History lessons in Millarville

There really isn’t much to see in Millarville.

People in Millarville even told us this.

It’s a tiny town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, just a 30-minute drive southwest of Calgary’s urban centre. You can drive through the downtown core in a couple of minutes, even at playground zone speed.

But if you’re driving down Highway 22, also known as the Cowboy Trail, don’t pass by Millarville.

What’s Millarville known for?

It’s home to an incredible outdoor market, which this years runs from June 9 to October 12.

And it’s home to Canada’s oldest race track, which hosts horse and chuckwagon races. The 14th annual Millarville rodeo is set for May 28-30and the 105th Running of the Races, a seven-furlong race for stock horses under a western saddle, goes on Canada Day.

More than just the special events, Millarville has its treasures. North of the town rests the Leighton Art Centre and the Christ Church, a log-cabin style house of worship built in 1896.

A Bible rests open on the pulpit at Millarville Christ Church.
A Bible rests open on the pulpit at Millarville Christ Church.

It was MacKay Place that piqued my interest. On a solo drive a few weeks ago, I spied a roadside sign attracting people on Route 549.

Just past town centre, MacKay Place is the original homestead of J.A. Archibald. His one-room shack, built in 1886, stands to the east of the more spacious ranch house, which was built in 1895 and since has been converted into a restaurant.

The log-cabin shack and another remaining on the property are kept as historical sites, decorated with old furniture and various other artifacts, to give guests the feel of what it might be like to have lived there.

J.A. Archibald's original homestead on the MacKay Place property
J.A. Archibald’s original homestead on the MacKay Place property
A chair and table sit in the eerie, cold one-room shack at MacKay Place
A chair and table sit in the eerie, cold one-room shack at MacKay Place

A one-page handout gives chronological detail of the hands who’ve held the property … from Francis Wright, who established a tennis club at the ranch, to the MacKays, who journeyed to Millarville from Scotland through Baddeck, N.S., Gibbonsville, Idaho, and Claresholm.

Angus MacKay, one of the sons, lived in the ranch house until he died in 1972.

The property changed hands several more times, became a restaurant for the first time in the early 1990s and ultimately landed in the ownership of restaurateur Witold Twordorski.

It’s decorated with cowboy memorabilia and period pieces of furniture, from an elegant wood stove to china hutches and benches.

A guitar rests over one of the dining areas at MacKay Place.
A guitar rests over one of the dining areas at MacKay Place.

After a long day of learning, walking and exploring, we sank into a couple of chairs, next to a window looking out over the MacKay property, dotted with a giant tin-can rooster, a broken down wagon and other pieces left behind by its original users.

We were served steaming cups of organic coffee and cream, a warm java hug to pass the time before lunch arrived. My Galloway beef burger was drowned in mozzarella cheese and slathered with chipotle mayo, served on a kaiser roll.

This wasn’t a hamburger like you get at McDonald’s or A&W. No … this was ground chuck at its finest, jammed into a patty by hand and grilled over an open fire.

The tomato basil soup was tangy and delicious … so much better than out of a can!

And capping off the meal? Why, a mixed berry crumble, of course! Served with homemade ice cream, roasted almond chips, a drizzle of chocolate sauce and gooseberries on the side.

Yum! Dessert!
Yum! Dessert!

If we keep eating like this, we’re going to have to spend some time running through our travels instead of walking.

Oh and yes … Shep, my faithful companion, was treated to some bacon, a just reward for his time spent sleeping in the truck while we enjoyed lunch.

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