Day Tripping From Edmonton
The following are three, loop trips from Edmonton. Each of these drives makes a nice one-day outing. However, this article in no way claims to cover all that there is to see and do on these routes and, due to space constraints, not all places along the highways are mentioned. That doesn’t mean however they aren’t worth a visit. The intent of this article is to get you, the reader, out and exploring this part of the province. You may discover the perfect antique or a hidden little park. Bring your own picnic lunch or stop and sample the foods along the way.
Trip 1 Gibbons, St Paul, Andrew Loop
Take Highway 28A out of north east Edmonton and follow it to Gibbons. On the corner of 28A and 50th Avenue in the town is the Emmanuel Anglican Church. The interior, with its U-joint style and large beams, is modelled after the inside of a ship and is unique in Alberta. It was constructed in 1902 and is still in use today.
The Sturgeon River Historical Museum is in Oliver Park on 48th Avenue. McLeans Store has a counter with an antique cash register, shelving full of boxes and cans, books, photographs, desks and an old sewing machine sitting on a hardwood floor. A log building with artifacts from the area and a small home with 1920s furnishings are two of the other buildings on the grounds.
At the opposite end of town is Echo Glen Park. The park is beside the Sturgeon River and there is a hiking/biking trail that will take you along the high banks of the river.
Continue past the park to reach a stop sign on Highway 28. Turn right and head to Redwater.
One of Alberta's major oilfields was discovered near Redwater in 1948. To commemorate the oil industry the town has preserved the Discovery Derrick which was used to drill the first well. The derrick, which at 51.2 metres high is said to be the tallest oil derrick in North America, is in a park on 53rd Street.
Follow 48th Avenue out of town to the junction with Highway 38 where you go right. Turn left at the Victoria Trail sign to head towards Fort Victoria itself. The road is fifty-eight kilometres long and mainly gravel, and although is doesn’t exactly follow the route since some of it has been plowed under, it uses as much of the original trail as possible. The Victoria Trail was part of an overland route from Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to Edmonton dating from the 1820s and called various names such as the Carlton trail, Winnipeg Trail, Fort Pitt and Saskatchewan Trail depending on the section referred to. Victoria Trail is that part between Edmonton and Fort Victoria.
There are signs along the road so don't let the number of twists and turns stop you from taking this enjoyable drive along a trail that natives once walked and, beginning in the 1820s, early settlers travelled in Red River carts. They would probably be surprised at the changes along it: the large, modern homes, the big barns, the rows of metal granaries, the machine sheds with their full line of farming machinery, the open fields of grain, and the animals. The biting smell from the barn yards would certainly be unlike the sweet smell of flowers, trees, and open air to which they were accustomed.
The road winds through farmland and beside farm houses and old buildings. You will come to the original site of the Jack Pine Grove School PSD No. 2051, which operated from 1910 to 1951. Just past that is a cairn for Jack Pine Grove School District No 2051, Eldorena, founded in 1909. The church behind the cairn is the Eldorena Ukrainian Catholic Church built in 1912.
As you continue driving watch for the valley to your right and the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. At one point the road is like a country lane with trees lining it. But it is also narrow and winding with blind corners so keep to your side of the road. At about the half way point you reach Highway 31. It goes to Waskatenau if you wish to get off the gravel road. Proceeding ahead watch for the road to the left that goes to the church and cemetery of the former Lobstick Settlement.
Return to the Victoria Trail and soon you will come to the RCMP Memorial Sculpture. The thick, plate steel statue of an RCMP officer astride a horse sits on a base made of rock. Names like S.B. (Sam) Steele #1, P. Coutts #95, Sub-Inspector S. Gagnon, R.E. Steele #7 are painted on some of the rocks. These are the names and rank or regimental number of the twenty members of the newly founded NWMP who left the main group on July 29, 1874 and headed to Fort Edmonton, passing along this trail in October of that year. The cairn was erected on August 4, 1998.
There are two sharp curves after cairn and then a dangerous curve, with an old house to the left, so proceed with caution. When you reach SH 855, the road to Smoky Lake, continue across and you will be on pavement heading to the Victoria Settlement. Here there are two cemeteries, the Pakan Church constructed in 1906, and the clerk’s quarters built by the Hudson Bay Company in 1864. The quarters is said to be Alberta's oldest structure still on its original foundation. It has been restored and on the inside walls you can see where the Hudson Bay employees carved their initials.
Stroll along the asphalt paths under the spreading branches of the tall maples planted during the early years of the post. If you brought a lunch have a picnic at a table on the large lawn. Or grab your fishing gear and hike down the wide path to the North Saskatchewan River. You can fish from the banks where the fur traders landed their canoes over one hundred years ago.
