We were naively taken aback by how busy Banff was. Just walking along the main street was a struggle, finding a park was impossible and the service staff were all surly beyond belief. After a few failed attempts, we found a park next to this lake and ate our sandwiches in silence.
After recovering from the (admittedly first world) nightmare that was parking and getting around, we hired a canoe and took off upstream.
I had that ‘Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver…’ canoeing song stuck in my head. I’m not sure how well known it is among non-Canadians, but we pretty much sang it nonstop when we were here on a family holiday when I was about 10.
Actually being in this part of Canada took me right back to that holiday with my mum, aunt and cousins, driving around trying to find black bear (always at the dumpsters) and moose. We were north of Toronto, in Algonquin Park I think, so no where near Banff. But we canoed and went sight seeing and bought those ugly souvenir tshirts with the wolves on them. Good times.
The weather turned pretty ugly as we were canoeing. So we gave up and went to a bar.
The next morning we did our old trick of getting up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds. It worked. Ours was one of the first cars parked at the bottom of Sulphur Mountain’s gondola. Yes I am gloating.
The gondola was absurdly expensive, except if you hiked up and got a lift down before 11am. So we had over three hours to hike 5km. We were laughing.
It was a very steep 5km hike with switchback after painful switchback.
It got colder and colder the higher we went.
By the time we got to the top (which wasn’t long at all) I was that awful combination of sweaty and freezing. But the view was well worth it.
Taking the gondola down was a much faster way to travel.
We bade farewell to Banff and drove to Canmore for one thing.
I’d had fake poutine at a pub in Seattle, but that doesn’t count. Canadian poutine is a sophisticated mix of potato chips, gravy and cheese curds:
Delicious. On we drove, Calgary bound, for an outdoor agricultural festival/rodeo known as the Calgary Stampede.
We hit the Stampede grounds the following day. We saw draft horses on show, prancing around a ring, horses with carts and went into a shed which stank, unsurprisingly, of horses.
We also saw stall after stall of ridiculous junk food. Keen to get onboard we ordered some red velvet deep fried Oreos.
That is, Oreos dunked in red velvet cake batter, deep fried and dusted with sugar.
While perusing the agricultural stands we got talking to a woman from the International Ag Committee and utilising the fact that Andrew’s parents used to farm sheep, we talked our way into their clubroom.
There we sat away from the crowds, in the aircon and enjoyed complimentary drinks with all the bar snacks we could eat. We could barely finish a bowl of chips before a new one was brought over. We met ‘other farmers’ from Canada and America. I drew on my very vague knowledge of Nullarbor pastoral stations to talk about how wild dogs have decimated the sheep industry out there… I’m sure it sounded convincing!
After our brief time as celebrity Australian farmers we headed over to the Indigenous side of the show grounds.
I do love a good teepee. These were a lot bigger and more structurally sound than the one I made.
We had tickets for the evening show, so we went to have dinner and some drinks beforehand. We sat right near the bucking bull and watched punters have a go.
We got giant hotdogs.
The seedy guy controlling the bull had a method of keeping the women on for as long as possible and throwing the men off asap. I was not at all tempted to have a go!
We headed to the grandstand for the show and managed to catch the end of the chuck wagon racing, what the Stampede is known for.
With their wagons and four horses, drivers have to do a tight figure of 8 before racing around the track. It was pretty cool to watch.
Later on, as the rain bucketed down, we watched the most patriotic show I’ve ever seen. It was an outdoor stage musical/dance show that chronicled Canada’s achievements from music to inventions. It was amazing.
There was a bit with ballet, a traditional hoop dance and dancers hoisted up on wires representing the Northern Lights. All in the rain.
The show made it all worth it, in my opinion. It made me feel somewhat patriotic (my Mum grew up in Canada and I still have relatives here). Oh Canada indeed!