Medicine Hat Adventures – Medicine Hat, Canada

On Tuesday we drove from Calgary to Medicine Hat which is about a three hour drive further east in Alberta.  We had been warned that the landscape was going to be very flat with long straight roads – they weren’t wrong.  We saw lots of fields of Canola flowers and wheat and not much else!  I had never thought about where Canola Oil came from.

Canola was developed through conventional plant breeding from rapeseed, an oilseed plant already used in ancient civilization as a fuel.  When the war blocked European and Asian sources of rapeseed oil, a critical shortage developed, and Canada began to expand its limited rapeseed production.  After the war, demand declined sharply, and farmers began to look for other uses for the plant and its products. Rapeseed oil extracts were first put on the market in 1956–1957 as food products, but these suffered from several unacceptable characteristics. Rapeseed oil had a distinctive taste and a disagreeable greenish color, due to the presence of chlorophyll.  

Canola was bred from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba, Canada, by Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson in the early 1970s, having then a different nutritional profile than present day oil in addition to much less erucic acid.  A variety developed in 1998 is considered to be the most disease and drought resistant canola variety to date. This and other recent varieties have been produced using genetic engineering. In 2011, 26% of the acres sown were genetically modified (biotech) canola.

Canola was originally a trademark, but is now a generic term for edible varieties of rapeseed oil in North America and Australia. In Canada, an official definition of canola is codified in Canadian law.  Canada is the second largest producer of Canola Oil in the world.  Our first stop in Medicine Hat was Best Buy which is a large electronics store – this store has overtaken the hardware store in Stevie’s world.  I sat in the car and read my book, although I discovered after Steve returned to the car and we drove around to the supermarket that there was actually a shopping mall within 100 metres!

We were spending the first couple of nights out at Elk Water Lodge which is in the Cypress Hills, about 40 minutes from Medicine Hat.  The plan was to get out there, unpack and go and play the 9 hole course.  That wasn’t to be, the thunder clouds moved in and there was quite a downpour with lots of thunder and lightening. 

Elkwater is an unincorporated community at the western edge of the Cypress Hills in southeastern Alberta.  The former hamlet is located within Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park on the south edge of Elkwater Lake, and consists mostly of a collection of cabins. The name “Elkwater” is translated from Blackfoot.  Since the Elkwater townsite is in a provincial park, it is administered by the provincial government. Residents can never own the land on which their cottages or homes are built. Leases must be negotiated with the provincial government.

It is a lovely spot and we enjoyed a little wander around the lake one morning.  We had been told that Cougars had been spotted in the area : 0

On Thursday we drove back into Medicine Hat to the Desert Blume Golf club to meet up with Gary & Anita for a game. This was the start of the Canada Cup – a sporting rivalry that was borne back on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean in June 2014. Steve and I had taken a shore excursion to Sorento and the Isle of Capri in Italy. We were sweltering in the heat waiting for the ferry to take us back to the cruise ship when Steve and Gary struck up a conversation. It turned out that Gary was a keen golfer with a healthy competitive streak – bingo – two peas in a pod. Gary was with his wife Anita and their friends Pat & Kaye. No doubt Steve spun a few yarns which lead to a daily ping pong and mini putt competition on the cruise ship. Email addresses were exchanged and the rest is history. Check out the Desert Blume blog post regarding the scintillating and nail biting Canada Cup.

We had a lovely dinner at Gary & Anita’s before going to a concert at the Stampede Grounds.  This week was Stampede Week in Medicine Hat.  The concert featured Harlequin, Chillawack and April Wine.  They are old Canadian rock bands so we didn’t know any of their songs but it was still a fun atmosphere.

On Thursday we golfed again but this time Pat & Kay joined us so it we split up into girls and boys.  That evening we went to Pat & Kay’s for pizza – they have a pizza oven and are quite the masters.  The pizzas were delicious.  We even had a desert pizza which had Nutella, blueberries, goats cheese, white chocolate and roasted walnuts on it – it was delicious.  Steve was up to his old egg tricks again so had the girls out on the lawn giving it a go with some success.

On Friday night, Gary & Anita had organised a party with some of their friends.  They prepared a great meal of ribs, sausages and salads.  We were on desert so we did our Kiwi BBQ desert – fruit, chocolate bits and mini marshmallows on the BBQ.  There were about 29 people expected so we did 29 little packages up.  It was a fun night and really nice to meet all their friends.  Steve was up to his usual Minister of Tourism for NZ antics, the Kiwi BBQ desert was a hit as was the NZ wine we had taken over so hopefully we will have a few more Canadian visitors in the near future.  

This is how you buy Chocolate Chips – 2.4kg.  They don’t muck around with the 250 gram bags we buy!

We had a quiet start to the day on Saturday. I took a walk down town to do some exploring in the morning and then in the afternoon we went to the Rodeo. We had never been to a Rodeo before so it was really cool. We saw the guys jumping off the horse to catch the calf, the guys lassoing the calf and then having to restrain it, wild horse riding and of course the wild bull riding. The cowgirls also did there stuff with a time trial around three barrels and then a couple of girls doing acrobatics while riding their horses at top speed. It was very entertaining. Unfortunately one of the bull riders got hurt and had to be taken away by ambulance – the bull had fallen on his leg so it was potentially broken. They took a lot of precautions loading him onto the gurney wth neck braces etc… It is a very dangerous sport and as Steve says “they must have rocks in there heads to do it”!

