Uncover five Gems in Canada’s sunniest city
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Written and photographed by CHRIS ISTACE
The term “hidden gem” is used to describe something that is outstanding and but not necessarily obvious to most people. That’s what I wanted to learn about Medicine Hat, so I met up with Attiya Fune and her parents to explore the city and learn about five of the more off-the-beaten-path places for visitors.
1. Coffee culture at the MadHatter roastery
Our beautiful sunny morning, which is a common thing in “Canada’s Sunniest City,” started in the historic downtown. Mixed alongside the brick buildings of old and new, tucked away is the MadHatter Roastery. Attiya and her family ordered the hot chocolate and matcha lattes, but I felt the need for something a bit stronger to kickstart the day, so I asked barista Leanne Eskola for a triple shot Americano.
The Madhatter Roastery has a huge selection of coffees and teas and they roast their own beans right on the premises.
2. Going retro at Heartwood Café
With a soulful morning hot beverage finished, we set out to discover the next hidden gem, which recently blossomed into an even better experience recently. Heartwood Café has moved from downtown Medicine Hat to a fully renovated old brick building on historic North Railway Street. Once the bustling downtown railyards, this street is now being rejuvenated and gentrified.
Stepping into Heartwood Café, I felt at home and relaxed. From the warm, vibrant colours, to the vintage salvaged wood and chic ’60s tables and chairs, the café has its own unique personality, owing in part to the welcoming vibe. Attiya and her mom Bev enjoyed the good-sized smoked ham breakfast sandwich. Andy, Attiya’s father, went for the classic breakfast. Andy had the similar reaction I had to the restaurant: “the old-fashioned feel is inviting and makes me imagine I am visiting Grandma’s house.”
The Madhatter has a nice and cosy retro vibe with freshly made comfort food to match.
3. History and art at Medalta
With full bellies and soaking up all the “heart” the café had to offer, Attiya was eager to take us to our next stop with a fascinating history, Medalta Potteries. If you’ve seen a clay pot or unique piece of pottery at an antique store in Canada, there's a pretty good chance it was made right here at Medalta.
With more than a century of history, the old factory with its preserved machinery and unique beehive kilns, churned out thousands and thousands of pieces of clay works back in its heyday. Now it’s home to an impressive interpretive museum, art gallery, educational centre and pottery workshop in what is designated a national historic site.
Stepping into the old Medalta factory, it's easy to picture what a hive of activity the clay and brick factory was back in the day.
Time seemed to slip away as I read all about the factory on the informative plaques throughout the interpretive centre. As is custom at Medalta, a potter, on this day Faith Minorkozie, college art student and artist, sat at the potter’s wheel and expertly turned out a perfect bowl. It gave us a glimpse of Medalta’s legacy and the way it supports talented artists.
4. Culture at The Esplanade
You could easily spend a whole day at Medalta, but we were ready to explore a newer side of Medicine Hat. In the city’s heritage downtown section of First Street, stands The Esplanande. The arts hub is a stunning contemporary building and serves as the art, heritage and historical epi-centre.
On a walking tour of the museum we learned about the rich history of Medicine Hat, the people and the events that took place shaping the city that it has become. Heading into the art gallery, I was immediately captivated by the social commentary works of Jude Griebel, currently on display. “Ground Figure” runs until July 14 and is definitely worth checking out for his unusual and whimsical sculptures with a message.
Jude Griebel's Ground Figures exhibit is a whimsical series of sculptures with a message.
Next to the modern works of Jude Griebel, was a large selection from the famous Canadian Group of Seven with their rare works featuring Alberta. This exhibit also runs until July 14, and the visual recreations of stunning landscapes from around the province help you escape into a natural dream world.
The Esplanade is also home to live performance theatre, which will host the Jazzfest 2018 from June 17 to 24.
5. A heckava time at Hell's Basement Brewery
We were ready for a little apres culture time, so we set off to Hell’s Basement. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. Not totally a “hidden” gem anymore, Hell’s Basement Brewery is putting itself on the map as one of Southern Alberta premier craft brewers. The red brick walls, the salvaged local barn wood and the huge mural of the world’s largest teepee (yep, that’s in The Hat, too) create a truly Medicine Hat experience.
Hell's Basement is an award-winning craft brewer with an excellent lineup of beers and non-alcoholic beverages.
Attiya and Andy ordered up a flight from host and brewery tour guide, Amie Wesigerber. The warms golds and ambers of the beers tantalized our taste buds and we all had a chance to sample the crisp, cool and hoppy drinks. Hell’s Basement recently won awards for its Ryes Against the Machine rye beer, the Fruit Bat seasonal beer, the seasonal cider, and lastly, for its One Heck of a Soda, which is the in-house non-alcoholic root beer, and also one of Attiya’s favourites.
Hell’s Basement is open to all ages which makes it a fun place for families to visit. They even have board games to play while you’re sipping your drinks.
This seemed a fitting way to end our tour of the city. I felt lucky to have been treated to the city’s hidden gems by a family who clearly loves living here and is happy to share the best of the city to out-of-towners.
If You Go
Check into Tourism Medicine Hat to start planning your trip activities.
Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Medicine Hat.