Bragg Creek is a unique community nestled in the foothills of Alberta. It is part cowboy, part outdoor adventure dude and a lot about families. Some of my facts in this snapshot of what it’s like to live here may be a little fuzzy, but this is a reasonably accurate portrait of Bragg Creek in 2017. Some day-trip visitors may find this interesting. People who are thinking about buying a house or those who are moving to Bragg Creek may find it useful. If you live here, lucky you.
There are approximately 4,000 residents living here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about 45 km west of downtown Calgary. Some residents live in the hamlet, which is defined as an unincorporated community where several homes form a community. People live on acreages in West Bragg Creek, some in Wintergreen to the north and others to the south along Highway 762. Bragg Creek is bordered by the M.D. of Foothills on the south, by the Tsuu T’ina Nation on the east and north and by Kananaskis (K-Country) on the west.
Redwood Meadows is considered part of Greater Bragg Creek, although that community of about 800 people has its own administration and falls under the jurisdiction of the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Redwood homes are privately owned, but the land is leased to homeowners by the Tsuu T’ina First Nation. The volunteer Redwood Meadows Emergency Services provide an invaluable service to the area responding to fires, medical emergencies and other traumatic events. Rockyview County provides the official EMS services for our community, but they are located along Highway 8 about 15 minutes east of Redwood.
Bragg Creek is administered by the County of Rocky View, a large territory, mostly farmland, that can take over two hours to drive across. Our councilor is one of nine that manage the affairs of government. Homes along Hwy 762 are part of the Municipal District of Foothills. Provincially we’re part of the Banff, Canmore and Cochrane riding. Our federal riding is Foothills, a huge agricultural, staunchly Conservative territory stretching down to the U.S. border.
Bragg Creek was named by A.O. Wheeler in 1884. While mapping the area for the Topographical Survey Branch of the Department of the Interior he came across two teenage brothers, Albert and John Bragg, camping on what is now St. Francis Stables and he named the area after them. The first Youth Hostel in Canada was set up here by the Barclay sisters in 1933. The Bragg Creek flows off Moose Mountain (elevation, 2437 m, 7995 ft.) and runs through West Bragg Creek to join the Elbow River in the Hamlet, near the old Trading Post. Bragg Creek is as high as Banff at an elevation of 1300 m (4,250 ft.). It is located at Latitude 50°57” N, 114°34’ W in Township 23, Range 5, West of 5. The Post Office opened in 1910 and electricity was connected in 1957. Highway 22 through the reserve was paved in 1996.
The Hamlet has five shopping malls; the Bragg Creek Shopping Centre and the Old West Mall on Balsam Avenue, the Trading Post II (Shell) Mall on Burnside Drive and the Bragg Creek Village Market and Front Porch Square Mall on White Avenue. There are restaurants and other businesses located in separate buildings scattered around the hamlet. Over sixty businesses operate in the hamlet of Bragg Creek. Many people operate consultancies and other home-based business throughout the area. The malls primarily cater to visitors, but you can find just about everything you need for yourself, your pets, your home, your outdoor activities and your car. Shopping centres are a half hour away in Cochrane and Calgary – you have many options.
Bragg Creek has a couple of kindergartens and pre-schools, one of them at the Little Schoolhouse beside the community centre. Banded Peak school on Hwy 22 serves kindergarten to grade eight. Springbank Middle School serves grades 5 to 8 and Springbank High School serve grades 9 through 12; both are on Range Road 33 in Springbank. Redwood has a Montessori program. School buses transport children to and from school. Mom’s and Dad’s taxi play an important role in the life of children in Bragg Creek. Some parents send their children to schools in the city and others home school.
