Medicine Hat derives its name from a Blackfoot legend related to a feathered headdress worn by medicine men. The site so-named on the South Saskatchewan River, surrounded by rolling hills and prairies, was a gathering place for the Blackfoot, Cree and Assiniboine tribes for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans in the late 1800s. In the process of drilling for water to support the small outpost, Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered a huge underground natural-gas reserve in 1883. Located about 300 kilometres southeast of Calgary, Medicine Hat continues to have a thriving gas industry, earning it the nickname “The Gas City.”
Clay is another abundant natural resource in Medicine Hat, and artists at Medalta Studio transform it into beautiful and functional pottery. Located 3 kilometres southeast of downtown in the Historic Clay District, Medalta is one of Medicine Hat’s top tourist attractions. Launched as a factory more than 100 years ago, Medalta is now primarily a museum with pottery-making facilities. For those who enjoy getting their hands dirty, the museum hosts pottery classes.
Downtown, the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre offers a different perspective on the region’s history and culture. Another top tourist attraction in Medicine Hat, the centre includes a museum, art gallery and theatre. Opened in 1951 by the local historical society, the museum now houses 25,000 artefacts, ranging from First Nations' textiles to everyday tools used by European settlers. The art gallery focuses on collecting regionally significant works and also presents touring exhibitions. Theatre performance schedules boast a lively mix of concerts, plays and ballets.
Many of Medicine Hat’s best restaurants lie within a few blocks of The Esplanade. Less than 1 kilometre southwest of the centre, Twist serves a wide variety of dishes from all over the world, including Spanish tapas, Thai red curry and Pacific Rim salmon. On the same block, the Madhatter Coffee Roastery is a laid-back spot with fresh pastries and full-bodied coffee. Three blocks south of the coffee shop, Mario’s Ristorante earns raves from loyal locals and is widely considered one of the best restaurants in Medicine Hat. With roving musicians and a welcoming fireplace, Mario’s is popular for its friendly atmosphere as well as classic Italian fare.
Burn off a few of those calories at Strathcona Island Park, 2 kilometres east of Mario’s. The park’s 5 kilometres of walking paths parallel the river, and there is a water playground for kids, picnic areas and baseball fields.
To see Medicine Hat’s most iconic landmark, head 6 kilometres southwest of the park to find the Saamis Teepee. The 20-storey-tall steel structure was originally built for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary as a tribute to Canada’s original inhabitants and moved to the current site in 1991. The teepee’s large, circular plaques tell the story of Canada’s First Nations peoples. The attraction is adjacent to the 36-hectare Saamis Archaeological Site, which served as a buffalo camp from the 1300s to the early 1800s.