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The fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Edmonton canada Handout from Fairmont (Fairmont)
The fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Edmonton canada Handout from Fairmont (Fairmont)

Edmonton is more than a mall Add to ...

For most visitors, Edmonton is defined by the string of Stanley Cup victories that took place in the 1980s and the West Edmonton Mall. But there's another side to the city that you probably don't know about, and it's worth investigating if you're in town on business. There might not be a sign on the highway into town proudly heralding the accomplishments of Edmonton's cultural communities, but the city is quickly earning a reputation for its work in that area. You can start exploring that reputation by heading downtown to Churchill Square, which is located on the corner of 102 Avenue and 100 Street.

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If you don’t know how to find that corner, take heart, because you’re not alone. For some reason, the earliest Edmontonians decided that the city ought to be operated using a grid system, even though the streets don’t always co-operate by running in straight or even parallel lines. If you get confused, try to remember that the city’s streets run north-to-south, and its avenues east-to-west. And if you’re really confused, ask somebody – crime statistics notwithstanding, Edmonton is actually a very friendly city.

From there, you can head off in a number of directions. One block to the northeast you’ll find the Art Gallery of Alberta, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and one that has installations and programs inside it to match. One block directly east sits the Winspear Centre, a concert hall that’s renowned both for its beauty and its acoustics. And kitty-corner from the southeast part of the square is the Citadel Theatre, the home of some of Edmonton’s best local productions as well as an indoor jungle that’s particularly popular when it’s -40 outside.

Two blocks south of that you can find the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, which may well be Edmonton’s best-kept secret. Its Confederation Lounge is the premier room in the city, with a good menu, an excellent bar selection and a stunning 9-by-18 foot Frederick Challener reproduction of the Fathers of Confederation portrait that gives the room a timeless feel that you can’t find anywhere else in the city – or, for that matter, the province. Better yet, its patio offers the best view in the city of Edmonton’s gorgeous river valley.

If you’re looking for a bite to eat, you’re in the right neck of the woods. You can’t go wrong with either the hotel’s own Harvest Room, the Ruth’s Chris location just across the street, Madison’s Grill at the Union Bank Inn or the Hardware Grill, both which are located two blocks west and east respectively of the Hotel Macdonald on Jasper Avenue. But if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous you ought to make your way over to Rice Howard Way. The quasi-pedestrian walkway houses Edmonton’s hottest new restaurant, Tres Carnales. This is how you do authentic Mexican food on the go. And if you head a bit farther west, you’ll happen upon Edmonton’s hippest neighbourhood, the 104 Street area. It features a number of high-end coffee shops, an out-of-your-mind good bakery called The Queen of Tarts and two new restaurants – Corso 32 and MRKT – that rival anything you’d find in Toronto or Vancouver.

If you need to walk off some calories you can visit the legislature grounds, which are located on the corner of 109 Street and 97 Avenue. In the summer the wading pools and carefully tended flowers might make you feel like you’re in one of Paris’s public parks, but in the fall the legislature grounds are quintessentially Edmonton, from the gorgeous colour palette in the changing leaves in the trees to the unobstructed view of the river valley in seasonal transition. The free guided tours of the legislature building itself, meanwhile, are a treat for political buffs and architecture geeks alike. And if you’re not unduly afraid of heights, the nearby High Level Bridge offers the best view of the river valley that bisects the city.

Old Strathcona, the neighbourhood that’s on the south side of the High Level Bridge, doesn’t have quite the same diversity of culinary options as downtown but it more than makes up for that with its eclectic charm. The area revolves around the activity on Whyte Avenue – 82{+ }Avenue, if we’re to stick to the grid system – and it offers a wide variety of bars, pubs, clothing stores and restaurants. Perhaps the most famous is Gravity Pope, a high-end shoe store that is Edmonton’s answer to John Fluevog. If you’re still looking to fulfill your cultural quotient you can grab a show at the Catalyst Theatre, a local success story that has produced a number of nationally-toured performances including Nevermore, the story of Edgar Allen Poe’s life, and the more recent Hunchback.

Farther west, just shy of the University of Alberta campus, you’ll find Garneau, the neighbourhood that was immortalized in local author Todd Babiak’s book The Garneau Block. It’s anchored by the Garneau Theatre, a beautiful old building that sits near the corner of 87 Avenue and 109 Street. It’s a great place to take in a film, and there are plenty of coffee houses and bars nearby, such as Transcend and the Sugarbowl, where you can round off your evening with a freshly ground decaf cappuccino.

And if you’re up for a late-night adventure to round off your Edmonton experience, trade in the business casual for something more inconspicuous and head over to Blues on Whyte. Forget the décor, which might make you think you’ve time-travelled back to 1977 – it’s the music that matters here, and it’s some of the best in Canada. If you’re lucky, you might even see Holger Petersen, the host of CBC Radio One’s Saturday Night Blues and one of the country’s biggest blues hounds, sitting at the bar. Buy him a drink and ask for a story – you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth, and a real Edmonton experience worth bragging about.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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An Evening in the City of Champions



5 p.m. Go Shopping on Whyte Avenue

If you’re looking to get some serious shopping done, forget the malls. Instead, head to the stretch of Whyte Avenue between 102 Street and 109 Street, where you can find everything from vintage clothes and second-hand books to $400 shoes.



5:45 p.m. Grab an Espresso at Transcend

There are coffee nerds, and then there are the people who work at Transcend. Its staff features the top two baristas in the entire country, Josh Hockin and Ben Put, who took first and second place in the 2011 Canadian Barista Championship. The Garneau location, meanwhile, is nearly as impressive, as the beautifully renovated space offers the best vantage point onto the city’s most interesting corner.



6:30 p.m. Walk the High Level Bridge

Chances are you’ve spent most of your time in Edmonton rotating between the seated and horizontal position. It might be time to get some exercise, and there are few better ways to do that than by walking across the High Level Bridge. It’s Edmonton’s most famous landmark, and it offers the most stunning view of the river valley in the entire city.



7 p.m. Have dinner at Corso 32

Edmonton’s culinary scene has long been dominated by the upscale casual model pioneered and perfected by Earls, the ubiquitous chain that has locations across western Canada. But Daniel Costa, the co-owner and head chef of Corso 32, stands well apart from that tradition. The food is honest, the service is professional and the ambience is unparalleled.



8:30 p.m.. Get a drink at the Hotel Macdonald’s Confederation Lounge

There’s no better place to enjoy a nice single-malt scotch – or, for that matter, a pint of Big Rock beer – than the Confederation Lounge. It doesn’t matter whether you’re discussing a big business deal or just talking amongst friends, because the room lends an air of importance to even the most trivial conversations. The mixed nuts aren’t bad, either.

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