Before leaving the little town of Fernie this morning, we spent a few minutes driving around its centre and looking at some of the historic old buildings in the main street. Fernie was built around the coal mining industry and had a boom-bust cycle of economic activity until the mines closed in the 1960’s. Now it relies on skiing and tourism for its livelihood. Like many small towns in this area of Canada its street scape is typical of the frontier types of towns that we were used to seeing on the TV wild west shows.
Our drive today first took us through some grazing country (sheep and cattle) with broad valleys backed by large mountains. After an hour or so, we began climbing the Crows Nest Pass which was first explored in the mid 1800’s. This took us over the mountain range and into the Province of Alberta.
While crossing the Pass, we came across an enormous landslide that had occurred in 1903, called the Frank Slide. It happened at 3.00 am in the morning at he little town of Frank. An enormous part of the mountain behind the town collapsed, causing millions of tonnes of rock and boulders to fall onto houses and then valley below. It blocked the main road and the railway line and buried the entrance to the local coal mine. The miners were able to dig themselves out, but over 70 people died in this catastrophe. The boulder field is very extensive and it is not hard to understand the loss of life that it caused.
From here the road travelled across the plains. It is a vastly different area from the narrow valleys and high peaks of the mountain areas in which we have spent the last four days. It reminds me a little of the area that we once travelled through in Montana where the mountains open up to a broad valley and the area is aptly named ‘Big Sky’. This area also has a big sky.
At one point, we came across a solitary oil well. We couldn’t see any others nearby and assumed this to be something of an oddity. However, we found that Alberta is rich in oil and a good part of Calgary’s size and grandeur is because of the oil economy. This lonely little pump was all by itself by the side of a road and we could have gone right up to it and touched it. Nearby was a tank that seemed to hold maybe 10,000 litres, so I assume that someone comes by regularly and empties it and takes the oil to a refinery somewhere.
We arrived in Calgary just after launch and found a room for the night at the Delta Hotel in the Downtown area. After checking in, we walked a few blocks up to the Stephen Avenue Mall to look at the shops. Most of the shops were open on a Sunday afternoon and we pottered happily around until the police blocked off the road for a demonstration. It probably was more of an parade than a demonstration, with a whole lot of people in red T-Shirts chanting ‘Jesus loves you’ and walking behind a big banner. We seem to be good at attracting parades / protests and have now become surrounded by protestors / paraders now in seven or eight cities around the world.
Calgary is situated on the Bow River in the south of Alberta and lies approximately 80 kms east of the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies. The city is located at the western end of the giant Canadian prairies. It has a population of just over 1.2 million people and is the fifth largest city in Canada.
The Lonely Planet tour guide describes it as:
Brash, bold and dripping in oil money, it’s easy to pour scorn on flashy Calgary, as some do. A slightly-less-frenetic but colder version of desert Dubai, this nebulous, hard-to-grasp prairie city has grown up so fast that last week (let alone last month) can seem like ancient history.
Liveable but sometimes characterless, prosperous but economically precarious, super-modern but not always pretty, 21st-century Calgary isn’t a place that any unbiased out-of-towner is likely to fall in love with (although the locals can be fanatically loyal). Most visitors either come here on business and deposit their briefcases in one of a plethora of generic business hotels, or arrive in outdoor garb and use it as a springboard for the more alluring attractions of K-Country and Banff. Shoehorned among the Stetsons and SUVs of downtown, there’s a decent dining scene, an excellent museum, remnants of the 1988 Winter Olympics and – contrary to popular belief – a good (and expanding) public transportation system.
They forgot to mention the famous Calgary Stampede which is on later in July. Perhaps we are lucky to miss it. It would be tough finding anywhere to stay while it’s on and I think that all those cowboys would be too much for me. We may be lucky that we are heading back to the mountains tomorrow to Banff.