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Fort Macleod Develops Cultural Heritage Strategy

Steeped in history, Fort Macleod has long been a place where tourists have stopped for a short visit to iconic attractions such as the Fort Museum, First Nations Interpretive Centre, Historic Main Street and Empress Theatre.

Now a group of community partners is working to develop the town into a cultural heritage tourism destination where travellers stay longer.

In mid-December, a consultant’s report will outline a framework for reaching this goal.

“We are proud of how much our town has to offer,” says David Coutts, project manager for the new initiative. “We see a real

Demand for Cultural Heritage Tourism

The initiative grew out of a feasibility study by the Fort Macleod Historical Association to determine how to make the Fort Museum, North West Mounted Police Musical Ride and Barracks site more sustainable.

After research into the growing demand for authentic tourism experiences, the association recommended exploring ways to organize all of the town’s cultural heritage assets into a dynamic tourism attraction.

Key stakeholder groups formed the Cultural Heritage Tourism Alliance Society and hired Expedition Management Consulting to develop a cultural heritage tourism strategy.

Partners in the society include the Fort Macleod Historical Association, Empress Theatre Society, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Fort Macleod and District Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Fort Macleod, Fort Macleod Economic Development, and the town’s Family and Community Support Services.

A Collaborative Approach

Fort Macleod, a provincial Designated Historic Area, has many exceptional attractions, says Coutts. But they are expensive to maintain and market. “Each attraction was promoting themselves individually and we weren’t working strategically toward a common goal of marketing Fort Macleod as a destination.”

In order to grow attendance and appeal to the next generation of visitors in a competitive environment, a collaborative approach with a long-term vision was needed.

“Within a three-kilometre radius, we have some of the finest stories of Canada’s great history,” says Coutts.

In addition to the Fort Museum of the North West Mounted Police and First Nations Interpretive Centre, which opened in 1957, the town boasts Historic Main Street, the Empress Theatre (built in 1912) and the Union Cemetery. A series of legacy interpretive signs tells the story of the town, and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is just down the road.

United Visions are More Effective

Cameron Spence is a manager with Travel Alberta’s Industry Development Team, which makes sure communities across the province have the information and resources they need to grow their business.

“Tourism is always more resilient and effective when we work together as one team,” he says.

Spence says Fort Macleod’s inclusive approach means partners will develop a collective competitive advantage without losing their own, respected identities.

The society’s guiding principles require it to respect the programs of the participating partners, include other organizations that bring visitors to town and reach out to other regions. “It’s an effective model,” says Spence.

Working with Travel Alberta

The society is working closely with Travel Alberta, says Coutts. Representatives are participating in:

  • Workshops on the Explorer Quotient™ and how to target the experiential tourist
  • The SHiFT experiential travel training program
  • Alberta Tourism Information Service (ATIS)
  • Webinar Wednesdays on online marketing
  • Travel Alberta’s asset development program

Eventually, they will look to Travel Alberta for guidance on reaching international markets.

Once the final consultant’s report is released, a community event is planned for spring 2016 to formally launch the society and broaden community engagement.

“This is not a quick fix exercise,” says Coutts. “We are building a tourism strategy that will take us into the next 20-30 years.”


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