A Scenic Drive through History

The Peace River area is brimming with both beauty and history. Spend a day exploring by vehicle and take a scenic drive along Shaftesbury Trail. Be sure to stop at all the historic points of interest along the way—or at least get out and stretch your legs on some trails. Take the ferry and head east to the Village of Nampa for a hearty lunch at Farmers Restaurant. Round out the afternoon by walking through history at the Nampa Museum, the Peace River Museum, Archives & Mackenzie Centre, and the NAR Train Station. Sounds like a perfect way to learn about the explorers who came before you, you say? We couldn’t agree more.

Local Explorer’s Tip:Top up the gas tank in Peace River before you head out. Remember your camera, bug spray, and appetite for new experiences! Also, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife throughout the drive. It is common to see deer, moose, owls, rabbits, foxes, wolves, lynx, or even bears through car windows as you pass. Please use common sense when you spot one of these wild animals—emphasis on the wild. Even “gentle” creatures can be quite dangerous if approached.

 

Shaftesbury Trail

One of the most beautiful drives in the Mighty Peace Region, Shaftesbury Trail stretches parallel to the Peace River for about 26 km. The trail is fully paved and offers several stops for sightseeing and to learn the history of the Mighty Peace, particularly about the famed explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie.

How to get there:

From Grimshaw:Go south on Highway 2, then take secondary Highway 684 down into the valley along Brick’s Hill. (Please note that this tour is laid out from north to south. To experience it in this order, first travel to Peace River along Highway 2 and then follow the directions below.)

From Peace River:Following signs for Shaftesbury Trail, turn south onto Highway 684, which can be accessed on the west side of the Peace River bridge.

 

Fort McLeod

This was once the site of an early fur trade post run by Alexander McLeod in the early 1800s. Learn about fur trade history from the interpretive signs or visit the Peace River Museum, Archives & Mackenzie Centre for a more in-depth history.

 

Strong Creek Park

This is a great stop if you would like to explore the riverbanks. Stretch your legs on the hiking trails or let the kids wear off energy at the park while you enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in the day use area and enjoy the river going by. Note to self: Come back and camp for the weekend sometime.

 

St. Augustine Mission Church

The St. Augustine Mission Church is all that remains of the St. Augustine Mission, which was established in 1888 about 13 km southwest of the Town of Peace River (on what is now the grounds of the Peace River Correctional Centre). The church sits in a tranquil space in the valley and is designated a Provincial Historic Site. Call the Peace River Museum, Archives & Mackenzie Centre for information about taking a tour.

 

Mackenzie Cairn

In 1793, the famed North American explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie overwintered at Fort Fork before starting his transcontinental journey to the Pacific. The Mackenzie Cairn, built in 1929, honoursboth the Fort Fork trading post and the place where Mackenzie’s important journey began. This National Historic Site also provides a wonderful view of the Peace River, and an information kiosk offers detailed maps, drawings of the fort, and early photos. Historic tours are available during the summer months.

 

Brick’s Hill

Shortly after you leave the cairn site and turn south onto Highway 684, there is a small roadside turnout on the right with an interpretive sign for Brick’s Hill. Stay on Highway 684 and drive west up Brick’s Hill to take in the beauty of the valley. (Alternatively, you could turn right onto Township Road 823B at the base of the hill, park in the gravel loop, and walk up the gravel road to the first bend to enjoy the view. The gravel road is sometimes washed out, so walking is better than driving.) Named after pioneer families who owned river lots in the area, Brick’s Hill boasts an abundant landscape of agriculture and gardens. The surrounding hills are layered with history and evidence of the Cree and Beaver First Nations. Turn around at the top of Brick’s Hill and turn right when you reach the river to get to Bridge View Gardens, a great place to grab U-pick strawberries and market produce to take with you.

 

Shaftesbury/Christ Church Anglican Mission

When you pass the junction for Highway 684 and before you reach the entrance to Bridgeview Market Gardens, you will notice a small cemetery on the right. This is the site of the Christ Church Anglican Mission church and graveyard. The mission was established in 1886 by Reverend J.G. Brick, and his farming projects proved that there was agricultural potential for the Peace Region. In addition to the church, there was a school for native and Métis children, a flour mill, and a post office. The mission closed in 1914 and the church building was disassembled. The bell from the tower is now at the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre.

