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Edmonton Travel Guide

Edmonton is a sophisticated city at the heart of the province of Alberta, noted for its friendly people and vibrant summer festivals. As Alberta’s capital, Edmonton sits on the outer fringes of the prairies, smack in the heart of the province along the river banks of the North Saskatchewan. This river winds through miles of parkland in a deep valley overlooked by a bluff, the same bluff where the city’s skyscrapers and buildings stand. This is the river Edmonton developed around. The shiny high-rises today tell the story of how an oil town spent its wealth wisely. Edmonton is one of the more well-planned cities in Canada, employing a grid system and providing underground walkways to shelter residents from the bitter cold. Its river banks have been turned into recreational parks where people gather during the winter and summer.[1]

With a population of a million people, Edmonton is North America’s northernmost major city. It is not just the capital of Alberta, but the oil capital of Canada as well. There are about 2,000 wells stretched over 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the city, pumping about 10% of the country’s oil. Edmonton handles the refineries and petrochemical plants – the technological and scientific aspects – of the oil industry, leaving the financial and administrative side to its provincial brother, Calgary. In recent decades, Edmonton has been a boom-and-bust town. Currently, the city is experiencing a period of substantial development, economic prosperity, and population swell, spurred by the soaring prices of crude oil the last few years. Although proud of its role as the oil center of Canada, Edmonton likes to think of itself as more than just a one-trick pony. The city is the handling and supply center for the significant agricultural goods produced in the area. It is also North Alberta and Northern Canada’s distribution center for minerals and resources.[2]


Vista 33
The North Saskatchewan River channels its way through the city from east to west, running parallel to the green belt of parkland covering both sides of the bank. The parkland is the largest stretch in Canada, a recreation area complete with nature trails and cycling paths. This is why it’s worth a trip up to Vista 33, which is the 33rd floor observation deck of the Alberta Telephone Tower building at 10020 100th Street. From there, you can get your bearings and have a stunning peak at what the region has to offer. Be sure to check out the small telecommunications equipment museum that is on the same floor. It has some neat, interactive hands-on displays. [3]

Aviation Hall of Fame
The Aviation Hall of Fame is housed in a modern-looking steel and glass Convention Centre. It is pretty close to the Alberta Telephone Tower and is located at 9797 Jasper Avenue. The Hall of Fame is free and open everyday. You’ll find exhibits, films, and displays about flying. The Hall of Fame has a flight simulator as well. [4]

Edmonton Art Gallery
The Edmonton Art Gallery is smack in the thick of downtown. It is housed in the Civic Centre, which is located within Sir Winston Churchill Square. The art gallery features temporary exhibitions as well as visiting exhibitions, all of a high standard. The gallery is open everyday and is located at 2 Sir Winston Churchill Square. [5]

Legislature Building
Built between 1907 and 1912, the Legislature Building is the home of the Alberta provincial government. It is a yellow sandstone building with a capped dome and a columned portico. The building sits on the same site as the original Fort Edmonton. It overlooks the river and is enclosed by a landscaped formal gardens complete with lawns, pools, and fountains. The Legislature Building has an underground link called the Government Centre Pedway that connects it with other government buildings. The building is located between 97th Avenue and 109th Street. Free tours are provided year-round. [6]

Muttart Conservatory
The Muttart Conservatory at 9626 96A Street is on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River near the MacDonald Bridge. This conservatory can be recognized easily by its four glass pyramids. Three of the pyramids simulate different climatic zones: temperate, arid, and tropical. Featured are indigenous plants of each of the climates. The fourth pyramid has mass displays of flowering plants. What is displayed changes depending on the season. [7]

Provincial Museum
The Provincial Museum on 12845 102nd Avenue sits in the parkland overlooking the river. The building is quite modern-looking and has four galleries devoted to different aspects of the province’s natural and cultural heritage. The Natural History gallery showcases the geology of the region, including dinosaur fossils. The gallery also focuses on the history of the European settlement of the province. The Indian Gallery, on the other hand, looks at the rituals and lifestyles of the Plains Indians. There is one detailed section that deals with the Sun Dance Ritual. The Habitat gallery has displays recreating the Albertan countryside with its grasslands, mountains, forests, and fauna and flora. [8]