Water service in the hamlet was installed in 2013-14. There are two water treatment plants; one just before the dump on the Wintergreen Road, and one at the end of Burnside Drive. Acreages are responsible for their own water, using wells and septic tanks with feeder beds. There was a 15-year moratorium on new development in the hamlet, called The Hamlet Plan, which was removed with the installation of water services. It looks like Bragg Creek will never be the same again as new buildings, like the huge, futuristic gas station on Balsam Avenue go up and pressure to develop mounts. Change is inevitable. Bragg Creek used to be known for its arts and crafts when Hippies roamed the land. At one point it was cottage country. Eventually Calgary will expand to the Kananaskis border and Bragg Creek will be absorbed in urban sprawl.
Public services are provided by the county. They remove snow from public roads, but residents must clear snow from their driveways which are often quite long. The county operates a “Waste Transfer Station” on Elbow Rise, known locally as “the dump”. The dump takes household waste and recycles glass, plastic, metal, cardboard, newspaper and mixed paper, as well as old electronics, appliances and toxic materials. The dump is open on Saturday and Wednesday. Recycled waste is taken for free. You can buy a book of tickets for household waste; one ticket per garbage bag.
It is sometimes hard to think of Bragg Creek as a rural community as it is so close to Calgary and over 75 percent of homes are supported by people who work in the city. But any Creeker will tell you that we live in a little piece of paradise among the hills and forest with wildlife all around. Those hills and trees do get in the way of our wireless Internet and Cellular services as they block the signal. Our small, widely distributed population can’t support the cost of installing cables, except in the hamlet, so we rely on radio towers and satellite services for our rather tenuous communication connections. It amazes me that natural gas, phone and electric lines connect every home here except for a few people who live “off the grid” using alternative energy sources.
The Bragg Creek Community Centre opened in 2000. It is located on White Avenue. It has a gym floor for indoor sports. It can become an auditorium that accommodates up to 800 people for concerts and about 350 at dining at tables. The Centre hosts special events like the Christmas Craft Fair and serves community groups like the boy scouts, the community church, “The Artisans”, “Performing Arts” and many other cultural, social and sports activities. There is an outdoor skating rink at the Bragg Creek Centre. It also has tennis courts and a playground. Organized league sports include hockey (at the Springbank Park for All Seasons) and soccer in Redwood Meadows. There are two golf courses, one at Wintergreen and another at Redwood Meadows. The Bragg Creek Seniors Fellowship has their own meeting hall located on Balsam Avenue. Redwood Meadows has Redwood House which serves much the same purpose. You can rent facilities at Easter Seals Camp Horizon off season when they aren’t using it to provide activities for special needs children. The Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch, located near Wintergreen, offers recreational activities for under privileged children. Camp Kiwanis is located near the Highway 8 and 22 traffic circle.
There is a recreation trail linking the Bragg Creek Centre to Banded Peak School. Bragg Creek Provincial Park, which is located on Highway 758 just west of the hamlet, has two trails, great picnic areas and facilities along the Elbow River. Kananaskis offers loads of outdoor recreation opportunities in the Elbow Valley along Highway 66 and in the West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area. The Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association is building and maintaining trails around Bragg Creek and in the West Bragg Creek area of Kananaskis.
The Bragg Creek Community Association and the Chamber of Commerce host the annual Bragg Creek Days celebration with a truly wonderful parade and loads of fun and games about the third week in July. The Tsuu T’ina hold a Pow Wow with traditional dancing and drumming and a Rodeo at the end of July.
There was a flood in 2005 that forced the closure of the Balsam Avenue Bridge over the Elbow, the only exit from West Bragg Creek and Wintergreen. Although it was called the flood of the century at the time it was minor compared to the flood of 2013 that destroyed homes and businesses, several of them will not recover. Others face daunting costs to get going again. We learned the meaning of the term flood plain when White Avenue became a river and some buildings filled with water and mud. Floods are a recurring problem. The government offered to buyout over 30 residences to get them to move off the flood plain.
Gardening here is a challenge. There is a 90-100 day growing season with hard frost at the end of September that lasts through to the end of May. We get hail storms that wreak havoc on flowering plants, homes and cars. In the winter there are Chinooks; warm, strong (up to 100 km/h) westerly winds that provide a brief warm respite from the cold. In summer daylight lasts over 16 hours, but daylight in winter lasts only 8 hours. Extreme high temperatures can reach 33 degrees C, while lows can reach -45. Average rainfall is 385 mm with an average snowfall of 247 cm.
