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Home to the Canadian Rockies, it’s even where they shot Brokeback Mountain! OutUK correspondent Adrian Gillan visits the province of Alberta for soaring peaks in Jasper and big city buzz in capital Edmonton!

Jasper - Maligne Lake Maligne Lake, Jasper. Courtesy: Travel Alberta.

Born out of Canada’s own Wild West - where outlaws, prospectors and trappers moved amongst native peoples before the British Empire took hold, naming the province after Victoria and Albert’s daughter – Alberta has emerged as tourist-beckoning home to the majestic Canadian Rockies, with lofty Jasper readily reached in 4 hours from ¾-million-thronging high-rise Edmonton!

EDMONTON

Dubbed Canada's “festival city”, Alberta’s capital Edmonton hosts thriving arts events all-year-round - most notably the internationally renowned folk and fringe theatre fests, both in August.

Perched on the snaking North Saskatchewan River, it also offers fine dining, eclectic districts and a compact scene.

 
 
  Edmonton skyline Edmonton. Courtesy: Travel Alberta.

To Stay

Modern, chic-yet-friendly boutique downtown style palace, the Matrix Hotel offers guest rooms and luxury suites - including 8 penthouse affairs complete with living room, fireplace and wet bar – and even throws in a hearty complimentary breakfast, plus sociable wine and cheese tasting (Mon-Sat), along with a business centre, fitness room and on-site parking. With some of the most attentive staff in the business, Matrix was ranked in the Top 10 Trendiest Hotels in Canada in the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards. Or, if you prefer something a tad more corporate there's always the Courtyard by Marriott Edmonton Downtown.

To Eat

For “new Canadian cuisine”, those staying at Matrix can just flit down to its contemporary fine-diner, Wildflower, whose wood-fired grills accentuate well-presented fresh food flavours. Try their scallops, lamb risotto then lemon tart!

For lighter fair, pop just over the river to local handsome charmer Brad Lazarenko’s Culina Muttart, which is part of the Muttart Conservatory, and is a relaxed modern café housed in the conservatory where fresh in-house greens set off soups, salads, sarnies and fresh-baked sundries. Veggies, vegans and the gluten intolerant rejoice! One big airy, leafy thrill – not least on the large patio!

To See ‘n Do

Some just visit Edmonton for its jumbo West Edmonton Mall - North America’s largest shopping and entertainment centre and Alberta’s top tourist attraction - featuring Waterpark, with deck-chaired beach and wave machine, Bourbon Street restaurant zone & Fantasyland Hotel with its fun themed rooms, plus rides, casinos, shops and so much more!


Downtown Edmonton Downtown Edmonton. Courtesy: Travel Alberta.
Those seeking deeper succour should head to the Art Gallery of Alberta on Sir Winston Churchill Square – a sizeable state-of-the-art showcase for international, Canadian and First Nations art, amidst award-winning architecture, not least its eye-catching zinc-clad frontage. What about catching an opera, ballet or big-stage show at the vast Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium – the resident Alberta Ballet a must!

Those into history should consider the Royal Alberta Museum - one of Canada’s finest cultural and natural history collections in the heart of Edmonton's downtown arts district, and take a free tour of the imposing and fascinating Alberta Legislature Building which is also known locally as "The Ledge". It's Alberta’s decision-making heart located in a quite stunning building.

Undoubtedly Edmonton’s most bohemian district, just south of the river, Old Strathcona was recently voted one of the Top 10 Coolest Neighbourhoods in Canada, with dozens of drink, food, dance and music options, mainly hubbed around Whyte (82nd) Ave - and is also designated a Provincial Historic Area on account of its several blocks of landmark properties dating from the early 20th Century! Laid back family fun by day; tad more raucous, and straight macho, by night! It also boasts several theatre groups – including the brilliant Catalyst Theatre company – plus a high concentration of independent boutiques and other businesses. Open Saturdays, year-round, 8am - 3pm, Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market provides “a touch of the farm in the heart of the city” – for all manner of locally produced food and crafts!

For another arty area, check out The Gallery Walk, just west of Downtown which hosts a clutch of galleries, restaurants, gift and fashion shops, bookstores and small theatres.

To get out and about, don a helmet and take a quick lesson and guided river valley tour (1hr or 1½ hr) on a segway which you can rent from River Valley Adventure gliding you through North America’s largest urban parkland that cuts a swathe through Edmonton. Fab café and patio too! Whilst down that way, pop into the distinctive pyramid-topped Muttart Conservatory to explore a steaming jungle, trek across a sun-baked desert, enjoy the changing seasons in a temperate forest and breath in the scents of a flowery meadow!

