Al­berta’s hid­den Rock­ies gem

The Prince George Citizen - - Travel - Colette Derworiz

It’s off the beaten path with ad­ven­tures rang­ing from view­ing burly bi­son on the plains to hik­ing the stun­ning ridge of nearby Coli­seum Moun­tain.

Rocky Moun­tain House Na­tional His­toric Site, an arche­o­log­i­cal site that has rem­nants of early 19th cen­tury fur trad­ing posts, is in the foothills of the Rocky Moun­tains west of High­way 2 be­tween Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton.

Each time you visit the rus­tic area, there’s op­por­tu­nity for a new ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I re­ally like Rocky,” said Su­san Ken­nard, man­ager of her­itage pro­grams with Parks Canada, which man­ages the site. “To me, it feels like it’s in­fused with the com­mu­nity spirit, too. That makes a dif­fer­ence there.”

Four forts once stood on the land at the con­flu­ence of the North Saskatchew­an and Clear­wa­ter rivers.

First Na­tions, the Metis and Eu­ro­pean traders used the rivers like high­ways, trans­port­ing their goods to and from the forts – a cen­tre of com­merce in the West for decades.

Only rem­nants of the forts re­main, but there are plenty of signs point­ing to the sig­nif­i­cance of the site.

You can ex­plore the Chim­ney Trail, which goes through the arche­o­log­i­cal re­mains of two Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany forts from 1835 and 1868, or the David Thomp­son Trail, which fol­lows the banks of the river.

There are also sev­eral her­itage pro­grams in­clud­ing First Na­tion drum and song, as well as ban­nock-mak­ing and dream-catcher work­shops.

Mar­cien Le­Blanc, past-pres­i­dent of Metis Lo­cal 845, said they ac­tively try to teach peo­ple who visit about the his­tory of the place.

“We train the young peo­ple to be able to tell peo­ple about that,” he said.

Le­Blanc said vis­i­tors can tour two tents and climb aboard a Red River Cart to imag­ine what life was once like there.

The pro­grams are run by the Metis, the Con­flu­ence Her­itage So­ci­ety or Parks Canada.

“Peo­ple love the idea of do­ing a bead­ing work­shop or capote mak­ing,” said Ken­nard.

Vis­i­tors can also walk up to a look­out and catch glimpses of some of the 12 Plains bi­son in the pad­dock.

And make sure to lis­ten for yip­ping coy­otes, watch for deer wan­der­ing through the camp­ground and keep an ear out for moo­ing cows – some­times all in the same day.

“It’s a hid­den gem,” said Ken­nard.

Our group, which in­cluded two chil­dren, also found must-do ac­tiv­i­ties in the sur­round­ing area:

• Head down to the shore of the bril­liantly blue Abra­ham Lake. Lo­cated along the David Thomp­son High­way be­tween Saskatchew­an River Cross­ing and Nordegg, it’s a man-made lake and the prov­ince’s largest reser­voir for drink­ing wa­ter.

The lake was cre­ated in 1972 with the con­struc­tion of the Bighorn Dam.

• Hike on trails like Sif­fleur Falls, a 10-kilo­me­tre hike with im­pres­sive wa­ter­falls; and Coli­seum Moun­tain, a 12-kilo­me­tre trail with stun­ning views. The trails are much qui­eter than those in nearby Banff Na­tional Park.

• Tour an old mine site, a col­lec­tion of build­ings and ma­chin­ery left from coal-min­ing op­er­a­tions of the Brazeau Col­lieries in Nordegg.

• Eat pie at the Min­ers’ Cafe in Nordegg. Try the ba­nana cream and the strawberry rhubarb and the co­conut cream. There’s lunch, too, but def­i­nitely save room for the pie – or take a full pie home with you.

If you go What’s new:

A Plains bi­son ex­hibit will open at the vis­i­tor cen­tre this sum­mer, al­low­ing peo­ple to watch a video about their rein­tro­duc­tion in nearby Banff Na­tional Park. The vis­i­tor cen­tre also has a new 3D Vir­tual Re­al­ity Ex­pe­ri­ence, which al­lows vis­i­tors to tour the four fur trad­ing posts - made in a ver­sion of the Minecraft video game – with vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles. How to book: Reser­va­tions can be made on­line for the teepees, trap­per tents, trapline cab­ins or camp­ing.

The teepees have room for eight peo­ple, the trap­per’s tents fit three to five peo­ple and the trapline cab­ins sleep up to six. All have comfy mat­tresses to sleep on, but bring your own sleep­ing bags and

pil­lows. There’s also 10 walk-in tent­ing sites and 26 un­ser­viced trailer sites.

How to get there: Rocky Moun­tain House Na­tional His­toric Site is lo­cated west of Red Deer, Alta. on the eastern slopes of the Rock­ies. It’s be­tween 200 and 225 kilo­me­tres from Cal­gary or Ed­mon­ton, de­pend­ing on the route you take. There are sev­eral scenic op­tions, but the eas­i­est way is tak­ing High­way 2 to Red Deer and driv­ing west to Rocky Moun­tain House, Alta.

The his­toric site is about a 10-minute drive from town, just off of High­way 11A.


Above, Abra­ham Lake in cen­tral Al­berta is a man-made lake and the prov­ince’s largest reser­voir for drink­ing wa­ter. Be­low, Kather­ine O’Neill and her daugh­ter Lau­ren stand on the ridge of Coli­seum Moun­tain north of Nordegg, Alta.

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