The myth about Edmonton winters is that it’s six months of -40° C. Untrue as it is, that’s the way the city is built. “We’ve written off the outdoors of Edmonton in the wintertime,” says city councillor Ben Henderson. “There was a movement in the ’70s and ’80s that if we moved everything indoors, we could somehow make the winter go away.”canada goose expedition parkaEmblematic of the movement was the 5.3-million-sq.-foot West Edmonton Mall, which first opened in 1981. It now has more than 800 stores and 200-plus restaurants in addition to its waterpark, skating rink and a IMAX 3D movie theatre—everything a family needs for a day of entertainment, without the cold.
What happened to the City of Champions, where more than 57,000 fans once braved -20° C weather (colder with the wind chill) for the 2003 NHL Heritage Classic? Many of them are underground in the city’s 13-km indoor pedway system, which is primed for a major expansion.canada goose hybridge hoody(Toronto boasts it has the Guinness World Record for the largest underground shopping complex, spanning 30 km, which connects subways and downtown offices.) “There are these gorgeous winter days people are convinced didn’t happen,” Henderson says. “We had no capacity to take advantage of them.” Which is why Henderson is on a mission to help people appreciate the joys of winter.
Edmonton is entering its third year of a “Winter City Strategy” to get locals outside in the colder months, including supporting a four-season patio culture. The area surrounding the Edmonton Oilers hockey arena is now known as the “Ice District,” a rebranding to make the city proud of its cold. The 40 Below Project, an Alberta-based initiative that releases anthologies of poems, short stories and artwork that promote the joys of winter, recently released a second volume.
“Look back 30 or 40 years. There was a lot of stuff happening, and some of people’s fondest memories were in the wintertime,” Henderson says. “Mukluk Mardi Gras is one that every child who grew up in Edmonton remembers vividly.” The beloved winter carnival, which took place throughout the ’60s, included a snow parade down Jasper Avenue, dogsled races and cross-country toboggan races. “Ironically,” Henderson adds, “it fell prey to the fact that the weather was too warm.”
So while a 2007 survey from Statistics Canada found 27 per cent of new Canadians named Canada’s climate as what they disliked most about their new country, perhaps that’s partly attributed to a perceived lack of things to do. “Some of the people who jumped on the bandwagon early were our newest immigrants,” Henderson says of Edmonton’s Winter City initiatives. “They were fascinated by winter and wanted to be more engaged to find ways to enjoy it.”
With an original budget of $200,000, Rhéal Leroux had enough to entice tens of thousands of locals and tourists to the inaugural Ottawa Winterlude in 1979. There were professional ice sculptures, an outdoor winter playground for kids, not to mention thousands skating on the Rideau Canal.canada goose parka sale.A group of young skaters were on hand to race a horse ridden by hockey legend Bobby Hull.canada goose trillium parkaPrime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau attended with his kids; his seven-year-old son, Justin, got to pet the horses.
Leroux says he’s proud of all that the festival has accomplished for the city, including watching the success of BeaverTails, which went from selling pastries at a kiosk in Ottawa in 1978 to becoming a national emblem, as Leroux puts it. But if he has one regret, it’s that Winterlude started to put some of its attractions indoors, such as musical programs and beer festivals. “That was not the basic philosophy at the beginning,” he says. “If we create an event to promote winter, let’s promote winter.”