RAM

The Edmonton Tourist respectfully acknowledges that we are located on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/ Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence our vibrant community.

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Who remembers visiting the Royal Museum of Alberta as a kid around Christmas and riding the moving sidewalk to get a glimpse of the Teddy Bears? That was one of my favourite memories around this time of year. My family would clamber into the vehicle and we would go to the museum, visit the poinsettia display at the Muttart, go say ‘hello’ to the donkey at City Hall and then spend the evening driving around the city looking at lights. This usually happened the Sunday before Christmas, but not always or it was spread out over the season.

The Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) is back open and in its new location after a long hiatus of collection transfer to the new site downtown. It is a beautiful facility with lots of light and collections I have not seen before. I purchased a Mammoth Pass for $35.00 which I think is a steal. I can come and go, checking out the different galleries including the features that rotate on a regular basis. After spending the day on Monday, I realize you need at least two days to see the Human History gallery and the Natural History gallery. I spent 4 hours in Human History and didn’t read it all. I plan to take my time with RAM over the next few months and really explore it. My grandpa always read every single word in the museum and it was painful to go with him because I just wanted to see stuff, not learn about it. He never went through it fast enough.  I am ready to learn about the history now so I find myself reading more.

RAM has some random exhibits in the Human History Gallery that seem odd. Newfoundland junk food? A mechanical horse that I used to ride when we went to Safeway? Beekeeping and Edmonton Oilers history? There is a lot of my childhood in this museum. It was cool to take a trip down memory lane. These weren’t the only artifacts that were interesting.

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My ChatterBox attended with me and she laughed about my things being in a museum. She is now a second-year University student and studying the history of things and stuff. I have learned so much from her. We looked at the Indigenous displays including the Residential School display and this opened up a conversation. We sat down in front of the Metis exhibit and discussed what it meant for her family and how things have changed and what it must have been like for her grandfather attending Convent School, while it wasn’t a Residential School for him, we suspect it was part of the genocide movement to remove all cultural history of his Mother, Grandmother and his Aunt. My hubs said his dad never spoke of his cultural history so in that respect the Church was successful in eradicating a culture. The bottom line is we don’t know what her grandfather went through. He may have been fine but he may have suppressed it. We also talked about the importance of reconciliation.

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What I know is this, you cannot expect generations to assimilate into our white culture after the past they experienced. These children were removed from their parents. They did not grow up with their mom tucking them into bed and kissing them goodnight. This is Blood Tears by Alex Janvier 2001. One the back side of the canvas, he wrote his memories and feelings. It is raw and hard to take in. I was shaken.

Having spent 10 years at Blue Quills Residential School, Alex Janvier shared his experience on canvas. He shows us the things he saw, experienced, and felt. We see a dark figure, a cross, a leg, a fish, a scared figure with his hair cut off, and a jumble of colours. The yellow paint may signify hope, light, escape.

 

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When people say, ‘why can’t you get over it?’ all I can think is it is easy to say it, its difficult in practice. I don’t want anyone telling me when I should be ‘over’ the sexual abuse I experienced. They don’t know what I went through because it wasn’t their experience.  Feelings just are and how they are managed is different for everyone. If the First Nation’s leaders are asking for things so their people can move forward, I don’t think its unreasonable all things considered. Part of that is, stop idolizing racist men of the past. Acknowledge their role, provide a complete picture to understand the history. It can’t be easy walking past a statue that is revered knowing that person tried to eliminate you from history. It says people today still don’t care. I think people today don’t understand. Reconciliation is part of that conversation to understand. Canadians need to listen more and talk less. RAM provided the space for the conversation to start. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it a start? Yes. 

Check out RAM and get that conversation started.

 

 

100 years

It was a sunny fall morning in October 2010 when I arrived at the Charles DeGaulle airport. I had slept intermittently on my flight from Edmonton. We had a single stop in Toronto so I figured I could snuggle in an sleep the rest of the way to Paris. Seven hours seemed like a proper night sleep then I would be refreshed when my parents arrived to meet my family. Canada covers a very large land mass. I woke up 5 hours later only to be disappointed that we were only in Newfoundland. Still in Canada.

The sun was still in morning reverie while I waited with my family for my dad to zoom by in the caravan. My parents and my grandmother had been travelling in Europe to celebrate my dad’s retirement. We decided to join them for a week. This was my second trip to the continent but my children’s first trip.