Fort Edmonton Park
Fort Edmonton Park is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. The park sits on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River near the Quesnel Bridge. It is west of the Whitemud Freeway. Visitors can expect a fun, interactive history lesson. The history of European (or white) settlement in Edmonton is depicted in vivid terms. The palisaded Fort Edmonton, for example, is reconstructed in detailed fashion as it was back in 1846. The reconstructed trading post even has “inhabitants” who chat with visitors about what life was like being employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Besides the fort, there is also a recreation of what village life was like back in 1885 Edmonton, prior to the completion of the railroad. The street depictions are provided: one of an Edmonton street in 1905, the year the city was crowned the province’s capital, and another of a 1920 street scene when the city was prospering financially. All of the reconstructions and recreations are meticulous in attention and detail. The shops, churches, schools, and offices are accurate in their representations. The shops, for example, carry stock that are appropriate for the depicted time period. The entire park can be toured in either a restored street car, horse wagon, stagecoach, or steamed train. The park is open everyday and there are special events throughout the year.[9]

Old Strathcona Historic Area
Old Strathcona Historic Area lies south of the river and within the borders of 101st Street, 106th Street, 80th Avenue, and Saskatchewan Drive. This area was once the town of Strathcona before it was annexed by Edmonton in 1912. Many of the buildings here predate the annexation and have been restored. Be sure to grab a brochure from the Information Centre before doing a walking tour of the area along its Victorian streets.[10]

West Edmonton Mall
The West Edmonton Mall is perhaps the city’s most famous attraction, visited by more than 28 million people each year. Located at 170th Street and 87th Avenue, this mall reigned as the largest in the world from 1981 to 2004. It still is the largest mall in North America and the third largest in the world, covering a mind-blowing 570,000 square meters or (5.3 million square feet). It’s really easy to get lost. There are over 800 stores, 100 restaurants, and 34 cinemas. There is also an indoor amusement park with a roller coaster, a large water park, and a mini-golf course. At the Sea Life Caverns, you can watch sea lions dolphins perform entertaining shows. The Ice Palace is a scaled-down hockey rink used for skating and hockey games. Even if you don’t like shopping, the mall is worth visiting for the experience alone.[11]

Space and Sciences Centre
The Space and Sciences Centre at 11211 142nd street is northwest of the city center. It is Canada’s largest planetarium, housed in a structure that looks like a spaceship. Inside, there is an IMAX theatre and observatory, both with displays and shows about science and astronomy. The center is free and is open almost everyday. There is a charge, however, for the star and laser shows. [12]

Strathcona Archaeological Centre
The Strathcona Archaeological Centre south of Highway 16 off 17th Street is located in the Strathcona Science Park. It is on the east side of the city. It provides a fascinating account of what Native Indian life was like 5,000 years ago. Archaeological excavation has revealed a settlement dating back to 3,000 BC. The interpretive center explains to visitors the history of the site. [13]

Two fur trading posts were founded in the Edmonton area in the late 1700s. One belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company and the other belonged to its heated rival, the North West Trading Company. When the two merged in 1821, the fort that belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company known as Edmonton House became the trading and administrative headquarters of the northwest. It was the crown jewel of the company. The fort was the meeting place for trade between the company and the Native Indians, which at the time included the Cree and the Blackfoot warrior tribes.[14]

The Hudson’s Bay Company sold Edmonton House to the Canadian government, however, in 1870. Immediately, the area was opened up to settlers. When the town of Edmonton was incorporated, there were only 600 residents. For a short while, lawlessness prevailed until the North West Mounted Police arrived in 1875.