In Smoky Lake the old CN station, on West Railway Drive, is now a museum. Inside are photographs and posters on the wall, an old telephone and telegraph, the original desk, and the old wood stove.
The town of Smoky Lake was named for the nearby lake which was initially called Smoking Lake by the Cree. In one version of how the lake received it name, the aboriginal people, who stopped by its shores to smoked their pipes during their hunts, called it Smoking Place. In the other story, it was selected because the mist lifting off the lake resembled rising smoke.
Smoky Lake bills itself as the Pumpkin Capital of Alberta. This is because the town holds the Great Pumpkin Fair and Weigh Off on the first Saturday in October. Prizes are given for the largest, the ugliest, and the best looking pumpkin.
Drive into Vilna to see what are claimed to be the world's largest mushrooms in a little park. They are six metres high and are from the Tricholoma family. They are called uspale mushroom which is a traditional mushroom used in Ukrainian cooking in the area. The mushrooms were erected in August, 1993.
Glendon bills itself as the Pyrogy Capital of Alberta. You drive into town on Perogy Drive and in Perogy Park is a giant perogy, said to be the largest in the world. The pyrogy, which is held up by a fork, is over seven metres in height.
The pyrogy was unveiled on August 31, 1991 to coincide with the beginning of the 1992 nation-wide celebrations commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. If you want a sample of the Ukrainian fare, visit the Perogy House across from the park.
As you drive into St. Paul watch for unidentified flying objects hovering overhead, waiting for an opportunity to land on the world's first man-made UFO landing pad. The circular platform, with provincial and territorial flags flying overhead, waits patiently for its first UFO landing on the corner of Galaxy Way. It was erected as a centennial project in 1967 and a time capsule inside the pad is to be opened in 2067.
The land beneath the landing pad has been designated international by the town of St. Paul. Climb the steps onto the UFO pad and walk across the pedway to the visitor information building which has been designed to resemble a UFO. Inside you will see an interpretive display complete with photographs of UFOs and crop circles, and write-ups on the different hoaxes that have been pulled. The town operates a UFO hotline with the number to call being 1-888-SEE-UFOS.
As you enter Elk Point, on your right is a statue of Peter Fidler in the Peter Fidler Peace Park. This park was officially dedicated in 1992, Canada's 125th anniversary of confederation, as part of the Peace Parks Across Canada project.
Fidler joined the Hudson Bay Company when he was nineteen and studied surveying. In 1792, he helped build Buckingham House and became its Factor five years later. He then travelled throughout the west constructing other fur trading posts.
As you leave Elk Point follow the signs to Fort George and Buckingham House. At the parking lot you will find an interpretive centre with replicas of voyageurs, buffalo, teepees, and a gift shop. There is also a map showing the layout of the forts. A short interpretive trail takes you to the sites of Fort George, constructed by the North West Company in 1792 and Buckingham House, built later that same year. Both were fur trading and provision posts providing pemmican for the canoe and York boat brigades.
They were situated on a plateau overlooking the North Saskatchewan River and the fur traders had the difficult task of hauling their supplies up the hill from their canoes. The posts did, however, have a beautiful view of the river valley.
Follow the scenic highway to Two Hills and check out their museum on the corner of 51st Street and 52nd Avenue. In Willingdon is the Willingdon Tourist Park with a campground, picnic tables, and a mural on a huge rock. At the end of town is SH 857 which will take you north to the Historical Village and Pioneer Museum at Shandro. A few of the more than twenty buildings to tour are a blacksmith shop, a post office, a funeral home, and a reproduction of a sod house, all of which are furnished appropriately. You will also see the ferry used on the North Saskatchewan River north of the museum before the Shandro Bridge was constructed.
In Andrew is a small park. Besides a caboose, a playground, mini golf, and tennis courts there is a statue of a giant duck. The colourful Mallard duck was chosen as a symbol for the village of Andrew and this replica was erected on April 29, 1992. It is said to be the largest Mallard in the world.
On the corner of Highway 45 and SH831 is the Skaro Shrine. The shrine was designed as a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in France and constructed in 1919 by local residents. The first pilgrimage was held on August 14, 1919.
And this ends your journey for today.
Trip 2 Radway, Lac La Biche, Athabasca Loop
You can follow the beginning of Trip 1 to Redwater and then carry on Highway 28 to Radway. In this village is an old, red-brick school that now houses the John Paul II Catholic Bible School. People come from across North America to live here for a year learning to pray, to study, to heal, and to incorporate the Bible into their lives. Some have been computer experts, some have been retired. The bible school opened in 1984 and accepts twenty-one students each year. While most students apply for entry themselves, some have been recommended by the Vatican while others have come from Germany, Zambia, Ireland, and Kuwait.
