Edmonton – The Gateway To The North!

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Edmonton Skyline

Edmonton Skyline
Photo: Travel Alberta

Authot: Bob Kenyon

Edmonton is the Capital City, of the Province of Alberta and is North America’s largest, northern city with a metropolitan population over 1 million. To put the northern location of the city into perspective; Edmonton is at 53.5° north and Moscow is 55.7° north.

Edmonton offers ample opportunities for enjoying year-round outdoors recreation and adventure tourism activities in central and northern Alberta. According to tourism statistics, in the last decade (by Alberta Economic Development), Edmonton is the number one destination in overall person-visits to Alberta and the number one destination in person-visits from other provinces. Edmonton is also Alberta’s number one metropolitan destination for U.S. visitations and revenues.

Edmonton International AirportEdmonton International Airport
Photo: EIA

Edmonton also offers excellent access to adventure tourism and trekking because the city:

All of these, plus the history of Ft. Edmonton being on the main waterway of the western prairies, the North Saskatchewan River, made it the major centre, of the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ft Edmonton was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, with predominately English, Scots inhabitants. There was, of course an Aboriginal presence and French traders. The Edmonton area has opportunities for Aboriginal tourism, as well there are many examples of French culture and history in the area.

Edmonton is truly the Gateway to the north! Any direction traveled from Edmonton provides a variety of terrain ranging through prairie, aspen parkland, boreal forests, foothills and mountains. As stated by Economic Development Edmonton “Located on the 53rd latitude, Edmonton is a haven for summer and winter activities, with 17 hours of daylight in mid-summer and the magical, night Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) during the peak activity period in mid-winter.”

Edmonton also has the most direct access to Jasper National Park  and the Canadian Rockies. Within a few hours drive, west, on the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway (#16), travelers can also go to the great Rocky Mountain trekking opportunities east of the Rocky Mountains. William Switzer Provincial Park and Wilmore Willderness Area, between the towns of Hinton and Grande Cache, on the Ram Highway (#40).

The Trans-Canada Yellowhead route, that goes through the mountains and on to British Columbia. With about 1/2 hour drive, west from Edmonton, the route will also take travelers to the MacKenzie Highway.

Going south on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway (Hwy. 2), travelers can reach Calgary and Banff National Park. Going west from Red Deer is the David Thompson Pass, which also leads in the mountains, in the north end of Banff.

To the east of Edmonton you can also find the Strathcona Wilderness Centre, Cooking Lake – Blackfoot Grazing, Wildlife & Provincial Recreation Area and the Beaver Hills. A trip not to miss, is Elk Island National Park, with its herds of bison, is about ½ hour east of Edmonton, on Hwy. 16. The night sky in Elk Island National Park and the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area are protected, as part of The Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve.

All of these areas, offer excellent opportunities for camping, hiking, backpacking, cycling, trail riding and nature watching. During winter downhill and cross country skiing, as well as snowshoeing all within close proximity.

The Edmonton area is also a nature watching and birding paradise. In addition to the spectacular river valley and its ravines, within close proximity to the city are the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary, the Wagner Natural Area, Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, Ministik Bird Sanctuary, and the Beaverhill Bird Observatory.

Source: vlocal.ca

The city of Edmonton is a great example of outdoor use by an urban area, having the most parkland, per capita, than any city in North America! The Capital City Recreation Park, comprises the entire North Saskatchewan River Valley and its many tributary ravines it covers an astounding 7400 hectares with over 150 kilometres of biking and hiking trails, the largest of any city in North America! A favourite, with many outdoor enthusiasts, is the Whitemud Creek Nature Preserve. This area is often used for presentations and outings by the John Janzen Nature Centre.

A major initiative, within the Edmonton region, is to develop the largest river valley park in the word! The River Valley Alliance, which comprises the Town of Devon, Parkland County, Leduc County, City of Edmonton Strathcona County, Sturgeon County and the City of Fort Saskatchewan and will encompass 88 kilometers of the river valley.

Edmonton is easy to get around by the Edmonton Transit System (ETS). The ETS is very environmentally conscious and:

  • Replaced their ageing diesel buses, with Canadian made low emission diesel buses
  • Has a north/south Light Rail Transit route, that travels through downtown and connects to major centres of commerce, education, entertainment, healthcare and sporting events.
  • Planned expansion of the south Light Rail Transit route and express bus routes.
  • Buying natural gas powered and hybrid diesel buses.

