I love finding “world’s biggest,” “Canada’s only” or “oldest” type of attractions or experiences when I travel. You might be surprised to learn that there are many of these unique, record-breaking experiences all across Alberta! I love sharing these fun fact/did you knows, especially if they’re located in unexpected places—small cities, towns or hamlets for instance. Like searching for and photographing Instagrammable Walls, planning your itinerary around unique-to-the-destination experiences is a great way to explore.
During my summer visit (July 2020) to the city of Medicine Hat in southern Alberta, I was delighted to find a few record-breaking experiences, plus some although maybe not record-breaking, still very unique to Medicine Hat attractions you should incorporate into your visit down to The Hat (as the locals call it).
This recent visit was part of a sponsored partnership with Tourism Medicine Hat, and was just perfect because my dear friends Jack and Nicole live in The Hat so it doubled as a catch-up with them too.
Also I think it was a lot of fun for Jack and Nicole to play “tourist” in their city too!
Be sure to check out my other Medicine Hat travel guides + blog posts for other ideas on what to do, things to see, and places to eat in the city while you’re on the hunt for these Instagrammable Wall
- A Day in Downtown Medicine Hat: Food to Eat, Shops to Visit (July 2020)
- UPDATED Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Medicine Hat (July 2020)
- Explore Alberta: 7 Things To Do (including Where to Eat) in Medicine Hat (Feb 2020)
- Things To Do in Medicine Hat (March 2015)
- The Old Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Medicine Hat (October 2017)
Only in Medicine Hat, Alberta: Unique Experiences to Try (Travel Guide)
1. Take a ride on the Sunshine Trolley, named after Medicine Hat’s title as one of the sunniest cities in Canada
Did you know: Medicine Hat is considered one of the sunniest cities in Canada?!
Well, the official city stance is that they ARE the sunniest city in Canada, known as the “Oasis of the Prairies” with an average of 330 days of sunshine per year (but I think other southern Canadian cities may fight for that title too because damn, that’s a great title to have! lol)
In the summertime (and during my visit), the sunshine and blue sky was just incredible.
All that sun is what inspired the naming of the Medicine Hat Sunshine Trolley,
This 1985 retro trolley hit the streets of Medicine Hat in 2019 and offers rides around town summer through fall. It’s advertised as the “best way to see Medicine Hat during the summer!” because of its key stops in Medicine Hat’s Historic Downtown, Esplanade, and Medalta in the Historic Clay District. (You can read more about the Medalta in my 2015 Medicine Hat blog post!)
It’s designed to be hop-on, hop-off (though make sure you book online and chat with your driver about where you think you’d like to hop off and then back on again so they’re aware). Your trolley ticket is valid for a full day! It’s super cute inside and out (and for the pandemic, they’ve limited number of seats and where you can sit). Kids 12 and under ride free and adult passes are just $10.
During our ride, we learned that when the trolley driver rings the trolley bell, passengers are supposed to wave to the passersby. It was fun watching people’s faces light up seeing the trolley roll by!
2. Play a game on the World’s Largest Chess Set
There’s a lot to do in downtown Medicine Hat (check out my blog post for food + shops + other experiences to be had in this city’s beautiful downtown!) and one of the activities you should include in your visit is a game (or at least, some photos with lol) the World’s Largest Chess Set!
This chess set is a Guinness World Records-certified World’s Largest Giant. Chess Set.
It is an outdoor, permanent chess board with movable, usable giant wooden cheese pieces. The giant board is nearly 6 m on each side. The giant pieces include a King that is nearly 4 feet tall! The chess pieces are all hand and lathe crafted from teak wood and imported from Indonesia. These pieces are heavy, and collectively weigh 870 pounds.
The giant chess set was a project by the Medicine Hat Chess Club and is located near the Medicine Hat Public Library in the downtown core. It was first built in 2005, then certified as the World’s Largest Chess Set in 2009. Around the giant chess set are smaller (well, regular sized lol). tables where you could sit and watch a game, or bring your own board to play a game.
You can reserve time online by donation, or when we were there, there were employees hanging out to provide guidance on hand sanitizing and to wipe down the pieces.
When we played, I felt like we were in that giant, magical chess scene in Harry Potter!
HP fans know what I’m talking about. lol.
3. See the Oldest Brick House in Alberta
In downtown Medicine Hat, located next to the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre, you’ll find the Ewart Duggan House—Alberta’s oldest brick house.
