Connecting to the land: Alberta's Castle Provincial Park
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Written and photographed by Chris Istace
Rolling prairie hills and grasslands abruptly give way to the montane forest and mountains of the Canadian Rockies as we drive westbound. The Castle wilderness almost appeared as a line across the land where it was decided the prairie would become towering mountains. It was here drove into, Castle Provincial Park.
Doing a little bit of reading on the Alberta Parks website prior to our trip, I learned a little more about the region. “Encompassing more than 105,000 hectares, Castle Provincial Park (and Castle Wildlands) contains stunning mountains, rolling hills, montane forests and meadows,” says the website.
Lake, mountain, forests. Castle Provincial Park is a protected area for everyone to enjoy and is managed in collaboration between the Piikani people and the province.
Leaving the town of Beaver Mines, we followed Aaron to our first stop, the well-equipped Syncline South day use area within the park. Alberta Parks has done an amazing job here.
A notable aspect of the creation of Castle Provincial Park was connecting with the Piikani people. “We are proud to be working with the Piikani Nation to manage the Castle Parks,” Aaron said. “Having the close involvement and support of our local Indigenous community helps us understand the land, its history, and how we can work together to protect it for future generations.”
Margaret Plain Eagle and Jordan No Chief have immense respect for this wilderness area having grown up here.
Aaron introduced us to Elder Margaret Plain Eagle and Jordan No Chief who had just arrived to join us for the remainder of our visit. Before we started our visit, Margaret said a prayer for us all to the Creator, to give thanks for nature and for our time here. She reminded us what an honour it is to give thanks and show respect for what we experience each day.
We walked a short distance into the montane forest and into a meadow with wildflowers blooming all around us. Margaret, 86, told us little about herself. She was born in a tipi on these lands, and she shared her experiences and feelings of the region with us.
“This is the traditional land of the Piikani First Nation and you have now turned it into a park. It is so beautiful, the mountains and trees,” Margaret said. “We protected this land in the old days and thanked the Creator for what Nature has given to our people.”
Margaret Plain Eagle and Jordan No Chief have a deep bond to the land here, telling us about the plants that they used to make dyes and medicines.
I could feel the deep connection to the words Margaret spoke. She picked up the small flowers blooming, showing how the yellow pollen falls off easily and told us her people used this to make dyes. I hadn’t even noticed the wild strawberries surrounding us until she pointed them out. It made me want to slow down and notice all these small details.
We headed farther south into the park and to picturesque Beaver Mines Lake. We picked a nice day use spot for Jordan No Chief to tell us about the importance of the Castle area to him.
As a flock of geese flew overhead he said: “We invite all people to come share the beauty this part of Alberta holds. This is one of the last remaining natural wild lands in the region. This is the traditional land upon which we hunted and fished, I am pleased to see it now protected as a provincial park.”
Listening to the words of the Piikani First Nation elders you can’t help but want to protect and love places like this. I learned from Margaret that the popular hiking route to massive Table Mountain standing behind us was where she went as a young girl with her mother and grandmother. It was there they would go for a vision quest and ask the Creator to show them their path.
We said our goodbyes with Margaret and Jordan so that we could continue to explore a few other parts of the park. Such a large park with endless opportunities, there are four campgrounds, a group camp, and plenty of rustic camping areas to choose from.
It's easy to find peace in Castle Provincial Park. Just get out on the lake or get on a hiking trail and enjoy the views and the silence.
Remembering the words of Jordan No Chief, it looks like I have no other choice but to return and dig in to the full Castle experience.
“We welcome all people, no matter what race, because we are all brothers and sisters here.”
If You Go
Castle Provincial Park is around two and a half hours south of Calgary.
Hit the road to explore Alberta's South along Highway 3 this month and be sure to share your discoveries on social media with the hashtag #BucketlistAB and #ExploreAlberta - you could be featured on our social media channels. Check out www.BucketlistAB.ca for itineraries, stories and lots more video on Southern Albertan experiences.
Check into Alberta Parks to start planning your trip and other activities in the area.
Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Castle Provincial Park.