The humble town of Okotoks has a population of around 29,000. It’s a suburb located to the south of Calgary, and if there was ever any doubt, it’s no longer a town in the middle of nowhere.
Its convenience, in fact, can’t be denied. From the very edge of south Calgary to the very edge of north Okotoks is only about six minutes on the highway. Yes, I timed it. My mom makes the commute almost daily.
The suburb is just as flat and open as Calgary if not more so, and slightly higher in elevation besides. If you’re used to mountains, you will not notice the hills unless you let yourself acclimate to the environment for a while.
Head westward on the 549, though, and you will soon be met with vast rolling hills leading into the Rockies. From Okotoks, you can get a good view of the mountains to the west as well as to the south towards Waterton.
Characteristic of southern Alberta, Okotoks can be very windy. But Waterton and surrounding area (Fort Macleod, Lethbridge, etc.) are far more prone to gusts of wind.
Like Calgary, Okotoks is sunny most of the time. Even when it’s cloudy, the clouds seem to pass over relatively quickly. That said, we are basically talking about mountain elevation, so snowstorms, hail, heavy fog, and more, are all par for the course. Winters in Okotoks can be very cold indeed, but summers can be very pleasant, and even hot.
I am most familiar with the southwestern end of Okotoks, but my favorite part is the northeastern end, as there is far more vegetation overall.
Food wise, Okotoks used to be reliable only for the occasional decent Italian, Indian, Japanese, pub, or pizza place. Today, there are far more options for bubble tea, Korean, Indian fusion, donairs, and more. When I discovered that, it made me feel like the town had come a long way.
Of course, you can still find all your standards – McDonald’s, A&W, KFC, Wendy’s, Tim Horton’s, Dairy Queen, Boston Pizza, and so on. The occasional hot dog or slice of pizza at Costco is not a total loss, either.
If you’re going to eat at a pub, though, The George Traditional House is the place to be, with a good mix of standard pub fair, fusion, and Indian dishes.
In terms of nightlife, Okotoks either doesn’t have one, or is mostly limited to small, tame gatherings at Boston Pizza or The George. Most places shut down early, especially on a weekday. Better head into Calgary if you’re looking for more of a heartbeat, but even there, your options will be limited.
No matter how you cut it, you will only be able to find certain creature comforts and conveniences in Calgary. That said, more is being added to Okotoks all the time.
Speaking of Calgary, though, the drive into the city from Okotoks is remarkable. I mean, it is flat and wide open – uncomfortably so – but the panoramic view of the city from the top of the hill on highway 2 is noteworthy, and it’s a thing of marvel at night, too.
While it may be another 10 to 20 years off, I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that the Calgary city limits will extend to swallow up Okotoks, especially if both cities continue growing at the rate they have been.
One of my favorite places in Alberta is Canmore. I can’t quite put my finger on all the reasons, but the combination of food, relaxed atmosphere, mountains and rivers, and walking paths all play a part. It also has a bit of a retreat vibe to it that I like.
A few years ago, I’d heard about Waterton, AB and was told that it was a bit like Canmore. Well, that was news to me, and ever since then, I’ve been curious and have wanted to experience it for myself.
On this crazy nomadic journey, beginning June of 2022, I have now been in Alberta for almost four months, and though I’m ready to head back into BC, I decided to pay Waterton, AB a visit before returning. After all, Waterton is a little out of the way, and I have no idea when / whether I’ll ever be back this way.
One thing they don’t tell you about the journey south of Calgary (and I’m glad nobody told me / reminded me) is just how much prairie driving is involved. I’m okay with highway driving for the most part, but of the wide-open, middle of nowhere ilk hasn’t been my cup of tea in the last few years. Despite all that, yesterday, I endured it for the better part of three to four hours.
Pincher Creek, AB lies just 40 minutes north of Waterton and is a logical stop on the way, and yet it is the complete epitome of the middle of nowhere, almost as if it’s on top of a mesa, and the edges of the horizon drop off into nothingness. Yeah, I’m not going back there. 🤣
Continuing south on highway 6, you gradually transition from a mesa to hills, and the upward climb seems to know few limits. Yet, it’s not until you’re well within Waterton Park that you feel as though you’ve transitioned out of the prairies and into a very different world. “You haven’t hit the mountains until you’ve really hit the mountains,” as I’ve been sharing with friends, and that seems to be an experience others share.
When I finally got there, I realized I’d booked a motel 10 minutes outside of Waterton in Mountain View. More prairie driving – great. But at that point, I simply didn’t care. I’d already endured a lot. Finding my motel was my priority, and I was arriving late afternoon / early evening, so I didn’t end up spending much time in Waterton yesterday.
