Wednesday, August 8, 2018



After a 1500 mile drive, we arrived in Calgary two days before our scheduled tour.  Calgary is a dynamic, growing city of 1.5 million.   It is famous for the Calgary Stampede, the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".  Essentially, it's a Western show with concerts, rodeos, cowboys, etc.  Even chuck wagon races.  For 10 days in July, everyone in town gets in on the act, donning Stetson hats and cowboy boots.  We missed it by a week.      

We had a free day in Calgary.  What should we do?  We perused the brochures and decided to visit Heritage Park.  This is a theme park focusing on several periods in Calgary's history, from the 1860's to the 1920's.  It contains over 180 attractions and exhibits.  It is not an amusement park, but rather a historical theme park.  You start with an overview by riding a steam train around the perimeter of the park. 

Near the entrance of the park, the first thing you see is Gasoline Alley.  We old folks remember that as a long gone comic strip going back to the 1920's.  This is a large building on three levels displaying vintage cars, gas pumps and signs, mostly from oil companies.

Adults and even school kids dressed in period dress.  The kids were in day camps and encouraged to dress up, and they eagerly did so.  Many of the girls wore long dresses and little hats as they would dress if they grew up on the prairies.  Heritage Park is the Canadian Williamsburg.

The Canadians relocated old wooden houses and stores from all over Canada and brought them to the park.  One unexpected find was the one room prairie synagogue.  Jews from Eastern Europe came to the prairies to become farmers.  They weren't allowed to own land in Europe, so this was a new opportunity. 

The Canadian dollar is relatively weak compared to the American dollar, so we found the park and other Canadian attractions to be affordable.  In Canada, take 25% off the stated price to convert the cost to American dollars. 

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.  We did go shopping on a warm July morning before we were scheduled to meet our tour.  We drove to the huge indoor 250 store Chinook Mall. I sought out Hudson Bay Co., a Canadian department store which is now owned by the same company as Lord & Taylor.  The Hudson Bay Co. is the oldest company in Canada, dating back to about 1600.  It used to own at least half of the land in Canada.    As a kid, I always wanted a colorful yellow, green, black, red and white striped Hudson Bay wool blanket.  The weather was very warm, and we didn't want to schlep around a large blanket.  The $170 (Canadian) cost was reasonable--we saw the same blanket for far more in the Canadian Rockies.  I instead purchased a brightly colored striped scarf which I can wear next winter.  Scarfs and blankets are popular in Canada where the temperature gets down to -40 in the winter.

We met our tour group at the Calgary Airport (YYC).  We were the only ones of 35 people on the tour to drive.  We parked at the Hampton Inn, where we stayed,  near the airport and boarded a comfortable motor coach driven by our Canadian driver, Duane.  Not all the seats on the bus were occupied, so we could stretch out. 

The bus took us on a tour of Calgary, mainly in the downtown area.  Downtown Calgary is vibrant with modern skyscrapers.  These high rises are architecturally unique modernistic structures, many with all glass exteriors.  Vacant land everywhere is being developed.  We found the city to be very clean.  We were told it was safe to walk around.

We visited the beautiful Peace Bridge spanning the Bow River.  The 428 foot pedestrian and cyclist bridge resembles a finger trap puzzle with interlinking metal chains.  The unique thing about the bridge is that it has no piers in the water--for ecological reasons.  The bridge was built in Spain, shipped to Calgary, and assembled, apparently by a puzzle enthusiast.  It was opened in 2012.

On the first night of the tour, we stayed at the International Hotel in downtown Calgary where we were given an opportunity to walk around the city.  In July in the far North, the sun doesn't set until almost 10 P.M.

Our room at the International was a capacious 3 room suite with a dining room table and 6 chairs.  The bathroom, on the other hand, was about the size of a broom closet.  The 3 creaky elevators were ancient and small.  We had to wait in line to use them.   