This beautiful Victorian style red brick home was first built in 1887 by local business man John Ewart and his fiancé Jessie Herald—over 130 years ago. The house was believed to be the first brick residence constructed in the northwest, using approximately 60,000, locally-produced bricks. It still sits on its original foundation. It’s known for being “remarkably well-maintained” and the proof is that it’s still lived in today, as an artist residence!
The Esplanade’s artist residency periods are up to 24 weeks of each year. It’s a fully furnished home with main floor kitchen and dining areas, second floor accommodations, lounge, and study, north and south balconies off the lounge and main bedroom areas, and is located in the city’s beautiful river valley historic downtown.
The Ewart Duggan House is designated as a Provincial Historic Site. Since 2010, the beautiful Heritage Garden in front of the house has been maintained by a Heritage Resources Committee. They used archival photos of the Ewart Duggan House and other houses in Medicine Hat and the Prairies during the late 1800s and early 1900s to model it after an upper middle class residence of that time.
Before or after you enjoy the garden and see the house in person, be sure to hop into the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre to catch their art exhibits and attractions!
4. Catch a flick at the oldest still-operating Movie Theatre in Western Canada
This is something I still haven’t done despite my many visits to Medicine Hat over the years, though it feels like it’s something Jack and Nicole bring up with each visit.
The Monarch Theatre is western Canada’s oldest still-operating movie theatre AND one of the oldest movie theatres in the world.
While it has been restored and upgraded (now with a digital projection system), its exterior still looks super old timey and vintage-like, a throwback to its 1911 roots!
The Monarch Theatre shows movies every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All movies start at 7:30pm and they have different deals for different days (like a lots of things are just $6 deal). During my recent visit, our movie options were E.T. and Jaws. Tempting!
You can find their upcoming movies listed on their website and when the pandemic is over, they’ll resume the dinner deals they have with local restaurants.
5. Experience the World’s Largest Tepee
Medicine Hat is home to the Saamis Tepee—the wold’s largest tepee, originally built for the 1988 Calgary Olympics before moving to Medicine Hat.
This incredible structure stands as tall as a 20-storey building, and features Indigenous artwork and information about the Plains Cree and Indigenous history in the region.
This is the most visible landmark in the city, and within the circle of the tepee you’ll find ten illustrated pieces of art (they call it storyboards), that were hand-painted and represent a variety of influences and history of First Nations heritage. The tepee sits above the Seven Persons coulee and Saamis Archaeological Site, an important site in the Northern Plains that was once a buffalo camp and meat processing site. According to the City of Medicine Hat, there is believed to be over 83 million artifacts buried in this area.
The tepee’s name—Saamis—is after the Blackfoot word for “Medicine Hat” or “Medicine Man’s Hat.”
The story goes that during a particularly harsh winter and famine, a Blackfoot man was gifted medicine and a special hat by a Great Spirit. The magic of the hat would ensure victory for the man, who used these gifts to heal his people and bring back food after a successful hunt.
He became known as The Medicine Man and his Medicine Hat is what the city is named after!
Medicine Hat sits on Treaty 7 and 4 territoities, on traditional lands of the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee) as well as the Cree, Sioux, and the Saulteaux bands of the Ojibwa peoples, and homelands of the Metis Nation within Region III.
There’s a lot of Indigenous history and cultural experiences in the city. You can also find big, beautiful brick murals all over the city—many depicting First Nations stories.
6. Check out some of the largest sandstone rocks in the world at the Red Rock Coulee
Although I visited the Medicine Hat region’s famous Red Rock Coulee during winter, it’s recommended (and probably a better experience lol) as a summer activity!
The Red Rock Coulee Natural Area is 800 acres of badlands, hard sandstone capped hoodoos and large, round, red boulders. I like to call them alien boulders!!
Some of the largest sandstone rocks in the world are located just over a half hour drive from The Hat! These mysterious looking, giant red, spherical boulders are said to have been formed from shale, sandstone and sediment a MILLENIA ago when the land was at the bottom of a prehistoric sea. How cool is that?!
The reddish colour apparently comes from iron oxide and many of the rocks are up to to 2.5 metres (8 feet) in diameter (so you can stand on either side and you’ll be well within the physical distancing guidelines! lol)
7. Visit long-standing Medicine Hat restaurants
Swirls Ice Cream is considered a local tradition—a must-stop in Medicine Hat. It’s a popular ice cream stand that’s been around for more than 30 years in The Hat, so grandparents who once went to Swirls for their ice cream fixes are now bringing their grandkids! At Swirls, you can get soft ice cream, hard ice cream, sundaes, milkshakes, swirls, slushes, ice bergs, floats, parfaits, and more!
