Dating on a Budget: Roadtrip to Fort Macleod

This post contains spoilers from Fargo Seasons 1 & 2.
(2) Main Street

You don’t need to drop a ton of money to have a great date. Feeling strapped for cash can certainly leave you feeling like there aren’t any options for fun and adventure with your partner, but this recovering broke girl is here to tell you otherwise.

It was December. Christmas was fast approaching. I had just foolishly blown all of my savings on a trip to Europe. My boyfriend had just recently finished university. The funds were not flowing. The most exciting our dates had been lately were binge-watching every possible series on Netflix. As much as we wanted to travel or go out for nice dinners, we just couldn’t afford to go on fun dates. Those cost too much money! Or so I thought…

At the time, we were in the grips of a serious Fargo binge. We had crushed Season 1 in five days flat. Aside from the ingenious story lines, brilliant casting, and senseless violence, our favourite part of the show was the fact that the vast majority of it was filmed right here in Calgary. We would excitedly tell each other when we recognized a shooting location: “Holy shit, that’s Hotel Arts!” or, “That’s the apartment building behind Shopper’s Drug Mart on 17th Avenue!” I actually audibly gasped with excitement when I saw that my office building of three years, the historic Ribtor building in Victoria Park, was the setting for Billy Bob Thornton’s character’s mass shooting spree.

So when we began Season 2, which had a brand new cast and a different setting from the prior season, we were confused. The landscape looked like Calgary. We knew the actors had been staying in Calgary when the season originally shot. But, for the most part, this was not Calgary. Where the hell was this filmed? We needed to get to the bottom of this.

From Fargo, on FX

After scouring the internet, I discovered the second season was shot in a number places a stone’s throw from Calgary. Didsbury. Springbank. High River. And most importantly, the adorable main street of Luverne, Minnesota, where a majority of Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons’ scenes were filmed, was actually Fort Macleod. Because we are huge nerds, we decided that we needed to go check out the filming location for ourselves.

The following Saturday, we hopped in the car and made the one hour and forty-five minute drive to Fort Macleod. Even though we were just taking a little day trip, it felt like a full-on road trip. We picked up car snacks, created a bomb-ass playlist, and hit the road. As we admired the rolling prairie scenery as we drove down south, we realized we had no plan and had no idea what to expect once we got to Fort Macleod.

We arrived in Fort Macleod around noon, found a parking spot, and began our walk down Main Street (which is technically 24th Street). The first thing I noticed about Fort Macleod, is the residents are all unbelievably friendly. As we walked down the road, every single person we passed smiled at us, and greeted us with an enthusiastic “hello!” You just don’t get that in Calgary (or any big city, for that matter).

The buildings in Fort Macleod are absolutely stunning. While we were there, we learned that Fort Macleod’s Main Street is one of only two designated “Provincial Historic Areas” in Alberta. This means the town has a government grant which enables them to restore the gorgeous 1910-1920’s era brick and stone buildings. Indeed, walking through the Main Street made us feel like we had time travelled right back to the roaring ‘20s. The architecture had been so masterfully preserved. My favourite building on the main drag was the Empress Theatre. The red brick building, complete with its name in lit up signage, was built in 1912. It is preserved to its original condition, and to this day is still an operating theatre and concert hall.

Main Street, Fort Macleod. Photo by the author

On our walk along Main Street, we were able to accomplish our intended mission and locate
some landmarks from Fargo. We found the buildings used for Dazzle (Kirsten Dunst’s character’s salon) and, of course, Bud’s Meats. The latter, which is the setting for much of the carnage in Season 2, now operates as a clothing boutique. We stood on the bustling Main Street, shamelessly snapping photos on our iPhones. Locals passed by us and smiling: They must have known we were there to see Fargo’s “Luverne, Minnesota” for ourselves.

Other sites of interest we discovered in Fort Macleod were the C.W. Stevens building and The Fort. The C.W. Stevens building is a structure from the late 1800’s, with a false front concealing the rest of a more modest structure behind it. Juxtaposed against the rolling yellow fields and cloudless sky behind it, the white building gave us a glimpse of what Fort Macleod would have looked like at the turn of the twentieth century. Beside the C.W. Stevens building is The Fort Museum of the Northwest Mounted Police and First Nations Interpretive Centre. The Fort was originally founded in 1874 to protect the West and put a stop to the illegal American whiskey trade. The Fort is open for only part of the year, from May to Thanksgiving. As we made our trip in December, we were not able to go inside but were still impressed by the size of the sprawling wooden fort.

C.W. Stevens building, Fort Macleod. Photo by the author.

A twenty minute drive west of Fort Macleod will bring you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. This is one of the best preserved buffalo jumps in the world, and a must-see if you are in the Fort Macleod area. An interpretive centre is built into the 10 metre high cliffside, which acted as First Nations people’s means to sustenance for nearly 6000 years. Before the time of horses and guns, First Nations people living in this area would use the cliff to orchestrate the chase that would lead buffalo to plummet to their deaths. The First Nations people who lived in this area depended on these jumps each year to feed their families. Complete with countless artifacts and multimedia created specifically for the site, the interpretive centre does an excellent job in educating visitors about the buffalo jump, and how the First Nations people’s lives would have looked during the time the site was used.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump.

When we visited Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump in December, we benefited from a low tourist season and had much of the interpretive centre to ourselves. Though we enjoyed the ability to explore the centre without large crowds of people, the cold prairie winds deterred us from taking some of the outdoor trails and standing on top of the cliff top for too long. We agreed that we would return in the summer to fully enjoy the outdoor aspects of the site.

Even if you aren’t a Fargo fan, the Fort Macleod area is worth checking out for all Albertans. As we discovered, the preservation of its architecture, as well as the area’s rich First Nations and Royal Mounted Police history, makes Fort Macleod a time capsule of our province’s past.

Our round trip was about eight hours total. We spent minimal money (our only expenses were gas, food, and a small admission fee to Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump), we were able to explore some places that were new to us, and we learned a lot about our province in the process. Our spontaneous trip proved that you don’t need to have a big budget to have a fun date. In Calgary, we are lucky to have countless destinations available to us just a short drive away. Whether you’re inspired by a TV show, a quest to learn, or just to see some beautiful buildings, Fort Macleod is worth the visit.



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