I’ve been won over by the people of Alberta, Canada.
In the short time I’ve been here we have found a common love; free cake.
First we happened upon a supermarket that was celebrating its first birthday. They had two types of cake on offer. Then, shortly afterwards the local Community Centre put on a family fun day to celebrate the fact that they’ve been very helpful for 25 years. And just today I learned that we narrowly missed free cake at the Canada Day celebrations. Which were wonderful by the way.
Cochrane is a small town of 18,000 people with Wild West style buildings. If this were a proper travel blog I’d be saying something like….”With breathtaking Rocky Mountains to the west, the metropolis of Calgary to the south east, beautiful Water Valley to the south west and the adventure playground of Kananaskis due south, Cochrane is the little town with easy access to it all”. Most importantly for my 3 year old friend Lina, it has (what she calls) a musketeer in their town logo.
A lot of towns in this area were named back before it became frowned upon to lay your hat on a spot and call it after yourself (thankfully my ancestors got in before the cut). However, Cochrane is named in honour of the chap who began the Ranche here in 1881. By 1903 the little hamlet of Cochrane had become a town.
The nearest city, Calgary (about 30 minutes drive) came into being back in the 1860′s, when Montana decided to outlaw illegal liquor sales to natives. People who made their living this way were understandably perturbed and so hopped over the border, out of the jurisdiction of the anti-illegal liquor selling folk. Those who took the trip over the Canadian border found natives who were willing to trade whiskey for buffalo robes (which, I discovered, means buffalo skin, not coats for cold buffalo).
The main inhabitants of these lands were the Blackfoot (‘native’) people, whiskey traders and wolf hunters (both not-so-native). The wolfhunters lay poison to kill buffalo, attracting wolfves, who they then killed. Caught in the crossfire were the dogs of the Blackfoot who would also run in to eat some fallen buffalo. The whiskey traders saw a business opportunity and sold guns to the natives at the same time, to deal with the dog-killers. So… the natives didn’t like the wolfers, and the wolfers didn’t like the whiskey sellers, but the whiskey salespeople were pretty content with life.
A conflict arose, and the wolf hunters decided a provisional government should be set up, and that they should run it. First item on their agenda was, understandably, the prohibition of selling firearms to the Blackfoot. The folk over on the law and order-some East Coast of Canada got wind of the whiskey/wolf (and also fur trading) shenanigans and sent their North-West Mountain Police force to the region. They set up Fort Calgary and befriended the natives (now known as First Nations). This new friendship led to the Blackfoot signing treaties that led to settlements in this part of the country.
Before the police on horses rolled into town the traders set up a fort called Fort Whoop-Up. Worth a visit just to honour the men who came up with such a great name.
The Most Welcoming Town of all
Even more impressive that the fantastic fort naming, is the incredible welcome newcomers get nowadays when they move to this town. I heard two newbies laugh (while eating free hamburgers given by the townspeople) about their matching candles. Candles are a staple of the Official Welcome Pack. Also included are coupons and vouchers for almost every business in town. We got a $30 voucher for a taco restaurant, and a $25 voucher for a seafood restaurant. There are coupons for paint, car servicing, dance classes, coffee houses, spas and a free gym pass (among others). I know these are all ploys to get us into their establishments, but they work! And I liked the hearty welcome I got from the staff at the health food store as I enjoyed my 15% discount for being new (didn’t mention that I’m only on holiday and that I’d swiped the coupon from a genuine newbie).
At the local supermarket the lady at the till uses the same voice one would expect from a nurse when being told, “You’ve been a good wickle girl today, here’s a big lollipop for you”. I often look around to see if they’re talking to a child behind me. But no, the cutesy voice is for the grown ups. Once I got over the initial shock I came to enjoy this cheeriness.
It’s a welcome that I couldn’t imagine in Ireland. The country that is hailed as the ‘Land of a thousand welcomes’. This is a rapidly growing town, the price of real estate takes a sharp incline to the right on any graph I’ve seen as it’s only 37km from the centre of Calgary, a big city in an oil rich state. They don’t need to entice people here, they’re just ridiculously friendly (and enjoy sharing cake for some reason).
I finished college just as things went south in Ireland. I’d forgotten, or never realised in the first place, that there are places in the world actively looking for employees. People here can’t believe how underused young people are in Ireland. The politicians on local television wear cowboy hats and the people speak of them in favourable terms, which is something completely new to me. In a recent poll people were very complimentary of the local government’s response to the local floods.
If you’re not yet convinced; they have a piano on the main street that people play for a few minutes, and then move along.
The historical information above has been ‘borrowed’ from Experience Kananaski Country and the Cowboy Trail
(Most other posts on this blog have lost their photos – whoops. Will be sorted soon)