We boarded the caravan and I snuggled into my seat around the table in the back. Mom caught us up on all the things they had seen and now they were trying to navigate out of Paris and head north to Belgium where we would spend our first night and get reacquainted with the culture. The vibration of the vehicle quickly hypnotized me and lulled me into a hard sleep for about an hour. I tried to stay away because jet lag is easier to overcome by going to bed when the rest of the time zone does.

I woke up and watched the French countryside zip past me. I heard the hubs say, “Oh hey, Vimy Ridge is over there.” My mom and I looked at each other when we realized dad wasn’t stopping. Mom and I spoke at the same time, “We need to go.” She called my dad to stop and he had to navigate a U-turn on a tiny French road.

We pulled into the parking lot and all funnelled out. I took in my surroundings. To my left was the Candian cemetery. Over 10,000 people were injured or killed in the battle of Vimy Ridge. 3598 soldiers died at Vimy but only 828 Canadians were buried there. To my right was hilly ground fenced off and a flock of sheep were grazing on it. Moving closer we saw a sign on the fence, ‘Danger! Unexploded shells are still in this area.’

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You could see how the shells and explosions had ripped apart the earth, leaving everything hilly and uneven. I felt for the sheep being used in this manner. We kept walking along the path.

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In a break in the trees, we could see the monument in the distance standing on the ridge. A Canadian flag waving in honour of the country that came to France to fight against the Kaiser, protect the French and fight for King and Country. Vimy Ridge

The path was red, it immediately reminded me of Prince Edward Island, and was lined with maple trees. It felt respectful of boys buried beneath the surface.

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We walked along the beautiful path. The quiet countryside was noticeable. There weren’t sounds of traffic or people, I didn’t hear planes overhead, I only could pick out the sounds of birds in the trees. I tied to envision the sounds of gunfire and artillery rounds, men screaming and people calling to each other, but all I could hear was the sound of birds.

As we approached the monument, I expected to see the 11,000 names engraved on the walls but I did not expect to be so moved by the sculptures that lined the stairs. These felt like angles weeping at what man had done.

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I stood at the top of the stairs and took in the monoliths.

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I didn’t know the artist until I came home to research, Walter Allward (1875-1955). I was afraid I would forget the feeling I had standing there. I did not. I can conger it up and immediately I am transported to that cool morning in the French countryside. I stood at the top of the steps and looked out over the ridge and the morning mist covered the valley. I turned to look the other direction and caught glimpses of trenches that snaked their way across the hill.

As I walked back to the caravan, I thought about the men in my family who fought in Europe, trained in Canada and guarded prisoners in Alberta. My family was touched by both wars. I thought about how the trauma of those times had a trickle-down effect on their families after the wars had long since ended.

Vimy remains the single most significant place I have witnessed. I hope all Canadians get a chance to discover it now that 100 years have passed. For more information please visit and support the Vimy Ridge Foundation.

 

 

 

The Dog-Days of summer in the YEG

It is late August and I look outside thinking, “Where did the summer go?” It’s not like I didn’t do anything. My summer was FULL as in ‘TO THE BRIM’ with fun things and not fun things.

I checked off more 18 in 18 things like visiting another small town. This time I went to Calmar. It is straight west of Leduc and I heard it had a fantastic bakery. The Calmar bakery has been a fixture in this town since 1949. Apparently, the donuts are worth the trip. I respectfully disagree, but the place smelled delicious! There are a few antique shops, a post office and a mural. The fire hydrants are cute. We spent 5 minutes walking the length of the main street and popped into 3 shops. 20 minutes later we were like, “What do you want to do now?” We were fairly close to the University Botanical Gardens so we went there on a rainy day. That made the day worthwhile. Then we stopped off at Bon Ton bakery for a rustic loaf of bread to eat with soup. Next time you find yourself in Calmar…keep driving.

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I saw the moon at the Muttart. The big giant indoor moon. It was amazing.

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I checked out Folk Fest during some of the smokiest days we have had, thanks BC fires. So we live in a dystopian future now. We are past the tipping point of climate change and blue skies have been non-existent here in the blue sky capital of Canada. Its been blazes hot and smoky or ice cold and rainy. Everyone is cranky and suffering from SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder because the sun has been a tiny orange disc in the sky.

