The Hat gets hip: Coffee, craft beer and one cool clay factory
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 colorful 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.
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.
Where to Stay
Hampton Inn and Suites offers spacious, well-appointed rooms, pool and fitness centre, business centre and free breakfast. Book now.
Medicine Hat is 295 km southeast of Calgary on the TransCanada Highway.