It was only recently that Diamond Valley became an entity, and now this relatively undiscovered gem in Alberta is ripe and ready for exploration. Carol Patterson walks us through how to get the absolute most out of a visit to Diamond Valley, Alberta.
This year the citizens of Black Diamond and Turner Valley, in the foothills of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, accomplished something their ancestors couldn’t and merged into a single town, named Diamond Valley, southwest of Calgary.
It’s a new name but still the birthplace of Skijordue (a zany mash-up of horseback skijoring, fondue & seventies fashion), Canada’s most famous ranches, including one formerly owned by King Edward VIII, and a distillery harvesting barley with heavy horses.
A Brief Intro to Diamond Valley
The town is on the traditional territories of the Treaty 7 Nations including the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, Siksika Nation, Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe), Piikani Nation, Tsuu T’ina Nation, and the Metis Nation of Region 3. In the late 1800s settlers came for coal and Black Diamond was incorporated as a village in 1929.
Four kilometres west, Alberta’s first major natural gas and oil field was discovered in 1914 at Turner Valley. It was incorporated as a town in 1930, and at its peak it produced 95% of Canada’s oil, and attracted royal attention as the British Empire’s most productive oilfield.
The two communities grew side by side, sharing water supplies and recreation amenities, although not always agreeing on their future. Recently, the town councils representing the 5,300 residents amalgamated to save money on services. Not everyone is onside with the new identity but all agree, this is a great place to recreate and it’s relatively undiscovered.
Your 3 Day Diamond Valley Itinerary
So how can a long weekend in Alberta’s “newest” town (a sixty-minute drive south of YYC) and the nearby foothills offer an alternative to busy national parks?
Day One: Historic Sites, Homesteads, and Hotels
Get orientated with a visit to one of Parks Canada least crowded sites – Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, a twenty-minute drive south of town. This is Parks Canada only site to celebrate ranching, and these foothills held some of Canada’s biggest ranches. At one time the world’s largest Percheron herd lived at the Bar U! Talk to one of the friendly interpreters, or ride through history with a cowboy driving a team of Percherons. Make time to visit the Stoney Nakoda display and learn from the First Nations of the area.
For a modern take on ranching, head to Hartell Homestead and see how this ranch is raising Highland cattle, a small and fiery breed that eats less forage than traditional cattle. There’s also a farm store with fresh fare on offer.
Head back to the Black Diamond Hotel for a dinner of Alberta beef and a chance to rub elbows with locals when the live entertainment starts. The steaks are yummy and upstairs there’s accommodation renovated in 2017.
Day Two: Ghosts, Galleries, and Glass Studios
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at The Westwood or go for a sugar high with one of their legendary homemade donuts. Afterwards wander through the shops. At Bertie’s General Store you can find vintage clothing, apothecary creations, and a ghost. Friendly according to co-owner Isis Velkova-Andrus, who says, “I think it’s Bertie (the store’s namesake). Once people came into the store and they could hear footsteps upstairs. But there was no one else in the building!”
Over at Bluerock Gallery, you can meet flesh-and-blood residents including owner Tarek Nemr. The rugged mountains, rippling grasslands, and wide-open skies inspire many artists in Diamond Valley, and over 200 area artists display their work at the gallery.
You can also check out Firebrand Glass Studio with the glass art of Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock. A short drive out of town, Forge & Farm sells the metal art of James Greisinger and offers blacksmithing experiences.
Make time to wander through Marv’s Diner, a shrine to all things retro. The bubble-gum-pink stools attract weekend roadsters, some on motorcycles, others on road bikes. In his eighties, Marv’s eyes still twinkle above his white handle-bar mustache as he works long days.
Down the road, you can learn more about local history from Eau Claire Distillery founder David Farran, whose roots here go back to a time when prohibition forced people underground with their liquor making. Now, you can openly imbibe award-winning whisky in buildings that once held a speakeasies, brothel, theatre and bowling alley.
You won’t find a vineyard in the foothills, but you can sample innovative wines made with wildflower nectar at Spirit Hills Flower Wines. The Bonjean family offer tastings and info on how they harness bee power.
If beer is your preferred drink, check out Fahr Brewery where Jochen Fahr put his Ph.D. to use inventing a automated brewing system and creating prize-winning beer. For people travelling with Fido, check out Hard Knox Brewery, a dog-friendly establishment with firepits and outdoor seating. Graduates of Oilfields High School, Cory and Pamela Lyken pay tribute to the hard work of people settling the area with the name Hard Knox.
Day Three: Cafes and K-Country
Start with breakfast at Chuckwagon Café. The restaurant décor is dated, the servings large, and the customers part of the entertainment. Staff have turned their daily interactions into Tik Tok gold. Tik Tok account @thechuckwagongirls has garnered millions of views about daily life in a restaurant with no manager.
Next, gain some elevation. Pick one of the trails in nearby Kananaskis Country (known as K-Country to the locals). You can hike, bike or horseback ride. You need a permit to park so make sure to buy it before you leave town as you’ll lose connectivity in the mountains. Rent bikes, fishing and camping gear at Rollick Co. and stop next door at The Market to get a charcuterie picnic to go.
If you’ve got time after your outdoor adventure, go to Turner Valley Gas Plant National & Provincial Historic Site. In summer there are interpretative tours and you can learn why Winston Churchill came here in 1929 and nearly bought an Alberta ranch.
Back in the day, flames atop flare stacks would have burnt off surplus gas; some capitalists called it the “smell of money” for the riches it brought to early investors.
Now, the wells are capped and the air smells of pine and canola. And perhaps, nowadays, wealth is better measured in the experiences gained in this newly emerging destination.
Carol Patterson is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and an award-winning journalist seeking out North America’s best wildlife viewing experiences. You’ll often find her and her camera following the seasons and the birds that come with them. She’s been a pilot, an accountant, a university professor, and an avian tourism consultant, but says her best gig is writing stories for curious travelers.