CPAWS Southern Alberta Blog

Alberta’s Outdoor Heritage

The great icons of Alberta have been forged and perpetuated by conservation and responsible land management, not in spite of it. Cowboys, ranchers, hunters, trappers, mountaineers, indigenous peoples, and artists have all stewarded and explored Alberta’s stunning vistas. Alberta’s scenery has drawn people from across the world for over a century. Responsible recreation and land stewardship have been foundational building blocks, helping shape our identity as Albertans.

The wilderness has been our economic backbone, spiritual well, and playground for generations. Before colonization, indigenous peoples had relationships with the landscape that included an inherent respect for ecosystems and all our non-human relatives. Mountaineers and outfitters lead the way for new visitors to enjoy the Rocky Mountains. The iconic Alberta ranchers and cowboys have built their livelihood on the necessity of respectful and sustainable range management.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Canada’s first protected area, was also our Alberta’s first international tourism draw. Explorers and artists, like Mary Schafer, Lauren Harris, Byron Harmon ventured through these protected lands and created images that cemented Alberta in the Canadian cultural landscape. When the first cowboys and ranchers arrived, including John Ware and Sam Livingston, they quickly learned that living with the landscape, not against it, would lead to success. Our landscapes have facilitated opportunities for Albertans to connect with the land and create important memories and traditions recreating outdoors. Why wouldn’t we want to expand on this legacy?

As pressures on our landscapes increase, these histories have become clouded. Some would have us believe that designated wilderness spaces and respectful land use will exclude Albertans. With an understanding of our heritage, and a little forethought, we recognize the enormous and inclusive opportunities these strategies provide. WIlderness areas and parks include opportunities for sustainable recreation for many types of land use, including activities that have been taking place here for generations; hunting, outfitting, guiding, angling, trail riding, climbing, paddling, and hiking. In reality, the only activities excluded are those that impede the ability of others to access the same privileges, and inhibit the ability for our children to enjoy the same opportunities. Establishing wilderness spaces honours Alberta’s history and ensures that our outdoor traditions will be sustained for generations.

Albertans love living here because of the places that people have been enjoying sustainably for years. Not only do protected areas facilitate recreational experiences of all stripes, they ensure that these practices are done in a way that the next generation of Albertans can enjoy these natural wonders, much like our fore-bertans did for us.