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We went to Fort Edmonton to recognize Treaty Six Lands and participate in the events there. We learned more about my children’s Métis Heritage, scripts and attended a Pow Wow. This was likely the best day of the summer. The Pow Wow was powerful and moved me to tears. Fort Edmonton goes dark next year for refurbishment, so make sure you catch it this long weekend!

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I spent a day admiring murals that are popping up around my beautiful city! The new one by Holy Roller/El Cortez is a stunner. But what I didn’t know about was the Jill Stanton Piece on the Varscona Theatre. I think that one is my favourite piece.

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I tried out a new brunch place, Pip, for my birthday. It has a great vibe and Tommie our fab server gave me a heavy pour Mimosa to help me celebrate!

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I Fringed! Twice! Some of my best summer memories are Fringing. This year I went to the box office and said, ‘randomly give me something at 8 o’clock.’ We walked to the Garneau and saw Scratch, a long-form improv that was complicated but was neatly wrapped up in a bow during the final scene. It was brillant. These guys have been appearing at the fringe for 14 years. They are worth catching if you see them next year. Risk taking is the best part of fringing. The following day we caught Sad Ass Cabaret. It was SAD – like cry sad. But the narrator could have read me the phonebook and I would have bought a recording. His storytelling abilities were fabulous. I loved it. The music was meh. We bought street-art for a friend my daughter is visiting, we ate green onion cakes because that is a must-do at the fringe. I won a prize on a spin wheel and the dude tried to give it to my daughter instead of me. ‘Um, exCUSE ME???? I won the prize, she is just cute and didn’t do anything.’ An old dude felt the need to explain to me why he was dancing. – Dance on dude! It’s the fringe! Enjoy yourself! I saw a dude in a Sombrero, he may or may not have been a real Mexican but the drunk guy he gave his guitar to could play Nirvana, and that was cool.

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A woman my age or possibly older told me how much she loves my converse. They are my homage to Doctor Who. She seemed envious that I have the courage to wear a shoe that is intended for young people. Listen friend, wear the shoe, eat the green onion cake and always give zero fucks because it’s your life and only you can live it.

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When Fringe ends, it always feels like summer ends. Except for this year, my vacation starts September first, so my summer is not ending until September 15th. I promise not to waste the remaining days of summer.

 

 

18 for ’18: Rockin’ Robyn’s Diner

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My Papa Bear is 19 years older than me and he just had his 70th birthday. It was one of those moments where I realized I think of him as the young guy sitting beside me on Main Street in Disneyland waiting for the Electrical Light Parade. I was six so that would make him twenty five. I think of dad with dark brown hair, tall, fun, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I then see my dad and realize he is 70. it always knocks the air out of me.

My mom appreciates finer cuisine, so its fun to take her to high-end brunch places. We went to Café Linnea for her birthday. My dad however, loves a really great diner. Old school diners that are decked out in vintage items. I had heard great things about Rockin Robyn’s Diner and knew the wait could be long to eat there. If we went early, I didn’t think it would be too bad. I put it on my 18 in ’18 for two reasons:

  • She spells her name correctly with a Y
  • I heard she was an Alice in Wonderland fan. I am a Disney fan so I suspected we were kindred spirits.

We arrived at 9 (not early but whatever…) to a line up at the door. There were 4 parties ahead of us. We were given a pager and decided to wait outside. 20 minutes later, it was out turn.

We were seated at a table beside the large mural and Dad noted, “I have never been to a drive-in that had any of those fancy muscle cars. Never. Where did people think young guys got the money for something like that?” Good point dad. But the art on the walls was interesting. There was a juke box at the other end of the diner and it was playing 80’s rock. This reminded my daughter of a great story about The Salt and Pepper Diner. Give it a listen, I promise you won’t be disappointed. It’s hilarious.

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We looked over at the lunch counter and surmised they make a great milkshake because of the equipment sitting there. The decor was fun too, black and white checked tiles, Alice in Wonderland items, retro ceiling fans and red booths!

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We ordered coffee and checked out the menu, coffee was straight up and good, this isn’t a latte and cappuccino kind of place. The waitress was sassy and hilarious. I am pretty sure she is my spirit animal, or at the very least me in a parallel life. I asked her to marry me after some fantastic zingers she through at my dad. She was his kind of waitress too. Fun, efficient and the right amount of sass you expect at a diner.

