Many places in the world are lucky to have one UNESCO World Heritage Site, here in Calgary; we have the ability to drive to four, each one easily accessible on a day trip.
- The Canadian Rockies
- Waterton Lakes National Park (adjacent to the Montana State border)
- Dinosaur Provincial Park (northeast of Brooks)
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (west of Fort MacLeod)
We decided to make day two our “Museum/Cultural” day, since day three would take us back on the road for more exploring. Since my son loves to “check off” UNESCO sites around the world, it was an easy decision for us to head west to Fort MacLeod to visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
The drive from Lethbridge was quick and easy allowing us to be the first guests to arrive at the museum. We quickly discovered that this was to our advantage since this allowed us to have the guide, “Napi” all to ourselves. A well verse native aboriginal, Napi, provided us with great insight to the importance of Head-Smashed-In and the surrounding area. Providing endless dialogue, Napi lead us through the museum and out to the walking paths above the buffalo jump. Napi spoke of the sacred lands and explained to us where the actual jump was located. At the end of our guided tour, Napi explained to us that on the first Saturday of the summer months, the museum and guides will lead hikers beyond the walking paths to the hills where the aboriginal people watched over the buffalo and performed scared meetings. I understood this hike was free, but must be booked in advance with the Museum.
After spending our time outdoors in the beautiful weather, we decided it was time to explore the museum and read about the history of the area. The museum is divided between five floors that hug the hill adjacent to the jump location. The museum brings to life the incredible history that once encompassed the surrounding area. Ignorantly, I had always thought that the name “Head-Smashed-In came from the buffalo’s falling off the cliff, I was completely wrong. Instead, the name comes from oral tradition about a young boy who wanted to see the buffalo plunge off the cliff, so he decided to stand under the shelter of the ledge. When the adults came to collect the buffalo, they noticed this young boy trapped under the buffalo with his skull crushed, hence the name.
After exploring the museum, we decided to head back outside to explore the lower hiking paths that lead us to the bottom of the jump. Always believing that this was only one of a few jumps, I was corrected and informed that buffalo jumps range from Edmonton all the way to Texas, with Head-Smashed-In being one of the largest and most complete sites in the world.
After we spent an extensive amount of time at Head-Smash-In we decided to it was time to head back east to For MacLeod to explore this quaint, yet, very historical town. Before we left Head-Smashed-In, I found a copy of a Fort MacLeod tourism guide, I love the insightful information, even announcing construction for a new Tim Horton’s is underway. Now this is Canadian! Once again like Lethbridge, I had never stopped in Fort MacLeod; it was on route to the US border.
However, this day would be different; I wanted to learn more about this historic town. Prior to the trip, I did some research and discovered that it had a very historic main street lined with sandstone buildings. In 1874, the first fort for the North West Mounted Police was established in this area. Fort MacLeod was known for upholding the laws and “always getting their man.”
If you are able to stop and stay awhile, there are daily guided tours during the summer months to provide visitors with an “in-depth look at the buildings and characters that are part of Fort MacLeod’s historic Main Street.” Included in the tours are conversations about big-budget movie productions such as, Brokeback Mountain and Passchendaele, which have helped to put this place on the map . If you don’t have time, or you are visiting on a shoulder season, just grab a magazine guide which provides a walking tour and listings of the historical buildings.
Known as the “Jewel on Main Street”, the Empress Theatre, built in 1912 as the first Opera House in Western Canada, continues to provide top-quality live entertainment during the summer months, while operating as a movie theatre as well.
After taking some pictures, we decided it was time to head back to Lethbridge to visit the Galt Museum and enjoy a walk around Lethbridge’s historic downtown.
As stated in the previous post, Fort Whoop-Up (love that name) was established in Lethbridge to stamp out the whiskey trade, but did it take it away completely? As a quote from an early Lethbridge resident in the 1920’s “the wickedest city in the wickedest province in Canada.” “His impression stemmed from many factors. Lethbridge was the only city in Alberta to vote against Prohibition. In the early 1920’s the largest gambling raid to that date in Alberta history took place in Lethbridge. And for a while Lethbridge reportedly had the largest red-light district in Western Canada. Some people have suggested that in the 1920’s and 1930’s, this district was Lethbridge’s #1 tourist attraction. The district was closed in the 1940’s.”
However, what made Lethbridge the city that it is today? From the early beginnings Lethbridge had a stake in the coal mines, most prominently, the Galt Family. In addition to the coal, large-scale irrigation transitioned Lethbridge from coal mining town to an agriculture centre. Numerous booms turned Lethbridge into the city you know today.
We decided to learn more about this history by visiting the Galt Museum which over-looks the stunning High Level Bridge. The main building has been attached to the original 1910 Galt Hospital in architectural beauty, beautiful from the outside in. The Museum focuses on the surrounding area and how Lethbridge came to be. Numerous hands-on displays provide great entertainment for both the young and old alike. Please keep in mind, while the Museum is small in scale, this does not take away from the numerous programs that are highlighted throughout the year. A variety of programs are made for adults, children, and families, and the admission price is very reasonable for the information provided.
We decided to end our Museum/Cultural day by taking a Historical Walking Tour of the downtown area. We picked up our free booklet outlining the route and buildings at the Galt Museum, forty pages long and full of history – fantastic.
My son acted as the guide and I acted as the photographer. Considering some buildings had been torn down after the booklet had been printed, most notably in “Chinatown”, we were still able to take ourselves back in time, in addition to enjoying the varied buildings.
We started our tour in Chinatown, which to my surprise contained a branch of Canada’s oldest Chinese organizations, the Chinese Freemasons, housed in the Chi Kong Tong Building. Built in 1924, this two-story building was originally used as a Chinese language school and commercial space. Today, the first floor is now occupied by a grocery store. Located nearby is the Bow On Tong Building, built in 1919 and in 1926 originally operated as a Chinese Pharmacy and herbalist shop by the Way Leong family. The family still owns the building and if you go inside, you will still find herb and drug containers on the shelves. It is stated that the interior still looks the same as it did 50 years ago.
The most noticeable building along the same street belongs to Fire Hall No.1. Originally built in 1891 and renovated in 1908, the new building boosted to accommodate the mayor’s office, city council chambers, city engineer, and the waterworks offices. In addition to Police Headquarters, jail wards, and of course the fire department facilities, which housed stalls for nine horses, gymnasium, dormitories, and a third floor recreation gallery. Quarters were even provided for married fireman and their families. Later in 1998, it was renovated once again into business space, a private residence, restaurant and bar with a wine cellar.
Within one hour, our walking tour came to an end. What a great finish to a great day.
What will day three bring?