Get Cultured in the Foothills South & West of Calgary

By Peter Worden & Dayna Dickens

Indubitably, I say!—(whilst puffing brandy-shaped pipe)—Alberta Culture Days are indeed an enlightened affair in the Foothills. OK, so our art galleries aren’t the Met, and rococo sounds like it’s an Okotoks subdivision. But lucky for us, we don’t need to be in New York, Paris or Milan to get mind-blowing documentaries, visit important heritage sites or go for peaceful countryside strolls—just a few activities cultured people do, according to one study. Here are other things you can do here and now throughout Alberta Culture Days (Sep 29 to Oct 1). Hold on to your monocles, folks, we’re about to get cultured, Foothills-style!

Meet an artist (or three, or four…)

As it happens, the Cool Little Towns are home to a veritable enclave of artists, and this Culture Days Weekend, they are pulling out all the colours.

On Thursday, Sep 28 join contemporary English/CDN artist Matthew Blair and local curator of Alberta Art exhibitions, Melissa Ellen Cole, in a discussion of the contemporary art scene in Calgary at the Lineham House Galleries in Okotoks (33 Elma Street, Okotoks – 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.).

On Friday Sep 29, catch painter Don Hamm’s annual three-hour sale of new work in High River (110 4th Ave SE High River — Sep 29 5:30 – 9 p.m.), and meet & greet artist Holly McWilliams from 6:30p.m. to 8:30p.m. at Evanescence Gallery & Art Studio in beautiful downtown High River, then on Sunday return to meet the artist and admire the work of clay Sculptor Gordon Pengilly.  Also, this weekend, take the opportunity to attend Turner Valley artist, Susan Kristoferson’s weekend-long artist demo and open studio at Kristoferson Studio (100, 202 Blacklock Way SW, Turner Valley).

Admire one of artist Heather Saunders’ creative mobiles at the High River Library this weekend. (Photo: Etsy)

Saturday, Sep 30 has High River artist Ashley Gaboury opening her studio (216 6 Ave, High River – Sep 30, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.) to demonstrate the mixed media process while painting the wolfdogs from the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. The High River Library on First Street will be artists-central all weekend featuring all ages programming and presentations by multimedia artists, musicians, authors, dancers and even Cowboy Poets all day Friday and Saturday.

Not to be outdone, the Okotoks Arts and Culture community is rolling out their creative carpet too with an Art Walk, Scavenger Hunt, Writers Workshop and more all day Saturday. has all the deets.

And we can’t forget Black Diamond’s  lovely Bluerock Gallery (110 Centre Street W, Black Diamond) who are featuring live artist demos and their popular Art Church this weekend, nor the grand opening of The Studio & Gallery in Bragg Creek (12 Balsam Ave, Bragg Creek) … painting and watercolors and weaving – oh my!

Listen to live, local music…

But your cultural immersion can’t stop with the eyes – not when there is so much live music to enjoy….

Friday night kicks off with the Best of Buskerfest Concert in Okotoks – a free celebration, but you’d better reserve your ticket right away as space at the venue is limited, and you’d hate to be left out on the curb for this one!

Then on Saturday, what would Alberta Culture Days be without some true high culture as High River’s Gift of Music Society presents Amor y Pasion, Love and Passion: Isabel Bayrakdarian, one of Canada’s most acclaimed sopranos, four-time Juno award winner,  with pianist Robert Koenig, at the High River United Church on Saturday at 7:30p.m.

Danny a.k.a “Skinny Dyck” of Skinny Dyck and the Chicken Catchers (Photo: Facebook)

Alternatively, it’s not quite Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, but close…

  • The Country Icons tribute to Alan Jackson, Walon Jennings and Merle Haggard will be playing at a kid-friendly event in the Highwood Memorial Centre in downtown High River at 7:30p.m. Saturday.
  • Skinny Dyck and the Chicken Catchers hit Black Diamond’s Westwood Sep 30 (115 Government Road South)
  • The Roamin’ Cadillacs play at the Spitzee Post in High River’s Heritage Inn Hotel (1104 11 Ave, High River),
  • Glasgow’s Kiss plays at the George Traditional House (101 30 Southridge Dr, Okotoks),
  • Grant Kanigan is playing Live at the Water’s Edge Pub in Priddis (Bay 8, Priddis Plaza, Priddis Valley Road, Priddis), and
  • Little Johnny is Live at Rylies in Okotoks (263-200 Southridge Drive, Okotoks)

