Situated near the tip-top of the Panhandle, Canadian sprang up in 1887 around the river that it’s named for, which early explorers assumed was so far north that it must flow into Canada. It’s been a railroad town and a shipping town, a rowdy saloon town and a temperance town (it’s been dry since 1903). It’s still an oil and gas town, a rodeo town, a football town, and an “ecotourism” town. But above all, it’s a small town, and a lovely one at that. As I detail in my July 2015 column, Canadian has just enough of everything but not too much of anything, which makes it an ideal place to while away an unhurried weekend.
SEE & DO
The great outdoors . . .
Though mostly flat, treeless, and awfully dusty, the Panhandle does boast several of the state’s most dramatic topographical wonders (e.g., Palo Duro Canyon, Caprock Canyons, and the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument), so it shouldn’t be so surprising that Canadian, which lies just below the Llano Estacado Caprock, is a beautiful pocket of rolling prairies and lush bottomlands. Nor should it be surprising that town boosters like to tout these notable local landmarks:
Black Kettle National Grasslands (12 miles east of U.S. 83 on FM 2266) – Though the majority of this federally protected area is in Oklahoma, 576 of its acres lie in Texas. Also called the Lake Marvin Recreation Area, this is the spot for day hiking, camping, birding, and fishing (even if the namesake lake has been a little low lately). It’s particularly scenic in the fall, when the foliage—the star of a popular annual festival—is ablaze; just be forewarned that the bright red leaves you’re admiring may be poison ivy. Sights to see: A multitude of cottonwood, persimmon, hackberry, mulberry, and soapberry trees; wood ducks and the waterfowlers who love them; the centuries-old Landmark Cottonwood; and the site of the 1875 Springer Ranch.
Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area (6 miles east of U.S. 83 on FM 2266) – This 5,886-acre spread, which is bisected by FM 2266, comprises rolling sandhills to the north and marshy bottomlands to the south. The former, marked by short grasses and sagebrush, is the preferred habitat of black-tailed prairie dogs and burrowing owls, which you can spy on from an observation blind. The latter, easily accessible via a quarter-mile trail, is rife with waterfowl, migratory birds, and butterflies, not to mention deer and coyotes. In the spring, the typically shy lesser prairie chickens come out to do their melodramatic mating dance and the crowds follow. No matter when you visit, you’ll need to stop in at the headquarters building to register so you can access the WMA’s private roads. Note: Though open year-round, it closes during special hunts, so call before you go. And for photos and updates, check out the Gene Howe WMA Facebook page.
Canadian River Wagon Bridge (2 miles north on U.S. 83) – Built in 1916 and made pedestrian-friendly in 2000, this half-mile steel span—once traversed by horse-drawn wagons—is the ideal path for your daily constitutional. Along with fellow strollers, joggers, and bikers, you’re likely to see rabbits, deer, swallows, flycatchers, and other creatures also out enjoying the river just below. (You can read up on the bridge’s history here.)
Sunday driving . . .
No matter what day of the week it is, you’ll want to go for a leisurely cruise or two for a proper tour of the area.
Print out a copy of this driving tour of 29 points of interest, and get ready to gawk at some of Canadian’s stately historic houses (did you spot the hitching posts at the 1911 Dell Krehbiel home?) and notable landmarks (yep, that’s the only locally owned Women’s Christian Temperance Union building in the U.S.).
Head east along FM 2388 toward the fruit orchards at Sweet Ruthie’s River Ranch, where you can spend an afternoon picking strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, peaches, plums, and other in-season produce. 15079 Marshall Dr, 806-323-8745.
Follow the Canadian Breaks Loop map, which stretches from Lake Palo Duro, out west of Perryton, down to Arrington Ranch, which you may recognize from the movie Cast Away (call ahead to arrange a visit; 9765 CO Rd 5, 806-323-3027).
While you’re up this far north (after all, most of us live “down state,” as the locals would say), you may as well take afternoon trips to nearby Miami (which is pronounced “My-am-uh,” by the way) and on to Pampa (in case you need to make a Wal-Mart run) as well as to Wheeler (try Maxey’s Steakhouse for lunch or dinner) and Shamrock (there are now six Tesla charging stations out back of the gorgeously renovated U-Drop Inn Visitors Center on historic Route 66).
