The David Thompson Highway Corridor (Highway 11) runs from Rocky Mountain House to the Banff – Jasper Highway. Of the four highway corridors in Alberta which access the Rocky Mountains, the David Thompson Corridor is the least developed. Although the 8,000 sq. km corridor is rich in natural resources, breathtaking scenery, and history, relatively few tourist services are currently available and as such it basically caters to a provincial outdoor recreation and camping market.
Clearwater County, along with various Alberta government agencies, has been actively involved in attempting to bring more development to the David Thompson Corridor. Visitor statistics show a growing number of tourists from this province, as well as visitors from the rest of Canada and many foreign countries are traveling through the area en route to the National Parks. Most of these visitors are not able to stay in the area due to a lack of accommodations and services. The County realizes that appropriate sustainable development is critical to the long term economic wellbeing of the municipality, its residents, and Albertans as a whole. It is recognized that tourism and recreation are economic generators that will remain long after the revenues from oil, gas, and forestry have faded away.
Realizing that the Highway 11 corridor was becoming increasingly popular for tourism and recreation, the Alberta provincial government completed the David Thompson Corridor Integrated Resource Plan in 1992. This IRP gave guidance for the resource management and development opportunities along the highway. The Plan identified five Development Nodes along the corridor, each with a potential for a range of tourism / recreational pursuits, along with associated services and activities.
These Nodes are:
- Bighorn Canyon
- Historic Town Site of the Hamlet of Nordegg
- Saunders/Alexo (pre-planning taking place in 2022/23)
- Shunda/Goldeye (pre-planning taking place in 2022/23)
- White Goat Lakes (pre-planning taking place in 2022/23)
The Bighorn Canyon Development Node is located about 18 km west of Nordegg. Located northwest of Highway 11 and the Bighorn Reserve, it encompasses a narrow strip of land immediately adjacent to the Bighorn River Canyon. The main attraction to this area is Crescent Falls with various lookout points along the access road providing opportunities to view the Bighorn River Canyon. The Node encompasses about 1,800 acres, with roughly one sixth of that being suitable for development. It currently serves as a staging area for the Bighorn Wildlands area and is popular for camping, fishing, hiking, sight seeing and winter activities.
There is currently no development within this area, but there would be opportunity for accommodations such as cabins or a lodge to compliment the existing year round backcountry activities. Highway commercial developments would generally be directed to Nordegg as it is seen as the primary service centre for this area.
Historic Town Site of the Hamlet of Nordegg
Nordegg is an unincorporated settlement located about 90 km west of the Town of Rocky Mountain House along the David Thompson Highway. Its history dates back to the early 1900’s when Martin Nordegg, the founder of the community, discovered coal and commenced the Brazeau Collieries mining operation in 1912. With the completion of the Canadian Northern Railway branch line to Nordegg in 1914, the town site became fully operational. Houses were constructed providing all the modern amenities of the time period (electricity, running water, steam heat) to the miners and mine managers alike. Nordegg designed a unique, semi circular, townsite street pattern incorporating ideas borrowed from Mount Royal in Montreal. Those streets are still visible today and planning for a renewed town site in Nordegg has included the re-creation of a similar pattern.
The community prospered with the use of coal for steam locomotives and as a building heating fuel, such that the peak population reached over 2,500 and over 200 single, family dwellings. The business district had a large general store, bakery and butcher shops, boarding houses, hotel, bank, several bars and a miners club. Two churches were built as well as fully modern hockey and curling arenas. However in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, with the advent of the railroads’ use of diesel fuel and the availability of natural gas for heating fuel, Nordegg began to wane. The Briquetting Plant and mine were shut down in January of 1955 and the town soon became virtually abandoned.
In 1963, a Provincial Corrections Camp was developed in the old town site but was phased out in 1995. Existing commercial operations include a motel, restaurant, gas station, trail riding, liquor store, gift shop and small cafe. A post office as well as a limestone quarry operates year round, while the museum and the golf course are open during the summer months. The Nordegg Historical Society, with financial assistance from the Alberta Historic Resources Foundation and Clearwater County, is actively involved in the stabilization and restoration of the Brazeau Collieries mine site and provides tours to the visiting public during the summer.
