Gardening in Alberta

Last year we planted a number of plants in our back garden. We had selected plants that were supposedly hardy for the region but all the same, after what has been a long winter, we sort of suspected we would never see any of them again. However, we were wrong! We are pleasantly surprised to report that plants in our north facing garden with winter temperatures of -20 to -30 have actually survived! We are now thinking that it might be possible to have a garden in Alberta!

In early May our Crab Apple was just twigs, with no leaves or flowers. Since then though, the leaves have been coming on gradually and the flowers seem to have come out in just a few days! This plant (we can’t remember what it is!), didn’t even lose its leaves over winter and now looks as though it is going to surprise us further with bright pink flowers.And there is much more continuing to bud, sprout and grow. We now think that, from the whole garden, we MAY have lost just one plant, unless of course it recovers over the coming weeks.Less hardy plants can survive too. We have had to bring this one in on a few occasions as temperatures can go into minus figures overnight, even in May. As summer comes on though, it should be OK to leave it out all the time, unless we get some freaky weather.So, maybe Albertan gardening is perfectly possible – it just takes a bit of extra thought and care.


The Town of Okotoks

Okotoks is a town situated on the Sheep River.  Wikipedia gives an overview of the source and flow of what is, the lifeblood of the town…
Wikipedia – Sheep River

By European standards, the town is very young. It was only incorporated in 1904. Okotoks has and is still undergoing a significant growth in its population. As recently as the year 2000, the population was less than 10,000. Today, (and contrary to the population figure on the picture below), it is about to push through the 20,000 mark. However, it retains a friendly and small-town feel and there remains a strong sense of community pride and spirit. If you like your facts, you’ll like this publication by Okotoks Town Council: Okotoks Fact File 2008.pdf


So where is Okotoks, we hear you ask?! Well, it lies about 18km (11 miles) south of the southern edge of Calgary, Alberta. Okotoks to Central Calgary is approximately 46.7 km (30 miles). How long that would take you to drive is a subject of some debate. It depends on a number of factors, such as whether you were trying to get to downtown Calgary in the rush hour, whether you were driving legally and what the road and weather conditions were like. In the very best case, you would probably budget about 35 mins to drive from Okotoks to downtown Calgary and add time accordingly to reflect rush hour and poor conditions. You can be fairly predictable in estimating that it takes about 17 minutes to drive from the northern reaches of Okotoks to the southern reaches of Calgary.

Now, you haven’t heard us mention Public Transportation. The reason for that is that there isn’t any, yet, although there is a live debate about the provision of a commuter bus service to Calgary in 2009 and longer term discussion about a rail link but it would be foolhardy to envisage the latter arriving any time soon. However, Southland, the people that run the school buses around here, do operate a morning and evening shuttle coach service to and from downtown Calgary. You can get the details here.

Okotoks has a downtown area as well as several shopping areas with strip malls, restaurants and box stores.

Downtown Okotoks
Old Town Office

New Town Office

Western Wheel offices

ShoppingThe Station Cultural Centre, which seems to host art exhibits etc
Downtown Restaurants & Cafes
79 – No minors allowed.

Cafe Divine
Bistro Provence
Tea & Time Emporium: Very nice spot for lunch, clocks all over the walls, good food and lots of teas to choose from.
On the southern edges of the town, you can find the big box stores and shopping facilities.
Recently expanded Wal-Mart

Sobeys is a really nice Supermarket, we also have a Safeway and No Frills (formerly Real Canadian)
Restaurants: The George Pub and Restaurant. Mr Mikes Steakhouse & Bar

Health & Wellness (human & animal)

As you can see there are plenty of facilities in this full service town!



Garden Birds of Alberta

When we moved into our home, we had no garden to speak of, just lawn, no trees or plants. We were quite disappointed last spring and summer when we had no garden birds visitng us. As regular readers will know, we spent a lot of time last year knocking our rear garden (or yard, as it is called here) into shape. As such, we were really quite happy when these fellows appeared in our garden last weekend. Perhaps the addition of the plants is working!

We are not entirely sure what they are as they aren’t anything we would have seen in the UK. We have looked in our Alberta bird book and think they could be:

Chipping Sparrow
Western Tanager
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
We’re sort of guessing here so if anyone knows exactly what they are, we would love to know!

