Waving au revoir to Banff, we headed into a totally different part of Alberta; Calgary, home of the famous Stampede and cowboys. A few cowboy hats adorn heads in this part of Canada.
Just south of Calgary is the very interesting UNESCO site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. It was the name that hooked us, as well as Lonely Planet’s encouraging blurb. The 30 year old museum, set into a hill extending over 6 floors is a walk in the history of the Indian Blackfoot tribe and the bison. This was the site where Indians deliberately herded bison over the cliffs to their deaths. Brutal? Absolutely, but without this rich food source, the people would have perished. The tribe used every part of the bison; meat for food, hide to make their tipis and clothing, bones for tools, bone marrow to provide fat and energy during the bitterly cold winters.
Bison numbers dropped rapidly from several million to several thousand with the arrival of whites. Indians traded bison for horses and guns, and of course whites hunted like there was no tomorrow. Luckily, a philanthropic man with vision rounded up the last few hundred bison and put them onto a private reserve where their numbers multiplied. There are several hundred thousand today. We walked to the cliff where the deed took place, pored over the wonderful exhibits detailing the Blackfoot’s life and spent time talking to the very attentive blood tribe staff. Worth a visit for sure.
We continued onto Medicine Hat with its many churches and historic downtown, making it our last stop in Alberta before heading over the border to Saskatchewan.
Bank of Canada
Shades of Vegas
From Medicine Hat we drove over the border into Saskatchewan, passed through Swift Current, then turned south to a most interesting town; Gravelbourg, a slice of Paris in the middle of nowhere. An extremely large and beautiful Catholic cathedral takes centre stage. Next door is the striking Bishop’s Residence, now a lovely nine room guest house. Keeping in tune with the rather palatial buildings is the Ecole Elementary. The kids here are lucky. The Paris Cafe and the Gaiety Theatre (definitely stuck in a sixties time warp) add to Gravelbourg’s appeal.
Northward bound, we decided on Moose Jaw as our overnight stop. We figured a town with a name like this deserved more than a passing glance. Heritage buildings are on show in this rather large town. We liked the Grand Hotel with its elegant interior and helpful staff.
Tomorrow, we are off to Winnipeg Manitoba. Give me land, lots of land … Don’t fence me in…