Throughout my life, Edmonton has taken a beating from detractors who implied that my hometown was a cultural wasteland. We've been the butt of many jokes for too long, so I've decided to take a stand. I'm here to prove to you that Edmonton is the place to visit.
1. Despite the little sign coming down, we are still the ‘City of Champions.’
My hometown has the Oilers and the Eskimos. While the Oilers are currently in the midst of reshuffling and trying to find their way back into making the NHL playoffs, they are still a dynasty team. Remember the 1980s? There's hockey history in Edmonton.
The Eskimos, our CFL team, are one of the most successful teams in Grey Cup history. If you haven't attended a CFL game before, you are in for a treat. No matter who the Eskimos play, everyone has a wonderful time at Commonwealth Stadium. And, when the Saskatchewan Roughriders come to town, you are guaranteed a good show—and I'm not just talking about the football.
We have also been home to the NLL Champions, the Edmonton Rush and a successful baseball franchise from the Canadian Independent Minor League by the name of the Edmonton Capitals (another championship winning franchise).
If you visit during hockey season, try to catch the University of Alberta Golden Bears’ men’s hockey team or the ladies’ team, the Pandas. It’s great fun for a low price. One general ticket grants you access to any seat in Clare Drake Arena, and you can join in the CIS League fun by cheering for a top notch university squad. Tickets aren’t hard to obtain, and won’t empty your wallet as quickly as a ticket to the Oilers’ new venue, Rogers Place.
The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology also boasts the Ooks, another top-notch team in Edmonton. Gold medal winning netminder Shannon Szabados was once a member of this particular squad’s men’s team.
2. It's not just a shopping mall!
It used to be the biggest mall in the world a generation ago, but is still going strong. West Edmonton Mall is still home to quite a few major retail chains like FCUK, Sketchers, Sephora, Lululemon and MAC.
If you're not interested in shopping, visit WEM's Bourbon Street for a bite. There are several restaurants there to satisfy any palate, and you can top off dinner by catching an act at the Comic Strip. This venue has hosted quite a few interesting lineups of comedians.
Scotiabank Theater is another place to go if you want to see a film or a live screening of a Broadway play or work by Shakespeare. They have an arcade inside if you need to kill some time before the show begins!
The Wild West shooting gallery is for people itching to pull the trigger. They boast an impressive collection of firearms and a lot of fun if you've never held a gun before—just handle it responsibly.
WEM's classic fixtures, the Ice Palace, the Sea Lion Experience, Sea Life Caverns and Galaxyland are still around to entertain everyone. Where else can you go skating, ride a rollercoaster and visit sea lions? Oh, and don't forget to check out the Santa Maria, a real pirate ship! (And for all you movie buffs, parts of “Good Luck Chuck” were filmed here as well.)
3. The city has a lot going on
We are known as ‘Festival City’ for a reason. There's always something going on, no matter the season.
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival is one of my favorites because you get to see local art, alternative theater and much more. It's a place where you can let your inner weirdo out and enjoy yourself.
The theme changes every year and keeps things fresh and interesting. Visit the booths and you can purchase a hand-crafted souvenir. The best part is that you only have to pay a small donation to get in.
The Edmonton International Jazz Festival is always a hit with citizens and tourists alike. Jazz enthusiasts from our Edmonton Jazz Society have put on this multi-venue festival since 2005, and every year is a treat. Many well-known jazz musicians have performed at this event.
The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is also a delight. Gallagher Park, South of the North Saskatchewan River, is always packed with fans and enthusiasts alike. Since its inception in 1980, notable names like Pat Benetar, Van Morrison, K.D. Lang, Ricky Scaggs and Feist have graced our humble stage.
If you’re a Shakespeare enthusiast like me, then you simply must attend the Freewill Shakespeare Festival in June. Every summer, two of the Bard’s plays are performed at the Heritage Amphitheater in Hawrelak Park. This year’s event features Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labors Lost. It’s a pay-as-you-will event, so you won’t have to pay a lot to enjoy Shakespeare.
When the Edmonton Street Performers Festival takes over Churchill Square, you are transported to an alternate universe where there are jesters on every corner. You can see juggling acts, people in costume and even some musical acts while you walk around.
A Taste of Edmonton is another favorite where you can sample the best that Edmonton's restaurants have to offer in Churchill Square. There are food trucks galore, and you can satisfy any craving in one sitting. Edmonton is home to many non-chain restaurants, and it gives them a chance to reach out and attract business.
