Ever see a river in the sky?
Brooks has that. And it basically brought modern agriculture to the area.
In the early days of the Brooks region, access to water was crucial. After all, we pretty much live in a desert here in southeast Alberta! The aqueduct - completed in 1914 - had engineers and ranchers giddy with excitement. Getting water became much easier, which enticed people dreaming of that Western lifestyle to settle here.
Of course, technology moves ever forward, and the Eastern Irrigation District now has an impressive canal system to meet the needs of landowners (the main canal actually runs alongside the aqueduct!), but this monument to yesteryear remains as a tribute to those early pioneers and their ingenuity.
Getting to the aqueduct is quite simple, it's just a short (perhaps 4km) drive outside the City of Brooks on the "Old Number One" as locals call it. Access to this initial version of the TransCanada Highway can be found by driving to Highway 873, then turning east just before the railway crossing. Travelling west, the highway takes a slight curve before coming to an intersection leading north to the current TransCanada Highway or south to the aqueduct (heads up - this becomes a gravel road). Cross the tracks again, and turn right.
Now if you're expecting an interpretive experience this season, it's just not in the cards. While there is a visitor information centre at the aqueduct, the site is once again a self-guided adventure for 2019. However, there is decent parking, and nice, modern playground for the kids. There's also a road that runs parallel to the aqueduct, leading to a nice pond area that is quite tranquil. There is a short walk from the road to the pond, but it's well-maintained and allows for excellent viewing of local plants and wildlife.
Five aqueduct tips:
Hit the loo before you go - While there are restrooms at the aqueduct, they're locked this year. My recommendation is to grab a coffee in Brooks, answer nature's call, then hit the road. This "closed bathroom" thing is a pet peeve of mine, the City of Brooks pulls the same silliness with some of their public restrooms (usually when you have a young child that 'really has to go').
Pack the bug dope - While those pesky biting insects haven't become a problem yet, the recipe is right in this area. Given the large amount of water and tall grass, it's always wise to bring some bug spray along just in case.
Look both ways - The gravel road that brings you to the aqueduct continues on and bisects the structure. This means that a section was actually removed to allow for the road. However, since the road rises higher than the aqueduct, there is a roadside turnout with a great view. The main area is situated to the west of the road, but on the east side lies the siphon - certainly a device worthy of a glance.
Keep an eye on the time - since this is a self-guided experience, gates do close at certain times to disallow vehicular traffic. Signage informs that the gates are open between 10 a.m and 5 p.m., but even if you arrive outside that timeframe, the aqueduct can be enjoyed. You just might have to walk a little further than anticipated.
Something in the way - For the photographers in the crowd, here's an annoying fact about the aqueduct for you: it's fenced in! Yup. An ugly chainlink fence surrounds the ancient structure, so capturing some appealing images might require a little work. Luckily, with some clever angles, this is easily overcome.
While you're here, check out:
The Tillebrook Campground is just east of the aqueduct along the Old Number One. Not only do people rave about the tranquility of this particular place, but it's a key stop for birdwatchers.
They may be a little older....OK, maybe a LOT older, and perhaps a little bit slower than the glory days of the old NHL, but the Montreal Canadiens Alumni team still have game.
The team came to Brooks recently to take on the Crossroads Challengers - a rag-tag crew who love hockey and raising money for a worthy cause. I think there may have been just a couple Habs fans in the mix, too. Regardless, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance - how often have you skated let alone played hockey with a bunch of guys who laced up in the big league?
The game wasn't all business, there were a few silly moments (a certain pie in the face incident comes to mind), and you couldn't wipe the smiles off the faces of either team. We had some celebrities of our own on the green team, Duane Sutter played on the same line as his daughter (and Rolling Hills resident) Darby Lester, plus Darby's daughter Hayden was part of the Junior Challengers that took on the Alumni team between the first and second period. Where else can you find three generations on the ice, taking on former NHLers?
Now the real winners here were the wonderful people over at the Crossroads Clinic in Brooks. They organized the event, and funds raised are crucial for their everyday work. It's great to see such a positive response to a fundraiser like this. Speaking of raising funds, I've created a gallery of images from the game, where you can find digital images or even order heirloom prints and other products. Proceeds from images sold will be donated to Crossroads Clinic. The gallery has watermarked images for viewing purposes, if you'd like a high-res version, shoot me an email!
So what was the final score? Well, it wasn't close... we'll just say that. But the points really didn't matter much, it was for love of the game and playing for the cause.
Huge shout-out to all the players who were likely sore the next day - you fine folks did great out there!
What normal person travels over two hours for a cup of tea and a slice of pie? Well, let me tell you about a place where the tea and pie are WORTH driving over two hours for.
