Cochrane: How The West Is Now
Ask any true Albertan, our “western” ways are a major part of our collective DNA. From rodeos and Rockies to horses and cattle-peppered hills, “the west” is who, and what, we are. And, perhaps, no other community in Alberta represents our western ways, our western heritage, better than Cochrane.
Located just half an hour northwest of Calgary on the Cowboy Trail, Cochrane (pop. 25,122) is a charming community with plenty of appeal. Rodeos, festivals, street markets, riverside paths, beautiful parks, and a historic downtown core teeming with eclectic shops and art galleries celebrating “the west” – Cochrane has something for everyone.
Not surprisingly, Cochrane has a rich ranching history. The Historic Cochrane Ranche Site, located near the intersection of Hwy 22 and Hwy 1A, was the site of Alberta’s first largescale
livestock operation. Founded in 1881, the idyllic setting of the ranch is still enjoyed by thousands of people each year. The ranch is a 55-hectare (136-acre) public park with picnic tables, fire pits, walking trails, and an outdoor stage that has been the site of numerous events. While the pristine natural setting of the ranch is obviously one of its main draws, it’s also home to historic buildings, a museum with numerous displays and artifacts, an indoor theatre, corporate meeting space, and the town’s administrative offices.
A visit to nearby Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park should also be on your radar if Alberta’s colourful ranching history is something that interests you. The park, which was officially opened in 2011, is home to jaw-dropping mountain vistas, an extensive trail network, old ranch buildings and ruins, and much more. If you’re looking for that idyllic western scene of rolling foothills and meandering rivers framed by the “Blue Canadian Rockies,” this is your spot! While there are great photo opportunities at nearly every turn in the trail, a couple of standout spots for shutterbugs are the views from the Park Center and the Yodel Loop.
For people looking to wheel through the classic “western” scenes, a rewarding way to enjoy the incredible countryside is a biking tour on the many secondary roads that meander in the Cochrane area. This region is renowned for its rolling road biking routes that capture the essence of what wild west landscapes are all about. Located just west of town, the loop that follows Horse Creek Road to Grand Valley Road is always a popular choice. This gorgeous 50 km trip will take cyclists through pastoral ranchland dotted with farms and acreages on winding roads with gentle grades. For more information on biking in the area, visit the Bike Bros bike shop in Cochrane. The friendly staff there will tell you everything you need to know about this cycling hot spot.
Sticking to the “wheel” theme, the Cochrane Youth Park features one of the best skate parks in Western Canada. The 1,300 square metre concrete park, beautifully positioned on a hillside overlooking the valley, was professionally designed and features plenty of awesome features such as bowls, pools, ramps, walls, rails, and informal seating areas. If skating isn’t your thing, just watching the action is a sport unto itself!
No matter if you are hiking, biking, skating, golfing (The Links of Gleneagles is laced with postcard-pretty holes!), or just passing through, a saunter through the historic downtown area should always be part of your plan. The western-themed downtown core is filled with interesting shops, galleries, cafes, saloons, and restaurants.
Unquestionably, one of the most popular places to meet downtown is MacKay’s Ice Cream. Indeed, after any activity, there is nothing like a delicious ice cream cone at this legendary “cool
down” spot. A Cochrane institution since 1948, MacKay’s handmade ice cream, made with high-quality butterfat cream, is dense and delicious. Although their maple walnut is a real classic, try their chocolate, bubble-gum, vanilla, chocolate fudge chunk, strawberry…you get the idea, the choices abound. What’s your favourite?
While shopping at the many eclectic downtown stores – such as The Heavenly Outhouse (home decor), Poor David’s (cards and unique gifts), and Home Quarter Mercantile (western clothing and furnishings) – is reason enough to visit Cochrane, there are certainly many others!
For example, the rustic Rockyview Hotel – an ancient wild west enclave that’s actually the third oldest hotel in Alberta – tells the story of how Calgarians used to hop on a horse or the train and come to the hotel for a drink. In fact, it was one of the few places where it was actually legal for men and women to sit together in the same room and enjoy an alcoholic drink together. Not surprisingly, the “sinful” activity would lead to singing, dancing, and, well, who knows what else. The wild west had to be populated somehow, I guess.
By Andrew Penner