So for the Thanksgiving long weekend, I took a trip out to Drumheller. "Just 'cuz."
I'd never been there, and decided I wanted to check it out before I leave Calgary.
As it happened, while Drumheller boasts no shortage of attractions, this wasn't the best time to go. I was there over Saturday and Sunday, and the Sunday of a long weekend in the off-season sees most of those attractions closed.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum was open, though, and I went there on Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and can wholeheartedly support its regular election as one of the top museums in North America. Dinosaurs are cool and all, but for the most part, I'm not what you'd call a "dinosaur nut," or anything of the like. They're interesting enough, and I'd normally leave it at that.
But despite my questionable attachment to the subject, I found myself totally enthralled the entire time I was at the museum. The whole thing was really well done.
I caouldn't help but contrast it with the visit that dubaiwalla and I paid to the Royal Ontario Museum when in Toronto last year. The ROM was featuring some display about ancient China or ancient Asia or somesuch. My interest level in which being roughly comparable to my interest level in Dinosaurs.
After 2 or so hours at the ROM, I believe we both walked out feeling that it was mostly a waste of time and money. Some stuff was kinda interesting, but most of it was "meh," and neither of us were what you'd call captivated.
What a difference between the two experiences. After four hours on Saturday, I got shooed out of the RTM at closing time, and contemplated making a trip back the next day. The RTM has an "Ikea-like" layout, with several successive galleries having a fixed path and narrative running through them. You get so caught up in this narrative—which does an excellent job of tying all the pieces together—that you want to press on; see what comes next.
At the ROM, it was just a bunch of random galleries with cases containing random stuff. Some of it was interesting but most wasn't, and more importantly, the museum did a very poor job of tying things together, to demonstrate to the visitor why they should be interested in most of the stuff.
Complete night-and-day. A case study in how museums should and should not be designed.
Which is all to say that I highly recommend a visit to the RTM to anyone finding themselves in the general vicinity of Drumheller.
I opted not to go back the next day... mainly because the museum is just over 7km from the town, and I didn't really want to make that trip out again, carrying my suitcase with me.
The walk there and back was very fascinating, however. On that one short stretch of valley, there are four old coal mining sites; 2 of them in a provincial park (the same as that where the RTM is situated) with interpretive trails allowing tourists to poke around the sites. It speaks to Drumheller's past as a major coal mining center. In 1930, Drumheller's population was over four times its current 7,900 and it was made a city, with several dozen mines pumping out coal at a rate in the tens of thousands of tonnes per day, which was loaded onto trains and sent hurtling in all directions across North America.
Between the late '40s and the early '60s, however, every one of the mines shut down (thank you: oil) and the population plummeted to under 5,000, from which point there has since been uneven and mostly slow growth (with the occasional decline). City status was tellingly abandoned in 1998, and Drumheller was re-incorporated as a town.
Deciding, as I said, not to hike back out to the RTM, I spent most of Sunday just wandering around, checking out the town itself. This would be when I discovered that any in-town attraction that could be closed was. It was still interesting enough, though.
In a town with a history like that of Drumheller, I would have expected abandoned neighbourhoods, or at least abandoned buildings, conspicuous decay and the like. Something similar to what one would see in any arbitrary small town in Saskatchewan. However, none was to be found. Instead, almost the entire town was brand-new. New neighbourhoods, new streets, new monster homes, new hummers and skidoos in the driveways.
'Maybe,' I thought, 'this is because of the recent oil boon? There's lots of CBM in the Drumheller area, after all.'
But this was belied by the fact that many "older" neighbourhoods dated not back to the prewar era, but rather the architecture clearly came from the 70s and 80s. Which is to say, new construction was ongoing even right after the mines closed, during what I would have assumed to be a time of severe decline and economic depression. It was extremely interesting and I have no explanation.
Only in Alberta...?
It was an interesting visit. It was a neat town and made good walkin's.
"I was framed, I tell you! Framed!"