Tino’s is a 50+-year-old, old school burger and milkshake spot in Medicine Hat. It first opened in 1967 and is still owned and operated by the original owners!! At Tino’s, which is interestingly shaped like a castle, you can get some classic burgers (or the Tino special burger—with ham, cheese, mayo, tomatoes, lettuce and onions), sides like fries, nuggets, chili, and choose from a huge selection of milkshake flavours.
I wouldn’t say the burgers here are the best burgers I’ve ever had, but it was a good lunch spot before our day of adventures and you can tell there’s a sweet, nostalgic vibe and history to this burger joint which makes it still well-visited today, and something those who’ve left Medicine Hat still talk about (it was highly recommended by many former Hatters!) Plus, it’s certainly one of the most affordable burgers you’ll find—not 10 cents a burger as it was when they first opened over 50 years ago, but a five or ten dollar bill can get you some good stuff at Tino’s.
Lela’s Place The Chocolate Shoppe touts itself as Medicine Hat’s oldest restaurant, having first opened in 1930 and still operates out of the same, original building it started in. Although it started out as a chocolate shop, it has since evolved into a full-service, diner restaurant with a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu (it still serves desserts including a popular Flapper Pie too!) Lela’s is all about home-cooked meals—big flavour, big portions. It’s Jack’s favourite place for breakfast and a place we visit on almost every stop to The Hat.
Those are just a few restaurants with a lot of history in The Hat.
There’s a lot more to try (I need to do steak dinner at Ralph’s Texas Bar & Steakhouse on a return visit!)
I also can’t mention food in Medicine Hat without mentioning my favourite Medicine Hat Japanese restaurant Takumi (read more about it in my Feb 2020 Med Hat blog post), but know there are many restaurants to try on my future visits and many for you to choose from when you visit!
8. Soak up the sun at Echo Dale—Medicine Hat’s Largest Park
Echo Dale Regional Park is the largest park in Medicine Hat (well, just shortly out of Medicine Hat but still considered in it), that is situated along the South Saskatchewan River. It includes two of its own man-made lakes, one for swimming (there’s a beach! Great beach vibes) and one for paddle boating, kayaking, fishing, and other water activities. There are picnic spots, lots of green space, access to biking and hiking trails, even a trail you can ride from the city to the park. This park is SO beautiful and when we went, it wasn’t too busy and everyone was being very respectful of distancing. It’s apparently popular with families!
Echo Dale is open year-round (though those beach vibes are best in summer of course), and the area is also home to the Echo Dale Historical Farm, a farmhouse built in the 1880s. I’d call this area less of a farm and more of like a little historical town, with its blacksmith shop (real blacksmith use it on weekends as a demonstration for visitors), a mine, and other buildings from Medicine Hat’s past.
So that’s just a *slice* of the unique life, record-breaking/oldest attractions and experiences, and very-Medicine Hat food to try in this lovely southern Alberta city.
I had such a great summer visit and I highly recommend you check out Medicine Hat this summer (or fall, winter, spring, whenever you happen to be reading this—though summer is a REALLY great time to visit).
Medicine Hat is just a 5.5 hour drive from Edmonton, and a 3 hour drive from Calgary.
If you need a place to stay, Tourism Medicine Hat put me up at the Days Inn Medicine Hat, which was a great base for all my adventures. For families, they also have a pool! And I was impressed with their modifications for the pandemic, breakfast to-go, lots of hand sanitizer (actually there was a lot of hand sanitizer everywhere we went in The Hat!), signs about physical distancing and respecting people’s space in elevators, etc.
This Days Inn is part of the d3h Hotel group which operates 13 hotels in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Here a few more photos from the trip:
You can check out Tourism Medicine Hat‘s #myMHsummer campaign which includes a bunch of great sights to see/experiences to be had in the Medicine Hat area (whether you’re a tourist OR a local!) or any of my other Medicine Hat blog posts (which I have a fair bit of now!)
Thank you to Tourism Medicine Hat for sponsoring my July 2020 visit!!
I can’t wait to get back to The Hat and do more exploration because if you can believe it—there’s still a lot I want to do but haven’t gotten a chance to try yet. MORE BLOG POSTS TO COME!
Disclaimer: This blog post is part of a sponsored partnership with Tourism Medicine Hat. This has no impact on opinions stated in this post. I was so happy to re-visit Medicine Hat, spend time with my dear friends, and explore the city in the summer!