Edmonton street festival aims to highlight “the last democratic art form,” according to its Artistic Producer, Shelley Switzer. For 10 days, curated street performers from across the world congregate in Sir Winston Churchill Square to dazzle the crowds with their live acts that are free to access and admire.
By day, this is a place for families and children. Workshops teach kids how to juggle and create a balloon dog (though not at the same time) and many acrobatic acts involve children drawn from the crowd.
In the evening, there’s a “highlights” performance that picks the best moments from the day and is, perhaps, rather more adult oriented.
The acts do repeat and the location is compact so one full day or two half days should be plenty.
As with any self-respecting festival, vans line up to sell a range of calorie-defying treats. Expect corn dogs, chips and burgers, plus local delicacies like elephant ears and beaver tails.
In terms of shopping, craft stalls occupy another side of the square, specialising in rainbow coloured bags and tunics and whimsical, whistling hanging charms.
But it’s the performers who rightly steal the show with a range of incredible feats and derring-do. Expect stilts, clowns, gymnasts and ballet dancers from Australia, the UK, USA and beyond (English is the main language spoken here.)
Edmonton also reserves a place for homegrown talent, nurturing clowns and breakdancers from across Alberta.
The only thing to remember is that the artists aren’t paid to perform, so in order for them to make a living, pay what you feel they deserve.
Edmonton sometimes seems like the Cinderella of Canadian cities, lost between the natural splendor of Vancouver and the multicultural dazzle of Montreal. Yet beneath its under-the-radar travel persona lives a city just begging to be discovered. It bursts with innovative cuisine, a penchant for festivals and a green and plentiful cycle network that more than rewards the curious traveller.
The centre of the city is a good place to start your trip and the grid-like North American layout makes it hard to get lost. With a sturdy pair of shoes you can explore much of Edmonton’s downtown although you will need taxis to reach some of the more curious districts.
For a glimpse of Edmonton’s pioneer history, stroll past the Neon Sign Museum on 104 Street where curling letters illuminate (sorry!) the city’s not too distant past and then stop for a bite to eat at Rostizado, a high concept new restaurant in town which focuses on Nuevo Latino cuisine.
Over at hipster-bohemian Old Strathcona, the restaurant to find for a hunk of local culture is MEAT. Drawing inspiration from traditional barbecues, this light and airy eatery features low-slung benches, plenty of pulled pork and lashings smoky barbecue sauce. Afterwards, walk off the meat with a browse along the vintage clothing stores and art boutiques or breathe in the literary dust of the second hand bookshops.
Back in the chrome and steel world of downtown, don’t miss the futuristic Art Gallery of Alberta, an architectural wonder in itself. If you can, come at sunrise or sunset to make the most of those swirling brushed silver curves.
Another museum that offers surprising insight is the Royal Alberta Museum (currently in the middle of moving from the outskirts into the heart of Downtown.)
Canada has a complex colonial history, which is richly displayed here, with a focus on native populations before the Europeans arrived (in Canada, the term for this is First Nations.)
The museum also tempts you with Alberta’s main draw for visitors: the great outdoors, for which Edmonton is the perfect base. From polar bears to roaming moose and beavers, Alberta’s natural history simply fuels the desire to head into the wild and see more.
But if you can’t do that, the city compensates instead with its 390 plus kilometres of dedicated cycle tracks and hiking paths. Follow the calm green of the North Saskatchewan River and forget you’re in a city at all.
Money Saving Tips
Head to the Edmonton Street Performers’ Festival! It’s free to watch the show, you just pay what you feel you can at the end.
Visit the Neon Sign Museum on 104 Street. It’s an open air exhibit, so you don’t need to pay to see it!
Did You Know?
West Edmonton Mall is the largest in North America
There are over 70 golf courses in metropolitan Edmonton
Edmonton’s nickname is “Festival City” as, among others, it hosts the largest International Fringe Theatre Festival in North America
Embracing the green side of the city by cycling along the riverbank at sunset, skyscrapers glinting in the distance.