Canada 150, Alberta

Here are some excerpts from “Rocky Ride,” the chapter about Alberta in Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada”:

Alberta is like a thick, juicy steak ready to toss on the barbecue. There are two sides to it. The first side to be slapped face down on the grill to welcome us on this trip is the old picture, the easterner’s quintessential image of the province…

We are in Alberta’s famous badlands amid scenery one associates with the American West more than with Canada. This is Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the most important dinosaur fossil beds in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we pick our way carefully along the Badlands Trail looking for fragments of dinosaurs, I’m nervous about the reptiles and insects lurking in the sage and among the rocks. I wish that Dot and I were already in the Rockies, where we could leave it to our mounts to worry about the threats on the ground. It looks, after all, like the sort of place where we should be on horseback–straight out of an old-time western starring John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart. I’m sure some notorious bad guy is camped behind the hoodoo in front of me, his horse tethered to a rock and his six-shooter drawn, ready to blast us back to Ontario…

In much of downtown Calgary, however, we’re surprised and pleased at the sophistication and the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Arriving late, we dash out to dinner at Antonio’s Garlic Clove, a neighbourhood restaurant on Fourth Avenue. There’s garlic in every dish, even in the ice cream and beer. Our waitress is Austrian and the busboy is from the Philippines. Hold on a minute, are we really in Calgary? This seems more like Vancouver, Montreal, or–dare I say it?–Toronto…

we take a long trudge out to the Stampede Grounds to have a look at the site of Calgary’s most famous annual attraction…We stand in awe beneath the black, muscular statue at the entrance…

The Stampede Grounds are a reminder that even in Alberta’s urban centres the first side of the steak is never more than inches off the barbecue. It sizzles away in the midst of contemporary sophistication. You can feel the old Calgary, for instance, as you wander through the downtown shops–places like the Alberta Boot Company, where there are racks and racks of stylish leather cowboys boots and Stetsons for sale, and at Riley and McCormick, which advertises itself as the “Official Supplier to Canada’s Real Cowboys.” It’s there, too, in the colourful names of local bars and restaurants, which belie the notion that Calgarians prefer to present a hipper, more contemporary image of the city: Badass Jack’s, Bottlescrew Bill’s. Bootlegger’s, Bufalo Bob’s, Buzzard’s, The Bull Pen, Cowboys, Coyotes, Moustache Pete;s, Powderhorn, Ranchman’s, One Eyed Jacks, Outlaws, and Wolfman’s…

At last we reach the Rockies, and Banff National Park, the sophisticated side of the steer once more: upscale restaurants, elegant shops, luxurious hotels, an outstanding museum devoted to the art and literature of the region, and people, tons of them, from all over the world…

we go to Lake Louise and hike the Larch Valley trail, high into the mountains above Moraine Lake, until the lake seems no more than a glitering turquoise puddle a child could cross in one bound…

From the lodge at Lake Louise we trek around the lake, and then climb past spruce and fir trees and clumps of forget-me-nots to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Then we traverse a narrow ridge until we are almost opposite the infamous Death Trap, below the Abbot Pass. It was here in 1896 that Phillip Abbot became the first recorded mountaineering fatality in North America, the victim of a mishap that had the ironic effect of drawing more climbers to the region. As we turn to start our descent, there’s a roar from across the valley that sounds like a large passenger jet taking off. A broad waterfall of snow is spilling down a mountain crevice. An avalanche!

As we admire Lake Louise from out mountain loft, I can’t help wondering how much longer it will give off its classic aquamarine glow. It is the rock flour in the water, a product of the grinding action of the Victoria Glacier, that causes it, like other Rocky Mountain lakes, to reflect the light in varying blue-green hues. As the glaciers recede, less rock flour is created. Will the lakes eventually lose their beautiful colours?

The recipe for this chapter is the perfect condiment for a steak dinner, “Mrs. Morse’s Mustard.”

To read more, you can order a copy of Roaming the Big Land by going to: www.penumbrapress.com, or by contacting the author for a personally autographed copy at: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca

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About t. a. keenleyside

author of travel/food books and popular fiction
This entry was posted in Alberta, Alberta Badlands, Banff, Calgary, Calgary Stampede, Canada 150, Canadian travel, contemporary culture, Dinosaur Provincial Park, family literature, food literature, Lake Louise, Parks Canada, recipes, travel books and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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