Indulge in food, drink and friendship in Vermilion
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The cafe, the cheesemaker, the craft cocktail maker - it’s not a nursery rhyme, it’s an afternoon in Vermilion. Afternoon indulgences are the kind of thing that are often best shared with friends. For example, strawberries with chocolate smeared on toast, a sampling of fine cheeses or a three o’clock cocktail.
For Jen McConnell and Carly and Laurie Makichuk, it’s a reunion of sorts, which calls for a celebration. Although only one of the girls is related biologically, Laurie Makichuk keeps referring to Jen and Carly as “my two daughters,” and it’s clear there is a special bond between them.
“Spending time with family is my number one thing in life, so getting to spend this day with my daughter, I feel very blessed, and Jen is like another daughter to me,” says Laurie.
The Makichuks drove less than an hour from Lloydminster at Jen’s invitation for a day of exploring Vermilion, Alberta. To begin the day, the three visited the Old School Cheesery, just outside town in the County of Vermilion River.
Run by Patrick Dupuis and his daughter, Valerie Roberts, the cheese factory is one of only six certified craft cheese producers in Alberta, and a member of Alberta’s Economusees, a selection of artists and craft producers who offer close-up experiences in their shops and studios.
Inside the white quonset fitted as a cheese factory, Roberts and Dupuis explained the steps for cheesemaking. As the large vat of cheese curds churned and slowly curdled the visitors learned about the process. But clearly the highlight was the array of cheeses to sample after the tour. With tasty renditions of brie, cheddar, blu and fresh squeaky curds to try, it was impossible to leave but there was talk of cocktails on main street.
From the cheese course, the next stop was shopping on main street (50th Avenue) in Vermilion. The Craig’s Corner Store building anchors the downtown strip, which consists of about three blocks of one- and two-storey shops.
After a fire razed the Vermilion business district in 1918, much of downtown was rebuilt with red clay quarried from a site near the river. Many of the red brick buildings from that era still stand, a testament to Vermilion’s good-old-fashioned resilience as well as its modern ingenuity. Take Craig’s: once a department store, it now houses the local fashion hub, with four different clothing and apparel boutiques.
Across the street, the Red Brick Cafe pays homage to the town’s history, while serving up the kind of modern fare you would expect in bigger urban centres. Funky orange couches, vintage suitcases and antique wood decor make a cozy backdrop for dining on delicious fare like salmon with poached eggs and greens, jackfruit bao and the aforementioned strawberry chocolate toast.
“People may pass by Vermillion because it’s a smaller community, but there are a lot of things that are really unique to the area, like signature cocktails,” says McConnell. “We have a lot here for the size of this community.”
The signature cocktails McConnell is referring to can be found another block down the avenue at Copper Cork Distillery. Everything about Copper Cork sings out local - from the stills named after the founding partners’ grandmothers, to the flavours of their moonshine, to the cocktail names.
When one local woman passed away, leaving behind a very large raspberry patch, her husband decided to donate the berries to the distillery. This was the inspiration behind Vi’s Raspberry Moonshine.
“[Vermilion] is a very close-knit, family place, everyone’s very friendly,” says McConnell. “They know you by name.”
That kind of familiarity and community spirit is part of the vibe of Vermilion. For McConnell and the Makichuks, it’s a big part of the attraction.
“We were talking today about supporting local and what better way is there than to enjoy some food and drinks from places that are local, using natural products that are made with love,” says Carly.
Looking out over Vermilion Provincial Park from the town’s back doorstep, the trio basks in the late afternoon glow. Bonds are made over experiences like these shared among friends and family.
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Video produced by ZenSeekers and Edmonton's Viva Voce Group and all images produced by ZenSeekers and Indigenous photographer, Canmore based Angus Cockney.