Reconnecting with my old home of Medicine Hat


Rediscovering your old city is easy with a group of local enthusiasts

A ZenSeekers' road trip isn't complete unless the destinations include outdoor adventures, and culinary, learning and cultural experiences. Create your #BucketlistAB itinerary in Southern Alberta and come and stay a night and see a sight.

Written and photographed by Chris Istace

It’s often the little things that make the heart grow fonder in relationships, but that, I discovered, can also apply to your old home city. I recently made a return visit to Medicine Hat where I hadn’t lived in more than two decades only to find the city had changed – a lot.

And what better way to reconnect with your former stomping grounds than with a group of locals who clearly love their city and know all of its best spots and not-so-obvious charms.

Medicine Hat is the hub of southeast Alberta, located along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot and Cree First Nations. Over the centuries, it has grown substantially from the time the gently rolling landscape was an important gathering place for First Nations. The “Oasis of the Prairies” has blossomed into a diverse city and lays claim to the title, “sunniest city in Canada” (average 330 days a year).

It’s all part of the appeal of Medicine Hat to the people who call it home and love showing off what it has to offer.

Check into Tourism Medicine Hat to start planning your trip activities.

Watch A love letter to Medicine Hat #BucketListAB on YouTube.

The cottonwood trees line the bike paths in the parks around the city. Video by Chris Wheeler Media.

The Zucchini Blossom Market and Café was an ideal way to start the day. I could have sat for a long time on the outdoor patio along the north shore of the river valley under a canopy of cottonwood trees with a cup of fresh coffee. But Abby Czibere, with Tourism Medicine Hat, already had my plans laid out for a day of exploration. What better way to reacquaint myself with The Hat than from the seat of bike with avid biker and local, Alexa Haugan.

Alexa loves to get around the city by bike because as she says, “(That’s) when I feel the most grounded and connected to the city. You can slow down and connect with the people and places around you.”

Medicine Hat
Photo: Chris Istace

Riding along Medicine Hat's pathways is a great way to get to know the greenspaces and more about the city. 

FYI, visitors:  Tourism Medicine Hat offers a free, first-come-first-serve Borrow-A-Bike program.

While we set off on our bikes, the rest of the locals in the group climbed into kayaks for a trip on the South Saskatchewan River. It’s just one of the popular summer activities here, including for resident Chris Humphries. “In summer, we can put in way up by Redcliff (about 10 minutes by car north of the city) and float down with the current, pulling out at Strathcona Park right here in the city,” he told me.

Medicine Hat
Photo: Chris Istace

The South Saskatchewan River is the place to be in a kayak or a canoe on a gorgeous summer day, soaking up the sun and the views. 

That sounded like a fine idea, but I was already committed – and pumped – for our cycling excursion.

We glided down through the pretty neighbourhood of Riverside and across the historic Finlay Bridge, built in 1908 and connects the north to the south side of the South Saskatchewan River. From here, we cycled onto the two-km long scenic Devonian Trail – part of Canada’s Great Trail Network, the longest recreation trail in the world – running from downtown to Strathcona Island Park.

Riding along, I could see the heart of Medicine Hat as the river carved its way through the city. Bluffs high above overlooked the pretty, lushly treed valley. Arriving at the park that hugs the river and goes on for miles with biking and walking trails, it was obvious this inner-city sanctuary is a magnet for locals. Families and couples and joggers and walker were out enjoying the sights and sounds of spring.

We could have spent a lot more time here, but we decided to slip over onto the Seven Person Creek Trail. From this trail, you can ride around the iconic and historic Medalta Potteries. Medalta, once the industrial engine of the city, has been turned into a museum, art gallery and ceramic facility. Back in the early 1900s,it was Canada’s largest production centre for clay and pottery products. Just looking at the building, I could imagine the hustle and bustle of the workers in and around the buildings, and could easily see its lasting legacy on the city that is filled with red brick buildings.

Heading back to Strathcona Park, we stopped at the boat launch area to wait for the kayakers. At this time of year, the spring run-off from the distant Rocky Mountains made the river a mesmerizing spot with the fast-flowing waters and the riverside grasslands a relaxing place to sit back and watch the beauty of the world go by.

Check out our ZenSeekers’ story the Breweries Tour in Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat
Photo: Chris Istace

Step into the retro vibe of the Heartwood Cafe and you might just feel like you're in your grandma's house.

All that biking and kayaking made us hungry, so we headed to one of the locals’ favourite haunts, the Heartwood Café set on historic North Railway Street along the CP rail line. There’s a reason this is a popular spot: its commitment to using local produce and meats whenever possible, and a generous selection of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes.

Along the more than century-old North Railway Street, there’s evidence of a rebirth going on with new businesses popping up regularly. 

The décor of the Heartwood Café is a decidedly comfy, retro mix of 1960s style tables and chairs. It’s got such a sense of nostalgia that goes well with the home-cooked comfort food with a modern twist.

That’s the vibe owner Meghan Bidinger aims for, with the emphasis on regional foods, including having local craft beer from the city’s two local brewers.

The Heartwood Café – which calls itself “a café with heart,” was the perfect place to end my day and my re-introduction to Medicine Hat. It was easy to see why so many people fall in love with the community and for me, my happy memories of this place came flooding back – thanks to the locals.

If You Go

Check into Tourism Medicine Hat to start planning your trip activities.

Learn more about BucketlistAB here.

Grab an awesome itinerary and start your Southern Alberta adventure.

Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Medicine Hat.

Chris Istace is a ZenSeekers' correspondent, he can be found at The Mindful Explorer and on Instagram and Twitter.

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