Ga ga for Smoky Lake gourds

RULE NUMBER ONE when visiting Smoky Lake in October: embrace pumpkins, or at least Alberta’s most serious celebration of the gourds – the Great White North Pumpkin Fair and Weigh-Off. Every October dozens of pumpkin growers from across Western Canada, and a few hundred spectators, pack the Smoky Lake Agricultural Complex to witness the weighing. Serious contenders will tip the scales at more than 225 kilograms.

After the weigh-in, the real party starts. This year’s celebrations, starting October 3, include an old-time threshing bee, a pumpkin and squash auction, beer gardens, a pork roast, a pumpkin drop and a dance.

Yes, this rural town embraces its agrarian roots in the fall, but Smoky Lake is a year-round destination with a variety of attractions, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. Cyclists, quadders, cross-country skiers, horseback riders and snowmobilers can pick up the historic Iron Horse Trail – a former fur-trading route – from downtown Smoky Lake. Other history lessons can be learned from onion-domed Eastern Orthodox churches, built in the late 1800s by Ukrainian homesteaders.

No trip to a farming community is complete without taking home some local produce. Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, local growers sell produce, dairy, meats, baked goods and Ukrainian food at the agricultural complex. Bring your own bags and a healthy appetite.

The Hideaway
Bliss out at Bonne Nuit Bed and Breakfast hidden away from the tourist legions on a quiet side street. Owners Ernie and Bérangère Brousseau share their impeccable country-style home with everyone from city slickers to oil-and-gas executives. Each of the four guest rooms evokes a storybook feel, with antique-style quilts and wood furniture. In the evening, relax on one of the two patios with a hot cup of tea and watch a stunning sunset. Add an irresistible breakfast spread (that starts with the scent of home-baked croissants wafting through the air at 7 a.m.) and you’ll see why some guests never want to leave ( 780-656-3528).

The Inside Track
Glorious greens: Fresh fall produce and homemade jellies at Linda’s Market Garden (780-656-2401; ). Beaten path: Hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, ATVers and snowmobilers share the Iron Horse Trail, a 300 km backcountry route that passes through Smoky Lake (780-645-2913). Sweet tooth: Fresh-baked pumpkin cinnamon buns at Old Fashioned Bread Bakery, owned by the daughter of Ernie and Bérangère Brousseau (780-656-3780). Amazing grace: Saturday evening mass at the Byzantine-style Roman Catholic church, Our Lady of Atonement, a designated historical site.

Originally published in Westworld Alberta magazine