We’d been hearing good things about Olds for awhile, including the fact it was Canada’s first “gig town.”
Backstory: One gigabit per second is super high-speed Internet that only a few North America cities have. With that kind of bandwidth, you can stream at least five high-definition videos at the same time (allowing multiple people to watch and download different things in different rooms of a house or busines. The Olds Institute’s Technology Committee conceived the idea back in 2004 as one of its economic development strategies to attract new businesses to locate there. Called O-NET, it not only offers residents and businesses the fastest internet in Canada but also free community WiFi in dozens of public places across town – pretty much everywhere.
Then, a few weeks ago, a visiting young couple from Olds (they were picking up a bed that we were storing in our garage for friends) enthusiastically shared with us why they loved living in Olds and some of their favourite things to see, do and eat.
We decided we must go. So we did, the next weekend.
Six good reasons to visit Olds
#1 Garden & Butcher
Olds College started as a demonstration farm back in 1911, followed by the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1913. Today, it has a wonderful park-like campus and yes, the farm is still there. A relatively new feature is the Botanical Gardens (started in 2001) has evolved into 13 specialty gardens including – Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Iris Collection, Wetlands, Water Garden, Alpine Garden, Apple Orchard, Conifer Bed, Heritage Grove and Perennial Border. Visit the garden several times a year and get a different experience each time.
A popular spot for weddings, they added some pageantry and colour on our Saturday visit.
Link: Visit the Gardens
You also won’t want to miss the Olds College National Meat Training Centre. The College has the only facility in North America where students have the opportunity to learn everything from humane animal slaughter to retail meat cutting.
For the public, this means there is a retail store on site that carries a wide variety of beef, pork, lamb and poultry cuts. They also have smoked sausages and ready-to-eat meals. Time your visit accordingly as they are open Monday to Friday (noon to 5 pm) and Saturdays (10 am to 4 pm). It is located in the Animal Science Building. (Note to self: bring a cooler and ice packs with you.)
#2 Pandora’s Boox and Tea (PBT)
No, that isn’t a typo! The rationale for the name is that every time one opens a book, a new realm of possibilities opens up which is play on the Greek myth, Pandora’s box.
The name is very apropos for this unique shop.
Located in an early 20th century CIBC bank building, PBT is a lovely urban-esque surprise - it combines a bookstore, games entertainment hub and teashop. For Calgarians, think Sentry Box meets Pages bookstore meets Tea Traders.
A lovely hour was spent browsing the shelves (full of books, games and cards), sipping tea and watching some board gamers play. This would be a good place to check out just how fast this “gig town” is.
#3 Shoe Shopping
If you are looking for a new pair of shoes, you might want to think about heading to Olds. They have a couple of great shoe shops. Our favourite - Henry’s Shoes - had over 15,000 pairs of shoes (we were told their Trochu store is even larger…hmmm a future road trip). A great range of quality brands and sizes, and second-to-none service and fitting to boot (pun intended).
It was all we could do to resist buying a pair.
Not to be outdone, Jensen’s Men’s Wear also has a large selection of men’s and ladies’ footwear worth checking out, as well as a huge collection of western wear. You are in the heart of cowboy country after all!
And then there’s Craig’s, serving Olds and community with quality fashions, fabrics, yarns and giftware for 119 years.
To celebrate Canada 150, they have created several displays using vintage store artifacts from their collection
I was even invited to check out the historic vault in the back room.
Craig’s is fun a walk back in time
#4 Retro Fun
Rockin’ Retro is a huge antique, retro, vintage shop. While there is some rock and roll memorabilia (as the name suggests), there is a diverse selection of artifacts including one of the best collections of old tins that I have seen in a long time.
The Nu2U Thrift store located nearby is also worth a visit. You never know when or where you will find a hidden treasure!
#5 Aggie & Old Skhool
Don’t leave town without a visit to the Olds College Teaching Brewery and Tasting Room established in 2013 (exactly 100 years after the school opened, wonder what took them so long). Attached to the Olds Pomeroy Inn & Suites, it offers tasting of seasonal brews as well as four commercially branded beers – Aggie Ale, Old Skhool, Hay City and Prairie Gold. I came home with a 6-pack of Aggie (amber) and Old Skhool(brown), which may well become my new “go to” beers.
#6 Mountain View Museum & Archives
Housed in the Olds AGT building (1920), this museum has a collection of 7,000 artifacts, 14 meters of textual documents and 2,000 photographs. Group and guided tours are available. Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday (it is only open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 pm). We were told it is worth a visit. Next time.
Where to eat?
Our pick for lunch was the Black Forest German Bakery where everything is made from scratch and baked on site in their stone ovens, which keeps in the moisture and gives their breads a beautiful golden crusty exterior and a soft, tasty interior. They use local flours when possible, including spelt and rye and crack their our own grains for their multi-grain loaves. The European‐style bacon used in their famous Bacon Bread is sourced locally.
The daily lunch special immediately caught my eye. Who could resist Schnitzel & Spaetzle with salad, your choice of soup and dessert for $15. We loaded up with some yummy cinnamon rolls and a huge piece of apple strudel (only $5) to enjoy at home.
The Bakery and restaurant is part of a larger space that includes a mini marketplace with locally grown/made fresh foods and food products.
From Calgary (or even Edmonton or Red Deer) you could easily combine a trip to the Torrington Gopher Museum and Olds to create a kickback, fun rural day trip. We did and we plan to do it again - perhaps on a Thursday so we can check out the Olds Farmer’s Market, hit the museum and and maybe even play a round a of golf at Olds Golf and Country Club.
But most likely we will visit again on Victoria Day when Torrington has its longstanding annual community-wide yard sale.
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