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K-Country marks 40 years, millions of visitors with free cake, celebrations

Things got off to a rocky start, but in the 40 years since its opening day, the Kananaskis region has welcomed more than 75 million visitors.

The name 'Kananaskis' comes from Cree name of warrior who survived axe-blow to the head

Kananaskis Country was officially dedicated as a provincial park by Premier Peter Lougheed on Sept. 22, 1978. (Left: Debbie Palmer/Others: Alberta Parks)

The grand unveiling was supposed to showcase natural splendour of the area's magnificent ranges, valleys and rushing waters.

But Mother Nature had her own plans.

On Sept. 22, 1978, a flash snowstorm swept through the Kananaskis Valley, dashing then-premier Peter Lougheed's hopes for the official opening ceremony for Alberta's newest provincial park.

CBC reporter Bob Brews braved the blizzard to deliver this news brief on the official opening day of the Kananaskis Country and Kananaskis Provincial Park, later renamed Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. (CBC)

Dozens of parks officials, government staff and reporters crammed indoors to escape the miserable blizzard. Standing at the podium before them, Lougheed began his opening remarks with a twinge of disappointment.

He'd brought his hiking boots with him in the helicopter, Lougheed said, and now he wouldn't have a chance to use them.

"I wanted to challenge the dozen or so of you ... to just see whether or not we could keep up the pace," Lougheed told the crowd. "But they tell me no, we don't get the chance to do that." (CBC)

"I wanted to challenge the dozen or so of you ... to just see whether or not we could keep up the pace,' Lougheed told the crowd. "But they tell me, 'No, we don't get the chance to do that.'"

Still, he expressed enthusiasm. The day marked the culmination of years's of work.

Moose roam freely in the region. This one spent 45 minutes licking salt off a car in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in 2016. (Theresa Malan)

To mark the anniversary, the government is hosting celebrations including free cake at both the Barrier Visitor Information Centre and the Peter Lougheed Park Discovery Centre beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

  • Share your favourite Kananaskis memories in the comments below.

Since the late '60s, discussions had been underway to create a protected recreational and ecological reserve in the area.

It would strive to balance the needs of industry, ranching and tourism with the province's mandate to preserve the natural ecosystem.

In 1978 after receiving nearly 50,000 survey responses and pumping millions into the project, the province was ready to open its new facility to the public.

In the exactly 40 years since, K-Country has welcomed more than 75 million visitors, according to the Alberta government.

Long history

The Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations all have deep connection to the land.

The region's name comes from the Cree word, "Kin-e-a-kis," which is the name of a warrior, who was survived being struck in the head with an axe.

The mountains in the Kananasis region were formed over the course of 200 million years. They were once much higher than they are now. (Alberta Parks)

The jagged peaks and U-shaped valleys of the region are remnants of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago.

Archaeological evidence of humans in Kananaskis Country dates back more than 8,000 years.

Ancient coral reefs, oyster beds and shark teeth have been discovered in the area. Creatures lived hundreds of millions of years ago in the inland sea that covered southern Alberta.

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