Cliff and Gail Lacey and Barry and Jan Manchak were among Ifpra members who took part in a tour of parks and special places in Alberta, Canada, prior to the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association Conference and Ifpra World Congress at the end of last year. This is Cliff and Barry’s account of the tour, accompanied by some great photos taken by Gail.

A total of 40 Ifpra members and significant others signed on for a six-day, six-night tour of parks and special places in Alberta, Canada, in the lead-up to the 2013 Alberta Recreation and Parks Association Conference and Ifpra World Congress.

The tour travelled over 1,800 KMs through five of the six bio-regions in Alberta - Rocky Mountains, Foothills, Grassland, Parkland and Boreal Forest.
We visited four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the three largest urban centres in Alberta, where we toured their world class urban parks. 

There were numerous presentations throughout the tour on topics such as urban park planning, development and management, aboriginal history, outdoor education training for youth, and management and presentation of the paleontological resources found in Alberta.'

The tour group
in Banff National Park at Bow Lake.

Day 1: The Tour Begins

The pre-congress tour began in Calgary, a city of over one million people. We enjoyed an orientation and “get to know” meeting on the evening of our arrival, followed by a hosted breakfast with City of Calgary staff at the indoor Devonian Gardens. Anne Charlton, Head of Calgary Parks, offered welcoming remarks, touched upon the severe flooding the City experienced in June of 2013 and provided an overview of the Calgary Parks system. 

After a tour of the indoor gardens, groups headed off on three pre-selected tours, named ‘Cultural Landscapes’, ‘City and River Walk’ and ‘Wetland Areas’. A small side trip was also arranged to see Major Recreation Facilities.

At 3pm we bid farewell to Calgary and headed west to the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Glenbow Ranch is unique in that it has a very active park foundation which is heavily involved in its day-to-day operation through a partnership with Alberta Provincial Parks. This type of partnership is unique in Alberta and may be a harbinger of things to come.

That evening, at the Stoney Nakoda Hotel and Casino, Don Carruthers Den Hoed gave a presentation on Kananaskis Country, part of Alberta Provincial Parks, and the parks and services it offers to the nearby Calgary population.

The Devonian Gardens

Day 2: Into the Wild

The next day Don joined the tour for a visit to Camp Horizon for the unveiling of the newest “parks explorer”, a three wheel conveyance used to take persons with disabilities out into the mountains on “hiking” trails. The tour of the camp itself revealed the multitude of opportunities offered to children and adults with various learning and physical impairments.

Later that day the tour arrived at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site. Guided by Quinton Crowshoe and Stan Knowlton, both members of the local First Nations, the group was shown though the museum that focuses on this 6,000 year old site where early inhabitants chased buffalo over the cliff and harvested their 800 kg prey. The seven-story museum, built into the side of the cliff next to the buffalo jump, has won international awards for architecture and the museum is recognized for outstanding displays. After a meal of buffalo stew and bannock, the group headed off for a drive through the darkening sky, to Dinosaur Provincial Park, also a World Heritage Site. 

Through the generous support of Alberta Provincial Parks, the tour was able to stay overnight in the compact but comfortable accommodations normally used in the summer months by visiting palaeontologists. 

The signage at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site.

Day 3: Dinosaur Day

The next day, Dinosaur Day as we came to call it, the group toured the restricted area of the park. They were guided by Brad Tucker and Fred Hammer, both from Alberta Parks. Dinosaur bone beds were on display as well as demonstrations of the early techniques used to unearth the bones. Out in this strange landscape, known as the Badlands, our guide told us that heavy rainstorms often exposed new bones along the river banks and amongst the soft clay and sandstone formations.

It was exceptional to see 60-million-year-old bones deposited in the sand of the then tropical landscape.

Dinosaur Day continued at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller Alberta. Guided by three of the scientists working at the museum, the group was given a rare behind the scenes tour of the working area of the museum. The group saw where fossils were unloaded and stored prior to the painstaking task of extracting them from the rocks that held them. Once free of the stone that encased them, they are stored in huge climate-controlled vaults, sorted by species, to one day be pieced together as a full skeleton. The public display area holds many of these reconstructed specimens.

