Recap: the ImMACulate Garden Party

On August 24, 2014, the Blink: Parkade Party team reunited to host an event in partnership with the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. The ImMACulate Garden Party provided an opportunity to explore one of the city’s best patios and vantage points of our stunning river valley.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

The terrace at the Hotel Macdonald

Although the Mac is a respected institution in our city, it is often underappreciated and overlooked by locals. We hoped that by organizing an afternoon of light entertainment and activities, we could highlight this gem in the summer leading up to its centennial. The event was also a fundraiser for the Edmonton Humane Society, in honour of the hotel’s canine ambassador, Smudge.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Enjoying the view

Nearly one hundred people joined us on that beautiful Sunday, all dressed in their garden chic attire. A quarter of attendees indicated that they had never been to the Mac before.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Garden party guests

The food and drink were a definite attraction, with the chefs focusing on a fresh, seasonal menu of refreshing nibbles.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Seafood ceviche

Guests enjoyed the melodies of harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker (which included dabbling in Madonna’s catalogue) and had the chance to chat with local artist Lori Frank about her Edmonton-inspired pieces.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker

The Mac was also supportive (in spite of maintaining a pristine lawn) of the transformation of their green spaces into garden games, including lawn bowling, bocce ball and croquet.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Lawn bowling (photo by Monika Czuprynski)

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Croquet

Catering Manager Larissa Gonzales led several tours of the hotel. Besides learning about some of the building’s storied history, the last two tours even manage to snag a peek into the Mac’s most expensive (and celebrity-graced) suite.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Inside the Queen Elizabeth Suite

The collaborative canvas was an experiment that went even better than expected – we invited guests to make their individual mark on what started out as a blank canvas. By the end of the event, the pastel-drawn piece resulted in a unique piece that reflected the group’s vision of Edmonton’s river valley. It was handed out as one of the door prizes at the end of the afternoon.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

Before (Mack and I are a little embarrassed at how we started it)

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

After

It was wonderful being able to see people make use of the terrace we ourselves have enjoyed all summer. And though the Mac is open to hosting such events again in the future, I recommend not waiting – make use of this last burst of warm weather and take advantage of one of our city’s assets.

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

The boys were out in full force (photo by Monika Czuprynski)

Thanks to everyone who attended, and the Mac for being such a great partner. We were able to raise over $550 for the Humane Society! Last but not least – I had a blast working with Hannah, Stephanie and Mack on this event, and look forward to whatever trouble we may get ourselves into next year!

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

The team! (photo by Monika Czuprynski)

You can see more photos for the event here.

Recap: the 97 Street Night Market, 2014 edition

On August 23, 2014, the second annual 97 Street Night Market took place in the heart of Chinatown.

97 Street Night Market

97 Street Night Market

Closing off part of 106 Avenue just off of 97 Street ensured we were accessible, and adjacent to several of the neighbourhood’s most popular restaurants.

97 Street Night Market

Lion dance

The market built on much of the foundation we had established last year, comprised of vendors, Asian-themed food trucks, dynamic performers and walking tours.

97 Street Night Market

Food trucks

New this year to our vendors was Sunny Snapshots. They provided attendees with the chance to take home a keepsake of the market with a photobooth picture (and props to enhance the shots!). The photos are also online in a digital format, for handy sharing.

Sharon and Felicia

Felicia and I crammed our props inside the booth

Rory Lee, a local artist, also committed to live painting a piece during the market. Many onlookers watched to see the progress he made throughout the night.

97 Street Night Market

Rory Lee

We were fortunate to have Molly’s Eats back for a second year, who was joined by Nhon Hoa and Yellowbird. They provided a nice variety of dishes, from banh mi to sesame fish tacos. I personally enjoyed the braised beef shank wrapped in a green onion pancake from Molly’s Eats.

97 Street Night Market

Fried rolls with beef from Molly’s Eats

The stage that night hosted a range of performers demonstrating more traditional arts to those who practice more modern endeavors. And they were all fantastic.

