Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Crowsnest Highway

In my Travelling Detective Series my main character, Elizabeth Oliver, is a travel writer who somehow gets drawn into solving mysteries while visiting various places to research her travel articles. When my first novel titled, Illegally Dead, came out I had many people say they wanted to visit the Crowsnest Highway where the book is set. So I have posted Elizabeth’s article that she wrote up for the travel magazine.

The Crowsnest Highway: Medicine Hat to the Crowsnest Municipality
Rudyard Kipling dubbed Medicine Hat as `the city with all hell for a basement' because of the gas fields discovered beneath it in the early 1880s. By the early 1900s homes, offices, schools and churches were being heated by gas.
The city was named after the Saamis, or Medicine Man's, hat which was lost by the Cree's medicine man during a battle with the Blackfoot. This was considered a bad sign and when the Cree were all killed the site was given the name `Saamis'.
The Saamis Tepee was originally constructed for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. After the Olympics it was bought and moved to Medicine Hat where it overlooks the Seven Persons Creek Coulee. The teepee is 20 storeys or 65.5 metres high and its poles are made of steel with a concrete foundation. There is no buffalo skin or equivalent covering.
Inside the teepee are round storyboards which are paintings depicting stories about the history of the first people, such as the Plains Cree, the Blackfoot Confederacy, the arrival of the non-natives and the Metis.
With the abundance of clay along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in the Medicine Hat area it was natural that a pottery industry began and grew in the early 1900s. There was natural gas to fire the kilns and a railway to transport the finished products to market. Three potteries, Medalta, Medicine Hat and Alberta, were all operating at the same time. Medicine Hat Potteries later became the Hycroft China, Ltd.
To see the Great Wall of China at the Clay Products Interpretive Centre housed in the old Hycroft China building, turn left onto Southridge Drive when you come out of Seven Persons Creek Coulee. Southridge Drive becomes College Avenue when you cross Highway 1. You reach a four-way stop at Kipling where you go right. Head straight through the lights at Dunsmore and when you come to Allowance Avenue turn left. You cross the railway tracks on an overpass and just after the tracks is Prince Avenue where you again go left. Head one block to North Railway street and bear left once more. You have the railway tracks to your right as you drive and then turn right on Highway 41A east. At Wood Street you turn right and in one block is the Hycroft China Ltd. There are signs to follow to make these directions easier.
You can only see the Great Wall of China by tour. You will see thousands of pottery pieces in various colors and watch a pottery demonstration. Once you've finished your tour, visit the large gift shop which sells all their pottery.
When you get back onto Highway 41A you will see signs for Highway 3W. Follow them out of Medicine Hat. At the west end of the city you will come to Holsom Road and in 20 kilometres from Holsom Road you turn left on SH 887S to go to the Red Rock Natural Area also called Red Rock Coulee.
The road is paved and at kilometre 24.7 from Highway 3 it curves to your left. You continue 1.8 kilometres ahead on the gravel road to the parking area. After walking through the gate, stand and look down at the large masses of stone in the coulee. You will be intrigued by the huge, red or reddish brown rocks that are shaped like gigantic balls with flat tops. These are called concretions and are scattered over a wide field. Many of them have been split by the elements. While they seem to have been randomly thrown in the coulee, they are actually finely layered, red sandstone boulders emerging, through erosion, from the softer ground around them.
They were formed over 74 million years ago in a shallow sea which covered the area. The reddish color is from hydrous iron oxide or rust. They are as small as half a metre and as large as 4 metres.
Just remember as you wander through the rocks that you are in rattlesnake country. And because the soil content is comprised of bentonite (volcanic ash) and clay, which when mixed with water forms gumbo (smectite), if it starts to rain get out of the field as quickly as possible. You could sink in the soil up to 8 centimetres or even slip and fall on the gel-like surface.
Back on Highway 3 you pass by Seven Persons which was established in the 1880s as a siding for a narrow gauge railway used to haul coal from Lethbridge to Dunmore.
