Fam Tour 2018, Part 3: Town and Country

Fam Tour 2018, Part 3: Town and Country

The second of our two days of tours began with a coffee date and open-air presentation on the value of volunteers and tourism. Our caffeinated start was at Vintage Coffee Bar in downtown Didsbury. The group enjoyed homemade baked goodies and fresh roasted coffee. There’s nothing like finding those delightful little out-of-the-way cafés when you are looking to enjoy some atmosphere and good quality food before a long day ahead.

Our guest presenter while we sipped our java was Kathleen Windsor, a long-time volunteer in the Olds-Didsbury area. She’s been a key person in many organizations: Olds Regional Exhibition (formerly Olds Agricultural Society in the days when they hosted the Mountain View County Fair); Didsbury Chamber of Commerce & the Annual Art, Travel & Trade Expo; Mountain View Arts Society, hosts of the Days of Yore and Culture Days; and some years ago, the former Prairies to Peaks Tourism Association. Kathleen is a font of wisdom and inspiration, and we are grateful for all her contributions to making this region a place where we have gathered for fun and festivities over the years.

A quiet spot to sit for a morning coffee, before our presentation at the Didsbury Station.

We got onto our bus and took a quick detour through Didsbury to check out some of the beautiful historic buildings in town, like the old school (now the Didsbury & District Museum). The old sandstone architecture and small-town western vibe of Didsbury has made it an attraction for many movie and tv series shoots, including “Winnona Earp”, “Fargo” and “Let Him Go” with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.

Along the way, we took a drive down Highway 766, site of the 2016 Tour of Alberta bicycle race. Although the weather that day put a damper on the event (literally, I was ankle-deep in water at the finish line – took me 3 days to warm up!) we learned a lot about the sport of road cycling, and that our county was a popular place for cyclists in Alberta! The scenery is amazing, and there is a route for every skill level. The Tour chose to come up the 766 as it was broad, well-paved yet did not have as great an impact on the transportation needs pressed upon main highways in the County like the QE2, Highways 2A or the Cowboy Trail Highway 22. If you’re looking for a quiet country drive that takes you through some of the most beautiful scenic farmland in Central Alberta, or you’d like to take the bikes off the back of the vehicle for an excursion, this secondary road invites you to relax and enjoy the view.

If I recall this is a view from north of Olds on one of our Range Roads, not 766. It’s from my personal photo stash…the skies and scenery are poetic.

We pulled into The Saskaberry Ranch for a tour of their facilities. Of course in early June, there was not a lot of picking to be done! But Phil Trenholm, our host, was gracious enough to show us around and share some of the perks and the challenges of hosting a tourism operation in Mountain View County. We saw starters of strawberries in the greenhouse, and bushes of raspberries, saskatoons, rhubarb well underway (isn’t it always?) and more. Saskaberry also offers pastured chicken, beef and lamb in addition to an assortment of fruits and veggies. There’s even a picnic area to enjoy your lunch after grabbing berries for dessert! For fresh flavours in your next meal, take a drive to one of the many U-Picks in Central Alberta.

The panoramic views of Central Alberta are simply stunning.

From there, it was on to Sundre, where we had lunch at the Sundre & District Museum. If you want to spend a day in this community, the museum can fill it up with all kinds of discoveries. It’s really a step back to our western pioneering days, with a working blacksmith shop, ferryman’s house, one-room school house and much more. We enjoyed our picnic dining experience in the fresh air under the pines, and meandered about the village taking in the sites of traditional old farm machinery and trucks, to retro gas pumps of a bygone era.


That’s just outside.

When you go into the museum, there are many displays that harken back to life on the homestead and post-war era that were part of domestic and “townie” life too. (You know you’re getting old when you see spice containers you recall your mother having in the kitchen when you were a kid.) What was really impressive to me was the map of the world with pushpins indicating visitors’ homes. You can’t convince me that “there’s no tourism happening here”.

(These photos are just a few samples of what we saw… I’ll have to do a more complete photo-blog on this attraction in a future post.)

For wildlife aficionados, it is well worth taking in the Chester Mjolsness World of Wildlife Museum. You are met upon entry by the famous Whiskers, the mountain lion mascot with an Instagram following. This is a closed, taxidermy exhibit featuring a large floor to ceiling landscape mural, by a local artist. It showcases over 170 mounts from around the world, including a life-sized replica elephant built by their contacts at Jurassic Park. The donations made by Chester Mjolsness and his family for this donation as it has placed this museum on the international map.

After leaving the museum, we walked along the Red Deer River and visited the Snake Hill Recreation Area. Sundre certainly is a community where a person can stay active year-round! Then it was off to visit Otter Pottery, where we viewed and purchased the work of one more of the many artists in the region of Central Alberta. David Todd has been creating his works for over 20 years and the pieces are beautiful. (Update: It appears that David moved to Markerville, west of Red Deer, but still maintains a studio and gallery in Sundre. His Instagram posts updates on shows, classes and pieces available for sale.)

We left Sundre for the last leg of our trip, to Olds where we stopped at Olds College to get tours of the Olds College Meat Lab and store and the Brewery. The Brewery on campus offers one of only two brewmaster programs in western Canada, and locals get an opportunity to try out new flavours of IPAs and stouts with each graduating class. There was even a Fair Trade chocolate-infused beer in 2019! Olds College has several spots worthy of exploration, including the beautiful Botanical Gardens and arboritum. A giant crabapple tree on campus has stories to share after all these years as well. If you would like to pick up a couple souvenirs, swing into the Campus Bookstore during weekday business hours. You can even book a tour of their own on-campus museum.

We topped up with refreshments at Cocoa Tree Café to get feedback on how the experience was for everyone. Without a doubt, all the participants enjoyed the experience and learned so much about things available in our own back yard. Candice Klimek provided delectable goodies and refreshing drinks, and spoke to the group about why using Fair Trade ingredients is an important part of what she does. To her, the values of Fairtrade Canada align with her own: Fairtrade advocates for thriving farmer and worker communities that have more control over their futures, and stand in solidarity with producer organizations. We certainly could not dispute the quality of those cupcakes.

With that, our final stop was at HGB Bison Ranch just south of Olds. George and Heather Briggs have been raising bison for 30 years with conservation and preservation top of mind. Natural meat, pasture fed, and kindly treated animals are their hallmark. They operate a retail store on-site, offering both fresh and frozen meats and soup bones. It is obvious that they take great pride in their herd and the product they sell. We got to sample a few pieces of bison roast and jerky, and needless to say, picked up our groceries for supper before we boarded the bus for home.

George loves his life on the ranch. 

That’s the story of the tour of 2018. What a fantastic, educational and fun two days, well spent. If I were to summarize all of it with a strong declaration it would be this:

We are now putting the year of uncertainty away. Many businesses took a hard hit. Some are bouncing back, others are not. And based on what I witnessed in this two-day tour, we can’t afford to overlook tourism in our own home town anymore, for one simple reason: Every time our tour guests had an opportunity to spend money, they did. Generously. Custom Woolen Mills, Water Valley Saloon, Fallen Timber Meadery, Vintage Coffee & Cocoa Tree Bakery, Otter Pottery, Olds College Meat Shop and Brewery and HGB Bison… ALL of these businesses profited by this group visiting in the middle of the week, on what might be their ‘slow days’.

Couldn’t ALL our local businesses use a cash injection like that right now?

Let’s get out and discover some of our off-the-beaten-track attractions and support our local businesses, so we can visit them again in the future.

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