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.