Historic First Street Walking Tours
SATURDAYS at 2 PM
June 25-September 24 (alternating weeks with the Historic Railroad District Walking Tour)
$15/person Includes complimentary tour book.
Step back into the past as you are guided through the tree lined boulevard of First Street SE. Once known as the Esplanade, it was home to Medicine Hat’s earliest and most affluent settlers. Marvel at the beautifully preserved architecture and explore the social history of the characters who once resided within. Each tour is subtly different as our guides delight in sharing their own stories and memories of this neighborhood, imparting a true sense of place to those eager to listen.
First Street Walking Tours starting point is in the Esplanade lobby.
About the Guide Sally (McGee) Sehn
Sally was born and raised in Medicine Hat. A frequent patron of the Esplanade, she was a driving force behind this most recent rendition of historical First Street walking tours, created by the Heritage Resources Committee (now Heritage Resources Working Group).
Having grown up on First Street, Sally is uniquely equipped to be the tour guide and teller of its tales. Pulling from both her research and memories, she weaves a walking experience that will keep the stories of this neighbourhood alive and well.
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Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre 401 1st Street SE Medicine Hat, AB T1A 8W2
Building Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: Noon-5 PM Closed Statutory Holidays Archives Reference Services: Tuesday-Friday: Noon-5PM 403 502 8580 [email protected]
How to Spend 24 Hours in Medicine Hat
September 2, 2017 · 16 min. read
While the thoughts and opinions are my own, this article was brought to you by a third party. This article may also contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I also earn from qualifying purchases.
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.
Where to Spend the Night
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!
What to do in the Morning
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 shops 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.
Where to Eat for Lunch
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.
What to do in the Afternoon
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.
Where to do in the Late Afternoon
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.
Where to Eat for Supper
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.
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Set against the dramatic cliffs of the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat Alberta, the 150-acre Historic Clay District is situated on Treaty 7 land and was once home to some of the earliest industry in Western Canada. Today the history of the once-thriving ceramic industry is being revived with the iconic Medalta Potteries National Historic Site. Self-Guided Tours are available.
Medalta Self-Guided Tour
45 minutes – 1 hour
A time capsule to the beginning of Western Canada’s industrial revolution! Enter Medalta’s iconic beehive kilns, explore our nationally-recognized archaeological excavations and wander through the Ol’ Factory filled with original equipment and tools.
Daily between 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
* Family: up to two (2) adults and children 17 and younger, to a maximum of six (6) people.
Medalta Guided Tour
1 – 1 1/4 hour
Our knowledgeable tour providers will take you through our many spaces, passing on the stories we have discovered about the Historic Clay District. Who are Jim Marshall and Jack Forbes? How many fires tried to claim Medalta Potteries? Learn these stories and more.
Wednesday and Saturday at 1:00 pm. Maximum 10 people. Must be booked at least 24 hours in advance for staffing purposes.
- Please stay home if you are not feeling well
- For the safety of our interpreters and guests, masks are suggested for the duration of your guided tour
- Keep your family unit together when walking through the museum, and keep children within reach at all times
- The main floor and washroom are wheelchair accessible.
- The basement area is not wheelchair accessible.
- One wheelchair available for public use. Please inquire at front desk.
- No pets allowed. Service animals with identification are permitted.
- Daily Admission is free for healthcare aide attendants accompanying paying visitors with disabilities.
Private Guided Tours
- For groups larger than 10, a Private Guided Tour must be requested. Please complete the form here .
- In Loving Memory
Historic Medicine Hat on foot: Esplanade walking tours a must do
Are you planning to watch Premier Danielle Smith’s TV address on Wednesday night
By Samantha Johnson Special to the News on July 15, 2022.
Special the News
There are two historic walking tours available through the Esplanade and both offer a dive into the history of Medicine Hat. The CPR in its expansion westward decided to build a rail terminal here in 1883 as they were expanding westward, with enterprising individuals following.
Sally (McGee) Sehn, guide for both tours, offers up a variety of colourful stories about the buildings, houses and people along each route. There is a booklet for each tour, which each participant gets to keep, giving a page long description of each stop along the routes. Each tour runs on alternating Saturdays throughout the summer.
The Historic First Street Walking Tour begins at the Esplanade. The first stop, not technically on the tour, is the white gazebo marking the spot of Sehn’s childhood home. All along the side of the street where the gazebo stands was CPR-owned land and a natural park, called the Esplanade. It was believed by everyone the park would always remain, but that belief was shattered in 1901 when the CPR land department decided to subdivide the property, causing an absolute outrage.
