Out of 16 Canadian UNESCO World Heritage sites, four are located within short driving distance of Calgary.
SITE SEEING WITH DISTINCTION
The majority of Alberta’s UNESCO landmarks lie closest to Calgary: The Parks of the Rocky Mountains to the west, to the Waterton National Park to the south. Here are the stories of two lesser-told landmarks closest to Calgary – Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump; Tyrrell Dinosaur Park – and a hopeful in contender/nominee Blackfoot Crossing.
Develop a day-trip or loop to experience these unforgettable sites close to Calgary. This city is your basecamp to some of Canada’s best preserved cultural and natural Heritage sites.
Located in the Porcupine Hills 90 minutes south of Calgary, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Interpretative Centre that puts people on the precipice of life from 6,000 years ago. This archeological marvel, where an 18-metre cliff meets the grassland plains in the shadow of the Rockies, is recognized as one of the oldest, largest, and best preserved buffalo jumps in the world.
The precise topography inspired early aboriginal hunters to drive herds of bison over the edge and, in doing so, establish important communal systems of hunting, sharing resources, and organizing as groups — moving the tribes from merely surviving to culturally thriving.
With remains of butchered bone and evidence of advancing tools both stratified as deep as 10 metres over an 1470 acre area, experts agree the value of this site to the human story is worth protecting. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was designated as a UNESCO site in 1981.
Learn more about the mighty beasts who once numbered more than 60 million across the prairies and delve deeper into Blackfoot culture to discover how the buffalo became the sacred centre of a people.
The Interpretive Centre is open year round with additional public events and special programs to watch for such as tipi camps and drumming demonstrations in the summer.
Stand in the shoes of ancient warriors, feed the senses, and taste the spoils of the hunt!
Dinosaur Provincial Park, capped by the Royal Tyrrell Museum, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just over two hours drive northeast of Calgary or 15 minutes outside of Drumheller. Pack a picnic, a curiosity for all things paleo, and hit the road for one unforgettable day trip.
Recognized as one of Alberta’s most identifiable geological formations, the striped and almost alien looking “hoodoos” were carved out by water, wind, and frost during the Cretaceous Period more than 70 million years ago. Today, they are simply known as “the badlands.”
Making cinematic appearances as backdrops to such films as Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and the annual Canadian Badlands Passion Play, the arid badlands preserve a much greater secret in their striations — being one of the richest dinosaur repositories in the world.
Forty dinosaur species have been discovered in the area and more than 500 specimens have been excavated and exhibited in museums across the globe. The renowned fossil assemblage of nearly 500 species of life, from microscopic fern spores to huge carnivorous dinosaurs, more than justified the area becoming a unique World Heritage Site in 1979.
Until 1985, findings in the park were shipped to museums in Toronto and New York. All that changed with the building of The Tyrrell Museum on-site, and the designation of “Royal” by Queen Elizabeth in 1990. Over 500,000 visitors a year now flock to this mecca of fossil history with impressive reconstructions of dinosaurs at their most magnificent, labs, and guided tours. It’s also become a respected research facility for world-renowned scientists and speakers who delve into the mysteries of early life on our planet.
Account for two to three hours per museum visit. Check the website for seasonal hours and more information: www.tyrrellmuseum.com
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, recognized as a National Historic Site and an up and coming nominee for World Heritage designation, has a history a long time in the making.
This crossing, at the Bow River in southern Alberta just outside of Calgary, was traditionally a bison hunting and gathering location for the Siksika peoples and their allies in the Blackfoot Confederation.
The remains of an early earth lodge village and hiking trails from the 18th century prove permanent prairie existence in these parts, but the later claim to fame came with the signing of Treaty 7. The year was 1877, and it was a pivitol year in Canadian history when Treaty 7 was signed between native nations of what is now southern Alberta and the Canadian government on behalf of the Crown.
It was also here that Crowfoot, chief of the Siksika, is believed to have died and been buried. Poundmaker, a chief of the Cree who had been ceremonially adopted by Crowfoot in order to create peace between the Blackfoot and the Cree, was also buried here. In 1925, the traditional gathering site and the treaty signing site were declared National Historic Sites of Canada by the federal government.
The Historical Park includes an interpretive centre, monuments to Poundmaker, Crowfoot, and Treaty 7, tipi remains, hiking trails, and the earth lodge village site.
It is one of the few places in the world you can wander 62,000 sq feet of beautiful exhibition space on guided or self guided tours of First Nations culture. Experience the mystique of North American Indian history — from its dances, ceremonies, dress, and tipis. Talk to a local interpreter about flora and fauna and fine tune your bead-work skills. Book a tipi camp under the stars, or sit down with an Elder and discover the other side of the “cowboys and indians” story.
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
Honourary mention: The Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park is currently on UNESCO World Heritage Sites tentative list and was designated by the federal Minister of the Environment as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004. Approximately a three hour drive from Calgary, the park is a must-see as it has the largest number of First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) on the North American Plains.
Named Aísínai’pi, or “it is written”, by the Blackfoot tribe, the park is located adjacent to the Milk River and is historically known for its winding paths along hoodoos and rock formations. It is documented that the Blackfoot tribe has inhabited the valley for 9000 years and other tribes traveled to the site to honour the spirits and perform ceremonies. Many generations of tribes have continued this ritual.
The public can enjoy a 4.4 km Hoodoo Trail, showcasing the impressive scenery of hoodoos, sandstone cliffs and rock art, upland prairie grasslands, the Milk River valley and coulees. Pack a lunch, comfortable footwear, and some sunscreen to take in the natural landforms. To preserve the area, a portion of the park is now restricted, but is accessible to guided interpretive tours.