Today, however, I got to pay a proper visit. And I can easily see the appeal. Yes, Waterton is currently off season, and that means most amenities were closed or unavailable. But I still got a sense of what the place is all about.
It was unfortunately very windy and cold, so I did not spend much time walking around. I slowly drove down every street, finding the tourist attractions as well as the nooks and crannies only residents would pay any heed to. I encountered many deer in the park, most of which were gathered by the picnic area.
Most importantly, perhaps, I should acknowledge and celebrate the fact that I made this trek, despite it being not the most comfortable for me. It also affirmed for me that it’s time to find a more permanent home, which is what I’ll be doing as I settle back into BC.
As for tomorrow, within 10 minutes, I should be well outside of the prairie driving that I find a little jarring, and within 30 to 60 minutes, more comfortably situated in the mountains.
It has been my observation that people mostly choose where to live based on:
- The availability of lucrative jobs
- Cost of living
Essentially, the issue of where to live comes down to one’s financial situation.
In Canada, people seem to move between Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto every few years like it was going out of style. Find a new job. Go back to school. Move. Find a new job. Go back to school. Move. Rinse, repeat.
Don’t get me wrong – we’ve all got to problem solve at times. Financial resources aren’t always available in abundance.
But I can’t imagine living this way. I can’t imagine making all my decisions based on the availability of work and the cost of living. I care too much about quality of life to leave my decisions up to my financial situation.
I want to live somewhere where I can drive, in the rain, and for no reason feel a sense of euphoria (which has literally happened to me multiple times in Lower Mainland).
I’ve had several people try to convince me how great it is to live in Alberta versus Lower Mainland (they’re just trying to convince themselves). Look, I lived in Alberta for over 20 years. It may be hard to believe, but I’m quite familiar with the Albertan lifestyle.
Calgary is like a blackhole that sucks you in and won’t let go. I had to scrape and claw my way out. It wasn’t easy.
If quality of life matters to you, then you’ve got to take the following into consideration:
- It’s winter roughly eight months out of the year in Alberta. Better get used to sitting indoors and watching Netflix, because that’s what most of your downtime is going to consist of. Unless you’re in Canmore or Banff, living in Alberta not at all like the cozy mountain resorts you see in the movies. Colorado and Utah are much more picturesque.
- You’re landlocked. Say goodbye to swimming in the oceans. Say goodbye to the lush vegetation of the west coast. Get used to the ever-expansive flatness of the windy, treeless Albertan highways.
- The food does not even compare. Alberta is making some strides, and I’ve seen firsthand evidence of this on my current journey, but don’t expect to find delicious Korean BBQ, authentic ramen, or mouth-watering Indian curries on any given night of the week. Settle for mediocre, because save for about 20 to 30 restaurants province wide, that’s what you’re going to get.
- Albertans are weird. They’re friendly, but they basically keep to themselves. They’re not looking to make friends. But it isn’t as cut-throat as Lower Mainland, so settle in for an easier ride in that regard.
- You can cover most of Lower Mainland in two to three hours of driving. You can even get to Kelowna from Lower Mainland in less than three hours. In Alberta, it takes three hours just to travel from Calgary to Edmonton. Both cities, by the way, suffer from out-of-control urban sprawl, so if you ever need to drive from one end of the city to the other (which you will), expect it to take an hour or more depending on road conditions and traffic.
If you’re going to live in Alberta, live in Alberta because you love it. Many people do. And if you are one of those people, don’t take any offense to what I’m saying.
But making your decisions based on lucrative job opportunities and cost of living isn’t going to do you any favors. Because you’re not present to the sacrifices you’ll be making.
Quality of life, to me, is the critical decision-making factor.
Over the course of the last two years, I’ve remained in the same basement suite in Abbotsford, BC (aside from a few trips to interior BC and Alberta).
It’s been a great experience. I love the locale. But I’ve always wanted to move in a little closer to Vancouver, where there is more access to various amenities. It didn’t make much of a difference during the pandemic, but now that the world is starting to open again, it’s become a more immediate matter.
My landlords just told me the other day that they would be selling the house. Staying here is an option. But I thought this might be a good opportunity to begin the search, to see if there might be a new space I can call home, even if only temporarily.
So, while it might be a long shot, people know people. If you happen to know of people who might be renting, or if there are any relatively affordable and well-equipped spaces in Langley or Coquitlam area that you know of, I would love to hear about it. Keep me in mind! 😉