Go West, Day 22 – Medicine Hat, AB

Author: Larry St Aubin

We leave BC behind with wonderful memories and head to Medicine Hat, Alberta along the Crowsnest Highway. When planning this trip I wondered where I would stop in Alberta on the way back. When I found out that Medicine Hat was having its 27th Annual Jazz Fest, I knew where I would end up on June 23rd.

Southern Alberta’s land acknowledgment – Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (blood), Piiani, Stoney-Nadoda, Tsuut”ina (Sacree)

I wanted to get an early start. There are a few things planned for Medicine Hat. The hotel offers a Denny’s restaurant which is open 24 hours. It is off to Denny’s for breakfast. Had the Classic Benny’s with the hash browns in a patty. I was the first one that morning. The courtesy driver from the night before said he has spent many a late night here after his shift at the pub.

Driving the Crowsnest Highway over the mountains. We stop for coffee, snack and a pee break in Fernie, BC. Went to an independent called Freshies. They didn’t have any muffins but got a peanut butter cookie.

One thing I noticed when we crossed the Alberta border. There were really no “rest stops”. In BC they were every 30 km and had a toilet, benches and usually a nice view. Alberta had “roadside turnouts” with a figure of a person on the sign dropping garbage. And that was it – a trash and recycling container. I only stopped at the one because we all needed a stretch.

This one did have and information sign about how 300 Doukhobors came from BC to settle in the nearby town of Cowley. Their motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life”.

Medicine Hat has a lot to offer. Only having one day I was hard pressed to decide what to see and what to leave out. The city has a strong tourism department.

When I contacted the tourism department with a question, he offered to mail me a Visitor’s Guide. It had a whole section on dog-friendly patios. Usually I have to email each restaurant to find out so this really helped.

How Medicine Hat got its name. The following is one of the many legends that has been passed down among Indigenous people. There are many other variations that exist! Medicine Hat inherited its name from the word “Saamis”, which is loosely translated as “medicine man’s hat”. The legend tells of a winter with great famine and hardship for the Blackfoot nation. The elders of the Council chose a young man to save his tribe from starvation. After many arduous days he made his way to the “breathing hole”, an opening in the ice of the South Saskatchewan River believed to be the place of the Great Spirit.

The young hunter made camp and summoned the spirits who appeared in the form of a serpent. The Great Spirit told the man to spend the night on the small island (Strathcona) and “in the morning when the sun lights the cutbanks, go to the base of the great cliffs and there you will find a bag containing medicines and a Saamis (holy bohnet)”. The bohnet, he was told, was to be worn only in war, and would ensure victory to the wearer.

Aided by the magic of his Saamis, the young hunter located the much-needed game, saved his people, and eventually became a great Medicine Man. Thus, the first “medicine hat”; a symbol of leadership, prowess, and mysticism on the western plains, came into existence. The city was founded at the location of the ancient legend. Inside City Hall, you will find a beautiful brick relief mural depicting the “Legend of the Saamis” by James Marshall.

You can read more legends and native mysteries here

Saamis Tepee. The Saamis Tepee was originally constructed for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics. Each of the 10 masts feature a large storyboard depicting aspects of native culture and history.

Greta does have the heart of an eagle.

There are information signs detailing the culture and history of the peoples of this land.

When we got there, a man was sitting at the picnic table looking at the teepee – it looked like in contemplation. As we walked up, he turned around and faced away from it. Almost like he was allowing us our time in the sacred place.

And it was indeed, majestic. Silent yet powerful.

Below the Saamis Tepee in scenic Seven Persons coulee lays the Saamis Archaeological Site, one of the most important archaeological sites of the Northern Plains. The area was once a buffalo camp and meat processing site, and experts believe over 83 million artifacts are buried at the site.

It was getting hot so we didn’t go down to the site.

The Saamis Archaeological Site is a Provincial Historic Site located in the valley of Seven Persons Creek in Medicine Hat.

Saamis Archeological Site

“Encompassing an area of 36 hectares, this site has been interpreted as a winter and early spring campsite between 1390 and 1820 A.D. For thousands of years, First Nation groups traveled to the vicinity of Medicine Hat during their seasonal round of activities to take advantage of the rich resources. This included large suitable camps for processing bison meat and were rich with water, shelter and a diversity of smaller animals and plants.” 

“However, over the years, the site has become an unofficial off-leash dog park. Recent floodings have revealed bison bones, evidence of a meat processing activity. You can well imagine off-leash dogs and bison bones. The city is responsible for the heritage designation and protection. The proposal is to have dogs remain on-leash.”

“Artifacts from human habitation abound throughout the site. The lower flats contain evidence of large-scale bison butchering and meat processing activities. The upper reaches hold evidence of campsite activities: a number of campfires (hearths), roasting pits, and concentrations of bones and fire-broken rock. The artifacts encompass cultural activities, economies, and trade. Tools from Montana and North Dakota quarries have been found. In addition to bison processing remains from other animals have also been found including eagle, antelope, wolf, fox, and bear.”

LOCAL Public Eatery has a pet friendly patio and is located in the historic downtown area. We head there for lunch. Parking was a bit of a problem. I followed the large “P” sign to a 3 storey parkade. The first floor was for the bus terminal. The second for monthly passes. The third was for public and it was almost empty. Later, I found out from the cab driver that it has always been like that. People prefer to hunt for a street parking spot, rather than use the parkade.

The restaurant had a shady table out front. I had been planning on doing the public art tour. I saw one in the distance. However, as I drank my Medicine Hat “Sin Bin” pale ale, I decided to check out the afternoon jazz workshop instead.