To Booze ‘n Cruise

Edmonton's gay scene is a tight-nestling area just West of central Downtown. Start at Evolution Wonderlounge Edmonton's LGBTQ2 dance club and performance venue with a focus on community partnerships and local talent. They have been working with the community for the community, since 2013 raising over $300,000 for local organisations and gay causes.


Downtown Edmonton
Edmonton Pride Parade
Photo: Kurt Bauschardt from Edmonton, Canada
CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Wonderlounge is home of regular drag and burlesque entertainment, the club has hosted guests like Chi Chi La Rue, Leslie Jordan, Lady Bunny, Rocco Steele, Brent Corrigan and many more. They have dance floors on Friday and Saturday, and trivia nights, karaoke, comedy and poetry nights on other evenings.

The Naked Cyber & Espresso Bar Edmonton opens at 10am every day having started life as a cyber cafe. It is now is very much a part of the Edmonton environment. Still restless? Then skip to Steamworks, the gay sauna that's housed over two levels, with steam room, private cabins and a whole lot more!

Community

The Pride Centre of Edmonton enriches and improves the lives of 2SLGBTQIA+ people, their allies, and the broader community in the Greater Edmonton area with a variety of programs and services. They also maintain a safe space that welcomes everyone who walks through their doors.

Rainbow Story Hub is a project which charts Edmonton's Queer History. It documents the stories, people, places and events that form the foundation Edmonton's LGBTQ2S+ community was built on. The Centre provides quality and timely care to the transgender, non-binary and gender diverse persons in northern Alberta. The Centre focuses on crisis support, outreach to individuals seeking healthcare, education opportunities for family doctors and other healthcare providers.

JASPER & THE ROCKIES

For a stark town-country contrast, take the mere 4-5 hours trek, due west of Edmonton, to Jasper - in the awesome eponymous Jasper National Park.

Minus a car, there are two main options for transferring between Edmonton & Jasper.

Pyramidal mountain and waterfall Athabasca
Pyramidal mountain and waterfall Athabasca.
Photo: kavram.
For comfort and glamour, VIA Rail does the route both ways as part of its mammoth 5-day Toronto-Vancouver haul. For sheer speed, take the daily SunDog Shuttle Bus.

However you travel, as you leave scraper-centred Edmonton, the horizon unfolds and then soon lifts you thousands of metres up, into the wildlife, peaks and lakes of the soaring 3000m-plus Rockies! The railroad first opened Jasper up to tourism in the early 20th Century, and its lofty lure pervades all-year-round – whether for snowy piste in winter or leafy walk come summer. Jasper itself is a tiny town in a big park - the perfect gateway and hub from which to adventure within the largest and most northerly Canadian Rocky Mountain National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To Stay

Slap bang in the heart of Jasper, Whistlers Inn exudes a cosy Canadian Rockies alpine air, offering 63 spacious rooms, many with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains. Soak in its outdoor, rooftop hot tubs after a hard day outdoors; or eat and drink in the local flavour of the adjoining Whistle Stop Pub - trying its onion soup, plus chilli lime chicken, all washed down with a tasty Kokanee beer!

To Eat

Attached to Whistler’s Inn, the window tables at Cassio’s Italian Restaurant look right out onto Jasper’s heritage train station and tad more distant lofty peaks. The friendly laid-back atmosphere perfectly accompanies real Italian cuisine using old family recipes and the freshest local ingredients. Try the smoked salmon, then mushroom/sausage risotto, plus chocolate almond tort - all washed back with some fine Canadian merlot!

The first brewery opened in a National Park, Jasper Brewing Co is the “go to” place to chill out and unwind. Fresh, modern, and innovative brews accompany a great menu too – try the calamari, plus lobster and cheese sandwich, all knocked back with their fab Rockhopper beer!

Anything this good must be Evil! Evil Dave’s Grill is a “funky, upbeat restaurant” where you can satisfy your hunger with “Holy Cow” tender beef strips starter, “El Diablo” chicken-with-rice main, and “Bread Head” banana cake finish! Wicked!

To See 'n Do

Explore wee Jasper itself: its little museum, and well-signed wilderness woods walk out from Old Fort Point to Lac Beauvert near the luxury Jasper Lodge golf course - watch out for bears en route in season!

