1. Sorry Toronto. We the North.
In 2014, a Toronto marketing duo came up with the slogan “We the North” to support the Raptors (Toronto’s NBA team) as they headed into the playoffs. However, given that we share a latitude with Dublin and Minsk, “Edmonton the North” is definitely more apt. We’re over a million strong compared to Anchorage’s 300,000, making us the largest, northernmost capital city in North America.
And on that note, don’t you forget it — Edmonton is the capital city of Alberta, not Calgary. And we have “the Leg” to prove it…
2. “The Leg” is more than just the Alberta Legislature Building.
Pronounced ledge, as in legislative. Done up Beaux-Arts style with a grand dome and marble pillars, the building that houses the Legislative Assembly of Alberta was completed in 1913. This isn’t some staid place where laws get made. Or rather, this isn’t just some staid place where laws get made.
The Leg is a beautiful Edmonton hub, with a new visitor center complete with an art gallery, 4D theater, and interpretive center. You can take free tours of the interior — because everyone should know why there’s a preserved burger in the library — or do as the locals do and hang out on the lawn, whiling away the summer hours watching the water fountains dance and dipping your feet in the wading pool. In winter, bring your ice skates and make the most of your time in one of the sunniest cities in the country.
3. This city looks for any excuse to party.
With one of the youngest populations of any major Canadian city, no one does festivals better than Edmonton. There are more than 60 festivals to celebrate throughout the year, from the second-biggest Fringe Theatre Festival on Earth to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival — it’s seen everyone from Joni Mitchell to David Byrne — to Symphony Under the Sky, to the Freewill Shakespeare Festival.
4. The Art Gallery of Alberta is world class.
We’ve got curves, and we’re proud of ‘em. It’s true that when the design for the Art Gallery of Alberta was unveiled, the public’s general reaction was, “What the heck is that?!” But on completion of the 85,000-square-foot, jaw-dropping superstructure, the reaction changed to, “Wow, would ya look at that?!”
The Gallery reflects the deep-rooted creativity in this city. All curves, light, and surreal angles designed to represent the bends of the North Saskatchewan River and the Northern Lights, it makes for one shapely formation in the center of Edmonton’s Arts District. Oh, and inside there are well over 6,000 works of art spread over three floors of exhibitions that cover everything from contemporary installations to Pre-Raphaelite pieces.
5. Edmonton has a pile of shiny balls that’s a constant source of chatter.
There’s public art all over Edmonton, and one of the best-known installations sits next to the Quesnell Bridge. Inspired by scree — the mass of broken rocks that can often be found in high-up places, like at the base of a cliff — the stainless steel Talus Dome has garnered a lot of attention (much of it controversial) since its creation. And that’s likely exactly what Los Angeles artists Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues hoped for. Public art is intended to attract many perspectives, after all.
6. There’s green space, and then there’s the North Saskatchewan River Valley.
Not that we’d want to, but we literally can’t get away from our River Valley. It’s the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America, 22 times bigger than Central Park, so no matter where you’re going you’ll probably end up in this pretty patch of green at some point.
Made up of at least 20 individual parks — and attractions like Fort Edmonton Park — the valley during the warmer months is a magnet for kayakers and SUP boarders, as well as joggers, cyclists, and hikers who take on the 100 miles of trails. In winter the green space turns white, and it’s all about tubing, snowshoeing, sledding, and skiing — both downhill and cross country — right in the middle of the city. Where else can you do that?
7. The Mac has the best views in town.
Officially it’s the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, but we affectionately call it the Mac or the Hotel Mac. We just about lost the opportunity to call it anything at all, though, because in the ‘80s it was destined for demolition. Thankfully, the City of Edmonton stepped in and had it designated a Municipal Historic Resource.
The Mac has seen kings, queens, and rock stars grace its grand rooms, and the view from the south-facing balcony is by far the fairest in all the land. From here you can take in the North Saskatchewan River and valley below, the University of Alberta’s entire campus, and, of course, Edmonton’s pyramids…
8. There are pyramids here.
That’s right, Edmonton has five pyramids…probably more than any place outside of Egypt.
The first four were built in 1976 and named after Edmonton entrepreneurs Merrill and Gladys Muttart. The resultant Muttart Conservatory comprises four botanical garden displays. Three of the pyramids house permanent biomes — arid, temperate, and tropical — while the fourth contains feature displays that change during the year. This is a great place for strolling among rare lilies, redwoods, birds of paradise…even a blooming Indonesian corpse flower, and for stopping in at the onsite cafe, where your salad greens are picked fresh from the greenhouse.
Edmonton’s fifth pyramid, designed by architect Gene Dub, juts skyward from the center of the new City Hall, built in 1992. We have a thing for polyhedrons, okay?
9. The ultimate weekend destination is just four hours west.
All year round, Jasper National Park is an adventurer’s playground. In summer its high mountain passes are strewn with wildflowers, streams, and pikas hiding among the rocks, and they’re made for the kind of multi-day backpacking trip that earns you major bragging rights. Check out the Skyline Trail — it’s easily one of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies. Or keep it relaxed and feel the sun’s warmth on your back as you join a SUP yoga class on Lake Edith or a canoe trip with Wild Current Outfitters.
