When I first published Day Trips From Calgary in 1995, it was hard to get a decent cup of coffee in most Alberta towns, let alone a muffin or sandwich that hadn’t been wrapped in plastic hours earlier.
My, how things have changed. Nearly every self-respecting town or small city now boasts a craft brewery and coffee roaster. In the past year or two, you can add craft bakeries that rival anything the big cities can produce, well except for Edmonton’s ethereal Duchess Bake Shop and maybe Sidewalk Citizen Bakery in Calgary.
While updating the aforementioned book, I’ve come across a handful of such bakeries in southern Alberta, far from the metropolitan food scene. Why, I’m not sure, other than owners willing to put in the long, early-morning hours that a well-rounded bakery demands. Here are some of the brightest examples, starting with the smallest centres.
The Heart of Bragg Creek
Bragg Creek is a hamlet of about 600 people, albeit on the doorstep of a million-plus Calgarians looking for somewhere to go on weekends. The Heart of Bragg Creek is a yoga centre that also runs a café. I didn’t see any loaves of bread during a recent visit, but the baked goods were exceptional, including a berry crumble bar with lots of seeds, which I messily tackled without a fork. This is proof that healthy can also be delicious.
Homestead Bakeshop, Fort Macleod, population 3,000
A decade ago, this historic brick-walled spot was the home of a European bakery that made delectable butterhorns. Fast forward to today, and there are still great butterhorns but now being produced by the talented Kimberly Vanden Broek and Julena Schipper, both graduates of the SAIT baking and pastry arts program.
The apple rosemary sourdough bread, soft and chewy, is to die for, as are the almond croissants and the fruit turnovers and danishes. The artisan, sourdough bread roster also includes an oat porridge loaf and one with sprouted grains.
Uprising Bake Shop, fairly recently opened in Canmore (population 17,000) and Banff (8,200)
By mistake, I order the large size of the focaccia and cheese bread. No matter. I destroy the whole beast while driving through Banff townsite, each tangled bite inspiring another until there’s nothing left but bread crumbs embedded in the upholstery.
Seeing as how I can pick up these hand-crafted breads and other baked treats in either mountain town, I’m strongly opting for the Canmore location. That’s because (rant alert), Banff has recently implemented a paid parking policy so byzantine for visitors that I’m questioning my need to ever go into the town again.
French 50 Bakery, Okotoks, population 32,000
French 50 is essentially a pop-up bakery—on the patio of a historic, pressed-tin building—open only on Saturdays for in-person shopping or online pickups. There are breads that are naturally fermented and cold proofed as well as treats like cinnamon brioche rolls and three-cheddar scones. But my eyes and tastebuds are drawn to a berry cross of a croissant and muffin, called a cruffin. Bliss ensues.
The Heart of Bragg Creek
12 Balsam Avenue, Bragg Creek
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 9 am-5 pm
228 24 Street, Fort Macleod
Monday to Saturday opens at 7 am. Closed Sunday
The Uprising Craft Bakery
735 9 Street, Canmore and 202 Banff Avenue, Banff
Monday to Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday to Sunday 7 am-7 pm
French 50 Bakery
52 North Railway Street, Okotoks
Saturdays only 8 am-1 pm