I’ve lived in Crowsnest Pass for 4.5 years now and I love it, but it’s not for everyone. I grew up in a small town, so many differences between the city and Crowsnest Pass didn’t shock me. It only made me feel like this is where I belonged. However, if you have never lived in a small town, you will find some behaviours to be unfamiliar and possibly strange. So, what is it like to live in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta?
Where is Everyone?
One of the first things that you will notice is that it seems like a ghost town. Where is everyone? It is like they are in hibernation. This is because most people are either out and about in the backcountry or they prefer house visits over going to the bar. There actually aren’t many things to do in town in the evening, however activities are starting to pick up. We have venues that provide live music, karaoke, or you can visit the small-town movie theatre. It is not like the city where you have handfuls of activities to pick from. This town is more about the outdoors. More about private visits and spending time with the people you love.
Even when you are in the outdoors, you rarely see anyone. Or you might see evidence of tracks or a vehicle parked at the trailhead, but you don’t actually see anyone on the trails. When you do see someone on the trails, you know them. The odd time you don’t know them, but you will be greeted as if you do. You don’t walk by someone without kindly singing a ‘good morning’ or ‘happy trails’ with a giant smile on your face. It’s just not the Crowsnest Pass way.
On the topic of trails, as a visitor or a newbie you might not know the trail system very well. It is quite difficult as many trails are not marked. As a local, you know that there are endless trails and when there isn’t a trail, you bush-whack. Crowsnest Passers love to explore and adventure. There are hundreds and hundreds of trails, but you either need to know someone that knows the trails or be okay with exploring. If you ask a local what is good, you will be sent to a more popular location like Allison-Chinook or Pass Powderkeg. This isn’t because we don’t want to tell you the good stuff (well, maybe we keep some things a secret), but because it’s difficult to describe where things are. It seems like everything has two or three names: Goat Mountain, no Bluff Mountain. Or Knowles Flat. McGillivray Staging Area. No, where the high school kids like to party. You know, where the ATV bridge is that people don’t use. No, the transition for 5/6 and 6/7 for Sinister 7. You know, by the power line.
The directions get interesting at times… If you go through Bush Town and follow the staging area signs, then go up the hill. When you come to a fork in the road, it doesn’t really matter which way you go. You know that yellow bridge? Yes, go past the yellow bridge and go up the switch back. At the next fork in the road, go… Or, hey, you know that bridge that bounces when you run over it? Yeah, that one. If you take that bridge then you can get to Deadman’s Pass that way too. Or, you know the meadow along Atlas Road where the moose hang out? Or, just after the cattle guard. Or, you know where the old Burmis Mill was, right? Or, the old baseball diamonds? Or, two-shitter flats? Or, if you go to kilometer marker 7 along the Atlas Road, there is a small pull-off on your left-hand side, park there. You can’t miss it…. Or, if you go to Harley’s Hole and turn right, that trail is a double track, but turns into a single track and you can get up the mountain that way too. Who is Harley? Oh, he’s just a guy that would get stuck in that mudhole all the time… Oh. This is how the directions go and if you don’t know the area, you are going to have a hard time figuring out what is what.
Getting to Know the Town and It's People
Even the directions in town get a little confusing. Is there a gym in town? Yup. Where? Well, see, you need to get a gym pass first. You get your gym pass from the car wash, which is also the laundry mat. You will get a code for the gym and this code changes often, so you must return to the car wash regularly. This makes sure you also pay your monthly dues. Then when you ask for the location of the gym, you get directions. Which is quite common for everything in town. Rarely will you get an address, and rarely do you want to hand out an address. If you want people to visit you, you describe where you live or let them know who your neighbours are or who used to live in your house prior to you living there.
If you need to figure out anything in town, it is quite simple. You just need to be a member of ‘The Crowsnest Network’ on Facebook. You will get all the intel on there. Why is my internet down? Whose dog is missing this week? The worst is when your dog gets out of the fence. The first thing you do is check ‘The Crowsnest Network’ and hope that no one has shamed you yet. Or, if your dog has been missing for some time, hope that someone has found him. The best is that the community looks out for one another. “My car alarm went off last night in Pineview and I saw someone trying to break in. Watch out folks!” This is the best! Crime rates are low because the people in Crowsnest Pass bind together like playing red rover as a child. We aren’t letting nonsense get through this small town. Neighbours look after each other. Neighbours wave at each other. Neighbours smile at each other. Neighbours tag you in posts on Facebook. Neighbours send you text messages when a bear is in your backyard. This is what Crowsnest Pass is like. But don’t you dare park in your neighbour’s parking space.
