In Alberta’s Special Areas there are places where a person can stand in one spot and slowly turn full circle seeing nothing but horizon. On a bluebird day it feels a bit like gazing into infinity. And that’s a rare thing in this mostly crowded world. But this place is exceptional.
This is a place where there’s still room to roam. And, of course, the modern-day way to roam is to take a road trip.
Jumping in a vehicle and heading out on a road trip along the Range and Township Roads that plot The Special Areas north, south, east, and west is like being set adrift in a sea of sky. The only wake left behind is a cloud of dust and a brief woosh of air through the stubby, beige grasslands. This is a flat earth place. Its easily baked bone dry by hot summer sun and ever present wind. The ancient alkali lakes that dot the area are a testimony to these powerful forces.
John Palliser wrote this place off. This area is the northern tip of his “Palliser’s Triangle”. This is the land he surveyed for the Canadian Government and declared as semi-arid desert and most certainly not arable or inhabitable.
But, explored in its depth and breadth, this southeast central chunk of Alberta is not all starkness. There are clusters of soft round hills and deeply etched coulees. The graceful curves of the Red Deer River cut a wide swath along its southern border. Saskatchewan lies east. Alberta Highway 12 runs as straight as the crow flies for an east to west northern border. And, on the western side, there’s a more subtle but hugely important demarcation.
Here, there’s a crucial shift in terrain. The fields to the west are more fertile. The soil is black and the crops dense. There’s a transition from Bald Prairie to Parkland stands of Spruce and Aspen and healthy shelterbelts surrounding farms. It’s easy to see where precipitation starts and stops.
Where it stops is these five million acres spread of land known as Alberta’s Special Areas. Some would argue that the 5000 people who call this home are Alberta’s toughest. Like their homesteader ancestors who arrived here in the early 1900s, they work hard to make a living from this place. And they’ve got a better chance since it was deemed The Special Areas. Only by understanding the history of this place can you understand the designation.
WHERE TO EAT
The KAC Food Hub
The KAC (Kirrimuir, Altario and Consort) Food Hub consists of a few women entrepreneurs working together to bring the food they create to market. Tasha van Staden is a South African immigrant living in Kirrimuir. She bakes beyond beautiful treats. Nataliia Mantsybora, Iryna Mazur and Tetiana Shkolnik are Ukrainian immigrants who started Smachno (the Ukrainian word for delicious). Former professionals in their own country, they now make traditional Ukrainian breads, pierogies, pelmeni (dumplings), nalysnyky, cabbage rolls and sweets. The final member of the KAC group is Jinel Ference of Kirrimuir’s Double F Farms. She’s adding value to the beef her family raises by taking custom orders and by creating pepperoni and jerky under the brand Meat and Co.
Hamlets like Altario embrace entrepreneurs and efforts to keep their school as keys to rural rejuvenation. Beloved eateries contribute to community spirit as well.
Just off the highway in Consort is The CCR Restaurant and Bar. Under the direction of Head Chef Shania Scammell, who previously worked in Banff’s prestigious RimRock resort, the food is straight up delish. The meat for their famously juicy steaks and handheld burgers comes from nearby Provost and Brownfield. Cheese is sourced from Vermillion. The interior feels a bit like a barn warming party meets Scottish distillery with warm brown woods and a glistening wall of whiskies to whet one’s whistle. The former home of singer K.D. Lang, Consort’s CCR is a great stop off for sojourners through The Special Areas on Highway 12.
And south on Highway 9, Youngstown holds the hidden gem eatery worth the stop. Small World Cafe is owned by locals Lester Klassen and his father-in-law Ian Goodbrand. Open for coffee, lunch and snacks daily, the home-cooked goodies are made by popular branding-time cook Diane Nelson. Homemade soups, sandwiches and oreos (aka whoopie pies) plus a place for this community of 150 to gather were the goals of the owners. And, if some passersby frequent the place it’ll only make the community stronger.
