Driving Along the Cowboy Trail
Day 4 of our drives through Alberta history found us heading southwest of Calgary along the Cowboy Trail. We only had a few hours so joined up with the trail in Black Diamond after leaving Okotoks and our visit to the Okotoks Erratic (aka The Big Rock, a huge glacial erratic that was moved and left here by glacial ice.) We had learned about this in one of our recent unit studies and this was our second visit )the first time we couldn’t walk in because of the snow!)
Our next stop was in the Town of Black Diamond where coal was discovered in the late 1880’s by a government land surveyor. You would think that naming a coal town Black Diamond would be an easy choice but, apparently, there was some dispute as some preferred the name Arnoldville after the first postmaster. Black Diamond won out in the end after this name was drawn from a hat!
Black Diamond also benefitted from the discovery of oil and gas in nearby Turner Valley (our next stop) as lodging was needed for oilfield and construction workers in the booming area. Sadly, many of the settlements (like Naptha and Little Chicago) failed to thrive and both people and businesses moved further north as petroleum activity shifted in that direction.
A giant fire in 1949 destroyed the downtown but, thankfully, many buildings were able to be moved in from the failed (ghost) settlements in the area and many still stand in Black Diamond today.
A short drive down a picturesque road brought us to Turner Valley where oil was first discovered in 1914. Not only did this plant play a big role in the petroleum industry, it was also important to Canada’s war effort in WWII.
While we were visiting the park we met the granddaughter of one of the crew foreman that ran the plant back during the war. She had some interesting stories to tell and was clearly proud of her family heritage.
We took a drive past the plant at her suggestion (they do tours during the summer but we were too early for the season) and imagined what it must have been like when it was running at full capacity. An amazing piece of history that we plan to do more research into (along with going back for a tour this summer.)
Running around discovering history can make a young man hungry so we decided to stop at yet another You Gotta Eat Here featured spots (there seem to be quite a few of these around) The Chuckwagon Cafe where the young man ordered his favorite grilled cheese sandwich, this time with a hearty bowl of creamy tomato soup.
I opted for the daily special, an open-faced pulled chicken sandwich served with homemade fries and house salad. Eyeing the serving size at the next table I opted for no fries and was pleased to receive a huge salad to make up for it. This place does not skimp on its serving sizes and the food was delicious.
Having spent quite a lot of time over lunch and chatting with the locals, we didn’t have a lot of time to drive further but we did manage to find the memorial to the people of Little Chicago (one of the ghost towns that failed to survive the decline of the oil and gas industry in the area.)
This once bustling town went by two different names in its history; first, it was Littel Chicago and later, after the Royalties 1 well came in, the name was changed to Royalties. It’s tough to imagine the main street lining both sides of the highway these days as you drive through the foothills spotted with pumpjacks and cattle.
The final town on our route today was Longview (did they call it that because you have such a long view of the area?) From its humble beginnings as a tent city south of Little Chicago (the boom in the area brought in many oil workers) the town was remaned Longview after a petition by Guy Weadick (another of the Big Four who began the Calgary Stampede) to transfer the name of Longview from the post office east of town that was closing in the late 1930’s.
This was around the same time that three former professional hockey players built the Twin Cities Hotel. Today, the hotel offers a menu featuring locally grown vegetables and locally grown organic beef plus live entertainment on the weekends. Think we may have to check it out on our next visit to the area.
We headed back to Calgary along the Coal Trail that takes you from Longview to High River. (We were too early in the year to visit the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, it’s on our list for a summer road trip.)
So there you have it, a quick overview of another beautiful area of Alberta. We’re reminded every day how lucky we are to live here.