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029 Stampede foods, draining lakes, lost historic sites, and summer crowds

This week I look at a few of this year’s tasty treats being added to the menu of the Calgary Stampede midway. I examine some of the changes in store for Johnson Lake this summer and look at new film that helps locals and visitors coexist with wildlife. Also this week, Alberta lost a significant historic site and finally I look at some of the visitor stats from the first long weekend of summer.

Story 1 – New Stampede Foods

Every year, the Calgary Stampede introduces new menu items for the midway…and this year is no different. As usual, some are tasty, and others nasty. Last week they announced 40 new foods to their usual fare of corn dogs, French fries and pizza.

Wait…did someone say pizza? How about the world’s hottest pizza…yup you heard that right, this year the Stampede offers pizza infused with ghost peppers.

In 2007, the Guinness Book of World Records listed them as the world’s hottest pepper, although that ranking has now been superseded by several others such as the Infinity chili, the Naga Viper, the Trinidad moruga scorpion and the Carolina Reaper.

Still, with a rating of over a million on the Scoville heat unit scale, ghost peppers dwarf the measly 5-10,000 rating of Tabasco sauce.

If death pizza is not your thing, what about something a little more old fashioned…like rabbit pizza. Right now everyone listening from Canmore is cringing. Canmore has a love hate relationship with its feral rabbit population but fear not, the rabbit in this pizza is ‘locally sourced and sustainable grown’. According to the recent announcement: “the slow roasted pulled rabbit is drizzled with organic dark honey over a layer of mouthwatering toppings”.

If that doesn’t make you want to head on down to the grounds, how about some crispy chicken feet on a stick…oh yah, that’s a thing this year.

Like always, there are a million ways to have your fries, starting with the Tropical Bobster. Think poutine topped with lobster and garnished with mango salsa and fresh coriander.

Or how about clam chowder poutine. On top of a bed of fries, you’ll find “creamy clammy goodness” garnished with crispy crab meat and parsley.

Want a more traditional poutine? Well the Stampede version includes “crispy golden fries smothered with authentic cheese curds and gravy, topped with grilled sliced wieners and cattleman’s sauce”.

You can even go crazy with this year’s funnel cake poutine. Start with a Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cake and add cheese and gravy. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and savory.

I’m more of a corn dog traditionalist at the Stampede. Every year I have to have at least one midway corndog. This year, not even the corn dog is immune from a few new twists worth mentioning.

First on the list is the Ruben Dog. Take corn beef, wrap it in swiss cheese and then coat it with batter and deep fry it to perfection and add an aioli horseradish dip to finish it off. This is one item that may be on my list this year.

If corn beef is not for you, what about Corn Dog Fried Shrimp? You’ll get “two giant skewered golden shrimp fried in corndog king batter”.

Still want deep-fried goodness, but not the stick. You can try out Canadian Bacon Pickle Balls. Last year Julie and I tried out their Big Pickle Dog. It was a hot dog stuffed in a pickle and then battered and deep fried. You can hear our taste adventures on episode 2 at

This year’s Canadian Bacon Pickle Ball loses the stick and adds a layer of bacon between the pickle and the batter. Be careful with this one though. We learned the hard way that the pickle really holds the heat. It’s easy to burn your mouth if you don’t let it cool a little.

Once you’ve sampled enough entrees then it’s time to think dessert and, as usual, the Stampede doesn’t disappoint.

If you love Jell-O but hate the jiggle, well why not batter it and drop it in the deep fryer? Of course you’ll need a little icing sugar to top it all off.

For those of you that love pie and love milkshakes, why not a Pie Shake? Choose from one of several flavors of pie or cake, and it’ll be scooped into a cup along with hand scooped milkshake. Cover this with more pie and a whipped cream topping and you have the idea.

Sticking with the ice cream theme, there is the Cereal Monster Sandwich. As they put it: “this ice cream sandwich was made to be legendary! With a monster portion of ice cream, crushed between two cereal infused marshmallow squares, the size is second to the taste!”

Want something a little less messy? You could try the rolled ice cream. Thai Rolled Ice Cream offers little delicious rolls of ice cream, packed into a cup and then topped with a variety of toppings including whipped cream, graham crackers, strawberries, brownies and more.

Another twist on rolled ice cream is found in the Waffle Taco. Start with rolled ice cream and all your favorite toppings and place it in a chocolate dipped waffle cone taco shell and you’re ready to roll.

Want a refreshing beverage? Like a little kick? Why not check out the Chili Chill-Chill. This cold drink starts with fresh squeezed lemonade and infuses it with three different chili peppers and a hint of lime.

This list only scratches the surface as to the entire list of new food offerings. If you’d like to check out the complete list, check out this link: 2017 Stampede Foods

Of course I’ll be there to try some of these tasty…and not so tasty treats. Stampede starts in just over a month so make sure you’re boots are shiny and your Stetson is ready to go.