I took a Sunday drive out to Acadia Valley because I heard there was an amazing elevator museum and tearoom there. Now, if you’ve never been to Acadia Valley before, the one thing you don’t have to worry about is rush hour traffic! It’s a wonderful hamlet just south of Oyen on Highway 41 and north of the Red Deer River. Coming from Duchess, I hit some of the construction headed up to Dinosaur Provincial Park, but by the time I hit the Triple Nickel (Highway 555), it was nothing but blue skies, white sage and yellow canola fields.
But back to the purpose of this trip.
Grain elevators were prairie sentinels dotted across the landscape and a landmark for thousands of rural communities. In Acadia Valley, that towering structure still beckons visitors from afar in its latest role as a prairie museum. You can take a guided tour where the knowledgeable staff will tell you about this particular elevator’s history, and how these giant grain storage and transfer stations operated. This is one of a very few wooden grain elevators still standing in Alberta, and visitors have access to several parts of this amazing place. You can even run your hand along the grain-worn wood; feeling the history firsthand.
Also on-site is an out building furnished to show how everyday life would have been for people nearly 100 years ago. It’s an old wood grain bin that would scarcely hold a modern truckload today, but serves as a reminder of how things once were.
Speaking of things celebrating a century of history, the Teahouse itself is an Aladdin home. These were catalog houses that one ordered through the mail. Think of it as the ultimate IKEA project. The Teahouse itself was thought to be originally ordered in 1917, and is still standing strong. Rooms throughout the house are like a trip back in time, decorated in stunning detail to reflect a simpler time. You might be surprised how the master bedroom compares to a typical home today (especially for people who love lots of closet space – that was at a premium 100 years ago!).
What impressed me most about my visit was the level of community spirit. Hundreds of items were donated by local families to fill the museum and Teahouse. Items like grain cheques from the 1940s, specialized tools handcrafted by a talented blacksmith, and household goods whose brand names have long since disappeared from the store shelves. The museum and teahouse rely on local residents as staff, so your visit helps drive the economy of Acadia Valley. In return, you get an authentic experience from someone whose relatives most likely donated their family treasures to this unique and special place.
Top Tips for your Visit
1. Bring Cash – The Teahouse doesn’t accept plastic payment – no debit or credit cards here, but the sign on the door says cash is welcome. Don’t forget to tip and sign the guest book!
2. Give Yourself Time – The grounds are full of agricultural equipment to discover, plus the Teahouse and elevator are full of interesting antiques furnished by area locals. I’d say give yourself about two hours to comfortably tour around – and enjoy some delicious treats!
3. Bring the Kids – Especially if you have a child obsessed with trains or farm machinery, they’ll love the chance to get up close to these items. You can even go inside a caboose on site!
4. Don’t Forget the Camera – Do I really even need to recommend that point? Of course you’ll want a selfie!
The Prairie Elevator Museum and Teahouse is open through July and August from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Food trucks are becoming more common on the landscape, offering an amazing variety of food – an experience, really. Locally, a special event called Food Truck Wednesday has proven that people in the County of Newell also support this type of venue. Through the summer, the first Wednesday of June, July, August, acnd September have people packed into Veteran’s Park beside Brooks City Hall for an afternoon of food and music.
My family enjoyed the first instalment of this food fest so much that my wife and I decided to help a friend of ours with the hungry masses. Julie Umschied owns Greaser’s Grub, a food truck specializing in fantastic poutine combinations such as the Dad Joke (because it’s so cheesy!), the Bar Star, Preggo Pleaser and the Squealer. The Vulcan-area resident has several years’ experience in the food truck industry, and just has a knack for knowing what people want (as evidenced by the continual line-up for her fabulous food!). In fact, she’s booked solid for events all summer – a testament to the popularity of Greaser’s Grub!
Anyway, back to the point of this post – finding out firsthand what it’s like to work in a food truck. Fortunately, I was assigned probably the easiest job on the team – handing the final product to customers. Now I do have a background in food service, my first job as a kid was at a fast food restaurant as front counter staff, so some of those skills kicked in fairly quick. My wife was on the till, and Julie plus her two fantastic friends made sure the food kept moving quickly.
Yes, it was close quarters, but the key to an efficient, smooth operation such as this is teamwork. Sure, it’s easy to put out the grub in record time when it’s slow, but once the meal-time rush hits, the acid test of your team begins. Everybody’s job is important, and keeping a positive attitude is crucial. If you can’t get along with your team, then things will come crashing down. Luckily, the five of us in that food truck were like a well-oiled – er, well-‘greased’ – machine. Food and orders were flying left and right, the sound of deep fryers sizzling and the smell of poutine tickled the senses. And made me super hungry.
