Winter in Canada's west is not only one of the prettiest experiences you can have, but also one of the most fun places to spend these cold months. Edmonton is packed with many things to do in January that can be enjoyed at any age, across the city as a whole. Today's post by Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief outlines just a few of her favourite activities during her recent stay in the City of Champions.
“Winter in Edmonton”… now there’s a title I never thought that I would be writing. For those of you who don’t know me personally, the thought of leaving my already cold and snowy home city of Toronto for Canada’s even more frigid west is one that seemed absolutely absurd. I’ve never been one for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or any other winter sports, as the thought of being outside and exposed to the elements during our coldest months is one of the least appealing things that I can think of.
However, after spending the end of spring and majority of this past summer in Edmonton with my cousins (and several weeks of the summer before that), I thought, Why not try a winter in Edmonton? Of course, the real push for this adventure was surprising my cousin Cassie for her birthday — the same person who, last August, had an absolute fiasco with Swoop Airlines while trying to come visit me for my own birthday. While having me pop out of a playhouse was undoubtedly a huge surprise for her, the biggest surprise was the fact that I convinced my grandmother to come along for the trip with me; this was an especially momentous adventure, because she had not been out west since the baptism of my cousin, Cassie’s older sister, nearly three decades ago.
I booked our tickets, we packed just one luggage for the duration of our stay, and off we went to the City of Champions.
With all this said, the lot of us ended up spending quite a bit of time outdoors, exploring this snowy (and thankfully during out ten-day trip, relatively mild-weathered) city. However, there were also some amazing things to do indoors, well. I’ve decided to lay out some of my favourite things that we did on this icy January trip, in hopes that those of you who doubt the ability to have an incredible trip to Edmonton at this time of year may be persuaded otherwise.
For years, I've been waiting patiently to finally have the opportunity to go for tea at Hotel Macdonald, and to finally see the inside of this famous Edmonton hotel. Though the scheduling of my trip didn't synch up with the days they offered tea service, we made our way over regardless to have drinks in their stunning Confederation Lounge (pictured above).
Nestled comfortably in a circle of rounded high-backed chairs, we ordered our cocktails — me getting a gin and tonic, of course — and several appetizers to graze on. Amidst catching up and enjoying our array of food, I was able to admire the beautiful high ceilings, tall arched windows, and wood wainscotting.
Needless to say, I'll be making my way back to the hotel again for high tea during my next visit to Edmonton!
Yet another indoor adventure to be had. I first went to the Muttart Conservatory during my first visit to Edmonton in June to July of 2017, and simply fell in love with the place. I have a thing for botany and gardens, both indoor and outdoor, so I was happy to spend a little more time than one typically would inside the Muttart.
During this second visit, I thought it would be nice to bring my grandmother there to see the conservatory herself; it wasn't until I arrived there that I read a sign saying that each season, they switch up the plants within the pyramids. That being said, you never have the same experience twice... each visit is unique! They also have a fourth feature pyramid, but I've been unlucky my two times visiting, having just missed them. Each time, they're closed while setting up for the next feature installation.
I guess this just means I have to visit a third time? ;-)
Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival
With a section of 118th Avenue closed off for the weekend-long event, a group of us ventured one cold evening to see the attractions at this year’s Deep Freeze Festival. This is part of a larger initiative, Arts on the Ave, consisting of “extensive art showings, a variety of inter-disciplinary festivals, as well as activities that are a blend of artistic expressions in an educational, mentoring and sharing environment. Using the existing cultural fabric to enliven Edmonton’s inner-city neighbourhoods, [it] has showcased local talent, and crossed boundaries to establish a multi-disciplinary arts cluster.”
I began the evening by meandering through a pop-up art gallery featuring a beautiful collection of paintings, embroidery, and cross-stitching created by local artists; in fact, one of the artists, Heather Schaaf, is a friend of my cousin’s, and I have one of her pieces hanging in my room. Within the building, there were also vendors selling handmade jewellery, leather goods, and other wearable art pieces.
Once we exited the building, we could hear the distinct sound of drums accompanying traditional Indigenous music and excitedly made our way toward a cluster of tipis a short walk away. The notes filled the air, pouring out of a tent shaped more like a wigwam. We pulled back the door flap and entered to find an Indigenous group hailing from the Canadian Native Friendship Centre leading a Cree Round Dance. Within the tent, the thrumming of the drums and the pulsing rhythmic cries brought tears to my eyes as everyone sidestepped leftward to the beat, raising and lowering their clasped hands in unison.
This beautiful immersion in the Indigenous culture ended, and we exited the tent to empty back onto the street. Here, we discovered an area roped off for Freezer Racing — literally pushing two deep freezers on skis across a snowy laneway. Whoever reaches the end, turns around, and comes back to the starting line first is the winner. Naturally, we decided to give it a go. All I have to say about that experience is that you don't realize until the very end, how running while pushing such a heavy object in the freezing cold can really knock the breath out of you.
The evening ended with us piling into the nearby community centre, where a local Latinx band was playing. With large round tables interspersed throughout the hall, viewers could choose to sit down and enjoy the music, or take to the back dance floor to have a go at salsa dancing.
The Ice Castle
Want to feel like Queen Elsa, who has just run away from the Kingdom of Arendelle? Each winter, Hawrelak Park is home to the Ice Castles attraction, which weighs over 20,000,000 pounds and grows over 12,000 icicles each and every day. Walking beneath a ceiling of stalactite-like icicles hanging above you like a chandelier as you enter into the wide courtyard of the castle makes you wonder if you're in urban Alberta, or a palace in the Arctic Circle.
Within the Ice Castle itself, there are several icy slides that people of all ages can entertain themselves on, a massive working fountain, and a large bonfire. Toward the exit, you can wander through a labyrinth of walls, smoothed over by blue-tinged ice illuminated by the lighting structures at the core of the castle. It is in this same area that you can find a long throne made of ice, its back intricately carved with trees (pictured, above right). Though the experience probably won't last longer than an hour, it's certainly a wonderful experience that anyone visiting Edmonton in the wintertime should embark on.
Be sure to check out the #YEGicecastle hashtag on Instagram for some stunning photos of the palace’s interiors. You won’t be disappointed.
It’s been less than three days since I’ve returned from my ‘home away from home’, and I unsurprisingly miss being around my cousins all day. It has been amazing to look back on the photos of things we’ve done this past week together; this was such an emotionally-charged trip, and the first of many explorative journeys that I hope to take with my grandmother. She’s proven to be quite the travel companion, and I’m so happy that we were finally able to take this first trip together, just the two of us, to visit our family.
And today, I am off with Wanderous Affair’s photographer for a trip of a lifetime… and guess what? They’re two chilly locations!
Helsinki and Tallinn, here I come.