Roamers with a sweet tooth will also enjoy a stop in Hanna. Paulanna Baking not only serves fresh baking, they also source fresh vegetables and have created a mini market for people to access local. The Vsitor Information Centre in Hanna also sells hard ice cream. Always a great reason to take a break no matter whether you are starting or finishing your trip.
WHERE TO PLAY
The Oyen Arena hosts a myriad of vendors for the Oyen and District Farmers’ Market weekly. Prairie View and Acadia Valley Hutterite colonies have tables piled with perfectly washed and bundled vegetables. Old settler ways persist and canning and preserving skills now result in ways to add value to farm income.
Originally one of three, this elevator was built in 1968 after its 1920 predecessor burnt. Standing over 100 feet tall, painted in the patented green of grain elevators, this monolithic building is a reminder of the prosperity of the Hamlet. The tradition of delivering the annual harvest to the elevator for weighing and storage was one of the most joyous times of the year.
The last store standing in the village of Empress, they are a most unusual gift shop deep in the Canadian Badlands. From costume jewelry to whimsical home décor to pottery and more. More…
Other Places to Visit
Special Areas has a wide range of attractions, accommodations, and events for you to experience. Come and explore the museums, historical attractions, parks, trails, lakes, and campgrounds. The region has a strong community spirit where people work together to continuously enhance our quality of life through community events to keep you entertained either as a participant or spectator. More…
WHERE TO STAY
Headquartered in the Canadian Badlands, Canalta Hotels is a family owned and operated company with hotels across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. More…
GOLDEN PRAIRIE LODGE
Old fashioned prairie hospitality in Consort. A home in the heart of the prairies. Stay for one night or one month!
ABOUT ALBERTA'S SPECIAL AREAS
Breathe the fresh air. See the stars, Take a road trip (heck, take a back road!) in our wide open spaces. Discover the beauty of the Canadian Badlands. You’ll find friendly faces and a cheerful welcome in any of our special area communities.
Elevate your adventurous spirit in the Alberta’s Special Area. We are home to numerous beautifully groomed golf courses, both provincial and privately owned spectacular campgrounds. Which feature high energy water sports and fishing opportunities. We have a diverse natural and cultural landscape where you can explore our regions wildlife and hunting prospects. History plays a large role in our communities where you can stop in at one of our numerous local museums. Artisans and local unique shopping centres are unlike any other you have experienced. Our unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities feature high action impact Rodeos and Bullaramas. The opportunities are endless…dig a little deeper and see what we have to offer.
The Special Areas was a municipality born out of hardship and has transformed into a strong and progressive region in Southeast Alberta. It includes the communities of: Buffalo, Consort, Empress, Hanna, Jenner, Oyen, Pollockville, and Veteran, and the surrounding area.
Nestled in the eastern part of the Canadian Badlands, Alberta’s Special Area offers a glimpse back in time, semi-arid landscapes, family pleasures and authentic travel experiences. Whether you take the drive to get away from it, dip your feet in a lake or listen to stories of settlers, you’ll be welcomed and surprised by what you can find if you dig a little deeper.
The area holds an amazing balance of rich opportunity and quiet living, so it deserves a special name. After all, where else do you find 4,249 people living great lives on 5,000,000 acres of breath-taking land?
Special Areas is a great alternative for those looking for a change from the hectic pace and crowds of city life. Special Areas is more than agriculture as there are plenty of opportunities to explore the area’s cultural history, enjoy the many recreational opportunities and browse through the many locally owned shops.
Reaching out to start a new life in an undeveloped region is more than many people would think of doing. The sheer grit and commitment of settlers was tested in the early days. The Special Areas was built by this courageous group of people.
Parts of southeastern Alberta were hit particularly hard by the Depression and drought of the 1930s. In 1938, the Provincial Government established a special governing body – called the Special Areas Board – to provide municipal services and supports in place to enable this region to recover and thrive. Like a municipal government, the Special Areas Board looks after roads and parks, provides water and emergency services, manages public land and community pastures, and develops economic development and agricultural conservation strategies.
- Consort’s Bunnock Tournament (June)
- Hanna’s Drag Races (Summer)
- Empress Summer Curling Spiel
- Oyen’s Bull-A-Rama