This great northern city of Edmonton deserves a spot as one of Canada’s premier destinations. This is not hyperbole – I really mean it!
I like the environment, I like the mix of people, I enjoy the city’s many activities and I appreciate Edmonton has been built around quality of life.
Distant, extreme, vibrantly green (or white), wealthy and oddly exciting, this so-called City of Champions is one of my favourite cities anywhere.
There is no doubt I have learned some of this love for Edmonton, but as a student of the north and of the Americas, Edmonton is fascinating.
As a capital city, Edmonton is appropriately located roughly in the middle of the province of Alberta. It is a prairie city defined by its impressive valley carved by the North Saskatchewan River.
The population of the greater area is around 1.2 million, making Edmonton one of the most isolated large cities in the developed world. Although its latitude is only 53 degrees north (equivalent to Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego and only slightly north of Amsterdam), the continental effect makes Edmonton one of the coldest major cities in the world.
If this fact has not won you over :), summers up north are defined by very long, often sunny days and an eruption of green throughout the region’s deciduous forests. 30° C (86F) summer days are common and many houses even have air conditioning!
I also love winter in the region. Several years ago my brother-in-law visited from Australia over Christmas. He had very little experience with snow and loved the white, clean environment. He also was thrilled to ice-fish and even drive on a frozen lake. Winter starry nights are magical and because of Edmonton’s lower latitude, days remain fairly long, even in December when lights and colours festoon the city.
A common statistic claims 80% of Canada’s population live within 200 km’s of the US border. Looking to the largest cities; Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver – this statistic is most certainly true, yet the two large Alberta cities; Calgary and Edmonton are distinctly isolated.
Edmonton’s special place as a large, northern city is interesting on its own, but for any connoisseur of the North, Edmonton is wonderful.
Oil wealth and government have contributed to some very interesting architecture. I most enjoy walking through the older neighbourhoods in and around the river valley. Modern in-fill styles have emerged among the older bungalows, apartment blocks and stately wood-framed homes.
The dense green of the summer is as iconic as the clean, reflective snow during winter. The city’s transitional colours – and those used by the Edmonton Eskimos football team – are the green and gold that defines Edmonton’s early autumn.
When driving into Edmonton – from any direction – one witnesses the industrial nature of the city. Aside from being the provincial capital and a major university and educational centre, Edmonton’s economy is driven by industrial manufacturing. Oil dominates and affects everything – from boom to bust. Yet despite major economic downturns (such as Alberta is currently experiencing), Edmonton’s residents are proud and extremely involved.
There is a strong blue-collar culture in Edmonton and a distinct frontier feel to the greater community. With no natural limitations to growth, new neighbourhoods continue to spring up as far as the eye can see. During boom times, Edmonton’s attractive economy and relatively low cost of living have attracted many immigrants – many of whom come from much warmer climates. With a varied population, good wages and an isolated location, Edmonton’s entertainment and culinary environment is diverse and attractive.
During boom times, Edmonton’s buoyant economy and relatively low cost of living have attracted large numbers of migrants – many of whom come from much warmer climates. With a varied population, good wages and an isolated location, Edmonton’s entertainment and culinary environment is diverse and appealing.
The city competes with Montreal as Canada’s festival capital and certainly boasts one of the very best Folk Festivals in North America (secure tickets well in advance).
The theatre-inspired Fringe Festival draws artists from around the world and indeed Edmonton’s own exuberant multiculturalism is the source of so much to enjoy.
I love the heritage festival and I also love eating in Edmonton! The established Chinese and Vietnamese communities are well represented culinarily. For an authentic Edmonton Chinese meal, I absolutely recommend the authentic Lingnan restaurant. I particularly like this dining experience, because it is an architectural microcosm of Edmonton. The Building is a non-descript off-yellow on the outside, yet impeccably finished inside.
As a northern city, inside spaces are as important as the façade. What is already an attractive city (at least in the centre) should be explored more deeply. Obviously, the giant West Edmonton Mall is a shining example, but also the dramatic Shaw Centre.
With breakfast (or any time of the day) one should try pierogies – a classic Ukrainian / European dumpling (for lack of a better description). Contributing to the Albertan mosaic, many families of Ukrainian heritage still speak their native language.
Another important group to highlight are French-speaking Albertans. There is a predominantly francophone neighbourhood and many bilingual Edmontonians. I do some work for the French College which is associated with the University of Alberta. French Albertans even have our own flag!
Also worth noting is the city’s large indigenous population. Edmonton is a major service centre for Canada’s expansive north and has become home to First Nations peoples from throughout the region. It is possible to study Cree and other First Nations languages in the local collages.
Haute cuisine is abundant and Alberta game is popular on many menus. I particularly like Normand’s on Jasper Avenue.
In the summer try golfing on Canada’s oldest municipal course and in the winter, return to the Victoria Golf Course to x-country ski or snowshoe.
Edmonton is ice hockey-mad. Wayne Gretzky – widely understood to be the greatest player of all time – led the Oilers to five Stanley Cup championships.
Ice rinks are ubiquitous and hockey is discussed year round.
Edmonton’s former moniker – City of Champions – actually goes back to a woman’s basketball team that dominated North America back in the 1920’s. Today, the city remains extremely active and sporting. Whenever visiting, I drop into the Kinsman Centre for a swim and workout. Or I cycle the river valley trails for hours!
Here is the tour operator in me: as part of a Rockies or western Canadian itinerary, Edmonton is an excellent starting point. With two nights in the city, individuals or groups may tour the river valley, at least one of the excellent museums and – particularly in winter – the pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory.
Of course, any discussion of Edmonton cannot ignore West Edmonton Mall – the largest shopping / entertainment complex on earth. The massive structure may seem excessive, but in the middle of a sharp Edmonton winter, it is particularly enjoyable to ride the waves in the indoor pool!
Honestly, I can go on and on about why I love Edmonton. Next time you are planning a trip to the the Rockies, or to Yukon or Alaska, start first in Alberta’s capital and then travel west or north.
I would even choose the city as a destination unto itself – summer or winter.