If you've ever passed through Medicine Hat, or you're spending a few days in the area, you've probably wondered what to do there. To most people outside the city, Medicine Hat might seem like a sleepy little prairie town in the Canadian Badlands; but for those who live in Hell's Basement, they'll tell you that this city is one of the most exciting places you can explore in all of Alberta.
I've gone to Medicine Hat three times in the past two years, and while I'm no expert on this thriving city, I know where the hidden gems are. If someone I know is passing through the area, I tell them they need to visit Medicine Hat. To help explain why, I put an article together for anyone else interested in visiting the Hat.
If you're spending 24 hours in Medicine Hat, you'll need somewhere to sleep. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a little under an hour away and a great place to camp. Camping in Cypress gives you the choice to explore the park, the city, and everywhere in between.
If you're looking to focus your time in Medicine Hat, I recommend staying at the Home Inn Express. This hotel is near the edge of the city right off the highway, and has a wide variety of restaurants and shopping malls nearby. It's a very quiet hotel, and has some of the friendly staff I've ever met. As one who has had countless disappointing complimentary breakfasts, the one at the Home Inn Express is also one of the best I've had. With eggs, sausages, bacon, fruit, cereal and toast, it's the perfect way to start every morning – and it's free too!
If you'd rather explore the city for breakfast or your morning coffee, there are a wide variety of options available. One of them is the Madhatter Coffee Roastery. This coffee shop makes their own coffee from freshly imported beans from all over the world. They roast the beans to perfection, package them up and sell them across the city to other shops and individuals. The staff treats their clientele like family and help any new customer feel like they've found a second home.
Medicine Hat is full of quirky little coffee cops like The Madhatter. If you explore downtown, you'll find a coffee shop or two on every street. Some of the ones I've experienced and recommend are Station Company Coffee, Heartwood Café, Inspire Café and Zucchini Blossom Market & Café. If you are a coffee connoisseur, you might be interested in the Medicine Hat Coffee Tour, which takes you deep inside each cup of coffee to better understand and appreciate coffee culture.
After you've gotten your morning fix of caffeine, the city wakes up, and there's plenty for you to do. If you're the fishing type, Alberta Sturgeon Fishing Adventures could take you out on the waters for the day, giving you the chance to catch a monster fish like I did. You could also go on the Historic Walking Tour and see many 19th and 20th century buildings and learn a little about the city's dynamic history.
If you love walking tours, and nature, you can also mix that tour with the Heritage Trees of Medicine Hat walking tour, so you can explore nature and architecture together.
While you're in the Historic Clay District, you'll also want to visit Medelta. This old factory has now been converted to a multi-purpose space, and pre-booked tours of it can be arranged. On this tour, you can see how simple clay became over a billion bricks during its operation. Depending on the day and the size of the tour, you can even visit the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile Plant. If you happen to find yourself here on a Thursday, you'll want to come down to The Market @ Medelta, a massive food market that is quickly becoming one of the city's most popular events.
You'll also want to visit Medicine Hat's most iconic feature, The Saamis Tepee. As the largest tepee in the world, this highway attraction catches the eye of visitors almost immediately and is the perfect introduction to Medicine Hat's dynamic First Nations and Métis culture.
If you're still hungry from breakfast, Medicine Hat has a wide variety of places for lunch. Of them all, my favourite would have to be Skinny's Smokehouse. Not only is the food here delicious, but they pile up smoked meat, ham and sausage as high as they can safely stack it. They know their food is messy, so every table is equipped with a roll of paper towels. If you're frustrated you can't enjoy their succulent meat back home, you can also order fresh smoked meat and sausages to go and enjoy it later in the sanctity of your own kitchen.
Although Medicine Hat claims to have the most days of sunshine per year in Canada, so does Estevan, Saskatchewan. To prevent escalating the argument too far, it's safe to say both cities are very sunny and very dry. Either way, if you're in Medicine Hat during the afternoon, you will want to find somewhere to escape the heat.
If you're into history, you'll want to visit the Esplanade Museum and Archives. Here you can learn about Medicine Hat's colourful past, dating back over a century. You can also learn about their booms, their busts and the colourful people that helped make the city what it is today.
If you're into bright colours and something a little off the beaten path, Medicine Hat is also home to the Windmill Garden Centre & Butterfly House, a beautiful indoor butterfly sanctuary. Windmill Garden Centre is open year-round and is a great place to escape from both the summer heat and the winter chills, but The Butterfly House does close for the winter.
