AL­BERTA: UR­BAN ES­CAPES, ALPINE AD­VEN­TURES AND PRAIRIE SUN­SHINE

Back­dropped by the Rocky Moun­tains to the west and great swaths of prairie to the east, Al­berta is first and fore­most an out­door lover’s par­adise. Five of Canada’s na­tional parks are found in Al­berta, beck­on­ing trav­ellers year-round with a myr­iad of recre

Travel Guide to Canada - - Table Of Contents - BY SU­SAN MATE

Ur­ban es­cape artists flock to Al­berta’s two largest cities, Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary, for retail therapy, gourmet din­ing, rus­tic spas and shop­ping at North Amer­ica’s largest shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment com­plex, West Ed­mon­ton Mall.

Al­berta is blessed with a di­verse her­itage that en­com­passes First Na­tions his­tory, pi­o­neer spirit and a 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 at nearly 300 pro­vin­cial recre­ational ar­eas such as Kananaskis Coun­try, Cypress Hills, Di­nosaur Pro­vin­cial Park and Will­more Wilder­ness Park, a rugged 4,600 sq. km (1,774 sq. mi.) area east of Jasper near the re­mote north­ern town of Grande Cache.

The 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 fiercely 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 Head-Smashed-In Buf­falo Jump, which is older than Stone­henge, or the mod­ern steel and glass-en­cased Art Gallery of Al­berta in Ed­mon­ton.

NA­TURE’S WON­DER­LAND

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 are a de­light 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.

VEN­TUR­ING OUT

Float your boat down a river or head for calmer wa­ters along Lake Min­newanka or Mo­raine Lake in 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 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 to 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.

WHAT’S NEW?

The Royal Al­berta Mu­seum is sched­uled to re­open some­time this year in its new lo­ca­tion in Ed­mon­ton’s down­town Arts District after nearly three years. The new fa­cil­ity, the largest in Western Canada, in­cludes dou­ble the ex­hibit space. There is a hu­man his­tory gallery with an Al­berta fo­cus, a chil­dren’s gallery, the Bug Room and the Man­i­tou Stone Gallery, hous­ing the me­te­orite held sa­cred by the First Na­tions of Al­berta, which will be avail­able for var­i­ous Indige­nous cer­e­monies (www.roy­alal­ber­ta­mu­seum.ca).

The Cal­gary Pub­lic Li­brary will be the city’s new­est ar­chi­tec­tural marvel when it opens in Novem­ber, a few blocks from the Na­tional Mu­sic Cen­tre. The high-tech li­brary will fea­ture a 350-seat per­for­mance hall along with more than 30 com­mu­nity meet­ing spa­ces, a read­ing room and spe­cial kids play spa­ces (www.cal­gar­yli­brary.ca/ new-cen­tral-li­brary).

The much-loved Kananaskis Coun­try Golf Course re­opens this spring, five years after it was forced to close by mas­sive flood­ing. Sit­u­ated in Kananaskis Val­ley, the golf course is just 80 km (50 mi.) from Cal­gary, mak­ing it pop­u­lar with lo­cals and tourists alike for the sport, the wildlife (oc­ca­sional

bear, elk or deer) and the stun­ning views (www.kananask­isgolf.com).

Trav­ellers want­ing to ex­plore the fa­mous alpine towns of Banff and Lake Louise and places in-be­tween have a new trans­porta­tion op­tion. A ser­vice called Hop On Banff will travel a sched­uled route be­tween lo­cal hot spots in Banff Na­tional Park. One ticket will get you from the Banff town­site to Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise Vil­lage, the ski hill gon­dola, Fair­mont Chateau Lake Louise and the stun­ning Mo­raine Lake. The ser­vice should be booked in ad­vance and op­er­ates from late May to early Oc­to­ber (www.ho­pon­banff.com).

CITY LIGHTS

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 or raft (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 in­nercity en­ergy hub called the Bow Tower is a mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural skyscraper that cov­ers 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 and its pretty 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 showjump­ing 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

4,286,100Ed­mon­tonwww.trav­e­lal­berta.comCal­gary In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 18 km (11 mi.) from down­townEd­mon­ton In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 30 km (19 mi.) from down­town

THE FAM­ILY OF MAN SCULP­TURE, CAL­GARY • TRAVEL AB/GER­ARD YUNKER

MALIGNE LAKE, JASPER NA­TIONAL PARK • PARKS CANADA/RYAN BRAY

MT. NORQUAY SKI RESORT • TRAVEL AB/BANFF & LAKE LOUISE TOURISM

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