June 18th, 2024

New Buffalo Junction sign pointing the way to Head-Smashed-In

By Dale Woodard on July 8, 2021.

Submitted photo - The new Buffalo Junction sign has been up since June 8, replacing the weathered original roadside landmark.

The Buffalo Junction sign has received some top-notch touch-ups.
After being taken down from its location on Highway 785, the sign, which was first erected in 1987 and has been directing travellers to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, returned in June.
“The community has just been thrilled,” said Sandi Davis, President, Cultural Heritage Tourism Alliance as well as the executive director of the Fort Museum. “The excitement has just been wonderful.”
What’s better, she said, the renovated sign represents a rebirth for the tourist attraction it points to after the haze of the COVID-19 pandemic of the past 15 months.
“The staff at the Buffalo Jump feel a part of the community again,” said Davis. “They were closed for a year last year and it has been tough. COVID has been tough on all of us. This just brings us all back together. It kind of ties the Buffalo Jump back to the community showing their love and affection for the Jump is still there and very strong.”
Buck Massey initially constructed the Buffalo Junction sign in 1987 when the Duke and Duchess of York, Prince Andrew and his then wife Sarah Ferguson, came to celebrate the opening of the new interpretive centre at the Jump. 
For the next 33 years, the Buffalo Junction sign stood tall, but in early 2020 it was becoming evident the southern Alberta weather was wearing it down.
At that time, the Cultural Heritage Tourism Alliance approached McNally Contractors to give the sign a facelift of sorts.
“It was very deteriorated,” said Davis. “It was starting to lean to one side from the southern Alberta wind. It looked like Mother Nature was going to get the last laugh. A few community members had brought it to the Alliance’s attention that they hope it doesn’t fall and it would be nice to see it survive.”
The contractors went to work, taking the old sign and using it as a template, and then making a brand new sign from the original completely out of steel, said Davis.
“The original sign had a metal beam, but the buffalo and the letters were made of wood. They really wanted to see something that was sustainable. 
“They made it out of metal and as the project started unfolding the whole company started getting excited with it. There were a few artists who were involved. They had full-proof coating so the paint that is on there has been blasted on for sustainability as well. There was so much love and attention put into it. It’s beautiful.”
Davis said about eight to 10 months of work was done to the Buffalo Junction sign when it was taken down.
“The artist, John Hawthorne, did the majority of the fine tuning, cutting out the Buffalo, and the lettering, and things like that.”
The local reaction when the sign went back up in early-June was one of excitement.
“The local paper was called by a few people when it was being put up,” said Davis. “Even since, I’ve had phone calls here at the Fort and people in the community coming up to me and saying the sign just looks amazing.”
Davis said there are still many locals who remember when the sign first went up in 1987. 
“We had Fergie come and it was just a huge celebration, and the Junction sign was a part of that whole good-feel, be-proud moment,” she said. “With this new sign, it’s almost the same. It’s kind of like we’re back and everything is opening up and hopefully COVID is a thing of the past. It has just been a ‘Let’s celebrate’ atmosphere and let’s get Alberta open again and back to business. It has been really good for our community spirit, for sure.”
With the renovations complete, the Buffalo Junction sign is back firmly in its original spot.
“It has a whole new base,” said Davis. “It still spins like the original sign. It spins to the direction the wind is going. It does exactly what the original sign did. It’s just bigger and better, not so much in the size or the weight because it’s all metal, but it’s to the exact scale of the original sign.”
What’s better, there are still elements of the original sign on the updated one,
“They salvaged the spears from the original sign and if you look on the back of the sign, there are some handles to be able to access the panel in the back and the handles are from the original sign. They kept some of the original sign,” said Davis. “It has been a labour of love for them, and then the community and their reaction now (it’s) back.”

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