What to See & Do in Edmonton?
Edmonton is the gateway to the province’s north, and celebrates its history as the jumping off point to the Klondike Gold Rush, and more recently the start of the Alaska Highway. the city has an amazing diversity of cultures and restaurants, hosts a summer full of festivals, is home to Canada’s largest shopping mall, and has no provincial sales tax, so what’s not to love?
Edmonton is a charming city of about 1,300,000 people. The Central attraction of
the city is the deep, wide North Saskatchewan River Valley that carves its way
through the city. Edmonton’s downtown overlooks the north bank of the river,
and its charming Old Strathcona historical and shopping & entertainment
district (and the well-regarded University of Alberta) overlooks the south bank.
Edmonton has historical charm, that Calgary seems to lack, because it grew into city status earlier. So there are lots of older buildings scattered around the downtown core, older charming and walkable neighbourhoods in the inner city (on both banks). Those who note it has smaller office towers, compared to Calgary, should realize that was because of height restrictions by the city’s former municipal airport just north of the downtown core, not for any business reason. To compensate, Edmonton has three downtowns: the civic one around City Hall, the business one where the office towers are clustered, and one clustered around the Provincial Legislature.
Edmonton’s modern downtown overlooks the beautiful river valley and its parklands on both shores. Edmontonians are proud of their city and its reputation as “Canada’s Festival City” with virtually non-stop summertime celebrations, which draw visitors from far and wide.
Edmonton is more famous for it being the home of the West Edmonton Mall, the
largest shopping mall in the world, with over 800 stores and services. The WEM is located in the city’s west end, and it seems all freeways point in its direction. The mall has the world’s largest parking lot, indoor wave pool, indoor waterslide, indoor rollercoaster, indoor navy (4 submarines and a couple of boats), to name a few “world’s bests.” There’s even a hotel in the Mall, as well as its own nightlife district (Bourbon Street) to make shopping even easier.
Nowadays, the Greater Edmonton Area encompasses a number of communities (in clockwise order): Namao to the north, Fort Saskatchewan to the northeast, Sherwood Park to the east, Leduc to the south, Devon to the southwest, Stony Plain and Spruce Grove to the west, and St Albert to the northwest.
Edmonton’s development began in 1795 when the Hudson’s Bay Company Trading Post was established. The North West Company arrived in Edmonton in 1804 and the two competed for plains Indian furs until their merger in 1820. Fort Edmonton became the major stopping point before pioneers headed up north or farther west end by 180s Edmonton became a settlement. The city boomed during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, as thousands of eager prospectors headed north, via the “All Canadian Route,” stopped in Edmonton for supplies.
Many people settled in Edmonton permanently and by 1904 Edmonton had 9,000 residents, when it was incorporated as a city, and declared the provincial capital of Alberta, which became a province in 1905. In 1912, Edmonton on the north side of the river and the town of Strathcona on the south amalgamated with a combined population over 53,000. The High Level Bridge was completed in 1913, creating another link between the north and south sides of Edmonton. The elegant Hotel Macdonald was completed in 1915.
In the 1930s, Edmonton continued to thrive as a northern business centre, and thee airport was jumping off point for bush planes. In 1942, the wartime construction of the Alaska Highway made the city became the major ground transportation and supply centre to the far north.
Oil was discovered in the Edmonton area shortly after World War II, near Leduc just south of Edmonton. The area around Edmonton became home to most of Alberta’s oil production and refinery capacity, giving Edmonton new status as the Oil Capital of Canada (even though most headquarter office towers are located in Calgary). Since the Arab Oil Boycott of 1973, the city has grown dramatically with an area population now around 1,100,000.
Whether it’s the botanical gardens, an art gallery or its beautiful riverside, Edmonton offers its visitors and residents lots to do every day of the week.
Edmonton lies on the Yellowhead Highway (#16), the northern Trans-Canada Highway. The route through town is basically a limited access expressway passing through Edmonton’s north-side suburbs. West of the city are Spruce Grove and Stony Plain with a number of fast food, gas, and accommodation options. Edmonton has three downtowns: the civic downtown around City Hall, the business downtown, around Jasper & 100 Street, and the provincial government downtown south of Jasper & 109th Street close to the Legislature building. West Edmonton Mall is best accessed via 170th Street, and as the world’s largest shopping mall (with a pile of other attractions and features built in) is well worth a detour.
Cyclists should avoid the Yellowhead through Edmonton, and detour south along Stony Plain Road, which also runs conveniently through Stony Plain and Spruce Grove, and jogs into downtown’s Jasper Avenue. Cross the North Saskatchewan Rive on the High Level Bridge connecting the Provincial Legislature with the University of Alberta campus (and importantly saves a big downhill and steep uphill climb). east of downtown follow 101 Avenue east (it becomes Baseline Road and the Township Rd 530) to Androssan. Access to/from the Yellowhead highway is via Range Road 222 though Androssan.