One Day Driving Tour
Start at the Grande Cache Tourism and Interpretive Centre: There is an excellent historical display in the Centre, featuring pre-contact Aboriginal exhibits, fur trade information, local industry, natural history…
You can ask for the counter staff to view one of their videos in the video library.
You might even want to stretch your legs on the Birds Eye View Interpretive Trail, which starts at the Centre.
You can purchase a copy of “A History of Grande Cache” that can be very useful for getting detailed information on many of your stops.
Stop #1: The Mine Prep Plant and ATCO Electric Plant
Drive 19.5 km north on Highway 40 and stop at the pullout.
McIntyre Porcupine Mines started the mine in 1969. People had known about the high quality metallurgical coal for years, but it was not until 1969 that a road and a railroad were constructed, so that the coal could be exploited. If you look to the left, you can see a tunnel through the mountain that was used to get the coal to the Prep Plant where it was cleaned and readied for shipment to Vancouver via rail. See page 49 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache,” for more detailed information. The mine is currently owned by Grande Cache Coal Corporation.
Alberta Power (now Milner Power) built their plant between 1969 and 1973 to take advantage of the low cost coal supplied by the mine. See page 59 of the book.
Stop #2: The Sulphur Gates
Drive 12.8 km from the mine back towards town. The railroad that you see on the left is the Alberta Resources Railway, which was built to take resources like wheat and coal from northwestern Alberta to the port of Vancouver. See page 68 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache”, for more information.
You will see a sign for the Gates with a road going off to the right. It is 7.5 km to the Gates. Park in the second staging area and follow the trail to the left along the cliff to get a good view of the Gates.
The Sulphur Gates are part of a geological formation known as the Cadomin Formation. This formation is important to geologists because it indicates the presence of coal.
Across the Smoky River, you will notice a river flowing into the Smoky. The Sulphur River got its name from the sulphur springs, located upstream. It is these springs that give the Sulphur its distinctive colour. The Aboriginal people gave the Smoky River its name because lightning would sometimes start the exposed coal seams on the banks on fire, so they would smoke.
The staging area is for Willmore Wilderness Park. You can hike or ride horses in the park, but cannot ride motorized vehicles. If you are interested in a trip in the park, you can check at the Tourism Centre for brochures on hiking, as well as for information on the local outfitters who guide horseback trips into the park. See page 47 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache” for more detailed information on the park.
Stop #3: Grande Cache
Drive the 13 km back into town. Grande Cache got its name from an Iroquois fur trader named Ignace Giasson who cached a large supply of fur in the area during one of the winters between 1818 and 1821. See page 1 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache”, for more information.
This may be a good time for a coffee break at one of the local restaurants and/or a chance to pick up a bag lunch or food for a cookout at Pierre Grey Lakes later in the day. Be sure to go to the front entrance of the mall parking lot to have your picture taken with Rocky the Ram - the official mascot of Grande Cache. There is a Rocky the Ram statue in the green area in front of the mall, off of Hoppe Avenue.
If you chose not to tour the Tourism Centre in the morning, then this may be a good time to do that. It might also be a good time to hike the Birds Eye View Interpretive Trail at the Centre.
Stop #4: Victor Lake
Drive 1 km south on Highway 40 until you see the right turn to Victor Lake, which is at the bottom of the big hill. Drive 0.6 km to the old airstrip, turn left and park near the white pumphouse. The lake is the Town’s water supply.
You will notice the old airstrip, that was used by Forestry for years to fight fires in the region before there was a road. It was also used by McIntyre Mines when they were exploring for the mine site in the late 1960s and by the Town until our new airport was constructed. For more information on the community of Victor Lake, see page 34 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache.”
Get out and walk around. The lake is very scenic and you may spot some wildlife.
The settlement you see across the lake is a local Aboriginal Co-op, and as such, is private property. There are two historically significant sites. Off to the direction of town is the site of an old fur trade post established by Ewan Moberly when he was evicted from Jasper National Park in 1910 (see page 22 of the book). The original building is long since gone. Ewan ran the store until he died in the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which killed millions of people worldwide (see page 38 for more details).
