Alberta Grasslands

The shortgrass prairies of the northern Great Plains were mapped in 2001 into three ecoregions–the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands,the Northern Mixed Grasslands, and the Northern Short Grasslands. In 2017, the Northern Mixed Grasslands and the Northern Short Grasslands were merged. I maintained the 2001 split below. This is part 2 of an earlier post in August 2014.

Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands (NA808)

National sites in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands include the national historic sites of Calgary, Trans-Canada Trail, and national wildlife areas.

Beaulieu (Beautiful Place) National Historic Site (N51⁰2’ W114⁰5’) is a 3-ha estate located at 707 13th Avenue SW at 6th Street SW in Calgary. The 1891 mansion for Senator James Alexander Lougheed is the earliest example of a mansion on the prairies. The house has Victorian eclectic design and is considered the finest sandstone residence in Alberta. The house is managed by the Lougheed House Conservation Society. Adjacent terraced formal gardens are a Calgary city park.

Calgary City Hall National Historic Site (N51⁰3’W114⁰3’) is on 716 Macleod Trail SE at 7th Avenue SE. The 1911 structure is the only surviving example of monumental city halls erected in prairie cities before 1930. There is a lofty clock tower, prominent arched entry, and Romanesque Revival decorations, creating an imposing symbol of community progress.

Fort Calgary National Historic Site (N51˚2’ W114˚3’) is operated by the City of Calgary at 750 9th Avenue SE. The wooden fort was built by the North West Mounted Police in 1875 at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers. A river walk leads to the confluence. The fort is on the Trans-Canada Trail.

Heritage Hall National Historic Site (N51⁰4’ W114⁰5’) is on the campus of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, accessed from 14th Street Northwest east from the junction of 14th Avenue Northwest. The 1922 three-story Collegiate Gothic style building commemorates the establishment of the first post-secondary technical college in western Canada.

Inglewood Migratory Bird Sanctuary (N51⁰2’ W114⁰0’) is 111 ha in the city of Calgary on the Bow River. It is a riverine forest extending south from Route 2 and Route 1A junction. It is noted for songbirds and waterfowl. The bird sanctuary is on the Trans-Canada Trail.

Mewata Drill Hall National Historic Site (N51⁰3’ W114⁰5’) is at 801 11th Street SW in Calgary. Still in use, the large, Tudor revival structure was used by the military during the Boer War (South Africa) and in World War I.

Palace Theatre National Historic Site (N51⁰3’ W114⁰4’) is at 211 8th Avenue SW in Calgary. Still in use, it is one of four surviving neoclassical movie theaters in western Canada. It is also associated with early radio broadcasts. The building was designed by architect H. Howard Crane in 1921.

Stephen Avenue National Historic Site (N51⁰3’ W114⁰4’) is along 8th Avenue SW in Calgary between 1st and 4th Streets SW. The well-preserved retail street, now a pedestrian mall, was built between 1880 and 1930 and contains Victorian, Art Deco, and Beaux-Arts elements. It interprets the processes of prairie urban development and the rising importance of the retail sector in the Canadian economy.

Trans-Canada Trail segments within the Montana valley and foothill grasslands ecoregion are in Calgary along the Elbow River and Bow River. Along the Elbow River, the trail passes Fort Calgary National Historic Site (N51˚2’ W114˚3’), Calgary Stampede (N51⁰2’ W114⁰3’), Glenmore Reservoir, and Weaselhead Natural Environment Park within the Canadian Aspen Forests and parkland ecoregion. On the Bow River, the trail passes the Bow Habitat Station and Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery (N51⁰2’ W114⁰1’), Inglewood Migratory Bird Sanctuary (N51⁰2’ W114⁰0’), Beaverdam Flats Park (N51⁰0’ W114⁰2’), Carburn Park (N50⁰58’ W114⁰2’), and Fish Creek Provincial Park (N51°10’ W114°22’). On Nose Creek, the trail passes the Calgary Zoo (N51⁰3’ W114⁰1’) and West Nose Creek Confluence Park (N51⁰8’ W114⁰3’).

Women’s Buffalo Jump National Historic Site (N50⁰28’ W113⁰53’) is 3 km northwest of Cayley. In use for 2,000 years, the site contains archaeological deposits 6 m deep at the base of a cliff.

Provincial and local sites in the Montana Valley and Foothills Grasslands include provincial and city parks of note.

