Rocky Mountains and Cattle Ranches

When days become longer and temperatures rise it’s tough to keep kids inside and motivated (let’s face it, we find it tough to be motivated when the sun is shining and the birds are singing) so at this time of year I like to take our lessons outside. Since EJ is studying Alberta this year, we decided to take our first springtime road trip to Cochrane, a short half-hour drive from Calgary. This is a popular choice for folks in our city since the town boasts some of the best ice cream you have ever tasted (we'll get to that later.)

But there is more to Cochrane than ice cream alone. It is also home to the Historic Cochrane Ranche, the original site of Alberta’s first major cattle operation. Established in 1881 when Senator Matthew Cochrane leased 100,000 acres of land from the Canadian government (for a penny an acre according to our social studies text) and drove thousands of head of cattle north from Montana. This helped establish the federal grazing-land policy that, in turn, built the western cattle industry into what we have today.
What a great opportunity to learn about an event right where it happened. Much better than in a dry textbook alone. The ranche is a nice spot for a picnic lunch and to spend some time in nature, all with a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Running with the wind at Cochrane Ranche
Part of the original ranch lease has also been protected as Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park to preserve its important history. This was land where First Nations peoples established tipi camps and corralled bison. Later, Glenbow became a water stop, and then station, on the CPR mainline. Sandstone from the Porcupine Hills quarry located here was used in the Alberta Legislature Building. The quarry was replaced by a brick plant in later years before closing during World War I.

Part of the Trans Canada Trail network, Glenbow Ranch offers family friendly weekend programs throughout the year. Ranging from pond exploration to archeological adventures to Star Nights there is sure to be something for everyone in the family.

Our sunny day, in southern Alberta fashion, turned to wind and cold just as we were reading about the winter of 2006 -2007 when there were no chinooks (no, we didn’t need a demonstration of the cold.) EJ said he just couldn’t imagine having a winter with no warm breaks from chinook winds blowing in from the west. As he says, our winters here are cold then warm then cold again but there is always hope for another warm day to give us a break before spring finally arrives. After chasing our notebooks in the dry grass for the third time (it's tough to sketch when your pages keep flying away!) we decided to pack up and head for somewhere a little cozier.

Tea...and tea pots, books, mugs, cups, teaspoons...
We drove into town and stopped at a sweet little shop called Tea and Other Things (other things include used books as well as books by local authors.) EJ headed straight for the huge selection of teas, displayed in jars along two walls of the shop. He was hunting for his favorite Earl Grey and was not disappointed. The shop owner, Kelly, stocks several varieties and was happy to discuss the differences before the boy chose three blends to take home for sharing with his mom. He also found a couple of books on the stuffed shelves to take home (after sampling their pages in one of the comfy chairs set up for just this purpose.) 

We continued to chat as our purchases were wrapped and I discovered Kelly is originally from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (I have family there) and that her family ran Joyner’s Department Store on Main Street. A small world indeed as I remember her parent’s store, complete with the cash carrier that ran on a little track around the ceiling. My girls were fascinated by it on our last visit to the Tunnels of Moose Jaw but, sadly, Joyner’s was destroyed in a fire in 2004.

MacKay's Ice Cream
After warming up a bit, EJ decided he really could enjoy a dish of his favorite Tiger ice cream at MacKay’s (conveniently located right around the corner from the tea shop) after all. Even this early in the year on a chilly and blustery day, MacKay’s had a steady stream of customers. And no wonder, MacKay’s continues to use their grandmother’s delicious recipe (it starts with 100% Canadian high butterfat cream.) The same one that James and Christina MacKay used when they began making ice cream in the back of their general store in 1948. I couldn’t resist an orange-pineapple cone myself!

I couldn't resist!
Back on the road again, EJ and I ended our day with a drive past Fort Calgary and the Stampede Grounds. Two spots of importance to the history of our area but visits will have to wait for another day. For now, we will have to be satisfied with finishing our school day at the kitchen table while enjoying a steaming cup of Yorktown Earl Grey.

Popular Posts