For cyclists there is also an extensive number of bicycle paths and marked routes through the city. Keep in mind that the trails, through the valley, ravines, etc. are multi-use trails. They are for pedestrians, pet walking, cyclists, inline skaters and skate boarders and no motorized vehicles are allowed.

edmonton night skyline

Downtown Edmonton – Reflection in North Saskatchewan River
Photo: Rhea March

In Downtown Edmonton, you’ll find cosmopolitan shopping and some of the cities finest hotels and restaurants. Construction should be finished, for 2016, on Rogers Place the new Downtown arena.

Rogers Place will become the future home of the Edmonton Oilers and many other events. The project will bring a revitalization to the downtown core, as several new buildings and a hotel are being built in the renamed Ice District.

The centre of downtown is Sir Winston Churchill Square, the location for:

Churchill Square is also known as the Arts District and during the summer is a focal point for many of the Edmonton Festival City events, that include: International Street Perfomers Festival, The Works Arts Festival, A Taste of Edmonton (for food lovers).

Sir Winston Churchill Square is also the final destination, for the annual Cariwest Parade, featuring musical floats, dancers and food from Edmonton’s Caribbean community, and the Sunday Social for of the lively Cariwest Festival.

Having a diversity of cultures, Edmonton also has it’s annual Heritage Festival in the river valley William Hawrelak Park. During the August 1st Heritage Day long weekend. Visitors to the festival can wander this large park and enjoy the dress, music, dance, art and of course…food of the over 60 cultural groups represented. The Edmonton Heritage Festival has been noted many times by the American Bus Association’s list of events.

In the north of Edmonton on 118 Avenue, historically known as Alberta Avenue. in September there is Kaleido Festival, a free, family orientated arts festival. In the winter there is Deep Freeze.

Many of the cultures (e.g. Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian) of Edmonton have developed their own distinct districts. These areas of Edmonton for cultural shopping and trying out distinct ethnic cuisine. There are also many great ethnic restaurants throughout the city and you could have a different type of international cuisine every night of the week.

Festivals in Edmonton, don’t end with the fall. During October there is the Edmonton International Film Festival. On New Year’s Eve, Churchill Square, becomes Western Canada’s largest free New Year’s celebration. This family event features both indoor and outdoor venues offering activities, entertainment and fireworks.

Later, in the winter Edmonton has Deep FreezeFlying Canoë Volant Ice on Whyte Festival, Silver Skate Festival, winter film and Star Parties in Elk Island Park and the Coronation Park Observatory.

If it’s niche shopping, restaurants and nightlife, that you’re seeking, then head off to historic Old Strathcona. You can also travel west along Jasper Avenue, from downtown to the 124th Street Area, where you will find a fine selection of Edmonton’s boutiques and bistros, as well the area’s art galleries are home to the Edmonton Gallery Walk.

Edmonton also has a strong arts community, with an excellent Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Alberta, many art galleries, live theatres and has some of the best folk music in Canada.

Edmonton is also the home of the over 80 year old CKUA Radio Network, originally started by the University of Alberta. This province-wide, listener supported radio network, with 16 FM transformers throughout the province, can also be heard online at ckua.com and on channel 828 on the StarChoice satellite system. The main studio is located in Edmonton a Calgary studio located in Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts.

The station plays Blues, Jazz, Classical, Celtic, Folk, Contemporary, Bluegrass, World Beat and Alternative music. In addition to playing the music world-wide performers, CKUA plays an amazing role in broadcasting Alberta and other Canadian performers in each of the genres featured. Donations of support are always appreciated by the station.

alberta hotel

Rebuilt Alberta Hotel

The CKUA Edmonton offices and studio, are located in the recently, rebuild Alberta Hotel! Although not being used as a hotel, in its reincarnation, it was once the city’s most luxurious, boasting the city’s first elevator and shower bath. Sir Wilfrid Laurier stayed there when he visited for the proclamation of Alberta as a province in 1905.

The other non-profit radio station, in Edmonton, that also has it’s roots with the University of Alberta in CJSR. As with CKUA, it’s also listener supported.