There were five of us and we ordered Eggs Benedict, a stack of pancakes with eggs and sausage, waffles , and mom can’t be easy and order a menu item so she went with 3 sides. We waited ten minutes at most before massive portions arrived before us.

Every dish came with fresh fruit and eggs were made to order. The food was delicious and I immediately understood why this place was so popular. My dad raved about this place and loved every minute of it. Excellent  value all around!

After breakfast we went to the counter to pay and were given tiny little candies that said “Eat Me”. I was over the moon with the Alice in Wonderland reference. We were told there is a Alice in Wonderland Mother’s Day Tea Party that happens every year too. Mom and I will have to remember to check that out next year.

Now I think I want to give lunch a try or maybe a milkshake. If you haven’t been before, I recommend it. I think it’s the best diner fare in the city.

You can find it in west Edmonton at 16604 B- 109 Ave or give them a call 780-756-5656

 

 

18 for 18: Adult Night at the Muttart

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There is this new trend, or maybe it is just new to me, Adult Night. There was a time where I was looking for family things to do. Now that my kids are adults themselves, I find the less I am around children, the better it is for me to focus on different things. I get very distracted by children, especially clever and hilarious ones. So an evening without them in the room allows me to see beyond and allow the silence in my head to relax me.

I was looking for a new class or something I hadn’t done before and I came across a meditation class at Edmonton’s Muttart Conservatory. I meditate as a daily practice and today marks my 440th consecutive day. I thought experiencing a different way to practice might be interesting. I like learning from other’s perspectives. This class was held on a scheduled Adult Night. Every Wednesday from 5-9 pm the Muttart Conservatory closes its doors to children. I added this to my 18 for 18 list early on, knowing I wanted to experience this. I am glad I made the list, I was tired and didn’t feel like going out but I made myself accountable to the list. So here I am.

I arrived at 5 and had decided to purchase an annual pass. I hadn’t been here since I was a child but had fond memories of going with my family at Christmas to see the Feature Pavilion. It changes with the seasons. An Adult pass is $45.00. Visit 4 times and its paid for. I anticipate visiting on Adult nights and want to go to the concert series this summer. So having an annual pass makes sense for me and ensures I return. I like to get value for my money.

I had time to visit a pavilion before the meditation class began. I decided to go clockwise and began with the Arid Pavillion.IMG_9038

I attended Catholic School as a kid and remember this pavilion from a field trip. The Crown of Thorns plant made quite an impression on me. But I couldn’t find it this visit. I was too busy watching my time so I didn’t miss the start of the meditation session.

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I arrived at 5:30 for the session to begin. The website information was different than the information the instructor gave. I was led to believe this was a 30 min session with 4 sessions that evening so people could come and go. It was one long session where people joined us. I wasn’t prepared for two hours of mindful meditation. Mostly because it involves the instructor talking. When I meditate, I want to sit in silence. However, she also led us on a meditation walk in the Temperate Pavillion. The sites and sounds were like an Edmonton Spring. We have had some extreme cold here this winter so this was a welcome visit.

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The method for the meditation walk was extremely slow. Slower than walking a Bride down the aisle, slower than walking in a crowd. It is akin to walking with a toddler who is just learning. Tiny even deliberate steps. I have severe arthritis in my knees and found this to be an effort to walk this slow, but it was calming and peaceful. It kept me mindful of my steps and breathing, which is the purpose of mindfulness. I can see me revisiting this method especially after a particularly stressful or busy day at work.

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We returned back to the classroom for what I call Savasana or corpse pose. I continued to sit in my chair because of my mobility issues but it was more my speed. The instructor read a short essay from a Buddhist monk that I found to be calming.

At 6:30 we were given a 30-minute break. Who needs a break from resting? I thought that was odd. But I decided to leave and not return for more mindfulness. I had already meditated for 2 hours that day. Time to experience life rather than contemplate it.