97 Street Night Market

The sidelines were full that night

Vivian Tao, a twelve year old master of the Chinese guzheng, blew the crowd away with her talent. Wing Choy of the Red Dragon Tai Chi Club enthusiastically led a tai chi lesson. The Sung Lee Taekwondo Demo Team brought their A-game with their high energy routine.

97 Street Night Market

Vivian Tao

97 Street Night Market

Wing Choy

97 Street Night Market

Sung Lee Taekwondo Demo Team

We also had two great K-pop dance crews: Rise to Beat and a favourite from last year, Convergence Dance Crew. Someone suggested we host a “dance off” in the future, but both crews are so passionate it would be hard to choose a winner!

97 Street Night Market

Rise to Beat

Of all the elements of the night market, walking tours are perhaps closest to my heart. They’re something I always seek out when travelling, since they’re a great way to learn about the history and geography of a neighbourhood.

97 Street Night Market

Returning guides Peter Wong and Lan Chan-Marples lead a Chinatown history tour

This year, I was most proud of the fact that we added a new tour to the mix that was all about the area’s culinary gems. A popular way to learn about Chinatowns all over North America, I was happy to finally bring such a concept back to Edmonton (I heard Judy Schultz, formerly of the Edmonton Journal, used to lead such tours herself).

97 Street Night Market

Tour participants enjoy samples at Ying Fat

Wild Tangerine’s Wilson and Judy Wu did a phenomenal job introducing five of Chinatown’s food businesses to a small group of lucky individuals (we unfortunately couldn’t take everyone who was interested in the tour!). The food-filled stops included Ying Fat, Edmonton’s fresh tofu factory, who go through 1000 pounds of non-gmo soybeans sourced from Ontario, and Hing Lung, a barbecue shop that cures and roasts its own meat.

97 Street Night Market

How many people can fit into Hing Lung?

The tour feedback was great; some commented that they would have gladly paid for the tour! Many participants also remarked that they now felt less intimidated in Chinatown, and would soon return to patronize the shops they now feel familiar with. Food tours in Edmonton’s Chinatown are definitely an untapped opportunity; I’m hopeful someone will pick up the torch in the future.

97 Street Night Market

The market after dark

Overall, I am proud of what we achieved with the 97 Street Night Market. We not only created a vibrant, safe gathering place in Chinatown, but also highlighted some of what the neighbourhood has to offer.

97 Street Night Market

With my co-organizers, Maria and Roxanne

Thanks to those who attended this year!

97 Street Night Market: August 23, 2014

Last August, I was a part of a group that organized the inaugural 97 Street Night Market. The group was comprised of a number of young second-generation Chinese Canadians, and the market was our way to create a lively, energetic gathering to inspire a new vision for the neighbourhood.

97 Street Night Market
2013 Night Market

In many ways, I think we succeeded. It was heartening to see people of all generations from many different backgrounds convening in a single parking lot, feasting, shopping, and otherwise socializing. It was a gathering place not normally found in Chinatown, and one that I hoped would be replicated in the future.

97 Street Night Market
Fortune sticks were really popular that night!

A lot of things came together to make that event happen – from gathering some of Edmonton’s food trucks to serve up Asian-themed dishes, to organizing walking tours of the area, vendors to sell trinkets and other typical night market finds, and securing performers who fit the spirit of the market.

My favourite act was Convergence Dance Crew

We developed connections with like-minded groups and at the time, knew that the market would allow us to build towards other events in the future.

On August 23, 2014, from 6-10pm, we will be hosting our second 97 Street Night Market. This time, we will be situated right in the heart of Chinatown, at 97 Street and 106 Avenue.

2014 Poster and Postcard - modified

We will be building on the momentum from last year, and have invited some of the same food trucks and vendors to return. Molly’s Eats had a menu that was hard to beat, but Susan may have outdone herself again this year – check out the menus from Molly’s, Nhon Hoa and Yellowbird here.

