A River Runs Through It

Sunday 11 September 2022 – I promised you photos of the magnificent edifice that is the Fairmont Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton, and you shall have them.

The hotel is something of an anachronism. Edmonton is just this city, you know? High rise offices and apartments; obviously a workmanlike rather than a stylish city.  And then you have the Macdonald.

The historic and impressive hotel, named for the first prime minister of Canada Sir John A Macdonald, was built as an early 20th century railway hotel (like so many of the Fairmont portfolio) and occupies a commanding position overlooking the North Saskatchewan River that runs through the city. But, as you can see, it is dwarfed by the modern high rise buildings that tower over it. If you ignore them (and this is easy to do whilst seated on the patio, glass in hand, because the bulk of the hotel is between you and the towers), it’s a very pleasant oasis; we certainly found it very comfortable, and it was a pleasure to sit out on the patio. It overlooks the hotel gardens

which it is nice to wander through, and one gets a decent view looking south over the city’s suburbs.

We had only a single day in Edmonton with no formal items on the itinerary, so there was nothing for it but to go for a walk. Obviously. The river runs through a valley – unimaginatively called the River Valley – so it seemed only reasonable to go and explore that area.

Just by the hotel is something excitingly called a “funicular”, and technically that’s exactly what it is – a railway running up the side of a hill. However, I lived in Stockholm (Sweden) for many years (many years ago, now) and even then many of the the underground stations had a lift that simply ran beside the escalators that most people used. The Edmonton funicular is very reminiscent of that; if it ran vertically instead of at an angle, it would simply be a lift. You can see it on the left of this photo.

It leads down to a platform, the Frederick G. Todd Lookout, which gives good views along the river. From there, it’s easy to walk to the Low Level Bridge, seen here in the foreground

(there are a lot of bridges across the river, rather like Newcastle upon Tyne.)

We had a lovely encounter with an eccentric as we started to cross the bridge.  The eccentric, by the way, was a yellow labrador dog, called Lollipop.  Her owner is a chap (originally from Montréal, not that this is relevant beyond the fact that he identified us as being from the UK rather than Australia) who one might think was taking her for a bit of exercise whilst he cycled along.  The reality appeared to be the other way round; Lollipop had so much energy that she positively pulled him along.  He said that she could pull him for 35 kilometres on the bike, and, looking at the extraordinary energy emanating from this dog, I could believe him.  They had first accompanied us down on the funicular and Lollipop was panting as fast as a watch ticks – about five times a second, I reckon.  I was worried that she was over-exercised, until we saw her running, leaping, swimming and begging for more things to run after. I have never, ever, seen a dog with so much dynamic energy.

We pottered across the Low Level Bridge, which gives a nice view of one of the other bridges, the Tawatina Bridge, as well as the Edmonton Queen sternwheeler riverboat.

The Tawatina Bridge looked interesting, so we headed that way along a trail through the park, getting a closer look at the riverboat,

and, through the sort of serendipity that only aimless wanderers can achieve, had a wonderful half hour around the bridge, which is a double level, rail and pedestrian bridge. For a start, you get another view of the riverboat, hotel, lookout and funicular;

and the view along it is interesting

with some nice artwork on the ceiling.

There was a lot of noise, which came from a crane that was doing something mysterious on the river bank.  We stopped to watch, intrigued by bubbles coming up near the crane’s bucket,

which turned out to be from a diver who was attaching the cable to things to be extracted from the riverbed.  The appearance of the bicycle elicited a small cheer from the observers! It was great to work out what was going on, but it was only a few hundred yards later, as we left the scene, that we realised that we had never actually established why this was happening.  Anyway, we retraced our steps to the Low Level Bridge and carried on along the trail, which went through a park engagingly called Nellie McLung Park.  We had seen another interesting bridge further along the river

and wanted to explore it.  As we wandered, we had some nice views of the city of Edmonton, which is very colourful on a sunny day.

As we approached this bridge (which is the Walterdale Bridge, by the way),

we saw signs for “EMBFEST”.  I wondered whether the EMB meant “embankment”, but it turns out that that it stands for “Edmonton Mountain Bike“.

