'You guys have the mountains, we have the valleys': Village of Empress invites Albertans to visit

You could be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Empress, Alta.

With just 160 residents, officials hopeful artisanal niche will help boost tourism numbers

The Village of Empress, Alta, in the southeast corner of the province, with just 160 residents, is looking to boost tourism. (Village of Empress)

You could be forgiven if you haven't heard of Empress, Alta.

It's a tiny village tucked in the hills east of Medicine Hat near the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Only 160 people currently live there.

But, village officials want Albertans to come visit.

On Thursday, the Village of Empress received a $17,500 grant from the province to promote tourism in the area — which the village is matching — in an effort to roll out the welcome wagon.

Debbie Ross, the village manager, stopped by The Homestretch on Thursday to explain how they plan on attracting more visitors.

Below is an abridged version of that conversation.

Lightning crashes near the Village of Empress. (Dan Sigouin/Village of Empress)

Q: Where is Empress exactly?

A: We're north of Medicine Hat just off Highway 41. We're located between the conflux of the Red Deer River and the South Saskatchewan River, so we have river hills on either side of us and it's a beautiful location.

Q: Only 160 people, that's a pretty small village.

A: I started there four years ago and at that time the population was 136, so we're up to 160, which is actually a good percentage increase.

Q: So why should we come to visit that area? What's happening in Empress that you want people to know about?

A: We've done a lot of work with economic development groups, trying to identify what our niche is, and the niche in Empress is artisans. We do have a cluster of artisans there, we've had an artisan tour that has been going on for 17 years now.

There's plenty of wildlife around the Village of Empress to draw tourists, like this red fox. (Village of Empress)

Q: What kind of artisans are we talking about?

A: We have painters, writers, crafters, textiles — so quilt making, knitting crocheting, felting, crocheting — woodworking, foodies, jewelry makers and potters.

Q: What else do you want to tell people in this part of the province that will encourage them to make the trip at some point?

A: Being located between the two rivers and having lots of natural landscape with trees and bush, we have all kinds of wildlife, all kinds of flora and fauna, we have some natural trails and hiking. We have a lot of Aboriginal artifacts, like the teepee rings and medicine wheels, and we have some businesses that will take you on tours and teach you about that, so we have a lot to offer. It's a beautiful part of the province but it's basically unknown.

Q: What are you planning to do with the money?

A: The strategy, first of all, involves supporting the existing artisans with training and marketing, coming up with a website and training them on social media marketing. Then recruiting new artisans, we'd like to expand the number… and variety to have a larger base to make it worthwhile for people to come out and make the trip and see what's out there.

Pronghorns gather near the Village of Empress. (Village of Empress)

Q: There's 160 people living in the community now. What was it at its peak?

A: Originally the village, during the 60s, was up over 800. There was a hospital, school, airport, a lot of services that have been removed as the province has amalgamated services in central locations.

Q: What would it mean to your community to have more tourists come out?

A: The idea with the tourists is not only to support the artisans, but the other businesses in the region. As the tourism industry grows, then there'll be support businesses that come along with that — more hotels, more restaurants, just a larger service industry.

Q: What do you love about that area?

A: I love the people, I love the location, I love the beauty, I can't say enough about it. You guys have the mountains, we have the valleys.

With files from The Homestretch