Your neighbours are not just people. Your neighbours are the town deer. There are so many of them. You either build a 6ft fence, which is what the bylaw allows, and hope this is high enough to keep the deer out. Or you don’t grow any plants because the deer will eat them all. They come right after you spend hours and hours making beautiful flower pot arrangements. They wait for night fall, and then pull those flowers out by the roots. They get them. They get them all. The deer become your family and you shoo them off your front lawn when you leave the house to go to work. You watch out for them when driving through town, because they will even zoom across the pedestrian walks and bounce over that guardrail by high school. I had a deer hang around my backyard, I shooed it away and shortly after it popped out a little bambi. You describe the deer with how many offspring it had in the spring. When I first moved here, I had a neighbour go to her front door and swing pancakes, like a frisbee, to feed the deer (FYI - this is not allowed! And is not something I recommend doing as it’s illegal).
The people in Crowsnest Pass range in age, in life-style and in values. But there are some things that we have in common. People are humble. You do not get social cred for wearing the newest brand or the most expensive gear. In fact, you will quite often see people using gear from 30 years ago. Why? Because it works. You get social cred, for how far you can huck your bike off a jump. Or understanding those directions to the trailhead. Or carrying someone’s groceries to the car for them. People in Crowsnest Pass like to live off the land. You will often find people picking berries in the summer. And if you are offended by hunting, you might as well not live here. Hunting is a part of the culture. Providing for yourself by heating your house with a wood-burning stove and eating elk stew from the elk you got in the fall. That is social cred.
For those times that you need to go to the grocery store… because you can’t get everything off the land. You will need to budget your time accordingly. You can’t just pop into the grocery store. You will see many people you know, which is also a good source of what is going on in the community. You must account for double the allotted time when buying your weekly groceries. Or going to the mechanics. Or getting the mail. Or getting your hair done. Or going to the bank. People are not in a rush. People want to get to know you. If you are new to town, expect that everyone will look at you when you walk into the grocery store and whisper. Don’t worry, they are just curious. Or when you walk into a restaurant, you will see everyone turn their heads. We are just wondering if we know you. It’s nothing against you.
Once You Have Lived Here
If you are new to Crowsnest Pass, the one thing that you will be surprised about is the heritage. At first you will think, ‘This is weird, there are a lot of old buildings here’. As time goes by, you will get sucked in. The history in Crowsnest Pass is a shining Olympic medal. You may not have considered yourself a history fan… until you move to Crowsnest Pass. Those buildings that originally made you think the town looked empty, will soon become buildings that you point out to visitors and you say, “How cool is that!? There used to be a tunnel that connected those buildings during prohibition. Maybe it is still there! I want to find out.” Or you will gawk over the old mining infrastructure that you find on the trails and it makes you want to just explore more and more. You will be fascinated by the fact that Blairmore used to be run by communists. You will take pride in the museum and the artifacts that exist in there. You will become curious as to why the coke plants existed in Coleman. This town makes you dig for information and makes me feel like a detective or an excited kid who is discovering things for the first time.
People in Crowsnest Pass are proud. We live in the town of Crowsnest Pass. Crowsnest Pass amalgamated in 1979. When someone asks us what town we are from after we already said we are from Crowsnest Pass, it annoys us (well, at least the newer Crowsnest Passers, some people who have lived here for generations might be okay with being asked). We are too polite to say that it annoys us, so we just play along and personally, I say Coleman. I get it that a non-Crowsnest Passer is just trying to make conversation, but it is a soft spot for many. I will make it clear, Crowsnest Pass is the town. Crowsnest Pass is made up of five communities (like subdivisions in the city): Hillcrest, Bellevue, Frank, Blairmore and Coleman. However, we are Crowsnest Pass. I get that it is confusing, even Canada Post has yet to figure this one out too. And Google Maps can’t seem to figure out the proper labelling of Blairmore, despite trying to correct it myself.
Is This the Place for You?
So, what is it like to live in Crowsnest Pass? It is awesome. It is a community. It is where people look out for people. It is where you wave at your neighbours and can potentially be in the grocery store for an hour even though you only needed to pick up two things. It is where you help the young kids put their ski boots on when you are at the local ski hill. It is where your friends will range from the age of 1 to 100. It is where you will feel safe, taken care of and humbled. It is where services cost less and groceries cost more. It is where you make life-time friends. It is where you walk into a bar and everyone knows your name, literally. They also know the name of your kids, your dog and your best friend.
In short, if you are like me, Crowsnest Pass feels like home.