What to See and Do in “The Hat”

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Driving west from Regina on the Trans Canada Highway you come to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park spanning the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta. In the Alberta section of the park alone there are 50 km of hiking trails. Hiking lets you fully appreciate the moving beauty of the prairies and coulees. See especially the view from the Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint and the outlook at Reesor Lake. The sunsets viewed from the park are really spectacular.

After a walk in the park do stop in the small city of Medicine Hat. It has been promoted as “Gas Town” and is now branded as “Canada’s Sunniest City”.

In the late 19th century with the coming of the railway and the discovery of natural gas nearby the town quickly grew around a number of industries. The alluvial clay deposited by the South Saskatchewan River which flows through “The Hat” provided the raw material for the manufacturing of brick, tile and pipes. And, so successful was this enterprise, that a pottery was established that supplied all of Canada with great variety of tableware.

You can visit the old pottery factory at the Medalta Pottery in the Historic Clay District. Medalta Pottery, which operated between 1912-1954, was famous for the production of sturdy hotel dinnerware, kitchen ware and china souvenirs. They didn’t use local clay but they factory depended on cheap natural gas to fire its several kilns. At one time as many as 300 workers were employed by Medalta. The name is, of course, a combination of Medicine Hat and Alberta.

The pottery manufactured by Medalta is highly collectable so many visitors are drawn to the Clay District of Medicine Hat by the chance to see some of the over 20,000 pieces in the collection there. Pieces from other potteries in the district, Haycroft China and Sunburst Ceramics are also on display. As part of the instruction in the in’s and out’s of pottery manufacture you can watch an artist from the artist in residence program throwing and firing pottery. You are unlikely to forget this very unusual site.

A walk around Medicine Hat is also highly recommended as the downtown core consists of a good ensemble of early 20th century houses, some of which, built by wealthy industrialists, are quite grand. There are several substantial commercial buildings with interesting shops and boutiques. Notice the quaint gas lighting in the downtown core. Also in the downtown is the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre. It houses an art gallery with changing exhibits, mostly of contemporary art, a museum and theatres offering a wide range live performance.

You can’t miss one of Medicine Hat’s oddest attractions. On the edge of the coulee through which flows the South Saskatchewan River is the Saamis Tepee. The world’s tallest tepee this structure was constructed for the 1988 Calgary Olympics. For those interested in the “largest thing beside the road” such as the Starship FX6-a995-A at Vulcan, Alberta or the Vegreville Monumental Ukrainian style Easter Egg, the Saamis Tepee will be an important addition to your photograph collection. Below the tepee in the coulee lies and important archaeological site were hundreds of bison were butchered. It is a local version of Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump at Fort MacLeod, Alberta.

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