Let’s start with a disclaimer. We are not strangers to Vermilion, AB. Our relatives live right outside of Vermilion, though it’s not realistic to say that we are experts on all things Vermilion. Our memories of the actual town are snippets of pancake breakfasts and short stories of picking up donuts– most of our memories lie on the acreage from our childhood.
Although, Della lived there for a year while she went to school. We’re not sure what she did when she went to school– ate a lot of Subway and Sammy’s from the sounds of it. But she was so busy training horses and helping cows give birth, she did not get the chance to explore much. That’s why we were so excited to experience Vermilion as proverbial tourists. We felt like we got to experience it for the first time! Della mentioned that the town has changed for the better in the three years since she has lived there- she noticed more local shops and activities downtown.
We got a little obsessed with bricks during our trip there. Okay, we got a LOT obsessed with bricks. There was one point we were just running up and down main street yelling “BRICKS!” Totally kidding, but that’s how we felt about bricks.
The brick factory was one of Vermilion’s earliest enterprises, being in operation from 1906 until 1914. In that time, around 1.5 million bricks were produced, and even though we were exploring Vermilion in 2019, those bricks seemed to still be a very common theme. In conversations we had with locals, business owners, and artists, the bricks were mentioned and are a part of the current happenings in Vermilion. So, you can see that it was hard not to get obsessed with bricks.
The Red Brick Café is a unique business on the main street, with their name paying homage to the history of the town. Locally owned and operated, The Red Brick serves delicious coffee, meals, and treats. They create amazing crepes and understand that cookies should, indeed, be a size similar to a large hand. And on our recent trip to Vermilion, The Red Brick’s coffee had us ready for our day of exploring.
The foundation that was laid in Vermilion all those years ago has allowed for a very special town to be built in Alberta. With a small town feel (our local tour guide got a “hello” or a visit from literally every person we came into contact with), Vermilion is not lacking in activities and businesses. The community was part of the Alberta Main Street Programme and their main street is home to many locally owned businesses. Downtown also offers a Historic Walking Tour, which gives more information on the town’s history. Within each plaque a strong sense of community and appreciation for heritage is evident.
It’s hard not to miss the large Craig’s store building. The Craig’s Cornerstone Project is currently working to restore the building and encourage local businesses. Craig’s has been in the same downtown location since 1905, and though the fire of 1918 destroyed their building, they rebuilt with– you guessed it– brick!
Some of our afternoon was spent at the Art Show and Sale. Among the wonderful art, there was a booth that pleasantly surprised us; a local potter creating beautiful pieces from the red river valley clay. It was so cool to see the connections that were being created between the past and present as we learned and explored.
The brick factory was able to build a lasting foundation for other industries to follow. The railroad came in 1905 and became an important part of Vermilion– the town had a water tower that was used to resupply the steam engines. Though the water tower is not still standing, we drove past a field that held remnants of it. Like a totem pole of days gone past, but also a flagpole of change and forward momentum.
Vermilion was also home to what was the first provincial agriculture college in 1913, beginning as a government established demonstration farm in 1911. All of this morphed into what would become Lakeland College in 1975. Lakeland College has provided a hands on education to so many individuals over the years, and has equipped our province with emergency personnel through the Fire & Emergency Training Center.
Our drive to Vermilion in the morning was filled with stories exchanged, memories and laughter of our childhood and what we knew of the town. However, our drive home was different. We had created new memories and now had a new understanding of the diverse factors that powered the town. Hospitality and community are driving forces in Vermilion. The outdoor spaces are special and well cared for. The history is rich and well documented. The people of the community care about their town, and it shows in their unique downtown, thriving local businesses, and beautiful outdoor spaces. We feel confident stating that there is something for everyone to discover in the town of Vermilion.