Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is significant for its First Nations’ history. // © 2011 wild prairie man
Most visitors Are probably unaware that Alberta, Canada, has an abundance of history, with more than 350 museums and historic sites spread across the western province. Home to a diverse range of Firsts Nations peoples, including the Plains Indians and the Blackfoot Confederacy, Southern Alberta features interactive attractions that vividly capture the pieces of the province's past.
"Alberta's rich history is anchored in natural wonders, Western tradition and aboriginal culture, and our stories are shared in interpretive ways," said Jennifer Anderson, manager of Travel Alberta. "It's not just about reading a sign -- it's about interacting with the past. Alberta has a historic site experience to tantalize any traveler."
Many of Alberta's momentous sites are within driving distance of each other; travelers can easily commute between them, experiencing their own narrative of the province along the way. Interacting With the Past
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, located near Milk River, is a prominent historical landscape that preserves the traditional culture of the First Nations Plains People. The park's sandstone cliffs are covered with carvings and paintings -- created mostly by the Blackfoot people -- that date back more than 3,500 years. The illustrious site now serves as an archeological preserve and offers guided tours for visitors. Nature lovers can also camp out on the sacred site year-round, for fees starting at $21 per night.
Another designated National Heritage Site is Blackfoot Crossing. The 1877 signing of Treaty No. 7, granting the First Nations people a reserve in Alberta, took place here. The historic site is now home to the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, the largest First Nations owned and operated museum in Canada. The park is a celebrated educational and entertainment center built for the promotion and preservation of the Blackfoot people's language, culture and traditions. The site offers various indoor and outdoor tours led by Blackfoot interpreters or self-guided tours through the center's interactive exhibits. Indoor tours are $3 per person, and outdoor tours are $5 per person.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an unusual name, is one of the best preserved buffalo jumps in existence. Located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it was used about 5,500 years ago by the First Nations Plains people to kill buffalo by driving them off the site's 36-foot cliff. It is now home to a museum of Blackfoot culture, which uses archeological evidence to depict the ecology, mythology, lifestyle and technology of the tribe. The museum is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Rates are available online. Every Wednesday in July and August at both 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., visitors can also experience authentic drum and dance performances.
Just north of the buffalo jump is Fort Macleod, the headquarters of the North West Mounted Police, which was built in 1874. It is also home to the fort museum, which features dramatic reenactments of early aboriginal culture, and runs May through June. Travelers can also experience the Magical Ride, one of the first riding demonstrations at Fort Macleod, through daily shows starting July 1 and continuing through Labor Day weekend.
Fort Whoop-Up, originally named Fort Hamilton, is an early trading post located a few miles east of Fort Macleod, in the southern city of Lethbridge. The site has been established as one of the first and most notorious "whiskey forts" built by Americans on Canadian soil. While the early fort bandits engaged in significant legal trading, they were infamous for alcohol trading as well, as the fort quickly gained the nickname "Whoop-Up." Travelers can learn about the history here through museum exhibits and reconstructed compounds.
Summer tourists looking for an evening adventure in Lethbridge can stay for the Dinner Theatre and Gun Fight every Friday and Saturday night from July 23 until Aug. 28. Additionally, the nearby Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens of Lethbridge promise peaceful strolls alongside the Henderson Lake.
The remarkably well-preserved Bar U Ranch is another Alberta must-see attraction, situated just south of the village of Longview. Travelers can wander by foot or horse-drawn wagon through the National Historic Site, which commemorates the history and value of ranching in Canada. The ranch also offers group tours and a special "Wranglin', Ropin' and Reminiscin'!" activity, where visitors can sit around a camp fire and listen to historic tales, Western poetry and music while sampling tasty bannock, a flat quick bread, and sipping cowboy coffee, made using course grounds and hardly any filtration. During visitor season, which begins May 22, the ranch will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The daily entry fee is about $8 per person; discounts are offered for seniors and students.Travel Planning
Alberta is home to two international airports in Edmonton and Calgary. The Calgary airport is farther south and thus closer to Alberta's prominent historical sites. Although transportation throughout Alberta is available via motorcoaches and trains, Travel Alberta marks scenic road trips as the best way to experience the providence. Upon arrival, travelers can rent a car directly at the airport from one of the many trusted rental companies accessible on site.
Calgary also has many luxury hotel options, including 5 Calgary Downtown Suites and Hyatt Regency Calgary. Downtown Calgary, only a short drive from the airport, is a center for shopping, music, theater and dining. There is also the well-known Fairmont Palliser, a five-star hotel and resort just 12 miles away from the Calgary International Airport.
Guests should check in to their hotels, grab a map and then head south. One of the most recommended Alberta traveling routes is to drive alongside the rolling landscape to the southern-most destination and loop back toward Calgary, hitting many of the historic hot spots along the way.
Travelers can experience the unique hybrid of new and old that defines Alberta, Canada. There are countless opportunities to explore the modern-day province while discovering and appreciating its rich historical past.
"Someone is always waiting to welcome you in Alberta. There's a reason we boast about our Western hospitality," said Anderson. "Visitors will walk away with an appreciation of how our past has influenced the type of community we have today."