Situated among the rolling hills and plains of central Alberta, Red Deer serves as a major distribution hub due to its location between Edmonton and Calgary. Oil and agriculture are the region’s dominant industries. Red Deer’s first entrepreneurs were European fur trappers, who arrived in the late 1700s. Located near a shallow crossing point in the Red Deer River, the area was long used as a campsite for native nomads, including the Blackfoot, Cree and Stoney tribes. After a rail line opened in Calgary in 1883, trade along the north-south Calgary and Edmonton Trail exploded, leading to the establishment of a permanent settlement in Red Deer.
Visitors can get a glimpse of Red Deer’s pioneer days at Sunnybrook Farm Museum, 3 kilometres south of the city centre. One of Red Deer’s top attractions, the farm depicts life in the region from 1880 to 1950. Kids can take a wagon ride, feed chickens or watch demonstrations of frontier-style blacksmithing and bread baking. Farm animals on display include miniature horses, sheep, goats, cows and turkeys.
About 2.5 kilometres to the north, the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery provides a more comprehensive look at the area’s history, from pre-historic times to the present. As part of the city’s centennial celebration in 2013, the museum launched a $1.5 million permanent exhibit titled “Remarkable Red Deer: Stories from the Heart of the Parkland.” Using a mix of multi-media presentations, artefacts and even entire historic buildings, the display chronicles Red Deer’s triumphs and tragedies. The museum lies within Rotary Recreation Park, which also has picnic facilities, a wading pool, tennis courts and an ice skating rink.
For more outdoor fun, head 3 kilometres northeast to the Kerry Wood Nature Centre, another of Red Deer’s top attractions. On the centre’s trails, which wind through thick forests and around small lakes, hikers may spot muskrat, deer, migratory birds and an occasional moose. More adventurous outdoorsy types can also visit the adjoining Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary, which encompasses 118 hectares and a variety of habitats. A bird blind and several strategically located viewing areas offer excellent views of the park’s abundant bird life, ranging from bald eagles to snowy owls.
After a long day of hiking, a good meal is in order. Many of Red Deer’s best restaurants are in the downtown area, 3 kilometres southwest of the sanctuary. At It’s All Greek to Me, diners can feast on Greek ribs, lemon roasted potatoes and moussaka. The casual eatery presents belly dancers on Fridays and Saturdays. Two blocks to the north, Shiso Japanese Restaurant offers a huge menu, with everything from sushi rolls to seaweed salad. For travellers on the go, the restaurant has convenient lunch and dinner bento boxes.
For something a little more exotic, drive 7 kilometres north, all the way to Siberia, one of the best restaurants in Red Deer. The family-run bistro serves stellar pierogies, borscht and cabbage rolls. Even finicky little ones will happily devour the Russian-style jumbo meatballs.