Fort Macleod is not your average small prairie town. You can find secrets hiding around every corner. It might have something to do with all the historic value in the community and the untouched surfaces of an older era. Just take a walk down Historic Main Street, and you'll find yourself surrounded by significant Western Canadian history. A vast expanse of knowledge is buried deep within the walls of many buildings, which date as far back as the late 1880s.
Gordon MacIvor, former Coordinator for the Fort Macleod Economic Development Commission, says it's like turning over a rock and discovering something new. "We're very proud of Fort Macleod, it's very authentic and real," he explains.
The town of Fort Macleod expanded as a result of the Canadian Pacific Railway Crowsnest Line, which was constructed from 1897 to 1914, and competed with Calgary and Lethbridge for as most prosperous community in the southern part of the province. "This place rocked," says Gordon. Fort Macleod was considered a business hub in Southern Alberta at the time, but the town fathers and CPR had an unpleasant relationship, and the rail corporation had relocated most of its employees to Lethbridge by 1912.
In 1924 the Town declared bankruptcy. However, by 1974 its finances were once again stabilized, the historic character of Fort Macleod's Main Street was recognized, and it became the province's first designated historic area.
Today, one of the most iconic buildings on Main Street is the Empress Theatre, which is about to host its biggest event yet. "The Empress Theatre was built in 1912 and is the oldest operating theatre in Alberta," Gord explains. This year the theatre celebrates its 100th year, and Fort Macleod plans to commemorate the impressive milestone with 100 days of celebration. Festivities kick off this Canada Day weekend, with events for the whole family. Martin Ebel, Fort Macleod's current Economic Development Officer adds, "The Empress Theatre has something going almost every day of the year–first-run movies, concerts, plays, tours, drama camps. It's going as strong at 100 as it ever has!"
There are so many alluring places to discover in Fort Macleod. The amount far surpasses this list, but here are a few that have people talking:
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the oldest and largest preserved buffalo jumps in North America and is open year-round. It is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites nearby.
- River Valley Wilderness Park has walking trails and a playground for people to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
- The Fort Macleod and District Sports Centre hosts an indoor skating rink, curling rink, outdoor swimming pool and a skate park.
- Main Street Fort Macleod is a designated historic area and the setting of many films, most recently Brokeback Mountain and Passchendaele.
- The Fort Museum of the North West Mounted Police is the most famous attraction in town, and documents the history of the North West Mounted Police.
- Fort Macleod Golf and Country Club is Alberta's first and the oldest golf course in Western Canada.
- Igloo Drive-In is a local landmark that was built in the 20th century. Tourists love their homestyle burgers and large variety of ice cream.
- Prairie Winds Gallery features paintings, photography, giclées, ceramics, bronze sculptures and handcrafted leather products by Western Canadian artists.
- Carry Me Away B & B is a unique spot to stay with your choice of two bedrooms, the bird room or the ship room, and a tropical fish bathroom.
- Queen's Hotel is one of Fort Macleod's turn of the century buildings. It was the first example of extensive stonework rather than the wooden facades of other buildings.
- In July and August, the Fort Museum hosts one of Canada's only on-site Musical Rides. 2012 will mark the 40th Anniversary of this unique version of an iconic Canadian tradition, with a special celebration scheduled for August 25th.
- Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go behind the scenes at a Musical Ride? With the award-winning "Red Serge Groom-A-Horse" program at the Fort Museum, visitors ages 5 and up can help a North West Mounted Patrol rider get their horse ready for the ride.