Kilometre 35 from SH 887S you reach Bow Island.
As you come into town watch for what is claimed to be the world's largest putter on the right side of the road. It is advertising the Bow Island Golf Club, which is two blocks to your left.
Bow Island bills itself as the `Bean Capital of the West' and just after the putter you will see Pinto McBean, a tall replica of a pinto bean wearing an orange cowboy hat, a holster and gun. Beside him is the visitor information centre where you can pick up a packet containing the various beans that are grown in the area.
The first region in Canada to use the pivotal irrigation system was the Bow Island area. Across the service road from Pinto McBean is a derrick and a write-up explaining about the Bow Island gas field that was discovered in 1906 and served the area, as well as other markets, until 1996.
Kilometre 56.7 from Pinto McBean in Bow Island is the junction with Highway 36 in Taber. Because of the extended hours of sunshine received in the district each year, Taber's motto is the `Land of the Long Sun'. The brilliance and warmth from the sun along with the extensive irrigation systems, allows farmers to produce a number of different crops from beans to beets and potatoes to peas.
You continue on Highway 3 to the set of traffic lights at 50th Street on the west end of town and turn right. In half a block you turn right again and the Taber Irrigation Impact Museum and Taber visitor information centre is immediately to your left. Through changing displays, the museum gives a history of irrigation and how it has transformed the dry prairie land into rich agricultural land which supports communities, businesses and people.
Taber is called the `Corn Capital of Canada' and Taber corn is sold throughout Alberta and parts of the United States from the backs of trucks and the vegetable departments in stores. In the middle of August, the town holds a celebration called, not surprisingly, the Cornfest Hootenany. Check the museum yard for the giant corn stalk.
Kilometre 36 from 50th Street in Taber you reach a set of traffic lights at SH 845 in Coaldale, once the largest settlement of Mennonites in Alberta. The towns bills itself as the `Town That gives a Hoot' and if you wish to see why, turn right onto 845 and in half a kilometre go left onto 16th Avenue. In one block is the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre.
The 185.6 square metre centre is dedicated to captive breeding and the rehabilitation and release of injured raptors such as eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. Inside there are owl displays, bird books for sale and pictures on the wall. Outside is a path around the site, a picnic area, fishing ponds and a playground. Watch where you walk because Canada geese also make this their home. Bring your camera for a close-up of some of the birds, maybe even have your picture taken with one of them perched on a leather gauntlet on your arm.
Some of the events you will want to take in are the flying falcon and eagle demonstrations held every 90 minutes, the feeding of the orphaned babies, and the hawk walk, a trail with hawks sitting on perches beside it. Also at the centre is one of the largest breeding populations of the endangered burrowing owl, the only owl in the world that lives underground.
Heading west on Highway 3 you enter Lethbridge in 11 kilometres. If you are tired from travelling, stressed out from fighting holiday traffic, and hot and sticky from too much sun, a walk in the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens is what you need. To reach them exit south onto Major Magrath Drive, head to 7th Ave S where you go left and then right into the parking area.
The gardens were arranged to bring peace and serenity to those who take a slow and leisurely stroll along their paths. There are no bright flowers just green shrubs and lawn, quietly flowing waters, rock gardens and white sand. The gardens are on 1.6 hectares and have five distinct sections, each one offering a chance to forget the rest of the world for a while.
Designed by the City of Lethbridge and its Japanese residents as a Canadian centennial project they are a symbol of the Canadian-Japanese friendship. A Friendship Bell hangs on the grounds, with an inscription indicating that if you strike the bell, good things will happen in both countries at the same time.
Return one block north along Major Magrath Drive to 6th Avenue and turn left. Continue to Scenic Drive where you go right. At 3rd Avenue you bear left for the Lethbridge visitor information centre. Go downhill past the centre into the coulee containing Indian Battle Park. You can see the High Level Bridge towering over the park as you descend. This bridge, one of North America's largest bridges of its height, was built in 1909 and is over 1.6 kilometres long and 96 metres high. Maybe you'll see a train travel over it during your stay.
