Sigi’s face lit up as he told us about the town’s masterpiece – the timber pedestrian bridge that crossed over the Kicking Horse River. Sigi Liebmannat, the bridge architect and Master Timberframer, was pointing out construction elements and telling us the story of how a little town like Golden, Canada came to have the longest freestanding timber bridge in Canada. As Sigi pointed out details I happened to look up and see a familiar face walk by – Andy who I had met 2 days before on Kicking Horse Mountain was walking over the bridge – a major pedestrian route for the city. I smiled and said hi, we chatted briefly and he went on his way.
I refocused on Sigi again as he was telling the story of the community coming together to make this bridge happen. It was planned as a community project by the Timber Framers Guild, volunteers from Golden were joined by carpenters from other countries to create this 150 foot long and 210,000 pound work of art. It was a community effort full of dedication and sweat to put this bridge in place.
As we looked at the plaques placed on the bridge with pictures and descriptions of the effort, Sigi explained the bridge’s beams, trusses, arches and roofing were locally milled Douglass Firs. All of a sudden I heard another “Hello”, a woman whom I had met yesterday when we visited the Swiss Village was crossing the bridge with her dog. We once again chatted a bit exchanging nicities before she continued her walk.
It hit me then why I loved this little town – because it was a small town through an through. Only in a small town can you be there for 3 days and run into people you ‘know’ or met previously. I had never set foot in Golden before, but suddenly people knew me – a strange concept for a nomadic traveler like me to grasp. I’m used to being anonymous, mixed in with tourists just passing through – but in Golden I felt welcomed and at home.
Golden is in British Columbia Canada and historically was put on the map by the Canadian Pacific Railway. However it has survived through the years thanks to its strong community and ability to work together. Golden BC is surrounded by peaks and parks. Six national parks are closeby – Bannf, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke, and Yoho. And it sits at the confluence of two historic rivers – Columbia and Kicking Horse Rivers. All of this grand nature to work with puts it at the epicenter of adventure travel and tourism in the Canadian Rockies. Yet somehow it has remained a very real, functioning, non-touristy town, which is quite different from its famous neighbor – Banff. Banff is the town that most people have heard of when it comes to the Canadian Rockies – the popular kid, pristine, full of gift shops and tourism dollars. But Golden is definitely no Banff – and that’s just how I like it.
I was in Golden for 3 days to experience the summer adventure activities in the Rockies. The hiking, wetland touring, paragliding, and white water rafting left my heart pounding and provided amazing opportunities for photography, but what I fell in love with was the town of Golden itself. It wasn’t pretentious or loaded with gift shops, it was a real functioning town full of locals walking their dogs and socializing at the downtown restaurants. In true small town form, the ‘downtown’ area consisted of one long street with cafes, bookstores, liquor stores, and an art gallery. A place where everyone knows everyone – even out of town visitors who are in town for 3 days.
The restaurants in Golden were my biggest surprises – for a town of 4,000 people the quality and sophistication of food was phenomenal. The culinary scene was the only part of the town that didn’t operate like a small town. Dinners ranged from seafood to game meat such as bison. I enjoyed inventive cocktails like a classic Caesar with bacon infused vodka (yes bacon!) at Whitetooth Bistro. Golden’s Cedar House Restaurant was named one of the top 50 restaurants in Canada – complete with rustic ambiance, an amazing wine and cocktail selection, and palate cleansers.
Golden was…well…it was golden to me. I felt like I had hit the jackpot of the perfect balance of tourism and normal everyday life – a town with diversity that could exist even if it’s tourism disappeared. Residents who were proud of their home, their history, and loved to genuinely share it. It was a real town with real people. And it wasn’t Banff.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Tourism Golden and Destination BC for this trip. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own. I had been wanting to see the Canadian Rockies for a long time and getting to the lesser known town of Golden was the perfect destination for my style of travel.