Alberta’s provincial capital, EDMONTON, is among Canada’s most northerly cities and at times – particularly in the teeth of its bitter winters – can seem a little too far north for comfort.
Situated on the North Saskatchewan River, whose park-filled valley meanders through the high-rises of downtown, this proud and bustling city tries hard with its restaurants, urban-renewal projects and festivals – which include August’s world-class Folk Music Festival – yet the downtown core has a somewhat unfinished feel to it. With only modest sights in the centre, the infamous West Edmonton Mall, a gigantic shopping centre, is the main attraction for many visitors. More worthwhile is Old Strathcona, a rejuvenated, late nineteenth-century district south of the North Saskatchewan River, filled with heritage buildings, low-key museums and a booming restaurant, bar and nightlife scene, fuelled by a huge recent injection of oil money – and young workers – into the city. Another excellent attraction is the impressive TELUS World of Science museum, well outside the centre.
Edmonton lands on many itineraries en route somewhere else – particularly Jasper National Park or Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories – so your time will likely be limited, but if you have some to spare consider a short trip east out of town to Elk Island National Park and the Ukrainian Cultural Village.
Edmonton began life as a trading camp in some of Canada’s richest fur country and was put on the map as Fort Edmonton, a burly log stockade of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1795. A century later the town developed as a staging point for those heading north, particularly during the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush. Then in 1947, things boomed again when an oil strike caused some three thousand wells to sprout within 100km of the city in a decade. Large amounts of oil money flowed in again recently as rising prices made difficult-to-extract oil in Alberta’s north economically viable, helping keep Edmonton’s population around a million.