One of the things I love about summer is all the cool places that you can go and explore! With most of them being right in your own backyard. I find there are so many locally either within the city or a short jaunt away that there is never a loss for things to do or check out!
The Bar U Ranch is one of those neat little places that we have visited recently. Just a short drive outside of Calgary (95 km on the 22, just past Longview, AB); a National Historic Site and part of the Parks Canada system, this ranch boasts 37 historic buildings set in the rolling foothills of the mountains and commemorating the history of ranching in Canada.
On Canada Day, they host a special event where admission is free, with a number of bonus activities to the day (such as face painting, rope making, homemade ice cream and cowboy coffee). This was the day we decided to go and check it out. I had been to the ranch only once before, years ago before the kids were born. At that time I remember the ranch being a large piece of property with pretty sparse buildings and feeling it was not very exciting at the time, but I when I read it now had 37 buildings I was quite excited to go and check it out.
We arrived at the beautiful visitors center that hosts a reception area, rangeland exhibit, theatre, restaurant and gift shop. This is also where you pay your admission to go down and explore the ranch. Though on Canada Day admission was free, rates to enter the ranch are quite reasonable with adults $8 and children under 6 are free. I also believe that if you have a National Parks pass that you can gain admission to national historic sites for free upon presentation.
You can either grab the wagon ride down to the ranch or enjoy a short walk downhill to the site. You are met immediately at the bottom of the hill with buildings to explore, such as the bunk and cookhouses. The kids loved the hands on, being able to actually look at and touch things, getting into the bunk and seeing what it was like.
I was impressed with the fact that you could enter all the buildings and that staff were on hand to answer any questions you had or add to your experience. There were also a plethora of interpretative signs, for added information for those of us who like to read (that would be me!) and learn a bit more!
One of the fascinating things we learned was that the Bar U was well known for its excellence in breeding Percheron horses, a draft horse originally from France. These magnificent creatures are well muscled, intelligent horses and willing to work.
Luke’s favorite was a story of George Lane, the foreman of the Bar U Ranch, and one of the Big Four, who founded the Calgary Stampede. There is a sculpture of George Lane on his horse with wolves attacking him to the right of the visitors center when you arrive. Fascinated Luke asked me to read the sign to tell him the story. I told him the modified, but fairly detailed 5 year old version, and latching onto it, asked me to tell it to him again and again, until he got it right. The story was George was on his way back from Calgary one night, after visiting his wife who had just delivered their first child. He came upon wolves taking down a cow and went charging in. The wolves starving, due to the extinction of the buffalo (as the government allowed the hunting of the buffalo to extinction), had turned to hunting the cows for food and so the battle of man and nature began.
There are lots of old tractors and equipment to view, barns and even a sod house. The kids can enjoy calf roping, which they caught onto quite quickly and other hands on activities. This is the thing I liked the most, the amount of hands on the kids could do and experience. Not only did it keep them engaged and interested but allowed everyone to try something new and find the thing that they enjoyed or were good at the most.
We spent a good 3 or 4 hours there and comfortably saw it all, without feeling rushed or anyone getting bored. We also lucked out and had beautiful weather that day, but rain or shine, the Ranch is open from May to September each year and is definitely worth the trip!