Photos by Aydin Odyakmaz
Framed by mountains, and with quick access to hiking, skiing and spots to swim, it’s no wonder Canmore is a draw for outdoor enthusiasts and people eager to spend time in a naturally beautiful spot.
But the town best known as being the gateway to the Rocky Mountains is increasingly gaining a reputation as a community with a thriving food scene, complete with nationally recognized restaurants – with very few chain establishments – and a growing number of food and liquor producers. Some were born and raised in the town and looked for a way to carve out a career, while others were drawn to Canmore for the lifestyle. No matter why they chose to settle in the community, all agree the appetite for quality, locally made food and alcohol products is flourishing, and the supportive network between these producers and Canmore residents is fostering that growth.
“I feel the love,” says Meghan Bryant, owner of Canmore Pasta Co. “People support the local business here. That’s why we have so many manufacturers in Canmore.”
Bryant and her husband moved from Whitecourt, Alberta in 2011 to give their three children a chance to grow up by the mountains. A year later, with no experience in the food industry, she took a chance and bought a pasta business. Changing the name and structure, Bryant branched out to wholesale and retail opportunities while keeping the local connection and selling to Canmore restaurants.
Photo by Aydin Odyakmaz
Using 100 per cent Canadian-grown durum semolina milled in Lethbridge and Alberta eggs, she makes pasta from scratch and fillings – like fig and gorgonzola, wild mushroom, and bison – and sells them in her own retail store, along with other local businesses, Save-on-Foods, and at Calgary Farmers’ Market (she also works with restaurants to do custom fillings for ravioli!). In her nearly five years of making pasta, Bryant has watched the number of food producers in the town grow, and she attributes that growth to an encouraging community of fellow producers who meet, problem solve and collaborate.
“Why Canmore has done so well is we all support each other,” she says. “There is a lot of support for the entrepreneur. We all face the same issues: staff, staff housing and working together to get our products out for distribution.”
When new producers join the fold – like Wild Life Distillery, which opened its doors in January – they find themselves welcomed by those who are well established.
“Everyone has been very receptive, right down to the manufacturers around us,” says co-founder and distiller Keith Robinson, who opened the business with his long-time friend Matt Widmer.
“Others know what it takes to start a business in a small community, and are really supportive and doing everything they can to help us succeed because they know how challenging it can be,” he explains.
Photo courtesy of Wild Life Distillery
Wild Life has released its first vodka – a wheat and malted barley version – and is currently working with botanicals to find the perfect combination for a new gin. Eventually, Robinson says, the plan is to do bitters, syrups and tonics so that everything needed to make a cocktail at home can be purchased from the distillery. Robinson grew up in Canmore, and Widmer in Banff, so it was a natural choice to get back to the town after studying in Victoria and taking some time to travel. Like others who have built their food manufacturing businesses, the men realized the best way to find work was to create it.
“It’s because of the attraction to live here,” Robinson says. “People need to get crafty as to how they’ll make a living.”
Firmly established companies like Grizzly Paw Brewing Co. and Valbella Gourmet Foods have proven businesses can have longevity in the community. Widmer and Robinson experimented with home brewing, but it wasn’t until the Alberta government changed the rules around minimum production laws that they saw their dream of opening a distillery become a reality. Three years later, Wild Life opened its doors. A small operation, Widmer and Robinson have had a hand in every aspect of the business – something else many of the food manufacturers in Canmore share – from recipe research to distilling to building the front bar.
“Everything has come from our hands or our brains,” they add.
As the pair have been supported by other producers, they too are working closely with other Canmore businesses like Valbella, whose meats and cheeses are offered in their tasting room. The small-town nature of Canmore means many of the businesses in the food community boost each other this way. You can find Canmore Pasta Co. products on the shelves at Carole Beaton’s healthy foods store, An Edible Life. Her take-home-and-heat meals, in turn, are sold in cafes around town, as well as the local Shopper’s Drug Mart. Besides Bryant’s pastas, Beaton, who opened An Edible Life nearly three years ago, following a career in construction and a return to school to study nutrition, carries a number of other local products in her store.
“The food community is supportive,” she says. “I collaborate with several other businesses in town. We definitely try to work with each other.”
While her initial plan following school was to open a nutrition consulting business, it morphed into prepared meals with a health focus when she saw a gap in the market.
“When I was working in construction, what I have here (in An Edible Life) is what I wanted. You couldn’t pick up something you felt good about eating and felt good after eating,” she says. Beaton says the number of businesses making local products has particularly shifted in the last few years as people look to make something of their own work in the community.
“People try to make it work because of the lifestyle,” she says. “You take a huge leap of faith in hoping people will support you here.”
Photo by Aydin Odyakmaz
Others who have entered the foodmanufacturing sector say they are doing so as spin-offs from other work. Larry Gale and his wife Rosanne have lived in Canmore for more than 20 years, but only recently decided to join the ranks of those producing food or liquor in the community. Travelling around the world for work, Gale often found himself talking about Alberta beef. That ultimately led him to wonder why, unlike a certain city in Quebec, there was no signature steak spice or sauce for the meat this province is known for.
Six months in, Alberta Steak Spice is growing by leaps and bounds, finding a home in large restaurants including the Canmore pub, the Iron Goat, and as the rim on the Valley Caesar offered by Melissa’s Missteak in Banff, and Bon Ton Meat Market in Calgary.
“I struck a chord,” says Gale. “Everyone is working together.”
Canmore, he says, is a huge base for many unique, homegrown products, with a growing restaurant scene and a large number of creative people who make it home.