97 Street Night Market
Molly’s Eats feeding the crowd

The tours were so popular that we knew we had to ask our volunteer guides back. The detailed schedule is here, but were thrilled to have Lan Chan-Marples and Peter Wong lead not one, but two historical tours this year, and Paul Giang returns to deliver a perspective on art in Chinatown. New this year (and something I’m most excited about), is our food tour. I’ve long thought Edmonton’s Chinatown deserves its own culinary walking tour, and I can finally say it’s happening! Wild Tangerine’s Wilson Wu will be guiding a small group through some of Chinatown’s food gems, complete with samples along the way. There are limited spaces, so it is first come, first served!

We’ll have a host of great performers. Convergence is back, and we’ve added a second K-pop dance group as well, R2B. Also joining us this year is a martial arts group and a tai chi instructor! We’ll be posting the performance schedule next week.

Our goal for the 97 Street Night Market is to ensure that Chinatown isn’t forgotten. Join us on August 23, 2014 to explore, taste and see what Edmonton Chinatown has to offer!

Find out more on our website, and follow us on Twitter at @yegchinatown.

Recap: Farming in the City Guided Bus Tours

On August 26, 2012, Mack and I took part in the Greater Edmonton Alliance’s Farming in the City guided bus tours. Organized to increase awareness about the pristine farmland we currently have in Edmonton, in an effort to ensure it remains farmland as City Council considers the Food and Agriculture Strategy on October 26. Though it wasn’t our first time in the area (we took part in the Great Potato Giveaway and have been to Riverbend Gardens in the past), it was a different experience to visit the farmland as a part of a collective group. Tickets were just $10, quite a steal considering the day they planned for us.

We took the LRT to Northlands, a partner for the tours. For an event about promoting sustainability, it was odd that the organizers only had signs directing those who drove to the pick-up site, and not for those who took public transit. We couldn’t see the buses from the mouth of the LRT station, so did a fair bit of wandering around the massive Northlands parking lot before we came upon the site.

Farming in the City

Our ride

Anyway, we were happy to discover the first bus of the day was full (8:30am on a Sunday morning wouldn’t have been our first choice, but with Blink: Urban Picnic to follow, it was our only option). It also turned out the rest of the buses were equally well subscribed, to the point where the organizers were turning people away! In total, around 400 people took part in the 10 bus tours throughout the day, quite a feat considering the number of competing summer festivals going on.

It was also a particularly impressive volunteer effort, with enthusiastic, dedicated members of our community lending their time to this cause. Our tour guide, for example, is a student attending the University of Alberta.

Farming in the City

Volunteers like Joveena helped run the event!

The bus took us through five different farms in Edmonton’s north east, though we only stopped to visit three of them. The first of these stops was Horse Hill Berry Farm.

I never knew this little gem of a u-pick farm existed! David and Jackie Clark grow half a dozen varieties of raspberries on ten acres, and are open from late July to late August every year.

Farming in the City

Jackie Clark of Horse Hill Berry Farm

We were actually there on their last weekend of operation, but could still spot many juicy berries between the brambles ripe for the picking. Jackie encouraged us to not only wander the neat rows of raspberry plants, but to help ourselves to the fruit!

Farming in the City

Neat rows of raspberries

Farming in the City

Raspberries!

Our second stop was Norbest Farm, a potato farm. Owner Gord Visser was on hand to greet all of us as we departed the bus, and had a surprise for the group – fresh hand cut fries made from his potatoes!

Farming in the City

Another batch for the fryer

Farming in the City

Mack loves his potatoes

We were also able to each take home a bag of potatoes, so we could further taste the kind of produce the land supports.

Farming in the City

Spuds

Last but not least, our final bus departure took place at Riverbend Gardens. We were given an hour at this lush farm, which seemed to give everyone a leisurely opportunity to explore a part of the fields, take in the gorgeous views and enjoy the free corn that was being handed out!

Farming in the City

Riverbend Gardens is located right next to the North Saskatchewan River

Farming in the City

Will stop for corn

Farming in the City

Janelle chats with Global about her farm

Farming in the City

Kale!

