Cochrane Historic Walking Tour
What can I say? I’m a self-confessed local history buff who loves exploring the small towns and hidden gems around Alberta. There’s always a tale waiting to be told. My mission today: Historic Downtown Cochrane.
The locals call it Main Street but it’s officially 1st Street West and it encompasses the primary downtown blocks from 5th Avenue to Centre Avenue. I had a sense there were some ghosts here so I decided it was time to dig a little deeper.
Now I’ve been to many a VIC – that’s traveler jargon for visitor information centre – in my time but I wasn’t prepared for the force of nature who greeted me when I stepped inside. Suzanne is a long-time resident and Cochrane’s full-time tourism ambassador. She has over 20 years in the biz and has logged many miles on her own travels. Can we say subject matter expert?
When I explained the burning need to satisfy my inner history geek, she happily drew me into her domain, located on the south side of 1st Street just east of 5th Avenue, an airy and well-organized space filled with neatly racked guides and maps. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she pulled out a folded brochure for a self-directed walking tour, my soon-to-be history lesson on foot. Exactly what I was hoping for.
Here are a few of my favourite stops.
The Chapman legacy
Between 4th and 3rd avenues is the fine seafood restaurant, Schooner’s on First (I know, because I had stopped in earlier for some truly delicious house-made crab cakes). This place was first home to twin brothers, Andrew and Robert Chapman from Scotland, who appear to have been the movers and shakers of this fledgling town at the turn of the 20th century – or at least the builders, with many homes and businesses built by Chapman Brothers Construction for the next couple of decades.
A block east is the Howard Block, built by the Chapmans in 1908. It originally housed Joe Howard’s General Store. In 1912, the upper floor was converted to a social hall which hosted many a dance in its day. Today it hosts wonderful shops with names like Poor David’s and Heavenly Outhouse. Stop in and ask how they got their names!
The Rockyview Hotel.
This one is hard to miss. Two stories, painted black with red trim, The Rockyview Hotel is one of the town’s oldest buildings and has seen two world wars, the Great Depression and prohibition. There’s a restaurant, a saloon around the corner and you can still rent rooms upstairs, all done up in traditional western style. But a word of caution. There be ghosts here. For real. I’m told you’ll want to avoid booking room number four.
The Legacy Statue
Right across the street in the town’s Centennial Plaza is a cast bronze tableau, an homage to the local women who contributed to Cochrane’s early success. You’ll easily see why the locals call it the chicken lady.
A taste of tradition
Back across the street I go, drawn like a magnet to MacKay’s Ice Cream. Built in the 19th century, it started out as a general store. Now it’s a family run business, spanning three generations, that’s been making lip-smacking good ice cream since 1948. Definitely worth waiting in the really-long-line-up-half-way-down-the-block. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve had a double scoop of raspberry cheesecake and caramel apple pie.
There are many more interesting stops laid out on the brochure’s map. If you have a penchant for things past, Historic Downtown Cochrane doesn’t disappoint – nor does Suzanne. Time to report back to see what else she recommends.
Guest Journalist – Jane Usher