Also in the village is the Krause Milling Company in the tall, white elevator. This elevator has been restored to show the process that is used to mill the grain into flour. In the building next to it is a museum and gift shop.
Stop in at the Waskatenau Creek (Pine Creek) Nature Trail in Waskatenau (pronounced Wa set na) for a pleasant stroll on an asphalt trail. The first section is through trees and then you slowly work your way down until you are beside the creek. There are interpretive signs that tell about the wildlife and plants.
Continue along Highway 28 to Highway 36 and turn north to Lac La Biche. Soon after Highway 36 becomes Highway 55, you cross the Beaver River and come to the Little Divide (Continental Divide) with an elevation of 575 metres. This narrow height of land between Lac La Biche and Beaver Lake separates the Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean drainage systems. The Beaver River drains Beaver Lake, and flows east to the Hudson Bay. La Biche River issues from Lac La Biche and eventually spills into the Arctic Ocean.
You enter Lac La Biche on 100th Street. Turn right on 91st Avenue and Portage College is to your left half way down the block. Here you will find the Native Cultural Arts Museum Collection with native handicrafts showing much of the aboriginal culture.
On Churchill Drive is a statue of David Thompson and two companions as they arrive at Lac La Biche, then known as Red Deers Lake. Thompson explored, surveyed, and mapped most of western Canada. He is the first recorded non-native in the Lac La Biche area and his exploration here led to the building of Red Deers Lake House by the North West Company in 1798.
East of the town is the Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, reached by a man-made causeway. Watch for pelicans as you drive to the park and enjoy a picnic at one of the sandy beaches.
Go west of town on Highway 55 to the Old Mission Road to reach the Lac La Biche Mission on a slight hill overlooking the lake. The original Mission Church and some other buildings were destroyed in a tornado in 1921. The present church was built the next year and contains the alter, which was undamaged, from the first church.
It is about a one hundred kilometre picturesque drive to Athabasca. Just before reaching the town you will pass through Amber Valley, the home of Alberta's first black settlers. In 1910, almost two hundred Afro-Americans were led into the province by Jefferson Davis Edwards and they settled on land in what was then known as the Pine Creek area. They had left Oklahoma and the discrimination against their race for what they hoped was a better life.
Athabasca has many historic buildings dating back to the beginning of the early 1900s, including the Union Hotel and the Canadian National Railway Station, both on 50th Street, and the United Church on the corner of 48th Street and 49th Avenue. At Riverfront Park you can stroll beside the Athabasca River.
Head south out of Athabasca on Highway 2. Turn off the highway at the sign for Perryvale. From Perryvale to Twatinaw you will be driving on part of the historic Athabasca Landing Trail. The Hudson Bay Company developed the trail, at a cost of $4059 in 1877. The trail followed a native path and was really a 161 kilometre portage between Fort Edmonton on the North Saskatchewan River and Athabasca Landing on the Athabasca River.
Legal has a large collection of murals on their downtown buildings that show the contribution of the Francophones to the west. The murals were sponsored by the descendants of the early pioneers who are shown in the murals.
As you travel south towards Morinville look ahead to your left and you will see a tall spire rising above the trees. This is from the St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Church of Morinville. Completed in 1907 it has been modified over the years with the brick exterior added in 1929.
In St Albert is the massive, three-storey Grandin House on St. Vidal Avenue. Initially the building, completed in 1887, was to be operated as a Grey Nun's hospital, but the design was unsuitable so it became the official residence of Bishop Vital J. Grandin.
Just past it is Father Lacombe's log chapel, constructed in 1861. It was moved in 1871 and some restoration work was done in 1927 with about forty percent of the original material being replaced. In 1977, the chapel was returned to its original site on this hill above the Sturgeon River.
On the other side of the chapel is St. Albert Parish Church, erected in 1922. Walk behind the church and view the crypt, where the body of Father Lacombe lies in honour. Then take the long, flower-lined path to the grotto, a replica of la Grotto des Apparitions de Lourdes (the Lourdes Grotto) in France.
During the summer, what is called Western Canada's Largest Outdoor Farmer's Market takes place on St. Anne Street. Here you can buy meats, vegetables, fruits, and dessert for your evening meal at home.
Trip 3 Elk Island National Park, Wainwright, Tofield Loop
Watch for wildlife, especially bison, roaming freely as you drive through Elk Island National Park. If you see one take your picture from your vehicle or just sit and admire it. Do not get out and approach the animal and do not feed it.