The Indian Battle Park marks the site of the last great native fight between the Cree and the Blackfoot Confederacy, made up of the Blackfoot, Blood and Peigan Tribes. In 1870, a group of Cree and Assiniboines attacked a camp of Blood Natives. A band of Peigans came to the rescue and about 200 Cree and Assiniboine died in the clash. Except for a few minor altercations, that was the final native war and a peace was finally declared between the tribes in 1871.
A replica of Fort Whoop-Up, the first of the `Whiskey Forts', complete with Indian teepees and covered wagons, is in Indian Battle Park. Fort Hamilton, as it was originally called, was built by John T. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton at the junction of the St. Mary and Belly rivers, the location of present day Lethbridge. The first fort burned in 1870 and a second was constructed becoming the most powerful and active one in southern Alberta. It is believed the fort received its nickname from a remark made by one of the men who took the furs back to Fort Benton. He is supposed to have said, when leaving, "Don't let the Indians whoop you up."
The Helen Schuler Coulee Center and Nature Reserve are also in the park. The reserve is situated on 78 hectares and has prairie, coulee and floodplain habitat. You can take a nature walk on self-guided trails through the park, but don't expect to see trimmed green lawn or flower beds. Everything has been left in its natural state, and deer, rabbits, birds, beavers, muskrats and many other animals continue their untamed existence in the park.
Return to Scenic Drive, turn left and drive to Highway 3 where you go left. You cross the St. Mary River and this is where you set your odometer. If you look to your left you will see the railway bridge and the coulee as you leave Lethbridge.
The highway divides through Fort Macleod and you are on a one way. As the highway curves, to your left is the visitor information centre and to the right is the hospital. To see the NWMP cemetery and Jerry Potts' gravesite go to SH 811 North which is Sixth Ave in town and turn right. In one block you turn right onto 26th Street and in another block go left. One more block and its a turn right at the church. You reach gravel and in half a kilometre from there the road curves left beside the cemetery.
Park in front of the cemetery and walk through the gate. Head to the far left corner where you will see a tall, white spire and a white, picket fence. Enter the gate, go to the right and in the second row Jerry Potts' marker is the second from the fence.
Jerry Potts, whose parents were Peigan and Scot, was born in 1840. He was a guide and interpreter and led the NWMP troops under Col. Macleod to the original island site of Fort Macleod. He spent many years acting as a guide for the force and educating them on survival in the west before his death in 1896.
Continue on Highway 3 to the west end of town to see Fort Macleod which is on the right with a parking lot to your left. Fort Macleod was the first post built by the North West Mounted Police in Alberta. It was constructed on an island in the Oldman River in 1874 and was named after the commanding officer. In 1875, a sawmill was put into operation and Alberta's first drug store was opened by John D. Higenbotham in 1884.
The present-day Fort Macleod is a reproduction, but some of the log buildings inside the Fort Museum are original and house numerous historical native and NWMP-RCMP artifacts. Don't miss the Musical Ride staged four times a day during July and August. Young men and women dressed in NWMP uniforms present an exhibition of horsemanship and precision, similar to the world famous Musical Ride.
Some of the men who operated the whiskey forts established legitimate businesses after the arrival of the NWMP. One of them was Harry `Kanouse' Taylor, who set up a hotel in Fort Macleod. Due to the changing times and transient population, there had to be certain rules in his hotel. They were:
1. Guests will be provided with breakfast and dinner,
but must rustle their own lunch.
2. Spiked boots and spurs must be removed at night
before retiring.
3. Dogs are not allowed in bunks, but may sleep
4. Towels are changed weekly; insect powder is for sale
at the bar.
