Monday, June 19, 2017

Two Cowboys: Hipster Dressing With Authentic Canadian Plaid Flannel Shirts at Rocky Mountain Flannel Company in Banff, Alberta

The Original Hipsters

When you think Canada, you yearn for cozy winter nights in front of a fireplace and softly falling snow outside the window. Inevitably, your mind's eye wanders to all that is familiar about Canadian winters. The smell of apple cider, pie in the oven, and the snug feeling of soft flannel against your skin. You know you are home. Flannel is as Canadian as the word "eh". It is as authentic as your granny's smile.

What is flannel? It is a soft woven fabric. Flannel was originally made from carded wool or worsted yarn but is now often made from either wool, cotton, or synthetic fiber. Flannel may be brushed to create extra softness (which makes it ideal for keeping warm) or remain unbrushed. Brushing is a mechanical process wherein a fine metal brush rubs the fabric to raise fine fibers from the loosely spun yarns to form a nap. Typically, flannel has a nap on either one side or both sides. If the flannel is not napped, it gains its softness through the loosely spun yarn in its woven form.

Flannel is commonly used to make tartan clothing, blankets, bed sheets, and sleepwear. The term "flannel shirt" is often used to mean any shirt with a plaid or tartan pattern.

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Flannel's origins can be traced back to 17th century Wales where farmers wore flannel shirts to protect themselves from the elements. This tradition would continue for other blue collar workers as the prevalence of flannel grew. The word "flannel" most likely comes from the Welsh word gwlanen, meaning "woolen article." 

Not many people know that the Bow Valley in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta has its very own flannel garment company. Gayle Houlton is the founder of Rocky Mountain Flannel. It is a business with a history that spans almost three decades. Her background in pattern making and design, and her extensive experience in retailing helped Gail to create a thriving little apparel jewel with a beautiful store that she recently relocated from Canmore to Banff. 

Rocky Mountain Flannel Company has flannel pajamas, nightgowns, pants and shirts and deliciously warm flannel bed sheets. Every product is researched and tested for quality, fit, wear and tear. In exchange for good honest feedback, Gayle often gives a new item to friends and family to try out and review. “Believe me, they are honest!” It is like dressing your children, she shares with us. They will tell you exactly what they like and dislike.


Garment manufacturing is not a kind of business you associate with the prairies and mountains of Canada. On the other hand, garment design, retailing and distribution are again growing in popularity. Enterprising designers are taking advantage of flexible sourcing opportunities. It allows them to address the localized needs of a discerning and increasingly demanding clientele.

Good quality fabrics can easily be sourced from all over the world. Combine this with cost effective small batch manufacturing, and it opens up opportunities for designers to craft unique items for their local markets. Clients are turning away from uniform, poor quality, lookalike, and almost disposal clothing articles in discount stores, according to Gayle. They are shifting towards higher quality, locally sourced, better designed and more comfortable fitted garments.

Call it the hipster movement if you like, and call it out for its non-conformist flannel wearing patrons. As far as we are concerned, wearing flannel is about being Canadian. It is also about supporting Gayle to make us our favorite shirts we proudly wear because they are nice! We like wearing our Rocky Mountain Flannel shirts, especially when it is cold outside.

Hendrik van Wyk
Flannel Cowboy

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For Grown up Hockey Players

Winter Shirts


For Her 

New Beginnings in Banff

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: It is All In the Community and the Lube at the Annual Soap Box Derby 2017 in Okotoks, Alberta


We checked in at the annual Okotoks Soap Box Derby to see how a community came together to build something, compete, race downhill, fall off, crash, repair, get back up, win (or lose) and have fun doing it all on a Saturday in early Summer 2017, and doing it for a good cause. 

I know what you are thinking. "You must be joking!" There are so many contradictions in the sentence above that it is unbelievable how an organization can still pull it off in today's world, let alone get away with it for almost three decades in a small Alberta town going by the name of Okotoks.

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Where do kids still build things with Dad, Grandpa, Uncle or Aunty? Surely, they can buy one at Walmart or a super duper one at Costco? 

Why on earth are kids encouraged to compete? In today's world, there should be no need to compete. Resources should be shared and redistributed equally, so everyone gets a chance. Doing something as dangerous as racing down a street at 35+ km/h is totally irresponsible. Doing it with sneakers, costumes or short pants, and only a helmet for protection is negligence on the parents' part. 

Someone should do something! Is there no bylaw or regulation that can stop it? And then there is the "uber-evil" of declaring somebody a winner. How dare they! Think of the emotional trauma of all the losers and the future medical expenditure for dealing with ongoing depression and the resulting low self-esteem.

Soap Box Racing

We are so glad that there is a Soap Box Derby in Okotoks. This is the world in which we want to live.

