A few years ago, I moved in with my cousin in Paris to work there for a few months. I soon came to realize that despite having worked and lived there for years, he had hardly gone out or taken the time to see the sights. I dragged him up the Eiffel Tower to see the views, to Sacre Cour to listen to street music and drink wine on the steps, to Pere Lachaise to pay our respects at Jim Morrison and Walt Witman’s graves, and other than the boat tour where we watched them fish a dead body out of the Seine, he admitted our excursions were worth the effort. It kind of goes to show that most people forget to be a ‘visitor’ in their own city, and that with a little effort, a whole world of secret adventures awaits them. For instance, did you know the original brewery in Calgary was the Calgary Brewing & Malting Company that first opened its doors in 1893 – the first business in the province to have pensions and insurance for employees? And did you know that not only is Edmonton the northernmost city in North America with a population over 1 million, it is also one of the largest by area, being roughly the size of the country of Cyprus! Now that we’ve stimulated your brain to seek out new adventures, here is a list of some really cool spots in two of our favourite cities we hope you will check out.
Crossroads Market & Loose Moose Theatre – Okay, so we’re cheating a little bit here since we’re putting two things together. The Crossroads Market has been a staple in Calgary for years – it’s got a great farmer’s market, but also has a wide assortment of ‘other’ stores to check out as well. And to finish off your visit, check out the Loose Moose Theatre Company for one of their improv shows. You will not be disappointed.
Weaselhead Park – There are parts of Weaselad park that have unexploded ordnance from military training that was conducted there as far back as 1908. The flood of 2013 washed away soil and vegetation – revealing multiple unexploded devices. Though interesting, that’s not what should draw you to this spot. The views of the watershed, with the Rocky Mountains looming in the background is what you should head there for. There are so many trails to explore – and we’ve seen all manners of wildlife there on our many visits.
Pearce Estates Park – Pearce Estates is another spot with lots of pathways to explore – but it also has two other features to draw you in. The fish hatchery is a fun visit – and the man made rapids are a great spot for those who are just getting into kayaking and want a controlled environment to learn in. Couple that with all the trails, some of the cool designs, and access to the nearby Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and you’ve got a great spot.
Olympic Plaza & The Calgary Tower – I know, I’m cheating again – but sometimes things just go together. I’d have added the Glenbow Museum here too if it wasn’t closed. In winter, you can go skating at Olympic Plaza, stopping to warm up by a fire when you get cold. Once you’ve done that for a bit, head over to the Calgary Tower. Sure, Rick Mercer once described it as, ‘A great place to stare into other people’s offices’ – but the tower really is a great place to see the city, the Bow River, and the Rocky Mountains.
Devonian Gardens – Though not as mysterious and wandering as it was before its renovation, Devonian Gardens is still an amazing place to just ‘be’. With its ponds and vegetation – it is a year round destination for those who want to chill out in the heart of the city. It’s especially quiet during the evenings, and if you’re lucky, someone (with talent) will be playing the piano by the East pond.
Clap and Squeak – Head to the Provincial Legislature grounds and follow the footpaths on the North side of the domed building where you’ll see a giant brick circle. Stand right in the middle of it – and clap. Almost immediately you’ll hear the echo of a squeak. It’s not going to blow your mind or anything, but it is still a pretty cool acoustic experience.
Old Strathcona and the Okuda San Miguel Mural – Old Strathcona on its own is a fantastic destination – with its cool shops, breweries, market and general vibe. It is also home to Edmonton’s largest mural – standing six-stories high – this mural by Spanish street artist Okuda San Miguel depicts a half-wolf, half-human on the side of the Crawford Block building. Maybe just don’t go on a full moon?
Henday Wildlife Underpass – So many times you hear about how urban sprawl encroaches on wildlife habitat – so it’s really cool to think the Edmonton’s city planners were able to provide a corridor for wild animals who use the river valley to pass through the city undisturbed – all as part of the Anthony Henday Freeway. For a chance to see wildlife passing through, you can access it via the McTaggart neighbourhood.
Roper Pond – Roper Pond is another weird intersection between wildlife and the city. It’s super fascinating that pelicans use this wetland that is completed surrounded by industrial buildings on its South side. With its abundance of greenery and animal life, it’s a great way to ‘get out of the city’ without having to get out of the city.
Keillor Point Viewing Area – Also known as the ‘End of the World’, Keillor Point is a cool spot to check out. It is essentially a retaining wall that blocks the remnants of the old Keilor Road from the river, but with the nickname, ‘End of the World’, you’ll feel a more profound experience for sure.
These are just some of our favourite lesser known experiences in these two wonderful cities. What are some of yours?