Nordegg is viewed as having significant potential for recreation, tourism, and residential development. With the various scenic resources of the surrounding mountain region and the continued interest for residential lots and acreages in the town site, Clearwater County and the Province of Alberta negotiated an agreement whereby the Nordegg townsite was transferred to the municipality. An engineering study was done to determine the suitability of existing infrastructure and treatment plants and to determine what upgrading would be necessary to meet the needs of a growing community. The Nordegg Community Outline Plan was written to serve as the principle planning guide to the revitalization of Nordegg as a thriving, sustainable community. This plan recognized three elements that are fundamental in the creation of a successful and unique community, those being people, history, and the environment.
Residential and Commercial acreage lots have been created on the north side of Highway 11 and are currently being sold. In 1998, twelve existing duplex units were given an exterior facelift, subdivided and sold. Also in 1998, a new water supply system was installed, drawing water from two wells to replace the existing creek fed reservoir.
In 1999, work began on the Nordegg Development Plan; a document designed to give guidance to the future development of all areas within the townsite of Nordegg. The Nordegg Development Plan (click here) Design Guidelines was written as an accompanying document, to give direction on architectural design for the various areas.
Saunders/Alexo (pre-planning taking place in 2022/23)
The Saunders/Alexo Development Node is situated approximately 50 km west of Rocky Mountain House and covers approximately 3,000 acres sandwiched between Highway 11 and the North Saskatchewan River. The area has historical significance related to coal mining as it was the location for the three small towns of Saunders, West Saunders, and Alexo. Cemeteries, mining artifacts and some infrastructure including the former railroad right of way can be found in the area.
The node provides access to the river for canoeing, fishing and rafting and the potential exists for a range of accommodation types for river users, trail riders, back packers and all terrain vehicle users. This could include lodges, four season resorts, motels, cabins, hostels, full service campgrounds, or other types of commercial accommodations. A large portion of the node borders along Highway 11, which could provide highway commercial development opportunities.
Shunda Goldeye (pre-planning taking place in 2022/23)
The Shunda/Goldeye Node is located immediately adjacent to Nordegg, with the majority of the lands to the west of the townsite and a small strip to the east. A number of small lakes and wetlands are found in the area with two of the lakes, Goldeye and Shunda (Fish) Lakes providing water based recreational opportunities. There are currently four privately owned facilities in the node, those being Frontier Lodge, Goldeye Centre, Ahlstrom Helicopters and the Centre for Outdoor Education. The total area within this node encompasses approximately 3,100 acres of which roughly one fifth is developable. There are excellent views of the eastern slopes of the Rockies from many locations within this node.
Various development opportunities exist within the Shunda/Goldeye area such as a four season resort, motels, hostel, or cabins, while fully serviced campgrounds and a regulation golf course would be other possibilities for the area. Due to the close proximity to Nordegg, all highway commercial development would be directed there.
White Goat Lakes (pre-planning taking place in 2022/23)
The White Goat Lakes Development Node is situated approximately 50 km west of Nordegg along the west shore of Lake Abraham, immediately north of the Cline River. Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway are about 45 km to the west. This extremely scenic area has views over Lake Abraham to the mountain ranges to the north and southeast and sits at the foot of Mt. Stelfox, which rises dramatically to the west. Highway 11 bisects the node into two parts, the area to the west of the highway being quite flat, low lying and wet, while the area to the east rises moderately before descending down to Lake Abraham.
This development area covers about 1,700 acres of land with approximately one eighth being developable. There are four operations currently existing within the boundaries of the node, those being the David Thompson Resort, Aurum Lodge, McKenzie Trail Rides, and Kananaskis Helicopters. Options for future development on these lands could include a lodge, cabins, motels or resort accommodation as well as various types of highway commercial. TransAlta Utilities operates Lake Abraham for electrical generation from the Bighorn Dam and the level of the lake can vary by as much as 100 feet during the course of a year.