This trip was primarily a celebration of John Alexander's birthday, which took place in August 2017, but gave us an excuse to see parts of the Canadian West which we had never seen.
Orlando - Toronto - Edmonton (August 4/5)
This should have been a routine flight from Orlando to Toronto and then a connection to Edmonton, where we were planning to spend an extra night before the tour started. However, things didn't quite go as planned. The flight from Orlando was delayed, which meant we would miss our connection in Toronto. The airline, Westjet, was very unhelpful initially and wouldn't let us stay overnight in Toronto to connect the next day. After several hours of waiting on hold with various individuals, we rebooked on a flight from Toronto the next day and we booked our own hotel. So far, so good.
When we arrived (late) in Toronto our one piece of checked luggage was missing. No one seemed to know where it was and the airport was totally chaotic as many other flights had been delayed due to bad weather. We checked into our hotel with only our carry-on luggage. Kristine was distraught!
Next morning, we flew to Edmonton as planned and finally filled out a lost luggage report. The Edmonton staff seemed to think our luggage was still in Orlando but expected it would be on it's way shortly. We checked into our hotel and bought some emergency items to get us through the night.
Next morning HALLELUJAH ! our luggage was delivered to our room before we had even left for the day. What a relief. After that, the trip went very smoothly.
We happy band of brothers and sisters
Edmonton (August 5/6)
Jeff(rey) Hall our Tour Guide / Tour Manager and our driver (whose name we forget)
Turns out there's not a lot to do in Edmonton, but this was our first day and the tour company did the best they could to get us oriented and into the routine of getting on and off the bus. Our first stop on the tour was Elk Island National Park, about an hour outside Edmonton.
It was a very pretty and peaceful spot, although very popular. It was a public holiday in Canada, so it was quite busy.
A family group had taken over the picnic area and were roasting a pig. It looked and smelled delicious but we weren't asked to join in.
Roast pig for lunch
Our group was given a Ranger talk about the bison (NOT buffalo) which live in the park. Elk Island was one of the first parks in North America where bison were brought to save the species and the Park has been at the forefront of such efforts since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Bison from this park have been used to repopulate other areas of Canada and the USA and there is a healthy herd which lives inside the park.
This was also the first time members of our group could pose for group photos. There were many more to come !
Our second stop of the day was the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. This was an open-air museum which celebrated the life of the early Ukrainian Pioneers who settled here in the late 1800's.
Memorial to the early pioneers who came from The Ukraine
Lunch was a disappointing picnic lunch served by the Museum.
Lunch at the Ukrainian Village. Kristine seems to be happy enough.
There was a good deal of confusion about departure times and so forth, so we didn't really have a chance to explore the village thoroughly. However, it was a nice afternoon, so it was pleasant enough.
Although the village was a museum, all the buildings were genuinely old and had been moved here from locations within a fifty mile radius. The railway line spur was built to help bring the buildings to this spot.
Some of the houses were quite modest
Other houses were more impressive. Some of the Pioneers were quite successful and built themselves large houses.
The group had the opportunity to make Pierogies, which are made with dough, filled with a savory filling and then boiled. Apparently, they were a staple food for the early pioneers.
Jasper (August 7/8)
Next day, we started on our tour of the Rockies, stopping along the way to take in the scenery and to take pictures (of course). We left Edmonton in a torrential thunderstorm. We were concerned that this would be the pattern for the entire trip but happily it soon cleared up and the sun came out.
Our bus for the tour
Everyone liked reflections
Around lunchtime, we arrived at the pretty little town of Jasper, inside Jasper National Park
A bright sunny day in Jasper
This is definitely bear country
The transcontinental railroad runs through the valley and through the town. It's mostly freight although there are a few passenger trains. This is a locomotive from an earlier era.
In the afternoon, we visited the Pyramid Lakes area, which is a local beauty spot.
Pyramid Mountain from Pyramid Park
Next morning, we headed out (early) to visit Maligne Lake and to take a boat ride to Spirit Island. It was a busy spot, so an early start worked well.
In the afternoon, we took a float trip down the Athabasca River.
The scenery was impressive but of course we all got wet and the water was COLD.
