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Alberta Landscape

Songs Drive Alberta's 'Brokeback' Landscape

Movies are changing the way we travel, inspiring tours that revisit the landscapes we see in films. Some movies seem to grab us by the lapels and shove us toward a new world. We want to relive aspects of the movie, but we want to experience the real-world ambience of where the movie happened, beyond what was revealed on screen.

The made-in-Alberta cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain became a cultural phenomenon, showing the world the West's raw, natural beauty. Alberta's mountains, prairies, lakes and rives take centre stage and the province's rural and urban landscapes are featured in scenes that have become famous among movie goers. What's exciting is that most of these places, some of them seemingly remote and rugged, are easily accessible to tourists.

But it's not just what we see in the movie that strikes us; it's also what we hear and how we feel. Brokeback Mountain's original score, both haunting and lively, was awarded an Oscar. It is a soundscape that can transport us into the world captured on film. And you can use it to augment the real-world experience of touring the Alberta locations  that the movie revealed, just by following our suggestions below.

Use Brokeback's Soundtrack To Tour

Here's how you can heighten your tour of the Alberta shown in Brokeback Mountain. Just pop the Brokeback soundtrack CD into your car deck or listen to it on your iPod or another music player. The movie soundtrack, featuring haunting ballads and lilting fiddles and rock-hard C&W, runs the gamut of emotions.

We've matched songs to what we feel are appropriate places, though it's a bit different than the sequence of the tracks in the film. But, hey, that's the beauty of music delivery these days. You can often format the soundtrack to your own preferences, just as you can tour Alberta according to your tastes. Whether you choose to visit dude ranches and play at being a cowboy or cowgirl, or hit the big city and enjoy the West's urban pleasures, you're in charge.

Visit Key Scenes, Match Music

Some of the key scenes that all tourists seem to want to replay involve some of Alberta's finest campgrounds. One is a shot of Upper Kananaskis Lake, which is completely accessible as are most of the other scenes that feature camping - actual sites at Elbow Falls and Canyon Creek. Then there's the bridge along the Galatea hiking trail (in Kananaskis Country) where Ennis picks up supplies as well as King Creek (near the junction of Hwy 40 and the Smith-Dorrien Rd., in Kananaskis) where Ennis encounters the black bear  (hired locally, from Doug's Exotic Zoo Farm, just outside of Innisfail).

Suggested music matches: Gustavo Santaolalla's spare but sharply evocative instrumentals featuring acoustic and steel guitar are perfect for enjoying the above scenes, particularly the pastoral vistas of mountains, rivers and lakes in Kananaskis Country that are so pretty you could weep. While these pieces of music can suggest aching sorrow in the context of the movie, on their own (shown as Opening, Brokeback Mountain 1, 2 and 3, Wings, Snow and Riding Horses on the soundtrack), they are beautiful accompaniments to the lingering images of nature featured by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee. The establishing shot of the mountain that opens the movie and the long, twisting descent of a pickup truck in the distance are cues for you to steer yourself into grand beauty.

For Alberta-based location manager, Darryl Solly - who from February to August 2004, clocked 35,000 km (22,000 mi) for this shoot - it was precisely this "accessible wilderness," that made him realize Alberta's enormous potential for backdrops such as we see in Brokeback. In fact, more than 90 per cent of the scenes in Brokeback were shot within 21 m (70 ft.) of a road. Perfect for travellers who want to experience grand wilderness without hoofing over mountain passes.

Authentic towns such as Cowley (featured in the opening scene when Jake and Heath meet outside a rusted-up, derelict trailer) and Fort Macleod (where Heath and his family live in almost squalor, above a laundromat), made it so much more real.

"For those apartment scenes we moved the tenant out from the laundromat into the Red Coat Inn, in Fort Macleod, so we could shoot," says Solly, who's worked on other features such as Legends of the Fall.

Suggested music matches: If you want to relive the city (the renowned Ranchman's saloon in Calgary stands in for a bar scene), as well as the small town scenes, with some oomph in your car's speakers, these tunes are the ones to play:

An Angel Went Up In Flames, a wicked fiddle-driven number by the Gas Band; The Devil's Right Hand, Steve Earl's bass drum, kick-pedal take on the totemic power of pistols; It's So Easy, the guitar-hooked Linda Ronstadt tune about the easy charms of falling in love; and, slowing things down a bit, Rufus Wainwright's breezy, two-tone take on the classic driving song, King of the Road.

But beware; the high-octane music is not all high kickin' fun. When the characters Jack and Lureen hook up in the scene filmed at Ranchman's, there's a seductive hurtin' song playing (No One's Going To Love You Like Me, sung by Mary McBride). Hurtin' songs in Brokeback are threaded through the scenes between partners, somehow holding all of them together.

Whether you're visiting an Alberta restaurant or hotel or ranch shown in the movie, or just stopping by the side of the road, if you're with someone you love - or even remembering someone you've loved - you might want to flip the switch on these suggested songs.

Suggested music matches: He Was A Friend of Mine, sung sorrowfully by Willie Nelson; I Will Never Let You Go, which bounces along as sung by Jackie Green; the stirring A Love That Will Never Grow Old, sung by Emmylou Harris; The Maker Makes by Rufus Wainwright and, above all, Teddy Thompson's sweet, pleading and defiant I Don't Want To Say Goodbye.


Calgary: Dubbed the gateway to the Canadian Rockies, this southern Alberta city that's nudging a million people and is most famous for its 10-day whoop-up, the Calgary Stampede, was briefly featured in the bar scene where Jake hooks up with Lureen. That particular bar is the Ranchman's and is as authentic a cowboy bar that you'll ever mosey across.

The Brokeback crew stayed at several Calgary hotels, namely the Fairmont Palliser, the Hyatt Regency, the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire and a boutique property, the Kensington Riverside Inn. Favourite restaurants where the cast was spotted include Catch, the Bungalow and Living Room as well as several uptown bars and clubs along 17 Avenue S.W.

The sheep scenes (some of the most challenging shots in the film) were shot on Moose Mountain, a 45-minute drive west of Calgary and open to the public year-round.

The little church in which Ennis and Alma are married was a tough one to find - but eventually the perfect little chapel was found in Dinton, 20 minutes east of Okotoks on Highway 547. Dinton also ended up serving as the location of the drive-in scene which was reconstructed on an existing softball diamond.

Canmore: A 60-minute drive west of Calgary, this alpine town of 11,000 was home to cast and crew for two weeks. Many cast members stayed at The Marriott and ate at the Grizzly Paw. Numerous images of Brokeback Mountain were actual shots of the Three Sisters, a jagged backdrop of peaks that frames Canmore.

Kananaskis Village: Home to three hotels, this tiny village at the base of Nakiska Ski Resort was used as a base when the crew filmed various campsites (Canyon Creek, Elbow Falls, Upper Kananaskis Lakes, Mud Lake) and King Creek (where Ennis meets the bear).

Cowley: Brokeback opens with a haunting scene of big sky country where a clothes line snaps in the wind and is followed quickly by Jack and Ennis's first encounter in a parking lot - that fronts Cowley's butcher shop as a matter of fact. Solly raves about this selection and service and says emphatically "this butcher shop is my favourite in...well, the world - the beef here is as good as I've ever found." The cast didn't stay in Cowley but visitors can now - at a quaint, recently restored tiny church, St. Joseph's Inn.

Travel Alberta is the destination marketing organization for the Province of Alberta. Guided by the Strategic Tourism Marketing Council, Travel Alberta is the steward for the effective delivery of tourism marketing programs. For information about our organization, please visit our Travel Alberta industry web site.

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