Visiting the Town with the Painted Past
story by Paige Wagner
If you’re looking to get out of the city for a day, I would assume driving out to Stony Plain wouldn’t be your first thought, but if you’ve never stopped in Stony, it’s worth the visit.
Even if you’re already familiar with the town, I’d recommend going back to explore through the eyes of a tourist. It’s less than 40 minutes west of downtown Edmonton and is a treasure trove of public art, small businesses, and windows into rural Alberta’s past.
I’ve lived in Stony Plain most of my life. I moved to the city for school only a few years ago, and I think it took being away for a while for me to realise that Stony is a lot more than a town for people who want to live near the conveniences of Edmonton, but who aren’t fans of big city life. It has a distinct history and its own atmosphere that is quite different than what we’re used to here in Edmonton.
If you come into town from the overpass off Highway 16A, the first thing you’ll see is Rotary Park. It’s a wonderful place for a picnic during the summer or ice skating during the winter. The way to drive into the park isn’t the most obvious, but if you can find the entrance (it’s right behind the Tim Hortons), it’s worth stopping, not only to enjoy the park but also for the Stony Plain and District Visitor Information Centre.
If you’re not super familiar with Stony, you can pick up maps. They’ll also have information on any events that may be going in the area, and if you’re really lucky, maybe even some coupons for the businesses downtown.
I’ve known for as long as I can remember that Stony Plain was nicknamed The Town with the Painted Past. I didn’t fully understand why until I spent enough time in other cities to realize that they don’t also have historically inspired murals around every corner. There are over 35 murals downtown Stony, painted by artists from across Canada. They depict the pioneer lifestyle that was so important to the foundation of not only Stony Plain, but many of the communities surrounding Edmonton.
My favourite is The General Store, at 5017 50 Street. It’s an enormous work of art that depicts Jacob Miller’s General Store and Post Office, as it was in the late 1920s. On the left side of the mural, there’s three young boys sitting on front steps. These were the Miller triplets. According to my father, the three of them lived together their entire lives. They were quite elderly when my father knew them, but they were his next-door neighbours at the house he lived in when he moved off his parents’ farm.
A self-guided walking tour of the murals is very possible. Most are along main street and others are only short walks away. If you stop at the Visitor Information Center, you can pick up a mural guide there, but if not, there’s also a copy on town’s website.
An exciting downtown redevelopment project has had potions of main street closed off since 2017. They’re only days away from reopening completely, so if you’re planning on going soon, the sidewalks will be shiny and new.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, Bing’s #1 Chinese Restaurant, on main street, is a favourite of many in the town. It’s been around since 1970 and was founded by the current mayor’s grandfather. Personally, I prefer Butter Chicken Hut, which serves incredible Indian and Pakistani food, or K.C’s Restaurant & Lounge, a Greek and Italian restaurant with a very beloved lasagna. Perks Coffee House is a locally own café chain (they have other locations in Spruce Grove and at the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens) and a great place to stop if you’re not interested in a full meal.
There are two museums in town. Both reflect what life in rural Alberta looked like during the 20th century but are quite different from one another.
The Stony Plain & Parkland Pioneer museum is a little bit hard to find. It’s behind Heritage Park and is a short distance away from any main roads. It’s open Monday-Friday from 10a.m. to 4p.m. and admission is by donation. The Pioneer museum is made up of a bunch of relocated and restored buildings, filled with antique items from around the county and stories to go along with each of them.
Walking through the old houses and buildings is like stepping back in time. Last summer I spent an afternoon there and was mesmerized by a timeline of lamps. It may not sound like the most intriguing exhibit at first glance, but it was absolutely magical to walk through aisles of lamps that got more and more unfamiliar to me with every step.
Sadly, most of the Pioneer Museum’s yearly events have been cancelled due to covid, but private tours can still be booked if you call ahead of time.
The Multicultural Heritage Centre is not only in the heart of the town, I would say it is the heart of the town. Its main building is the Red Brick School House, which was built in the 1920s and was the town’s first high school. It’s a lot less of a pure and plain museum than the Pioneer Museum Inside, you can find an art gallery, gift shop, a pioneer life exhibit, and the Red Brick Eatery. Upstairs is the Wild Rose Library, which is home to an archive of books and documents reflecting the history of the region as well as plenty of maps and photographs.
If ghosts are your thing, you’re in luck. Believe it or not, The Multicultural Heritage Centre is one of the most haunted places in Alberta! This is the consensus of many people living in the area and different paranormal groups that have come to investigate (The Paranorbill Paranormal Investigative Team investigated Oppertshauser House at the Centre, and posted a YouTube video).
I grew up in a house just down the street from the Multicultural Heritage Centre, and I can definitely confirm. I can’t even count the amount of times I swear I’ve seen ghostly faces staring out the windows when I’ve been out for a walk.
The Multicultural Heritage Centre hosts ghost tours every Friday and Saturday evening from 7-9 through the month of October, but if you can’t make any of those days private tours can be booked all year long.
The Town of Stony Plain has a lot to offer. Although coronavirus has put a hold on most travel plans, there is plenty of adventuring and exploring to be done in Edmonton’s backyard.