Story by Tom Jackson. Photos by Dax Justin/Canadian Badlands.

Creativity, community, and a kiss

The power of art and family brings people to the Canadian Badlands, and often, it keeps them there, too.

Rosemary, Alberta

The soil of Rosemary is fertile and as its heat penetrates the souls of the feet, it warms the heart.

Those who are born here are the biggest exports of Rosemary. The biggest imports are those who’ve left, grown-up, and come back because this is where they grew up… this is home.

Family is here and they are not leaving.

Fingernails get dirty here – farming doesn’t leave anybody.

Perhaps a big sky and the comfortable aroma of sage will bring you here, but once you plant your flag, it brings the understanding:

“I will not be uprooted”.


Duchess, Alberta

Coming from Holland searching for work, Rita and Collin arrived in Duchess feeling like they had seen their last tree… beautiful, but no trees.

Perseverance found the black dirt forgiving. Rita and Collin did different things that made life work. This land could have been the devil’s table. But you can and will find yourself here. Emptiness can reinvent you.

Together they saved and bought a trailer and expanded it into a 4,000 sq ft B&B – Red Roof B&B – a place to discover the world, but not for the timid. Rita says: “On the open range after sundown, there seemed like nothing but black dirt and a feeling that someone wanted to grab you.”

Forty years later, they added another 5,000 sq ft of creative space. Collin built the house from straw provided by farmer Joel – architect of self-design.

In concert with building the home, Rita felt the Badlands energy touch her hands and started to express a not so latent talent… she began to paint.

Their home is now Rita’s incubator of art therapy and empowerment for young minds. With a desire to share with the little ones, Rita asks the great question: “What would you really like to change? Paint it! Write it! Sing it!”

In one square meter, kids can discover the world.

May 30, 2016

… In order to truly discover and feel the soul of a place you must experience it. #mybadlands

Mossleigh, Alberta

Near Mossleigh, an abandoned building can be found next to the highway shortly after passing the curious “Aspen Crossing” sign. The wood, blackened by the elements looked to be at least a hundred years old.

It was a three-room house, held up by wires stretched across the interior. I let my imagination take control and saw a family in a little house on the prairie… nothing changed but the season. We later learned this was the old post office and general store.

We drove back to the Aspen Crossing sign– don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Turned into a mini Disneyland, this is a train station. It was a spur on the CPR – 14 miles of track, salvaged along with rail cars. The cars are now home to the Polar Express in December, and a romantic track in the summer. This is all situated alongside an RV park and 5-star lodging.

We had a great lunch of Clam Chowder that was served by a young lady who had lived here most of her life. She’d left to discover the world and brought it back. We sat in John Diefenbaker’s CPR dining car– a special moment for me because John Diefenbaker would frequent the diner my mom baked at especially for her Saskatoon berry pie… these are the pies that bind!

Brooks, Alberta

Awad and Rana had their first kiss during a storm after a 30-hour bus trip from Windsor, ON in search of a fresh start – with only $35 and a dream. Both were 19 years old, sleeping in a hotel lobby on an uncertain first night, praying to meet a long lost uncle and find their new life the next day.

Even with the culture shock of not finding a shopping mall and after the declaration: “I’m out of here”, there was a magnetic pull from the people who live here. Despite the fierce need to be independent, entrenched in the characters who come to Brooks, the kindness of the community and the need to help others was what conquered their fear and uncertainty.

I take liberty in saying that it may not be that their new life is partly because of new family and friends, but rather that their new family and friends have made their new life.

She is now a paramedic and he drives a truck and is a volunteer fire fighter.

First kiss in a storm…anyone can kiss in the sunshine.

June 12, 2016

The Brooks Aqueduct. Brooks exists because this thing existed. #mybadlands

Stettler, Alberta

Stettler is a community tucked under a comfy quilt of innocence.

I met the Mayor and asked, “why Stettler?” He replied, “I tried other places. I couldn’t wait to leave Stettler and then I couldn’t wait to come back! Do you like Switzerland? I hope so because there are roots of Switzerland here.”

He went on, “I hope my kids get to know what I know. This is a great place to grow up. My kids are gone all day but I know where they are. They could be at Buffalo Lake, the Summer Village, or maybe the world-class golf course. With great pride it is stated that the kids, culture and charity is the backbone of where we come from.”

My comfort was a sense that Stettler doesn’t change much but creates change. I believe art is the greatest instrument of change in the history of mankind. Stettler is an incubator for art – singers, writers, wood-workers, and theatre.

June 22, 2016

Another shot of 'The Hero' from our train ride in Stettler, AB. He portrays Gabriel Dumont and after the train gets heisted he saved the day! #mybadlands

Oh yes, theatre and plenty of it. There is the traditional stage, and a stage on steel rails. People come here to ride the 1926 Steam Train to Big Valley and back. If you thirst for adventure, get ready for a good one. Meet Gabriel Dumont from the late 1800s. Meet the master of train songs and perhaps quench your thirst with some local Sarsaparilla.

Be prepared to offer your spare change to the bank-robbing train gang (I think they took a cue from Robin Hood because they give your spare change to the poor). Enjoy the feast in Big Valley before heading back for a well deserved nap at the end of day.

Well now that I have reappeared, it’s time to go back home. I will go back a better person today by coming to Stettler.


Tom Jackson
Tom Jackson is an actor, singer, producer, activist and fundraiser. He is known for the Huron Carole, and roles on North of 60, Star Trek and Law & Order. He is a passionate advocate of Canadian food banks and disaster relief efforts, as well as an Ambassador for the Canadian Red Cross. His mantra of being in service to others is secured with his choice to engage if it’s good business, good for the world, and good for the soul.