Tipping Etiquette

We often get asked about tipping etiquette in Canada and thought it a good idea to do a little research.

After numerous trips to the US and Canada, we personally feel comfortable leaving a 15-20% tip (of the pre-tax total) and have always treated tipping as part of the cost of eating out. We use this percentage as a general rule any time we are provided with a service, so this would include bars, pizza delivery etc.

Tipping is also expected in hotels, when staff bring luggage to a room or you make use of the valet service. We tend not to make use of these services, but if we did we would pay the luggage handler $1 for each case and perhaps a couple of dollars to cover any smaller bags. We also leave a tip for the chamber maid when we stay in a hotel, usually a couple of dollars per night, depending on length of stay and service.

Tipping is also customary for other service providers such as hairdressers, manicurists, and taxi drivers. In these cases the percentage of tip is really up to the individual, but a 10% minimum is common.

Tipping is not a requirement in some counter service shops eg. coffee shops, ice cream shops, cafes, although “tips jars” are often placed on the counter tops to make you feel you should. It is really not necessary and purely your choice.

You would not tip in supermarkets when they pack your shopping and/or bring it to your car.

Generally waiters and waitresses are not paid very well in Canada so they rely on tips. Perhaps this also forces a better service in restaurants as they really need to earn that tip? Sometimes, the service is not worth a tip, but most of the time it is.

If in doubt, ask the service provider what the norm is. We have found most people to be pretty honest and we have had people refuse tips where it isn’t expected.

Links that outline the tipping system:


Trip Advisor

Living & Working in Canada

All this said, at the end of the day tipping is an entirely personal choice.


Small Garden Visitor

After what has been a long and snowy winter, we got a chance to put the bird bath back out in the garden (rear yard!) the other day. Normally, we would expect it to take days or longer before any visitors would come along. On this occasion though, it was adopted almost immediately and we had to run for the camera so we didn’t miss the moment!However, it’s not the case that Okotoks is devoid of birds in winter. A Realtor colleague of Eamonn’s was kind enough to share a couple of shots taken in mid-winter. Brent and his wife Cynthia (thanks for sharing the photos guys) have a plethora of bird feeders in their rear yard, which backs onto the local golf course. The birds (in this instance, Partridges, although they have many other visitors) clearly find this something of a safe and welcoming haven in the coldest of weather!J&E

Okotoks Recreation Opportunities

Some time back, we said we would begin to publish information about our town…
Over the weeks and months ahead, we will begin to fulfill that promise and today, we start with some information about some of the recreational opportunities open to residents of the town

Natural Beauty: The Big Rock Story
On the road out of Okotoks towards Black Diamond is the Okotoks Erratic, one of the worlds lagest erratics, known as the Big Rock The erratic is situated in a field and it is a beautiful spot for a stroll, especially in Summer.
Sporting Facilities
Hockey: Hockey: Okotoks Oilers
If you are a Facebook user, you may want to join the Okotoks Oilers Facebook group…
Okotoks Oilers Fans on Facebook

The Oilers play at the impressive 1,500 seat Okotoks Centennial Arena, which also has a two-lane walking/running track for year ’round exercise opportunities.
Okotoks Centennial Arena

Baseball: The Dawgs
Regular readers of our blog will know how much we enjoy going to the Dawgs. We’re looking forward to the season starting up again… A Night Out At The Dawgs Baseball

Football : The Falcons
Foothills Centennial Centre
This multi-cultural complex is made up of a seniors’ centre, youth space, meeting rooms, covered outdoor patio, commercial kitchen, and a 10,000-square-foot hall that can be divided into four smaller halls.
Okotoks Recreation Centre
This was renovated and expanded to provide more opportunities for residents of Okotoks to stay active year round, as well as to meet the growing needs of organized sports groups. The original facility includes two ice rinks, the Curling Club and swimming pool. The expansion added a 25-metre, multi-lane swimming pool, a new gymnasium, a fitness centre, an aerobics area, a child care centre and new/upgraded dressing rooms for the pool area and arena. Renovations included upgrades to include a solar panel system providing renewable, non-polluting energy, very much in keeping with the green oriented attitude of the town council and the locals.

