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GRASSI LAKES: An Italian Landmark In the Heart of Canada

When you think of the Rocky Mountains, the word majestic comes to mind... but the experience is even grander, especially at Grassi Lakes. But what do the Rocky Mountains have anything to do with Italy one may ask? What is the connection? And how did this iconic site with crystal clear emerald waters become one of Western Canada’s hidden gems?

I grew up in the City of Calgary, Canada, where my Nonno and Nonna immigrated to from Italy in the 1960s – about an hour away from the Rocky Mountains, where the iconic Grassi Lakes is located. At that time, my Nonno (Grandfather) worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway, following in the footsteps of other Italian immigrants such as Andrea Lorenzo Grassi (Lawrence Grassi), who would later form a very important part of Canadian history. With nothing but hard work and strong family values, the Italian community in Canada would leave a mark on this new land of opportunity in ways that one would never imagine, leaving a legacy for generations to come.

In the case of Lawrence Grassi, he was part of the first wave of Italian immigrants to settle in Canada in 1912, and like my Nonno in later years, Grassi worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway, or CP Rail. His love of the Rocky Mountains led him to build the original stairs to Grassi Lakes, forming a hiking trail that is 2.7 miles, at an elevation of 5,003 ft. Grassi’s name and legacy are forever woven into Western Canada’s History.

Mount Lawrence Grassi is the tallest peak of the Ehagy Nakoda massif. The peak is south of the town of Canmore and east of the Spray Lakes Road. This hike is moderate in difficulty, with two paths – one easy with a wider road and fewer obstacles, and one that is more difficult with natural terrain and steeper climbs. Having hiked Grassi Lakes Trail several times, I recommend not giving into intimidation, and take the more difficult path, as the views are breathtaking and the experience is like no other.

About half way through the hike, there is a point where you stop, and to much surprise, there is a waterfall that seems to jump out of nowhere and stuns you with its beauty. Up to that point, your only focus is going up the mountain. Your gaze strays from the waterfall and before you know it, you are looking down thousands of feet and realize that you are almost on top of a Rocky Mountain! The view is like no other, with landscapes of trees and snow-topped mountains for miles, with a town in the distance. After a few photos, you continue to climb.

Now for the big surprise! Whoever would have thought that a lake would exist on a mountain top? And not just one lake, but two! Grassi Lakes are two of the most mesmerizing lakes you can find, with crystal clear freezing water, and pure emerald in color. It’s no wonder that this is a hidden gem of the North.

Grassi Lakes attracts many rock climbers, as the cliffs surrounding the green-blue lakes that were once covered by the sea are a perfect site for this activity. Uplifted 75 million years ago, the rock is Devonian coral reef filled with many fossils.

An Ancient Site

Close to the peak of the mountain, There are pictographs drawn on the Grassi Lakes trail that are over 1000 years old.These centuries old paintings are a mix of ochre and grease. Not only a spectacular view, Grassi Lakes is filled with history, and will be an unforgettable experience to anyone who visits.

Along the path and between wildlife sightings, you will find historical information about Mr. Lawrence Grassi. The Italian immigrant from Piemonte would never imagine the impact that building a set of stairs on a mountain would have. Legend says that he carried a whole stove up the mountain to camp.

My visit to Grassi Lakes was not just a hike, but a reflection. Just like the emerald waters at the top of the mountain reflect our faces when we peer into them, the story of Mr. Grassi reflected my heritage back to me. Not unlike my Nonno, who worked at the same railway as Mr. Grassi, came from the same country, and settled in the same area – the parallels of the experience of my own family are an inspiration that any mountain can be climbed in any country. Grassi Lakes is truly a hidden gem that will forever be an unforgettable adventure in my book of experiences.


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