Hand-make things…

Try your hands at something new—it’s a good way to shake up routine and learn a useful new skill. Have you, for example, considered the fibre arts? Well!—the Crocus Country Fibre Arts Guild invites you for an entangling day of spinning and weaving along with an exhibit of knitted, crocheted, felted and wool work at the Museum of the Highwood in High River. You, too, can get tied up in the art with spinning workshops throughout the year. You’ll think you’ve dyed and gone to heaven.

A maquette of Bob Pike’s work ‘Autumn Song.’ If you’re not very handy, have no fear, Pike Studios’ fall sale of pottery and metal work is on Sep 30 and Oct 1.

Over at Pike Studios  Connie Pike makes the rounds on her potter’s wheel, while Bob Pike hammers on about his metal work, such as the design of a new clock sponsored by Rotary. Also there, Shon Schlosser will have her own shining display of jewellery with free hands-on demonstrations.

Or, if painting is more your thing, go Jackson Pollock at the Leighton Centre in Millarville’s annual Fall Paint-Out (Sep 30 and Oct 1). Whether you’re an actual artist or just like throwing paint around, there’s a full line up of demos and mini-workshops for you. Pack a lunch and supply your own supplies—the Paint-Out is B.Y.O.B. (bring your own brush).

Last year’s winner and “Gratest Spellers” the Big Rockies (Photo: Facebook)

… and learn some big words

P-E-R-S-P-I-C-A-C-I-O-U-S means showing great clear-sightedness. Contestants of the annual Grate Groan Up Spelling Bee & Cardboard Challenge need their perspicacity (and funny costumes) for this annual event of utmost calefaction in High River. Yes, it is on like fisticuffs in Donkey Kong. This hilarious, action-packed event leaves verbacious victors gasconading over their tongue-tied rivals. Alas, with the money raised used to support literacy, we all win.

Take a film tour or take in some festival films …

What do Superman, Fargo, Tin Star and Heartland have in common?  Head in to High River to find out…Join Museum of the Highwood staff on Saturday, September 30th for the Highwood Film Tour, a walking tour of some of High River’s movie and television sets and discover the town’s rich cinematic past and present.

Their Finest – With London emptied of its men now fighting at the Front, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the British Ministry of Information as a “slop” scriptwriter charged with bringing “a woman’s touch” to morale-boosting propaganda films.  Presented by Foothills Films at the Wales Theatre in High River on Thursday Sept 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Little Mocassins will leave you with a new understanding of the legacy left by institutions.

Little Mocassins is a film honouring a long-forgotten group of First Nation’s children buried at the now-abandoned Dunbow Indian Residential School northeast of Okotoks. Filmmaker Laurie Sommerville presents a screening of her documentary at the Okotoks Library (Sep 30 at 10:30 a.m.) then will stick around to lead a Q & A.

and don’t forget to look up – Waaaaaaay up!

Look, up in the sky… it’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, and it’s definitely not Superman, but it is the Heritage Inn International Hot Air Balloon Festival.  Balloons from around Canada and the world will fly in High River September 27- Oct 1, 2017. The highlight of this event for the community is the Night Glow, which sees balloons inflate and “glow” for spectators, with opportunities to meet the pilots, get up close to the balloons, and enjoy the visiting food trucks.

There is nothing quite so magical as a hot air balloon glow in High River at dusk.

PHEW! With so much happening right on Calgary’s doorstep, we’re going  to be running around (in a good way) all weekend long.

For more information about these and more events, check out the calendar of events on the Cool Little Towns facebook page, meanwhile, we’ve got some stretching to do.

Peter Worden is a part-time liver, full-time lover of the Foothills and its many cool little towns. When he’s not printing a miniature newspaper in Nanton, he’s putting out Reved Quarterly, the funny pages in Revelstoke, BC. 

Dayna Dickens is a secret artist and mompreneur in southern Alberta, who loves nothing more than to take spontaneous road trips with her husband and kids.



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