There is a lot of wildlife in the area. The animals that can come into conflict with humans are cougars, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves and coyotes. We live where they live and normally that shouldn’t be a problem. But conflicts can occur due to unsecured household waste and feeding animals outdoors, including domestic animals, birds, deer and squirrels, but berries, compost, domestic pets, a carcass in your yard and chance close encounters can also be a problem. Bears have entered homes and that’s not a good situation.
There are three types of troublesome animals; the wild ones you might find in a berry patch out on the trails, those that are habituated to humans around their homes and the food dependent animals that refuse to pass up a chance for a meal. The latter usually have to be removed or destroyed. But if they can’t get food, even if they can smell it, they won’t return to try again. That’s why bear bins work.
Alberta Environment and Parks wildlife biologists are conducting a study to determine the number of bears between Hwy 1 and Hwy 3 and from the B.C. border east to Hwy 22. They have 7 square kilometre grids throughout the entire area. Trees are marked with scent and wrapped with barbed wire. When the bear rubs against the barbs it leaves hair which can identify the bear’s individual DNA. Motion sensor cameras capture photos of the bears. There is one grid in the West Bragg Creek Day Use Area where 12 different bears have been recorded. Bears with GPS collars can be monitored to see where they are going. In the summer of 2014 one grizzly visited Wintergreen, Redwood Meadows, moved about the reserve and continued on to Millarville and Okotoks.
Bear bins are a good way to secure waste, but you can also take it into the city or lock it in a regular bin in your garage or home. It is a good idea to get garbage to the dump as quickly as possible. You can spray it with ammonia or use moth balls, but anything that smells attracts bears. Feeding livestock can be a problem if you give them more than they can eat at one time. This can create a food opportunity for bears. Feeding them in a barn is advised. Apparently bears don’t eat hay, but oats and other treats are another matter. Those attractants have to be secured as well.
In the spring bears are hungry and they travel a lot to get scarce supplies of food. In the summer they generally have an abundant supply of wild food. In the fall they are ravenous and will take advantage of any food opportunities provided to them in order to fill up for the winter. They aren’t active in winter. There are a lot of cougars and they are active all year. They prey on deer and other ungulates so if they are present you should also expect cougars in the vicinity. Wildlife move around. Their territories can overlap and if there is abundant food, they coexist. As one animal leaves a territory another often fills the void. Ravens often indicate where a carcass is located and that often means a carnivore is there too.
Air horns don’t always work to scare off a bear. They can become habituated to bear bangers. But if you are within 3 to 4 metres, bear spray works. The thing is bears are unpredictable. They are as unique as you or me. Some are dominant and don’t respond well to being challenged, while others are sub-dominant and will run away from a big, angry human. They will often defend a food source (carcass) or their cubs.
Community bins are used and appreciated in Canmore. There was a lot of opposition and controversy when they were first proposed, but most of the problems were solved or were misconceptions. Community bins are a good solution to the problem of bears looking for a meal around our homes and in the hamlet. Something should be done to secure garbage around the shopping malls. Individual bear proof bins are a viable solution for homeowners, but businesses in the commercial district should press for a community solution like they have in Canmore.
A good video on the topic is titled “Staying Safe in Bear Country”.
The excellent “Bear Hazard Assessment Report for Bragg Creek” was updated in 2016. The 60-page document can be found here: https://braggcreek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Bragg_Creek_Bear_Hazard-Assessment_Updated_2016.pdf
BearSmart Alberta: http://esrd.alberta.ca/recreation-publicuse/ alberta-bear-smart/
Bear Human Conflict Organization: http://bearconflict.org
WildSmart Canmore: http://wildsmart.ca, Twitter @wildsmart
Fish & Wildlife Office Cochrane 1-403-932-2388