If you’re driving north along U.S. 83, keep your eyes peeled for Aud, a fifty-foot-long, 17-foot-tall dinosaur made of concrete, steel, and wire mesh, which overlooks the highway from an eastern bluff about five miles before you get to town. Its creator, Gene Cockrell, named the creature after his wife, Audrey, and painted it gold and black in honor of the Canadian High School Wildcats. As Cockrell told RoadsideAmerica.com, he installed the “old gal” so that local children who were traveling up U.S. 83 “would always know when they were almost home.”
Plus, where to go if you’re . . .
. . . an acoustics snob: On the brick-lined Main Street, you’ll find the 1909 Palace Theatre, its fully refurbished marquee dancing with lights. After a million-dollar fine tuning in 1998, it’s now one of the only movie houses in the state that meet George Lucas’s THX sound certification standards (and you know he’s got to be particular). Can you hear the difference? Note: The Palace shows a single first-run blockbuster at a time, and only on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. 201 Main, 806-323-5133
. . . a history buff: The River Valley Pioneer Museum, a repository of memories and artifacts reaching back to the days of the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa, has been getting a sprucing up and plans to reopen in July 2015. Its enlightening exhibits range from Hemphill County’s ranching roots to the origin of the rodeo, which, it’s claimed, was started right here in Canadian in 1888. Open Mon–Fri 9–4; 118 N. 2nd, 806-323-6548.
. . . an appreciator of fine art and/or an HGTV fan: Your tour of the Citadelle Art Foundation begins with a viewing of a 2006 HGTV clip detailing this mansion’s major makeover. Built in 1910 as the First Baptist Church, it had been sitting vacant for a couple years when Malouf and Therese Abraham scooped it up for a song in 1977 and transformed it into a home to raise their three boys in. In 2007, they transformed their home again, turning it into a museum to share their extensive art collection, which now adorns nearly every wall in every room. You’ll get the skinny on many of the pieces—which range from the original Norman Rockwell that kicked off their collecting to haunting portraits by New Zealand photographer Jono Rotman—from the Abrahams themselves who narrate the audio tour (and who prove to have as good a sense of humor as a penchant for striking masterpieces). Open Thur–Sat 11–4; 520 Nelson Ave, 806-323-8899.
EAT & DRINK
Morning meals . . .
Become a regular, if only for the weekend, at the Bucket, a café that smells like the fresh sourdough the owner’s known for and feels less like a place of business than a community gathering spot. Breakfast options run from traditional platters and cinnamon rolls to pancakes on a stick and Jed Burgers stacked with bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese, hash browns, and grape jelly. For lunch, you’re deciding between the daily casserole plate and the fried chicken sandwich, either of which should be accompanied by a sweet cherry lime drink. Note: It’s cash only. Call for hours; 207 S. 2nd, 806-323-8200.
A piece of fried dough constitutes a meal, right? Yes, and you’ll want to have several at Ma Beasley’s Donut Shop, named for the late owner who ran the place for 25 years. Call for hours; 316 Main, 806-323-9442.
Three squares a day are served up at the straightforwardly named Canadian Restaurant, starting with homemade hotcakes and Hungry Man Specials in the morning and steaks and burgers in the evening. Call for hours; 402 N. 2nd, 806-323-9176.
Beef, it’s what’s for dinner (or lunch) . . .
Housed in the tallest building in town—that’d be the three-story former Moody Hotel—the Cattle Exchange hangs its hat on its mesquite-grilled steaks (a 32-ounce ribeye will set you back $59.99) and its barbecue, each plate of which comes with beans, cole slaw, and potato salad. You order at the counter when you walk in before a waitress escorts you to a table (get a booth by the long window that looks onto Main Street if you can). Each meal starts with a mini loaf of warm bread and ends with a complimentary serving of perfectly gooey homemade bread pudding. (Read Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn’s 2014 review here.) Open Mon–Sat 11–9; 2nd & Main, 806-323-6755.