Farming in the City

Among the cabbage

Riverbend Gardens has 120 acres of farmable land, and currently sell their produce at 7 farmers’ markets in Edmonton. But special for that day, owners Janelle and Aaron Herbert set up a produce stand right at the farm, so attendees could not only see the variety of vegetables grown, but to also purchase some to try for themselves!

Farming in the City

Produce stand

Farming in the City

Freshly picked veg

It was a great way to spend three hours on a summer morning – getting to know our farmland, our farmers, and some other Edmontonians who are committed to preserving our city’s food future. Thanks to the Greater Edmonton Alliance for putting this event on, and to all of the volunteers for making it happen!

You can take a look at the full photoset here. If you want to get involved, take a look at Friends of Farmers.

Eat, Drink and Be Early: Toronto Highlights

I’m still amazed at how much we managed to pack in during our short trip to Toronto back in May. It helps, of course, that on one of the days, we were already up and at ‘em by 7 a.m. Vacation? What vacation?

Aunties and Uncles

Mack and I only had one occasion to take in brunch during the trip, and we probably picked the absolute worst day to do so: Mother’s Day. Getting a reservation was near impossible, so after some research, we chose the walk-in only Aunties and Uncles (voted best brunch by Blog T.O. last year).

By the time we arrived, the line was forty-five minutes strong. It is a small restaurant, but in the summer, the patio seating easily doubles the number of tables.

Aunties and Uncles

The Mothers’s Day line

We were fortunate to get an al fresco seat, shaded by a large umbrella. In the early afternoon warmth, it was outdoor dining that wasn’t yet possible in Edmonton at the time.

Aunties and Uncles

Mack on the patio!

The food was well worth the wait. My omelette was chock full of rapini, tomatoes and smoked gouda, and the hash was nicely charred. The sweet and springy sesame-crusted challah was no doubt the start of the plate, however. Mack equally enjoyed his breakfast burger, with a homemade beef patty topped with brie, bacon and (his favourite), a fried egg. It was served on the same challah.

Aunties and Uncles

Omelette

Aunties and Uncles

Breakfast burger

Service was better during the first half of our meal – our coffee refills dropped off after that. Even still, I’d recommend Aunties and Uncles for brunch in Toronto– those lines don’t lie!

Steamwhistle Brewery

Besides Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint, the only other beer consistently in our fridge is Steamwhistle. Made in Toronto, we didn’t have the time last year to visit the brewery, so we made sure to include it on our itinerary on this trip.

Steamwhistle

The Roundhouse

Located in a former locomotive roundhouse, the area surrounding the facility is beautiful, a swath of green in amongst high rises and skyscrapers. There was even a small playground behind the building, situated just beneath one of the country’s busiest roadways. We eventually learned that the City at one point had wanted to demolish the historic building to make way for a convention centre parkade. But Council had the foresight to prevent this, and compromised– the parkade was constructed underground, and the building reconstructed brick by brick over top.

Steamwhistle

Freeway/playground

We managed to get tickets for the day’s final tour. At $10 a pop, the ticket included not one, but two beers, plus a souvenir glass or bottle opener. While waiting for the tour, we explored the event space, which is used often for concerts, weddings, and food truck events. I loved its raw, industrial edge, and while I haven’t been inside the Mercer Tavern yet, I am hoping it has a similar vibe.

Steamwhistle

In the tasting room

I enjoyed hearing about the history of the brewery, including its origins. Steamwhistle was started by three fired guys from the Upper Canada Brewery after it was purchased by Molson (etched on the bottom of each bottle is “3FG”as a reminder of its beginnings).

Steamwhistle

Free sample

Steamwhistle brews all of its beers in this building, with a volume of approximately 81,000 bottles per day (interestingly enough, our tour guide wasn’t able to compare this with the volume produced by a multi-national company).