Edmonton did not really grow, however, until the railroad was completed in 1891. The city became an important transportation center. Waves of settlers came. The influx was aided by the Klondike discovery in 1898. The gold rush attracted many prospectors who stopped in Edmonton to prepare for their long trek to the Yukon. The population increased to around 4,000, as a result. Many merchants enjoyed considerable prosperity during this period. Edmontonians have not forgotten the role the gold rush played in fueling the city’s growth and the Klondike Days are celebrated each year.[15]

In 1905, Alberta joined the confederation and became a province. Edmonton was made the capital, much to the disappointment of Calgary. At the time, the city had a population of 8,000 and continued to grow thanks to a steady influx of immigrants and to the construction of the Alaska Highway. The biggest boom occurred, however, in 1947 when oil was discovered south of Edmonton at Leduc. More oil fields were discovered in the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in a quadrupling of the population by 1965. In the 1960’s and ’70s, the city prospered as a result of rising crude oil prices. The wealth was spent in construction and urban development, activities that declined in the 1980s when the oil prices dropped.[16] This past decade has witnessed a resurgence in the city thanks to record-breaking oil prices; the population has doubled, the skyline has mushroomed with steel-and-glass towers, a rapid-transit system has been built, and a $150 million civic center constructed. Voted recently as having the “best economic potential” of any North American city by the Financial Times of London, things are definitely looking up for Edmonton these days. [17]

Festivals and Events
Every mid-July, Edmonton finds time to enjoy itself a little with the celebration of Klondike Days, one of Canada’s favorite festivals. This 10-day affair commemorates the 1898 gold rush that brought many prospectors into town, as they made their way to Dawson City. Calgary residents, meanwhile, see this event as a jealous attempt by their Edmonton brothers to try and compete with their “more” successful Stampede celebrations. Whether true or not, Klondike Days features huge breakfasts in the open air, silly competitions, music, parades, dancing, and all-out parties. Most of the action takes place at Northlands Park, which is transformed into Klondike Village for the event. Residents, from shopkeeper on down to the bank manager, get dressed in period costume. [18]

The National Hockey League Edmonton Oilers have won the Stanley Cup five times. The season runs from October to May every year. The team plays at Rexall Place at 7424 118th Avenue N.W. Baseball fans can watch the Northern League Edmonton Cracker-Cats play at TELUS Field, which is near the city center. For football action, you can visit the Commonwealth Stadium at 11000 Stadium Road and watch the Edmonton Eskimos play their Canadian Football League opponents. The stadium is a legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The Edmonton Northlands is the site of the racetrack where thoroughbred racing takes place.[19]

The City Recreation Park runs parallel along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. The park has all kinds of public facilities, including cycling paths, running and jogging trails, and cross-country skiing runs in the winter.[20]

Elk Island Park, which is on the east side of town along Highway 16, is another great place for cross-country skiing in the winter. In the summer, the park has a pleasant spot for swimming.[21]

Tennis courts are found throughout the city. Gyms, skating rinks, and squash, racquetball, and volleyball courts are found in the various city recreation centers, which include the Kinsmen Sports & Aquatic Centre at 9100 Walterdale Road, the Commonwealth Stadium at 11000 Stadium Road, and Mill Wood’s Recreation Centre at 7207 28th Avenue. [22]

Golfing enthusiasts have some 30 public and private courses to choose from. The best 18-hole municipal courses are the Riverside Golf Course at 86th Street and Rowland Road, Rundle Park at 2902 118th Avenue, and the Victoria Golf Course and Drive Range at the junction of 120th Street and River Road. [23]

Naturally, the West Edmonton Mall is the best place to do shopping in Edmonton. It is southwest of downtown at 170th Street and 87th Avenue and is the world’s third largest shopping complex. There are about a dozen department stores and over 800 shops. If you are not interested in visiting this vast “shopping amusement park”, you can try the city’s downtown area, which is another major shopping district. There are walkways that link malls to major buildings, hotels, and railway stations so that residents and tourists can avoid the bitter cold. The heart of the downtown shopping district is the Edmonton Centre at 102nd Avenue and 100th Street. [24]

