Doing Good in Canada's Badlands

By Elaine Anselmi, Assistant Editor

The Canadian Badlands in southeastern Alberta are rich with tales of the history of their people, places and things, and these stories are integral to a new eco-lodge development planned to open in 2015. The eco-lodge is situated on a ranch and former town site at the northern border of Dinosaur Provincial Park—a UNESCO world heritage site.

Photo by Glen Cameron for the Canadian Badlands.

Photo by Glen Cameron for the Canadian Badlands.

“There are four stories going on here,” said Deneen Allen, president of Pure North Canada, developer and owner/operator of the Badlands project to CLN. “There’s the most ancient—the paleontology. The next layer is the history, heritage and culture of the Blackfoot people. The next layer after that is the ranching and agricultural history of the area, and the fourth layer is a new way to experience the first three stories.”

The footprint of the planned project is approximately 30,000 square feet, containing a main lodge, a spa building, another outpost Allen refers to as the “expedition barn,” and 24 individual cabins that can house 48 people at full capacity. 

Sustainable development projects are at the core of Pure North Canada and this is carried on throughout the Badlands project. While specifics such as foodservice for the resort are still in preliminary talks, Allen said they are looking into the best way to bring local and sustainable food and beverage into their program. “We’re starting to understand what’s available in the region and who the existing suppliers are. Also, what kinds of suppliers we can incubate and support in terms of small business development,” said Allen. “We are quite optimistic and excited about some of the economic spinoffs.

“This has taken six years to get to this point,” said Allen. “It’s all finally coming together.” A key aspect of the project has been local support and a partnership with Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canadian Badlands Limited – a not-for-profit regional partnership of the municipalities within the Badlands – and The Canadian Badlands Foundation.

“It’s a pretty exciting project because one of the mandates of the Badlands Foundation is being involved in sustainability,” said Cindy Amos, executive director of the Badlands Foundation. “With this developer, it is all modular products; low impact but luxury accommodation.”

The structures will be brought to the site pre-fabricated, in order to minimize the ecological disruption to the site, said Allen. “We’re using all kinds of renewable energy sources and these are all still in the design works.”

These include a rainwater catchment system and reservoir, solar thermal and photovoltaics that convert solar radiation into useable energy, and passive solar building which optimizes the use of the local climate and elements in the design.

With economic benefits for surrounding municipalities as well as the park, Amos said the project will be accessible for tourists from abroad, as well as from within the province—with Calgary located just over an hour away and Edmonton approximately four hours away.

“Any kind of emerging destination knows they have amenity gaps and this certainly helps us fill one—to offer a luxury experience,” said Amos. “We have other franchise hotels that are fantastic in quality. This is a different type of experience; a niche market.”

The experience provided by the eco-lodge will incorporate its unique environment; from day trips into the park, to visits to any one of the 38 different rodeos among the towns of the Badlands, said Amos.

One of the best-known features of the Badlands – being one of the world’s richest sites for dinosaur bones and fossils – will also be a distinct draw to the lodge. “Pure North is in discussion with the Royal Tyrrell Museum [of Paleontology in Drumheller, AB] to host a paleontologist in residence for the summer,” said Allen. “They’ll be housed at the lodge and we’ll also have this amazingly knowledgeable scientist in our midst who can provide interpretation for the guests.”

Allen said in finding the right location for this project they sought out an emerging destination, rather than some of the tried-and-true iconic locations in Canada. “What we’ve been searching for are the relatively undiscovered [areas] that have the potential to draw visitors. We like to say that these have the potential to inspire a pilgrimage. We think the Canadian Badlands has that power and that draw,” she said. “There’s a profound sense of place in the Badlands and we intend to honour that.”