Summer Travel ’09: Alberta

Cowboy country comes alive
Brian Banks

AlbertaDinosaur Provincial Park Canada’s largest tract of badlands are eerily beautiful, a worthy attraction in their own right. But in Dinosaur Provincial Park, they are also just a prelude to the main event—an encounter with one of the world’s greatest dinosaur fossil beds. To date, 39 different species and more than 150 complete skeletons have been unearthed here. The digging goes on, and visitors seeking a close-up look can choose from numerous hikes and guided excavations. Book early and allow for a minimum two-day stay. Also factor in another day for the Royal Tyrrell Museum in nearby Drumheller, a world-class facility where many of the fossils excavated here are on display.

Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival/Edmonton (Aug. 13-23) If it’s the largest of its kind in North America, it’s in Edmonton, and it isn’t the West Edmonton Mall, it must be the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Now in its 28th year, the Edmonton Fringe takes over the theatres, halls, streets and alleys of the city’s Old Strathcona district for 11 days. Its 1,200 shows and 1,500 performers offer an array of theatre presentations and other artistic entertainment. More than 500,000 people visit the festival site, which is filled with street performers and actors in costume. This year’s program has yet to be announced, but the tag line is “Stage a Revolution?!” Indeed.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

Calgary Stampede/Calgary (July 3-12) The Calgary Stampede is so large and so iconic it almost defies description. But in the world of all things cowboy, the 97-year-old downtown event, held in and around Stampede Park, is the top of the mountain. So take your pick: bull riding, barrel racing and more in the world’s richest, most competitive tournament-style rodeo; the world’s premier chuckwagon derby, featuring 36 teams of horses and drivers; or Western Canada’s largest music festival, with five stages and 300 performers, including a slate of international country music headliners. That’s just the big stuff. You can’t see everything, but each year, a million people try.

Banff Summer Arts Festival/Banff Perhaps it’s the setting. Or the public mindset. Whatever the reason, the town of Banff never seems far from its next cultural festival. But when people are marking their calendars, the Summer Arts Festival is the one that’s often circled first. Mind you, given the festival’s more than 160 events and extended schedule, that means blocking off most of June, July and August. Held at the Banff Centre, much of the performance—be it visual arts, dance, music, film, opera or readings—is progressive and challenging. As should be the case with all good art, audiences aren’t just entertained, they’re stimulated.

Icefields Parkway/The Columbia Icefield The 230-km trip along the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper is one of Canada’s undisputed great drives. There are glaciers, stunning peaks, turquoise lakes and waterfalls at every turn. You can cover the distance in a few hours, but a day or two is recommended. The source of the ice is the 325-sq.-km Columbia Icefield, located on the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks. It feeds eight major glaciers, all visible from the Parkway. Parks Canada’s Columbia Icefield Centre is at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. From there you can also take a Brewster Ice Explorer tour of the surface of the glacier.