In fall, one of the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky Preserves comes into its own. Lake Annette transforms into an amphitheater for stargazers, the night sky stealing the show as the Milky Way and aurora borealis shimmer overhead. Ski resort Marmot Basin opens mid-November and stays that way till spring, when the wildflowers come back, the bears emerge from their dens, and those awesome hiking trails open up again.
All this just a quick and easy four-hour drive from downtown Edmonton. It’s pretty much the perfect combination.
10. We like to get high between May and October…
…aboard the High Level Bridge Streetcar, that is. The top deck of the High Level Bridge stands 160 feet above water, and you feel every inch of that when you’re riding across one of the highest streetcar river crossings in the world. Linking Strathcona to Edmonton, the bridge was completed in 1913, and the $6 ride aboard an early-20th-century streetcar will take you from hip Old Strathcona to downtown, with three stops in between.
In 2013, the community had the bright idea to embark on a campaign to install 60,000 LED bulbs across the steel span. That campaign, Light the Bridge, was successful and now every night the bridge is illuminated in varying shades. And when the Oilers win their next Stanley Cup, we’ll all be watching them flash copper and blue…
11. There’s only one NHL team for us.
Long-time Edmontonians remember the glory days when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, and the “Boys on the Bus” brought home the Stanley Cup four times from 1983 to 1988, and then once more in 1990, two years after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Every Oilers fan alive during that time will remember where they were the exact moment they heard the Great One was no longer an Oiler.
The team has had more downs than ups since those days, but life has been breathed back into the fan base with a roster of young talent and a brand new arena, Rogers Place. Throw in the arrival of superstar Connor McDavid — or McJesus to Oilers fans — and it’s time the Cup came back to E-town.
12. We take pride in our nicknames.
We have a few nicknames. E-town is one of them. Festival City’s another, but YEG is the one that gets the most usage. YEG is the three-letter designation of our international airport, and it’s what the social-media-savvy people use to keep things short and simple. No other city in Canada has done more with an airport code than YEG — in fact, those three letters have become a brand. It’s on t-shirts, it’s part of group names and website domains. All YEG, all the time!
13. We do things on a grand scale.
When we build a mall, it’s not just any mall. Constructed to be the biggest in the world, and still the biggest in North America, home to the world’s largest indoor wave pool — West Edmonton Mall is a place so popular that on a busy day it’s the third largest city in Alberta.
And when we plan a national park less than an hour outside the city, we go big. We make sure it has a higher density of hoofed mammals than anywhere in the world outside of the Serengeti. That stat is thanks to all those plains and wood bison — nearly 1,000 altogether — as well as the hundreds of elk, 300 moose, and more white-tailed and mule deer than you’ve ever seen roaming the park. A dark sky preserve that’s also home to more than 250 species of birds, Elk Island is Canada’s largest enclosed national park, and it’s amazing.
14. Manhattan can keep its Milk Bar and Dominique Ansel bakeries.
Because we have the Duchess Bake Shop. An award-winning, über popular bakery on 124 Street, you really do have to eat here. Just get ready to stand in line. Since the day Duchess opened a lineup has formed, and it hasn’t eased up much.
Macarons, croissants, still-warm brioche pépins — it’s all delicious. In fact, in April 2015 Buzzfeed named Duchess one of the best bakeries in the world, right alongside macaron legends Pierre Hermé and Ladurée in Paris. Even superstar Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted that “as many pastries as I bring home from the Duchess, I never bring enough.” Nice. I wonder if he’s ever tried green onion cakes…
15. Green onion is the only kind of cake worth eating.
Edmontonians are nothing if not entrepreneurial, and the story of the green onion cake is proof of that. We first got a taste of this northern Chinese treat around 1980 thanks to Siu To, a recent immigrant who began serving them at his restaurant. The pan-fried pastries were an instant hit. He brought them to festivals, and the item soon appeared on restaurant menus around the city.
To this day, it remains a local favorite. So much so that in 2013, Salma Kaida, perhaps the most ardent cheerleader of the green onion cake, began a petition to have the treat proclaimed the official dish of Edmonton. It was such a hot topic that even the mayor weighed in to support the petition…
16. Mayor Don Iveson is just as cool as Trudeau.
We needed someone who could compete (coolness-wise) with Calgary’s mayor, Nenshi, and we got him. Becoming mayor in the same year that he put his support behind the great green-onion-cake debate (see above), Don Iveson is young, well-liked, and — green onion cakes aside — he doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff.
Sure, he wears some pretty spiffy threads, but he also brings some pretty spiffy ideas to the table, along with humility and a much-needed breath of fresh air to the political arena. He tweets, he wholeheartedly supports LGBT issues, he’s appeared in a music video, and one night he surprised the audience by showing up onstage with Rapid Fire Theatre’s improv troupe.
Go Iveson. Go Edmonton.