Story by Patricia Dawn Robertson
EDMONTON, ALBERTA — Like many established Western Canadian settlements, Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood had its origins as a railway town. You can still see the heritage traces in the character district’s well-preserved late Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
Old Strathcona is the heartbeat of the city’s arts scene, because it plays host to the annual Edmonton Fringe Festival. Outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, this is the oldest fringe festival in the world. Thanks to the thespian effect, this dynamic entertainment district boasts 100 restaurants, nine local theatre company venues and dozens of independent retailers.
Whyte Avenue (82nd Avenue), the historic neighbourhood’s central artery, was named after Sir William Whyte, superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) from 1886-1897. In 2013, Vacay.ca listed the thoroughfare among Canada’s Top 20 Streets.
Locals also call it The Blue Mile after it became the central street where Edmonton Oilers fans came to celebrate when the team made its run for the Stanley Cup in 2006. The Strathcona Hotel (10302 – 82nd Avenue) is the most prominent landmark in the area. The local gathering hole was constructed in 1891 by the CPR.
On weekends, its cheap draft beer and pickled eggs attract students blowing off steam from the University of Alberta. Whyte Avenue is undoubtedly the chosen stomping grounds for Edmonton’s hip and cool locals. The Metterra Hotel provides the perfect setting where you can stage your travel experience in this dynamic Boho neighbourhood. The modern boutique hotel offers a complimentary breakfast every morning from 6:30-9 am on the mezzanine level so you can fill up on scrambled eggs and waffles before you explore Whyte Avenue’s retail stroll.
After breakfast, the wide expanse of the lively street beckons. If you’re keen to find that perfect ensemble that no one else at home will be able to replicate, walk over to 10416 – 82nd Avenue. Oak + Fort’s collection is well-priced, elegantly crafted and simple. It’s aimed at all ages of style mavens who crave comfort and clean lines. The racks are displayed according to colour categories so you can mix and match your favourite pieces.
The Wee Book Inn is just up the block at 10310 82nd Avenue. This tidy used bookstore has great little gems on display in its window, including a copy of the graphic novel Capote in Kansas. On the same side of the street at 10442 – 82nd Avenue you’ll find a wonderful indie music store complete with a wide selection of epic and new vinyl releases and CDs. Blackbird Myoozik lures passersby with the humble crate of vintage vinyl in its store window. If you loved Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, this is your scene. Classic Paul Simon LPs are displayed in neat rows next to new music by The Black Keys.
Remedy Cafe is the perfect place to stop for a break and indulge in homemade chai tea with a gluten-free cookie (10404 – 82nd Avenue). Pull up a chair at the window counter and enjoy the urban scenery as you sip your tea and peruse a copy Edmonton’s indie weekly, Vue Weekly, to create plans for your evening.
If you’re keen to bring home some unusual gifts from your travels, there are three very cool shops on Whyte Avenue from which to choose. When Pigs Fly will draw you in with its whimsical blue awning (10470 – 82nd Avenue). Inside you’ll find enough wind chimes, garden elves and moo cows to suit your fancy. For those who favour postcards over email greetings, Chicken Scratch celebrates snail mail with wonderful stationary offerings, greeting cards and journals (10466 – 82nd Avenue). If you want to support fair-trade products, Ten Thousand Villages (10432 – 82nd Avenue) is a treasure trove of handcrafted jewelry, knick-knacks and pottery.
Right next to the Metterra Hotel is the popular Vietnamese Sub (10460 – 82nd Avenue). The multi-layered beef satay French bread sub is both filling and tasty and costs about $7. After a quick bite, it’s time to get back to exploring Whyte Avenue.
If you crave an early-afternoon pint, the Pourhouse Bier Bistro offers a wide variety of microbrewed products. Located at 10354 – 82nd Avenue, it’s the perfect place to meet someone for a drink and a catch up.
A quick nap at the hotel will boost you for your next phase of enjoyment, sampling some of the local cuisine. Packrat Louie is found just off the street at 10335 – 83rd Avenue. It boasts a stellar wine list to accompany its nouvelle cuisine.
For starters, enjoy some Duck Carpaccio ($14) and split a Caesar Salad ($11). The Arctic Char ($28) and the Halibut ($32) are both fresh and well-seasoned. A nice Pino Gris is a good choice for the fish course. The lemon tart ($8) makes a fine palate cleanser. If your sweet tooth craves a more sugary concoction, the gingerbread crème brûlée is smooth and creamy.
I suggest you follow up your dinner with an art house film to entertain you on a Saturday night (10337 – 82nd Avenue). The Princess Theatre is the perfect venue to see the latest independent release. Built in 1915, this glorious cinema’s historic marquee will draw you into surroundings that are lush and elegant. If you’re still game for more fun, why not discuss the film at the cozy Accent European Lounge? You can find it just off Whyte Avenue at 8223-104 Street NW.
After a full day, it’s time to head back to your hotel. This pedestrian-friendly district is safe for night-walking. As you stroll along Whyte Avenue and enjoy the festive twinkle lights gracing the trees, the Old Strathcona neighbourhood assumes the glamour of its Late Victorian origins.
Patricia Dawn Robertson is an independent journalist and organic farmer based in rural Saskatchewan.
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