The Griff

Things to do over the summer

Downtown

Things to do over the summer

A few things of interest to check out over your break

High-Level Streetcar

The lone streetcar that ambles back-and-forth across the High-Level Bridge is more like part of Edmonton’s backdrop than something you do. You’ve seen it, and there are always people on it, but nobody you know has ever suggested taking a ride, and you only have a vague idea of where it even stops.

The tragedy of the streetcar is that it is probably one of the coolest things in the city. The ride itself is worth it, first of all, because it’s ridiculously cheap, the cars are fascinating, and you get the best possible view of the river valley from on top of the High-Level Bridge. But, if taking a scenic trip on a tiny road train for only $7 both ways doesn’t sound good enough, there’s more to it. The southern terminal — right beside the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market — also functions as the Strathcona Streetcar Barn and Museum. Here, you can learn all about the time when Edmonton’s streetcars were not something you took a picture of once and maybe rode on if you had bored kids and a free afternoon, but were the foremost method of public transportation. The Edmonton Radial Railway Society (ERRS) which operates the museum and the High-Level Streetcar has compiled photographs, documents, and artifacts detailing this system and its integral role in the development of the city. There are tons of interesting stuff to learn about and make you regret the proliferation of the personal car, like the existence of the “bookmobile,” that acted as a mobile branch of the Edmonton Public Library. 

The ERRS has delayed the start of the season until further notice but still plans on opening at some point this summer to be announced on its website. It runs at 40-minute intervals from 9 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m on Saturdays only and is free to get in, though the ERRS accepts donations.

Canoe/kayak rentals

If there is anything to admire in Edmonton, it’s the largest urban park space in Canada that runs through the middle of it. The centrepiece of — and reason for, geomorphologically speaking — this park is the North Saskatchewan River of course, but you don’t really get to experience the river itself in the same way you do all the trails and recreational parks that line it. While getting out on the water in a canoe or kayak might seem like things you have to be out in the wilderness to do, there are a few places in town that will get you everything you need to go on a paddling trip inside the city and be home in time for dinner. Edmonton Canoe, for example, starts its season in June and can provide you a boat, safety gear, and a shuttle to and from the river for $120. Its itinerary starts off at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park and ends at Dawson Park — about three hours on the water.

My suggestion is to leave the eight- to 10-person kayak tours to the corporate team-building activities you’re mandated to have fun at, and grab a small canoe for you and a friend, or solo kayaks. It’s way more fun when you can go at your own pace.

Historic Festival and Doors Open

From July 5 to July 12, the Edmonton and District Historical Society will be putting on their 24th annual celebration of Edmonton’s heritage that includes horse-drawn carriage rides, educational speakers, and live music. The main attraction is the guided tours of historic sights and buildings. The theme of this year’s festival is “transformation,” which entails examining the ways changes in technology and culture, immigration, and boom and bust cycles of the economy have affected Edmonton’s development over the decades.

It’s free to get into the Historic Festival, but there will be ticketed events, so have some cash on hand and check the society’s website closer to the date for a festival guide.

As of now, the festival is on, though a public statement from president Tim O’Grady posted on its website says it “may need to reconsider these plans as the situation evolves,” so check-in before you go for date changes or cancellations.

 Grain elevator museums

You can be forgiven for thinking the “grain elevator museum” is the most boring possible combination of words in the English language. However, these actually make for fascinating tours if you’re looking to do something a little out of the ordinary, especially if you are at all interested in giant pieces of heavy machinery like me. 

There are two major ones in the greater Edmonton area. St. Albert Grain Elevator Park is an open-air museum — which is a nice way of describing a wood fence enclosure in the middle of a field — on the southwestern edge of St. Albert that comprises two-grain elevators built in 1906 and 1929 respectively, and a reconstructed train station. Its season is from Victoria Day to Labour Day, it’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and it’s free to get in, though the non-profit that runs it accepts donations. The Spruce Grove Grain Elevator Museum is a bit farther away and only has one-grain elevator, so only go here if you’re completely burned out on St. Albert’s grain elevators because you’ve been to see them so many times. It’s also free to get in and is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., May 1 to Sept. 30.