The humble exterior of the Stumblin’ Goat Saloon, which recently merged forces with the adjacent Grease Monkey Pizzeria & Deli (open Mon–Fri 11–4), belies the raucous good times to be had inside this diner/live music venue. After ordering a burger or hot wings and opening your longneck with a very, um, creative bottle opener (let’s just say a taxidermy goat is involved), you can take a seat near the bar, the stage, or out on the patio while you wait for your designated country singer to be called on the loudspeaker (“Order’s ready for Johnny Cash.”) On weekends, catch country and Southern rock acts like the Cole Porter Band, Bonnie and the Clydes, and Mike and the Moonpies. Note: Hemphill County is dry, but if you buy a club membership you can partake of the saloon’s adult beverages. Open Mon–Fri 11 a.m.–midnight, Sat 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; 217 S. Canadian, 806-323-9257.
Plus . . .
. . . For Mexican by way of Canadian, check out La Sierra (314 N. 2nd, 806-323-8050) and Las Palmas Taqueria (S. 2nd & Giraud Ave, 806-255-0534).
. . . Consult the Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page, for posts of members’ daily lunch specials.
Where to go if you want to buy . . .
. . . Western Americana and serious-collector merch: Antique Treasures, a beautifully arranged repository of high-end collectibles curated by the King brothers, who have quite the eye for conversation-starting objects of yesteryear, like a circa-1946 Fada Bullet Stream Liner radio ($1,250) or a red Victorian parlor lamp that could have come from the set of Gone With the Wind ($800). Note: Though it’s no longer an operating cafe, the adjacent City Drug Soda Fountain has been painstakingly preserved and is worth a gander. Mon–Sat 10-5; 222 Main, 806-323-9941.
. . . original works by homegrown artists: Canadian River Art, which is part gallery, part academy, and showcases the talent of locals, like Clint Miller, who crafts anthropomorphic glass pieces; Duward Campbell, who paints bucolic scenes of cattle drives; and Doug Ricketts, who salvages old windmills and barns to make new furniture. Call for hours; 312 Main, 806-323-8250.
. . . cowhide-covered chairs and a metal rooster for the front yard: The Store and Lee Ann’s Imports, sister businesses that specialize in Western furniture and a menagerie of Mexican yard art, respectively. The Store: Open Thur–Sat 11–6; 108 Main, 806-323-8981. Lee Ann’s Imports: Call for hours; 116 N. 2nd, 806-217-0103.
. . . new duds for the whole family: Three Strand Threads, where Mom can get a new Fossil bag, Dad can buy a snappy Cinch button-down, the kiddos can get funky MadPax backpacks, and everybody can get a new pair of Sanuk sandals. Open Mon–Sat 10–5; 313 E. Main, 806-323-8221.
In addition to the newer Best Western Oasis Inn (305 S. 2nd, 806-323-9660), which is often booked with local oil and gas workers, there are a few B&Bs and nearby guest ranches to choose from:
- Arrington Ranch House Lodge (about 20 miles south of town) – 9760 CR 5, 806-323-3019
- Kim’s Cottage Guest Suites – 212 Main, 806-323-5527
- Prairie Haven B&B (about 10 miles south of town) – 10101 CR 8, 806-323-5555
- Also: The Canadian River Art gallery has a two-bedroom apartment available for rent when it’s not being used for visiting artists. 312 Main, 806-549-8669.
BEFORE YOU GO
A few tips:
- Plan your trip around Canadian’s annual events like the Canadian River Music Festival (usually in May), the Fourth of July Rodeo, the Calf-Fry & BBQ Cook Off (in September), and the Fall Foliage Festival (in October; call the Chamber for details, 806-323-6234).
- BYOB! Canadian’s in a dry county, so plan accordingly.
- If you’re really hoping to see a lesser prairie chicken do its silly spring mating dance, call the Chamber (806-323-6234) to inquire about arranging a guided tour on a private ranch.
Read up . . . on local news from the Canadian Record, established in 1893
Download . . . this hand-drawn map of Hemphill County’s Pioneer Trails (pdf); this Driving Tour of Canadian’s points of interest (pdf); and this useful (if maybe not completely current) Canadian Vistors’ Guide.
Bookmark . . . the Chamber of Commerce’s website
Watch . . . the ending of Cast Away, filmed at the intersection of FM 1268 and FM 48; this local guy’s remake of the ending of Cast Away.
Follow . . . the Canadian Record on Twitter