Got the Korean pulled pork bowl. The pork pieces were small enough to give to a little pug with only 4 teeth. The other one, staring at me from under the table, has most of her teeth and will have the pork in any form.

On the way to the arts centre we passed by the courthouse.

When the Medicine Hat Courthouse was constructed in 1919-1920, it was the first of its kind design wise, with its Beaux-Arts Classicism style. The two-story building was designated a Provincial Historic Resource and inspired the design of at least two other subsequent provincial courthouses. It is the most elaborate, oldest, and best model of its style to this day.

The architect was R.P. Blakey, who worked for the Department of Public Works. It was completed in 1920. The first case at the courthouse involved both horse theft and car theft. It is the oldest courthouse in continuous use in Alberta.

Across the street from the Eslanade Arts & Heritage Centre is, supposedly, the world’s largest chess set. It is a little park setup with regular size chess boards, but also a large one for playing with the large pieces. It is maintained by the Medicine Hat Chess club. Read more about it.

Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre is everything in a building concept. There is the theatre, but also Archives, Art Gallery, Museum.

Kipling’s Letter. In the early twentieth century, as US journalists made Medicine Hat the butt of jokes about supplying bad weather, a vote was set to take place regarding a city name change. Those in favour of the city’s name gathered at the Cypress Club and drafted a letter to English author, Rudyard Kipling, asking him to weigh in. His impassioned response arrived in Medicine Hat weeks later, urging the city to “proudly go forward as Medicine Hat – the only city officially recognized as capable of freezing out the United States and giving the continent cold feet.”

Thanks to that letter, the name Medicine Hat was here to stay.

We settled in the shade of a tree near the workshop stage. For some reason Greta wanted to be in the sun.

Then she started getting sporty, rolling around in the grass. She doesn’t do that as often as Eve. I had the camera in my hand and started the video.

After the workshop started, they got tired and took a nap.

Caity Gyorgy is a 2 time Juno award winner for jazz vocalist. She was touring with her trio promoting her recording of original songs, “Now Pronouncing”. She is a bebop and swing singer. However, she not only sings jazz standards but composes her own songs. Here is one

She did something fascinating with the workshop. She asked the audience for two jazz standards, combined them, created a melody with two audience members, then got the whole audience to help with the lyrics. She really knew how to make an audience comfortable with the idea of song writing.

The first song an audience member chose was “The Girl From Ipanema”. Caity worked with the band to take the first 4 chords. The second song was “Fly Me to the Moon”. The bridge from The Girl From Ipanema was then combined with Fly Me to the Moon chords. She the asked for an audience member to help with the first melody.

Another audience member helped with the second part. Caity then went through it and got the audience to sing along. The pugs slept through the enchantment.

After getting the audience to compose the lyrics, the band did the completed song. It was about sitting on the grass, listening to music at the JazzFest. The whole process to 30 minutes.

Eve and Greta weren’t panting. They slept through most of it. I’m glad I decided to do this instead of walking around the city. The pugs weren’t hot and I learned how one jazz composer can put together a song.

Econo Lodge. The one thing that annoyed me about Medicine Hat is there are no hotels downtown. They are all located out on the Trans Canada Highway or near the airport. I contacted the tourism office about this. The representative acknowledged this and that it is something the city is working on. I like to be able to walk out the hotel door and be a few steps from shops and restaurants.

They gave me a room with 2 double beds. I booked it through Air Miles so wasn’t looking for luxury. Settled everyone down with dinner then headed out for my own.

Casa Amigos Cantina. Given the parking situation, I decided to take a cab downtown. The cab driver had been living in Medicine Hat for 49 years. He was well aware of both the parking and lack of downtown hotels. I decided on this place because it was within a short walking distance of the theatre.

Had chicken tacos and a Hells Basement Midday Mariachi amber (it was Happy Hour and only $5 for a pint).

There was a Latin jazz band setting up. Although not part of the festival, the restaurant was keeping with the theme. Apparently a couple of clubs in the city do the same.

Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre. It is a beautiful space and, as I mentioned, functions as a multi-purpose building. The lobby had lots of volunteers, art on the wall and a spiral staircase.

There was a musician’s setup in the lobby. I found out that there was another artist performing here at 9:30 pm

The theatre’s wood interior gave a warm feeling – like Korner Hall in Toronto.

I got a ticket for the double bill show at 7:30. Caity Gyorgy (pronounced George) is is a two-time JUNO award–winning Canadian vocalist who is known for singing bebop and swing music. Joining Caity are Jacob Wutzke on drums, Anthony D’Allessandro on piano, and Thomas Hainbuch on bass.

“The Ostara Project, spear-headed by award-winning musicians Jodi Proznick and Amanda Tosoff, is a jazz super-group that showcases the strength and creativity of Canadian women in jazz. Joining Jodi and Amanda are Laila Biali on vocals and keys, Rachel Therrien on trumpet, Allison Au on saxophone, Valèrie Lacombe on drums and Shruti Ramani on vocals.”

Here is a song co-written by Jodi and Amanda. It is from a poem written to Jodi’s young son.

I was thinking of going back to the Mexican restaurant but at 9:30 I was feeling the long day. Got back to the hotel and took Eve and Greta to a grassy area that also had the Econo Lodge sign. Even though I was tired from all the driving, the jazz fest had helped to ease that tension.

Medicine Hat was a good choice to visit. Tomorrow we head to Saskatchewan.