Edmonton diaries

canadian city

Edmonton diaries

We landed in Edmonton on the same day we left Bangalore, in the same year, too. But, our day lasted 30-odd hours and it was almost midnight when we landed there. Edmonton being a small airport, we were processed out in no time.

As we had flown over snowy Canada, we had shivered at the thought of its cold northern city Edmonton, but this was a good chance to get a feel of a city when not at its best — the fag end of winter when it was alternating snow, ice and slush!

Edmonton is Canada’s fifth largest city and is a staging point for oil sands and the diamond mining industries. Better known is the fact that it is home to the West Edmonton Mall, North America’s largest. Busloads of tourists who flock to the Rockies stop here to shop. We bought ourselves a monthly Edmonton Transit System bus cum train pass, got familiar with routes, shortlisted places we wanted to visit and got busy.

It was a bright cold morning when we changed two buses to make our way to the Telus World of Science. Hurrying in, we headed straight for the IMAX movie on building the Rocky Mountain Express through the Rockies connecting British Columbia (BC) to eastern Canada, as fulfillment of a promise to BC for entering the Confederation of Canada in 1871.

Into the future

After the beauty of nature, the Star Wars Identities roving exhibition was all futuristic. I built myself a Wookie identity. In the permanent exhibits section, Mystery Avenue was cool. Anyone interested could walk through the crime scene collecting clues which they could then analyse at the Crime Lab — fingerprints, DNA and tread marks.

As we crossed the frozen North Saskatchewanriver, the iconic but incongruous glass pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory were visible. Right across the river was downtown Edmonton’s skyline.

From cold white outdoors to warm indoors was wonderful. Four pyramids were arranged around a central space. When we walked into the first glass pyramid, we were dumbstruck. After many days of white landscapes, we were back in lush green vegetation, warm temperatures and a moisture-laden atmosphere for just 20 bucks!

Peeling off our jackets, we walked around enjoying the tropical plants. We even got to see the fabled corpse flower at bud stage. This Sumatran wore the crown for being nature’s tallest flowering plant, and the stinkiest! The next pyramid had the arid zone where a young boy ran around basking in the warmth, while his mum was on a work-related call.

The temperate zone pyramid had its share of short trees, grassy streams and a grass sculpture of Gaia. After a hot cup of tea and souvenir shopping, stepping back into a white landscape was no big deal.

We had a lot of company at our next stop, the Royal Alberta Museum. School kids zoomed by, opening drawers and lifting lids for the touch-and-feel exhibits of skin and horns.

The museum’s best was easily the gallery of aboriginal culture — one of the largest explorations of the First People’s history through 500 generations. From bison hunts to fishing camps, the recreation was magnificent. The photograph of the humongous pile of bison skulls with a triumphant hunter standing atop left us aghast.

Walking into a tipi (home of the First Nations’ people), we saw life-size figures of the chiefs negotiating with the Europeans, the write-ups and the voices which brought it all alive. The costumes and adornment displayed were of high quality.

Edmonton as the provincial capital housed the Alberta Legislature Assembly. There was a session on, and our guide offered to escort us into the visitor’s gallery. The MLAs along with the premier Alison Redford rose when the Speaker walked in, and then the session began. There were a few Indian-origin legislators. Some representatives introduced foreign delegations sitting in the gallery.

A family with children who had a hearing disability sat by us. They were part of a group pushing to make testing of hearing in young children compulsory for early detection. On being introduced, they stood up and waved to the legislators in the well.

As we quietly slipped out, we marvelled at the ease with which aam aadmis were allowed to participate in sessions.

Our next stop was at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Walking up the steps of this modern-looking art gallery, I wondered if they had any ‘non-modern’ art. Our guide whisked us through to the Canadian contemporary art and installations. There was a large section of Canadian art collected from the first half of the 20th century. The touring landscapes from Rembrandt to Van Gogh gave us our dose of ‘non-modern’ art.

Walking out, we noticed the exit to an underground train station right from inside the gallery. As we went down the stairs, we noticed art work around us. This was Churchill Station on the Edmonton Light Rail Transit network, also a part of the 13 km covered, climate-controlled pedway system, which included tunnels and walkways between second floors of buildings, mostly in downtown Edmonton. This helped pedestrians get about the Edmonton area even in peak winter.

Grand donation

At the Ukrainian Museum, the faade held two windows and a door. On ringing the bell, we were let in and the door locked behind us. There was no entry fee, but we could drop a donation for the museum building being built elsewhere.

The gentleman who opened the door showed us around. Ukrainians had moved to these parts to farm. They brought their language, culinary skills, clothes, religion and culture. Today, Ukrainians face the same problems as other ethnic immigrants — cultural erosion and loss of identity and language. As family lines died, Ukrainians donated their belongings to this museum. Their embroidery was intricate, beautiful, and on everything from headgear to footwear!

We did enjoy Edmonton in winter, but missed the walking and cycling that the city offers in summer. A trip again then?

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