The Central Alberta Gambit
So you’ve spent a few days in Sylvan Lake, traversed the West Edmonton Mall, been to the Calgary Zoo and have another day to kill in Central Alberta… what to do?
Well, there are several small communities in the area that provide some amuse bouche for the traveller looking to hit up some less common tourist spots.
Why not visit the town of Innisfail, 30 km south of Red Deer, and spend some time at Discovery Wildlife Park? Once known as Doug’s Petting Zoo in Clive, Alberta, the now relocated zoo has become a world renowned spot for animals that you have probably seen already without even knowing it. Many of the animals at this park are trained television animals. The most famous are perhaps the bears (both Grizzly and Black) that have appeared in such films as Anchorman, Grizzly Falls, Dr Doolittle (as well as various commercials). The park has a surprisingly diverse number of animals given its somewhat meek birth. Jaguars, performing tigers, alligators, monkeys, and a bad-tempered badger are just some the wonderful animals living at the park.
The bears steal the show here for sure though. There are daily shows that show off the amazing (and often hilarious) relationship the trainers have the animals. You can get your picture taken with the gentlest angry bear you’ve ever seen and really learn a great deal about all the animals you meet.
Only a short drive from Innisfail is the tiny hamlet of Torrington, which made international headlines for its controversial and ridiculous gopher museum. The area is plagued by a huge gopher population. They’re everywhere! Torrington took advantage of the boon they have in prairie rodents and secured a grant to stuff dead gophers and display them in exhibits depicting everything from weddings to hockey games. Some of these tableaus have been loaned to world famous museums and are good for a quick laugh. There is just something about gophers dressed up as cops and bank robbers that deserves at least a glance.
From your brief stop in Torrington, drive east and take a look at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park – an impressive canyon in the Badlands that was once a First Nations area to hunt Buffalo. The view is spectacular and is a perfect place for a picnic. There are various information posts throughout the valley and the area contains the most important Albertasaurus fossil bed in the entire world. Situated in the Red Deer River Valley, one can also canoe/kayak while spotting many bird species that make the valley their home.
As you roll back to the Red Deer hub stop in at Markerville and spend some time at its creamery for freshly made ice cream. Markerville is one of the communities of Alberta formed with a Scandinavian heritage and one can view the Icelandic routes of town with a visit to Stephansson House, a museum devoted to the famous settler and poet, Stephan Stepansson. At the museum, you’ll be greeted by full costume and be rewarded with some intriguing stories about pioneer-life in early 20th century Alberta history, including daily life, spinning wool, and baking.