5. Special rates for Gospel Grinders and the gambling
6. The bar will be open day and night. Every known fluid,
except water, for sale. No mixed drinks will be served
except in case of a death in the family. Only
registered guests allowed the privileges of sleeping
on the bar room floor.
7. No kicking regarding the food. Those who do not like
the provender will be put out. When guests find
themselves or their baggage thrown over the fence,
they may consider they have received notice to leave.
8. Baths furnished free down at the river, but bathers
must provide their own soap and towels.
9. Valuables will not be locked in the hotel safe, as
the hotel posesses no such ornament.
10. Guests are expected to rise at 6:00 a.m., as the
sheets are needed for tablecloths.
11. To attract the attention of waiters, shoot through
the door panel. Two shots for ice water, three for
a new deck of cards.
No Jawbone. In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash.
Fort Macleod is southern Alberta's oldest settlement. The downtown district, on 24th Street between Second and Third Avenues, was declared Alberta's first provincial historical site on May 14, 1984. There are many wood frame buildings that date back to 1890s and some brick and sandstone ones from the early 1900s.
You can view the area on guided walking tours or wander around on your own.
The easiest way to get to it is to walk through the archway from the parking lot across from the fort. You will be on 24th Street and the second building on your right is the Empress Theatre. The theatre opened in 1912 and was used for vaudeville acts, minstrel shows, silent films, political rallies and talking films. It has been renovated, but the original pressed metal ceiling, double seats in every second row, and the old radiators remain. The Empress Theatre Society presents movies or live performances during the summer.
To see what is said to be the western Canada's largest mural, walk to the corner of 3rd Avenue and 21st Street. At 2.5 kilometres from leaving Fort Macleod you exit right off Highway 3 onto Highway 2 to go to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. You soon reach the junction of SH 785, also called Spring Point Road, at kilometre 1.4 and turn left. After driving through beautiful flatland and seeing the cliffs of the jump for a ways you reach the parking lot at kilometre 16.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, accepted as a cultural World Heritage Site in 1981, is one of the oldest, largest and most elaborate buffalo jumps in North America. It covers an area of 595 hectares and incorporates a variety of cultural specimens linked to communal buffalo pursuit. The remains are largely undisturbed and have provided scientists with an excellent opportunity to reproduce the evolution of shared buffalo jump hunting from its beginnings 5700 years ago to its demise in the 19th century.
The Head-Smashed-In Interpretive Centre is a multi-level structure built into the cliff. Each level is an artistic reproduction of a different segment of the Indian buffalo hunt. Once you have seen the displays on each floor, ascend the final stairs for a walk along the cliffs of the top of the jump. From here you have a panoramic view of the unspoiled prairie below.
From the walk along the top of the jump, return to the entrance and stroll the paths below the cliffs. Interpretive signs tell how the bodies fell over the cliff and how the wounded ones were killed by waiting braves. The buffalo had to be skinned quickly so they would cool and the meat wouldn't spoil. Because of the layers of bones the jump is much shorter than when it was first employed between 5600 and 5700 years ago.
From the Head-Smashed-In parking lot turn right onto SH 785 for a lovely drive through the brown, green, yellow and gold of the Porcupine Hills where every time you crest a hill a new vista awaits you. Since many animals, including elk, deer, lynx, red squirrel and cougar make the Porcupine Hills their home, you can also expect to see some wildlife.
In 2.4 kilometres you reach gravel and at kilometre 27.9 you turn right at a stop sign. The junction with SH 510 is at kilometre 32.8 and you go left to Heritage Acres Oldman River Antique Equipment and Thrashing Club. To your right as you enter is the caretaker's house. A donation box sits on the fence and the money from it is used only for restoration costs because all the work is done by volunteers.
At Heritage Acres is the Crystal Village which was begun in the early 1970s by Boss Zoeteman. He constructed each of the concrete blocks by placing about a dozen glass telephone insulators inside the square cast iron frame he had made. He then poured the cement over the glass, left it to dry then removed it. Over 200,000 glass telephone insulators and 900 crossarms were used to construct this miniature village. Some of the buildings include a church, school and coal shed. Narrow walkways connect the structures and colorful flowers and shrubs grow in the tiny yards.
