Go Wild Out West!

Go Wild Out West!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dee Van Dyk

Alberta is known for its Wild West past and its rocky Mountain backdrop – but when it comes to recreation, the province is all that and much more. From ballet and theatre to canoeing and skiing, and from world-class music concerts to top international sporting events, Alberta has it all.

Indulge in a memorable romantic evening of fine wine and delicious cuisine, or take the whole family on a rollicking adventure: climb a mountain peak or sit beside a roaring fire in the lodge; discover how the dinosaurs lived or where Alberta’s aboriginal peoples dwelled on the plains and in the mountains. There’s no limit to the ways in which Albertans can while away their leisure time!

Alberta Alfresco
Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the calgary Stampede is a favourite draw for tourists and residents alike. For 10 days each July, Calgary virtually shuts down to pay homage to rodeo. Enjoy free pancake breakfasts and beef-and-beans dinners, and get your fill of country and western music. Rodeo events offer wall to-wall, heart-in-your-mouth excitement.

If the Stampede doesn’t satisfy your appetite for life in the Wild West, consider a day trip to Alberta’s Cowboy Trail, 700 kilometres of roadways embracing the Rocky Mountains and prairies. Visit a guest ranch, go horseback riding, canoeing or white water rafting, or enjoy a hike through unmatched scenic beauty.

In Calgary itself, there’s always something going on in Prince’s Island Park or at the trendy pedestrian stroll, Stephen Avenue Mall, with its historic sandstone buildings. The city’s annual Shakespeare in the Park event, which runs in July and August, offers a fun, accessible and outdoor way to introduce your kids to the bard. Admission is by donation.

In the city’s northwest, Canada Olympic Park is not only a premier athletic training facility, but also a place to make outdoor memories. During winter the ski hill opens into the evenings, while summer turns the slopes into a mountain-bike park. If you’re brave enough, try the Skyline at the Park Ride, North America’s fastest zip-line ride, launching from the ski jump tower, or the Z-trip, a life-size translucent ball that you “ride” downhill.

In Edmonton, the old Strathcona district dates back to the 1890s; today, as then, it’s best explored on foot. To celebrate Edmonton’s 100th birthday as a city in 2004, this artsy community painted over 40 of its signal and electrical boxes with murals in the theme of “celebrating old Strathcona.” Stroll along the historic, boutique-lined streets, and stop at the Farmers’ Market on 83rd avenue at 103rd Street (open Saturdays) to pick up fresh local produce and handcrafts.

When it’s time to head for Alberta’s green spaces, you won’t be disappointed. As Canada’s fourth largest province, with just over 10 per cent of Canada’s population, Alberta has plenty of room for both people and wildlife. Five national parks and 69 provincial parks preserve some of the most spectacular scenery found anywhere.

One hundred and twenty-eight kilometres west of Calgary is Banff National Park, one of the world’s largest protected wilderness areas. Tucked into the rugged Rocky Mountains, Banff offers a wide variety of experiences, from a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain to fishing in Lake Minnewanka, to a soak in the Upper Hot Springs (a naturally heated mineral spring pool).

You can also tour one of the world’s most scenic highways, Icefields Parkway, which runs through Banff and Jasper National Parks parallel to the chain of massive peaks that straddle the Continental Divide. Over 100 glaciers line this route, where a backdrop of mountains, waterfalls and walls of ice give the area an almost mystical beauty.

In the southernmost part of the province, Cypress Hills, Writing-on-Stone and Waterton Lakes thrill visitors with three distinctly different park experiences. Located 66 kilometres southeast of Medicine Hat, Cypress Hills straddles the provincial border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, making it Canada’s only interprovincial park. to the southwest, the sandstone cliffs of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park capture thousands of years of history in their artistic aboriginal rock paintings and carvings.

Waterton Lakes National Park springs, lush and mountainous, from the Alberta prairies. less than two hours southwest of Lethbridge, Waterton is as beautiful as its more well known counterparts of Banff and Jasper, with many of the same outdoor options.

For a historic afternoon, visit the Historic Main Street and Antique & Art Walk of Alberta in Nanton and then head west to the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre, where you can learn about 5,500 years of Native American history. the site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and makes a relaxing day trip from Calgary. One of Alberta’s newest attractions, Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, can be found just east of Calgary, celebrating the heritage of the Blackfoot peoples in a stunning building and setting.

Centre Stage
Theatre is alive and well in Alberta. In Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects provides the very best in contemporary theatre. If your tastes run to classic plays, consider the offerings of Theatre Calgary.

Located 100 kilometres northeast of Calgary, Rosebud Theatre offers something unique: Alberta’s only rural professional theatre. With a resident population of less than 100, Rosebud Theatre draws more than 40,000 people every year!

Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre is composed of five performing spaces, including the marvelous Tucker Amphitheatre, an open stage in a year-round conservatory garden. The Citadel stages 12 plays in a season, and is home to the Eldon and Anne Foote Theatre School, which offers theatre classes, workshops and camps for all ages.

If your taste runs to dinner theatre, Alberta serves it up hot and fun for you. Stage West and Jubilations offer locations in both Calgary and Edmonton, while murder mysteries take place in settings such as the Historic Deane House restaurant at Fort Calgary (a replica of the original North West Mounted Police Fort that founded Calgary).

