* This post was created with the support of Travel Alberta – thanks for helping me seek out and spread the word about all the delicious things in our province!
We drove southeast to Medicine Hat just before the end of school, when we were all tired and in need of some time gazing out the window. This small town road trip thing, it’s a counterirritant. (I heard the word counterirritant recently, and have been wanting to use it.) The long (but not too long) drive, the slower pace, the new places to explore without the rush of the city. The parking meters, if any, that still take nickels and dimes, right downtown. The rivers and bridges and green spaces.
We did what is starting to become our routine – checked into a hotel with a pool, and went to poke around town. And because there always seems to be a heat wave when we’re in Medicine Hat, we stopped at Swirls for ice cream on the way.
Most of the streets in Medicine Hat, in the downtown district anyway, look like old movie sets, with their painted brick and sandstone façades – the Monarch is the oldest operational movie theatre in Canada. Don’t you just want to go to a movie here? To wander in on a warm summer evening and dive into a bag of popcorn? It’s just down the street from The Station, one of many (!!) independent coffee shops in Medicine Hat. They do Fratello coffee at the Station, and there’s often live music in the front room, but extra space to hide out in the back. Also: the best gluten-free brownies I believe I’ve eaten.
This mural, across the street from the park with the train beside the bridge (I’m sure it has a name, but this is more descriptive), tells a piece of the story of Rudyard Kipling (yes, the UK writer and poet, and author of The Jungle Book) came to visit Medicine Hat in 1907 and loved it, and later defended its name to city council members who wanted to change it.
Another thing I love about small towns (even small cities) – they have old-school bakeries. I stumbled upon the bakery of my dreams in Medicine Hat while searching out coffee (from Rosso in Calgary) at the new Cafe Verve next door. McBride’s turns 50 this year, and their display is filled with homemade doughnuts, cookies, cinnamon knots and fancies – fancies! – which I find irresistible.
How can you resist banana cream pies alongside a tray of Big Elvises?
There’s also much prairie farm-style baking to be had at the farmers’ market – if you go during the summer or early fall, it’s held Saturdays 9-1 at the Cypress Centre Fieldhouse or Pavilion. I’ve never seen so many pies and pans of peanut butter marshmallow squares and Nanaimo bars in one place. Also, where else can you buy an entire pie for $7?
And right across the Saskatchewan river, there’s Skinny’s! We’ve been to Medicine Hat enough now to know Skinny’s will always be on our itinerary. It’s right next to the Zucchini Blossom Market, which is equally awesome, also has coffee and amazing baked goods but also fantastic take-out prepared foods (when you just want to go back to the hotel/patio/car and chill), and a little shop of gourmet food items, like preserves and balsamic vinegar, some that’s made there and some they bring in. It was closed when we went by, but I noticed a new patio out front. Skinny’s is all about traditional barbecue – ribs, pulled meats on buns, platters of brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage. Smoked over hickory, served up with the sort of sides you’d expect – slaw, baked beans, mac & cheese. You can pick up their meat by the pound, too.
Speaking of baked beans, I’ve talked about Medalta and the historic clay district before – it’s a crazy interesting area, and we learned on this trip that in the old days they would blow up the banks of the Saskatchewan river just to access the clay underneath. The abundance of natural gas made it a perfect spot to fire up kilns and make pottery and ceramics using their abundance of natural clay, and the longest railway mileage of any CPR division in Canada meant that Medicine Hat became one of the city’s major industries, one they’re still known for. It’s really worth visiting Medalta industrial museum and art facility, especially during the summer when they have all kinds of special events going on, and artists in residence, and a farmers’ market every Thursday from 4:30-8:30 (we got there on Friday) in the big space out front. Apparently the food is so good (East Indian food, pulled pork, waffles, cabbage rolls…) that people just come for dinner, which saves turning on the oven when it’s hot outside.
There are also a couple new breweries since our last visit – Medicine Hat Brewery and Hell’s Basement, both of which are inspired by the city’s history – I love a city that celebrates its roots. All of Medicine Hat seems to be proud of its heritage.
While you’re in this lower right corner of the province, about 20 minutes southeast of Medicine Hat is an interprovincial park called Cypress Hills that spills across the border to Saskatchewan. In the park is Elkwater, a tiny cottage/camping town of the sort that you might see in a movie, with a grassy-edged lake full of boaters, an ice cream truck parked beside (a portable version of Swirls!) and this amazing camp cookhouse and general store that you’ll never want to leave.
Can we talk about those painted bundt pans for a minute? How have I never thought of this? I somehow think if I tried the same, I wouldn’t be able to pull it off – with its wood paneling and vintage taxidermy, this place oozes hip charm. And the food? Ahhmazing. The smashed salad (above) inspired me to come home and make my own version immediately.
But perhaps my favourite discovery, thanks to a chorus of friends directing me via facebook, were the Redcliff greenhouses. Redcliff is a tiny town on the northwest outskirts of Medicine Hat, and it’s the greenhouse capital of the prairies. You have to drive right past it if you’re coming into Medicine Hat from Calgary, and again when you leave. If you turn into town and drive down main street, you’ll come across dozens of enormous greenhouses, most of them with small honour system stores attached. Each room, loaded with peppers, tomatoes, garlic, herbs and greens, has a tube-shaped lock box, and sometimes a scale to weigh your selection.
You just pick what you need and drop your money in the tube. It’s a brilliant way to directly support farmers and get some fantastic produce for much less than you’d pay at the farmers’ market. I brought home two heads of lettuce that were some of the best I’ve ever eaten – I was sad to see the last salad finished.
I mean, look at these! What better way to finish your road trip than by packing up some ripe tomatoes to bring home with you? So grateful to have friends willing to share these little hidden gems with me – so I can share them with you! Because really, food is about sharing, right?