Cardston was originally settled by Mormons from Utah led by Charles O. Card who named the town after himself.  The Mormons erected a huge temple in town.  Cardston is also the home of the extraordinary Remington Carriage Museum.  We didn't expect much, but the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The 63,000 square foot museum possesses the largest collection of horse drawn vehicles in North America.  We're talking carriages, wagons, buggies and sleighs.  Hansoms, landaus, broughams, buggies and cabriolets, 270 of them.  The museum restoration shop is constantly busy restoring vehicles not only for the museum but for other carriage enthusiasts.

The carriages were collected by Don Remington who began his collection in 1954.  He donated them to the Province of Alberta in 1987.  They needed a suitable building to house all this stuff, so the Province agreed to build the museum in 1993.  They added vehicles from other collections also.

Horse drawn carriages dominated the era before horseless carriages.  The most valuable vehicle displayed was the handsome hansom carriage once owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt.  The reason it is so valuable is that the Vanderbilt family offered to buy the thing back and offered something north of $500,000. 

The two most prominent carriage makers of the era were McLaughlin and Studebaker.  Studebaker went on to build cars that looked like rocket ships in the late '40's and 50's.  I once owned a Studebaker Lark convertible which was a great car.  It was a compact car but the driver's seat was relative high so one could see the road very well.  I used to drive like a cab driver, so that car was handy.  McLaughlin later merged with Buick.  The early models were called McLaughlin Buicks, but the McLaughlin name was eventually dropped.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's before cars were widespread, carriages were pulled by horses.  The problem with carriages was that in big cities, horse manure tended to pile up on the streets.  They had to plow the stuff to the curbs where it was piled high.  Disease was prevalent.  Cars won out because they were considered cleaner than horses. 

Two formerly famous people hailed from Cardston.  On the main street, we passed the Fay Wray Fountain.  I couldn't get a photo because the bus was going too fast.  Fay Wray, from Cardston, was the female star in the original King Kong movie.  The fountain was built to commemorate Ms. Wray's return to Cardston in 1962.  A large metal plaque honoring (?) King Kong was installed in 1993 on the 60th anniversary of the film.  Wray was one of the first Hollywood "scream queens". Other than King Kong, she appeared in about 80 more films, most of them horror films.  She was offered the role of the elderly Rose Dawson, played in her younger life by Kate Winslet, in James Cameron's Titanic, but she turned it down.   Ms. Wray died in 2004 at age 96.

The other famous person was George Woolf, and the museum has a good sized exhibit honoring him. In case you don't remember Woolf, he was the jockey who in 1938 rode Seabiscuit to many victories.  He was called the "Ice Man".  In the movie Seabiscuit, Woolf was played by Gary Stevens, a currently active jockey who regularly rides in the Kentucky Derby.  Both Woolf and Stevens are in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.  Woolf died young at age 35 when he fell off a horse during a race.  He suffered from Type 1 diabetes, and it appears he became dizzy and lost his balance.


In Fort MacLeod, on the way to Waterton National Park, we were treated to a horse show in a large outdoor arena next to the log fort.  The fort is a reproduction of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police post, so visitors can see what it was like.   The original fort, called Fort Whoop-Up, was built in 1874, shortly after the RCMP was formed.  It lies next to the strangely named Oldman River which flows through town.  This river has nothing to do with the song from Show Boat; it was named after a guy named Oldman.   But it does keep rolling along, eventually draining into Hudson Bay.

If you've ever seen the Lipizzan horses in Wadsworth, IL, this show has many similar features.  The horses are ridden by high school and college kids wearing scarlet Mountie uniforms demonstrating their horsemanship on quarter horses. 

Next to the arena is the Mountie museum.  We learned all we needed to know about the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  The Mounties always get their man--well usually.  There are also exhibits honoring the First Nations (known as Indians in the U.S.) and Metis who were of mixed race.  A question was asked:  "When did the Metis come to the area?"  The answer:  "Nine months after the Europeans arrived."