Major History
Of interest to kids of all ages is the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. Located in the heart of Alberta’s badlands, the Tyrrell Museum is full of interactive displays and hands-on experiences, with brand new exhibits showcasing the dinosaurs that made Alberta their home over 75 million years ago. During summer, the whole family can take part in a weekend “Badlands Science camp” where it’s all about prospecting for and making casts of fossils. you might get lucky – finds continue to be uncovered almost every year! Tip: stop for a bite of rhubarb sour-cream pie at the Whistling Kettle in nearby Drumheller.

In Calgary, visit the Glenbow Museum, western Canada’s largest historic and cultural museum with an art collection of 28,000 works dating from the 19th century to the present day. Edmonton has over 16 museums, including the Royal Alberta Museum. the Alberta Railway Museum, also in Edmonton, reflects a century of railroading in the west, while the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin showcases the province’s transportation, from motorcycles to biplanes. another local favourite is the Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston, home to North America’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles.

Festival Fever
Winter or summer, whatever the season, Albertans are geared for a good time. Festivals celebrate every aspect of life here: sports, culture, music and food. edmonton, renowned as the Festival city, kicks off its summer festival scene in early June with the International children’s Festival, the Nextfest arts festival for emerging artists, and the river city Shakespeare Festival. Fall brings, among others, the International Film Festival and International lit Fest. Finish off the year by attending the bright Nights Winter Family Festival or New Year’s Eve Downtown.

Foodies rejoice! Gastronomic delights abound during a taste of Edmonton, held each July. Up to 40 restaurants offer up one savory and one sweet dish from their menu, while a licenced area provides alcoholic beverages to
wash delectables down. Food motivates many to attend the Capital EX, one of canada’s largest exhibitions – check out SIP! a Gourmet Food/Wine experience.

Calgary’s festival scene is equally compelling. Join fellow Calgarians in May, perusing street vendors at the Fourth Street Lilac Festival. In June, groove to the Calgary Jazz Festival and in July check out Prince’s Island Park, downtown, for the weekend party that is the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Experience ethnic cuisine, performances, costumes and arts and crafts from the bouquet of cultures that have come to live and work in Calgary – German, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean, Indonesian, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese and many more! Or sample its ethnic diversity one culture at a time by heading out to the Afrikadey! Festival, the Calgary Greek Festival, carifest, the Kensington Sun and Salsa Festival or the Dragonboat Festival that draws 50,000 spectators yearly to watch the dragonboat races at the Glenmore reservoir.

Game On!
Sports are a big part of life in Alberta and, whether you actively participate or just want to quarterback from the couch, there’s much to see and do. Professional hockey is front and centre in Albertans’interests, with a hot – but friendly! – rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. If junior hockey is more to your taste, the calgary Hitmen offer good family value and fun.

In more temperate months, football lovers can nurse that Calgary-Edmonton competitiveness by cheering for the Edmonton Eskimos or Calgary Stampeders. If you are lucky, you can catch a game where the Stampeders play the Saskatchewan Roughriders – with thousands of former Saskatchewan residents now living in Calgary, the fanatics come out in full force when the Riders visit.

A new and exciting addition to the professional sports front is lacrosse, with the Calgary Roughnecks and Edmonton Rush reintroducing the province to Canada’s “other” national game.

For those who prefer to do rather than watch, Alberta cities and towns have active sporting communities for kids of any age. Calgary City Parks runs 7,500 hectares of parks and green space with playgrounds, ball diamonds, soccer and football fields, tennis courts, plus 660 kilometres of pathways. Even the dogs have their pick of exercise sites, with more than 120 off-leash areas to choose from. there’s also a full recreation program offered in Edmonton, focused on the beautiful North Saskatchewan River Valley.

Child’s Play
While many of the events already mentioned have a family focus, Alberta offers ample attractions catering specifically to the smaller set. Don’t miss the historic attractions of Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary and Fort Edmonton Park in Edmonton. Both facilities use authentic historic buildings to recreate the West during Alberta’s earliest days of settlement, from fur traders to pioneers and beyond.

You can also develop your child’s appreciation for theatre early, at Calgary’s Storybook Theatre, where children as young as three can experience live theatre in a comfortable setting. Both Calgary and Edmonton hold special childrens’ festivals in the spring.

To run off energy, drop by the Calgary Zoo, or explore the TeluS World of Science, which has a location in both major Alberta cities; in Calgary, it’s teamed with the Creative Kids Museum, offering a chance to discover both science and the arts, all in one place (and for one admission price). Or take a trip to Calaway Park, just outside Calgary, where families can thrill to exciting rides, watch live stage shows, take in a game of mini golf or hit the bumper cars. In Edmonton, check out the Valley Zoo, or the 10-acre cornfield maze outside the city.

Shop till you drop (or don’t shop at all!) at West Edmonton Mall. While parents shop in over 800 stores covering an area the size of 114 football fields, kids (and kids at heart) can take advantage of all the non-shopping fun. With over 26 rides and attractions – try the Mindbender rollercoaster! – it’s the world’s largest indoor amusement park. Rides not for you? Try West Ed’s two-hectare waterpark, complete with a beach, over 20 water slides and other activities, and palm trees. For the brave, try the Sky Screamer, a single-rider, straight-downand-fast slide suitable for strong swimmers only.

No matter where you decide to go in Alberta, you’ll find plenty of adventures to experience and sights to see – enough for a whole lifetime. MTA


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