Next up – big changes for Johnson Lake

Story 2 – Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake has been a fixture in the news ever since whirling disease was discovered in the lake last August, and subsequently throughout the entire Bow and Oldman River systems.

While the Bow River downstream of Johnson Lake has been impacted by the parasite, rivers upstream still seem to be free of the disease. Johnson Lake has the potential to form as a buffer between the lower Bow and the Upper Cascade River system. The Upper Cascade is important as it is home to 4 of the most important populations of the endangered westslope cutthroat trout. These include Sawback Lake, Sawback Creek, Cuthead Creek and Elk Lake.

Johnson Lake is separated from these upper rivers by the dam on Lake Minnewanka, but with the ease with which whirling disease can be transferred from one lake to another, the lake can form an important buffer helping to make the transfer a little more unlikely. How does it spread? It can carried by fishermen on their gear or in the tread of their boots – especially felt-tipped waders. The myxospores can also be carried on the feathers of birds from one lake to another.

Park managers are currently using electro-fishing and gill nets to remove as many fish from the lake as possible. The lake will reopen to public use for the summer, but after Labour Day weekend, they’ll resume their electro-fishing and gill netting to try to kill more fish. They’ll also bring in a contractor to help lower the water level to force the fish into a smaller area to enable their capture.

The hope is that by removing all of the fish from Johnson Lake, that the disease will naturally die out over time.

For this summer, parks is installing two docks at the beach as well as dumping coarse sand at the main beach. The goal is to keep use concentrated in that area and reduce the chance that swimmers may pick up mud from the bottom of the lake and enable the disease to spread to additional water bodies. The docks will also allow people access to deeper water, again to help reduce the spread of spores.

The disease has two hosts, fish and tiny tubiflex worms that live at the bottom of the lake. Myxospores can remain in the mud for years and so reducing the opportunity for swimmers to transfer mud from Johnson Lake to other lakes can also help to contain the infection further.

If Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka can be kept free of whirling disease, it helps to keep the Upper Cascade watershed, and its endangered westslope cutthroat trout, safe, at least for the time being.

If you’d like to learn more, check out episodes 7, 9, 14 and 20 to follow the story from its original discovery through to its spread to additional river sources.

This summer, there will be many changes at Johnson Lake. New docks and beach sand, fishing will be prohibited and I’m sure additional changes will be coming down the pipe. Please support the work that Parks is doing here. They really are trying to stop an incredibly virulent parasitic infection and they’ll need our understanding and support.

Whirling disease is no danger to humans, only fish, but it’s important that we all play our role in helping to keep it from spreading to other lakes and streams. There will be a wash station installed as well, so please be sure to clean your gear before you pack up for the day. If you don’t, you could be packing up more than you bargained for.

Story 3 – Living with Wildlife

There’s a new film that everyone living and traveling to the Canadian Rockies should definitely watch. It’s called Living with Wildlife and has been produced in cooperation with Necessary Journeys, Bear Conflict Solutions and Front Range Films. You can watch the film here:

The film is a contemporary look at the issues communities like Canmore are dealing with on a daily basis as we strive to try to coexist with the many different animals that call the Rocky Mountains Home. Over the past 30 years, the attitudes have changed as the population has grown. Most people realize the importance of keeping the wild in wildlife and each of us has a role to play.

In the mountain parks, we have worked as communities to try to live with wildlife. The animals are our neighbours and it is up to every one of us to try to make sure that we don’t give wildlife a reason to find our yard attractive.

Mountain towns are always looking to minimize the conflicts that can be inherent with people living in close proximity to animals. Our policies and behaviours though have also changed over time as we learned new ways to make our townsites less of an attractant.

As an example, historically there were dumps in the mountain parks and bears were attracted to the easy calories that were available. They would come into peoples yards to get into garbage, bird feeders, or fruit trees. As communities, we’ve gradually dealt with those things.

In Banff and Canmore, there is no longer garbage pickups. Each household has to bring their own refuse to community bear proof bins. It’s also illegal to store your garbage outside as it may become an attractant for animals.

When it comes to bird feeders, they are also illegal during the summer months. A feeder full of sunflower seeds is an irressistable attraction for bears looking for easy calories.

The year 2015 was another year of learning for mountain communities. In the central Rockies, there is only one plant that allows bears to put on the calories necessary for their long winter sleep – and it’s called buffaloberry. In 2015, there was a complete failure of the buffaloberry crop and communities like Canmore, Banff and Jasper were inundated with bears being attracted to fruit trees.

In one week, the town of Canmore had to remove 20 bears. It was a punch in the face to communities that thought we were doing everything right. Suddenly we realized that fruit trees had the potential to become huge attractants in years of berry failures.

All the communities jumped on the bandwagon right away to try to find solutions to this major error on our parts. The towns quickly brought in educational programs and other strategies to help reduce the chance of fruit trees attracting bears in the future.

In both Canmore and Banff there are programs within the towns that will allow you to have your fruit tree removed and replaced by a non-fruit bearing tree at no cost. This is a great way to help reduce the likelihood that your yard will be responsible for attracting bears away from naturally available foods.