Crystal Ridge Golf Course: Crystal Ridge Golf Course
The 9 hole, 3125-yard, par 35 course features water and rockwork on every hole, with lots of mature trees, berms, sand traps and large undulating greens. It also offers a clubhouse with two restaurants.
D’Arcy Ranch Golf Club: D’Arcy Ranch Golf Course This is considered by some to be the among the most unique courses in Western Canada. The terrain has been left in the most natural state possible, providing both novices and experts alike with an exciting and challenging game. It offers fabulous mountain views.

River’s Edge Golf Club: River’s Edge Golf Course
Formerly a 9 hole course, it is now a full 18 hole facility, with grass tee driving range, Pro Shop carrying all brand name merchandise, a licensed clubhouse and a restaurant.

A lot of information on schools and leisure activities can be found at the Okotoks Website: Okotoks Town Website

There is an excellent town public library: Okotoks Public Library

Around the town can also be found an outdoor ice rink, 21 parks and playgrounds, seven ball diamonds, 12 Soccer fields, tennis courts, outdoor track and field amenities, campgrounds and hiking trails and some 40 km of interconnected hiking and biking trails… Okotoks Walking Paths

The Station Cultural Centre…(renamed the Okotoks Art Galllery (OAG) – At The Station – in February 2009) is hosted in the town’s former railway station. It hosts art exhibitions, programs and live theatre. The OAG is also the home of the Okotoks’ Visitor’s Information Centre and Interpretive Display. The OAG and the nearby Heritage House museum (see Okotoks Heritage House Museum ) are “must sees” in Okotoks.

Bird Watching
While at the Okotoks Air Ranch, you can visit the Bird Sanctuary, where geese, ducks and other waterfowl make their home. The Okotoks Fish and Game Association has created a haven for these birds in a sanctuary located just off the road that leads into the Air Ranch. An elevated observation deck allows visitors to easily study the birds as they wade about the waters or set up nests along the shoreline.

Via the Sheep River (which runs out of the mountains only 100 km west of Okotoks). It offers opportunities for fly fishing. There’s Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Rocky Mountain Whitefish all waiting to take the fly and battle with the rod holder.

River Tubing
Further fun in the water is had in July and August where you will often see 100 or more tubers floating down the river. It’s a half day adventure, drop off at the Big Rock 7 km west of Town and float to Town (3 hours)!

There are a myriad of classes and groups on offer throughout the town, around the year and many of these are summarised in the town community guide which is re-issued periodically.
Okotoks Community Guide

All in all, it’s a place where there is always something to do.


Helicopter Ride Above Okotoks

Our good friends, Ian and Debbie Ross and their daughter Ella, were patient enough to stand in line for a couple of hours this weekend just gone, to get a chance to take a helicopter ride over Okotoks. From these pictures they have been kind enough to share with us, it seems it was well worth the wait.

In this shot, the helicopter is in the North East of the town, right above the Air Ranch community. The helicopter is facing south-west, giving a view right down over the town. Towards the top of the picture, snaking its way from left to right, you can see the tree lined Sheep River valley that divides the north and the south of the town. As previous blog items have noted, this is a fabulous spot for walks along the river and in summer, you will often see children and adults alike, resting and playing both in the river and on its banks.

A number of Eamonn’s real estate clients will recognise their beautiful homes in this shot!This next one is a terrific shot that will help those new to or thinking about moving to Okotoks, get a feel for the Crystal Shores area that is so popular. Apart from being able to see our BBQ on our deck at the back of our house (you never know who is watching you do you! 🙂 ), you can see the Crystal Shores lake and its beach and beach house. You can see all the walking paths and green spaces that are designed into the community and on the left of the shot, you can clearly make out the part green roof and large grassed and banked (makes for great sledging in winter) grounds of Dr Morris Gibson Elementary School, which is such a draw for people moving to the area with younger children. The bright blue roofed building is the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Building and just beyond that and left is the excellent Okotoks Recreation Centre.This final shot shows something that we really love about Okotoks…the fact that it is surrounded by wide open space.Great shots Ian and Debbie…thank you for letting us blog them.