Story and Photos by Bill Cunningham
Updated: January 29, 2023
It undoubtedly has been a tough year for all of us (Albertans, and worldwide!) as we have navigated the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic. But one thing is for certain: the closure of borders has given all of us a stronger impetus to explore closer to home. And if you’re frequent travellers like Bill Cunningham and Roberta Ann, then you’re really eager to seek out the roads less traveled and plot out whole new road trips to experience your own backyard in a whole new way.
Thus, the “Ferry Ring” to find some of Alberta’a ferries was created by Bill and Roberta. Starting in the early a.m. from their homes in Trochu this last July, the duo plotted a route to hit the Bleriot Ferry and Finnegan Ferry over the Red Deer River, along with the Crowfoot Ferry on the Bow River. All three of them are operated by the Alberta government and are free to use. The trip took them 10 ½ hours to drive the 409 km (not including side trips) and in their opinion, was well worth their time.
As we have never seen an Alberta ferry route mapped out before, we were excited to ask Bill a few questions about the journey so that others may follow in his tire tracks.
What made you want to take this particular road trip?
We had noted the three Alberta ferries on a road map, but I had only crossed on the Bleriot ferry, and Roberta had ridden none of them. We knew there was a lot to see along the way and just played it by ear.
What surprised you about this road trip when you took it?
The fact that Finnegan’s Ferry and the Crowfoot Ferry are underused, partly because of the gravel road access, was surprising. They could be made more attractive to tourists.
What were the biggest highlights of this trip?
We agreed that the highlight of the day was the people we met along the way. There was the friendly Alberta ferry operator at the Bleriot ferry (which was named for an early French settler); the crossing on the dead-calm river only takes a couple of minutes, but we could have spent an hour conversing with them. The Finnegan ferry (named after an early homesteader) is used much less than the Bleriot, so we rang the bell to summon the 80-year-old operator from the other side. He regaled us with more stories and pointed out a beaver lodge on the riverbank. On the way out of the valley, we spotted a beaver and some interesting birds at a pond beside the road.
We were also happy to meet the attendant who directed us up the giant dinosaur in Drumheller, the lady who served us ice cream in the hamlet of Wayne, and the Indigenous gentleman at the Old Sun Community College. The former Residential School is south of town, across the tracks on reserve land. We were welcomed by the lone man on campus who gave us a bit of history.
West of Bassano a big white sign directed us to our third ferry, the Crowfoot, a short gravel road drive down to the Bow River on the Siksika First Nation. The ferry is named for the famous Blackfoot chief who signed Treaty No. 7. It is back in service after damages incurred during the big flood year of 2013.
We will return to see some of the attractions we missed and will be happy to visit the ferry operators again.
Can you recommend any specific things to see/eat/do along the way?
Along our Alberta Ferries road trip, we explored the Dinosaur Trail and we picked a few stops to keep our tour moving. Horsethief Canyon has a great viewpoint and there are plenty of paths to take a short hike down some steep paths for some exercise. Continuing on past the busy Drumheller Golf Course and the Royal Tyrell Museum, we did a photo stop at the little church, which has a seating capacity of six. After a quick photo stop, we proceeded to the World’s Largest Dinosaur, the T-Rex in downtown Drumheller, and climbed to the viewing platform in its mouth. Further along the street that follows the river, we found a shaded picnic table for lunch in their beautiful riverside park.
The hoodoos have been a must-stop since I was a child and it was again today. Nearby we observed a large compound of tents and trucks and we learned that a crew was filming “Billy the Kid” in the Badlands setting. We bypassed the Atlas Coal Mine, a very interesting historical site, and stopped for a photo of the old wooden grain elevator at Dorothy before emerging from the valley to some wide-open drylands.
What’s your next big Alberta adventure?
After our Alberta ferry adventure, our next adventure is a search for waterfalls in David Thompson Country west of Rocky Mountain House.
Many thanks to Bill and Roberta for sharing their story and photos. Have a road trip that you want to share with us? Please get in touch!
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Dalene Heck is a co-founder of Road Trip Alberta. She was born in Edmonton, grew up in the Peace Country, and has ventured to almost every corner of Alberta and the world (she’s travelled to 60 countries)! She is a serial blogger, the CEO of HMI Marketing, co-creator of the Trip Chaser card game, a leukemia-slayer, and cat whisperer.