Artistic alchemy brewing in Vermilion


VERMILION, AB - Kim Chomyk breaks into a grin as the shape of a bowl begins to emerge from the potter’s wheel, under the careful coaching of Heather Milan at the Pottery Guild in Vermilion. Chomyk and her husband Eric have come to Vermilion for the day to explore the local arts scene.

A quiet renaissance is underway in the tiny prairie town. Painters, sculptors, distillers, cheese-makers, and restaurateurs are taking inspiration from and building on the raw materials they find in the region. But ask locals “why here?” in this eastern Alberta town of just 4,150 wedged between nearby roadside attractions and prairie farmland, and they are hard-pressed to explain.

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“There are a lot of artists, a lot happening artistically in this town and I don’t really know why, but I think it’s great,” says Cindi Plant, who teaches art classes at her Heartworks Studio.

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Even the town’s mayor is into the scene. Caroline McAuley drops into Heartwork Studio during the batik workshop Kim is attending, ties on a Heartwork apron and gets to work. 

Photo: Jeremy Derksen
Pottery classes at Heartwork Studio.

“It just began as a bunch of things that started brewing,” says McAuley, “and now it’s become a place and other communities are looking at us, asking how come?”

Down on Main Street, the Red Brick is buzzing with lunch patrons in a space that could easily fill in as a set on Portlandia, the popular TV show that parodies life in hipster-centric Portland, Ore.

Early afternoon finds Kim and Eric browsing wares at Art in the Park, an annual arts festival held each September. Steaming cinnamon buns come out of an open-air, brick oven in the centre of the park, mixing with the pleasant smell of early fall.

Cinnamon buns come steaming out of the community oven.

There is a quiet artfulness in many aspects of daily living here in Vermilion, it seems.

Perhaps Todd Ree sums it up best. “A plumber, an electrician and a builder were sitting at a bar, and in walks a reproductive physiologist,” he begins.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s actually his way of explaining how Copper Cork Distillery came into being. Ree is the reproductive physiologist; his partners comprise the other three. The distillery opened in fall 2019, with creative, tasty concoctions that could only be the brainchild of such a unique pairing.

Photo: Jeremy Derksen
Touring Copper Cork Distillery.

Maybe it’s the alchemy of land-based craftsmen, artisans and academics that is spinning a new kind of prairie gold here in Vermilion.

“You make something with your hands, you do it on your own, and when people try it, the reaction they have… that is what drives me,” says Patrick Dupuis, founder of Old School Cheesery, only the sixth cheesemaker in the province of Alberta. The high demand for his products, in grocery stores and restaurants across the province, speaks for itself.

Back at the Pottery Guild, with clay-covered hands but a smile on her face, Chomyk’s reaction is obvious and immediate. When you channel the head, the heart, and the hands into a tangible product, there is something deeply satisfying about it. Whatever the cause of Vermilion’s transformation into a burgeoning art community, you can’t argue with the results.


Check out Vermilion’s home page to get a copy of its business and community guide, which will make planning your visit here a snap.

Try your hand a Batik, a cool form of fabric painting, at Heartworks Studio on Oct. 26. Check out their Facebook page for details. 

How many communities do you know that have a Good Life Institute? This community hub produces a ton of events and programs to keep citizens and visitors engaged in everything from learning workshops to sporting events. 

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