We want to be in a world where people are encouraged to make things. Where kids work with family and friends and innovate to compete, learn, adjust and win. The world, where calculated risk-taking is encouraged, and winners are celebrated. We love being part of a community where people come together to build things, compete, win (or lose), learn, celebrate and support each other.

The event is open to youth ages 8-14. A part of the entry fees is donated to a charitable cause in the town. Local businesses like Carstar Okotoks stepped in with matching donations. According to Mark Kharfan, the organizer, soap box car kits are available for purchase to keep the baseline fair between competitor. 

The package typically consists of the standard soap box derby cart and all the instructions that come with it. There are wheels, the mechanisms, the steering, and a four by four sheet of plywood. Cars are made with a lot of creativity and ingenuity to get them faster down the hill. The trick is in aerodynamics, weight reduction, and lubrication. For others, it is all about the style of arriving at the finishing line. Usually, there are between 85 to 120 participants. This year didn't disappoint.


We were lucky with the amazing weather for the event. No one was seriously injured, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. The organization and orchestration of the races ran like a well-oiled machine.

Okotoks is an amazing community. We are glad we could share the day with them. We are pleased that old-school values are still part of their world, and ours.

Hendrik van Wyk
Fast Cowboy

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The Team

The Replay

Friday, June 2, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Reconnecting With Old Friends and New Family at the Waterton Food Festival 2017, Alberta, Canada


Alberta has its own Brigadoon. You will find it at Waterton Lakes National Park on the southern border of the Province. It is called Waterton Village. Like its counterpart in the Brigadoon story, the Village wakes up every 8 months, instead of every 100 years, to be the setting for a microcosm of activity. When the snow arrives in October it is shuttered again, only to reappear in late Spring the next year.

In this little community, a unique group of people, from all over the world undertakes an annual pilgrimage to spend four sunny (and often windy) months together. A place where they come to celebrate their short Canadian summer. In Waterton, teenagers start their first jobs, children take over family businesses, and the ones that retire, come to say goodbye. It is a very special place because of its natural beauty. It is magical, because of its people.

This is the first of a three-part installment about Waterton in 2017, courtesy of the Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce, Chinook Country Tourism and Travel Alberta.  The Two Cowboys feature the season's opening with the Waterton Food Festival.

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Eating Pie

Our schedule was set with the Friday night kick-off of the festival at the Thirsty Bear Socialhouse. It is a newly renovated part of the Bayshore Inn on the waterfront. Shameer, the owner, explained that it took them a whole year to decide what should make it onto the upmarket pub-style menu. The food was delicious, and the Truffle Mac & Cheese was divine! Everything in the establishment is brand spanking new, except for the reclaimed wood of the bar and the solid timber beams that still exhibits the cattle branding marks of the old Saloon.

The kick-off delivered tasty samples from the festival's participating food businesses. Business such as the Taco Bar, Wieners of Waterton, Zum's Eatery and others were well represented. The local brewery, Coulee Brewing Company from Lethbridge, was also on hand to deliver tiny tasting servings of their popular beers. The food was just enough to entice us to visit the restaurants individually during the festival week that followed.

It took a good solid morning of recovery from the night before, to be ready for the Pie Cruise with the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company. Participating businesses contribute two unique pies each to the excursion and try to out-do each other with pie creativity. The pies were served to patrons on the scenic boat ride that took us to the border with Montana (and back, of course). The favorite was the Chocolate Moose Pie from the newly opened Larkspur Coffee House. We were told that it took two full days to layer the amazing creation. Pie is apparently a Waterton thing!

The rest of the festival included a chef's dinner and special set menus at the various food establishments.


We can continue to list the festival's experiences, but it won't do it justice. Instead, watch our video about the event. It is the second time we covered the festival. It is growing into an annual feature for Waterton and for the Two Cowboys. You had to be there to appreciate what was on offer.

Waterton Village is not the gourmet capital of the Rockies, and it doesn't try to be. It is rather a unique group of people with a lot of creativity and a passion for food and their village. They bring something fresh and new each year to serve to visitors. All businesses are family owned and operated. Many are run by second and third generations.

As a tourist, you can drive through Waterton in a few minutes and miss most of what it has to offer. If you decide to stay for a short while, the local folks will go out of their way to get to know you. It can get very busy at times so prepare for standing in line.

Be warned. Waterton Village and its people have a welcoming way to pull you in and make you part of their world. Soon you will be one of them and also make the annual pilgrimage to Waterton's Food Festival. Before long, you may become part of the family in Alberta's own Brigadoon.

Hendrik van Wyk
Waterton Pie Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content about inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other stories.

Where to Eat

Wieners on Waterton


The Taco Bar

The Moose Lick Ice Cream and Shaved Ice

Big Scoop Ice Cream Parlor

Trappers Mountain Grill

49th Degree North Pizza




Ice Cream Happiness

Pie People




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