If you’re looking for sports, Edmonton is the home of the uniquely Canadian three down version of North American Football. The  Canadian Football League, Edmonton Eskimos. The “Esks” won the 2015 Grey Cup Championship. They now have won 14 of their 23 appearance in the annual national football playoff game, held each November.

Commonwealth Stadium, where the Eskimos play, is also Canada’s national soccer stadium and has hosted many international soccer matches. Most recently the stadium was a venue for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The stadium was originally built for the 1978 Commonwealth Games, but in athletics has been home to the 2001 World Championships in Athletics and the 2005 World Masters Games. in 2015 the stadium hosted the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Commonwealth Stadium also played host to the Heritage Classic, the first National Hockey League (NHL) game to be played outdoors as a part of regular season play. It was played on November 22, 2003, between some of the best former players from the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens.

If golf is your game…The Greater Edmonton area is home to over 70 golf courses where the public can swing a club.

Edmonton has a very rich and interesting history and even has the Historic Edmonton Festival. Recent archaeological discoveries have found aboriginal tool making grounds and campsites, in various areas of the valley.

The Edmonton are was the land of the Papaschase Aboriginal peoples. There was also Papaschase burials discovered east of the site of the actual Ft. Edmonton (north of the Walterdale Bridge by the power plant). There is now a large memorial, for the grave sites, on the spot.

The area was well visited by traveling aboriginal peoples, because of a river ford west of the High Level Bridge. The Royal Alberta Museum (currently under construction, at their new downtown location) has an excellent aboriginal gallery and Ft. Edmonton Park has developed a small Plains Cree camp, outside the walls of the fort. The area and interaction between European traders and the Aboriginals, also played a major role during the fur trade and being on the North Saskatchewan River, main river route during that time.

Larch Valley Preserve

Fall view of Larch Sanctuary’s Riparian Area
Source Larch Sanctuary Website (below)

If you’re interested in the flora, fauna, archeology and paleontology of the Edmonton area, a visit to the Larch Sanctuary would worthwhile. It’s located south of 23 Avenue at the confluence of the Whitemud and Blackmud Creeks.

Being on the North Saskatchewan River, from its very beginning, as fur trade post, Edmonton has played a major role in the development of western Canada’s transportation system, it also has several related museums and tourist attractions. For a look at early airplanes visit the Alberta Aviation Museum. Rail buffs will enjoy the Alberta Railway Museum, or can take a “High Level” view of the river valley by riding a old fashioned streetcar, over the rail bridge joining north to south side Edmonton. Besides the early 20th century steel bridge, being called the High Level Bridge, the streetcar ride, is the highest in the world. Get your cameras ready!

alberta legislature

Alberta Legislature Building

Another interesting historical and architectural tour, in Edmonton, is the Provincial Legislative Building. The Alberta Legislature Building was built between 1907 and 1913 in the Beaux Arts style, similar to those of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Tours are offered 362 days a year, and the knowledgeable tour guides are always pleased to welcome you. Tours of the Legislature Building are offered to all ages. Be sure to ask if you’re going to the “Magic Spot”!

On Canada Day (July 1st) over 30,000 individuals normally gather on the Legislature grounds, during the afternoon for the free family entertainment. There’s musical and dance performance and games for children.

Edmonton also has a great number of historical places and buildings. The City of Edmonton offers PDF format historical walking tour of downtown, as well as walking/driving tours of neighbourhoods including: Oliver and Strathcona. For more information about the history of Edmonton go to our Ya’Gotta destination articles about; French History of the Edmonton Area and North Saskatchewan River – Route of The Fur Trade.

If you want to see more traditional western Canadian activities, Edmonton is a great destination to travel to an aboriginal Powwow, or take in a rodeo.

Other excellent place of interest in the Edmonton area is the TELUS World of Science. If you don’t mind a short drive out of Edmonton, some must see attractions are: Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village (east on the Yellowhead Trans Canada Highway 16), near to Elk Island National Park.

For a day trip, going south on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, will take you to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, in Wetaskiwin, where there is an extensive collection antique and rare vehicles, equipment, as well as traveling exhibits.

A must see trip should be; further southeast from the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, to the “land of the dinosaurs” and visit the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum, at Drumheller, where you’ll want stay for more than a day!

If you enjoyed this Ya’Gotta article about Edmonton, Alberta you may also like to view more of the tourism “gateway” cities of western Canada:

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