Beam Me to Vulcan, Alberta
I am unashamedly a lifelong lover of Star Trek. My mom and brother made fun of my crush on Captain Picard when I was 8, I watched TNG every day after school for years, and later, I was thrilled with the work I got to do on the original series, TNG, and DS9 when I worked for a subtitling company, even if it was just the picture-in-picture commentary DVD. So what?
On our way to back to Lethbridge, Alberta, from Castle Mountain (and a subsequent hike to the ghost town of Lille), I saw a sign on the highway proclaiming the distance to Vulcan, Alberta, the ultimate Star Trek tourist attraction. And it was not that far. Although I’d heard of Vulcan a billion times and always wanted to check it out, I had no idea we’d be passing close by! And naturally, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving southern Alberta without paying the bizarro little farming town a visit.
With a population of around 2,000, Vulcan reportedly was originally named for the Roman god, but in the nineties (?), a new tourism initiative capitalized on the popularity of Star Trek and the town embraced a new sci-fi aesthetic. Vulcan now celebrates with a yearly fair, Spock Days, every June, and hosts an annual Vulcan Star Trek convention called Vul-Con. Leonard Nimoy himself visited the town in 2010, so you know they’ve got something special going on.
Today, the visitor centre—the Tourism and Trek Station—boasts a cute little Vulcan starship outside. Inside, there’s a wide array of Vulcan-themed tourist swag (I came away with a coffee mug) and, at the time of my visit, an extensive personal collection of Star Trek memorabilia on loan.
In a room off to the side, cardboard cutouts of the major characters in the series stand waiting for photo ops, and there’s a rack of costumes to try out. I couldn’t resist putting on the Klingon outfit, and also slipped into a mustard yellow original series shirt. Did I mention there’s a transporter? It was a lot of fun goofing around back here.
From the Trek Station, we walked a few blocks up Centre Street and I was surprised to see just how thoroughly the town has woven the fabric of Star Trek into society. Insets in the pavement are the shape of communicators, window paintings feature some familiar faces from the show (my favourite was the gigantic Captain Picard “Make It Sew” painting), wall murals (the most prominent featuring the medical personnel from all the series), and more. Even the bakery had special “Spock’s ears” sugar cookies; we bought a couple packages from the teenager manning the counter. Clearly, Star Trek tourism is alive and well.
Vulcan is a tiny place, but it’s legendary, and a must-see for any Star Trek fan travelling in Alberta. And even if you don’t know a Vulcan from a Romulan, the kitschiness of this oddball tourism strategy makes it an interesting stop if you’re in the area. Keep your expectations reasonable; after all, this is a tiny farming town in central Alberta that is bolstering what would otherwise be nonexistent tourism via a serendipitous association with a television show. It seems to be a sleepy place midweek in summer, when I visited, but I’d love to see the influx of oddballs that surely must descend on the town during an event.
Have you visited Vulcan? Any travel tips to add, or cool local experiences that I missed out on during my quick visit? Let me know in the comments!