Medicine Hat Aboriginal Tourism, History, Culture and Gateway to The Cypress Hills

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Author: Bob Kenyon

medicine hat courthouse

Medicine Hat Courthouse
Photo: Travel Alberta

Located on the Trans Canada #1 Highway 293 km. (182 miles) east of Calgary, AB and 434 km (270 miles) west of Regina, SK, Medicine Hat (known to western Canadians as “The Hat”), has 2,512 hours of sunshine annually, making it the sunniest city in Canada. The climate in southeast Alberta is semi arid with many dry coulees, formed by ancient glacial flows.

The city is located in the southeast corner of Alberta and on the South Saskatchewan River, which eventually makes its way to Hudson’s Bay as part of the Saskatchewan River. The the river also offers excellent water activities.

If you’re looking for things to do and see in “The Hat”, it’s a very busy little city. July 1 is the national celebration of Canada Day. During the third week in July, rodeo fans will enjoy the annual Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede with performances by country music favourites and Pro Rodeo competition.

With a strong arts community, focused around their Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre, with concerts and exhibits, “The Hat” has something for all fans of the arts. Arts events start off in January when Folk music fans will enjoy one of the rare indoor folk festivals in Canada, with the Medicine Hat Folk Music Club’s “Tongue On The Post” festival and summer brings with it the Medicine Hat Jazz Festival (late June).

Aboriginal history in the area has been traced back to the late prehistoric period. In the coulee below the Samis Teepee there is one of the most significant archaeological finds in the area and visitors can take a self-guided tour of the site. The steel and concrete, 20 story tall, Samis Teepee is a stop worth visiting also. It was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary to pay tribute to the aboriginal culture of Alberta.

If you’re wanting to find out about the Aboriginal history, of the area, be sure to visit the Miywasin Centre. The centre hosts it’s annual History of in Hills event every June. If you’re planning a trip into the Cypress Hills, which is the #1 adventure travel focal point on the area. 

 Medicine Hat Clay Industries

Medicine Hat Clay Industries
Photo: Travel Alberta

The City of Medicine Hat has a wonderful historic downtown area, with their period gas lamps, CPR station, and Courthouse, but the historic centre-piece of the city is the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, where the Medicine Hat Brick & Tile Company began manufacturing in the early 20th century along with Alberta Clay Products that made sewer pipe. Later during the height of the great depression Medalta Potteries and Hycroft China were founded to manufacture crock ware and white ware. The now collectable which included crocks (up to 50 gallons), jars, jugs, churns, spittoons, pitchers, pots, bowls, plates, teapots, casseroles, artware, planters were called by collectors “Little Chief” or “Sleepy Indian”. They became better know as the Medalta name. Today the National Historic Centre has tours of the now closed factories as well as exhibits, pottery courses and even an artist in residence program.

In addition to the Cypress hills, to the east, there are two very interesting trips to the south of “The Hat”:

Red Rock Coulee

Red Rock Coulee
Photo: Wikipedia®

Red Rock Coulee is 50 kms. southwest of Medicine Hat and as stated by Wikipedia® “Many features make Red Rock Coulee a special site to visit. Bedrock is close to the surface in this area, covered by only a thin layer of soil. Water erosion has carved the landscape over time and a badlands topography has formed in places. The bands of colour visible in the exposed bedrock are made of dark gray shales, greenish and gray sandstones, bentonitic clays and thin bands of ironstone.

The most striking features of this landscape are the round reddish boulders. These are sandstone concretions and at up to 2.5 m in diameter, they are among the largest in the world. The boulders were formed in prehistoric seas as layers of sand, calcite and iron oxide collected around a nucleus formed by shells, leaves or bones. The concretions grew larger as the circulating waters deposited more layers. The reddish colour comes from iron oxide. Look carefully at the concretions – you may be able to see their “growth rings” (layers of sediment deposition) and fossilized shells, leaves or bones”

Going approx. 170 kms (105 mi) southwest of Medicine Hat, will take you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, at Writing on Stone Provincial Park, by the Milk River.

writing on stone

Writing on Stone
Photo: Wikipedia®

As stated by Wikipedia® “It is one of the largest areas of protected prairie in the Alberta park system, and serves as both a nature preserve and protection for a large number of aboriginal rock carvings and paintings. The park is important and sacred to the Blackfoot and many other aboriginal tribes. The park has been nominated by Parks Canada and the Government of Canada as a World Heritage Site. Its UNESCO application was filed under the name Áísínai’pi which is Niitsítapi (Blackfoot) meaning “it is pictured / written”. The provincial park is synonymous with the Áísínai’pi.”

For more information about Medicine Hat, contact Tourism Medicine Hat.

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