Edmonton sometimes seems like the Cinderella of Canadian cities, lost between the natural magnificence of Vancouver and the multicultural dazzle of Montreal. Yet beneath its under-the-radar travel persona lives a city just pleading to be discovered. It bursts with innovative cuisine, a green and plentiful cycle network that more than rewards the curious traveller, and a penchant for festivals.
Edmonton also reserves a place for homegrown talent, nurturing clowns and breakdancers from across Alberta. At the Edmonton Street Performers Festival, for 10 days curated street performers from across the world congregate in Sir Winston Churchill Square to dazzle the crowds with their live acts. It’s free to watch the show, you just pay what you feel you can at the end.
By day, this is a place for families and children. Workshops teach kids how to juggle and create a balloon dog (though not at the same time) and many acrobatic acts and clowns involve children drawn from the crowd. From the ones that grab your hand and don’t let go to those others who call out names while you’re not looking, it’s all one big gag reel with yours truly at the butt of the joke.
In the evening, there’s a “highlights” performance that picks the best moments from the day and is, perhaps, rather more adult oriented.
As with any self-respecting festival, vans line up to sell a range of calorie-defying treats. Expect corn dogs, chips and burgers, plus local delicacies like elephant ears and beaver tails. In terms of shopping, craft stalls occupy another side of the square, specialising in rainbow coloured bags and tunics and whimsical, whistling hanging charms. But it’s the performers who rightly steal the show with a range of incredible feats and derring-do. Expect stilts, clowns, gymnasts and ballet dancers from Australia, the UK, USA and beyond.
Canada has a reputation for being a friendly place, but with few exceptions, it’s extraordinary to notice how friendly indeed it is.
Back in the chrome and steel world of downtown, don’t miss the futuristic Art Gallery of Alberta, an architectural wonder in itself. If you can, come at sunrise or sunset to make the most of those swirling brushed silver curves. With a sturdy pair of shoes you can explore much of Edmonton’s downtown although you will need taxis to reach some of the more curious districts.
For a peek of Edmonton’s pioneer history, stroll past the Neon Sign Museum on 104 Street where curling letters illuminate the city’s not too distant past, and then stop over at hipster-bohemian Old Strathcona. Drawing inspiration from traditional barbecues, this light and airy eatery features low-slung benches, plenty of pulled pork and lashings of smoky barbecue sauce. Afterwards, walk off the meat with a browse along the vintage clothing stores and art boutiques or breathe in the literary dust of the second hand bookshops.
My own personal highlight was embracing the green side of the city by cycling along the riverbank at sunset, skyscrapers glinting in the distance.
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