This pithy summary of Edmonton comes to you from former premier Ralph Klein; one which damns the city with faint praise and doesn’t begin to do it justice. Klein wasn’t lying about the mosquitoes. As for the socialists – yes, it would seem they are here, armed with their bicycles and hemp shopping bags and liberal views. They help to strike a balance in an oil-defined province.
Edmonton’s skyline is dominated by building cranes, a good mix of old and new buildings and plenty of greenspace. The city is bustling with upgrades and new builds and road construction. There is a robust feeling of growth and prosperity here, without the punishing housing costs – a Canadian city that is still affordable.
We arrived in Edmonton with few preconceived ideas, other than it has brutally cold winters and was once the home of Wayne Gretzky. Since The Great One has not been in Edmonton for 30 years, we were obviously in need of an update.
We stayed at an Airbnb in the Whyte Avenue area – known for its leafy residential streets, and cluster of shops, cafes, cinemas and street art. Our host was Janice, a New Zealander who has lived in Edmonton for 20 years. We were very warmly welcomed, and invited to borrow their bikes, pick from their raspberry patch and we even shared a dinner with them one night.
Our host Janice, with her brother Ross on the left and partner Edwin on the right.
Their backyard, where we spent many an enjoyable hour reading and relaxing in the shade. We stayed in the basement suite, but their garage suite gave us some interesting ideas for a future home.
Edmonton has many neighbourhoods; each of them with a distinctive flavour and look. We really enjoy the older areas, where there are lots of trees, lush wild gardens and a mix of homes.
The North Saskatchewan River snakes through the city and a series of trails were constructed on either side of the river that run for miles and miles. Lucky Edmontonians – they can bike, run, walk their dogs (generous off-leash areas are also provided) or go for a leisurely stroll – sheltered from cars and surrounded in most areas by trees. We took out bikes a couple of times, and just zoomed along on trails and over bridges like this one.
Edmonton has a really strong food scene and as it happened, Taste of Edmonton was on while we were there. This celebration of local restaurant, food truck and beverage culture was enhanced by nightly bands and attractions. I have no food photos for you – our bite-sized servings of Braised Short Rib & Mash and Almond Satay Thai Noodle Salad were un- photogenically brown and beige.
People-watching was the usual entertaining thing – three young brothers daring each other to jump off a concrete ledge; oblivious to the young couple enthusiastically making out right in front them. The setting was just behind the stately Alberta Legislature, where we were quite tickled to see the Reflecting Pool, just beyond the fountain, being enjoyed as a swimming pool, with nary a guard in sight to chase them away.
An interesting diversion was a 20-minute trip along former CPR tracks over the High Level Bridge from the old Strathcona neighbourhood to downtown. We boarded a heritage electric streetcar and listened to a brief history of the streetcars while we slowly made our way along. This service is run by the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, entirely on a volunteer basis by society members.
A view from the bridge:
We took a self-guided Art Tour through downtown where dozens of art installations, sculptures, murals and paintings are located.
A clever installation, called Recycles 2001. Made of found materials, it is a testament to Edmontonian’s love of the bicycle.
The Aboriginal Walk of Honour is a tribute to indigenous artists in the arts and film industry. Among the notables:
The Neon Sign Museum is a captivating collection of Edmonton’s old commercial neon signs, gathered from all over the city and mounted outside on a long brick wall.
Right around the corner, we stumbled upon Rogers Place. A statue, entitled Wayne Gretzky 1989, stands outside, commemorating the Oilers past glories.
Edmonton’s downtown is particularly charming because it is such a mix of old and new. The arena, flanked by new skyscrapers and the historic Mercer building.
Around the corner from Rogers Place, an installation called Pillars of the Community 2016. Each side depicted “unsung heroes, daily faces and less-heard people.” I was struck by the profoundly moving expression of this man – neither defiant nor defeated.
A trip to Edmonton is probably not complete without a visit to the West Edmonton Mall – the largest mall in North America. What does the largest mall look like, you ask? Well, it houses two hotels, nine attractions, including a waterpark, golf course and ice skating rink. There are over 100 dining venues, and over 800 stores. We were looking for shoes for Stephen and had 64 shoe stores from which to choose. We both suffer from mall anxiety, but strangely the WEM elicits nothing more than a strangely floating sensation and frank curiosity. How does one make a purchasing decision here? We tried to get a couple of crowd shots, but the mall is not crowded. The parking lots are jammed, and then the 90,000-200,000 people who visit daily simply … disperse.
Watching this young skater was calming and a bit surreal – why not go for a skate while everyone around you shops for bed linens or eats ice cream?
A commercial scene a little closer to our hearts is Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue. We could walk there from our Airbnb – to find dinner among Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, British pub, Mexican and bistro offerings. We could shop for organic produce, vintage dresses, or Fluevog shoes. We could also dig around and discover the street art.
This grabbed us – ET or the hand of God? Painted by BIP (Believe in People), an anonymous artist who paints all over the world.
This six-storey mural, by definitely-not-anonymous artist Okuda San Miguel, was commissioned by local restaurateur and filmmaker Michael Maxxis, and was completed in mid-July of this year.
Whyte Avenue is home to the Old Strathcona Farmers Market. You won’t find lemons or pineapples here – everything sold must be locally grown, baked or hand-made. It was a bit of a mob scene, but that’s what we got for arriving at 10:30 on a Saturday morning.
I liked the donut lady – her offerings presented like the precious delectables that they are.
The usual market line-up – blueberries, bison and beets, peonies, pesto, and pillowy perogies. If someone can tell me why these cabbages are shaped like rolled cones, I would appreciate it.
There are so many things to see and do in and around Edmonton and we just scratched the surface. We missed the magnificent Art Gallery, Fort Edmonton and Elk Island. We didn’t stop by for a drink at CP Hotel Macdonald. We did get to Muttart Conservatory. This is a landmark in Edmonton made distinctive by four glass pyramids that house over 700 species in four biomes – Arid, Tropical, Temperate and a Feature biome that changes several times a year.
The Feature biome, Museum of the Moon, featured a massive Moon model by UK artist Luke Jerram that has travelled the world and is currently showing in Edmonton. It was accompanied by space-appropriate music and space-imagined plantings.
And finally – our Edmonton friends and family. Three years ago, we didn’t know a soul in Edmonton. Now, we have six lovely connections ( eight, if you count our new Airbnb friends).
Our daughter-in-law Alanna grew up in Edmonton. Her parents (divorced and remarried) still live here and when we suggested getting together, both sets of parents invited us for dinner – all six of us. We enjoyed two wonderful dinners, long conversations about a variety of subjects and now we feel like part of Alanna’s clan. We tried to figure out how we might refer to them – are we in-laws? We decided in-laws is not quite right, so we’re pleased to consider ourselves friends.
From left: Stephen, Brenda, Mitch, Heather and Doug.
My cousin Maureen and her husband John moved to Edmonton in December to be closer to their kids and grandkids. Luckily, we were able to connect and have a great dinner and good long visit. Maureen and I have our origins in Gaspe, then Montreal, then southern Ontario and now out west. This is one of the things we are discovering as we travel – we all have interesting flight paths.
That’s enough for now. We loved Edmonton, extended our planned time here by another three days and it still wasn’t enough. We’ll be back (although not in February).
We spent today at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village just outside Edmonton, and it merits a (much shorter) blog posting all of its own. Coming soon…