Naturally, if the food prep is buzzing along smoothly, food can get out faster, which obviously makes for happier customers. In fact, there were a few times where orders were ready while the customers were still receiving their change! What will make or break the system here is preparedness – having enough product ready, and timing of how long it takes to make an item. On the front end side, the person at the till is the first face a customer sees; their first interaction with the brand as well. This is also where the up-sell takes place – the simple suggestion of a cool beverage can bolster sales easily. Also, the job I had acts as a closing to that experience, so it’s important to be friendly and courteous to ensure repeat business. And we did notice repeat customers both from the June food truck event, and even the coming back for seconds on this auspicious night in July.
As any food service personnel knows, once the rush is over, the work doesn’t stop. There’s restock of items, cleaning work areas, and preparing for the next rush. Fortunately, all this rushing does make a shift go by quickly, and my wife and I enjoyed a quick snack as the final notes rang out from the onstage entertainment.
Five Food Truck Wednesday Hacks
Plans are to host two more Food Truck Frenzy events in August and September. If you haven’t attended one yet, make sure you don’t miss out!
1. If you can, arrive early to beat the line-ups as things start getting busy after 5 p.m.
2. While there are benches and picnic tables at Veteran’s Park, plan to bring a blanket also in case you feel like claiming a portion of grass instead
3. Washroom facilities are onsite in the form of porta-potties with sinks. This is a nice touch, as after hours, washrooms in local businesses may not be available.
4. Some downtown businesses have extended their hours to take advantage of the extra traffic downtown. If the lines are a bit long, why not stop in and check out some of the sales?
5. Parking can be a little tricky at peak times. Again, this is where the downtown comes in handy – you might find it easier to park downtown and visit some businesses as you make your way to Veteran’s Park. Besides, you’ll probably feel like a short walk after enjoying all that fine food!
It's a sure sign of spring when the first crocuses emerge. This year, however, it's a sign of summer - and I'm fine with skipping over one season to get to the hot days sooner!
My family regularly visits Dinosaur Provincial Park, and it's a badge of honour to be the one who photographs the first crocus of the year. It always amazes me how one day, the hills can be brown and seemingly barren, then the next, covered with small, purple flowers.
Of course, on the way to the Park, we usually encounter some critters. Pheasants are a mainstay out this way, and the meadowlarks have been in abundance lately. Every time we drive, the cattle population is booming with new life springing forth. On a previous trip, we even noticed a calf that must have been born minutes before our arrival. The kids especially love watching all the young critters running around.
Another aspect I also enjoy is seeing the uncommon sights - the surprises. As I mentioned in the last post about the bluebirds and eagles, these accidental tourists add an element to the adventure.
For example, a small lake on the way to Brooks has become a favourite spot for a large group of pelicans. I was able to get fairly close to them, and enjoyed several minutes of watching the large white birds.
No matter if you're gathering images of some strange animal, or the mundane, everyday ones, the important thing is to follow the advice I close with during my Tog Tips program on Shaw TV - "the only way you're going to improve is to pick up that camera and shoot!"
'Til the next adventure....
Did you know the birdwatching accounts for somewhere in the realm of 13% of total annual tourism in Alberta? We're also fortunate in this area to have a wide variety of environments to attract unique species. With all the lakes and sloughs around, waterfowl has been migrating back over the past few weeks, and warm temperatures have been tempting prey like gophers to emerge - handy lunch for large birds. Songbirds are certainly no stranger to our region, and there's even been some rare guests making a visit this year.
Recently, I went out with my friend and fellow photographer, Laurie, to some of her local haunts in search of the elusive bald eagle. She's been photographing these fantastic birds for months now, and I wanted to see one in the wild around the Brooks area.
The first thing you need to know about Laurie is she is an amazing wildlife, landscape, and aurora borealis photographer. She's someone who knows the area very well and has the utmost respect for locations.
And I'm pretty sure she's got the vision of the eagles we were looking for. While we were driving, Laurie was able to pick out particular bird species, sometimes just by the way they would fly, but usually because she could see them far better than I could!
We did find a Golden Eagle near the Rolling Hills Reservoir; a juvenile according to Laurie. It was an exciting find, and her images were stunning as always! I had a huge handicap as the longest lens I own maxes out at 200mm. Luckily, I brought along a 2x teleconverter, but still wasn't able to come close to what Laurie's 600mm lens could capture. For wildlife photography - especially birds - a huge zoom is key. I always tell people who ask "why kind of gear should I buy?" to invest heavily on glass, and not to worry too much about the latest and greatest body.
An oddity (as I mentioned before about the songbirds) came upon us in the Tilley area. I have never observed a bluebird in this area before - in fact, the closest was during a visit to Reesor Ranch in the kinda nearby Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Laurie, of course, was the first to pick out the distinctive blue colour as we slowly drove down the road. To our surprise, this bluebird was not alone. A decent sized group of them must have stopped by during migration - made for some fantastic images! I'm certain by now, they've all left the area, but it was incredible to see the vibrance of the bluebirds flying in a group.
