Where the buffalo roam. Exploring Alberta’s Cowboy Trail

  • Feb. 17, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Terry Church talks about bison

It was a face only a mother could love. Statuesque, powerful, shaggy. The historic Canadian icon and I respectfully inspect each other through an 8-foot game fence. The bison, whose ancestors roamed Alberta over a century ago, was among the Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch herd along The Cowboy Trail south of Calgary. Unlike the baleful bison, I’m impressed. Elk graze casually in the distance. A hazy late spring sky feathered with stray feathery clouds seems endless – a classic prairie scene.

Terry Church, the ranch director, introduces Terra, an orphan bison rescued and raised at CRMR. Church explains that the lean high protein animals are raised without hormones, antibiotics, or animal protein in their feed.

Over the ranch store jerky and other products, like Elk Velvet Antler pills, are on sale. “Elk antler is a natural anti-inflammatory,” says Church. “It reduces swelling and is good for arthritis.” He explains that antlers are taken before they calcify (still contain blood), and are in demand in the Asian market where they are sliced and used for broth. The Canadian market is more partial to bison and elk burgers.

Gravitating from bison to bombers, I wander off to another chapter of Alberta history- Nanton. This sleepy spot is something of an Alberta time capsule. Here I find a landmark grain elevator, a main street still sporting brick buildings of a bygone era – and, what I’ve really come to see, a Lancaster Air Museum. Poking around the 37,000 square foot museum which once housed servicemen, I’m told the building is said to be haunted. True or not, I imagine the spirits of the men and women still at home among the aviation memorabilia and restored aircraft. Perhaps they smile indulgently watching tourists explore the nooks and crannies of the jam-packed old building.

For those not interested in antiques and aviation, the nearby Candy Store is a treat unto itself.

It’s years since I last visited Waterton. The lake view from the Prince of Wales Hotel is as stunning as I remembered it, and deer – alias four-legged lawnmowers – still fearlessly roam the village below. I stayed at the Waterton Lakes Lodge and relaxed over dinner at Bel Lago on the main street in the evening, and breakfasting at Vimy’s Lounge and Grill the following morning.

On the way back to Calgary we stopped in Cardston which is a short drive from Waterton. A pristine Mormon town, the Alberta Temple, the first built outside the United States, dominates the town. It was completed by pioneers in 1923.

The Remington Carriage Museum, which houses the largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles in North America, is worth a visit. Among the highlights are a restoration shop, a working stable, and carriage rides around the town.

Before leaving treat yourself to some of the legendary pie at Cobblestone Manor, and consider the strange story of Belgian carpenter Henry Hoët. Hoët spared no expense on his masterpiece which was completed in 1913. Sadly, the woman of his dreams never arrived to share it with him.

For more information on southwestern Alberta go to travelalberta.com.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a travel journalist and photographer. She can be reached at utravel@shaw.ca

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