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.

To Century Park (and Beyond): South LRT Grand Opening

It was a blustery day for the grand opening of Edmonton’s two newest LRT stations, Southgate and Century Park, not unlike a year ago when McKernan/Belgravia and South Campus first opened to the public.

To Century Park!

Mack and I attended the two ceremonies this morning, complete with government dignitaries, obligatory speeches, and celebratory bagpipes. It was obvious Mayor Mandel was proud and excited about the completion, and ever-keen to share the success with his fellow City Council members. He also acknowledged the patience of those who live in the area, triumphantly declaring that construction was now over! And though Premier Stelmach didn’t specifically announce any funding dollars today, he did indicate that he is keen on working with local officials to continue with the LRT expansion.

Mayor Mandel, flanked by the rest of City Council, and Premier Ed Stelmach

It was good to see plenty of people out in spite of the early start and the cold, at both Southgate and Century Park. By the time we left the event, quite the mass of people had gathered at the Community Fair.

The crowd at Southgate

Possibly the best thing about the two new stations are the electronic signs, which tell travelers when the next train will be arriving – technology that has been a long time coming to Edmonton. There is also some interesting art at the Century Park station, huge visually appealing multi-coloured globes suspended from the ceiling.

Digital sign

Leaves

What I was most looking forward to today, besides seeing the new stations, was the Community Fair. I have attended a few incarnations of it – a conference two years ago, and last year’s family-friendly fair that tied into the McKernan/Belgravia and South Campus opening ceremonies. This year’s event seemed to be forward-looking, eager to introduce citizens to the benefits of conveniently connecting more communities by train.

ETS Community Fair

We wandered between the ETS displays, free food tents and transportation displays, and wished that the band had been scheduled to start performing as soon as the opening ceremonies were done, as the weather-induced grey atmosphere definitely needed some livening up. That said, people seemed to enjoy themselves all the same.

Cupcake from Cakes by Trina

Parachute!

Mack with Punter

In anticipation of May 15, the first day of the City Centre Market, a dozen vendors, including Medicine Man Bison, Prairie Mills Bread and Walden West Food set up shop at Century Park as well, hoping to let area residents know that they are now easily connected to fresh, local goods and produce.

Get ready for the City Centre Market

Me and Maria

Potatoes from Greens, Eggs and Ham

Delectable sweet and savoury treats from Queen of Tarts

Preserves from Col’s Kitchen Delights

To end our LRT tour today, we returned north to deVine Wines, located at Bay/Enterprise Square. DeVine’s was pouring free bubbly to celebrate the new stations – how could we turn such an offer down?

Our prosecco

I was hoping more businesses along the rail line would participate in a similar manner, and to use the grand opening as a means of exposing their business to would-be customers, but perhaps that was too much to hope for. Regardless, I am eager to test out the full extension on a regular day away from the fanfare. Hurrah for more improvements to our public transportation system!

You can read Mack’s post here, and see his full photo set here.