Tucked exactly half-way between Edmonton and Calgary, lies the energized city of Red Deer. Although no red deer have ever so much as galloped near central Alberta, the parkland itself still reigns with beauty. Despite garnering international attention for celebrating the turn of the millennium a week early in case Y2K decimated all existence, Red Deer is amongst Canada’s most prosperous centres, and is one of the fastest developing cities in the country. Because of its size, just under 100,000, Red Deer provides an amiable blend of big city convenience with the more personal approach of a smaller community — the result of which is an interesting variety of tourist attractions. If shopping is of interest, Red Deer has two well-stocked malls (one of which has been beautifully renovated with Western Art Work) as well as all the urban staples one comes to expect in a growing city. The South Pointe of Red Deer has been especially expanded and has a surprisingly wide array of restaurants, outlet stores, and franchise powerhouses.
Although not especially known for clubs, there are several popular pubs and live jazz bars that have shows nightly — check out the VAT near West Park to see great bands and perhaps even jam along. Bo Diddly’s, located near the South Pointe, is a great sports bar with awesome dry ribs. If theatre is your thing, check out Central Alberta Theatre Dinner Theatre at the Black Knight Inn where 8 months of the year a hilarious comedy awaits with an endless buffet. For something a little more provocative, check out Ignition Theatre (located next door to The VAT) for critically acclaimed modern works of drama.
Red Deer also houses the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, featuring exhibits remembering the achievements of the province’s most successful athletes. If you like junior hockey, the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL won the Memorial Cup in 2001 and still have their home in the Red Deer Centrium, a sport’s arena that also sees international performers continually throughout the year.
Ironically, Red Deer’s most famous attraction is not even in Red Deer, but rather 15 kilometres west: Sylvan Lake. The lake is beautiful and sees thousands upon thousands of tourists each year. With sailing, golf, waterslides, swimming, parasailing, rentable lakeside cabins, Sylvan Lake is definitely worth a visit during the summer months. The pristine and meticulously maintained waters are warm and very child friendly. Make sure to check out the Big Moo for what seems like 100 different flavours of old-fashioned ice cream and inflatable water toys.
Hidden away on Red Deer’s East Side is the aptly named Kin Kanyon, a manufactured series rapids and waterfalls perfect for a day out with the family. Rent giant inflatable tire tubes and watch your small children run the gentle rapids for hours at a time then take a quick drive north about 40 seconds and check-out Kerrywood Nature Centre which contains a visual history of the city’s development, live animals, local artwork, beautiful trails bordering the nationally protected Gaetz Lake Bird Sanctuary, and guest speakers discussing a myriad of local intrigue whether it be ghost stories, snake petting, or history. Supplement this history lesson with a visit to Fort Normandeau located on the South West side just outside of the city — built in the mid 19th century, the fort acts as a museum and often has costumed character re-enactments of the battle at Red Deer River.
30 km south of Red Deer, just outside Innisfail, is Doug’s Zoo, featuring performances from television animals as well as many rare and interesting wild cats. You may recognize Doug’s bears from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy starring Will Ferrell. They have daily animal shows that border on hilarity and you can even get your picture taken with the bear of your choice. Definitely worth seeing if you can spare the twenty-minute drive time.
During the summer, Red Deer has a weekend Farmer’s Market located near the Red Deer Arena downtown with locally grown produce, internationally award-winning cheese (secretly from Sylvan Lake), and awesome Nossack smokies and sausages. During July, Red Deer celebrates its Westerner Days — a fully stocked carnival with rides, games, pancake breakfasts, a petting zoo, auctions, and ridiculously cheap concerts at the Centrium. Essentially, Red Deer has all the perks of a bigger city, but remains inviting in an old-fashioned and welcoming way.