On September 22nd, 1978, Premier Peter Lougheed officially dedicated Kananaskis Country and Kananaskis Provincial Park (now Peter Lougheed Provincial Park). This 4,200 square kilometre recreation area quickly became a cherished location for us to connect with the environment, to spend time with friends and family, and to hike, climb, and be active in the southeast slopes of the central Rockies. However, over a hundred years have passed since Kananaskis Country was first identified as a special place worthy of being preserved.
The plan to protect the Kananaskis area was not just the dream of Peter Lougheed. In the late 1960s, Banff-Cochrane MLA Clarence Copithorne and local architect and environmentalist Bill Milne worked hard to put their vision of a large multi-use recreation area into reality. In 1972, the Alberta Wilderness Association proposed a wilderness area west of Calgary in the Elbow, Sheep, and Kananaskis Valleys. And that same year the Environment Conservation Authority identified a need to set aside this area to protect watersheds and to provide resource development, tourism and recreation opportunities.
Bow Valley and Bragg Creek Provincial Parks were created in 1959 and 1960 and remain popular places to visit in Kananaskis Country. As early as 1902, parts of Kananaskis Country were included in the Rocky Mountain National Park (now Banff National Park), but they were removed in 1911 and eventually turned over to the Alberta Government in 1930. But the very essence of why this place is considered special goes back even further. The name Kananaskis was chosen 150 years ago to name the lakes, valley, and river visited by Captain John Palliser on his expedition through the area. The name comes from the Cree ‘Kin-e-a-kis’ and is said to be the name of a warrior who survived an axe blow to the head.
Archaeological evidence of human use of Kananaskis Country goes back over 8000 years, and the Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations all have deep connection to this land. The mountains you see now look the same as the ones seen by these long-term residents thousands of years ago. The jagged peaks and u-shaped valleys throughout Kananaskis Country are 12,000 year-old reminders of the last ice age, revealed as kilometre-thick, million-year old glaciers melted to mere remnants. The actual mountains were formed over the past 200 million years as tectonic plates forced layers of rock to pile, break, and fold into mountains once much taller than the post-glacier peaks we see today. The rock itself, mainly limestone, comes from layers of fossilized sea creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago in an inland sea that once covered southern Alberta.The evidence is seen in ancient coral reefs, oyster beds, and shark teeth throughout Kananaskis Country.
In 2008, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of a landscape that is the result of millions of years of change. Nearly two-thirds of the multi-use area envisioned by Peter Lougheed is now protected as a park, ecological reserve, or recreation area. The needs of industry, ranching, and tourism are still balanced with the mandate to preserve the animals, plants, and processes that keep the Kananaskis Country ecosystem healthy. However, management of Kananaskis Country today also includes dealing with the rapid growth of Calgary and Canmore, re-introducing forest fire in the Spray Valley, and running World Cup events at the Canmore Nordic Centre. When you visit the area, you can anticipate newly refurbished facilities, including the Peter Lougheed Park Visitor Centre and the Canmore Nordic Centre, vibrant education and interpretive programs, and a continued commitment to public safety and wildlife management. As the legacy of Kananaskis Country continues to grow, we hope you will join us in celebrating the past, present, and future of this very special place. Information provided by the Government of Alberta. For more information, visit Alberta Tourism