The wild side of Canada
Sally Evans was lucky enough to explore the Canadian Rockies in the wintertime and tells us about her magical trip to Elk Island, a National Park, and Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton, located on the North Saskatchewan River.
Less than an hour’s drive from Edmonton, the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta, is Elk Island, a National Park and natural wonderland that’s open all year round. Beautiful in the summertime, it’s also a place of outstanding beauty in the winter. Elk Island National Park has higher densities of hoofed mammals per square kilometer than any other area in the world and it’s the cornerstone of Canada’s bison conservation story. Strap on a pair of snowshoes, they’re available to hire at the Astonin Theatre Interpretive Centre, to explore the frozen lakes and an abundance of wildlife including deer, elk, moose and beavers. There are around 800 bison happily grazing in herds. The park guides warn visitors to stay at least 100 metres away from them for safety and they teach you how to use your thumb to measure the distance to ensure you’re not too close. The bison may look cumbersome and slow from afar, but these mighty beasts can weigh up to 2,000lbs and can reach speeds of 35 mph!
After a few hours of exploring, we were treated to sumptuous apples covered in cinnamon and sugar, baked over an open fire which we enjoyed whilst marvelling at the views; with more than four feet of snow in places covering the vast plains and lakes, you feel as though you’re in a scene from Narnia. We’d advise you stay late to look to the night skies; the park is part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve and the stars are dazzling in the serene navy skies. pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/elkisland
The gateway to northern Canada, Edmonton has a modern, vibrant feel with lots of facilities indoors and out. It’s also nick-named “Canada’s Festival City” because of the year-round slate of festivals. There are lots of hip cocktail bars and restaurants as well as West Edmonton Shopping Mall, which is huge and gets 32 million visitors a year. With over 800 shops, 100 eateries and parking for 20,000 vehicles, it houses the World Waterpark with the world’s largest indoor wave pool and amazing slides.
There are incredible murals dotted all over the city, take the Rust Magic Walking Street Mural Tour to get a true insight into the artists, some are internationally renowned, and the stories that inspired their artwork. The tour takes around two hours, and the tour guides are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and interesting.
A must-do during a stay in Edmonton is to go “Canadian” and watch an ice hockey game at Rogers Place, home to the Edmonton Oil Kings hockey team. The state-of-the-art multi-use indoor stadium also hosts some of the largest concerts and live events in the city. rogersplace.com
For culture vultures
Head to Edmonton’s Arts District to visit the impressive new Royal Alberta Museum, the largest in Western Canada, it’s where you’ll get a true feel of Alberta’s diverse culture. Learn how the Indigenous people lived and adapted to the challenging landscapes of the region and how they responded to the first European settlers. The Royal Alberta Museum has the largest public collection of early fur trade artifacts from the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company posts in western Canada, dating from 1790. Get a glimpse into ancient life and the plants and animals that inhabit Alberta today. With changing exhibitions, a children’s gallery and a fascinating Bug Gallery, there’s enough to enthral the whole family for hours on end. royalalbertmuseum.ca
Food, glorious food
Once known for its farming and ranching, Alberta and Edmonton developed its oil and gas industry and in a short time a plethora of smart restaurants began to pop up all over the city as business decided to cash in on the food producing heritage of the region. Here are a few suggestions that we would highly recommend.
Strathcona Spirits – take a tour and learn about distillation and barrel ageing at and enjoy a taster of your choice. Edmonton’s oldest distillery uses locally farmed and foraged grains and botanicals. strathconaspirits.ca
Baijiu – fans of Asian cuisine will love the hip atmosphere at this casual downtown restaurant. With beautifully presented food and cocktails, and an extensive bar, dining at this stunning restaurant is a must-do for foodies! Drinks by Tommy Cheng, food by Alexei Boldireff. baijiuveg.com
Little Brick – located in the heart of river valley, this quaint café and general store was built in 1903 and is the perfect place to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast with freshly baked bread and the finest ingredients. littlebrick.ca
Tres Carnales – lovers of Mexican food will enjoy authentic Mexican specialties including delicious tacos or a Jarrito, in a fun, lively setting. Dedicated to farm to table, sustainability, and community, serving awesome dishes with a great selection of beverages catering for all tastes. trescarnales.com
Where to stay
A superb place to stay is the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District. One of the trendiest hotels in the new neighbourhood, ICE District, it has outstanding décor and plush rooms with stunning city views. With several restaurants and lavish bar areas, guests can enjoy breakfast at Kindred Food and meals and snacks; anything from drool-worthy burgers to salads and grain bowls and classic Canadian staples. This smart hotel also boasts a Health Club, pool, whirlpool, and fabulous spa. @kindredfooddrink. From £180 for two adults sharing (in February) jwmarriottedmonton.com
Air Canada offers flights into Calgary and internal flights to Edmonton
For more information, or to plan a trip to Alberta, please visit: travelalberta.com/uk