies around Camrose and Wetaskiwin. Palaeontology enthusiasts will want to head north to the city of Grande Prairie to tour the newly-minted Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which chronicles the work done to preserve the world’s largest hornbill dinosaur bonebed.
MUST SEE, MUST DO
The resource town of Grande Cache, northwest of Edmonton, is a rugged former forestry and coal-mining community ringed by a dozen massive peaks. Largely undeveloped, the town is a fantastic jumping-off spot to explore nearby Willmore Wilderness Park. This 4,600 sq. km. (1,840 sq. mi.) park affords a rugged backcountry experience that is popular with ATV enthusiasts, travellers on horseback and extreme athletes.
Nestled into the lush coulees of the Rosebud River Valley, the abandoned railway town of Rosebud was overtaken by a group of faith-based artists three decades ago. They created a thriving professional theatre school and arts centre that offers high-calibre, family-friendly theatre and music to more than 35,000 visitors a year. Many visitors stroll the hamlet’s two streets, which are spattered with funky art shops and galleries (www.rosebudtheatre.com).
Historic Fort Macleod in southern Alberta is the birthplace of the North-West Mounted Police—now the RCMP. The first musical ride in Canada was held in the town in 1876. Modelled after British Army cavalry drills, the musical ride features 36 riders performing intricate moves. The 30-minute shows are held four times daily from July to September (www.nwmpmuseum.com).
Icefields Parkway: Ranked one of the most scenic drives in Canada, Hwy 93 from Jasper to Lake Louise, is a 237-km (147-mi.) stretch that zips past dozens of waterfalls, glaciers, emerald lakes and rocky gorges. A gateway to the Alaska Highway, the town of Jasper is a portal to nearby destinations such as Athabasca and Sunwapta falls, Miette Hot Springs and Maligne Lake (www. icefieldsparkway.com).
UNESCO Trail: It’s no day trip, but this classic trek is worth the several weeks it takes to properly travel the 1,900-km (1,181-mi.) north-south corridor. From the southern tip of Alberta at stunning Waterton Lakes to Wood Buffalo National Park in the remote north, road trippers pass through a diverse range of terrain including alpine, parkland, boreal forests and sections of the badlands.
Cowboy Trail: Western Heritage takes the spotlight along this scenic Hwy 22 drive through the foothills of the Rockies between Pincher Creek and Mayerthorpe. Highlights of the 700-km (435-mi.) route include Bar U Ranch National Historic Site and historic Cochrane Ranch (www.thecowboytrail.com).
Families shouldn’t miss the World Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall, the Calgary Zoo’s Penguin Plunge or The Brainasium outdoor centre/slide at the TELUS Spark Centre. Kids flock to the Tropical Pyramid at the Muttart Conservatory. The Great Canadian Barn Dance at Hillspring features campfires, music and food (www.gcbd.ca), while the Innisfail Discovery Wildlife Park is a 90-acre zoo housing more than 40 species of orphaned animals including bears, wolves and lions (www.discoverywildlifepark.com). The Royal Tyrrell Museum offers a Jurassic joyride; also the chance to climb into the belly of the World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller in the Canadian Badlands. Star Trek buffs should stop at the town of Vulcan for its otherworldly visitor centre and annual Vul-Con festival, a living tribute to the popular Star Trek TV series.
PARK PICKROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Immerse yourself in nine authentic Aboriginal cultures at this former fur-trading post along the confluence of the mighty North Saskatchewan and Clearwater rivers, where 200 years of fur trade heritage have been brought to life. Play traditional Blackfoot games or cook bannock (unleavened bread) using just a stick and an open campfire. Tap your toes in harmony with a local drummer or dancer, or learn to make an authentic Native dream catcher. Bed down for the night in a teepee or Métis trapper’s tent under a canopy of stars. Step into the wide-bottomed York boats built to navigate the northern trading routes, or check out the authentic Red River carts that brought Métis settlers West across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Two interpretive trails wind past remains of the Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company, rival furtrading forts established in 1799. Relive the adventures of British-Canadian explorer David Thompson, who helped chart a huge portion of northwestern North America on a quest to find a passage to the Pacific (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/rocky
National Parks and Historic Sites: www.parkscanada.gc.ca 1-888-773-8888