Tour the quonsets full of old equipment and see the old steam engines, the sawmill and the elevator before entering the restored 1917 Doukhobor barn (about 300 Doukhobors arrived in the area in 1915) to see carriages and wagons including an 1881 Amish town wagon. Each carriage and wagon has a write up about its history, its use and who restored it.
Back at SH 785, turn left and soon you will see the rocks of the Oldman River Dam along the road. Kilometre 3.7 to your left is a parking area and viewpoint overlooking the spillway and downstream river. Interpretive signs tell the story of the building of the dam.
Kilometre 4.8 from the viewpoint you turn right onto Highway 3. When you reach the junction with Highway 6 at kilometre 3.3 go left to Pincher Creek. Three kilometres later you arrive in Pincher Creek.
Pincher Creek received its name from a pair of pincers (no one knows where the `h' came from), a tool used for trimming horse hooves, found (or depending on the story, lost) on the creek bank by prospectors in the 1860s. In 1876, the NWMP established a horse farm, with 200 horses, in the area. Eight mounties had to patrol from the Porcupine Hills south to the border and west to the Rocky Mountains. When the fort closed in 1881, many officers stayed to cultivate the land.
You keep going south down the hill into town on Hewetson Avenue and at the Frederick Street you turn left. When you get to a stop sign at Bridge Avenue go right and in one long block to your left is the large log building of the Pincher Creek and District Museum. Inside is a gift shop, two galleries with travelling exhibits, a library and archives.
Outside this building is the Kootenai Brown Historical Park where there are a number of historic buildings including a NWMP barn and Kootenai Brown's log cabin built in the late 1800s. If you want to stretch your legs, beside the park is Pincher Creek and paths wander through the trees along the creek bank.
Once back on Highway 3 watch to the left for the line of more than 50 huge wind turbines along Cowley Ridge. In 6.4 kilometre from the turbines you turn left to go to Lundbreck Falls Recreation Area and Lundbreck Falls. You climb a hill and in 1.9 you reach the campsite to your right. There is an upper camping area where you are above the river and a lower one beside the river to chose from. Fishing for whitefish and rainbow, cutthroat and eastern brook trout is popular in the Crowsnest River and paths run on both sides of it. However, one of the best places to fish is from the cliffs to the east of the upper campsite.
To see the falls continue less than a kilometre past the campground and you will cross the bridge and reach a parking area. The Crowsnest River tumbles 12 metres and makes a lovely picture. Another great photo opportunity is the bridge, with its arch support, over the river. Continue to the highway and turn left. Kilometre 7.2 you enter the Crowsnest Pass.
By the beginning of the century, the Crowsnest Pass was one of the largest coal producing regions of Canada. In 1898, the CPR built a line to a settlement called The Springs, later renamed Blairmore, and development began in 1901. It quickly became the center of a coal mining area and men came from Europe to work the mines. Soon towns such as Frank, Coleman and Hillcrest, also called Hillcrest Mines, sprang up.
In one kilometre from entering the pass you will see the stone ruins of Leitch Collieries on the right side of the road. Leitch Collieries, one of the largest mines and the only one completely Canadian owned, was established in 1907. Passburg was built for the miners and their families about 1 kilometre from the mine. But, due to construction problems, worker's strikes, a soft market for coal and not getting contracts, the enterprise was short lived. By 1915 it had ceased operations and Passburg disappeared. You can tour the ruins and read the displays recounting the mining process.
Kilometre 4 from Leitch Colleries you turn right to go to the Bellevue Mine. Just after the turn is an intersection where you go left. You follow this road as it winds through Bellevue and at kilometre 1.3 from the highway the road divides. You go left, then immediately left again and down a hill to the parking lot for the mine.
