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]

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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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Thanksgiving in L.A.

We made the trek from Victoria, British Columbia on the southern tip of Vancouver island to Lethbridge, in the southern reaches of Alberta to celebrate Thanksgiving with  family. By car, it’s a ferry ride and fifteen hours of mountain driving – or, three hours flight time. We usually put our air miles to use and fly, as we did this time. We flew to Calgary, stayed overnight  at a hotel near the airport, and the next morning took the connector flight to Lethbridge, Alberta – or L.A. as it’s often referred to.

That flight is an experience. From the departure gate, we board a bus that takes us to the far end of the apron where our ride awaits. The aircraft is a Beechcraft turbo prop that holds about eighteen people, and it’s full. It’s a cosy experience.The seats look like they were borrowed from a kindergarten class, but  every seat is a window seat. The flight from Calgary takes forty-five minutes.

Lethbridge is also my home town and soon familiar landmarks appear on the horizon. Our flight path takes us over the high level bridge that spans the mile and a quarter river valley carved by the Old Man River. It’s difficult to get a decent photo from the aircraft window, but here are some ground photos of the big bridge.

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Under the bridge

The modern City of Lethbridge, with a population approaching one hundred thousand, is located near the site of the original settlement, of Fort Whoop-Up. The fort was a trading post established in 1869 by two American traders. Originally named Fort Hamilton after one of the founders, the fort earned a wild and lawless reputation.

One type of alcohol sold by the Whoop-Up bandits was known as Whoop-Up Bug Juice, a highly prized alcohol spiked with ginger, molasses, and red pepper. It was then coloured with black chewing tobacco, watered down, and boiled to make “firewater”.[5] 

The reputation of Fort Whoop-Up led to the establishment of the North West Mounted Police and their famous march west in 1874. Reminiscent of on present day ‘war on drugs’ efforts.

Fort Whoop-up has been re-created in Indian Battle Park in the Riverbottom near the big bridge.

This photo overlooks the river valley towards the site of the original fort near  the junction of the Oldman and St. Mary’s rivers. The Rocky Mountains are just visible against the horizon.

Coulees near Lethbridge

Looking towards the original site of Fort Whoop-up

We often stay at Paradise Canyon, a timeshare and golf resort in the valley. It’s a beautiful setting, and we’ve been here so often that it feels like our home away from home  – but the weather is subject to rapid change at this time of year.

This photo is from our timeshare unit two days ago.

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This was the scene when we looked out today.

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We enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving feast with family, and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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