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  • Katherine Matiko

Foothills Excursion Three: The Spirit Hills

For my third Foothills adventure, I decide to explore the Spirit Hills southwest of Millarville.


I always make a pit stop at Millarville General Store before embarking on these excursions. The store becomes more inviting each time I visit, with beautiful flowers, interesting antiques, and beckoning benches. I resist the temptation to sit on the porch and watch the world go by – it’s time to start exploring!

 

I head south on Highway 22, turning right at the sign for Spirit Hills Honey Winery. I know the winery is closed this evening, but I’m here for the scenery. The long and winding road up to the winery is simply stunning.

 

In the late-summer evening light, I am rewarded with vistas at every turn. I stop often for forays into ditches and pastures. (It’s not surprising I conduct my excursions alone. Not many companions would tolerate the start-and-stop nature of my travels through the countryside.)

 

According to the Spirit Hills Honey Winery website, “The Spirit Hills are located along a trail that used to connect the Stoney and the Blood First Nations. The Kary family were among the first settlers in our region in the late 1800s. They built the dam that created Rat Lake, a muskrat fur farm, at the foot of the Spirit Hills. For decades, every fall and spring First Nations travelers stopped at their farm. They shared meals and had a good relationship. But when nightfall came, they always rode off into the Spirit Hills.”

 

Like many photographers and artists before me, I am drawn to stands of quaking aspen found throughout the foothills. I am awestruck by the fact that each tree is an identical sibling to the tree beside it. These elegant trees are testaments to survival in harsh landscapes across North America. While individual trees may die, the root systems which sustain these forest families live on for thousands of years.

 

When I make my way to the winery, I find it closed as expected. This remarkable winery is surely one-of-a-kind and well worth a tour during operating hours. It was established by the Bonjean family who moved to the Spirit Hills in the 1990s to live entirely from what they could grow on their homestead. Their aim was to “tread as lightly as possible on this planet.”


In time, they created a winery with nary a grape in sight. The wine is made from the honey and wildflowers that the Bonjeans harvest throughout the foothills, using a process designed to bring the freshness and flavour of the Rocky Mountains to connoisseurs around the world.

 

I continue my journey past the winery, enjoying the sights, sounds, and sweet smells of a rural countryside as it settles down for the night.

 

The sun is beginning to set, so I drive higher into the hills for a vantage point. Again, I am rewarded. And again, awestruck as light floods the foothills, then fades until only mountain shadows remain.

 

Millarville General Store is closed at this hour, but I’ll be back tomorrow to pick up a bottle of Spirit Hills wine and raise a glass to this splendid land. May we tread lightly upon it.


Until next time,

Katherine

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