I went to Culina the restaurant in the Conservatory that receives rave reviews from Avenue. I think pretentious vegetarian food needs to be called out. The food was fine but I was disappointed. I ordered Shepherds Pie. I received a vegetable medley in gravy (?) topped with sweet potato. I prefer my Shepherds Pie to be traditional. If it isn’t, say so on the menu. The salad was too oily for someone who prefers dressing on the side. This place was full of ladies-who-lunch out for a women’s night because wine was $25 a bottle. I looked at the selection and passed. A single bottle is too much for a single person. Younger me would have felt out of place. While I was the only person dining alone, I wasn’t dressed trendy enough. Business casual was too casual. All I could think was, Avenue Magazine has a distinct set of followers of which I am not one of them. I tend to hang out with people who are comfortable in their own skin, not sitting somewhere hoping to be seen.

I sincerely doubt I will dine there again with so many other opportunities to try delicious cuisine in Edmonton.

After dinner, I turned right and went to the Tropical Pavillion.

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It was getting dark and the pavilion was lit up with soft lighting. Lovely but difficult for photography.

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The humidity was lovely. The room was filled with the sound of water and I thought birds, but I could be mistaken. I stopped to enjoy the orchid house.

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One of my favourite things about Muttart is the way they showcase artists. There was an exhibit in the centre with a No Photos signs. But I took my time to enjoy the installation. The very centre of the Conservatory is a glass fish installation – this was lovely from below.

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I finally made my way into the Feature Pavilion that changes with the seasons. Currently, it is set up for Chinese New Year. Early March it changes again.

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Red and yellow in a garden is one of my favourite combinations.

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It was beautiful. I sat and looked around for a while.

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I can see myself visiting Muttart Conservatory everytime they change the feature pavilion. My next visit will be mid-March. I’ll keep an eye out for classes and concerts but mostly, I want to come here and sit on a bench to read. That sounds like my idea of heaven.

 

18 for 18: Ice Castles

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I am crossing the first item off the list – I went to visit Edmonton’s Ice Castles. Full disclosure, I received tickets from a friend so I did receive a free entry. Honestly, I am not altogether sure I would have paid to enter. $16.95 for Adults, it really doesn’t look all that special on the outside. I did go with an open mind. As I moved closer, it became more spectacular.

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I timed my visit so I could hit the magic hour of sunset. 5:00 pm on the day we went. I wanted to capture photos before and after so I could catch the different light. I am glad I did.

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Different coloured flood lights(?) LED lights (?), I am unsure of the tech, were lighting up the icicles. The time of day made for a very flat light and it was hard to see definition out in the open. As we explored caves and walkways the detail showed itself to be amazing.

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I took time to speak to one of the staff about how they created this giant ice castle. He explained they grew the icicles by running the water then moving the small icicle to where it was supposed to go, then they built upon that by adding more water. The amount of water needed for this was staggering. I am not going to lie, it does concern me.

Environmental concerns aside, I let myself be swept up in the beauty of the art installation.   We wandered through the tunnels and found the fireplace in the centre of the castle.

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Soot was clinging to the ice and the hearth was melting but it was so cold -25C so the warmth was welcome. I didn’t dress nearly warm enough, I needed 2 leg layers but only had one. I had forgotten how much I love the smell of a wood fire. It was heavenly!

We kept meandering around and located the fountain room. This was beautiful.

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As the night became darker the greens and pinks from the lights became more dominant.

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We left to search for the slides, only one was finished when we went through.

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The line was long and I didn’t think my rear end needed to sit on ice. Maybe if I had worn my snow plants, but I passed on that opportunity. You would think Canadians would not find ice so novel, but we did! To the left, we found a throne and I quickly snapped a photo before the next couple sat down. Again, there were massive lines.

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Not interested in sitting on ice, I did that plenty when I worked as a ski lift operator, or ‘lifty’. I remember it well and I have no desire to relive that, but LOOKing at it was so beautiful. I was very happy I decided to go and experience the beauty of the ice.

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Sunset was happening by this time. I looked up and there was the moon. Cold, crisp and beautiful.

BUT SO MANY PEOPLE! I would wait a long time for a shot clear of people.

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I would shoot up or close, fewer people in the frame.

We spent about 45 minutes and saw everything at least twice. There was a lot of waiting while parents were pulling their children through the tiny spots. People were polite and took turns with the exception of a few who knocked my camera over while pushing their way ahead of me. For a crowd this size, I was honestly surprised at the amount kind and considerate people there.

For the most part I found this to be a worthwhile experience. I do realize many families could not afford to participate in this activity but there are other free and beautiful things to do during Edmonton’s WInter. (Honourable mention to Victoria’s Skating Oval. The lights there are also beautiful and its free) Yet Ice Castles is an instagram photographer’s dream.

