Edmonton For First Time Visitors

There is a great sense of community pride here

Edmonton For First Time Visitors

Edmonton is the capital of Alberta. Rivalry between Edmonton and its neighbour to the south, Calgary, is almost legendary. However for those who have anything more than a surface knowledge of the two cities, comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges, so the rivalry is somewhat pointless. Calgary is a city of head offices and oil and gas management, while Edmonton is home to government and bureaucrats, and there is also a lot of academic knowledge and technical expertise here. Though Calgary has the management, the oil wells are much closer to Edmonton and the field personnel, scientists and technicians tend to live here. This all means that the two towns have a very different feel to them, though of a similar age. Edmonton seems older and more established. Maybe this is because more of its earlier buildings and history have been preserved. There is a great sense of community pride here.

For over 5,000 years prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, the nomadic Plains Indians had lived and hunted in what became the Edmonton area. Edmonton House was founded as a Hudson's Bay Company fort in 1795, and was built next to Fort Augustus that belonged to their rival the North West Company. At the time Edmonton House (as the fort was initially known as) was founded, the Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company was a man called Tomlinson; Edmonton was the place in England that he came from. The forts were fur trading posts and were not built for defense purposes. Over the next 35 years the forts were relocated on several occasions until the permanent site of Fort Edmonton was established as one fort in 1830. The North West Company had been merged with the Hudson Bay Company in 1821.The fort remained on this site until it was demolished in 1915 to make way for the Provincial Legislature building.

In 1870 the Government of Canada bought the land from the Hudson's Bay Company and opened it up to pioneers. In 1891 the Canadian Pacific Railway branch line from Calgary reached Edmonton and the following year Edmonton was incorporated as a town. When gold was discovered in the Yukon in 1897, Edmonton was the place many people set out from, as it was the last town of any size before starting on the long journey to the Klondike. Many were lured to Edmonton by false stories of a trail leading from Edmonton to Dawson City in the Yukon, and died in the search for the bogus trail. Others returned and settled in Edmonton. In 1904 Edmonton was incorporated as a city. When the Province of Alberta was founded in 1905 Edmonton was, by then, Alberta's largest community, and this combined with its central location made it the obvious selection to be the provincial capital.

In the 20th Century Edmonton and the communities nearby grew into a metropolitan area with a population of nearly one million people. As well as people of British origin, many of the earlier settlers had German and Ukrainian backgrounds. In the years following World War II Edmonton really developed as more and more oil wells were discovered. Edmonton was also a major transportation centre, and the development and mapping of the country to the far north was largely undertaken by air, using Edmonton as a base. In the 1970s when oil prices skyrocketed, Edmonton grew and the skyline changed to one of modern steel and glass towers. Today Edmonton is more culturally diverse than ever, and is seeking a broader economic base to avoid over-dependence on the oil industry.

Edmonton is usually warm and sunny in summer, and tends to be several degrees warmer than Calgary and places in or closer to the Rockies, especially in the evening. The growing season is longer here, so spring comes earlier than in the mountains and the first frost of the fall is usually much later. Winters are cold and rarely experience the moderating chinook winds that South Western Alberta benefits from. However there is a wide variety of indoor leisure facilities, the ski hills at Jasper are fairly close, and you can always catch a NHL hockey game from the legendary Edmonton Oilers. Spring is pleasant, and it is always a wonderful sight to see the grass and vegetation in the area change rapidly from post-winter brown to a luscious green. Autumn is stunning with magnificent fall colours in the beautiful river valley that frames the downtown skyline.

The Alaska and Yellowhead Highways transverse Edmonton, and so there are easy road links to the rest of North America. Bus Lines connect from Edmonton to other major Canadian centres and to the U.S.A. Edmonton is served by Via Rail Canada's Trans-Canada train service. Edmonton has a large international airport with service from all major Canadian cities as well as smaller regional airports in Alberta and British Columbia. There are also frequent flights from several large U.S. cities as well as to a few cities in Europe and the U.K.

The Muttart Conservatory is located on the other side of the river from the downtown core. It consists of five glass houses that are shaped like pyramids. Three of the pyramids have a theme, and support plants from a different ecosystem. The themes are tropical, arid and temperate. Another pyramid houses the show pavilion and is used for changing exhibitions including annual displays of Easter lilies, orchids, African violets and bonsai. The smaller fifth pyramid features an art gallery.

