Though Airdrie is perhaps not thought of as a tourist destination, the city nevertheless boasts several attractions that will make for a memorable visit.
According to Shauna Quinn, tourism development officer with the City of Airdrie, the community’s proximity to Calgary presents both challenges and opportunities.
“We definitely have what’s called a rubber-tire market,” she said.
According to Quinn, a rubber-tire market refers to a destination that attracts visitors travelling by car rather than airplane. In Airdrie’s case, most people travelling to the city are doing so to visit friends or family members.
“Or, you have day-trippers or people who are looking to use Airdrie as an affordable alternative to Calgary as they continue on their journeys,” she said. “That’s been the main bread and butter for most of our tourism sector here in Airdrie.”
However, with a host of unique businesses, a burgeoning list of popular annual events and plenty of family-friendly festivals throughout the year, Airdrie’s tourism identity continues to evolve, Quinn said.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Quinn said she believes many travellers may feel Airdrie is a safer alternative to Calgary “for their leisure stays.”
“We are seeing from the hotels here there’s a little bit more of an uptick on leisure travellers staying for a day or two before they continue on their Alberta-bound vacation,” she said.
One local business owner that would agree with that sentiment is Joni Daley, who founded Rival Axe Throwing in January 2018. The indoor axe-throwing facility caters to both locals and tourists alike.
“I know we get quite a few people from Drumheller and the surrounding area,” she said. “I don’t know how – maybe it was through TripAdvisor – but we were drawing people from tour groups who were travelling to Canmore and Lake Louise.
According to Daley, visitors’ fascination with Rival likely stems from the newness of axe-throwing, which has caught on in recent years. International visitors also love the activity, she added, because they feel it is a very Canadian thing to do – they get to don a plaid sweater and pretend to be lumberjacks for an hour.
Airdrie offers visitors plenty more to do than chuck axes at a circular target. Golfers may be interested in hitting the links at the city’s two courses – Woodside Golf Course (WGC) and Apple Creek Golf Course just north of the city.
“I think [our course] is another great amenity our city has to offer to people,” said Chris McNicol, WGC’s chief operating officer. “It goes to help fulfill the complete stable of assets the City has managed to put together over the years, in driving people to both visit and live here.”
McNicol added the 18-hole course regularly attracts golfers from other nearby communities including Calgary, Olds and Carstairs.
Visitors may also be interested in learning more about Airdrie’s history as an agrarian railroad town. In that case, a visit to either Nose Creek Valley Museum (NCVM) or the Iron Horse Park miniature train theme park, would be both informative and fun.
Iron Horse Park offers visitors the opportunity to learn about trains and take a ride on the park’s diesel or steam locomotive miniature trains, while NCVM boasts 10 exhibits that feature 2,000 years of local history.
Both attractions have been closed for most of 2020 due to COVID-19, but anticipate reopening during the summer.
For shoppers, Airdrie offers plenty of interesting boutiques and stores, Quinn said. Home Grown House and Pantry, the Spirit Within Centre for Spiritual Health and Wellness and Mukluk Magpies Stained Glass Emporium are among the shops she recommended checking out.
“We have delicious [food], shopping and collectibles here in Airdrie that I think a lot of people don’t realize, such as Where on Earth Did You Get That?, Snap! Collectables, Rocket Fizz, La Table Haute Pastry and the Queen Latina Bakeshoppe,” she added.
Quinn said she also sees plenty of potential for Airdrie to develop a reputation as a hub for outdoor pursuits and adventure. According to airdrie.ca, the community boasts 1,500 acres of park space, 76 playgrounds and approximately 130 kilometres of paved pathway for bike riding.
On top of that, Airdrie boasts a host of sports fields visitors can enjoy, including the soccer fields at Monklands Park or the baseball diamonds at Chinook Winds Regional Park. Located in southwest Airdrie, Chinook Winds also has beach volleyball courts, a playground, an outdoor hockey rink, a spray park and a skate park, making it an optimal spot for families to visit for a day of fun.
Quinn said there are several local companies that cater to outdoor recreation.
“We have a lot of opportunities for people to come and experience unique products to Airdrie, and get people out here to see what we have to offer,” Quinn said. “We also have [stores] like Aqua Dive, TRAK Kayaks, Cranked, for outdoor cyclists and Destination Cycles.”