SunDog Tours offers a range of year-round excursions. Try its interpretive tour up the remote Maligne Valley, including a stop at Maligne Canyon for a walk above the deep gorge; then at Medicine Lake; and then at Maligne Lake where you can enjoy a hike along the Mary Schaffer Loop (3.2km return). The trip is also an excellent opportunity to spy Jasper's wildlife including - depending on season and luck - the odd fox, coyote or wolf; sheep, goat or squirrel; deer, caribou, elk or iconic moose; eagle or osprey; bear, black or grizzly; or even - if miraculously blessed - cougar.

Take the hourly SunDog Tramway Shuttle bus from central Jasper (pick-up at 611 Patricia Street - ticket includes tramway itself) to the Jasper Tramway station, pre being gently lifted to 2500m in 7 minutes, into Jasper National Park’s alpine tundra, via the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada. The Tramway has unprecedented views of six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca River - Alberta’s longest - and the town-site of Jasper itself. The Upper Terminal features a gift shop & licensed restaurant. At the top, you can also hike in summer on prepared trails to the nearest summit for some spectacular 360-degree views. It is a seasonal operation, running from late March to the end of October. Jasper Tramway Jasper Tramway. Courtesy: Jasper Tourism.
There are a whole range of other summer activities in and around Jasper, from horse riding to river rafting. And, of course, winter brings downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and the like!

Travel & More Info

Adrian travelled with Air Canada who offer more services between the UK and Canada than any other airline, with up to 84 non-stop flights per week to eight major Canadian cities. For info or reservations call 0871 220 1111 or visit www.aircanada.com.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

EDMONTON
Alberta Ballet (11205 107 Ave NW; T: +1 780-702-4725; Website)
Alberta Legislature Building (10800 97 Avenue; T: +1 780-427-736; Website)
Art Gallery of Alberta (2 Sir Winston Churchill Square; T: +1 780-425-5379; Website)
Brad Lazarenko’s Culina Muttart Conservatory (9626 96a St NW; T: +1 587-498-9752; Website)
Catalyst Theatre (9828 101A Ave; T: +1 780-431-1750; Website)
Courtyard by Marriott Edmonton Downtown (One Thornton Court, 99 Street & Jasper Avenue; T: +1 780-423-9999; Website)
Evolution Wonderlounge (10220 103 St NW; T:+1 780-424-0077; Website; Website)
Matrix Hotel (10640 100 Ave NW; T: +1 780-429-2861; Website)
Muttart Conservatory (9626 96A Street; T:+1 780-496-8755; Website)
Naked Cyber & Espresso Bar Edmonton (10303 108 Street; Website)
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (11455 87 Ave NW; T: +1 780-427-2760; Website)
Old Strathcona (10314 82 Ave NW #402; T: +1 780-437-4182; Website)
Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market (10310 83 Avenue; T: +1 780-439-1844; Website)
Pride Centre of Edmonton (10618 105 Ave NW; T: +1 780-488-3234; Website)
Rainbow Story Hub - Edmonton Queer History (Website)
River Valley Adventure (9731 Grierson Hill NW; T: +1 780-995-7347; Website)
Royal Alberta Museum (9810 103a Ave NW; T: +1 825-468-6000 Website)
Steamworks (11745 Jasper Ave; T: +1 780-451-5554; Website)
The Centre (Millcreek Medical Clinic, 9117 82 Ave NW; T: +1 587-635-3130; Website)
The Gallery Walk (10337 124 St; T: +1 780-488-4892; Website)
West Edmonton Mall (8882 170 St NW; T: +1 780-444-5321; Website)
Wildflower (10640 100 Ave NW; T: +1 780-429-2861; Website)

JASPER & THE ROCKIES
Cassio’s Italian Restaurant (602 Connaught Dr; T: +1 780-852-4070; Website)
Evil Dave’s Grill (86 Connaught Dr; T: +1 780-852-3323; Website)
Jasper Brewing Co (624 Connaught Dr; T: +1 780-852-4111; Website)
Jasper Tramway (Whistlers Rd; T: +1 780-852-3093; Website)
SunDog Tours & Tramway Shuttle (607 Connaught Dr; T: +1 780-852-4056; Website)
VIA Rail (T: 1-888-VIA-RAIL which is 1-888-842-7245; Website)
Whistlers Inn (105 Miette Avenue; T: +1 780-852-3361; Website)

Revised November 2022

 

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