That evening, the tour group travelled to Red Deer for the next stage of the trip.

Our Dinosaur Provincial Park guide explains the geography of the area.

Day 4: Horse-drawn Tours and Giant Swimming Pools

We awoke in Red Deer for a hosted breakfast with the staff of Red Deer city parks.  Craig Curtis, City Manager, provided an early morning overview of the Waskasoo Urban Park System and joined the group for a tour of the Bower Ponds Park, a festival site for the City.  The highlight of the visit was the horse-drawn carriage tour at Heritage Ranch Park, a site devoted to equestrian activities and events.

That afternoon the group moved on to the City of Edmonton, population nearly one million, and a stay at the Fantasyland Hotel. This hotel is part of the massive West Edmonton Mall. Mall staff provided a tour of the commercial recreation experiences the mall offers, most notably, a wave pool that accommodates close to 3,000 guests complete with water slides, a bungee jump, and a variety of food and beverage services, all under a huge glass dome.

A horse drawn wagon ride at the heritage ranch in Waskasoo Park in the city of Red Deer.

Day 5: Exploring Edmonton

The next morning the group headed to the Shaw Conference Centre, overlooking the North Saskatchewan River, for a hosted breakfast meeting with City of Edmonton park staff.  Technically part of Community Services for the city, staff explained work to redevelop the downtown airport lands into a sustainable urban community, provided an overview of the River Valley Alliance and its efforts with a number of municipalities working to conserve the North Saskatchewan River Valley, and outlined the Edmonton forestry program.

After these presentations we walked to the Muttart Conservatory (glass houses) where we had a hosted lunch and tour of the pyramids. The day in Edmonton wrapped up with a tour of William Hawrelak Park, site of several major social festivals and athletic events, and we were served bannock-on-a-stick at the Alf Savage building in Whitemud Park.

After a long drive to the mountains, the group arrived at the Pyramid Lake Lodge in Jasper National Park, our third World Heritage Site. Interpretive staff from Parks Canada took us onto an island on the lake for some stargazing. Unfortunately, cloudy skies limited this event, but it was instructive to learn how Parks Canada conducts these sessions with park patrons. Jasper National Park is the largest, vehicle-accessible Dark Sky Preserve in Canada.

Jasper National Park staff provide information at the Palisades Stewardship Education Centre in the park.

Day 6: Jasper and Banff National Parks

Jasper National Park Superintendent, Greg Fenton and James Bartram of the Palisades Educational Stewardship Centre joined us for breakfast and Greg provided an overview of Jasper Park. James outlined the motivations for the Palisades Centre, the need to reach out to young people and educate them about nature and the high quality, life-changing experiences offered at the Palisades. The group visited the centre and saw the facility and some of the “classes” in session. From the Palisades, the group journeyed south on the Icefields Parkway, voted the best scenic drive in Canada in 2012, and possibly one of the most scenic drives in the world.  Accompanied by Parks Canada interpretive staff and Bill Fisher, retired vice-president of operations for western and northern Canada for Parks Canada, the tour stopped at Athabasca Falls, before arriving at the Glacier Skywalk

Brewster Travel Canada is a private tourism company, on the verge of completing this huge U shaped, glass floored walkway out over a steep mountain gorge, over 250 meters deep.  The Ifpra tour group was the largest group to visit the site, and while still under construction, one can see it will offer a thrilling and educational experience, capped by spectacular views of the mountains. A little further south we stopped to view the Athabasca Glacier, one of many glaciers comprising the Columbia Icefields. It is remarkable to think that melt waters from the Columbia Icefields travel to three oceans – the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic.  Just a little farther south, the tour crossed into Banff National Park, the fourth and final World Heritage Site on the tour

The last stop on the tour was Bow Lake, headwaters of the Bow River that flows through Calgary where our trip began.  A group photo was taken at this location, a fine memento of a great trip.

The Icefields Skywalk in Banff National Park was opened for the tour months before the public will have a chance to enjoy the facility which was still under construction.