Calgary Daytrips: Nanton

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Take your hometown and draw a 175 kilometre circle around it. That’s the perfect distance for a day trip. 90 minutes-ish there, some lingering and then 90 minutes-ish home. You leave late morning, you’re back late afternoon.

For us in Calgary that’s places like Banff, Drumheller or today’s destination Nanton.

Nanton? Why the heck would you want to go to Nanton? Simple. Trains, Planes and you get there quickly by automobile.

The original plan was to head all the way to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, but it was a little outside the radius. After canvassing twitter for suggestions, Sparkkicat pointed me at Nanton, home to a store proclaiming it was home to the Largest Garden Train in Canada, a groovy old school candy store, and a museum boasting an Avro Lancaster.

Looking at the map, I saw we could make a quick bee line to Nanton in the morning and then wander the Cowboy Trail route home in the afternoon for a change of scenery.


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Nanton on a Sunday morning. Wow. Not much happens. We arrived at 10:30. Most places didnt open til noon, some at 11.

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Z and I wandered the deserted Main St while Jen fed Sir Charles. We checked out the grain elevator. We sat on the bench outside the closed Candy Shop. We sat on the curb and picked out rocks and stuffed them in our pocket waiting for the train store to open.

The train shop has quite a boastful sign. It’s as crazy as the store’s website.

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Inside, it’s stacked to the rafters with trains in boxes. For $3 you can play with some Thomas the Train gear that’s fastened down in a tent out back. For $2 you can ride Canada’s Biggest Garden Railway.

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When we arrived at 11, we were told the train wouldn’t be running until noon. No worries, we’d check out the Bomber Command Museum of Canada and come back. After all, we’d been at the impressive train in Burnaby’s Confederation Park and were eager to try one of Canada’s largest.

Aside: I don’t get war. I’m not a war nut, I don’t pretend to understand the history, and I’m not a fan of the military in general.

That said, I made a point of calling my grandfather when I was on a boat in Halifax Harbour to get him to tell me the story about V-E Day in 1945. I could sit on the boat and see the streets he hollered down with his buddies when the war was over.

That said, Jen and I made a point of visiting Juno Beach when we took a tour of Normandy. We sat on the beach and stared at the ocean that was soaked in blood generations ago.

So I don’t get war, but Zacharie loves machines, so a visit to the Bomber Command Museum of Canada would at least provide some big rides for Z to run around.

The Bomber Command Museum of Canada is fantastic. There are dozens of planes inside. Walls of nose art. Fire engines. Gears. Dials. Uniforms. You can climb inside them and on them. You can read the stories of the men and women who flew the missions that fed hungry people in the Netherlands and sank German warships in Norway.

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From the little old lady pushing newsletter subscriptions at the front, to the star of the show The Avro Lancaster, the Bomber Command Museum of Canada is more than worthy of entry by donation. Zacharie loved it, and I, once again, got a little perspective on what life was like some 65 years ago.

Then back to the train.

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If it’s Canada’s Biggest Garden Railway it’s because it’s Canada’s ONLY Garden Railway. The Nanton Steamin’ Demon does a tiny100 metre loop into the owner’s backyard, around her garage and back to the front. She tops in the “garden” and offers to take pictures.

That’s it. That’s all. It’s a ride that lasts about 75 seconds.

It’s a big lure that many families bite on, but you could just stop at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, pay tribute to the greatest generation and your kids will never know the difference.

The only problem is you’ll most definitely want to stop at Zephyr Drive Inn next to the train store for a thick strawberry shake, spicy fries and classic burger.

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