Bigelow Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (N51°53’ W113°28’), is 12 ha on Threehills Creek south of Route 587, west of Huxley, available for day-use reservoir activities.

Beaverdam Flats Park, City of Calgary (N51⁰0’ W114⁰2’) is a 43-ha park on the eastern bank of the Bow River, noted for waterfowl watching. The trails are part of the Trans-Canada Trail system.

Bow Habitat Station and Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery, Province of Alberta (N51⁰2’ W114⁰1’) are on the Bow River in Calgary at the end of 17A Street Southeast, north of Blackfoot Trail. The 21-ha site contains a visitor center, trout hatchery, and wetland restoration area in the city of Calgary’s Pearce Estate Park.

Carburn Park, City of Calgary (N50⁰58’ W114⁰2’) is a 135-ha tract along the Bow River featuring a riverine deciduous forest. The trails are part of the Trans-Canada Trail system.

Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta, (N51°10’ W114°22’) is 1,356 ha in southern portion of the Calgary urban area along Fish Creek and the Bow River. It is in the Alberta Aspen Forests and Parklands (NA 802) and Northern Mixed Grasslands (NA 808) ecoregions. Trails wind throughout the park. The visitor centre at Bow Valley Ranch (N50°55’ W114°1’), Mallard Point (N50°56’ W114°0’), and Rotary Nature Park (N50°53’ W114°0’) are in the Northern Mixed Grasslands ecoregion. The Trans-Canada Trail crosses the park.

West Nose Creek Confluence Park, City of Calgary (N51⁰8’ w114⁰3’) is 73 ha on Beddington Trail NE. It features native grasslands and glacial erratic boulders. It is included in the Trans-Canada Trail system.

Willow Creek Provincial Park, Alberta (N50°7’ W113°47’), is 194 acres along Willow Creek in the grasslands of the Porcupine Hills.

Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, Alberta (N50°50’ W113°26’) consists of 178 ha of riparian areas and a camping area on the Bow River southeast of Calgary at the Route 24 river crossing. A nature trail winds along the Bow River.

An important private site in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands is Frank Lake (N50°34’ W113°44’), a 3,100-acre wetland 6 km east of High River. This is the most important wetland in southwestern Alberta for breeding water birds and is designated an Important Bird Area. It is noted for trumpeter swans, tundra swans, pintails, and shorebirds. The water supply was secured by a pipeline from the Highwood River funded by Ducks Unlimited. A viewing blind is on Route 23.

Northern Mixed Grasslands (NA810)

National Areas in the Northern Mixed Grasslands include Atlas Coal Mine, Blackfoot Crossing, and Spiers Lake.

Atlas No. 3 Coal Mine National Historic Site (N51˚20’ W112˚29’) is managed by the Atlas Coal Mine Historical Society. The site commemorates the early 20th century Drumheller Valley coal field and the central role is played in the Canadian coal industry. The site operated from 1936 to 1956. The surface plant is well-preserved. There is an eight-story wooden tipple, washhouse, and blacksmith shop. The tipple is the best surviving example of that type of preparation facility in Canada. The site is on Route 10 at East Coulee.

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park includes three national historic sites: Blackfoot Crossing, Earthlodge Village, and Treaty No. 7 Signing Site (N50˚48’ W112˚52’). The park, operated by Siksika Nation at a ford on the Bow River, on Route 842 south of Cluny. Blackfoot Crossing National Historic Site is a cultural, educational and entertainment center for the Siksika Nation language, culture and traditions. Earthlodge Village National Historic Site is a complex of earthworks on the north bank of the Bow River built in 1740 by an unidentified people from the Missouri River region of the Dakotas. It is the only structure of its type on the Canadian prairies. Treaty No. 7 National Historic Site commemorates the signing of the treaty of 1877 with the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which surrendered 50,000 square miles of Alberta to white settlement.

Spiers Lake National Wildlife Area (N51°55’ W112°15’) is 65 ha south of Route 589 near Endiang. The uncultivated plains fescue grassland is on a hummocky moraine and includes an alkaline lake. The lake is a breeding spot for piping plover and is also used by other shorebirds and ducks. The grassland is used by prairie songbirds and is habitat for three rare plants. Spiers Lake is part of the Chain Lakes Important Bird Area for piping plover.

Provincial and local sites in the Northern Mixed Grasslands include provincial parks on reservoirs, important native habitat preserves, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the most important dinosaur fossil museums in the world.