On the outskirts of Waterton National Park is the magnificent Prince of Wales Hotel, located on a windswept bluff overlooking the beautiful Waterton Lake.  On our trip through the Rockies, we were to see several such blue glacier fed lakes.  The hotel is a classic from a bygone era.  We went outside to see the lake better and walked into a tornado--or so it seemed.  My hat blew off, and I foolishly chased it into the tall grass.  In retrospect, I could have severely injured myself running downhill--at my age.  But I recovered the hat.

The area around the hotel is famous for its wind.  Winds of 75 mph are fairly common.  This was a major challenge when they were constructing the hotel back in 1927.  The roof blew off while they were building it.  Although the weather was sunny when we visited, the wind gusts were extreme.  I've experience that kind of wind at two places, Mt. Washington, NH where they once had 231 mph winds, and at Cape Horn in South America where I had to cling to the mast of the ship to avoid being blown away. 

We stayed two nights at a hotel in the Village of Waterton.  Waterton is a fairly small town with an active night life.  There are only about three commercial blocks.  I counted 4 ice cream shops in a 2 block stretch.  We ate at Zums, a restaurant recommended by Duane, our bus driver.  Zums claims to have the best fried chicken in the world.   I wouldn't go that far, but it was very good.  The promise of good fried chicken was enough to get us inside.  The mozzarella sticks were delicious also. 


Waterton and Glacier Parks are contiguous to each other.  The parks together are called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  We learned that there are other peace parks.  A couple years ago, we visited the one north of Botteneau, North Dakota, adjoining Manitoba.  You can stand on the U.S.-Canada border and nobody will ask for your passport.  However, on this trip, we entered the U.S. on the main road at the port of entry, and the customs officer boarded the bus and examined everybody's passports.   On the Canada side there are big signs prohibiting transporting firewood from the U.S. (to limit the spread of Dutch elm disease).

The scenery, of course, is spectacular.  We saw snow capped mountains and blue lakes.  Forest fires had devastated the park last year, and extensive areas are covered with dead trees standing bare.  From an ecological standpoint, forest fires aren't necessarily bad, at least in the long run.  The fires give new life to smaller plants which take over the ecological niche and eventually give way to new trees.

The main predators in the park are the grizzly bears which largely keep out of sight.  If a hiker encounters one, it is recommended that he make loud noises or carry bells.  You can't outrun a grizzly--they can run as fast as a racehorse.  Grizzlies are more dangerous than black bears.  The ranger told us that if you see bear tracks, look for its droppings.  The difference in poop between a black bear and a grizzly is that the grizzly poop has bells in it. 

On the "jammer bus", we drove up on the Going to the Sun Highway to Logan Pass on the Continental Divide.  Triple Divide Peak, near Logan Pass is the unusual situation of the Continental Divide, divided three ways.  On one side, the rivers flow to the Pacific, one side to the Atlantic, and the third side to Hudson Bay. 

To cut down on the traffic, they encourage tourists to board the "jammer" buses  which hold about 20 people.  We tried to do that ride a couple years ago in June, but the road was closed by drifting snow.  Glacier Park has many glaciers, but not like farther north in Canada.    The ranger explained it is important to distinguish between a glacier and a snow field.  Generally glaciers are on mountain sides and the gradually move down and are replenished at the top by more snow.  By definition, glaciers cover at least 25 acres.  As you can imagine, they don't move very fast--about the speed of Congress, maybe a few feet each year.  Many of the glaciers at Glacier Park are gone (melted) or greatly reduced because of climate change. 

Back in Waterton, we took a boat ride on the glacial Waterton Lake which straddles the U.S.-Canada border.  The border is well marked by a strip of land on the 49th Parallel.  A treaty between the two countries requires that that strip be cleared of trees.  We crossed the border on the boat, but there was no passport check.   The guide pointed out an eagle perched on the top of a tall tree.  It didn't move, so I was not sure if was a real eagle or just a prop.  We never found out.