Steamwhistle

Bottling area

We also learned that they had an actual working steamwhistle, which two lucky tour-goers got to pull. The beer’s namesake relates to the steamwhistle sound they wanted to echo through the streets of downtown Toronto to trumpet quittin’ time.

Steamwhistle

Whee!

It’s always interesting to see how a product gets on the shelves, and it gives us a bit more appreciation for our fridge staple.

Centre Island

Mack and Amanda will tell you that it was a not-so-pleasant wakeup call the day we intended to check out the Toronto Islands. Because Mack had to be back downtown for his early afternoon conference start time, we knew our window of opportunity was short, and hence, planned to catch the first ferry out. Our walk from our hotel to the ferry stop was a frantic one, dodging commuters on busy streets and narrow sidewalks. But, our tale ends well and we reached the dock in time to catch our ferry.

Centre Island

On the ferry

The Toronto Islands, with its limited real estate, vehicle ban, and need for ferry access makes it a bit of an idyllic, if isolated, community. Though we didn’t make it to the residential side of the islands, the number of bike-toting individuals that poured off the first ferry was astonishing. Here we were, in Canada’s largest city, with a sort-of hippie commune within arm’s reach!

Centre Island

Loved this sign!

The blessing of that first ferry was that we were among a very small group. As a result, once on the other side, it felt like we had the island to ourselves.

Centre Island

Mack also particularly enjoyed the city’s skyline as viewed from the Toronto Islands

The downside of visiting in May instead of June through September, however, is that many of the attractions, including the amusement park, were closed. Still, wandering the serene and lush, dew-sprinkled grounds were an attraction enough.

Centre Island

Centre Island

We did wander over to the beach on the other side, but still early, the mist and fog wouldn’t have made it an ideal time to spend on the sand or in the water.

We were also amazed at the amount of “wildlife” present all around Centre Island, from aggressive sparrows to fearless ducks, graceful swans and innumerable geese. And let’s not forget Amanda’s favourite – snakes!

Centre Island

Geese

Centre Island

Amanda’s pet

Even the inanimate animals were fun, the highlight found in Franklin’s Garden.

Centre Island

Mack confronts Franklin

Centre Island

Amanda found a better pet

Toting a picnic basket and swim gear, visiting Centre Island could easily take up an entire day – children in tow or not. The few hours we spent were good enough for us though, especially since our wait for the return ferry saw at least a hundred people pile off – and we weren’t in an island sharing mood.

Guu

Guu came to us recommended by a random Toronto blog I came across. Edmonton is bereft of izakayas, and friends of mine who have lived in Japan constantly bemoan this fact. And while I don’t eat sushi, cooked Japanese tapas are right up my alley, so I was curious to see what a Japanese pub was all about.

That said, I wasn’t expecting the raucous welcome that we received. Anytime a guest entered, all staff turned to the door with a loud greeting of welcome. Similarly, anytime a guest was leaving the establishment, hollers of goodbye and thank you travelled with them. It took us a while to get used to the noise, but there is no doubt it creates a very spirited, joyful atmosphere. Mack commented that it really drew attention to how many parties come and go in a given night.

Guu

Mack and Amanda at Guu

The interior was made up of low wooden tables and stools, warmed by Edison bulbs and a bustling open kitchen (flames were seen on more than one occasion).

Guu

Interior

The sharing menu is perfect for large groups, and was great for first timers like us, as it gave us the chance to sample numerous dishes. Our server recommended seven dishes for a three top. The standouts included the sweet and spicy fried calamari and pan-fried pork cheek.

Guu

Sweet and spicy fried calamari

Guu

Pan-fried pork cheek

I expected the okonomiyaki to be crispier and less wobbly, and the agedashi tofu to have had a firmer exterior, though the dashi broth was great.

Guu

Okonomiyaki

Guu

Agedashi tofu

Service was brisk, but matched the pace of the restaurant. I could definitely see myself returning on future visits, though it is the sort of place I would love to see in Edmonton. With the runaway success of Three Boars, other true small plates-focused eateries should be in the works. I think Edmonton is ready.

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.