Famous for its beautiful North Saskatchewan River Valley, Edmonton is a huge, lovely city, especially in June, with 17-18 hours of sunlight at the height of the summer solstice.
Edmontonians find ways to pass the time with festivals of all kinds, music, dance, theater, cuisine, sports and anything else worth celebrating, hence its nickname of The Festival City.
There’s a ton to do!
Edmonton is the capitol city of Alberta, Canada, and has many deep oil and gas connections to Houston, which is why there are two to four direct flights per day!
Our home base for our stay in Edmonton was the stately, iconic Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. It’s called “The Mac” after the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Things to Do:
Edmonton’s River Valley is considered their urban “gem” with more than 93 miles of trails to accommodate enthusiasts of running, biking, snow shoeing or cross country skiing. To put it in perspective, the river valley is 22 times the size of NYC’s Central Park. It is one of the largest urban stretches of river valley in North America.
We were within walking distance of River Valley Adventures, where we took a Segway tour of parts of the river valley and the Chinese Gardens. Segway lessons are given by a certified member of their expert team; a terrific way to be outside and take in the scenery.
That evening, we totally enjoyed a play at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre; it was fantastic! The service was great and the prices are very reasonable. The dinner included prime rib, a sushi bar, cheese and cracker bar, bread bar and dozens of salads and desserts. This play was hilarious, with professional equity actors.
The next day began at the Alberta Aviation Museum, the third largest collection in Canada’s rich aviation history. We explored vintage aircraft set in one of the last Royal Air Force World War II hangars at the Edmonton City Center Airport. The museum is not subsidized by the government and is run on contributions.
In 1943, this airport set the record for the most take-offs and landings in a 24-hour period, and still holds the record!
The museum is located on the site of the previous Edmonton Municipal Airport, which opened in 1927 and closed in 2013. In World War II it was a training facility and part of the north staging plan for the war. More than 8,000 American planes went through there to Alaska and to Russia.
Canada trained Allied Forces with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan from 1940-45. In 1941, the U.S. instituted a lend-lease program with Canada.
The Tiger Moth Plane was the first airplane aviators were trained on, because it can’t go fast; can’t go far and can’t go high – a perfect trainer! The training aircraft were all painted bright yellow, which warned other pilots to stay away.
“If he couldn’t fly that, he became a bomb airman or a navigator, unless he was bad at math, then he was the cook!” This is an old flier’s joke told to us by the volunteer showing us around.
The Aero Anson was used to train bomb airmen/gunners; and of those planes, many started out as transportation aircraft. Guys who flew the planes with only 30-40 hours of flight time didn’t know how to fly or navigate.
The Mosquito is the only plane mentioned in medical textbooks. It flew in so quickly, it caused major anxiety. This plane was built not to survive! It was only expected to live through 20 hours of flight, then crash or be destroyed.
Blatchford Field at Edmonton City Centre Airport was known as the “Gateway to the North.” It was the first licensed municipal field in North America.
On site is an extensive library with a larger collection of photos than the city has, with 152,000 digital images.
Exhibits feature Katherine Stinson, who was born in 1891in Alabama, and became a famous American aviator, at the time, more famous than Amelia Earhart. She delivered the first airmail in Canada. Stinson promoted herself as “The Flying School Girl,” and always would fly wearing pearls given to her by the Emperor of Japan! Stinson died of tuberculosis in 1977 at the age of 86.
This museum has a unique restoration area devoted to parts and planes in various stages of restoration, with ex-Air Force and ex-airline guys doing the restoration. Old planes are donated and volunteers restore them.
A lot of families visit this museum, also visitors from New Zealand and Australia. We’re told it’s because a lot of their parents trained here.
At Fort Edmonton Park, located within the River Valley Park System, visitors can interact with staff in period costume interpreting life in Alberta’s history during the pioneer years of 1885, 1905 and 1920. The park is near downtown and offers places to walk, run, or sit and enjoy the lush landscaping.
The Art Gallery of Alberta building was designed by Los Angeles-based architect Randal Stout and puts a stunning, modern spin on Alberta’s oldest cultural institution. With three bright and airy floors of viewing space, visitors can delight in more than 6,000 visual art exhibits.
There are lots and lots of things to do at the Telus World of Science Edmonton. Kids of all ages, from toddlers to grandmothers, were pushing, pulling, spinning, clapping, snipping and snapping! This facility includes an IMAX theater and a science stage. We actually went back that night to watch the IMAX movie “Airplanes.” Great!
Football, horse racing and minor league baseball – all of these things were happening on the Friday night we were there.
We took in a Canadian Football League (CFL) game and watched the Edmonton Eskimos (Eskies) play the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Edmonton Light Rail Transit provides free rides two hours before, during and after the game included with our game tickets, so we hopped on board and headed for the Commonwealth Stadium. The rules of football are a little different in the CFL than we’re used to. Edmonton loves its football, and lots of folks showed up for this game!