Edmonton has its fair share of pubs and bars. Many of its eateries also double as nightclubs and play a wide range of music.[25]

The city also has a number of theatres to satisfy the more cultural crowd. The Citadel Theatre at 9828 101A Avenue is the top performing arts center in Edmonton. This complex dazzles with its glass-and-brick front. It has five theatres, where first-rate musicals are often performed. The indoor garden provides an amusement for patrons waiting between shows.[26]

Another venue is the Jubilee Auditorium at 1415 14th Street. Concerts, theatres, and ballets are hosted here. It is also home to the Edmonton opera and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Other venues include Yuk-Yuk’s at The Point (7103 78th Avenue). This belongs to the chain of stand-up comedy venues across the country. In August, the 10-day Fringe Theatre Festival takes place all over town, with indoor and outdoor alternative theatre performances showing throughout the various stages and theatre-restaurants in town. [27]

For movies, the West Edmonton Mall has 34 cinemas. More cinemas are found at the Calgary Tower complex. For less mainstream films, the Princess Theatre at 10337 82nd (Whyte) Avenue or the National Film Theatre at the Citadel are the places to go.[28]

Jazz music lovers can check out the Yardbird Suite at 10203 86th Avenue. Check the listings for jazz concerts that occasionally perform at the Jubilee Auditorium (1415 14th Street). The Commercial Hotel at 10329 Whyte Avenue hosts the Blues on Whyte, which treats audiences to some rhythm and blues performances. Excellent food can be enjoyed with jazz and sometimes rock music performances at the Sidetrack Café at 10333 112th Street. In the summer (usually late June, early July), the 10-day Edmonton Jazz City Festival takes place. The Folk Music Festival, meanwhile, is held in August.[29]

The choice of cuisines in Edmonton is extensive. The city is known to be health-conscious and has a healthy restaurant scene. Having said that, Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and Alberta does have the best beef in Canada. So be sure to sample some Alberta cattle, the city’s specialty.[30]

Most of the great restaurants in Edmonton are concentrated in the Old Strathcona district between 106th and 101st Streets. There are more restaurants at the Boardwalk Market at 103rd Street as well as in the downtown area.[31]

How to Get There
Most of the major airlines in the world and the regional airlines in Canada fly in and out of Edmonton. The Edmonton International Airport is about 16 kilometers or 10 miles south of the city. It takes about 45 minutes drive along Highway 2 to reach the airport. There are shuttle busses that run between some of the downtown hotels and the airport. Smaller aircrafts running between Albertan destinations use the Municipal Airport, which is north of downtown.[32]

Edmonton is connected with Vancouver, Jasper, Saskatoon, Toronto, and Winnipeg by railway service operated by VIA Rail. The station is located at 10004 104th Avenue at 100th Street. [33]

The Greyhound bus terminal is located at 10324 103rd Street at 103rd Avenue. There is bus service to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, to Calgary in the south, and to the east and west. Coachways operates service to Whitehorse, Yukon, close to the Alaskan border.[34]

If you are driving, take the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) to get in and out of Edmonton. The highway runs east to Saskatchewan and west to British Columbia. If you are looking to reach Edmonton from Calgary or leave Edmonton for Calgary, take Highway 2, which continues south to Montana.[35]

Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.

“Edmonton.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonton>

“VIA Rail.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VIA_Rail>

[1] Carroll, 91
[2] Id. at 91-92
[3] Id. at 93
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id. at 93-94
[7] Id. at 94
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id. at 95
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id. at 96
[14] Id. at 92
[15] Id.
[16] Id. at 92-93
[17] Edmonton
[18] Carroll, 96
[19] Id. at 96-97
[20] Id. at 97
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Id.
[24] Id. at 97-98
[25] Id. at 98
[26] Id.
[27] Id.
[28] Id.
[29] Id.
[30] Id. at 100
[31] Id.
[32] Id. at 101
[33] VIA
[34] Carroll, 101
[35] Id.

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