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SOUTHERN ALBERTA’S ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS

Author: Travel Alberta

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The world's tallest teepee rises a whopping 65 m (213 ft) above the TransCanada (HWY 1) and welcomes me to the city of Medicine Hat. I am dwarfed beneath its giant steel frame and crane my head back to take in circular storyboards depicting First Nations culture and history. Built for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games as a tribute to Canada's Indigenous heritage, its name, saamis, means medicine man's headdress – or hat – in the Blackfoot language. Southern Alberta, I have discovered, tells its own stories through architecture and antiquity.

Medalta

Beehive kilns built to fire clay pottery more than 100 years ago are still in use today in Medalta, at Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic Site. This industry was one of the earliest in Alberta and Medalta’s pottery graced shelves around the world. Today the factory is a museum and home to artists in residence creating modern works, happy to have use of those beehive kilns.

Brooks Aqueduct

A different, almost alien architecture greets you near Brooks, where a concrete sling, suspended 20 m (65 ft) above the ground, marches across a shallow, arid valley. The Brooks Aqueduct was a marvel of engineering for its time. Completed in 1914 by the CPR as part of its vast prairie irrigation network, it is now a national and provincial historic site. What once carried life-saving water to farmers' crops now stands in tribute to the ingenuity of an earlier era. I doubt if you’ll see anything quite like it.

High Level Bridge

Another marvel of engineering, the High Level Bridge in Lethbridge is my personal favourite. Soaring high above the Oldman River at 95.7 m (314 ft) and spanning 1.6 km (1 mi), this elaborate steel train trestle is the world's longest and highest active trestle bridge. It seems to defy the laws of nature. I watch, transfixed, as a train chugs across the expanse, more than 100 years after the bridge was built. Bring your camera – taking pictures from below is a whole lot of fun.

Atlas Coal Mine

While these grandiose structures wow because of their originality, a more modest edifice fascinates me because of its history. The old wooden tipple at the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site is the last of its kind in Canada. I climbed the conveyor tunnel on a tour and was surprised to learn the coal was sorted and cleaned by boys as young as 15. It's easy to imagine the coal dust and soot swirling in the wind up here. At the top, a breathtaking vista of the badlands is spread out before me and I can't help but respect the labourers who rushed here by the thousands to seek their fortunes.

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