Pride and Respect in the Canadian Badlands
One of my biggest fears as a father is whether I’m able to pass my values onto my children. Do they care what I’m saying? Am I living these lessons to the best of my ability? Am I even making sense when I speak? Who else is out there sharing less impactful lessons with them?
Everyone has a story worth listening to, and every patch of dirt has value. It’s up to us to ask questions, listen, and leave this world better than we found it. That doesn’t take grand gestures – it simply takes a lifetime of small acts.
So after an epic summer spent road tripping to Los Angeles, water skiing in Alberta and roasting hot dogs over open fires seemingly everywhere under the sun, I wanted to slow down and show my two kids what pride and respect looks like. We did that in the Canadian Badlands.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Situated in the rugged Red Deer River Valley 200 kilometers East of Calgary, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world. After driving along the Canadian plains wondering when you’ll see your next tree, the entry into the valley is a stunning surprise. For as far as you can see are hoodoos and canyons.
After driving into the valley, we stopped in at the Cretaceous Cafe to register our campsite. Next to the cafe was a log cabin originally owned by a pioneer by the name of John Ware. Mr Ware began his life as a slave in the United States. Over the years he made his way north, eventually crossing the border while working a cattle drive. While living in the area, Mr Ware built a successful ranch, raised a family and was a well-respected member of the community. Pioneer stories are full of hardships and uncertainty. The hardships faced by an American slave in Canada were even more significant.
Much of the park is a protected heritage reserve that is off-limits to unauthorized visitors. The fragile ecosystem, combined with the potential of finding dinosaur fossils demands respect from campers. Near our campsite, we found some well-marked trails through the hoodoos. We treaded lightly, even there, respecting this delicate, beautiful natural environment. At the end, we were rewarded with more stunning valley views.
We spent the rest of the night around the campfire, readying ourselves for tomorrow’s destination: Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.
There’s a small village called Rosemary between Dinosaur Provincial Park and Blackfoot Crossing. The wide main street has a large Canadian flag painted on it, it is home to a bakery that shouldn’t be missed, and you can play a round of frisbee golf right through town!
The Little Teapot Bakery makes wonderful handmade pastries and sausage rolls, great for a light lunch. Prior to beginning this trip, I spoke with the baker, Jimmy, and asked if he would make me some bannock dough. He happily obliged.
As we were in Rosemary, we took the opportunity to break up our short trip by playing a round of frisbee golf on the village course! By sheer luck, we ended up sharing the course with Rosemary’s Mayor, and Chief Administrative Officer. In fact, in a perfect scene of small town hospitality, the village Chief Administrative Officer was helping the bakery by picking a couple weeds out of their very pretty front flower bed. It’s always fun to share a course with royalty!
Discs were available to rent or purchase at the Little Teapot Bakery.
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park
The Blackfoot Crossing museum building is a striking architectural representation of a traditional blackfoot teepee village, perched on the edge of a valley in the Siksika Nation. Walking in, you can see through the building and into the valley below through a wall of glass.
The museum tour begins with a ten minute optional video explaining Blackfoot history, current cultural and economic initiatives, and how the proud Siksika Nation is preparing itself for the future. You hear about the importance of maintaining culture from young tribe members, and you hear about the importance of respect for the land from elders.
In particular, one elder explains that when she was a child picking berries, she was taught not to break the branches. For if the branches broke, there would be less berries next year. If enough branches were broken, it would have been catastrophic. Respect for the environment is as practical as it is cultural or spiritual.
A centerpiece of the museum is the Indian Act, which was a consolidation of earlier treaties signed by different First Nations tribes. This document essentially transferred power from Canada’s First Nations tribes to the young Canadian Government.
Blackfoot Crossing is clear in the telling of its history, including its proud days pre-contact, where its traditional land is, stretching from the North Saskatchewan River in the North to as far South as Billings, Montana. While much of the history speaks of the proud Blackfoot Confederacy, it also clearly teaches about starvation and abuse at the hands of the early Canadian government. Of note is the eradication of the Canadian buffalo population. The museum teaches that this was a callous strategy to bring the First Nations people under control by eliminating their source of food and shelter. Even with such hardship faced in the recent past, there is certainly a sense of optimism and openness by all the people we met here.
Following the tour of this museum, our guide Skyler took us into the valley and helped us settle into a teepee, where we planned to spend the night. We arrived to a fully stocked shelter, complete with water, a firestarting kit, three cots, and plenty of fire wood. The middle of the teepee had a wood burning stove to keep us warm.
For dinner, we cooked the bannock dough from Rosemary in a frying pan on the stove. Soon after sunset, we were fast asleep.
Through our Badlands journey from million year old dinosaur bones to a weed-pulling town administrator to the proud Siksika Nation, we felt pride and respect at every stop. You can see the pride people have in each of these locations. They want to share them with you, and all they ask for is your respect. It is worth the journey.