Step back in time in Fort Macleod
There’s no need to for a time machine in Fort Macleod. Not when performers in traditional police attire perform on horseback just as they did in 1876 when the famous red-coated police officers (today known as the RCMP) were sent west from Ottawa to keep the peace, one of the country’s defining moments of unity.
Canadians swell with pride when witnessing the pageantry of the NWMP Musical Ride at Fort Macleod in southern Alberta, as a troop of Redcoat riders and their horses perform intricate figures choreographed to rousing music.
Before the show, join the Groom-a-Horse program to learn first-hand about horse care, get a chance to inspect the regiment, and then settle in to VIP seats for the show.
Layer the trip with a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and you’ll have a good perspective of how the west was once. Only a 20-minute drive from the Fort, this UNESCO World Heritage Site memorializes a 6,000 year First Nations hunting practice at one of the world’s largest and best preserved buffalo jumps.
Saddle up along the Cowboy Trail
The pungent scent of lodgepole pine wafts over the foothills as you clip-clop your way through high ranching country. Cowboys have been moseying along the Cowboy Trail by horseback for over a century, and now it’s your turn to take the reins and discover this dramatic landscape. For Albertans, these mountain-rimmed foothills are one of their defining landscapes and have influenced the way the world sees the province, and the way Albertans see themselves.
Highway 22 south of Calgary is laced with several outfitters to put you in the saddle. Western fantasies are easily fulfilled overnighting on the open range or at a dude ranch. Hungry? Longview Steakhouse oozes ambiance and prime cuts of Alberta beef, whereas the bar at the Black Diamond Hotel is where you’ll want to go for a more raucous celebration. You know how to dance the two-step, right?
Roam with the Buffalo at Elk Island National Park
Nobody likes being stuck in traffic, especially on a long weekend, but when the gridlock is caused by bison meandering across the road, the stress of the city traffic becomes a distant memory. Elk Island National Park is where bison were brought back from the brink of extinction in Canada’s early days, so this is the place to set up for prime wildlife viewing, and a chance to understand a time of profound change in Canada’s history.
Entry to national parks is free in 2017 in celebration of the sesquicentennial, so 2017 is the perfect time to take in First Nations performances, or make like a pioneering voyageur in a massive canoe slicing across Astotin Lake, where rentals are available at Haskin Canoe.
Here, the dark night sky in the park is undiluted by city lights so you’ll be dazzled by stargazing from the comfort of your equipped campsite, and get a real sense of the immensity of the country.
Take a Jurassic journey to Drumheller
The windows are down, your carefully edited playlist of Canadian tunes is blaring (Neil Young, The Tragically Hip, Arcade Fire) and you’re breezing past the Canadian Badlands on your way to a classic Canadian stop. Drumheller is your destination for pancakes, a quintessential small-town parade, and enough kiddie activities to tire out the youngsters.
You’re not done yet. Taste the bounty from local producers at a traditional farmer’s market, before grooving to live music all afternoon. Eat some western Canadian cuisine, such as beef on a bun, or partake in a few beverages inside the beer gardens. The world renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum is but a few minutes outside of town, where the dinosaur fossils are sure to instill a sense of awe.
Get your hockey on
Canadians love sports of all kinds – soccer, football, basketball and baseball are all popular – but none of them define the country like hockey does. Hockey brings the country together like nothing else, and in Alberta, there are plenty of ways to get a taste of this quintessentially Canadian pastime.
Taking in a professional game will introduce you to the passion Canadians have for the sport. In Calgary, the Flames are always a hot ticket, while Edmonton’s Oilers are riding a wave of success thanks to a new sports arena called Rogers Place that has sparked a major rejuvenation downtown that, when complete, will include restaurants, hotels and nightlife.
To really get into the action, rent some skates and find a frozen pond – the frozen Lake Louise is as picturesque a skating surface as you'll ever find -- or one of the province’s myriad outdoor rinks and join a game of pickup hockey with the locals. You may never feel more Canadian.