by Catherine Melnyk
No less than nine spirits haunt Red Deer’s downtown corridor. Visitors who dare to venture east of Gasoline Alley can tiptoe through a self-guided tour of the town’s so-called Ghost Collection, a series of nine life-size bronze statues commemorating events and characters from Red Deer’s colourful past. One beloved town hero immortalized in bronze is Francis the Pig, who, back in 1990, was destined for the slaughterhouse. But he escaped by jumping a fence and spent five months as a fugitive in local parklands. Other statues depict historic events, such as the great fire of 1904 (which almost consumed the town) and the startup of credit unions in Alberta. A 10th monument, commemorating the beginnings of public transit in Red Deer, will be unveiled later this year. Maps of the “ghost town” are available at Tourism Red Deer. In the summer months, the city offers organized walking and biking tours.
Return to Eden
by Tracy Hyatt
While other restaurants have ditched their white tablecloths and crumbers to feed the growing public appetite for casual dining, Eden Dining Room at the Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff — the only CAA/AAA five-diamond restaurant west of Toronto — remains steadfastly luxe. Those seeking haute touches will not be disappointed with the exquisite dishes, many of which are near-theatrical in their extravagance. Take the arctic char tartare with blue spruce essence and bourbon-and-orange-blossom gelée. Served in a glass bowl on a bed of smoking spruce needles, this culinary masterpiece gives off a subtle, woodsy scent as the diner eats. The pedigree of executive chef Ralph Wolmann, who has helmed coveted Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe, shines through in even the humblest menu items. His nose-to-tail main features Black Aberdeen Angus beef tongue, tail and tenderloin served with rutabaga sauté, ice-wine mustard and licorice pickled onion. Equally impressive is the restaurant’s stylish dining room, with its 180-degree view of the Banff valley. A visit to Eden always leaves you salivating for more.
Mellow your vibe
by Catherine Melnyk
“Stress, what stress?” utters even the most tightly wound workaholic after a visit to the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert. The centre’s greenhouse is a go-to destination for gardeners, but the 25,000-square-foot shopping and wellness complex is also the town’s primo place to unwind. At the Water Garden Spa, visitors can choose from a full menu of spa and body therapy services, including acupuncture, massages, pedicures and facials – then loll on one of the circular daybeds suspended from the ceiling. When hunger sets in, the freshly de-stressed can head to Prairie Bistro, where the best seat in the house overlooks Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The restaurant’s menu features local fare, such as beef from Sandy View Farms in Spruce Grove and goat cheese from The Cheesiry in Kitscoty. This spring, try the roasted chicken club sandwich with basil aioli, bacon, tomato and smoked cheese. For dessert, head to the Prairie Baker for macarons and take home some fresh sourdough or ciabatta loaf. Elsewhere in the complex, shopaholics can peruse the shelves at kitchen accessory, home decor and furniture stores. There’s even a liquor store, Liquid Harvest, that caters to discerning oenophiles. The all-season Enjoy Centre also pays homage to past Alberta lieutenant-governor Lois Hole, whose family owns and operates the facility. Photos of the Hole family and their original greenhouse line the centre’s walls – showcasing the real roots of the operation. Take a lunch tour to learn more.
by Tracy Hyatt
Alberta’s small-town museums tend to be depositories of odd collections, and the Barrhead Centennial Museum is no exception. On first glance, it appears to house a typical assortment of objects that paint a picture of pioneer history. Faded photos of early settlers line the walls. Early 1900s furniture pieces, such as a rare butternut china cabinet likely hauled from eastern Canada, grace the displays. And, of course, there’s the requisite farming equipment representing the town’s primary industry. Unknown to most, however, the museum contains one of Canada’s largest collections of animal trophies and skins. The family of Barrhead resident Albert Werner donated the 28 pieces in 1999, a year before his death. Albertans may not bat an eye at the mountain goat and wolf heads, but the African beasts will likely draw some amazed stares. A donation at the museum’s door gives visitors a close-up look at a water buck, a python, a warthog, a kudu and a zebra, to name a few. While the collection is not for everyone, it is, ironically, a valuable reminder of the world’s shrinking animal population and the effects of humankind on the natural world.
by Tracy Hyatt
Only a handful of planes land each week at the Camrose City Airport. But once a year, for a few hours, it’s one of the busiest airports in Canada. Around 100 small aircraft descend into the city each spring to take part in the Camrose Flying Club fly-in breakfast. In addition to being one of the first pleasant weekends weather-wise (for pilots who favour open-cockpit planes), the event gives aircraft enthusiasts the chance to see rare combat airplanes, such as de Havilland Mosquitoes and Russian Yaks. It’s not all history, though. Bizarre homemade flying machines and ultralight planes get their fair share of onlookers. At 50-plus years old, the event is the longest running fly-in breakfast in Western Canada. It attracts more than 1,000 attendees every year. Arrive early May 27 to check out the machines and tuck into the morning’s spread of pancakes, sausages, eggs and coffee – because shortly after noon, the planes take to the skies, homeward bound.