Besides the animals to see, there are a number of walking or hiking trails, a Ukrainian pioneer home, and a monument to the Plains Buffalo, which provided food, clothing, and weapons for the natives, and meat (pemmican) for the fur traders and explorers.
The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village can be a quick stop on this tour or a full day visit. Each building has its own history, and interpreters, who are dressed in period clothing, will converse with you only about events that took place in that era.
In Mundare is the Basilian Father's Museum where you will see Ukrainian clothing, photographs, stamps, typewriters, books, and a display of Ukrainian liturgical books from the 16 and 17th centuries.
Sts. Peter and Paul Monastery is across the road from the museum. It was built in 1922 and is one of the oldest Basilian Monasteries in Canada. Beside it is The Grotto built in 1934. Steps lead up to alcoves housing statues. Follow the side paths up the back of the hill, which represents Mount Calvary, to different levels and the fourteen Stations of the Cross. Ivy hides much of the walls and colourful flowers adorn flower beds.
Vegreville’s most famous feature, the Pysanka, is at the east end of town in the Vegreville Elks/Kinsmen Community Park. The Pysanka, or giant Easter egg, was erected in 1974 to celebrate the centennial of the R.C.M.P. in Alberta and to commemorate the early Ukrainian pioneers of the area. The egg is suspended over a lovely park, with red rock paths through green grass and a footbridge over the river. The park also has a pond with ducks and swans swimming in it, two gazebos, and a picnic area.
The Vermilion Provincial Park in Vermilion has camping, a wading pool, walking and equestrian trails, and a man-made lake. When a bridge was built over the Vermilion River, part of the river was dammed to form this lake.
On Main Street in Wainwright you will pass the large statue of a buffalo and drive to the Memorial Clock Tower or cenotaph. It was built as a memory to the men who died in the two world wars and stands in the centre of the intersection. The Wainwright Museum, with over fifteen rooms of exhibits, on 1st Avenue in the old railway station. The Wainwright Railway Preservation Society grounds, across the tracks from the museum, has numerous displays about the railway history in the area and the province.
Camp Wainwright is one of Canada's largest forces training facility. During the Second World War, over one thousand German officers were interred at the camp. A reconstructed P.O.W. tower, with artifacts, commemorates that time.
On the highway again, drive to Fabyan and turn left into town. Follow the signs to the viewpoint for the Fabyan, or Battle River, Trestle. The trestle, which is 845 metres long and stands 59 metres above the water, was constructed in 1907-08 for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The first train crossed it on December 15, 1908.
After Fabyan you begin your descent into the Battle River Valley. The river was named Chacutenah by the Cree natives which means `the river that flows through the tremendous valley'.
To see the Viking Ribstones, watch for a historical sign on the left side of the road. After reading the sign go back along the highway to the first right turn and follow the signs to an area surrounded by white posts with red tops. You park here and climb a slight hill to the ribstones and a cairn.
The large, quartzite stones have markings similar to the ribs of a buffalo and they were carved as a monument to Old Man Buffalo, whom the First Nations people believed was the spirit protector of all the buffalo. While on top of the hill, turn in a circle and enjoy the panoramic view of the surrounding farmland.
The Viking Museum, founded in 1966, is inside the former hospital on 60th Avenue The hospital was built in 1921, and each room depicts a different time period in the hospital's, and the town's, history.
Holden has the Beaver Regional Arts Centre with a 285 seat capacity on 50th Street. Here a `Chautauqua' similar to the theatrical groups that toured in the early part of the 1900s, a Christmas concert, and a comedy or mystery thriller are each held annually. Besides the professional performers who come to the theatre, the Beaverhill Players, a community theatre group, also puts on many performances.
George's Harness and Saddlery in Ryley is a working museum on 50th Street. As you enter, the smell of leather overwhelms you. Look up and see the tin ceiling brought from an old schoolhouse in Saskatchewan. Walk along the aisles to view the harnesses, bridles, hats, and saddles many of which are antiques.
At the Beaverhill Lake Nature Centre along the highway at Tofield, you can see stuffed birds, look at pictures of birds, read books on birds, and gather information on Beaverhill Lake, one of the best places to see snow geese on their spring migrations. If you are a birdwatcher you can pick up a pamphlet at the centre listing the over 250 recorded bird species that have been sighted on or near the lake.
The Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Grazing, Wildlife, and Recreation Area has 150 kilometres of trails for equestrian, hiking, bicycling, snowmobile, and cross-country skiing adventurers. There are a number of staging areas and the trails from each are designated for the different activities. Coyote, elk, moose, deer and more than 200 varieties of birds occupy the reserve along with cattle.
After a hike along the trails you can head home.