The other interesting site is the old Roman Catholic log church that was built to serve the local Aboriginal community sometime before 1935. The old church has long since disintegrated. A house stands in the spot where it was located (see page 88 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache”).
Stop #5: Grande Cache Lake
Head back to the highway and turn right. Drive for 3 km and turn right at the sign for Grande Cache Lake. Pull into the picnic site. This is the site of the ancient Aboriginal camp. In the 1960s, there was extensive archaeological work done on the site. The Aboriginal people have inhabited the local area for about 10,000 years. Many artifacts were found on the site. See pages 7 to 9 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache”, for more information.
Incidentally, both Victor and Grande Cache Lakes are excellent for fishing, as both are stocked with Rainbow and Brook Trout. There are even some natural Bull Trout, but they are protected and must be released. Check with one of the local stores that sell fishing tackle for details on how to catch these tasty critters.
Stop #6: Susa Creek
Drive south for 5.6 km. Slow down when you see the overpass and look to the right. You will see the Susa Creek graveyard. It is typical of the local Aboriginal graveyards in that there are spirit houses in it. For more information on these unique burial houses, see page 15 in the book, “A History of Grande Cache.”
You will also notice two churches. Both are named Our Lady of the Rockies. The old log church was built in 1964. It is now used for storage. The newer, white church was built to serve the Muskeg Co-op n 1958 and moved to Susa Creek in 1975. For more information on the churches, see page 87 of the book. For more information on Susa Creek, see page 32. Please remember that this Co-op is private property.
Stop #7: Muskeg River Graveyard
Drive 11.4 km to this site, located on a hill on the right side of the road, just past the bridge that crosses the Muskeg River. There is a spot to pull off the road. This tiny graveyard is there because this was a popular stopping spot for the local Aboriginal people going between the communities of Susa Creek and Muskeg.
Stop #8: The Muskeg Store
Drive south for 9.7 km until you see the bridge crossing, Teepee Creek. Just before the bridge, pull into the pullout on the left beside the caribou information sign. This is the site of the old Muskeg trading post.
We are not sure when the post was first constructed, but we know that Emma Nickerson of Hinton ran it in 1929. It went through a number of owners before being closed down in the late 1970s. Eventually the buildings were torn down. See page 38 of the book, “A History of Grande Cache.”
Just up the road is the Muskeg Co-op, which of course, is private land. Muskeg is an Aboriginal community where a Forestry cabin was built in the early 1900s. In 1920, a telephone line was completed to connect Muskeg with the ranger station at Entrance, near Hinton. In 1947, a road was completed to Muskeg to facilitate oil exploration. Shortly thereafter, some of the Aboriginal people moved to Susa Creek. For more information on Muskeg, see page 31 of the book. The Muskeg Forestry cabin is currently on display at the Tourism and Interpretive Centre in Grande Cache.
Stop #9: The Pierre Grey Post
Drive 2.7 km to Pierre Greys Lakes. Turn left at the first entrance. Drive on the gravel road for 3 km until you reach the sign for the Joachim campsite. This site contains a sign done by a local artist named Esson Gale. It will provide you with some good background information on the site and a visual representation of what the site may have looked like.
Return to the main gravel road, make a right and follow along for 0.7 km until you see a sign for the Moberly campsite. Continue driving until you see the lake. Pull up to the boat launch and look to your left (the north) where you will see an unmarked walking trail that parallels the lake. Follow the trail for about 800 metres and you will come to an antler with a sign pointing to the right for the remnants of the post. After a very short walk (100 metres), you will arrive at the ruins. You will see the remains of three buildings and a couple of graves behind one of the buildings.
Pierre Grey, whose real name was Pierre Gris, was a Metis from Isle Lake. He ran a fur trade post at this site in the 1800s. He did very well here, as he was married to a Delorme from the area, so the people trusted him and traded with him. For more information on Pierre Grey, see page 39 of the book.
You can spend the rest of your day at Pierre Grey enjoying a picnic, hiking the many trails, fishing for rainbows and brookies (yes, they can be caught from the shore), watching the wildlife, or just relaxing.