I can’t count the number of times we have driven along Highway 22 from Calgary south to Lundbreck before turning onto the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3). This magnificent stretch offers views of prairie, foothills and Rocky Mountain peaks. It is part of Cowboy Trail from Mayerthorpe in the north to Pincher Creek in the south, but you can also make your way farther south to Waterton and Cardston.
You may be so taken with the scenery that you don’t realize how much of Alberta’s history has played out in the area. Fur traders, First Nations, cowboys and settlers have travelled this ancient route. Today, towns along the way such as Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Longview, welcome visitors, and a short distance away Pincher Creek and Fort MacLeod have historical bragging rights, too.
Turner Valley is the location of some of the earliest petroleum development in the province. Longview has long welcomed cowboys, cowboy historians and Hollywood movie makers. The discovery of coal in the late 1800s gave Black Diamond its name, and the town of Pincher Creek took its name from the creek where, in 1868, prospectors found hoof pincers, a tool used in shoeing and trimming horses’ hooves.
Still, always present in my own mind when I travel this highway are the stories of the Bar U Ranch and of Doukhobors. Today, the Bar U is an historical site open to the public, and for those interested in ranch history, it is a must-see.
Less evident but equally important is the Doukhobor history of the area. I look from farm to farm and wonder if that Russian heritage still lives in these homes. With ties to the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoi (also spelled Tolstoy), the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood began settling in the Lundbreck and Cowley areas between 1915 and 1917. After Doukhobors had moved from Saskatchewan to B.C., the elders realized that they needed farms closer to their B.C. orchards to provide beef, grain and other farm produce. Fourteen farmers and their families made the move to Alberta. Eventually thirteen villages were established in the province with four in the Lundbreck area and five near Cowley.
By the late 1930s, the sect was breaking up. Some families farmed for themselves, and others took various jobs, but their fascinating history remains. The Alberta Doukhobors have a cemetery near Lundbreck, but you can also check out their history by visiting the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Just recently, I watched a television documentary called My Doukhobor Cousins. I highly recommend it, so watch for a rebroadcast. And, if you have the chance, take a trip along Highway 22. Both the landscape and history are inspiring.