For times visit the website for more information.

 

THE EDMONTON TOURIST’S PRAIRIE ADVENTURE PART 2: Lethbridge

Part 1 

Road trips have become my most favourite way to travel. I love getting to the destination but exploring on the way is part of the fun for me. I never used to be this way. I preferred to get there in a hurry, so I didn’t waste any vacation days. I never saw the trip as part of the vacation. Now I do, and some of my most memorable adventures happened unplanned and by accident. That is how I saw Vimy Ridge, we tripped over it, so we went to see it. It was the single most amazing place I have ever visited. All because we accidentallyVimy drove by.

 

Having never been to this part of the province, I was eager to see new things. To the south of us, we saw a massive rock. I assumed it was a mountain but it was not anywhere near the Rocky Mountain Range. We were perplexed. Turns out it was a butte in Montana. MONTANA! It was 100km away from where we were. I had no idea you could see that far in the distance. I often joked we could see dolphins jumping in the Gulf of Mexico because it was so flat, but knew it wasn’t possible. I saw Montana from the vantage point of Taber Alberta. Cool.

Rolling into Lethbridge we went to the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Closed for the season but I peeked over the fence.

While looking through the fence, I thought about my Grandfather. During World War II he was here guarding prisoners of war, Japanese, Germans and Italians. I thought about the internment camps located here and in Medicine Hat. I didn’t research to see if there was anything left, but I did find this information when I came home. I am surprised to see the stories my grandfather told me are in line with what I read. If you knew my Grandpa’s gift for storytelling, you would also be surprised they match!

We left the gardens and made our way to Indian War Park at Fort Woop-Up. It has been years since I have heard First Nations People be referred to Indians. It left me feeling cold.

However, the park is wonderful! It is located in the coulees on the shores of Oldman River. The Lethbridge Viaduct was built by Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR steel trestle is 5,331 ft. (1,624 m) long; 314′ (95.7 m) high; 12 trains a day still cross it.

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After leaving Indian War Park I had a little time left to visit Popson Park. It is a beautiful spot along the coulees and Oldman River located to the south of Lethbridge.

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Sunset over the prairies at 4:00 pm in the middle of January. We saw a Pheasant and his hens take off across from these two beauties:

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They watched us carefully and didn’t move. We stared at each other for a few minutes before I moved on.

The prairies are a beautiful place for a short visit. I recommend taking the time to stop and look before you drive on through to your destination.

 

The Edmonton Tourist’s Prairie Adventure Part 1: Medicine Hat

When I was a kid, my parents packed up my siblings and me for a road trip across the Canadian Prairies: Destination Washington DC. We drove across Canada to Toronto, Hamilton and Niagra Falls, then south to DC for the United States of America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.

I was 9, and I remember Arlington Cemetary, the White House, the Liberty Bell was in DC for the celebration, all the fire hydrants were painted like Uncle Sam (I always thought Uncle Sam was Sam the Eagle from the Muppets), and the Lincoln Monument. I remember the traffic of DC, New York and Chicago. I remember the spray of the Niagra Falls, eating fish and chips at Hutches on the beach of Lake Ontario. I remember understanding the vastness of Lake Superior. The Canadian shield brought back memories of living in Yellowknife, NWT and I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The trip from Edmonton to Winnipeg was flat and what I called boring. Nothing to see except count the red barns that grandpa asked me to. For every red barn I saw, I would get 10 cents, paid in full upon my return. I think I saw 15.

I remember endless fields of grain and blue sky.

Nothing to look at because I liked looking at mountains. I’d rather travel west than east. I knew for certain the Rocky Mountains were the best in the world because I had witnessed it for myself.

Experience and perspective change a person.

I know understand that The Rocky Mountains are not trying to be the Cascade Mountains. Neither is better or worse. They are the best version of themselves.

The Canadian Prairies are not trying to be mountains. Prairies are flat and treeless. They are the birthplace of grain and other farm-grown goodness. They are the birthplace of endless sunsets and wide open sky that can be bluer than any other sky or filled with a billion stars and showcase the Aurora Borealis.

It took me a long time to stop being competitive with other places and love everything for what it is.

I now have a job where I get to travel to the southern parts of Alberta. Places I had not been before. I didn’t stock up on things to distract me from the drive, I made an effort to appreciate the scenery for what it was.