They also have a big fair going at the rodeo with rides, food and an exhibition hall.  It goes on for a week and is a big thing for the community – it is known as the Medicine Hat Stampede.  The ‘performers’ are professionals and travel all over the place participating in shows for prize money.  Over 500 volunteers work at the Stampede which has been going since 1887 making it one of the oldest Stampedes in North America.


Monday night was our last night in Medicine Hat so we met Pat & Kay at the Local for dinner. Another evening filled with laughter and various shenanigans. We have had such a fabulous time connecting with our Canadian friends. The hospitality that they have shown us has been outstanding and we feel very privileged to have been invited into their homes and to have shared quality time with them. They have been fantastic tour guides and we’ve enjoyed learning about their corner of the world which we also happen to think is pretty awesome : )

Steve sitting between two dominant woman – not sure if he has his eyes closed because he is in heaven or because he is fearing for his life!

Pat & Gary – Pat with his pint of Coke!

Steve enjoying his personal space being invaded by the hugging monster Gary : ). The headwear is courtesy of the fries the boys had just enjoyed!

Medicine Hat has a population of approximately 63,000 people.  Historically, Medicine Hat has been known for its large natural gas fields, being immortalized by Rudyard Kipling as having “all hell for a basement”.  Because of these reserves, the city is known as “The Gas City”. It is Alberta’s sixth largest city
The name “Medicine Hat” is the English translation of Saamis (SA-MUS) – the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men – or “Medicine Hat”.

In 1883, when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached Medicine Hat and crossed the river a town site was established using the name from the First Nations legends. As the west developed, Medicine Hat became instrumental with the development of the first hospital past Winnipeg in 1889 and as a CPR divisional point. It was incorporated as a town on October 31, 1898, and as a city on May 9, 1906. Medicine Hat is halfway between Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Rich in natural resources including natural gas, coal, clay, and farmland, the town was known in the early days as “the Pittsburgh of the West”.  A number of large industries located here, under the inducement of cheap and plentiful energy resources. Coal mines, brick works, pottery and glass bottle manufacturing plants, flour mills, etc. became established. The agricultural potential of the surrounding area, both in crop and livestock, also made the town a viable service centre with a well established transportation route. An economic boom was experienced between 1909–1914 bringing the population to over 10,000. Little growth occurred between the World Wars, although the population swelled in the mid-1940s due to the town hosting one of the largest Second World War P.O.W. camps in Canada. It was not until the 1950s that the town again experienced significant commercial development. Today, Medicine Hat prides itself as one of the most economical places to live in Canada, with its unique city-owned gas utility and power generation plant being predominant factors. Major industries have included chemical plants, a Goodyear tire and rubber plant, greenhouses, numerous oil and gas related companies, a foundry, I-XL Industries (a brickworks dating from the 1880s), to name a few.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the three prairie provinces in Canada as they are partially covered by prairie or grasslands.  Medicine Hat receives less precipitation annually than most other cities on the Canadian Prairies and plentiful sunshine and is widely known as “The sunniest city in Canada”,  making it a popular retirement city.   

Medicine Hat has a sister city type relationship with New Plymouth in NZ potentially through the gas industry.  It was quite fitting that I visited Medicine Hat given I am the SUNGRL and I was born in New Plymouth!

 This landmark in Riverside Park in downtown Medicine Hat represents a more modern influence of the railway, and is located just a stones throw from the old railway bridge that spans the South Saskatchewan River. Two vintage diesel train engines, numbered 1418 and 1424, have been on permanent display here since 1985. As noted on the placard, these engines were retired after traveling more than seven million miles. 

The Ewart Duggan House.  In 1887, John Ewart built this house using brick manufactured by B.C. McCord at the site if the present day I-XL Medicine Hat Brick & Tile plant.  As the oldest standing home in Alberta, it is a testament to the durability of brick.  I-XL Ltd acquired this historic home and in 2002 donated it to the community for use by the Museum (which is next door) as part of the Esplanade.

The court house built in 1919 which is still used today.

In 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway stopped to build a bridge across the South Saskatchewan River.  This was the first major river crossed by the railway after leaving Winnipeg.  The bridge took a year to build.  

St Barnabas Anglican Church also built of the brick produced by B.C. McCord

Ben C. McCord came to the Medicine Hat area with his brother in about 1880 from British Columbia.  He established the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile Company which operated between 1885 and 1925.  The company produced bricks for the school house, the residence and warehouse of Mr. Ewart, and the houses of Mr. Tweed and Mr. Cousins.  Jacob and Charles Purmal took over the company in the 1890’s and renamed it Purmal Brick Company.  In 1929 Herbert J. Sissons bought the company, and it has remained in the Sissons family ever since. The company was renamed I-XL Industries in 1971. 

A chokecherry tree which is native to North America.  For many Native American tribes choke cherries were the most important fruit in their diets.  Nowadays the fruit is used to make jam, jelly or syrup but the bitter nature of the fruit requires sugar to sweeten the preserves.  Chokecherry is toxic to horses, moose, cattle, goats, deer and other animals with segmented stomachs.

About a year ago mail delivery to homes was stopped and these neighbourhood mail boxes installed.  Perhaps that is the next step for NZ Post given it has just reduced our home mail deliveries to three days a week.


This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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1 Response to Medicine Hat Adventures – Medicine Hat, Canada

  1. Catherine LAMB says:

    Can’t believe a Kiwi girl hasn’t been to a Rodeo! Your upbringing was sadly lacking! lol

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