Having watched for a bit, we carried on to the Walterdale Bridge itself

and walked across, with the vague objective of finding our way back to the hotel past the City Legislature.  On the walkway underneath the bridge on the north side are two cryptic numbers.

These show the flooding levels in two particularly dramatic years.

At this point it was clear that we’d dropped down rather a long way, as the city was by now well above us; Jane had worked out that the Legislature was just where the city’s High Level Bridge debouched onto terra firma.  We headed, therefore, towards it and the one beyond it

which is another multi-level bridge, the Dudley B. Menzies Bridge (are you taking notes? There may be a quiz later), which itself gives some good photo opportunities.

If you’ve managed to follow this thread, you’ll know that we had, somehow, to get back up to the level of the main city.  Apart from calling a cab, the only route appeared to be

this one – the gloriously-named Royal Glenora Stairs. This staircase appears to be somewhere where people go to work out

and it certainly is hard work to get to the top.  in order to keep you all informed of the scope of my suffering, I started counting the steps until Jane pointed out that some kind soul had actually written numbers every ten steps, all the way up. Unfortunately, there has been a mishap with the counting as, by the time you get to the top, there are  competing versions of the truth.

Whatever, we were glad to get to the top.

We passed by the Legislature, an impressive building which was, sadly, covered with scaffolding and other signs of repair work being undertaken. I’ve done my best to disguise this in these photos.

Then we started to head back towards the hotel.  The hotel address is 100th Street, and we saw that avenue numbers for the Edmonton grid was also in the high 90s.  It would have been great to get some kind of photo of 100th Ave crossing 100th St, but sadly reality doesn’t permit this. The area generally seems to have a heritage component

but we didn’t find explicit explanation for this beyond the fact that 102 Ave leads past the Archives and the city museum.

As we reached the hotel, there was another statue of Robert Burns.  We’re not quite sure why, but this statue is directly outside a hotel called MacDonald, so the two may be linked. Google hasn’t helped me find out why Canada and Burns are particularly linked.

Jane had found something she particularly wanted to see, but it had to wait until after dark.  In order to entertain ourselves until then, we allowed Tyler once again to entertain us with courteously and efficiently-served drinks and a late lunch.

After dark fell we tottered out in search of the intersection of 104th Street and 104th Avenue.  In doing so we passed an engaging clock outside the Westin Hotel

and a couple of buildings which would probably have looked very ordinary in daylight, but which were attractive in the dark.

Eventually, we reached our objective – the Neon Light Museum, which had its external display switched on.

All these are signs from the 1960s which were donated to the Edmonton City Council, who eventually settled on a location to set them up as a tourist attraction.

The walk back went past other nice lighting,

a striking mural

and a quirky display of light boxes.

So my description of Edmonton as being merely workmanlike is a bit dismissive.  Our hotel does its bit to bring colour to the scene as well,

and so, all in all, we had a very agreeable day in Edmonton – sunshine, agreeable temperatures and some interesting things to see. I don’t know how much more the city might hold for tourists, and we certainly won’t find out, as we have to leave sharpish the next morning to get to Toronto.  That will be a day almost entirely taken up by travel, and thus not good material for an entry in these pages.  However, Toronto should be a splendid place for tourists like us to wander round and gawp at things, so please come back in a couple of days and I hope I will have interesting stuff for you to read.


5 thoughts on “A River Runs Through It

  1. Katharine Burridge

    Lovely city! The funnicular will be a welcome respite from your walking in Quebec City, which has three levels. I chaperoned the kids. They would race up the levels & meet me at the end of the funnicular – my mode of transport!

  2. Chris Walker

    Fantastic looking hotel. I didn’t realise Edmonton was so big – over a million people – and a bus driver on a previous trip of ours described Edmonton as the crime capital of Alberta! I take it you saw no evidence of this?

    1. Steve Walker Post author

      Not explicitly. When we wandered around on Sunday evening, the streets were disconcertingly quiet, and I wasn’t comfortable. But there was no overt sign of anything dodgy.


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