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Five Small-Town Alberta Summer Festivals

Author: Lisa Monforton

Lisa loves skiing, hiking, biking, kayaking and road-tripping through Alberta as much as travelling the world. Favourite spots include the Rockies, for sure, but also the Cowboy Trails' ranchlands, East Coulee's history, the David Thompson Highway, Cypress Hills and Waterton.

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Ah, August! Festival season is far from over in Alberta. In fact, with an eclectic line-up of fun weekends, it’s just heading into its prime. As summer starts to slide into fall, get ready for quirky art, high-flying balloons, heart-pounding chuckwagon races, dining and dancing, Ukrainian style, and some seriously starry nights.

With festivities lasting anywhere from one day to four, turn it into a mini-road trip and take time to explore the highways, byways and roadside attractions in and around the host cities and towns.

Medicine Hat – Walk the Chalk

Chalk Art Festival, Aug. 12-14: The sidewalks of sunny Medicine Hat become one giant canvas for dozens of international artists who use chalk as their medium at this unique festival of fleeting art.

Stroll the streets to see mind-bending images drawn by artists who travel all over the world to wow onlookers with their imagination and artistry. Don’t be surprised if you’re stopped in mid-step by a mermaid who appears to be swimming up from beneath the streets. Pose for a photo with a 3-D chalk-art recreation of a famous album cover, or a favourite superhero.

Think you’ve got some chalk art chops yourself? Aspiring artists can try colouring the concrete or take a workshop to learn from a pro.

Rocky Mountain House - Half Mile of Speedy Steeds

Battle of the Rockies Chuckwagon Festival, Aug. 18-21: A chuckwagon race takes just a minute-and-a-half, but it might just be the most exciting rodeo event of them all.

Rocky Mountain House offers a hard-to-beat small-town version of those thundering hooves churning up the dust on the 5/8-mile track.

Sitting in the stands, you can feel the nervous anticipation of the athletes – two-legged and four-legged – before the blare of the claxon bell. “And they’re off!” yells the announcer as the drivers, their speedy steeds and the outriders all jockey for position.

The sound of the clattering wagons is quickly drowned out when the spectators in the metal stands begin to stomp their feet as the teams of horses and their riders come into view around the final corner, charging toward the finish line.

Andrew - Dance, Eat, Drink, Repeat

Babas and Borshch Ukrainian Festival, Aug. 20-21: You don’t have to be Ukrainian to get into the spirit of a zabava. What’s a zabava, you ask? It’s a high-energy celebration of all things Ukrainian, and includes lots of food, dancing and singing.

The town of Andrew in Lamont County, which aspires to be Canada’s borshch capital, swells from 400 to 3,000 people over the two days.  This free event in Andrew kicks off a two-year, 125th anniversary celebration of Ukrainian immigration and settlement in Canada. 

Be sure to wear your stretchy waistbands for two days of eating perogies (pyrohy), beet soup (borshch), cabbage rolls (holubtsi) and sausage (kovbasa).

Work it all off with a Ukrainian dance lesson. Then stroll Baba’s Bazaar, filled with booths selling traditional clothing, jewelry and cookbooks.

Saturday night is the aforementioned zabava, (tickets $50), with a traditional buffet dinner followed by the twirling, heel-kicking dances of Edmonton’s Verkhovyna Ensemble, featuring the Dunai dancers, along with a choir, then dance the night away to pop, rock and country music.

Sunday has more events, including the Borshch Cook Off and a special brunch, featuring to-die-for potato pancakes with garlic sauce. Eat, drink and celebrate all things Ukrainian all over again.

Elk Island National Park – Party with the Stars

Beaver Hills 11th Annual Dark Sky Preserve Star Party, Sept 3-4: There’s something magical about cozying up with your kids on a blanket and gazing up into the heavens in search of favourite constellations and distant planets.

One of the best places to see a star-studded celestial sky is during the annual Star Party at Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, in Elk Island National Park.

Less than an hour’s drive east of Edmonton but far enough away from the star-masking big city lights, it’s an officially designated dark-sky preserve, one of four in Alberta, where the starry views are preserved for future generations.

The two-day celebration happens at two different locations – on Sept. 3 in nearby Miquelon Lake Provincial Park and the next day at Elk Island National Park, just as the nights are getting crisp and the best night-sky viewing season is beginning.

The weekend is full of special activities, displays and guest speakers. Hang out with volunteer astronomers and hunt the heavens for constellations, galaxies, planets and stars through giant telescopes. You may even be treated to a colourful dance of the northern lights.

High River – Up, Up and Away

Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival in High River, Sept. 21-25: It’s safe to say the two French brothers who invented the hot-air balloon more than 300 years ago probably never envisioned a festival dedicated to their high-flying orbs. But plenty of eyes will be on the skies above High River again this September.

Balloons guided by professionally trained pilots from across Canada and beyond will float up, up and away in contests that rely on skill and the whims of the wind. Pilots will test their abilities in a series of competitions, such as navigating towards a marked spot and seeing who can most accurately toss a bean bag to the ground. 

For spectators, a highlight of the festival is the “balloon glow” kick-off event, slated for 7 p.m., Sept. 23. As the sun sets, the balloons are backlit in a breathtaking display of rainbow hues. Meet the crew and pilots to learn the science behind hot-air balloons, mankind’s first airborne machine. Entertainment and food trucks round out the evening. Come back for the daytime competitions. Don’t forget your cameras!

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