Across Canada in a farmhouse: New Norway to Calgary

If you’re ever in the Camrose, Alta. area and plan to drive south, don’t bother with the main highway (the QE2).

Don’t get us wrong, Highway 2 is just fine, especially if you’re in a hurry. However, the really beautiful countryside is east of the main route, along Highways 21 and 56. We chose the former.

Here’s where you can really soak in the expansive, rolling countryside that feels increasingly like a set for a good cowboy movie. This season the scenery is made better by those rainy nights and sunny days we mentioned in our previous dispatch.

This is easily the most lush I have ever seen Alberta looking. If you recall, the scene was drastically different 10 years ago. Remember that? An absolutely parched West received donated hay from eastern producers through a program initiated in Navan, Ont., called "Hay West." It’s quite a contrast. And this year, with a "megadrought" blasting the U.S., the contrast is even more stark and dramatic.

On the upside, of course, prices are soaring. Corn’s up about 35 per cent and soybeans are at record levels; November canola is about $6.08.

Just west of the junction of Highways 21 and 12, you hit a cute little town, Alix. This town recently had to upgrade its water and sewer lines, so it decided to go whole-hog while things were torn up. Main Street is now prettied up with public art, widened sidewalks and a green boulevard running up the middle.

A lot of money has been spent here, and everyone’s happy — except, apparently, many farmers who can no longer angle-park their one-ton trucks thanks to the new boulevard.

The municipal campground at Lacombe (Michener Park) is cheap and handy to all amenities. While parked in the Sobeys parking lot we were approached by Suzy Burge, the mid-day DJ at KG Country 95.5 FM out of Red Deer. She asked if we’d be able to join her on air the next day for an extended interview, and of course, we were delighted to do so. It was a great extended chat and we’re really grateful to Suzy for having us on board (despite her little slip up about us driving a green tractor).

We opted for Highway 2A out of Red Deer. For a good long ways south of Red Deer you still see canola and a bit of wheat — but you see a lot of barley, a topic dear to the heart of this beer lover.

Unfortunately, not all is well in malting barley country. As people here have reminded us regularly, it’s been storm season this year — literally piles and piles of hail. Two nights before our drive through this country, Calgary recorded five centimetres of hail! Anyway, as you can see by the pictures, there’s a lot of crop laying down and/or cut off just below the heads. It’s a shame to see, but it certainly goes along with what farmers always say: Mother Nature makes the final decisions…

So we’ve now arrived in Calgary, "The Heart of the New West," according to the sign on Highway 2. I haven’t been here in about eight years, so I was certainly keen to get back and take a look. The Bow, the new office tower, certainly adds to the skyline and the Stoney Trail loop around the city is a much-needed, long-awaited bypass for through traffic.

There’s considerable housing expansion to the north. Airdrie is as you’d expect: a fast-growing bedroom community. Looking forward to getting downtown and seeing some old stomping grounds.

As a parting thought, despite growth, it’s nice to approach a city that somebody referred to as "the Toronto of the Prairies," and still be able to smell cattle and fresh hay with the skyline in close view. It’s a nice treat.

Alas, those days are about four million people ago for Hogtown.

— John Varty and his fiancee Molly Daley are driving across Canada in an effort to speak to farmers about the issues that concern them, and to bring those concerns to urbanites. They’re doing it in an unusual fashion — towing a "farmhouse" behind a Massey Ferguson 1660 — and will post periodic reports here of their trek across the Prairies.

Related stories:
Across Canada in a farmhouse: Edmonton to New Norway, Aug. 13, 2012
Cross-Canada tractor pull, July 26, 2012

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