Little Bow Provincial Park (N50°14’ W112°55’) is on the north shore of Travers Reservoir and provides reservoir recreation. It is an Important Bird Area for the peregrine falcon. It is part of the McGregor Lake and Travers Reservoir Important Bird Area.

Little Bow Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (N50°12’ W112°40’) is a reservoir recreation area but is also important for American white pelican and colonial waterbirds. It is part of the McGregor Lake and Travers Reservoir Important Bird Area.

Eagle Lake (N51⁰0’ W113⁰19’), Namaka Lake (N50⁰56’ W113⁰13’), Ballina Lake (N50⁰56’ W113⁰12’), and Stobart Lake (N50⁰54’ W113⁰11’) make up an Important Bird Area that is globally significant for migrating waterbirds, including western grebe, tundra swan, and mallards, as well as nesting gulls. The area is southeast of Strathmore and south of Route 1. Eagle Lake is privately owned while Namaka Lake is provincial-owned. Stobart Lake is part of the Siksika Nation.

Hand Hills Ecological Reserve (N51°24’ W112°17’) is 2,229 ha adjacent to Little Fish Lake. Foot access is from Route 573. The site is an Important Bird Area for ferruginous hawk and piping plover. Prairie long-tailed weasels also occur.

Little Fish Lake Provincial Park (N51°22’ W112°12’), is 61 ha on the shore of Little Fish Lake, available for lakeside recreation. Little Fish Lake is an Important Bird Area for piping plover.

Midland Provincial Park (N51°29’ W112°47’) is 599 ha on Route 838 west of Drumheller. Paths wind through willows and cottonwoods. Within the park is the Royal Tyrrell Provincial Museum, the most extensive display of dinosaur fossils in the world.

Rumsey Natural Area (N51⁰51’ W112⁰37’) is 14,922 ha east of Route 56. The area is the last remaining undisturbed aspen parkland in Alberta. Topography is knob and kettle (hummocky moraine).

Tolman Badlands Heritage Rangeland Natural Area is 5,945 ha in five tracts along the Red Deer River downstream of Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. Two tracts are in the Northern Mixed Grasslands (NA 810) ecoregion; one is north of Route 27 (N51°42’ W112°56’), and one is south of Route 27 (N51°38’ W112°54’).
Travers Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area, Alberta (N50°15’ W112°49’), is a camping and day use area at the Travers Dam. It is part of the McGregor Lake and Travers Reservoir Important Bird Area.

Private sites in the Northern Mixed Grasslands include lakes important for migratory waterfowl.
Chain Lakes (N51⁰52’ W112⁰13’) are a complex of eight shallow alkali lakes with grassy meadows that are an Important Bird Area for piping plover and waterbirds. Spiers Lake National Wildlife Area is included in the IBA.

Dowling Lake (N51⁰44’ W112⁰1’) is a large alkaline lake with no outflow northwest of Hanna. The lake and surrounding area are an Important Bird Area for piping plover colonial waterbirds, waterfowl, Baird’s sparrow, and Sprague’s pipit.

Handhills Lake (N51⁰29’ W112⁰8’) is noted for mudflats and pebbly shorelines, attracting piping plover breeding, as well as migratory geese and waterfowl. It is an Important Bird Area.

Sullivan Lake (N52⁰3’ W112⁰0’) is a large inland saline lake designated an Important Bird Area for waterbirds.

Northern short grasslands (NA811)

Antelope Creek Ranch Habitat Development Area (N50⁰36’ W112⁰11’) is a 2,200-ha ranch established as a model wise use property for management of native mixed grass prairie. Management is determined by an advisory committee with representatives from the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Wildlife habitat Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Alberta Department of Sustainable Resource Development. The ranch is an Eastern Irrigation District wildlife habitat property.

Bobby Hale Marsh (N50⁰46’ W112⁰19’) is 240 ha off Route 550 east of Barasso. It is an Eastern Irrigation District wildlife habitat property.

Kitsim Reservoir (N50⁰27’ W112⁰4’) is part of the Lake Newell Important Bird Area. These large reservoirs have marsh habitat utilized by the Great Plains toad, water hyssop, slender mouse-ear cress, as well as American white pelican, ring-necked gull, and black-bellied plover. The reservoir is managed by the Eastern Irrigation District.

Lore Lake (N50⁰40’ W112⁰19’) is 140 ha and an Eastern Irrigation District wildlife habitat property.