Cochrane is located 18 km’s west of Calgary and approximately 80 km’s east of Canmore. It was mainly a ranching area until the 1880’s when the town site was granted to the Canadian Pacific Railway. A small train station was built and soon after there were a few stores, hotels and homes. The population of the area rose and fell as the industry base of a quarry, sawmill and brick plants ended during the depression of 1913. A bit of a renewal occured after World War II, but it wouldn’t be until 1971 that the town became incorporated.
Today the town has been revitalized and has become a popular tourist destination known for it’s western heritage. It’s retains a friendly small town hospitality as it continues to increase in population. The last count was approximately 25,000 residents.
The Lesser Known Section Of Highway 1A, The Bow Valley Trail Between Cochrane And Canmore
Many visitors that come to Banff National Park know about the alternative route between Banff and Lake Louise called the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). It’s a scenic road that runs parallel to the Trans Canada Highway with a slower speed rate, several points of interest and offers opporutnities for seeing wildlife.
Lesser known is the other portion of Highway 1A called the Bow Valley Trail that acts as an alternate route between Canmore and Cochrane. From Canmore it can be accessed off of the Trans Canada Highway at exit 91. The same road extends west as a street into the town of Canmore with the same name “Bow Valley Trail,” and rejoins the Trans Canada Highwy at exit 86 just west of Canmore.
You can travel from Calgary to Cochrane along Highway 1A, this section is known as Crowchild Trail NW. It offers an alternative link between Calgary and Banff National Park instead of taking the faster, twinned Trans Canada Highway.
The photo below is Gap Lake along Highway 1A near the hamlet of Exshaw, 15 km’s east of Canmore. You can often see people ice fishing on it during the winter.
Just east of Gap Lake is the access to Grotto Canyon. It’s a popular area for hiking, especially when you can hike on the frozen creek bed.
Bighorn Sheep can be seen feeding on the grasses along the railroad tracks in the flat open areas along the 1A.
The Bow Valley Trail passes through the Stoney First Nations Reserve, here the road becomes narrow and you’ll see signs warning to watch for livestock that may be crossing the road. On the north side of the road closer to the Canmore end there is a unique mountain that appears like a scalloped shell protruding up from the ground. It’s Mount Yamuska, which means wall of stone.
The road follows the north shore of Ghost Lake a man-made glacier fed lake located on the Bow River. The Ghost Dam was built in 1929 and supplies most of the water power for Calgary. It’s a popular recreational area in the summer, the water is buzzing with jetboats, sailboats, kayayks, canoes, windsurfers and waterskiers. The lake attracts ice fisherman in the winter and sport fisherman during the rest of the year. On the north shore is the Ghost Resevoir Provincial Recreation Area with a campground, boat launch, washrooms, picnic area and fire pits.
The Bow Valley Trail winds it’s way through the valley offering a more leisurely and scenic drive in comparison to the Trans Canada Highway.
The views are nice in both directions, but when heading west you’ll have the Rocky Mountains ahead of you. It may not be the best route to take in the winter. You’ll want to check the road conditions. If there’s been lots of recent snowfall or poor weather conditions it’s best to use the main highway as the Bow Valley Trail will not be as well maintained.
Cochrane’s Historic Main Street
Main street is where you can some of the town’s old buildings that have been restored. Many of them have an interesting history, such as the Cochrane Hotel. It was built in 1904, but it was closed down during prohibition in 1916. The contents were seized for non-payment of taxes. A new owner turned it into a store, tea shop and bakery with rooms rented out on the top floor. After prohibition ended in 1925 it was reopened as hotel. Until the early 1950’s it was visited by hundreds of Calgarians because it allowed men and women to consume alcohol together, something not allowed in Calgary establishments. In 1989 it was restored and renamed the Rockyview Hotel. It’s the 3rd oldest working hotel in Alberta.
You can’t visit Cochrane without checking out the Mackays famous old-fashioned ice-cream store. It’s a been a family operation since 1948 and a Cochrane institution. It’s the oldest building on its original site downtown.
The Mackay couple took over the Cochrane General Store in 1946 and to expand their business in 1948 they started to make ice cream in the back of their shop and it’s popularity has never wained. Eventually the ice cream became their sole focus of the shop location. The children followed in their parents footsteps and eventually took over the business. Today the third generation (the granddaughter and her husband) carry on the tradition.
The ice cream is made right in Cochrane. It’s made in small batches and the majority of the ingredients are still mixed in by hand to create the highest quality product. There’s no skimping, it’s made with 100% Canadian high butter fat cream. There’s an amazing list of flavours including old classics and some creative new ones. The store itself is worth checking out, it’s full of all kinds of interesting antiques. Good luck trying to leave without treating yourself to a cone!
Along Main Street and throughout the town there are several charming cafes, restaurants and unique boutiqes and shops.