The parkland is considered sacred to the Blackfeet, Salish and Kootenai tribes


On the way to Banff, we spent several hours and ate lunch at Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.  We learned about the history of ranching in Alberta in the early 1900's in the wide open spaces.  This is a working ranch.  They raise horses and even have a herd of bison.  The friendly guides wore cowboy clothes.  We visited the barn, the blacksmith shop, the leather making shop, and even watched them churning butter.  

Nearby is the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, an appropriately named World Heritage Site. The First Nation tribesmen were somewhat hesitant to hunt buffalo directly using only spears.  Getting up close and personal with a 2000 pound bison is dangerous.  The Indians were clever.  Over a period of time, the tribesmen would herd a few animals until they had the number they wanted.   Then they would stampede them over a cliff.  The rest of the tribe was stationed at the bottom of the cliff where they would skin the dead buffalo and gather the meat and skins to provide for the tribe.  Other tribes in the West did the same.  We later saw sites in Montana and Wyoming used for the same purpose.   


We stayed the next 3 nights in the City of Banff at the High Country Inn, on the main street.  Banff got its name from Banffshire in Scotland, the ancestral home of the head of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Banff looks like many other tourist towns.   In the commercial area, one can find many t-shirt shops, ice cream stores, art galleries, etc.  We've been to Jackson Hole, Gatlinburg, Bar Harbor, etc. and the towns look exactly the same except for the surrounding scenery.

Banff has about 8000 permanent residents.  They won't let you move there unless you have a job and a place to live.  You don't see panhandlers on the street. 

Overlooking the town is the massive Fairmont Banff Springs hotel which is impressive indeed.  It was originally built by the railroad in the 1890's to lure tourists.  The hotel is a labyrinthine maze of rooms and halls on 17 levels on a mountainside.  We ate dinner at the Italian restaurant at the hotel.  The waiter handed us a dinner menu with three choices.  The choices were wild boar cannelloni,  grilled vegetable polenta stack or smoked halibut Tagliatelle.  None of them sounded appetizing, and each was about 35 bucks.  It was downhill from there.   Soup or salad was extra.  We asked for a more comprehensive menu, and the waiter brought us one for our table of 6.   We passed the menu around and ordered off the menu.  .  The food was expensive and reasonably good, but probably not worth $50 per person.  But we're talking Canadian dollars, so maybe it wasn't that bad. 

The railroad advertised heavily to induce Eastern folks to take the train and have a place to stay in a thinly populated area of the country.  The National Park was established in 1885 but was mostly wilderness for 30 years or more until roads were built.   The roads were constructed during World War I by immigrants (POW's?) from enemy countries, Austria, Hungary, Germany and Ukraine who were held in internment camps.

The scenery in Banff is spectacular.  The bus drove up the Icefields Parkway alongside the Continental Divide, so we were looking at rugged mountains, numerous glaciers and icefields.   The melt from Bow Glacier flows into a beautiful blue lake which is the source of the Bow River which flows through Calgary.  We didn't see a lot of wildlife other than small animals like squirrels and chipmunks.  The larger animals were taking the day off.  The government built several wildlife crossings over the superhighway.  These appear as attractive overpasses with trees and grass on top.  I'm not sure how they steer the animals to use them.  I see them as necessary, as we almost got hit by a grizzly bear crossing the road in Colorado a few years ago. 


Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park is the most visited glacier in North America.  We gathered at the visitor center to ride a Sno-Coach to the glacier, about a mile away.  This large bus with oversized tires creeps up and down the road to the glacier.   The gravel road has a very steep 18 degree incline--try that in the snow.   The ice is 1000 feet thick, and you can drink the melting water. The glacier is almost 4 miles long and covers more than 2 square miles.  Because of a warming climate, it is receding at about 16 feet per year.  In the past 125 years, it has receded almost a mile.

Walking on a glacier is like wading through a Big Slushy from 7-11.  It is very slippery although I didn't see anyone fall.  But people do.  Because the surface is slushy, you might not get hurt, but you'll be wet.  You do have to watch out for crevasses which can be 20 feet deep.  People have fallen in and had to be rescued.