Canmore has taken this one step further this month with the passage of a new bylaw that makes it unlawful to allow fruit to accumulate on your trees. Violators can receive $100 fines for letting fruit fall off the tree or accumulating in such a way that it attracts carnivores into your neighbourhood.

Another issue that the film brings out is the problem of people and dogs in primary wildlife corridors. This is an ongoing issue and we all need to make sure that the Bow Valley offers a safe route for wildlife migrating between Banff and Kananaskis Country. The valley is already the most heavily developed landscape in the world where grizzly bears still exist. Let’s keep it that way.

This most recent video shows a great cross-section of the ways in which mountain communities are working together to keep the wild in wildlife. I definitely recommend you watch it.

Story 4 – McDougall Church

On May 22nd, 2017, Alberta lost an important piece of its history when the McDougall Memorial United Church was lost to fire. The church, first built in 1875, the same year the Northwest Mounted Police marched westward, has been an important place of worship for more than 140 years.

The fire is currently believed to have been accidental and arson is not suspected. Cochrane RCMP reported that they could find no signs of arson at the scene. In a CBC story, they quote an investigator who felt that the cause will likely be listed as “inappropriate use of, or disposal of, an unknown ignition source”.

The story of the McDougall Church and the Morley Mission began long before the church was built.

In 1839, the Hudson Bay Company invited 4 Methodist missionaries to travel to their forts in what would become the Northwest Territories. In 1860, Reverend George McDougall who was the Superintendant of the Methodist Missions within the Hudson Bay Company territory, headed west with his son John. George had promised Reverent Robert T Rundle (after whom Mount Rundle is named), years ago to send a missionary to the lands of the first nations.

He returned in 1873 with his wife Elizabeth, his son John and his wife Lizzie, and his other son David and his wife Annie. They also brought a herd of cattle. George McDougall was quoted as saying:

“From a very high Foot Hill (sic) we gazed on this prospect with admiration and wonder. Within three miles stood the grand old mountain, the wild goat and sheep sporting on its highest summit. At the foot of the hill, and in perfect ignorance of our presence, a band of buffalo were feeding on the richest pasture. To the right of us, and on the north bank of the river, lay the location we have selected for our new mission.”

The location was also a traditional camp site for the Stoneys and other native groups. As the mission grew, by 1881, 60 settlers were collecting mail from the post office in David McDougall’s trading post. In contrast, Fort Calgary only had 30 people collecting mail.

The church was completed in 1875, the same year that the Norwest Mounted Police arrived on the site that would become Fort Calgary.

Morleyville was the first permanent settlement in southern Alberta. The McDougalls spent the rest of their lives working with the Stoney people and trying to improve their lives during a time of great change on the prairies.

In 1952 the McDougall Church was restored and in 1979 it became a provincial historic site.

The loss of this historic landmark is devastating to the Stoney Nakoda who worshipped in the church. There is now talk of rebuilding the church on the same site. I for one really hope they are able to resurrect the church.

Story 5 – The Crowds Cometh

For months I’ve been talking about the crowds that will be heading to Banff and Jasper National Parks this summer. Well this year’s Victoria Day weekend shows that the pilgrimage has begun. Throughout the park, the campgrounds and hotels were full, the highways choked and the townsite was incredibly busy. Traffic counters showed that a record 31,600 vehicles arrived at the townsite – and this doesn’t count vehicles that were already there.

The congestion limit for Banff is 24,000 vehicles so we were way above that on just the first long weekend of summer. I ended up calling the Warden’s office when I arrived in Banff to find the highway exits were backed up beyond the exit and were stretching into the driving lane. It was a scary situation as cars were suddenly braking when they noticed that traffic in the right lane had stopped.

With Canada’s 150th birthday, park passes are free this year and so we may see numbers exceeding all previous records. If you are planning on visiting, it is worthwhile to look at some of the public transit options that will allow you to visit without having to fight traffic or try to find elusive parking spots.

Parks Canada has put up a web page that can help connect you with resources that will make it easier for you to take advantage of transit in and around Banff, Lake Minnewanka and Lake Louise. You can find the link here: Banff Transit Solutions

In Episode 27 I detailed many of these options, however there were still few details on the shuttles between Banff and Lake Louise. From now until October 10, you can catch a free shuttle hourly between the Banff Train Station and the Samson Mall Hamlet of Lake Louise. From there you will be able to pick up local shuttles to visit the Lake itself. The last pickup in Banff is 5 pm and the last return shuttle from Samson Mall is 6 pm.

This summer is going to be a challenge for those of us that make our lives in tourism. It’s important that we remember that for the visitors coming to our parks, it is the trip of a lifetime for them. I’m working with my clients to try to get the best possible experience for their guests. If possible, try to visit popular sites either very early or late in the day. You’ll find the crowds will be smaller and you will have a better chance of having the kind of experience you see on the postcards.


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