2011 Edmonton Transit System Historical Tour: Strathcona Tour & Streetcar Sunset

Though I love joining tours of cities I’m visiting, it’s something I also like to do at home. Being a tourist in your own city is a way to remind yourself of the things that make it great, or at least, things to appreciate and consider from a different perspective.

For that reason, we’ve been meaning to take in one of the Edmonton Transit System Historical Tours for some time, but in the busy festival season, it has fallen by the wayside for a number of years. In July, I made sure to purchase advance tickets for what seemed like the highlight of the series – a bus tour of Old Strathcona, followed by a ride on the High Level Streetcar…at sunset.

Apparently, the tour sold out right away, and could have been sold three times over had there been room, so I was glad to have bought the tickets when I did (at a steal of only $10 each!). Two weeks ago, we walked over to City Hall to board a full bus of excited patrons ready for a history lesson and a ride.

ETS Historical Tour

We were given paper fans at the start, handy while we waited for the bus to depart

The bus travelled through downtown en route to Old Strathcona, as our guide pointed out buildings on 97 Street (such as the W.W. Arcade) that, early in the 20th century, made it the premiere shopping district in Edmonton. We passed the Alberta Hotel, still being rebuilt, the Hotel MacDonald, and the former Canadian Pacific ticket station on Jasper Avenue. Then, there was a stretch where the phrase, “On this site, the former…once stood” were repeated too many times to count. It was a poignant reminder, in the face of the BMO Building’s demolition, that much of Edmonton’s visual history can now be found only in photographs.

The route took us over to the University of Alberta Campus, then back downtown, where we departed the bus in favour of the streetcar. I have so much respect for the Edmonton Radial Railway Society – I am constantly amazed that the High Level Streetcar is maintained and run entirely by dedicated volunteers. The car we were seated in, for example, was refurbished with over 35,000 volunteer hours, after the frame was recovered from a farmer’s field.

ETS Historical Tour

Car #33

One of the operators, Don, had the kind of wry humour that put everyone immediately at ease. He provided commentary while we road over the High Level Bridge to the south side (did you know the south end of the bridge is 8 feet higher than the north end?).

ETS Historical Tour

Our tour guide, Don

Once we reached the Old Strathcona stop (we overheard that the City is considering adding an additional stop further south at Whyte Avenue for next year), we were invited to depart and take a look inside the ERRS museum inside the bus barns.

Though it wasn’t very big, Mack and I loved looking at the memorabilia, and the signage from lines past.

ETS Historical Tour

To market, to market

Once everyone had a chance to stretch their legs, it was back on the streetcar for the moment we had all been waiting for. The skies had threatened to rain all evening, but we were a fortunate lot, as the clouds held off. The sunset was all the more spectacular given our vantage point.

ETS Historical Tour

Onto the bridge

Edmonton from the High Level Bridge

Mack’s spectacular panoramic shot

With the streetcar parked on the middle of the bridge, we were treated to a heightened “cocktail party” (heh). Nothing exotic, just juice boxes and some chocolate, but at that moment, we didn’t need anything more than the view.

Edmonton from the High Level Bridge

Sunset view

Edmonton from the High Level Bridge

Bye, LRT!

The Historical Transit Tours will start up again next summer. Though I’m certain all of them are equally informative, there’s just something about a sunset tour of the High Level Bridge that’s priceless, and something I’d say everyone in Edmonton should do at least once.

ETS Historical Tour

Good night!

You can see the rest of Mack’s photoset here.

ETS Community Conference 2008

I’ve decided to just make a quick point-form post about my impressions of the ETS Community Conference, if not only to remember what I thought in my first year of attending. If you’re looking for a little more detail, feel free to read Mack’s post about the half-day event here.

  • I read in the Edmonton Journal a few weeks before the conference that Bob Boutilier, the new GM of the City’s Transportation Department, actually takes the bus to work every day from his home in Twin Brooks. He definitely earned some respect from me with that admission. And after hearing him speak on stage, I have even more admiration for his obvious passion for public transit and his deft appreciation of the politics behind a sprawling city devoted to its vehicles. He didn’t once patronize the audience and knew that we all had first-hand experience of the ills of the current system. While realistic in his assessment of the time it will take to extend the LRT, he left the audience with the assertion that he believes the current city council is pro-transit, meaning that it may be possible to lay the groundwork for a better, more efficient transit system in the next three years.
  • Charles Stolte, Manager of ETS, presented himself as much more of a statistics fan when compared with Boutilier, though I guess it was good to know that ridership had increased by 7.75% in the last year, and that they had reached their “saturation point”, as they now have more buses than garage storage space at this time.
  • I wasn’t too impressed with the ETS Info-On-the-Go “demonstration” (or rather, slides of screen shots), though it was amusing to notice that the virtual customer care representative was seemingly modeled after Posh Spice (she was even named “Vicki”). While there is potential for such technology, I agreed with those in the session that questioned the usefulness of the kiosk for those already familiar with the system.

I would consider attending next year’s conference, if not only to meet others who are like-minded in their belief that the system can and must be improved.

Next Stop: Disneyland

Late last year, the Churchill Station platform was Enmax-ified.

For anyone who didn’t pass through this LRT stop, Enmax took over all of the display windows, hung large banners from the rafters, and even plastered the stairs and seating blocks with their logo and message (one morning, Enmax representatives were even at the Station handing out branded ice scrapers). Advertising their new EasyMax energy program, it made sense on some level to target the population utilizing public transportation – people who perhaps ride the bus for financial reasons who may be looking for ways to save money on electricity costs, or who have environmental concerns and may be interested in alternative providers.

If you have been to the station recently, however, it has undergone another makeover into an inescapable billboard for Disneyland. With a lavender color scheme and iconic portraits of spinning teacups, Snow White, and Cinderella’s castle in its visual arsenal, the Magic Kingdom’s display is undoubtedly more aesthetically pleasing – and emotionally manipulative – than Enmax’s effort. For some, the images may conjure up feelings of nostalgia, childhood innocence, and carefree times. Still, while it is appropriate timing for summer vacation advertisements to begin their rotation, it’s quite curious to me as to why Disney chose to target the LRT-riding clientele. While a wide variety of people count on public transportation in their daily lives, it’s safe to assume that urban workers and students (university and otherwise) make up a large proportion of users. Does Disney think this continuous exhibition will passively lull this demographic into “I’m going to Disneyland!” proclamations?

I was thinking a more effective method would be to have Mickey and all his merry friends court potential travelers in person, and à la Enmax, hand out mouse ears and other themed memorabilia. A fun new hat may not spur a trip across the continent, but the receiver may end up wearing the ears all across the city, thus spreading the association. Or, even better, lobby ETS to temporarily change the Station name to “Disneyland.” Can you imagine hearing “Next train: Disneyland,” or “Next stop: Disneyland.” Now that would be marketing.