For many visitors to Alberta, they want to experience a little taste of the old west. Popular places to get that western vibe are usually the Bar-U-Ranch, the Cowboy Trail, and small towns scattered throughout the prairies. But old west culture is also in Lethbridge, Alberta, and we recently had the chance to experience a slice of it at Fort Whoop-Up.
Located right down in the beautiful Lethbridge Coulees, the fort is surrounded by canyon-like scenery, mixed with dry desert-like conditions, cactus, and the odd rattlesnake. As we made our way towards the fort, we imagined what it would have been like hundreds of years ago when there would have been horses instead of cars, and much less civility.
Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of an original fur trading fort built in the late 1800’s, not too far away from here. It was originally called Fort Hamilton and during the late 19th century, served as a centre for a variety of trading activities, one of which was the illegal whiskey trade. Whiskey traders flourished here due to the lack of police force prior to 1874, and the high prices they could command for their goods.
We were joined by one of the fort’s interpreters, Harrison Red Crow, a man of Blackfoot descent who educated us on the history of the First Nations that inhabited this area and the pioneers that eventually called this place home. Harrison’s knowledge and passion for the history of this region were evident right from the beginning and it really helped bring this fort to life for us. Before starting the tour, Harrison told us, “As a way to explore the history, cultures, and traditions of the communities that lived in the region during this time, Fort Whoop-Up was created, bringing life to the tribes and traders that called this place home.”
We began by learning about the Blackfoot culture, from before the pioneers arrived with horses right up until the illegal alcohol trade wreaked havoc on the people. We learned how the Blackfoot would kidnap baby wolves and rare them up to be work dogs, and how the captured eagles to use their feathers in rituals. We also learned about the teepee and how they were made. Then we continued out into the fort, surrounded by stunning scenery, to learn what life was like inside the fort.
It all started with the buffalo robe trade, as Canadians, Americans, British, and the Métis arrived to partake in the fur trading industry. Then, as always seems to be the case, the fur trade brought money, which brought greed, which eventually brought high-quality alcohol, which eventually became low-quality alcohol. This not only disrupted the lives of the First Nations people but also led to the formation of the North-West Mounted Police, which is now part of the RCMP.
As we continued around the fort, we went into the various rooms where the inhabitants would have lived and worked. The various artifacts helped make the fort so realistic, and when combined with our wonderful interpreter’s knowledge, really made for an educational day.
After a few hours at Fort Whoop-Up, we wanted to check out a few more things to do in the city of Lethbridge, so we went to the Galt Museum to get stunning views over the coulee’s and to learn about the last 100 years that shaped the city. We then went to the nearby Lethbridge Fish and Game Association gun range to try our hand at firing off some revolvers, just to get a taste for the “outlaw” life back in the day. With smoke from the barrel lifting its way into the air as we aimed for the target, our old-west style day in Lethbridge came to an end.
Where is Lethbridge?
Lethbridge is located in Southern Alberta, around 2-hours drive south of Calgary, Alberta. It’s only a bit over an hour from the border of Montana, USA, and has one small airport. Most people arrive by car.
Like many Canadian cities, Lethbridge is extreme. Expect hot dry summers and cold windy winters. Lethbridge is known for its wind and the storms can be strong, but not dangerous. In the winter, there is a lot of snow and temperatures dip down to -30 Celcius, whereas the exact opposite can be expected from June – September.
Best Hotels in Lethbridge
There are a lot of hotels to choose from in Lethbridge, Alberta. The one that we stayed in is the newly renovated Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge. This hotel is in the best location possible, located right next to the Galt Museum and the Lethbridge Trestle Bridge, which has the best views in the city. You’re close to walking trails that go throughout the coulee’s, Fort Whoop-Up, and downtown Lethbridge. There’s even a lovely indoor courtyard, which has a pool, hot tub, and a really good breakfast buffet.
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