Being from Alberta, I knew this existed for a number of years. And my mother kept wanting to plan an outing. And although it sounded interesting we never quite got around to it. Until this year when we decided that during my 3 week visit home we were going to include this in our itinerary.
Warning: it’s a bit of a pain in the ass to do this. Not the booking or anything. It’s just that you board the train in Stettler, which is 3 hours drive from Calgary, and 2 1/2 from Edmonton. So you drive, spend 6 hours on the excursion and then drive again. And there aren’t really a lot of tourist accommodations in the area and frankly its in the heart of Alberta’s redneck prairies so frankly not a place I’d care to hang out at for an overly long time.
But here is the thing. The excursion is super cool. There are a variety of options, a Murder Mystery one and some different themed family style ones. You ride in the refurbished historical steam train, complete with open air and concession cars and are treated to the wandering singing stylings of a band of hobos while the beautiful prairie landscape slides by.
We were treated to a very realistic train robbery and shoot out between some bandits and the sheriff before arriving in our stopping point in Big Valley. The bandits actually do hold up the passengers on the train for money but the good news is that it gets donated to the Children’s Hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary.
Don’t let the name fool you. Big Valley is a tiny tiny place. Other than the big music festival that happens there for a weekend a year, there is nothing happening in Big Valley. Which makes you glad to be part of something that is providing in some way for the town. We were treated to a simple country style buffet in the community hall. It wasn’t awesome but it was simple fare. The atmosphere would have benefited from some sort of music/entertainment. There are some historical museum like displays of old cars and farming equipment but the most humorous was the “Creation Museum”. Now I am aware of a very well funded creationist museum in the US, presenting the “alternative” to scientific evolution but this one was quite sad actually. Basically a GI Joe and the T-Rex figure from Toy Story standing arm in arm.
All in all, this excursion was widely enjoyed by everyone from the 6 year old to the 74 year old. A good day spent as a family.