Stories to hear on the walk include the true purpose of a widow’s walk, the site of the original city waterworks and powerhouse, and how, after it was abandoned, all the children Sehn’s age used to play in there unbeknownst to their parents. The house where the city’s first mayor lived, the house where a skating rink existed, the location of the Medicine Hat Ice Company which was operating until the mid-1900s, fires, marriages along the block, a long unrequited love story about a woman who lost her fiancÃ© in the First World War, and how one family owned or lived in multiple houses along the street as they expanded generation after generation. You’ll also get a partial view of the Cousin’s Log Cabin, which is still standing and dates to the late 1800s.
The Historic Railroad District Tour is new for 2022 and the first one was held during Art in Motion on July 9. A large group participated in the tour and, despite the heat, it was enjoyed by all.
People were so anxious in 1883 to establish a business in the new town that they would set up a building before the CPR had surveyed the street and then would have to move it back. Practically overnight there was a tent town of more than 200 people, and the population kept increasing exponentially for many years.
What is most surprising on this tour is how many original buildings still exist along South and North Railway Street. Advertisements can still be seen on the sides of a few of them. Some tidbits available on the south side part of the tour are that The Royal is the oldest existing hotel building in Medicine Hat, although perhaps not as old as the current awning over the entrance suggests. Sandblasting was needed to reveal the original brick of some buildings which were covered in pastel shades of paint in the 1960s. One building was erected on top of an historic 1901 gas well causing issues more than a century later. The history of the Assiniboia Hotel building and the large sign which currently adorns it are described. The site of the original railway station is pointed out. It served the city until 1905, when a larger one was needed. Before leaving the south side, the story behind the construction and subsequent changes of the pedestrian underpass are relayed.
Travelling through the pedestrian underpass gives a short break from the sun and soon after the group arrives on the platform of the existing CPR Railway Station and remains there for several minutes while the tour progresses about buildings across the street. It was a welcome relief.
Stories on this side include the site of the original McKenzie Drugs, which moved to its current location in 1974. There is one building that was built around a caboose, and while the tour isn’t allowed inside, as it’s an operating business, Sehn assures the group that remnants of the caboose are still visible. How proprietors and businesses changed within a building, names disappeared and were revived much later and how the city streets have evolved and changed but, in some ways, remained the same.
As you walk along South and North Railway Street, rather than drive, it was also easy to see what currently exists and find new places to check out the next time you are in the neighbourhood that are worth going in and checking out. North Railway also boasts one of the oldest buildings in Medicine Hat and the longest running business.
Both tours are so packed with information, you’ll be glad to have the booklet afterwards. Visit the Esplanade website (www.esplanade.ca) to book tickets for either tour.
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One day itinerary – Hoofing around downtown Medicine Hat
A ZenSeekers' road trip isn't complete unless the destinations include a slow day to explore the pulse of the city. We found that in a walkable route through downtown Medicine Hat. During summer and fall of 2019, create your #BucketlistAB itinerary in Southern Alberta and come and stay a night and see a sight.
A ZenSeekers Expedition: #BucketlistAB
Visit Medicine Hat for people-powered exploration
Getting To Medicine hat
Drive from Calgary: It’s about a three-hour drive south on the Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1.
Get your map here
Drive from Edmonton: It’s about a 5 ½-hour drive south on the AB-36 S to Brooks then turning east on the Trans-Canada/AB-1.
Drive from Moose Jaw: It’s about a 4-hour drive west on the Trans-Canada Hwy/SK-1 W.
Read more about your fun-filled holiday in Medicine Hat here.
Morning: Rise and shine, we’ve got some serious strolling to do today. Head downtown to one of Medicine Hat’s coffee shops like Station Coffee House to sip on a creamy latte while noshing on a freshly baked goodie (including gluten free). Or, if you are a late riser, grab a coffee while you wander the art gallery at Inspire Café. With a go-cup in hand, meander up and down the street looking for six new full-wall murals recently created during the inaugural Mural Fest. Pop into galleries, plant shops and stores to work up an appetite for lunch. Grab a self-guided Historic Walking Tour brochure at the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Building to really learn about the city’s history. (It’s up the street from Station Coffee)
Would you mind if we suggested a few restaurants for lunch? For peppery enchiladas, check out Izote, or for a locally sourced cuisine, might we suggest the Heartwood café.
Afternoon: Lets burn off a bit of the lunch with a ride around town. No bike? No problem. You can borrow bikes for free at Gravity Sports and the Visitor Information Centre. Click here to download the Heritage Trail Network Map and head out to conquer a few of the 115 kilometres of marked bike trails through the city.
Late afternoon: It’s beer o’clock in Medicine Hat. Three craft breweries will whet your whistle . Medicine Hat Brewing Company and Hells Basement recently welcomed Travois Ale Works into the craft brew scene in Medicine Hat. While the original two breweries are further from downtown, you can drop your rental bike at Gravity Sports, walk around the corner and order a flight at Travois Ale Works. Cheers!
