A Trail Back Home

Posted on : Monday, March 29, 2021

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By Scott Schmidt

Iradele Plante spent much of her youth thinking beyond the city she grew up in, but circumstances out of control brought her home to discover a side of Medicine Hat she’d never entirely known.

“I was like so many 18-year-olds (from here) who wanted to go to the big city, where it’s cultured,’” says Plante, who has been home since the start of the pandemic and is now taking her final year of law school online at McGill University. “But now that I’ve come back, I’ve appreciated the beauty of Medicine Hat. Truly, it is such a special part of Canada that gets overlooked.”


Plante grew up in the Hat with the badlands, coulees, and cliffs as her backdrop, graduating from Crescent Heights High School in 2009, but she left for Eastern Canada to focus on other things long after. She spent much of the past decade back and forth between Canada’s two largest cities — Toronto and Montreal — before landing again in the latter for law school.


The soon-to-be lawyer initially came home in spring 2020 when COVID-19 arrived and had figured to be in Medicine Hat for no more than six weeks. Weeks turned into months, however, and when universities announced they’re moving online for the fall semester, she didn’t see much reason to leave.

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The truth is, Plante had reasons to stay that transcended health orders or the lack of a classroom. “I underestimated how important family is,” she says. “The pandemic — and for a lot of people — has made me slow down and think thoughtfully and think about who I want in my life. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for my family.”

Being away at school means visits home are hectic and tightly scheduled. Being home for an extended period, with not a lot to do, slowed that pace to a crawl, and Plante made the most of it. “Just the small things of being able to enjoy a cup of coffee with my mom in her garden, or take an afternoon off to hang out with my nephew — these are these small moments in family life that I just hadn’t allowed myself to indulge in. I’ve appreciated that.”


The extra time has also allowed Plante to reacquaint herself with southeast Alberta, a region she admittedly took for granted growing up. A trip to Red Rock Coulee, or a bike ride to Echo Dale, she began to explore as soon as she arrived home. And that’s when she rediscovered one of Medicine Hat’s best-kept secrets — its extensive trail system.


“As a kid, I’d only been exposed to the trail system in sort of these little pockets. I’d go to Police Point or Strathcona and hang out there. But to see how it all connects around Medicine Hat is pretty spectacular.”


Having spent her adult life in big cities, Plante developed a passion for cycling, and she’s been on some pretty long treks — Toronto to Hamilton, for example — so she’s able to cover a lot of ground.

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Medicine Hat’s 115 kilometres of trails and bike paths fit that category perfectly, and it gave Plante a great way to spend that first summer home. Had she been able to return to McGill, she would have begun the fall with the 12th annual Dugald Christie Bike Ride, a 50 km ride in honour of an alumnus killed in 2006 fighting to access justice. The Vancouver lawyer was trying to raise awareness with a cross-country bike ride but was tragically struck and killed by a vehicle during the trip. McGill’s law students ride every year to commemorate him, and the event means a lot to Plante. 

Thankfully, McGill still held a virtual event in 2020, asking riders to track their rides from wherever they were in the country. That gave Plante, the only participant in Alberta, the perfect opportunity to participate in something she loves while showcasing her hometown along the way.


She grabbed a couple of friends, picked a route and rode 50 km of Medicine Hat trails on a perfect-weather day. “It was important to me because I care about the cause, I love cycling, and I thought it was a great way to spend an afternoon with my pals and enjoy the trail system in Medicine Hat,” Plante says. “I appreciated being a representative of Medicine Hat. I made a point of taking as many photos as I could because it’s just such a unique part of Canada.” Others agreed because the photos she sent received attention and admiration on McGill’s website and social media. A neglected piece of her youth was now front and centre at the “big-city” school she dreamt of going to, but this time the longing eyes were staring this way. Now no one is overlooking her trail back home.