The Getaway: Thanksgiving Ranch
The Drive: 2 hours south of Calgary
In Alberta, the Rockies are most often approached from the east, via the busy Highway 1 from Calgary or the 16 from Edmonton. But if you venture down through the more sparsely populated southwest corner, past ravines, birch groves and wind turbines harnessing the natural energy that the area is known for, a serene landscape of rolling fields, livestock and picturesque red barns is backdropped by a picture-perfect Rocky Mountain range.
This is where Brad Bustard and his wife, Christi, moved in 1998 to take over a property for her parents, transforming it in 2018 into Thanksgiving Ranch. The small guest ranch can accommodate up to 14 people in four separate suites, and then there’s the main lodge, which Bustard’s in-laws built in the eighties as their private home, which has a large common area, and a recovered wood dining table that seats 16 as a focal point that makes for grand gatherings.
There’s a baby grand piano, two wood burning fireplaces, deep couches and antiques Christi’s parents brought when they immigrated to Canada from Germany. Outside the main house, a small pond freezes into a perfect skating rink, and they’re planning to introduce cross-country skiing come winter. Nearby, the barn is set up for weddings and special events, and a stable of horses are eager to have a visit or go for a ride.
Bustard does all the cooking for their guests, focusing his breakfast, lunch and dinner menus on seven signature Alberta ingredients. Growing up in nearby Pincher Creek, he worked in his parents’ bakery, so there’s always dessert. When I went to visit, he offered a plate of his famous “more” bars— two-inch-thick pecan caramel squares he always has on hand, that make perfect fuel for horseback riding, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or walking the ancient natural trails that follow the watersheds and the crests of ridges throughout the property.
Great for Family Getaways
The ranch is an exquisite escape for anyone who craves time in the great outdoors, but also appreciates king-sized beds and plush robes, or those who crave a getaway that doesn’t require planning restaurant visits and mapping out things to do. Bustard often rents the whole space to extended families and groups of friends wanting to spend quality time together exploring the silent, unspoiled property, sharing meals, playing games by the fire and taking a swim in the pool.
Perfect for Stargazing
With almost no light pollution, the ranch is an incredible spot for stargazing, and though their closest neighbours are over the valley—“It’s a half hour by horse,” Bustard says—the ranch is close to Waterton Lakes National Park and Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as Castle Wildland Provincial Park. Though the ranch feels detached from the rest of the world, there are plenty of things to do in the area – and you may not want to plan anything besides soaking in the glorious surroundings. Standing out on the front porch of the main house, I asked Bustard why it’s called Thanksgiving Ranch. “Because look,” he says, gesturing out toward the rolling grasslands, foothills and Rockies. “We’re teaching the next generation to protect this land, to care for it as a living body. We’re just thankful that we get to be here and look after this place for awhile.”