Alas, we never did come across the Bald Eagle that began the entire journey. However, we did get to see many species that regularly call the County of Newell "home," and had a great visit.
Coming up during the May long weekend is the annual bird count in our region, which usually hits places like Kinbrook Provincial Park, Lake Newell, and the Tilley area. The Grasslands Naturalists have put together an amazing book (including detailed maps) called the Birding Trails of Southeastern Alberta, which is available online. However, if you do have the chance to grab a hard copy, proceeds do help the organization. If you are planning a visit to Southeast Alberta, this guide is a valuable resource. Also, try to connect with the Grasslands Naturalists - they are a group of well-informed, amazing people that are a wealth of information.
I was reading a social media post that questioned how effective being a Chamber member actually is; how beneficial such an affiliation would be to a business. Well, in my experience, it's been quite fruitful.
Recently, a friend at the Chamber learned that another member - McDonald's - was looking for local artwork. The store just went through renovations on the, and now they started work on the exterior. To bring more of a local feel to the store, they wanted some artwork that featured famous local landmarks. Kyle at the Chamber told Jordan at McDonald's "hey, I know a guy" and the connection was made.
Not gonna lie, it's pretty cool to see my work hanging on the walls at McDonald's. The kids love the Playplace, so we've been there a couple times since the images went up. It's funny how many people you run into with positive feedback. If you're near the Brooks McDonald's, stop by for a bite and check out the new look. Let me know what you think of the artwork, too!
Wayne's World was a movie that changed my life. Above all, I wanted to host a local cable access show. Now, I think my dream may have finally come true!
Teaching some of the skills I've learned in photography has become something I enjoy, and it only seemed like a natural progression to share some of those things in a wider broadcasting forum. OK, we're probably not going to cover earth-shattering ground here, but I want to show that this art is a lot of fun, and not so intimidating for people to get into.
With my courses, I always tell my students that I want to be able to share some of the things I was looking for and could not find when first getting into the art of photography. The classroom is place where knowledge is shared in a positive, friendly environment. There are hundreds of places to find dry old facts, I try to present subject matter in a fun, easy-to-understand way; dispelling the myth that there are 'trade secrets' and emphasizing people getting their cameras out and going on an adventure. That's why the course I teach at the Brooks Campus MHC is titled "Adventures in Digital Photography."
While the idea to shoot these segments seemed easy on paper, I am not the most comfortable person on camera. I have a habit of blanking, getting that 'deer-in-the-headlights' look and forgetting what I wanted to talk about. Leanne from Shaw TV Medicine Hat came to Brooks to film these segments, and we had a blast! She was so easy to work with, and that fear of the camera melted quickly. I think she did a fantastic job building this video, and look forward to seeing her work on the future productions. The people at Shaw TV are in our community fairly often, and create stories that matter; things that would normally not see the light of day. I'm happy to be part of this story-telling.
YouTube isn't the only place you can find Tog Tips, if you have cable at home, tune in to Shaw TV Medicine Hat on channel 10. You'll find this program and tons of community content available for your viewing pleasure.
Also, if you have a topic or question you'd like to see covered on Tog Tips, let me know!
If you're a photographer that's been around for any length of time, you've likely received The Text. By that, I mean the request to shoot a reunion. Oh yes, it's a sign that you've "made it" once you get the spammity-spam scammer texts! But what is this scam all about and how does it work?
Usually, I ignore the classic text scam, but recently decided to play along and see how it works. Essentially, this is a classic over-payment credit card scam where the perpetrator tries to get you to run a credit card, take out some cash to pay another vendor that doesn't accept credit cards, and keep your portion. The end result is you are left holding the bag for the full card charges because the information is stolen.
It may be enticing, especially for those just starting out and desperate for work. This is where the scammer tries to play on your greed - you could quote any price for the job, they are more concerned with getting money from the stolen card.
Some red flags to watch out for if you suspect the Reunion Scam:
- They will ask if you accept credit cards as payment right away
- Usually bad grammar and typos in their text
- Vague about locations and dates
- Scammer will note they prefer communicating by text, often stating that they have a hearing impairment
- Sense of urgency, they may claim having a surgery in a few days (they actually only have a short window of opportunity to use the card before the theft is discovered)
- Strange phone number as the area code may be nowhere near you area, OR they my be mirroring a seemingly local number by using an area code before the local call.
In this latest scenario, the scammer provided me with copious amounts of credit card info. I immediately called the credit card company to report the stolen card, and was assured that the legit cardholder was contacted. In this case, the issue was resolved and hopefully I saved someone a lot of headache!
My main point is for people to be careful. These scammers are ruthless. If you do encounter a text scam like this, just ignore it and carry on. However, if you do decide to play along, please do as I have and report the stolen card. Be a good person and save someone's day!