By A. Sutherland
I’ve noticed over the last couple of years a big push to promote Edmonton as a winter destination. Winter has long been neglected, pushed aside as boring, cold, snowy, icy. I agree it can be cold, snowy and icy. But boring?
Not anymore – at least not in Edmonton. A number of attractions during the dark winter months are proving to energize this northern city and make winter hip.
Last years’ Ice Castle in Hawrelak Park was a huge hit and it’s returning this winter.
I quite often run through Hawrelak Park, and so was able to watch the construction of last year’s ice castle. Over the course of several weeks, the crew made icicles and sprayed water on the one-acre site, where it would freeze, building layers and layers of ice. From a distance it was a massive mound of snow and ice with a glacial blue hue. Up close, it was magic, like something out of the movie Frozen.
The result is a cross between a glacier, frozen waterfalls and ice caves. Night is when things really light up. LED lights are embedded in the ice so there is a magical multi-coloured effect.
You walk, squeeze, and crawl through this maze of ice. There is an ice throne (great photo stop), ice slides, and tunnels.
The Ice Castle plans to open toward the end of December and will stay open as long as the temperatures are cold enough.
Winter and skating are a given. Edmonton has several outdoor skating areas (Hawrelak Park lake, Victoria Park Oval). But I’ve always been jealous that we don’t have something like Ottawa’s Rideau Canal where we can skate for miles. Yes, we have the North Saskatchewan River, but skating on it is, and always will be, impossible and dangerous.
So when the announcement came last winter that a skating trail from Victoria Park would wind through a treed area, I couldn’t wait.
Formerly called the Freezeway, the Iceway is especially beautiful at night. Lanterns hang in trees and colourful lights flood the ice as you swish along trail.
The trail is a 400 metre loop. The creators would like to eventually extend it. No word yet if that will happen. I hope it does.
Unable to escape to a tropical paradise? Don’t worry. Spend an afternoon at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton’s river valley. They are open year-round, but winter is my favourite time to visit. Each of the four large glass pyramids are botanical gardens that have become my winter oasis. The best part is you don’t have to pack suitcases, board a plane, or break the bank.
Three of the four pyramids showcase different regions: tropical, arid, and temperate. The fourth is a feature pyramid that changes five to seven times a year. For example, it might be a Tuscany-themed exhibit. Over the holiday season, expect to see a passel of poinsettias and miniature trains.
Don’t forget to check out the restaurant. The food is delicious!
The zoo is open year round and it’s a great place to take the kids. There are daily drop-in programs, such as the reindeer walk where you learn all about Santa’s favourite animals! Keep an eye out for special events, like the Candy Cane Tea.
Fort Edmonton Park
Edmonton’s living history museum is open over the winter for special events and programs such as Christmas. It’s best to check their website for upcoming events. Sunday brunch at Johnson’s Café in the Selkirk Hotel is always a treat, and live shows and concerts at the Capitol Theatre make for fun evenings.