Lake Louise is a world class ski resort, and we got to ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain, about 3000 feet above the valley floor.   In the summer, everything is green.  On the way up, we saw a grizzly bear foraging in the meadow.  The bear sighting was unexpected, and I didn't get a good picture.  Near the top of the mountain, it started raining and then sleeting.  When the sun came out, we had a breathtaking view of the beautiful Lake Louise far below in the distance.


The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is another grand resort hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It was originally built in 1890, but after a couple of fires, the current building was built in 1911.  Lake Louise, with its blue green waters was called by the local Stoney Indians, "the Lake of Little Fishes" in their native tongue.  The surveyor working for the railroad, Thomas Wilson named the lake Emerald Lake.  He was later overruled by the authorities who named it Lake Louise after Queen Victoria's fourth daughter (she had 5 girls and 4 boys), Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. Fortunately, her last name wasn't Saskatchewan.  Overlooking the lake is Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier.

The water in this glacial lake is very cold.  We shivered as we watched crowds of kids as well as a Labrador Retriever, oblivious to the cold, frolicking in the 38 degree water.

The hotel was and is a magnet for the rich and powerful.  Hollywood shot several feature films there including Springtime in the Rockies, starring Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda.  Betty Grable was famous for her cheesecake, or so we were told.  Despite her Carmen Miranda warnings, we once visited her museum in Rio de Janiero.  Other stars who flocked to the hotel included Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Christopher Reeve and Angie Dickinson, as well as Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margrethe of Denmark and King Hussein of Jordan.  King Kong was not invited.

There are posted signs instructing the throngs of tourists not to enter the hotel unless you're a guest, especially to use the bathrooms.  We disregarded them because we wanted to see the inside of the hotel and maybe do some shopping.  Heck, I've been kicked out of classier places than that.

One notable shop we visited in the hotel was Art of Man, selling Native American art works, carvings and sculptures.  A carved jade grizzly bear was tagged as $95,500.  It hadn't gone on sale yet.  That's Canadian money, so its much cheaper--maybe $70,000 American.  I asked the manager if I could get a discount if I buy two.  Show me the money! 


Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.  The facility has been converted to essentially an amusement park where you can do a slo-mo version of Olympic downhill events.   In the summer, the park offers mountain biking, zip-lining and snow-free versions of the bobsleigh and the luge.  The chair lift brings you to the top.

The luge is a 5900 foot downhill ride with 50 twists and turns.  Unlike the Olympic version, you can use the brakes and steering mechanisms.  You won't be careening downhill 80 mph on your back, but it's a fun ride anyway.   Those pesky insurance companies don't want anybody getting hurt.  You can buy tickets for the luge for $16 for one ride or $24 for 3 rides.  They also have family packages.

The 1988 Winter Olympics were notable for several reasons.  For one thing, the weather didn't always cooperate.  Calgary can get bitterly cold or it can be warm in the winter.  In 1988, they experienced Chinook winds coming down the mountain, raising the temperatures to a mild 63F.  Skiing is supposed to be in cold weather.  It was the first Olympics where they had to make artificial snow.

It was also notable for showcasing the popular, myopic British downhill skier, Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards.  They even made a movie about him.  Edwards was a regular guy who was working as a plasterer making about 6000 British pounds a year.  He barely knew how to ski.  He came in last by a wide margin.  The public gave him an A for effort.  Average people could relate to him, and his income went up to 10,000 British pounds per hour for a personal appearance. 

They had to change the rules because of him.  Previously, every country had the right to send at least one athlete, but the athlete didn't have to exhibit any prowess in the event.  To avoid embarrassment in the future, athletes must now meet certain minimum competition standards to participate.   At least the Jamaican bobsled team put in a respectable performance--the two man team finished 30th out of 41 competitors.  They made a movie about that also.

NEXT:  Road Trip to Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat--Highlights of Saskatchewan     


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home