Heritage Days is also excellent because it brings everyone together like the multicultural mosaic that we are. There are booths set up all over Hawrelak Park from many different nationalities. You can experience ethnic dance performances, traditional music and many different kinds of food.
October is a special month in Edmonton, and it’s not just about Halloween celebrations. The Edmonton International Film Festival is also featured here. Local filmmakers, and even some well-known ones, grace the red carpet and give our city a special treat with their creations.
Last year, Hyena Road was the biggest feature there, and Actor/Director Paul Gross (the Mountie from Due South) greeted fans and regaled us with the story behind his film. This is definitely the must-see event of the fall!
Edmonton hosts Ice on Whyte, where local artists take chainsaws to ice and create brilliant ice sculptures that they then display. It's fun for the entire family.
Around Christmas, the Festival of the Trees is always a delight. The children get to see different gingerbread houses, visit Santa and write to him and visit featured booths that change every year.
There're also live performances, whether it's school bands or children's choirs, so you can enjoy a medley of Christmas carols and maybe even sing along.
Bright Lights at Hawrelak Park is one of our city’s returning favorites. For a donation to Edmonton’s Food Bank, you can drive through the park and see wonderful displays of Christmas Lights.
4. Culture? We have you covered!
We have four venues that cater to the performing arts:
The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium is home to many different styles of performances. It's the place to go for intimate concerts (Ringo Starr, the Barenaked Ladies, Alan Doyle, Mark Knoepfler and Meat Loaf to name a few), Broadway productions (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Cats, and Wicked) and even some major opera performances are also housed here.
The Frances Winspear Center is the place to go to see the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. I am always blown away by their talent and character, plus the acoustics at the center are amazing!
The Edmonton Citadel Theater is a great venue for local and international independent plays. We have a regular fixture, A Christmas Carol, that returns with the same cast every year around Christmas. It's always a hit and many Edmontonians make it a Christmas tradition.
The last venue is the newly renovated Varscona Theater. It houses many of the independent productions you can see during the Edmonton Fringe Festival, and is also a place for up-and-coming thespians to hone their craft. Does the name Nathan Fillion ring a bell?
5. Telus World of Science
Some might say that TWOS is just a museum, while others see it as just a place with an IMAX theater. I would say that it is much more than that. If you love science, this is the place to visit.
It's boasted a few world class events like “Body Worlds” and “Beyond Rubik's Cube.” The current feature, the “Sherlock Holmes Exhibition,” chose Edmonton as their only stop in Canada. In the past, TWOS have had forensics exhibits, the “Star Wars” exhibit, the “Indiana Jones” exhibit and many more to satisfy curious Edmontonians.
TWOS is much more than a museum or an IMAX theater—it's a science wonderland.
6. Interactive and historical fun for all ages!
If you're a history buff, then Edmonton has a few places to satisfy your curiosity. Fort Edmonton Park is a local fixture that transports you back to the early days of Edmonton.
As you travel along old Edmonton, you will learn interesting things about our past from the guides and employees who dress in authentic period costumes.
They often host a murder mystery night, where adults can have fun solving the crime while they learn about the actual events. It's interactive fun with a grown-up twist.
Children love the interactions they have with the guides, and are enthralled by the rich history here. They also enjoy the sleigh rides that are offered here around Christmas.
Another place to go is the Ukrainian Historical Cultural Center, which is about 30 minutes or so outside of Edmonton. Here, you are transported back to the days of the early Ukrainian immigrants, some of the hardest working people ever to settle in Alberta.
Like Fort Edmonton, there are historical buildings and employees dressed in period clothing. This is the place where you get to experience what it was like to sit in a one-room schoolhouse and make homemade pirogies with Baba.
Your guide will take you around the compound and you’ll learn a lot about what life was like in the past for these wonderful people. You will also get a lesson in culture and feel like you've become one of them for a day. What more could you ask for?
I do not work for Edmonton's Board of Tourism, but I encourage everyone to visit the city I call home. It may not be big like Toronto or Vancouver, but Edmonton has character and you will have a great time.
If you're still dragging your heels, then you don't know what you are really missing because this city has been overlooked for far too long. The next time you plan a vacation, tell the popular destinations to wait their turn and give Edmonton your full enthusiasm.
Have you visited Edmonton? Share your experience and favorite sites with us!