Summer is in full swing here in the Canadian Rockies, and that means I transition my art practice a little from the intense creation of art to seeking out inspiration.
Julia Cameron writes, in one of my favorite creative-how-to books “The Artist’s Way”, that a wonderful way to embrace creativity is to commit to a weekly artist date. In an ideal world, this is a solo activity that means visiting creative places (like art museums or beautiful landscapes) by yourself and drinking in the inspiration you find there.
During the summer, when my two pre-teen children are out of school for July and August, my art practice is one long artist play date, although I am not often alone. For my boys, who like to complain about hiking, I position the days as an adventure in exploration. But, to me, it’s a way to see new scenery, take photos, connect with nature and chase my artist’s muse.
This week, we visited a place we’ve often gone, but one that is always fun to return to: the prairie foothills just east of where we live between Canmore and Cochrane. Although it wasn’t a comprehensive tour, we hit some highlights I’d like to share…for those who live nearby and those who live across the world. Here is a taste of our day.
First Stop: Historic McDougall Church
We took the less-travelled Highway 1A from Canmore, past Exshaw and on to Cochrane. About 40 kilometers west of Cochrane is McDougall Church, clearly visible from the road, and perched up above the Bow River. This website has a lot more information, but basically the church was built in 1875 in the Carpenter Gothic style with its pointed arch windows and front door. It is the first building in Alberta built in this style that still remains today on its original site. The church is named for the McDougall family, early Methodist missionaries in the area.
Second Stop: Cochrane Ranche Historic Site
We hopped back into the car and drove the short distance to Cochrane, and found a nice place to stop for lunch at the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site, located on the western edge of Cochrane, Alberta. The grounds are beautifully cared for and there are several picnic tables for weary road travelers.
Newly added since our last visit is a community garden showcasing vegetables typical of the gardens tended by pioneering prairie farm families. The plot is grown for the local schools and community, and excess produce is donated to social programs.
The area has a loop walk that takes you through lush forest growth of white spruce and aspen, then sandstone outcrops and prairie grasslands filled with wildflowers. On top of the hill overlooking the Ranche is a statue of a rancher on horseback which celebrates the pioneers who began ranching in this area in the 1880s. Ranching is an industry that continues in the prairie foothills today.
The area is covered in wildflowers, one of my favorite things to spot (and photograph) when out in nature. Many of the native plants and flowers were used by our area’s First Nations people, like Wild Bergamont (for bronchitis and stomach pains) and Prickly Rose (the leaves were used for tea and the berries were dried for beads).
Third Stop: MacKay’s Ice Cream
No trip to Cochrane would be complete without a stop at the locally famous MacKay’s Ice Cream, in business since 1948. The ice cream is made in Cochrane using the original recipe of Grandma (Christina) MacKay who opened the shop. Today, MacKay’s is still owned and operated by the granddaughter of the founders.
It’s located in Cochrane’s dowtown historic district in the building that was the general store owned by James and Christina MacKay. Soon after taking over the store in the mid-1940s, the owners began making and selling ice cream to attract the locals plus the day-trippers from Calgary’s growing city (it’s about 38 kilometers from downtown Calgary to Cochrane).
I remember many a trip as a young girl, piled in my dad’s station wagon with my three brothers, heading out for a day in the mountains with a stop at MacKay’s on the way home. Today, we carried on the tradition, completing our day outside with a stop for a delicious cone.
It was a great day out in the foothills of Alberta. We came home tired and satisfied, and I have the photos to prove it!