Albertans like to see themselves as the innovators of Canada, driven by an entrepreneurial spirit to create and share. That’s good news for travellers, because it means there is awesome, uniquely Albertan stuff (such as art, crafts, products, fashions, food, beverages and much more) available all over the province that you can bring home to remind you of your time in Alberta. Here are a few:
You can't help but notice Jason Carter’s art in Alberta. Especially if you arrive by airplane. His paintings can be seen at both the Edmonton and Calgary airports. He has also created public art in Fort McMurray, is represented by Bearclaw Gallery in Edmonton, and his work has been featured at the Art Gallery of Alberta. He also operates two galleries exclusively selling his work in the mountain towns of Banff and Canmore.
All this only a few years after finally giving up his day job as a TV cameraman to work on his art full-time. Carter, who describes his work as “indigenous pop art,” has become a favourite artist for Albertans and those visiting. Unflappably upbeat, Carter is a painter and sculptor whose work is inspired by nature and wildlife, and is influenced by everything from Canada’s iconic Group of Seven painters to the works of fellow Canadian indigenous artists such as Norveau Morriseau. Carter has built his own style by capturing the colour and essence of the province.
More than 100 years ago, a European immigrant to Calgary borrowed $300 from the bank to buy a small hatmaking company. Today, the company is still making the white cowboy hats that are an inseparable part of the Calgary Stampede, and have come to define the city. While the white hat is the symbol of welcome and western hospitality in Calgary, there are loads of other colourful creations to wear. Besides cowboy hats, Smithbilt custom makes fedoras, bowler style hats and special-occasion creations often seen at weddings and other stylish affairs.
Thanks to the South Saskatchewan River deposits, the city of Medicine Hat has a steady supply of clay. What’s an enterprising southwestern town to do with all those wet minerals? In the early 1900s, Medicine Hat’s Medalta factory put that clay to good use, churning out thousands of ceramic pots, jugs and dishes that were shipped around the world. Nowadays, this century-old factory houses an industrial museum, art gallery and working ceramic studio, where you can pick up pottery or watch artists-in-residence at work. It’s also a National Historic Site, and, thanks to the massive beehive kilns out front, an Instagram hotspot, too
If you’re wondering where Calgarians buy the boots they wear during the Calgary Stampede, wonder no more. Western bootmaker Alberta Boot doesn’t do outsourcing and manufactures all footwear inside its retail location. Kitting out royalty, celebrities and athletes, in addition to civilians, these custom-made boots are a godsend for those with wide calves, different sized feet or anyone who hankers for a super comfortable pair of cowboy boots.
This Canmore company has been creating clean and toxin-free body-care products for years. One of the quintessential gifts of Alberta, Rocky Mountain Soap products are 100 per cent natural, and they smell so good you’re more likely to keep them for yourself than gift them away. The company has retail locations all over western Canada, including Canmore, Banff, Calgary and Edmonton. But there’s something special about heading to Canmore for a tour of the eco-friendly workshop, letting you see first-hand how these feel-good skin and body-care products are created.
The uniquely dazzling gemstone comes with built-in bragging rights: it can only be found in Alberta. Made from fossilized shells, ammonite is, like pearl and amber, a biogenetic gemstone. It one ups the others, however, because of its flashy iridescent colours of blue, green and red. This rare gemstone is so one-of-a-kind nobody will be able to knock off your jewelry. Unless, of course, you generously tell them where you came across this gem. Ammolite can be found at select jewelers around the province, or around the world at Korite retail locations.
The spirit of the Canadian Rockies in casual fashions is found through Camp Brand Goods. After gaining a ton of traction at pop-up markets, married mavericks Connor and Leslie Gould took their brand online before diving into their mercantile store. Housed inside a historic carriage house, The Livery Shop in Calgary's Inglewood neighbourhood, is spot-on with comfortable ethical clothing and gear for the great outdoors.
