No Joke: Lots to Like About Edmonton

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Story courtesy staff

EDMONTON — As I stood waiting for a tour of this city’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood last Monday, I struck up a conversation with a travel writer from Calgary.

“I guess since you’re from Toronto we can both make jokes about Edmonton,” she said.

I don’t think she meant anything by it, but there’s no doubt this town takes its fair share of abuse. I don’t know why people make jokes about a city that they think is somehow lesser than theirs, I really don’t.

Okay, there’s that superiority bit that some folks in Toronto have. I get it from people who live downtown and think my house at Yonge and Lawrence is in the sticks. Of course, people who live in Barrie think I live RIGHT DOWNTOWN, so it’s all relative.

This city isn’t Toronto and it isn’t Montreal. So we’ll get that straight. But so what? We don’t need another Toronto or another Montreal.

At the risk of being fitted out for Pollyanna pigtails, I really hate it when Toronto folks joke about other cities. It’s isn’t becoming and it should be beneath us.

I think that, by and large, most Torontonians love Vancouver. We adore St. John’s and Halifax and we wish we had Calgary’s mountains and Quebec’s old streets.

Okay, Edmonton’s urban form isn’t what it could be. The downtown reminds me of, say, Yonge and Finch with its spotty development and towers that stand beside underused buildings or Subway restaurants.

But the people I’ve met are friendly as all get out. An elderly woman in a wheelchair spent five minutes on the Jasper Avenue bus yesterday telling me jokes about doctors telling nuns they’re pregnant to stop them from having the hiccups, and an old one that made me laugh about what you call a dwarf psychic that escapes a mental hospital, the answer being “a small medium at large.”

The bus drivers are all helpful as can be, explaining how many stops there are to get me where I want to go, and there’s quite a bit of diversity in the town; Indians with turbans in business suits, Asian kids playing outdoor chess with giant black-and-white pieces on Winston Churchill Square downtown, and aboriginal families enjoying a picnic in the park.

There are cowboys in funky hats playing guitar on the street corner and singing mournful songs, and there’s plenty of good shopping and they don’t make you line up at a government liquor store to buy a bottle of wine.

Hey, Toronto, they also have a Thai food truck selling — wait for it — pad thai and curry and all sorts of goodies, and nobody seemed to be lying in the gutter clutching their stomachs and dying of food poisoning. If Edmonton and other cities around the world can sell lunches not entirely comprised of hot dogs, so can we.

The sky is gorgeous out here; big and deep and wide and blue. And I found some pretty nice shops down in Old Strathcona, as well as taking a short but fantastic ride on an old trolley that rattles over a bridge high above the wide and lovely Saskatchewan River.

I was out here for the Canadian Tourism Commission’s annual Go Media conference, where journalists and tourism folks mix and mingle (often at the same time and without an official licence) and talk about what’s new in the biz. 

The Edmonton tourism folks put on a tremendous welcome reception Monday night at the Art Gallery of Alberta, a wavy glass structure that looks like a Frank Gehry project. There were native drummers in deep blue costumes thumping out some magnificent beats in the giant atrium, and opera singers clad in shimmering white singing from an open balcony area on the second floor.

There wasn’t a ton of food but they had pasta and some Alberta beef and plenty of beer and wine, so they obviously knew what the journalists in the crowd were most worried about.

I went in to check the gallery exhibits for a brief bit near the end of the reception and found some cool art, including videos and urban art and even a strange (for an old Toronto City Hall correspondent)  exhibit of old Toronto municipal election posters, including what looks (at the top) to be an early version of Art Eggleton, the Senator and former Toronto mayor.

Vicky is the worldly publisher of Having graduated from McGill University in Montreal, she has set about building a talented team of travel experts to deliver to you words and images of the very best places to see and experience in Canada. Based in Yorkville in Toronto, Vicky regularly jet sets around Canada — be sure to catch up with her when she's in your part of the country.

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