#MedHat is investing in alternative transportation via some innovative ways - hop the Medicine Hat Sunshine Trolley and/or take them up on their free bike rental offer to explore 115 kms of trails. Find out more.
Then, check our ZenSeekers and SnowSeekers websites for more information about Medicine Hat and the surrounding area.
Check into Tourism Medicine Hat to start planning your trip activities.
Uncover more adventures and places to stay for your #BucketlistAB by checking out the #BucketlistAB webpage.
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Arts and Culture
We are committed to ensuring the arts flourish and our heritage is celebrated and preserved.
Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre
Where arts and heritage come to life, where the stories of our great collective culture are told through concerts, plays, exhibitions, programs and more.
Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre
Local resources that have architectural, heritage or cultural value and merit preservation.
The world's tallest tepee is located just off the Trans-Canada Highway.
We recognize the role creativity, culture and heritage play in our quality of life. Our city is rich with cultural resources, contributing to the community's well-being.
Explore our art, museum, concert venues and more through one of our self-guided walking tours.
Saamis Archaeological Site
A Provincial Historic Site located in the valley of Seven Persons Creek.
The Medicine Hat Cultural Centre is located on the Medicine Hat College campus. The City of Medicine Hat works with the college to provide studio space for local art clubs.
A multi-purpose studio is available for private rentals.
Headquarters for the AFA Travelling Exhibition program and gallery space for featuring Albertan artwork.
A virtual map of Medicine Hat's beautiful heritage properties.
Historic Resources Story Map
Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre 401 1 St SE Medicine Hat, AB T1A 8W2 T. 403-502-8580 F. 403-502-8589 Send email to Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre Website
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Indy Coffee Tour
Medicine Hat's downtown coffee culture.
Each with its own personality, the downtown cafes offer exceptional coffee with stories to tell. All within close distance to each other, fully experience Medicine Hat's Historic Downtown with our Indy Coffee Tour.
Poolhouse Cafe & Roastery
This vibrant cafe roasts freshly-imported beans from all over the world to perfection. The beans can be ground and bagged to suit your home brewing machine, or sit inside and enjoy a freshly-brewed cup. Let yesterday’s frets and today’s concerns ease away into gentle waters at Poolhouse Cafe & Roastery.
Local Tip: Follow the rich, toasted aromas wafting out onto the street!
poolhouseroastery.com | 403.529.2344 | 550 3 St. SE
The Copper Leaf Cafe
Every latte, americano, macchiato and mochaccino is made with authentic Italian espresso. Be sure to browse the menu for more creative, caffeinated beverages — the owner has some sweet ideas brewing. And, beautifully decorated charcuterie boards are always an option for pre-order.
Local Tip: Take a peek at the mini market along the windows. The owner features local artists and creators in Medicine Hat!
thecopperleafcafe.com | 403.487.5233 | 104-579 3 St. SE
Nosh. is a modern coffee shop beaming with energy. It offers quality sandwiches, salads, soups, and snacks. Hot or iced coffee and alcoholic cocktails are made to serve. Located inside the Kolab+ building along Second Street, where a handful of businesses co-exist, you can Nosh. until your heart’s content.
Local Tip: Ask what their daily crafted soup is!
kolabmh.ca/nosh | 403.458.3338 | 557 2 St. SE
Station Coffee Company
A hip shop with exposed brick walls and an always buzzing espresso machine. The baristas have some impressive creations up their sleeves, including The Root Beer Godfather, a chilled concoction made up of local Hell’s Basement Brewery’s root beer, two shots of espresso, and a little bit of cream.
Local Tip: This coffee shop expanded and doubled its seating area in 2023. Check out the new space!
stationcoffeeco.ca | 403.529.1115 | 644 2 St. SE
Inspire Studio, Gallery & Café
A bright and roomy gallery which showcases the original artwork of a variety of local artists, you’ll find inspired comfort food like sandwiches, delicious homemade soups, freshly roasted coffee, specialty tea ‘bible’, and in-house made desserts.
Local Tip: Ask about lunch features like the 'Main St. Sandwich' named after historic Second Street!
inspireart.ca | 403.548.2233 | 675 2nd St. SE
———— More Coffee Shops ————
Zucchini Blossom Market & Café
zucchiniblossom.com | 403.526.1630 | 50 3 St. NE
cafeverve.ca | 403.487.5282 | 1775 Dunmore Rd. SE
Homestead Market Inc.
homesteadmarket.ca | 403.525.0402 | 1750 Gershaw Dr. SW
MT Nest Cafe & Market
@mtnestcafe | 403-504-7666 | #104 266 4 St. SW
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Decorated downtown walls.
Historic Self-Guided Tour
Take a deep-dive into Medicine Hat's history, and into some of the most prominent buildings in the city.
James Marshall Murals
One of the most prominent artists in the city's history, enjoy a tour of James Marshall's beautiful brick murals.