Experience Okotoks – Home of the ‘Big Rock’
Okotoks is part of the ‘Cool Little Towns’ group – a collection of communities south of Calgary that really ARE ‘cool’ little towns – and wonderful places for a day trip or weekend escape from the city. Their website features guided tours to historical sites, roads for motorcycling, and culinary experiences.
Its name is based on the Blackfoot word for rock: “ohkotok.” First Nations used the huge glacial erratic located here as a guidepost to find the crossings over the Sheep River. The town grew from the early stopovers built around the ancient river crossings, which were used by wagon trains and travellers on the ‘Macleod Trail’ between Fort Macleod and Calgary in the early days of European settlement. The rock is so famous it inspired Alberta’s first craft brewer, whose “Big Rock Beer” can promotions have been seen wrapped around hay bales throughout Alberta over the years.
Beginning in the late 1800’s the town’s lifeline was the railway. Today’s visitors will find the art gallery and visitor info centre located in the brick station on North Railway St., which makes a great starting point for a walking tour. Downtown’s Elizabeth Street still holds wonderful examples of historic homes and businesses. Nearby coffee shops and bistros ensure you won’t go hungry. In fact, the town features over 80 eateries.
Like many prairie towns, Okotoks was destroyed numerous times by floods and fires. It had only about 600 residents during most of the last century. But the town’s pleasant location, its 80 km of trails and paths networking the river valley, and easy access to Calgary for commuters, have transformed Okotoks into a vibrant community; one whose population has virtually doubled every decade since the 70’s to about 30,000 now.
The town is home to lots of events including a Busker’s Fest in July, August Show and Shine, a 3-day Pro Rodeo, Foothills Highland Games, and Chili Fest all on the last weekend in August. September features a ‘Harvest and Blues Fest.’ And November “Light Up Okotoks” has seen up to 20,000 people to enjoy the stunning holiday light show.
Okotoks tourism info can be found at: OkotoksTourism.ca
Cool Little Towns daytrips, driving tours and maps: coollittletowns.com
By Allen Gibson