For those who like fast cars, there is also the Medicine Hat Drag Strip. I was able to get down into the pits to see the cars up close, and I was amazed by how much work and practice goes into a nine second race. I was also fascinated to learn that unlike regular racing, the first person at the finish-line isn't always the winner. Instead, the winner is the vehicle that finishes closest to their estimated time. Drag racing speeds can be very sensitive and anything like a breeze, the temperature on the track, the oxygen levels in the air, tire pressure in the wheels or a technical malfunction in the hardware can set off the vehicle by a hundredth of a second – which could be the difference between first place and disqualification. It's a lot of fun to watch, and the racers are extremely passionate about it.
As the sun goes down, the city comes alive. Regardless of what time of year you're in the city, there seems to almost always be a festival happening. If it isn't the Savour the Southeast Food Festival, it's the Sunshine Chalk Art Festival. If it isn't the Chili Cookoff, it's the Rooftop Roundup. There's also the Cars and Guitars Festival, Midnight Madness, The Hills Are Alive Music and Dance Cultural Festival, The Medicine Hat Jazz Festival, The Tongue on the Post Winter Folk Festival and the list goes on. Whatever time of year you find yourself in Medicine Hat, visit StayInMedicineHat.com to see what's happening around the city.
Beyond the festivals, Medicine Hat is also home to the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede. Although the stampede just wrapped up its 130th year, it is already preparing for next summer. If you visit it, you'd be introduced to chuck-wagon racing, horse competitions, barrel racing, a farmer's market, a parade and a great time for those that love buckin' broncos.
Just outside the grounds are two other points of interest for those who love history. The first is the remaining structure of Camp 132, one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps in Canada during World War II. This camp's population was about the same size as Medicine Hat. Although life at the POW camp was very difficult, the prisoners passed the time by forming hockey teams and playing against each other. When the war ended, many of the prisoners stayed in Medicine Hat instead of returning home. Today, what's left of the camp is used for administration offices. (Note: This isn't the first time I found myself in a former POW camp in Canada.)
The other historical location just outside the grounds of the Medicine Hat Stampede and Exhibition is Pioneer Village. This community houses seven buildings from the city's earlier days, including blacksmith shops, firehalls, schools and churches. It highlights the technology early pioneers had to live with, and their struggles against the unforgiving prairie landscape. Throughout the summer there are various workshops going on, but it is open year-round.
It's impossible to talk about Medicine Hat without talking about their geocaching scene. While geocaching – or electronic treasure hunting – isn't a new concept, Medicine Hat has taken it to a completely different level. There are tens of thousands of caches hidden throughout the city, sometimes in plain sight. It's a fun, relaxing, easy sport for anybody to do while spending some extra time in Hell's Basement.
After a long day of fishing, walking tours, barrel racing, concerts, festivals, museums, butterflies and plenty of sun, you'll need somewhere to sit down and enjoy supper. Like lunch, you have a wide variety of places to choose from. Of them all, there is one that really stood out for me, and that's District Bar & Grill. This restaurant focuses on bringing local foods to your table. All the food they sell is homemade, hand crafted and provided by local distributors. Although this means the cost of food is a little higher than your average burger joint, the taste is impeccable – and the crowds that form every night only punctuates it. At only a couple years old, District Bar & Grill lead the locally grown food scene in the city before it had taken off into what it is today.
The final place I'd recommend to visit is Hell's Basement Brewery. I came in to try their new IPA Milkshake but I ended up sending my taste buds on a journey through various kinds of beers and beverages. It's the perfect place to come after a long day to kick back, relax and drink some beer. While they don't provide the same food services as District Bar & Grill, they offer some of the best beer in the area, so it's a great alternative.
I have been to Medicine Hat three times in the past two years. I have done a lot, seen a lot and eaten a lot. Because of this, I feel I have a good grasp on what to do in the city – but there is one place that I can never find the time to visit, and that's the Monarch Theatre. As the oldest movie theatre in Canada, this theatre shows movies four times a week and is sitting in the heart of downtown. I've walked past it a thousand times and gawked at the classic movies they were playing, but I've never been inside.
If you find yourself in Medicine Hat, I recommend visiting the Monarch Theatre. Because I have only seen it from the outside, I'm putting it down as an "Honourable Mention" as I have yet to experience it for myself.
This list should give you a good idea of what to see while in Medicine Hat. Although it may appear to be a sleepy little city, there is a lot happening here throughout the year. What surprised you the most? Did I forgot to mention anything? Tell me all about it in the comments below.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.