Destination Southern Alberta

Lifting off from Calgary International Airport into a robin egg blue sky, the Rocky Mountains, powdered with fresh snow, shimmer in the afternoon sun along the western horizon. To the east, snow-dappled prairie, where vast herds of buffalo once roamed, stretches to a distant horizon. The contrast of plains and peaks is a spectacular beginning to our forty-five minute flight to Lethbridge. This vibrant  Southern Alberta city boasts a population of over ninety thousand, has a strong agricultural base, an expanding light industrial centre and a top-rated university. Established near the infamous Fort Whoop-Up with a wild-west past, It’s also the gateway to exciting adventures.

Start your adventure at the Galt Museum, a modern, beautifully designed facility. Take in the vivid displays that highlight the area’s colourful history, and then  relax in museum lobby, where panoramic windows overlook the grandeur of the coulees and the old Man River valley. Gaze across the valley at West Lethbridge, and marvel at the centrepiece of West Lethbridge – the unique, monolithic structure of the University of Lethbridge nestled between coulee hills.

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Sunset at The University of Lethbridge

Descend into the Oldman River valley river by car, and then walk or cycle along miles of well-tended trails. Keep a sharp lookout for herds of pronghorn antelope and white-tailed deer foraging in the coulee valleys – and don’t be surprised if a metre-tall jackrabbit bounds across your path with ten foot leaps.

Rivervalley near Lethbridge

Southern Alberta was the true wild west of legend. Fort Whoop-Up, near present day Lethbridge, hosted a lawless culture of buffalo hunting and whiskey trading. The infamous fort was the impetus for the formation of the North West Mounted Police, forerunners of today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In 1874, two hundred and seventy-five officers were dispatched to Fort Whoop-Up to establish law and order . [1]

Ft McLeod

First home of the Northwest Mounted Police.

A visit to the re-creation of the infamous Fort Whoop-up is a must-see attraction, and then visit nearby Indian Battle Park, the site of a great and bloody battle between the Cree and Blackfoot Nations in 1870. The Coal Banks Interpretive Center stands near the actual site of the battle where over three-hundred Cree warriors perished. [2]

In 1874, Pioneer Nicholas Sheran was the first to mine coal, along the banks of the Old Man River, (known at the time as the Belly River), but it was Sir Alexander Galt and others who formed The Northwest Coal Company  in  1882 and turned coal into a major industry. The railroad soon followed. Coal was king for many decades. The last mine, Galt # 8 closed in 1957. The framework of the mine tipple and the mine water tower still stand, and are visible towards the northern end of West Lethbridge. A local organization, The Galt #8 Historical Society, aims to purchase the Galt # 8 Mine Site  and convert it into an interactive interpretative and community centre. [3]

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The tipple, a few buildings and a scattering of old machinery is all that remains of the Age of Coal.

While you’re in the river valley, look up – way up. At 1.6 km in length and 314 feet high, The High level Bridge; it is the longest and highest trestle bridge in the world.

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High Level Bridge – Lethbridge

A visit to Waterton Lakes National Park an hour and  half drive from Lethbridge is another must-do. Spectacular scenery and world class hiking , horseback riding and even an eighteen hole golf course awaits. Waterton townsite has retained its quaint charm, but offers accommodation and dining facilities to suit all budgets.

A day trip to the Head-Smashed-In buffalo jump is an unforgettable expedition. Aboriginal peoples of the plains used this site for 6,000 years before European contact. Now a UNESCO world Heritage Site, Head-Smashed-In brings visitors face to face with the history and relationship of ancient aboriginal peoples and the buffalo – and you’ll meet present day aboriginal people who act as interpreters and guides

These are just a sample of the many attractions and magical allure of southern Alberta. There is more-much more to keep you coming back.

[1] History of the RCMP

http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/hist/index-eng.htm

2[] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Belly_River

[3] Galt #8 Historical Site Society (http://galt8.org/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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