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For thousands of years, Edmonton’s first inhabitants – the Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Sioux and Métis people – gathered on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River to trade, have ceremonies, feast and renew relations. To the Indigenous, the river was the lifeblood bringing together communities and people.
During the pandemic, the river similarly become a connector. Edmontonians flocked to the valley in record numbers to reunite with friends and family. It’s become Edmonton’s outdoor rumpus room. Whether we’re exploring multiuse trails or making the canoe trek from Devon to Edmonton, there is a renewed appreciation of the intrinsic value of the river.
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Although Edmonton is known for its year-round festivals and arts scene, the star attraction has always been the river and its proximity to nature. It’s the largest urban parkland in North America, 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park. It has a 160 kilometre network of trails stretching east to west and 18 river valley parks, meaning almost every neighbourhood has quick access. There’s simply no escaping its beauty, especially when you can walk to it in less than 15 minutes from most downtown hotels or catch a free ride down the steep slopes in the 100 Street funicular.
Urban and nature blend well in Edmonton. It doesn’t feel like you’re in a city of almost a million people when you’re in the river valley. A luscious tree-lined canopy and the sound of flowing water seal out the hum of the city, a welcome lull on any urban hike.
Along every trail are reminders of the past and signs of this city’s emerging tech future. The most popular trail winds past sights that include the colourful wildlife murals under the James MacDonald Bridge; the oldest standing brewery in Edmonton, built in 1905; the historic Rossdale Power Plant and the award-winning Walterdale Bridge, which proudly frames the city’s growing downtown core.
Maybe it’s because winters are long and harsh this far north, or perhaps it’s because there are 18 hours of sunlight at the peak of summer, but Edmontonians like to play hard at this time of the year. The river valley is the choice playground for a whole host of activities, from bicycling to Segway-ing to scooting. To the surprise of most, there’s great golf to be played in the river valley’s flat plains. A half-dozen-plus golf courses with tree-lined fairways and challenging layouts will appeal to amateurs and pros alike.
And you won’t go hungry in Edmonton’s river valley. In the past couple of years, new restaurants committed to sourcing local ingredients have cropped up in several valley parks and golf courses – namely, William Hawrelak, Rundle and Victoria Golf Course. The dishes are so good, these eateries are destinations on their own. Snag a seat on a patio, order a bison burger at Culina on the Lake and kick back with a local craft beer. Cheers, Edmonton.
After a three-year closing and $165-million expansion, Fort Edmonton Park reopens July 1. The much-anticipated Indigenous Peoples Experience explores First Nations and Métis people’s society and culture prior to the landing of the Europeans in Amiskwaciy, the Cree word for the area that translates to Beaver Hills. (In the late 1700s, the Hudson’s Bay Company named the region Edmonton after a district in London, England.) What visitors will first see when they walk into the centre is an interactive floor map of the North Saskatchewan River, with teachings about the diverse Indigenous groups who called the river home. In the Knowledge Corridor, multimedia installations of the four seasons and stages of life are told through the lens of more than 50 Indigenous elders, historians, educators and community members who informed much of the park’s content. Several outdoor trails featuring interpretative signs and sculptures will also be unveiled. fortedmontonpark.ca
The Japanese have a term for the practice of immersing oneself in nature – shinrin-yoku – which translates to “forest bathing.” Wild Calm Forest Therapy offers three different guided therapeutic walks in and around Edmonton, including a two-hour moonlight walk through Buena Vista Park, an urban park located nearby the North Saskatchewan River. The forest walks are believed to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels. wildcalm.ca
Professional forager, filmmaker and two-time James Beard award nominee Kevin Kossowan runs half-day From the Wild foraging walks in the North Saskatchewan river valley throughout the summer. Learn to identify edible wild plants and fungus that can be used in the home kitchen. And in Kossowan’s full-day Field Cookery Camp, you’ll learn everything from foraging to fire cookery to pantry building. fromthewild.ca
A 30-minute school-bus ride southwest from downtown Edmonton brings you to the town of Devon and the start of a six hour (or so) canoe adventure on the North Saskatchewan River with Edmonton Canoe. After the instructor’s brief on paddling techniques and river safety, you’ll be free to strike out on your own and make your way back to the city. Keep your eye out for bands of hoodoos, deer and an anchored York boat outside Fort Edmonton Park. edmontoncanoe.com
The revamped 2,200-square-foot terrace at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald includes new lounge and conversation sets and fireplaces. The Summer Backyard Explorer package includes overnight accommodation, 20 per cent discount on in-room dining, a backpack, sunglasses and breakfast to go, from $289 a night.
The JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District landed on everybody’s It List in 2020 when it opened, and it still makes the cut this year. At the ground-floor restaurant Braven, tuck into prime beef dry-aged to perfection. After a full day of exploring the city, the pool and spa are an ideal space for recovery.
Last year, the Matrix Hotel unveiled new renovations of its second-floor dining space that introduced a clean and modern look to the downtown space. The hotel’s scooter-rental program offers a fun way to get around town.
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