Country Drive showcase provided boost to rural businesses

Country Drive, an organization of rural central Alberta businesses, held its annual Summer Showcase Weekend Aug. 11-12.

Country Drive, an organization of rural central Alberta businesses, held its annual Summer Showcase Weekend Aug. 11-12. Those taking part in the self-guided tour were able to explore the country close to Red Deer and visit farms, museums, and artisans.

Sisters Crystal Selk and Anita Merritt from Ponoka were among those participating. The pair like to drive around Alberta, taking road trips on a regular basis.

Selk and Merritt had taken part in the Spring Showcase Weekend June 2-3. They enjoyed the drive so much they decided to do it again in the summer after seeing how many places there were to visit.

“There’s enough things that are close enough together that it doesn’t take too long,” said Merritt. Selk added that it would be a good family trip.

Markerville was at the top of their list this time, because of the annual Cream Day, said Merritt. They also visited Vitality Crystals and Fountains near Bowden, the Bowden Sunmaze, Edgar Farms near Innisfail, and Stephansson House.

“If you’re going to spend time, you can hit three or four per day,” said Merritt. Selk added that the weekend offered good specials on things they wouldn’t normally see or do.

Merritt said they started talking about taking part in the summer event in June. They like how the weekends coincide with special days at some of the businesses, such as Markerville’s Cream Day, or Asparagus Day at Edgar Farms.

Though the drive is self-directed, Selk said she liked how it acted as a guide for their drive. She also said they discovered other rural businesses that weren’t part of the drive while en route to their destination.

Kirsten Strand, lead historical interpreter at Stephansson House, said every Country Drive partner presented a different piece of rural central Alberta.

“What we show here is basically how Alberta started out,” said Strand.

She said Stephansson House’s theme for the weekend was cabins, conservation, and cakes. Those visiting Stephansson House were able to build their own model log cabin out of paper, or taste cake made in the house’s wood-fired oven. The emphasis on conservation referred to the house’s focus on preserving history.

“We just remind people that without putting emphasis on history, things like this are lost,” said Strand.

Strand said visitor numbers increased during the weekend, which she attributed to Cream Day in nearby Markerville.

Showcase weekends happen four times a year, with one for each season. Liz Taylor, executive director of Tourism Red Deer, said the weekends allow participating businesses to plan special events and attract more people.

“They get exposure they wouldn’t get independently,” said Taylor.

The weekend was promoted on the Country Drive website, and in local media.

“Working as a group is a lot harder than working individually, but it’s a lot more rewarding,” said Taylor. “It makes them a lot stronger.”

She added that Country Drive partners work together to market themselves as a cluster, instead of as a single business in the country.

Taylor said people have come from cities like Calgary to participate in the weekend.

“So the city are coming out to the rural,” said Taylor. “It’s really celebrating rural life.”

While Country Drive is not organized by Tourism Red Deer, Taylor said they do support it. She said she hopes those taking part in the weekend enjoyed the time they spent in the country and the opportunity to sample different products.