The Hat gets hip: Coffee, craft beer and one cool clay factory

 
Photographer
Karen Ung

The Hat gets hip: Coffee, craft beer and one cool clay factory

Karen Ung

SnowSeekers brings you a series of #BucketlistAB stories, photos and video, inspiring you to #ExploreAlberta, its beauty, history and adventures. Search #BucketlistAB on social media and check out our Expedition page for more inspiration.

The giant Saamis Tepee fades from view as I exit the highway and head into Medicine Hat’s historic downtown. On past visits, I’d whizzed through “The Hat” unaware the river valley hub is buzzing with an energetic culinary, cultural and recreational scene. 

Downtown is a delightful mix of old and new with restored historic buildings and vibrant murals brightening brick walls. Eateries and pubs celebrate Medicine Hat’s rich history with equally colourful names. There's Hell’s Basement (Brewery) referring to Rudyard Kipling’s 1907 description of Medicine Hat’s natural gas reserves. Medicine Hat Brewery’s Sin Bin Red Ale’s namesake recalls the Sin Bin bar at a local inn. 

As for the city itself, Medicine Hat’s unique name is a condensed translation of the Blackfoot word Saamis (SA-MUS), the eagle feather headdress of a medicine man.

Dare to Explore, click here for more information on Medicine Hat.

Photographer
Karen Ung

Today, the city’s trademark gas lamps still burn natural gas. The railway still runs through it, but change is in the air. Hip shops, eateries, and craft breweries have opened. More college kids are sticking around after graduating and families are moving here because it’s affordable and offers a great quality of life. 

You might even call it a mini Portland on the Prairies, referring to Oregon's happening city. 

Getting creative with clay and coffee 

The discovery of excellent brick-making clay along the banks of the Saskatchewan River was an economic boon and bricks and pottery from Medicine Hat were exported worldwide. Abundant and affordable, gas literally fuelled the clay industry. You've got to check out Medalta potteries, a cool 100-year-old brick factory with historic beehive kilns. It also serves as an incubator for creative arts, a venue for a soul-warming winter folk music festival), all while showing off the city’s industrial past. 

The robust coffee culture (#CaffeineCult) is fuelled by six indie coffee shops and three specialty coffee roasteries. By the time I arrive at Inspire Studio, Gallery, and Cafe, I’ve already had two coffees, so Tara hands me the “Tea Bible.” I choose a fragrant fruit and rooibos blend. She's quick to describe Medicine Hat as “friendly and chill,"  while pointing out the closeness of the river, hiking and biking trails and proximity to Cypress Hills Provincial Park. This all happens as Maureen Newton, one of the owners, paints in the adjacent studio. 

I join Abby, Carley, and Chris at Local Public Eatery on 3rd Street. While we chow down on loaded chicken tacos and sweet potato fries with garlic aioli, Abby tells me she moved here to study tourism at the local college, fell in love with the place, and never left. It’s a story I'm going to hear again and again. 

Biking under sunshine

During my stay, I found out that Medicine Hat gets 330 days of sunshine every year, earning irt the "sunniest city in Canada" title. 

The Medicine Hat Visitor Centre has a free bike loaner program which includes helmets and bike locks through Tourism Medicine Hat. So, naturally, we spend the afternoon exploring by bike, checking out stops on the downtown Medicine Hat Art Walk, a great spot for selfies, by the way. From here, we cross the historic Finlay Bridge, built in 1908, and stop for a treat at Zucchini Blossom Market and Cafe where you can sink your teeth into fresh savouries and sweets. 

Try the beer here

Medicine Hat has a small but exciting craft beer scene and our final destination for the day is one of the several in the city. The Medicine Hat Brewing Company names each of its beers after a historically significant local landmark or person. With award-winning brewmaster Mitch Dalrymple in the brewhouse and Red Seal Chef Brennan Vancuren in the kitchen, this place turns out fine brews paired delish eats, and when possible, with locally sourced ingredients.

I confess I’m not a beer drinker, but Aaron tells me "There's something for everyone," and pours me a flight. “We want people to have the best experience here so they want to keep drinking craft beer in other places."

I’m pleasantly surprised by the tasty fruit beers, especially the Burnside Blood Orange Ale. The lightly hopped blonde ale goes down easy.

Like the beers, I’ve found Medicine Hat full of surprises and instantly likeable – from the foodie and arts scene to all the outdoor activities, I could easily see myself spending a lot more time here, especially if it comes with a big dose of Vitamin D. 

More information

Medicine Hat has an energetic arts and culture scene. Here are few places to check out: 

  • Downtown Medicine Hat Art Walk: Go on your own tour of local art galleries, and see artists at work in their studios. Get a brochure at the Visitor Centre or download the PDF brochure here.

  • Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre: Experience art exhibits, talks, tours, and workshops in the 3,000-square-foot gallery.

  • Medalta: Learn about the ceramics industry in this innovative museum in the Historic Clay District with original buildings and beehive kilns.

  • Medicine Hat Family Leisure Centre: Get moving at this 218,000-square-foot facility with swimming pool, waterslide, wave pool, lazy river, kiddy pool; Olympic size ice rink; fitness centre, indoor running track; indoor field house; gymnasium; and many outdoor facilities, including a large BMX track.

  • Monarch Theatre: Enjoy a movie at the oldest running theatre in Canada around since 1911. The owner can often be seen in period dress just before show time. Regular shows are on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

  • Saamis Tepee: Check out one of the world’s tallest tepees near the Medicine Hat Visitor Centre at the edge of a Blackfoot buffalo jump.

Don't-miss events 

  • Tongue on the Post Music Festival - Attend a concert in a kiln, only at Medalta. Read more about the musicians and the vibe in this FestivalSeekers’ story.

  • Market @ Medalta - June to August, Thursdays, 4:30 - 8:30 p.m.

In-town outdoors fun

Medicine Hat has extensive walking and biking trails and great parks. Check these out: 

  • Police Point Park Found along the South Saskatchewan River, it's prime for wildlife spotting. Rent cross-country skis and snowshoes in the winter, and offers hikning and biking in summer at the interpretive centre 

  • Strathcona Island Park along the river, is close to downtown with biking trails, playground, ball diamond, ice skating, and fire pits.

  • Kin Coulee Park down the hill from the Saamis Tepee has a skateboard park, ball diamonds, beach volleyball courts, playgrounds, and picnic area.

  • Central Park has play structures, a spray park, and street basketball court.

Out of town parks 

  • Echodale Regional Park has a man-made lake, beach, canoe rentals. Paddle and fish in summer, ice skate in winter.

  • Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Year-round outdoor fun, including camping, beaches, mountain biking, stargazing, Hidden Valley Ski Resort, cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, cabins, and back-country huts.

Getting Here

Medicine Hat is 295 km southeast of Calgary on the TransCanada Highway.

Where to Stay

Hampton Inn and Suites offers spacious, well-appointed rooms, pool and fitness centre, business centre and free breakfast.

If you go

Dare to Explore: click here for more information on Medicine Hat.

Book now, the Hampton Inn & Suites have partnered with Medicine Hat and Hidden Valley Ski Resort to offer up these sweet #BucketlistAB packages

SnowSeekers and Travel Alberta have partnered to bring you the #BucketlistAB expedition - explore now.

Destination
Medicine Hat
Region
Interior Alberta
Province
Alberta