Big City Tales

Getting Some Culture in the ‘City of Champions’ | February 7, 2013

Image of church in Old Strathcona.

The Old Strathcona district plays host to Edmonton’s annual and highly popular International Fringe Theatre Festival.

Once upon a time the city of Edmonton, Alberta was well-known for producing championship winning teams in both the Canadian Football League (CFL) and National Hockey League (NHL).

With a total of 13 CFL Grey Cup titles, the Edmonton Eskimos football team ranks as one of the league’s most successful teams, and one of its most impressive dynasties in winning the Grey Cup five times in a row between 1979 and 1982.

The city’s other sports dynasty to be reckoned with in the 1980s was the Edmonton Oilers hockey club. During this period, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup five times and the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, and Glenn Anderson became household names and local heroes.

Some 30+ years later, the city’s haul of professional sporting championships has dwindled, but even though the lustre of the ‘City of Champions’ mantra has faded, the city’s cultural scene continues to shine brightly.

Lunchbreak statue at Churchill Square in Edmonton.

One of many public art installations around Sir Winston Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton.

From museums to art galleries, to folk festivals and symphonic concerts, to improv theatre and street buskers, there is no shortage of cultural activities to take in throughout the year.  But it is the summer months when live theatre enthusiasts from near and far flock to Alberta’s fair provincial capital, particularly mid-to-late August when the annual Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival (a.k.a. ‘The Fringe’) takes place in the historic Old Strathcona district.

Image of Fringe posters from the past.

The Fringe is a ‘colourful’ two-week celebration, and decorative posters from the past add to the festivities.

The Fringe is a two-week celebration of a variety of theatrical mediums, including improv, comedy, drama, and mystery productions staged in both indoor and outdoor venues. The festival also features a large offering of street performers, such as acrobats, musicians, magicians, puppeteers and other acts eager to display their talents and earn audience applause, as well as a few dollars for their efforts.

Image of Fringe street performer.

Street performers come to The Fringe from around the world. This extreme cyclist/juggler hails from Australia.

As summer festivals go, The Fringe is the largest of its kind in North America and for over 30 years has thrilled audiences with cutting-edge, world-class, unedited, and uncensored entertainment. Add in a picturesque setting that spreads over multiple city blocks (not far off of trendy Whyte Avenue and close to the University of Alberta campus), it’s not surprising that The Fringe is a much-beloved cultural institution in Edmonton.

If theatre isn’t your thing, the Art Gallery of Alberta in the city’s downtown core just east of Sir Winston Churchill Square and City Hall houses a collection of over 6,000 art pieces with both permanent installations and rotating exhibitions. Recently renovated, the building itself is a work of modernist architecture with interesting views from the street level and within its inner stairwell and exterior patio.

Image of Art Gallery of Alberta.

The Art Gallery of Alberta is a work of art in its own right.

More eye-appealing architecture is just around the corner at City Hall. Featuring two steel and glass pyramids, a 200-foot clock tower, and a water fountain, City Hall flanks the northern end of Sir Winston Churchill Square. It is a popular destination for the lunchtime business crowd, as well as weekend explorers.

Edmonton's City Hall is known for its glass and steel pyramids, as well as the adjacent Clock Tower.

Edmonton’s City Hall is known for its glass and steel pyramids, as well as the adjacent clock tower and water fountain.

For history buffs and followers of Alberta politics, a trip to the Legislature Building and surrounding grounds is a definite must. Standing 176 feet high and made with 1,100 tonnes of steel, the legislature’s elegant dome dominates the western end of the downtown skyline. Meanwhile, the immaculately landscaped grounds include a water fountain, a memorial garden, a bowling green, and an assortment of statues, plus a towering totem pole.

Image of Alberta Legislature building.

In 2012, the Alberta Legislature celebrated its centennial anniversary.

Not far from the Alberta Legislature is the iconic High Level Bridge connecting downtown Edmonton to the Old Strathcona district located across the North Saskatchewan River. Whether you cross the bridge by car, on foot, or on the High Level Bridge Streetcar, it is a marvel of construction that is designated as a Municipal Historic Resource. The High Level Bridge is also noteworthy for being the route to take from downtown to the High Level Diner, a local eating establishment that has gained wide acclaim for an array of mouth-watering comfort food menu items. Be prepared for a long line to get in, but your taste buds will thank you for waiting!

Image of the High Level Bridge.

The historic and iconic High Level Bridge spans the North Saskatchewan River.

Just west of the High Level Diner is the sprawling campus of the University of Alberta. Located in one of the city’s most established districts, the campus is dotted with fully grown trees along winding trails overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Walking around the grounds, you can’t help but feel inspired by the beauty of nature and the beauty of century-old buildings such as Rutherford House, the home of Alberta’s first premier, Alexander Rutherford. Built in 1911, the house is now a provincial historic site and is supported by the Friends of Rutherford Society, a non-profit group dedicated to the home’s long-term preservation.

Image of Rutherford House.

Rutherford House is located on the peaceful and picturesque University of Alberta campus.

The northern perimeter of the University of Alberta runs parallel with Edmonton’s River Valley, an extensive network of trails and parks where more natural beauty and historical gems abound. Chief among them is the Queen Riverboat, an old-fashioned paddle boat that sails day and night along the North Saskatchewan River and also offers a unique dining experience for those who enjoy partaking of a meal out on the open water.

Image of Queen Riverboat.

The Queen Riverboat operates day and night, offering a unique fine dining experience.

Whether setting sail on the river, enjoying the wonder of the great outdoors in the River Valley and university areas, feasting on a sumptuous plate of steaming diner food, crossing a historic bridge, milling about with political figures past and present, admiring the work of notable Western Canadian artists, or taking in a highly lauded theatre production, getting some culture in the ‘City of Champions’ is a sure thing. And, who knows, perhaps Edmonton’s sports teams will return to their glory days and the city’s winning ways will once again become a ‘sure thing’ as well!

Image of Ukrainian Famine monument.

The Ukrainian Famine monument at Edmonton’s City Hall.

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2 Comments »

  1. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

    I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?

    There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    Comment by professional video editing — July 17, 2013 @ 5:29 am

    • Hello Dean,

      Thanks for your feedback on my blog – I appreciate the compliment!

      As for your questions, I am actually an “aspiring writer” myself who tends to blog in fits and starts, which is not a recommended strategy when you’re trying to hone your craft and get noticed. Conventional wisdom is that whether you feel like it or not, you should write something EVERY DAY – even if it’s mundane and complete dribble! The point being, if you can get into the habit and create a routine for yourself then the words will then pour forth with greater ease and regularity. On that note, I am re-committing myself to a daily regimen of blog posts so wish me luck that I’ll be able to sustain this over the long-term.

      Re starting a website, until you’ve got a sure thing going, I think it’s smart to go with a free platform like WordPress (or a low cost option!)…the functionality and features might be limited, but at least you can get a grasp on the basics and go from there.

      Anyway, hope this helps and good luck with your writing ventures!

      Comment by harlenedbrown — July 17, 2013 @ 11:46 am


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