We have recently been writing about taking day trips while staying at Riverbend. This post takes a look at the Town of High River, just 22 kilometers south on Highway 2. This is another of the “Cool Little Towns” of Southern Alberta. Travelling the highway to town and driving around town, it is clear that agriculture is a main focus of the region. To the east is mostly grain and to the west, especially through the foothills, mostly cattle.
Southern Alberta experienced devastating floods in 2013. Here at Riverbend, we saw extensive damage when the Sheep River overflowed the banks. The Highwood River which flows through the Town of High River had a history of flooding in low lying parts of High River. Nothing from the past compares to what the town faced four years ago. The town was under water and the entire population of 13,000 was ordered to evacuate. These events received extensive media coverage and the pictures and video can elicit an emotional response, yet these don’t come close to what one experienced being on the ground, in the midst of the event
A staggering $200 million has been spent on flood mitigation and the town now claims to be “…the most well protected town in Canada, from flooding.” The resilience of the residents shines through in what the town is becoming in their rebuilding. The historical portion of the downtown area has seen extensive rehabilitation and restoration. Some buildings in this area that, prior to the floods were starting to show their age, have a new lease on life. Vacant store fronts are filling up and as you walk through the area, it’s hard to image what happened here such a short time ago. The Town had an opportunity to almost reinvent itself, and in some ways is better for it.
During your visit to High River make certain to visit the Museum of the Highwood. It’s located in the old train station (406 First Street). One exhibit tells of High River’s “big screen” credits. With the wide variety of scenery in the area, quite a bit of motion picture and television production has been done in the area starting with the 1926 film, “Chip of the Flying U” starring Hoot Gibson. Another historical site is the Sheppard Family Park which is billed as a “Southern Alberta Pioneer Life Showcase.” The Park features the McCoy log cabin originally built in 1883, a heritage home from 1899, a one room school house and a barn built in 1913. There is a playground and picnic area and the site is home to a community garden project. This showcase has been lovingly cared for by community volunteers. Extensive damage occurred during the floods. As the community has been rebuilding, the volunteers were first focused on personal homes and area businesses. You will find some facilities still have work ongoing. At this writing, the McCoy cabin is very close to completion and will soon be open to the public.
Another favorite feature of High River is the historic murals. These are found on the sides of buildings throughout downtown. They depict the rich history of the area including harvest, cattle drive and aviation. One is titled “Sunday Afternoon at the Polo Match.” You might be surprised to learn about the popularity of polo in this area going back about 130 years to the 1880’s. In fact, the High River community of Polo Park is on the site of the former polo grounds. Murals also feature famous residents from the past, former Prime Minister Joe Clark, and author W.O. Mitchell. You can find a guide to a walking tour of the murals on the Town of High River website here.
Unique shops, galleries, restaurants and a community full of friendly and industrious prairie folk, you’re sure to enjoy your day in High River and you can be sure High River appreciates the return of tourism to their community.