The guide kept us amused and told us stories about the area and about other adventures he had had on the river
The sky was spectacular as well
Lake Louise (August 9)
Leaving the area next day, we stopped to admire the Athabasca Falls.
With the early morning light catching the writhing spray, it's not difficult to see how this might be seen as a place of sprits.
Next stop was the Athabasca Glacier, but first a photo op.
The glacier is a busy place with these ice buses departing every few minutes at peak periods.
If you look in the right direction, it could be quite beautiful and unspoilt
But in reality, it was really very busy
And in a few years, with global warming, it will be gone !
Then on to the newest "attraction", a skywalk. Very scary !
As an engineering challenge, it's quite impressive and the scenery is spectacular. However, the "skywalk" element is less impressive, especially as the floor is so scratched, it's hard to see through the glass.
Banff (August 10/11)
Leaving the Lake Louise area, we headed for Moraine Lake, which was one of the most spectacular places we visited.
It was a bit of a climb up from the parking lot:
But the view was worth the effort
King of the World
Then we walked back to the parking lot and around the lake
Reflections on Moraine Lake
On to Lake Louise - much larger than Moraine Lake and much busier.
We continued on to Banff and stopped at the Cave and Basin, which was the geographical birthplace of the Canadian National Park system
This is the "Cave" in "Cave and Basin" The cave was used by the local people for rituals and for it's healing properties. It was traditionally entered from above through a hole in the roof, but a tunnel was built in 1886 to allow for a walking entry
The "basin" was a man made swimming pool built in 1914 and used until 1994.
The "Basin" pool
There is also a replica of the original bath house, now used for a display about the history of the "Cave and Basin"
The replica of the 1887 Bath House
We had a little time to look around Banff after we checked in.
Banff main street
(That evening, our group of 22 went out for dinner to celebrate John's birthday, but we don't have any photographs)
Next day, we headed for Johnston Canyon.
Along a steel walkway to the falls. We only made it to the lower falls.
It was rather dark !
Then back on the bus and on to Lake Minnewanka.
Another beautiful spot
When the group left, we stayed behind and took a walking trail. It was nice to be "off the leash" so to speak.
We quickly ran into a family of goats. They were as startled as we.
We kept walking until we came to a river valley crossed by a bridge.
The view from the bridge
We took a break. (Well, it was warm !)
And then headed back, where a wedding was taking place at the side of the lake.
That evening, we went on a "Cowboy Cookout". The "cookout" part sounded great, but of course, where there are cowboys, there are also horses and Paul was (and is) very allergic to horses. It wasn't TOO bad in the end, although the last hour was pretty miserable.
On the way to the cookout.
On the inside of the wagon (not a smooth ride !)
The cookout itself was pretty good, but the horses were never far away.
The cowboys (who work with the horses every day) showed how to use a lariat as part of the entertainment
But if we are honest, we were all pretty tired and glad when it was finally time to head back to the bus !
And I was very glad to get away from the horses !
Calgary (Aug 12)
This was our last day on the tour. We spent the morning traveling and arrived in Calgary in time for lunch. It was a weekend, so the city was quiet. We spent time wandering around the downtown area, taking in the architecture. We were dropped next to the Calgary Tower. Some people went up, but we didn't.
The restored and historic "core" was very attractive but most of the surrounding buildings were MUCH taller.
The historic downtown area
The "Big Head" known as the "Wonderland" statue created by a Spanish artist, Jaime Plesa.
Our final stop was the Calgary Historical Village, which attempts to show "How the West was Once"
It had a real steam train which you could ride around the outside of the park (shades of Disney World)
There were shops and restaurants inside original restored buildings moved here from other places locally.
There were old restored houses - some very posh
Some more modest
There was a Trading Post
(Hudson's Bay Company incorporated 2nd May 1670)
And well outside the Trading Post, an Indian Outpost (now known as First Nations)
And of course, a saloon
And at the entrance / exit, a huge exhibition of all things connected with cars, including the cars themselves.
Then back to the hotel for a final group dinner and that was the end of the tour ! Then home again, this time without incident.
One last photograph