Two Edmonton shoe lovers have built a thriving business creating stylish made-to-order footwear. Poppy seeds and barley corns were once the original measurement unit, and the sister shoemakers pay homage to this craft through Poppy Barley. Custom footwear ranges from heels to boots to wingtip and oxfords for both men and women.
A clothing company that celebrates the province, Alberta Branded pays homage to the natural beauty of this land and the true grit of its people. Each image emblazoned on the company’s shirts, hoodies and toques is a collaboration with local artists and photographers.
The prairies of Alberta grow some of the world’s most sought-after grains. Luckily, local distilleries are putting it to good use. Alberta’s first craft distillery, Eau Claire Distillery, uses traditional farming techniques to harvest its grains.
Edmonton’s Strathcona Spirits concocts small-batch spirits, including a notable gin made with foraged sea buckthorn berries. At the nearby tasting room of Hansen Distillery, a cinnamon or cherry-flavoured rye makes for a memorable beverage.
A first for a national park, the maestros at Banff’s Park Distillery source nearby glacial water before hand-milling, hand-mashing and hand-distilling their small-batch spirits. Pair their cocktails with campfire-inspired cuisine at the on-site restaurant.
Located at the base of the Rockies, Fallentimber Meadery transforms local honey into refreshing beverages that range from dry to sweet.
From backyard hobby to big-time craft brewer. Follow the story of Tool Shed Brewery with chief beer maker Graham Sherman.
A wave of new breweries is bringing craft beer to the province that provides the raw ingredients for much of the world’s beer. With so much barley grown in Alberta, the explosion in craft breweries is understandable. Plan a road trip using the southern Alberta and northern Alberta craft brewery maps.
A showpiece brewhouse situated inside a glass box and adjacent to Biera dining room sets Edmonton’s Blind Enthusiasm apart.
A community instigator in Calgary, Village Brewery handcrafts top-notch ales and lagers, like the preservative and additive-free Village Blonde.
Red Deer’s Troubled Monk Brewery nabbed a silver medal at the World Cup Beer competition for its Open Road Brown Ale.
Developing a community-focused beer culture in Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo Brewing is an in-house brewpub that hosts a monthly beer club for tastings and discussion with brewmasters.
In Medicine Hat, you can sample a flight of local brews at the brewery taproom of Hell’s Basement, named after Rudyard Kipling’s description of the town’s underground gas deposits.
Both Edmonton and Calgary offer brewery tours to help navigate the scene. Or, strike out on your own with Sippin’ Alberta, a craft beverage trail that winds its way through breweries, distilleries and meaderies across the province.
You don’t have to bring Alberta home. You can enjoy it yourself at these must-visit destinations for foodie travellers.
For a cool, sweet treat, Village Ice Cream, Made by Marcus and Fiasco Gelato serve up handmade, small-batch ice cream, gelato and sorbetto in Calgary. And like fashion, the bean-to-bar chocolatey concoctions of Jacek Chocolate Couture are seasonal, sculpted works of art.
Reminiscent of a Parisian tea salon, Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop is as close as you’ll get to an honest-to-goodness French patisserie this side of the Atlantic. And no journey along the Cowboy Trail is complete without chewing on a savoury stick of Longview Beef Jerky.
We may not grow the beans in Alberta, but we sure know how to roast ‘em. Coffee culture has evolved beyond the perfect cup of joe, with local roasters putting the focus on sharing warmth and community.
Credited with leading the charge in reinventing Calgary’s coffee culture, Phil & Sebastian regularly host live events. Rosso Coffee Roasters also boasts an award-winning team and have six cafe locations in Calgary.
Smooth beans and a prime location off Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue lures java junkies into ACE Coffee Roasters. Lock Stock Coffee turns into a pub at night, but by day this hip cafe serves up underground coffee beverages like The Gibraltar.
In Medicine Hat, there are so many independent coffee houses, including Madhatter Coffee Roastery, which focuses on small-batch organic Arabica. But it's best to try them all on a coffee crawl.