Sure, you could flick on an old western to get your kicks. Or you could drive central Alberta’s Boomtown Trail. Wander through towns that don’t look so different than they did 100 years ago when the railway came through. The only difference? Slightly fewer handlebar mustaches. ● Quirky sights: Besides the Boomtown architecture (think fancy frontages on simple buildings), keep an eye out for the World’s Largest Oil Lamp, lots of regional museums and even a chance to go skydiving. ● Pitch a tent: Camp your way along the Boomtown Trail, pioneer style. Stay at rustic Buffalo Lake or near Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, a historical hunting ground of Canada's Indigenous peoples.
Before leaving Edmonton spend some time discovering the city’s rich history. Hop on a beautifully restored vintage streetcar for a scenic tour that crosses over the High Level Bridge, above the North Saskatchewan River. Then, step back in time at Fort Edmonton Park – a huge living history park in the Edmonton River Valley. Discover an authentic 1919 steam train, fur trading post and 1920s midway. A visit to the outdoor Alberta Railway Museum is a must for all train fans. Stroll through the long carriages of a CN passenger train, investigate fascinating railway memorabilia and even take a ride on the rails.
From Edmonton, head south on Hwy 21 through New Sarepta, then east on Hwy 13 to Camrose. Discover local heritage at the Camrose Railway Museum and Park, with a guided or self-guided tour of the original 1911 CN Railway depot. Then visit the Camrose & District Centennial Museum to wander through historic buildings, like a pioneer log house circa 1898 and a church from 1908. You’ll also find replicas that depict some of Camrose’s’ original boomtown architecture, including its fire hall, newspaper office and blacksmith shop. The town is home to Alberta’s first playhouse as well, so be sure to check out the Bailey Theatre, which opened in 1911.
Continue east on Hwy 13, then south on Hwy 56. Take a side trip east on Hwy 53 to the town of Donalda. Look for the world’s largest lamp at a whopping height of 12 m (42 ft). Steps away, at the Donalda & District Museum, you’ll find historic Métis and regional artefacts and a collection of more than 900 lamps – the largest in North America!
Back on Hwy 56, drive south to Stettler and visit the Town and Country Museum to tour 26 historical buildings, including a schoolhouse, post office and church, featuring pioneer furniture and artefacts. Pick up a brochure at the town office and do the self-guided Downtown Historical Walking Tour. If you have the time, take a vintage train ride with Alberta Prairie Railway. The five to six hour trip, through Central Alberta’s big sky country, features exciting on board entertainment, historic tales and a full course buffet meal in Big Valley before heading back.
From Stettler, go west on Hwy 12 to Erskine, then north on Hwy 835 to Rochon Sands Provincial Park. Swim in the warm waters of Buffalo Lake and have a picnic on the sandy beach. It’s also great location for bird watching and you may even spot some of the elk, moose or deer that roam the area.
Back on Hwy 12, head southwest on Hwy 21 to Delburne. A must-see is the Anthony Henday Museum, which features a CN train station, caboose, railway water tower, replica pioneer cabin and one-room school, throughout its four floors of exhibits.
Continue south to the town of Trochu and learn about the first French settlers at the Trochu and District Museum. Be sure to stop by the Golf and Country Club to see the world’s largest golf tee – an impressive 12 m (40 ft) tall roadside attraction. If you have the inclination, take a detour east on Hwy 585 to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, one of Alberta’s best kept secrets.
Drive on towards Strathmore and then head west on the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) to Calgary. Explore the National Historic Site of Fort Calgary to learn about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the impact the railway had on city. Then visit Heritage Park – the country’ largest living history museum – to experience how Western Canada’s evolved, with streets and buildings portraying life from the 1860s to the 1950s.