Inside the interpretive building is a large map showing the mining tunnels and the areas the miners never reached. The mine went about 5.6 kilometres and ended somewhere under Blairmore. In the years between 1903 and 1962 the miners only removed about 25% of the coal reserve. Much of the remaining coal is under water.
Approximately 360 metres of the Bellevue Mine has been retimbered and stabilized. Slip on one of the hard hats and a miner's lamp and take the guided tour of the underground tunnel the miners followed to their jobs. You will see coal seams and a loading chute and when everyone shuts off their lamp you will experience total darkness. It is damp in the mine and the temperature is about 7C so make sure you wear a warm jacket and sturdy shoes.
Return to Highway 3 and turn right. At kilometre 1.9 you turn left to go to the Hillcrest Cemetery. You cross a bridge over the Crowsnest River and at kilometre 1.2 you enter Hillcrest and the road divides. You continue straight ahead and the turn into Hillcrest Cemetery is immediately to your right.
Hillcrest was the site of one of Canada's worst mining disasters. On June 19, 1914 at 9:30AM, a huge explosion rocked the mine and 189 of the 235 workers in the pit were killed. More than 150 of the victims were buried in mass graves at a memorial cemetery in the town. One grave is 61.5 meters long. The mine was soon reopened and worked for another 25 years before closing in 1939. The Hillcrest disaster occured just 11 years after the Frank Slide. To see the graves walk to the back of the cemetery and you will find two areas surrounded by a white picket fence. Most of the markers in them give the date of death as June 19, 1914.
Just after you get back onto Highway 3 you start driving through the rocks of the Frank Slide. During the night of April 29, 1903, a wedge of limestone 646 meters high, 1 kilometre wide, 150 metres thick and weighing 82 million tonnes roared down the side of Turtle Mountain. In about 100 seconds, the rock of the slide sealed the entrance to the coal mine near the bottom of the mountain, barricaded the Crowsnest River, covered the valley with hundreds of feet of rock and continued across the valley to demolish part of the village of Frank. Of the 600 residents of Frank, an estimated 70 were dead although only 12 bodies were recovered.
To understand just how massive the slide was turn off the highway at kilometre 2 and drive to the Frank Slide Interpretive Center. The center sits high above the mass of rock and boulders and is across the valley from Turtle Mountain. Watch the slide presentation of coal mining life and view the coal mining and early settlement exhibits positioned on the four levels. Outside stroll the 1.5 kilometre Frank Slide Trail through the rocks of the slide.
On the highway again you pass Blairmore where a huge reclamation project of the Blairmore coal piles was undertaken in 1987-88 with the removal of approximately 660,000 tonnes of coal slag. At kilometre 6.9 turn left on 85th Street in Coleman and what is claimed to be the world's largest piggy bank is to your left. The bank is TEN TON TOOTS, a compound air locomotive which, between 1904 and 1954, used compressed air to pull its loads of coal in the mines. The money collected in this bank is for community services.
Back on highway 3 in 0.8 kilometres from the piggy bank you turn left into Coleman to visit the Crowsnest Museum. In two blocks you reach 18th Avenue and the museum is to your left.
Inside the museum is a list of the displays, such as the wedding dress section, the wildlife exhibit or the blacksmith shop, that are on each of the two storeys of the old high school built in 1936. In the school yard are covered tables so you can picnic even in the rain. There is also firefighting and mining equipment and farming machinery. Check out the Greenhill Mine rail bending kiln, circa 1930. The rails were split, heated in this kiln then shaped into arches for supports in the mine.
As you drive west on Highway 3 you can look down on Coleman to your left. You cross the Crowsnest River, follow Crowsnest Lake to your right, drive between the two sides of Island Lake and reach the Alberta-BC border at kilometre 12.8.
At the border you are on the 1358 metre summit of the Crowsnest Pass and on the Continental Divide. From here the Crowsnest River flows to the Hudson's Bay while waters on the west side of the divide head to the Pacific Ocean.

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