Big City Tales

Canada’s National Music Centre Strikes the Right Chord

August 9, 2018
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The story of music in Canada is a long and celebrated tale that encompasses many unique “Made in Canada” technological advances along with a host of amazingly talented artists who have made a mark in their home and native land and around the world. From the trailblazers that introduced a new sound/vibe or instrument to the established artists that have proudly reached the top of the charts time and again, Canada’s National Music Centre (NMC) strikes the right chord in showing off all aspects of the country’s rich musical heritage.

Housed in the stunning Studio Bell building in Calgary, Alberta’s trendy East Village district, the distinctive architecture was inspired by the vast Canadian landscape and the curved intricacy of musical instruments. The entire complex consists of a series of nine towers that interlock and are connected by an inner walkway. The sleek exterior look of the five-storey Studio Bell tower continues inside with 226,000 custom glazed terracotta tiles adorning the walls that gleam in shades of metallic and earthen tones thanks to plenty of windows that let in natural light.

The NMC features both permanent and temporary exhibitions that are displayed in 22 gallery areas fittingly referred to as “stages.” Three of the galleries are Halls of Fame that pay homage to their respective inductees such as the Barenaked Ladies and Steven Page, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, k.d. lang, Anne Murray, and many, many others. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame has honoured a total of 52 musical acts (bands and solo artists) since it was established in 1978. In addition to plaques and pictures, the exhibition space contains clothing and instruments donated by inductees.

One of the NMC’s popular temporary exhibitions is the Milestones gallery that is dedicated to the artist/band chosen by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In 2017, Sarah McLachlan was the rightful honouree and many of her other awards, personal quotes and the instruments she plays were part of the display.

Showcase is another temporary exhibition space that attracts a lot of attention. In 2017, the incredible career of Tom Cochrane was recognized in light of the 25th anniversary of his iconic song Life is a Highway being released. The exhibit included some of Cochrane’s concert attire and his guitars, along with numerous awards, and anecdotal video clips.

Be it plugged in or unplugged, sound in all of its variations is a major aspect of the NMC. The Sound Affects gallery includes one of Elton John’s old upright pianos and offers a demo of the famous Kimball Theatre Organ used to accompany silent films in the 1920s. The Unplugged gallery features the drum set used to record the original Hockey Night in Canada theme song, and the Plugged In gallery contains TONTO, the world’s largest analog synthesizer used by the likes of Stevie Wonder to record his albums back in the day.

Highly visual and interactive galleries such as Soundscapes and The Musical Mind provide opportunities for appreciating the connection between sound and sight, and discovering some interesting music/mind facts. Playing/experimenting with instruments in designated areas around the NMC is also very much encouraged!

Canada certainly has a lot to be proud of when it comes to the breadth of stellar musical acts it has generated. The Idols & Icons gallery is a decade by decade overview of some of the country’s most beloved and well known solo artists and bands. It truly is a music fan’s dream to see artifacts collected from the concert performances of the likes of Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, Jann Arden, Michael Buble, Randy Bachman, and Corey Hart to name but a few.

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Getting Some Culture in the ‘City of Champions’

February 7, 2013
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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.

Culture Comes in Many Forms

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.

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

The Fringe

The Fringe celebrates 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.

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

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.

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

Art & Architecture

For those who prefer looking at paintings over watching plays, 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.

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The Art Gallery of Alberta is a unique work of art and a wonder of architecture 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.

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Edmonton’s City Hall is known for its glass and steel pyramid that towers high in the sky.

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.

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In 2012, the Alberta Legislature celebrated its centennial anniversary in fine style and the grounds looked lovely.

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!

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The historic High Level Bridge spans the North Saskatchewan River and connects downtown with the University district and trendy Whyte Avenue.

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.

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

River Valley

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.

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

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!