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Edmonton: The Hidden Gem of Western Canada

By Tina Albo:

In my travels, I have met many interesting people and learned quite a bit from these encounters. However, an amusing confusion ensues when they ask me where I’m from. As soon as I mention that I’m Canadian, the first thing I’m asked is, “So you’re from Toronto?” I then politely correct them by saying that I’m from Edmonton, and the response I receive is a blank stare.

It’s true that Edmonton is not a towering metropolis like Toronto, but my hometown has always been able to hold its own. It’s not an oceanside city like Vancouver or a Winter Olympics host like our southern sister city of Calgary. It’s Edmonton, plain and simple.

One thing I can honestly say about my fair city is that it is ever changing and will adapt to anything thrown in its path. We’ve endured a terrorist attack, an NHL Stanley Cup playoffs riot, and even a devastating tornado . . . yet here we still are, still standing and thriving.

Like many destinations, Edmonton has its attractions. Most of all, Edmonton is known as “Festival City” because we enjoy a good celebration. It doesn’t matter what we are enjoying; we celebrate as much as we can, however we can.

For the cultural aficionado, Edmonton boasts a number of different festivals to suit many different walks of life. The summer months are known as our festival season, with several coming right on the heels of one another. Here are a few that might pique your interest:

For the opera lover, our “Opera Nuova” festival begins at the end of May and concludes at the end of June. I will point out that it’s the only opera festival of its kind in Canada, and it extends to several venues across the city. It houses a collection of main stage operas, musical theatre shows, and other Enlightenment Events that enrich the soul.

This photo was taken and posted by Dean Smith via flickr.

The works of William Shakespeare are performed and celebrated between mid-June and mid-July through the “Freewill Shakespeare Festival” at the Heritage Amphitheatre. Housed in the heart of William Hawrelak Park in South Edmonton, fans of the playwright can enjoy professional, contemporary, and innovative productions put on by the Freewill players. This festival is currently in its 31st year and sells out every season.

Our historic Whyte Avenue is home to the “Edmonton International Fringe Theater Festival” from August 15th to August 25th. This unique festival features buskers, outdoor performers, artisans, and vendors during its 11-day stint.

This photo was taken and posted by Edmonton Economic Development via flickr.

The Varscona Theatre, nestled in the heart of Whyte Avenue, is home to avant-garde productions that you just cannot miss. If you need further convincing, you need only ask Nathan Fillion—before starring in television shows like Firefly and Castle, he graced this particular stage with his presence.

The “Edmonton Folk Music Festival” is another gem that can’t be bypassed. From August 8th until the 11th, Gallagher Park is the place to be if you enjoy live music from artists such as the Harpoonist, the Axe-Murderer, and Blue Rodeo. Since 1980, it’s been one of our most popular attractions and will remain that way for years to come.

Edmonton is not just about arts festivals, though. We take pride in the many cultures that have settled here. Multiculturalism is warmly embraced by my fellow citizens, and it shows everywhere you go. Community spirit is always in the air, and it’s contagious!

This photo was taken and posted by Mack Male via flickr.

Edmonton’s “Heritage Days” Festival is a huge hit. Every August, people gather at William Hawrelak Park to sample dishes from several nations, watch traditional dance, and listen to music from all over the world. It is, by far, one of the best venues to experience multiculturalism at its finest.

“A Taste of Edmonton” is another festival that is near and dear to the heart of every Edmontonian. From July 18th to the 28th, food trucks representing many of our ethnic restaurants gather downtown at Winston Churchill Square for us to enjoy. It’s one of the few places where you can sample a savory samosa and then cool off with a chilling bubble tea all in the same area. As a foodie, I highly recommend partaking in this particular festival because your horizons will be broadened immensely.

Although most of our festivals take place in the summer months, there are a couple notable ones that happen during the fall and winter:

This photo was taken and posted by Ralf Smallkaa via flickr.

Wine enthusiasts rejoice! During mid-February, “Edmonton Wine Fest” is the place to be. Head to the Edmonton Convention Center where you can sample some of the best vintages and blends from the surrounding regions. Not only will you be tantalizing your taste buds with liquid heaven, but you can also sample some of the best food our city has to offer to pair with your drink.

For the film buff, Edmonton hosts its own film festival! The “Edmonton International Film Festival,” or EIFF, is from September 26th to October 5th. The Oscar-worthy films featured here can be enjoyed by all who are interested. One of the most notable films that graced this particular festival was the 2015 modern warfare drama Hyena Road. EIFF is also the best time to experience the best of independent film as well.

On the whole, no matter your preference or budget, you can experience a lot without breaking the bank. Unless you decide to spend your cash on the unlimited festival passes, admission is generally reasonably priced, and some venues take donations to the Edmonton Food Bank as well. No matter what, though, I urge you to check it out.

I’ve only scratched the surface, as there are many more notable festivals that happen every year. In this way, Edmonton has so much to offer the potential visitor.

I could tell you about the other attractions that make Edmonton an excellent tourist destination, but there’s so much to experience that you can’t see and do it all in one trip . . . you'll need to come back again and again! You must believe me, though, when I say that Edmonton is a place that you cannot miss in your travels.

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