I drive to Calgary on a frequent basis,  medical reasons for family, for job-related trips and for a vacation side stop on my way to Banff. I always turn right. Last Friday I turned left for the first time in all my 50 years. I hopped on the Stony bypass and followed the signs to Medicine Hat, Alberta. The weather was crazy, +6C in Calgary and -13 in Brooks, an inversion layer made me think the sky was falling. The blue sky was endless and the fields were dotted with oil pumpjacks. Alberta is Oil Country after all. IMG_8467

Trees are a scarcity where you find farmland and sometimes its hard to see where the land ends and the sky begins.

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After work, I did some exploring and discovered the coulees lurking below the flats. They pour into the South Saskatchewan River. In Edmonton, we call it the valley, here it is the Coulees.

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Down in the coulees, you find trees and scrub. Beautiful too but all so different from what I experienced before.

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I was searching for the World’s largest Teepee. The Saamis Teepee was originally built for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Designer Steve Illes had the teepee painted “white for purity, red for the rising and setting sun, and blue for flowing waters”. It stood in Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, where it housed the Olympic Flame during the opening and closing ceremonies

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It was perched high above the river on the flats beside the Trans Canada Hwy.

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The wind was brutal and bit into my face. But I walked, read and learned about the plains people. Soon after we were back on the road heading west for Lethbridge. I am surprised I could not see how beautiful the prairies are when I was a kid. I am happy I can see it now. Next week I will post part 2 of my prairie adventure.

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Discovery

Parks Canada celebrated 2017 and Canada’s 150 birthday celebrations by issuing everyone who wanted one a Discovery Pass. This let everyone enter Canada’s National Parks free of charge. I have no idea what it ultimately charged the taxpayers but I happily partook in the offer, thanks, Justin!

I visited 4 National Parks this year.

Jasper National Park

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Pacific Rim National Reserve

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Banff National Park

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Elk Island National Park

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I appreciate how these spaces are preserved and protected. I saw all types of wildlife, black bears, coyotes, bald eagle, red tail hawks, grey wolf footprints, harbour seals, sea stars, molluscs, dolphins, porpoises, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, deer, fox, elk and numerous squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, geese and songbirds. Yesterday was the last day of the year to use my park pass, so I packed up my pal Captain and we made our way to the closest National Park from my home, Elk Island.

It has been bitterly cold here as with the rest of North America. The temperatures were hovering around the -30C mark with winds dropping the windchill into the low -30 or high -40 range. The type of cold that freezes your nose shut and pinches your face. Happily, the cold is about over and plus temps are on the horizon!

I drove to Astotin Lake to watch the sunset at 4:30pm. Cap and I walked across the frozen beach and he would pause to lift his paws. It was too cold for him.

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We looked at the sunset and then braved the easterly winds back to the car.

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I then drove to the Bison Paddock hoping to catch a glimpse of a bison or two. We saw about 10 females with their calves as we drove down hwy 16 towards the park. Obviously, we didn’t stop on the icy roads to take a pic, but we were rewarded with seeing a lone fellow munching on the frozen grass.  But first, we had to turn right following the loop.

The first stop was the famous red chairs. They had been turned around facing west this time. Normally they overlook the meadow to the east.

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Perfect for viewing the sunset but too cold to sit in the chairs. I have yet to stop to sit, maybe next time. Behind the chairs, the full moon was rising. It was spectacular in the pink sky.

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My face and fingers were frozen by this time, so I jumped back into the warmth of my car and continued around the loop. To my amazement, this guy was still there snacking on some exposed grass.

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Sunsets on the prairies are beautiful and the colours seem to be brighter in the fidged temperatures.

I watched him for a while before heading home.

Receiving and using the Discovery Passes were a great gift. I suspect the purpose of the free passes was to reignite the passion Canadians feel for their country, especially with the drama that is happening around the rest of the world. I think the point is want to have a pass for 2018, it was a subtle marketing ploy that I think I have bought into. I still want to explore Tawayik Lake with The Captain, there are other parts of Elk Island I have not seen and I also want to get to Waterton Lakes National Park this year. If everything goes as planned, I will make it back to Pacific Rim and head east to Cape Breton Highlands National Park and really explore what it has to offer.

Let me know your favourite Canadian National Park so I can put it on my list.