As the recession looks to be settling in, politicians, government officials and business leaders have begun talking about “diversification.” The topic has come up before, in 2008 the last time the economy sank into quicksand. Whether any diversification has been conducted on behalf of Albertans since then is a matter of debate.
There is one unsung hero of Alberta’s economy, and that is tourism. Alberta is a beautiful, breathtaking, fascinating place to visit. Even lifelong residents have plenty to learn by exploring the four corners of this province.
The historical profile of Alberta is interesting. There are plenty of places in Alberta that offer a time machine to Alberta’s past and offer learning and surprise.
In southern Alberta, lots of excellent historical and cultural resources are a very short drive apart. Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is an interpretive centre about 90 minutes south of Calgary on Highway #2. The centre offers the history of the craggy area as a hunting trap for aboriginal people, and archeological evidence at the site stretches back at least 14,000 years.
Nearby in Fort Macleod, the NWMP Fort Museum has an impressive collection of artifacts from both aboriginal and non-aboriginal sources, including the precursor of the RCMP, the North West Mounted Police. The history of settlement in southern Alberta, including stories about the famed Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot and the birth of the ranching industry, are on display. In the summertime, the Fort has it’s own equine musical ride.
In Crowsnest Pass, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre is an eye-opening introduction to the history of mining in Alberta. The interpretive centre tells the story of the Town of Frank, destroyed 100 years ago by a mountain landslide. It’s a must-see for any Albertan or history buff.
Heading west, Rocky Mountain House boasts the RMH National Historic Site, the place which hosted the Hudson Bay and North West Company trading posts. The history of famed cartographer David Thompson and the rest of the Voyageurs are presented alongside the story of First Nations in the area. The site usually has a herd of bison there too.
Then there’s natural or what some call “sporting,” tourism including hunting which is an attraction that brings people from around the world. Alberta has world-class fisheries too; angling is a massively popular pastime. Don’t forget straightforward outdoor activities, like ice climbing, caving, hiking and other exhilarating sports along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Even areas of the province that may not appear to hold obvious tourism, like the Palliser Triangle area of eastern Alberta, have yet to exploit a natural resource that is fast becoming a popular attraction in the Jasper area. “Dark sky” watching has become one of the best-kept secrets in tourism. The hobby involves enjoying the Milky Way galaxy that’s minutely visible in areas of Alberta at night that don’t have lots of man-made glare. It’s completely unexploited right now in an area of the province that would be perfect for it.
There are more tourist opportunities in interpretation and heritage that aren’t being exploited. The “Golf Ball” in Alsask, a hamlet on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, was a part of the “pine tree line” of radar stations built during the early Cold War to protect the United States (and of course Canada) from Soviet missiles or invasion across the arctic circle. It’s a fascinating part of North American history that many today, especially in the Millennial generation, know little or nothing about. Currently, many abandoned defense bases are simply rusting away.
With the dollar low, Canada should be very attractive to American tourists as they get 30 to 40 cents more on the dollar; Alberta should be capitalizing on this and making tourism the kind of industry that can stand beside energy, agriculture and forestry.