Famous Houston Oilers quarterback, Warren Moon, had played for the CFL Eskimos from 1978-83 prior to his career with the Oilers, and we noticed that his name is up in the stadium.
Farmers’ markets are an integral part of Edmonton, and have been for more than a century. The City Market Downtown was within walking distance from our hotel, and we found farm-fresh produce, locally raised meats, ready-to-eat meals, bread, bruit wines, sweet treats, handcrafted jewelry, local art, one-of-a-kind clothing, home décor, cut flowers and bedding plants.
From the City Market we walked to Jasper Plaza Terminal to catch the High Level Bridge Streetcar to Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. Here we found lovely produce: lush plums, cherries, carrots, potatoes and chard.
We wandered around for about 45 minutes finding nice areas to sit, buy coffee and food, and people watch. We found so many items offered here, including jams, meats, flowers, honey and breads, as well as Greek, Russian and Italian specialties shops.
There were handmade lovelies, including very unusual fabrics, soaps, candy, purses, wooden bowls, edible flowers, pottery and handmade journals. It is a must.
Next we explored Old Strathcona, the neighborhood around the Bohemian atmosphere of Whyte Avenue, where we found When Pigs Fly gift shop, music shops, restaurants, pubs and an Italian restaurant in the former post office, which was beautiful. There are many funky shops to peruse.
That afternoon, we drove to the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America, where we enjoyed the casino located right in the mall! There is a huge game room for kids, a water park and lots more.
Now, we couldn't visit the Festival City without attending a festival. We loved the Servus Heritage Festival/Edmonton Heritage Festival, a family-friendly, alcohol-free mingling of nations, sharing their entertainment and culture. The festival lets visitors take a peek at exotic places from Pakistan, Fiji, Brazil, and Borneo to Zimbabwe. The banks of the North Saskatchewan River are transformed into a mini-world stage for a long weekend. Here everyone samples culinary delights at 60 pavilions, which represent more than 85 nations, plus lively and creative ethnic performances, located at William Hawrelak Park.
Madison’s Grill, located in the Union Bank Inn, was cool, elegant and offers exquisite dining. This unique, downtown Edmonton restaurant presents an inviting, contemporary design for dining at its finest. Or dine outdoors on the spacious, seasonal terrace.
Our lunch menu offered a variety of appetizers, soups and salads, and sandwiches from burgers to French dip to pork belly tacos. Lunch entrée offerings of fish and chips and roasted vegetable ravioli, were rounded out by pan seared salmon, Beef Bourguignon, herb-roasted chicken supreme and lamb shank confit.
A dinner suggestion is to try Woodwork, located in Edmonton’s historic McLeod Building. Woodwork combines southern U.S. fare, barbecue and French influences.
With our home base in the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, breakfast in The Harvest Room was deliciously accommodating. The Royal Tea and Tour at the Fairmont costs $45 per person, and includes half a glass of wine. We were a little surprised at the lack of formality – no linen table cloths or fancy personal service. The “tea” started with strawberry watermelon soup, scones and cream cheese, and finished with a tiered tray of finger sandwiches and cookies. As we ate, we loved watching three different brides in the gardens and patio being photographed and greeting guests. A tour of the property is included every Saturday and Sunday, which also includes the Queen Elizabeth II suite when available. One of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Duchess of Bedford Anna Maria Stanhope, is credited with the afternoon tea tradition.
Fairmont Hotel Macdonald originally opened in 1915 and is referred to as the chateau on the river. It offers 199 elegant guest rooms including 18 suites, and caters to both leisure and business travelers. Overlooking the North Saskatchewan River Valley, Fairmont is Edmonton’s landmark, four diamond, luxury hotel. It offers exquisite dining opportunities at the Harvest Room and the Confederation Lounge, as well as the completely refurbished Fitness Centre and Massage Therapy and splendid gardens.
I wandered downstairs to the gym and massage rooms. This is not a spa but they do offer some treatments. Helena gave me a 90-minute hot stone massage, which was fantastic!
Union Bank Inn, one of Edmonton’s premier hotels, is located in the center of Edmonton in the historic building formerly known as the Union Bank of Canada. This lovely downtown, luxury boutique hotel offers luxurious accommodations, elegant dining and three distinct facilities, featuring the Giverny Ballroom, Devonshire Room and the Vintage Room for complete weddings and special events. All 34 designer guest rooms and suites include fireplaces, in-room coffee, fleece robes and more. Amenities include flat-screen TVs and Wi-fi.
For more information on Edmonton, Alberta’s best kept secret, visit www.exploreedmonton.com