 

Shaftesbury Ferry

Just south of Bridge View Gardens is the Shaftesbury Ferry, which carries passenger vehicles across the Peace River during the summer months. It is one of six ferries that operates in the province. (If you happen to come by in winter, drive across the ice bridge.) There’s something fun about sitting in the car and watching the river flow by on either side. It’s a great reminder of the ferry systems the early settlers used at multiple points along the river before bridges were built. Plus, it’s free!

 

Valley Bee Café

Once you have crossed the Peace River, head 35 km south to Highway 49, then east to the hamlet of Watino. Stop in at the Valley Bee Café, located right in the Paradis Valley Apiary for a specialty coffee or tea, sweetened with some of their delicious honey, of course. You can even safely observe honey extraction through an observation window while you have your coffee break. Pick up some beeswax candles to take home to remember your visit.

 

The Largest Bee in the World

Keep heading east on Highway 49 to the little French-Canadian hamlet of Falher, home of the largest roadside bee in the world. The bee is a fitting tribute to one of the Mighty Peace Region’s most famous products—our delicious honey! Falher is home to the Honey Bunny apiary, and they and several other apiaries in the region ship honey all over the world. The local grain elevator is also the largest you’ll see on the tour. Make sure you stop at an apiary or a local grocery store to bring home a sweet souvenir of your stay.

 

St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Mission Church

From Falher, head east on Highway 49 for about a kilometer and turn south on Range Rd. 213 for two kilometers, and on your left you will see a two-storey log building with a cross on the cupola. This unique structure, which once served as both the local Catholic church and rectory combined in a single building, is evidence of the original 35 francophone families that came from eastern Canada and northeastern United States in 1912 to settle the area at the behest of Friar Jean-Baptiste Giroux and his assistant, Friar Constant Falher. The building itself, which was erected in 1914, is a beautiful and extraordinary example of two-and-a-half-storey log construction, and one of the few log churches still standing in Alberta.

 

Farmers Restaurant

Go back up to Highway 49 and head east to Highway 2, then north to the Village of Nampa where you can stop at Farmers Restaurant for lunch. Enjoy homemade fare and specialty coffee in a clean and bright atmosphere retrofitted with interesting pieces of local history. Menu highlights include all-day breakfast, one-of-a-kind burgers, old-fashioned milkshakes, and specialty poutines. They even have gluten-wise and vegetarian options. No wonder this is a destination dining experience for locals—one you don’t want to miss.

 

Nampa & District Museum

Right next door to Farmers is the Nampa & District Museum. Along with indoor exhibits exploring the multicultural history of Nampa, Northern Sunrise County, and the Mighty Peace Region, the museum also hosts several historic structures (including a church and the water tank for which Nampa was originally named) and other mementos of pioneer life. Actually standing in a tiny frontier cabin and seeing how our forefathers (and mothers) lived brings history alive like very little else can. While you’re there, check out the community gardens on site.

Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. all year long

 

Peace River Museum, Archives & Mackenzie Centre

Finish the day by driving north again, following the signs to the Peace River Museum, Archives & Mackenzie Centre. The museum collects and keeps the stories and objects that preserve Peace River’s history. As such, it has regularly rotating feature galleries and exhibits to celebrate unique aspects of the area’s past. Stop at the gift shop for exceptional hand-crafted items like magnets and jewelry by local artisans, history books by local authors, or art cards by local photographers. You’re sure to find the perfect souvenir to remember your visit.

Hours of Operation: Monday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. all year long, plus Sundays during the summer

 

NAR Station Peace River Visitor Information Centre

For the last stop of the day, head north on 101 Street. When you hit the traffic circle, take the second right toward the red wooden-sided building, which is the historic Northern Alberta Railroad (NAR) Station & Peace River Visitor Information Centre. Built in 1916 and restored in 1988, the Class C Station is the last of its kind in Northern Alberta and is now a Provincial Historic Resource Site. The inside is furnished in period style and, if you time it right, you can catch a unique exhibit celebrating local events and history.

Approx. 8–10 Hours