Tag: River Valley

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

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The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 802: Edmonton – The Opening Credits

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Last week, while another icy winter blast was gossiping through our beloved city streets, I heard a familiar question discreetly uttered in my office tower elevator. It’s a question that inevitably falls from the cliffs of quivering lips every year when the onset of March is mocked by November-esque climate.

“Why did anyone decide to settle a town in this spot?”

It’s true that, while our swirling stripe of river valley parkland is an emerald jewel among modern urban nature triumphs, and while we perpetually possess a bountiful bevy of artistic talent that vastly supersedes expectations, our winters also display a wicked longevity. And the earliest Edmontonians had half a country of gorgeous parkland to sift through, none of which had an established arts scene. So why here? Why plant one’s flag amid such an unforgiving tundra?

Money, baby. A businessman goes where the customers are, and in 1795 there were scads of Blackfoot and Cree folks in the region, not to mention a raucous cavalcade of settlers headed west. No one knew there was a generous cauldron of bubblin’ crude below our terrestrial waistline (that surprise was 150 years away); back then our town was all about hocking pelts to the locals.

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Today, Edmonton’s premier tourist attraction is inevitably our monstrous Mall, which sucks more than 30 million shoppers and gawkers inside its yellow brick shell each year. Ironically, a mall is exactly how Edmonton started out. The North West Company picked out the spot where the North Saskatchewan River shook watery hands with the Sturgeon River (near modern-day Fort Saskatchewan) and opened up a trading post in 1795. The Hudson Bay Company joined them shortly thereafter, giving us two anchor stores. For all your pelt and survivalist needs. Read more…

Day 691: The Downstairs Park

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On a day such as this, when the mercury has given up its climb and packed its full breadth of ooze down below -10 degrees, I feel I should find something to appreciate in this woefully frigid city.

For the few months of the year that allow it, we are privileged to enjoy a serene swath of river valley, as well as a smattering of beautifully-landscaped parks. This means that in over a century of urban development, there have been some scraps of real estate that our councillors have opted not to fill with strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Other cities have been forced to act more creatively, to extract its green space from the bones of its history.

Rail trails are a popular solution – snatching up miles of abandoned track and converting them into miles of cycling, jogging, and someday (hopefully) hoverboarding fun. New York and Paris have vaulted the rail trail concept to include abandoned elevated tracks. Now New York is ready to take things in the next logical direction: straight down.

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The story of the next phase of the city’s “outdoor” recreation begins here, on a strip of 10th Avenue once known as Death Avenue. The railroads had hired men on horseback – the ‘West Side Cowboys,’ which sounds like the name of a male strip club – to ride in front of the street-level trains to warn people to get the hell out of the way. Still, it was a mess. To clean things up, from 1929 through 1934 New York built a 13-mile elevated railway. It was designed to cut through the middle of city blocks, even running through taller buildings when necessary. Read more…