THINGS TO DO:
Museums & Historic Sites
The world's tallest tipi towers 65 m (213 ft) above the TransCanada Highway and welcomes me to Medicine Hat. I am dwarfed beneath its giant steel frame and crane my head back to take in circular storyboards depicting First Nations culture and history. Built as a tribute to Canada's aboriginal heritage for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, its name, Saamis, means medicine man's headdress - or hat - in the Blackfoot language. Medicine Hat and southern Alberta, I soon discover, tell their own stories through architecture and antiquity.
Hugging the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, Medicine Hat has one of the most picturesque settings in the province. I strike out on the self-guided tour and stroll past stately brick and stone buildings - churches, the courthouse, a Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR) station. I climb the creaky stairs inside the Ewart-Duggan House, a Victorian brick home built in 1887, and imagine life in what would have been one of the city's finest homes.
A different, almost alien architecture greets me near Brooks, where a concrete sling, suspended 20 m (65 ft) above the ground, marches across a shallow, arid valley. The Brooks Aqueduct was a marvel of engineering for its time. Completed in 1914 by the CPR as part of its vast prairie irrigation network, it is now a National Historic Site. What once carried life-saving water to farmers' crops now stands in tribute to the ingenuity of an earlier era.
Another marvel of CPR engineering, the High Level Bridge in Lethbridge is my personal favourite. Soaring high above the Oldman River and spanning 1.6 km (1 mi), this elaborate steel train trestle is the world's longest and highest. It seems to defy the laws of nature. I watch, transfixed, as a train chugs across the precipitous expanse more than 100 years after the bridge was built.
While these grandiose structures wow because of their originality, a more modest edifice fascinates me because of its history. The old tipple at the Atlas Coal Mine is the last of its kind in Canada. I climb the conveyor tunnel on a tour and am surprised to learn the coal was sorted and cleaned by boys as young as 15. It's easy to imagine the coal dust and soot swirling in the wind up here. At the top, a breathtaking vista of the badlands is spread out before me, and I can't help but respect the labourers who rushed by the thousands to seek their fortunes here.