It is a very accurate re-creation of Edmonton at various stages in its history. Each stage in history has its own part of the park. A replica of the 1846 Hudson's Bay fur-trading fort has been carefully constructed. Next to the fort is a reconstruction of the town of Edmonton as it was in 1885. When you see the 19th Century version of Jasper Avenue it is hard to imagine that this was how today's street once appeared. If you walk along the wooden sidewalks you can go into examples of stores and businesses of the time including a fascinating pharmacy, a newspaper office and a schoolhouse.

Edmonton as it was in 1905, when the city became the provincial capital, is also represented. You can travel on an original Edmonton streetcar of the era, as well as walk down a street of that time with a bank, police station and shooting gallery amongst many other things. There is also a genuine steam train from the early 20th Century when Edmonton became a major railway centre. The 1920 community is depicted with many interesting features, including a mosque, a candy store and a soda fountain. Throughout the park appropriately costumed interpreters will demonstrate various activities, games and trades of the time. Audience participation is encouraged.

Edmonton's most famous attraction is undoubtedly the West Edmonton Mall, claimed to be the largest shopping mall in the world. In area it covers over 48 hectares and is on two levels, the mall is almost a self-contained city. Whatever your opinion on commercialism, you will be impressed to some degree by the vastness of the mall. There are more than 800 stores and services here. While the selection of goods available is almost overwhelming, and you can shop till you drop; what really sets this mall apart is the entertainment and leisure facilities.

The Galaxyland amusement park features more than 25 rides and attractions. There is a hair-raising triple-loop roller coaster called the Mindbender, and there is also the Drop of Doom - a 13-story free-fall ride - all this is housed within the mall. But the spectacular attractions don't stop here. There is a NHL-sized ice rink in the centre of mall, and an 18-hole miniature golf course. An area called Deep Sea Adventure has a life-size replica of Christopher Columbus's ship the Santa Maria and you can even take a ride in a real submarine. There are live dolphin presentations, and the Sea of Life Caverns that contain over 100 species of marine life including sharks and penguins. Above all others, the most amazing feature in the mall has to be the World Water Park. This is the world's largest indoor wave pool, and gives the impression of being at the ocean on a tropical beach. You can surf here, and there are a great variety of water activities, including an extensive network of water slides. There is even bungee-jumping available.

Old Strathcona is a historic area on the south side of Edmonton. It was originally the town of Strathcona and was a separate community, being incorporated by Edmonton in 1912. Fortunately for the Edmonton community, many of Strathcona's historical buildings have been preserved. Some of these date back to 1891. In the residential part of Strathcona there are around 75 houses, all built prior to 1926 (in Western Canada, significantly old), and in the old commercial district some 40 buildings of historical interest. From 105th Street eastward, 82nd Avenue has been once again named Whyte Avenue (its original name prior to the time when streets were numbered) and the sidewalks are made of brick with old-fashioned style street lamps interspersed along the avenue. There are many attractions and activities such as pavement caf├ęs and restaurants, shops to browse in and street performers. All this makes Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona well worth a visit. This area is particularly interesting during Edmonton's annual Fringe Theatre Festival held in Strathcona.

The Edmonton Space and Science Centre has the largest planetarium in Canada and this has a variety of programs about outer space and the solar system. There are also laser shows set to rock music held in the theatre. The Space and Science Centre has a great selection of models, games and exhibits. On display is the famous Bruderheim Meteorite that landed near Edmonton in 1960. During the weekend you can take a mock space shuttle Challenger mission. There is also the Dow Computer Lab. Like many similar museums in Canada, there is an IMAX theatre that has a program of science-oriented movies especially made for the IMAX process.

The Provincial Museum of Alberta was built as a Centennial project to mark Canada's 100th anniversary in 1967. It has a fine location overlooking the river valley and is surrounded by a park full of sculptures. This museum is designed to reflect Alberta's heritage. There are four galleries with different themes. They are all worth visiting and have much to offer everybody. The Habitat Gallery displays birds and animals in natural settings appropriate to various regions in the province. The Natural History Gallery has exhibits of plants and animals from prehistoric times to the present day. There is a large fossil display here. The Human History Gallery deals with European and non-native settlement in Alberta. Of particular merit is the Aboriginal Culture Gallery that tells the history of 500 generations of Alberta's native people. Their lives and culture are carefully documented and displayed in a fascinating way.


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