Road Trip: Exploring East of Edmonton

A few weeks ago, we picked up the twentieth edition of the Go East of Edmonton guide from one of those free magazine boxes. It was the push we needed to finally explore some of the communities just east of the city, with a visual map that aided us to plan a day trip away.

Fort Saskatchewan

We started our morning at The Downtown Diner. It was our second time, and we were reminded again of their incredible hospitality. The service was warm and consistent – they kept pace with the way in which I drink my morning coffee; not an easy feat.

At this point, I should remark that the Diner is more highly regarded for their lunch and dinner plates, though they do have a few all-day breakfast specials. I always prefer to have eggs for brunch, so chose the basic eggs, meat and toast platter. Everything was fine, but the breakfast plates never pop as much as the other dishes.

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Breakfast platter

Mack’s mac and cheese, for instance, was a rich and creamy delight, topped with a crunchy bread crumb crust. He also appreciated the accompanying garlic toast.

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Mac and cheese

Bruderheim

After brunch, we were off to neighbouring Bruderheim, a small town of 1,300 known for being the site of Canada’s largest recovered meteorite (back in 1960). More recently, they are among a handful of Alberta towns that have instituted a curfew for teenagers.

One of the downsides to exploring small town Alberta on a statutory holiday was most of the family-run businesses we encountered were closed. One of the exceptions in Bruderheim was Theil’s Greenhouses, a small but charming greenhouse with a good selection of flowers, planters, and vegetables.

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Theil’s Greenhouses

I was particularly impressed with their array of tomato varieties (we picked up one of our perennial favourites – sweet baby girl) and a planter for Grandma Male.

Mundare

It’s always been on my bucket list to plan a road trip based around the unusually large monuments all over Alberta. We were able to hit up two on this trip, so it’s a start!

Mundare’s giant sausage ring (commemorating and erected by Stawnichy’s, the well-known Ukrainian meat shop) is set up just beyond the welcome gates on the town’s main street. It was built for photo ops, with a staircase in the centre to ensure tourists can be captured within the ring.

Mundare Sausage

The sausage

Just steps away from the monument is Stawnichy’s itself, one of the only shops on the street open that day. They were still doing brisk sales – their products are available at Mundare Sausage House in Edmonton, but it was nice to get it from the source; we bought some Ukrainian sausage and jerky to take home.

Vegreville

Vegreville was next on our list of towns and massive monuments. The pysanka is one of the most frequently cited large-scale sculptures, and though I had seen it in photos many times, it took visiting it in person to realize it rotates.

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The pysanka!

Although the pysanka isn’t accompanied by a staircase, it’s actually situated in more picturesque surroundings. Nestled in a park, we stretched our legs in the green space that featured a decommissioned caboose, playground, skate park, gazebo, and picnic areas. The playground even featured the exercise equipment that Mack and I so enjoy.

Vegreville Kinsmen Park

Onto the train!

Last year’s Vegreville Country Fair is actually featured on the cover of the Go East of Edmonton Guide – it definitely caught my eye, and is something I hope to get to later this summer (it runs August 10-12, 2017).

Elk Island Park

Last June, we took a turn through Elk Island Park and were besieged by mosquitos, so we thought a visit earlier in the year might result in better conditions. While this was true, I don’t think we anticipated as many people as we encountered. Although there were a steady stream of cars leaving as we drove in, the parking lot was oversubscribed.

It was great to see so many families taking advantage of the gorgeous weather over the long weekend. There were line-ups for boat rentals, blankets pitched every which way, and many groups set up for picnics.

Elk Island National Park

Busy day at the park

We weren’t dressed for an intense hike, so we took some of the more leisurely trails just off Astotin Lake. And though I was an initial sceptic about the Parks Canada #sharethechair campaign, I have to say I’m now a happy convert.

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Sharing the chair, again

Sadly for Mack, we didn’t happen upon any wildlife on our walk that day, but I’m sure we will be back to Elk Island before the summer’s end. They are hosting quite a number of special events over the next few months, including Parks Day on July 15, the annual Bison Festival on August 19, and Dark Sky Preserve Party on September 2-3, 2017.

Elk Island National Park

Sunny skies

It was a fun way to spend a day exploring the communities just outside of Edmonton. I’d recommend the Go East of Edmonton guide if you’re looking to plan your own daytrip!

Road Trip: Fort Saskatchewan and Jurassic Forest

At the end of June, in lieu of a birthday gift, Mack and I took the opportunity to spend the day together and explore some area attractions that we hadn’t made the time for yet.

To start, we headed to Fort Saskatchewan for their highest profile restaurant – The Downtown Diner. Having been featured not only in the Journal, but also in Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, Keith and Lori’s brand of comfort food has attracted some devout fans, many who are willing to make the drive from Edmonton for a meal.

Because of that, we were expecting a bit more of a line, but hey, no complaints here. It also probably helped that we missed the frenzy caused by the television episode by about a week. The diner itself is fairly non-descript on the outside, located along one of the main drags in downtown Fort Saskatchewan. Inside, the L-shaped restaurant is lined with cushy red vinyl booths and checkered floors, and looks exactly how you’d imagine a diner to be.

The Downtown Diner

The Downtown Diner

The staff also play their part – they were genuinely welcoming and friendly, with Keith making a point to thank every table for their business.

The menu is full of diner classics including burgers, fried chicken and mac ‘n’ cheese. Our seat by the kitchen actually made ordering very difficult – everything coming off the counter looked amazing. I settled on the diner hash with some meat ($14), while Mack was swayed by the special, a fried chicken and waffle sandwich ($14).

He definitely won this round: the fried chicken was spot on, crispy and tender, sandwiched by layers of waffles and cream cheese.

The Downtown Diner

Fried chicken and waffle sandwich

My hash would have been enough to feed the two of us, made up of potatoes, scrambled eggs, turkey (an add in), and topped with gravy and hollandaise. In hindsight, fried eggs would have been the better choice, but it was still a satisfying dish. Both of us agreed we’d be back soon to take on the later day entrees.

The Downtown Diner

Diner hash with turkey

The staff at The Downtown Diner are definitely proud of their restaurant – it shows in the food and the service, and you won’t regret the trek out to see for yourself.

After brunch, we headed on foot to a nearby park to see the other attraction in Fort Saskatchewan that we’ve heard a lot about: the sheep.

If you didn’t know, Fort Saskatchewan started utilizing sheep as their living lawnmowers in 1992. From June to September, a flock of about fifty sheep can be seen grazing at various parks four days a week. And yes, this novelty draws its share of tourists, to the point where they have a “sheep hotline”.

Fort Saskatchewan Sheep

We found them!

On that scorcher of a day, the sheep weren’t too difficult to find, clustered under the only available shade cast by a grove of trees. Although the website proclaimed how friendly they were, they did seem pretty wary of us.

Fort Saskatchewan Sheep

With Fort Saskatchewan’s mascots

Along the way, we also stumbled upon the Fort Heritage District. It is a much smaller facility than our own Fort Edmonton, but they had an exciting lesson of axe throwing underway. We were invited to watch the students, but needless to say, we were asked to stand way back.

Fort Saskatchewan

Axe throwing at the Fort

We hopped back in the car and continued north to Gibbons for Jurassic Forest. With the release of the popular Jurassic World sequel this year, Mack was hoping for more formal staycation tie-ins with Jurassic Forest, but we only just realized that in some ways, the attraction is old hat – we were both surprised to hear that it opened back in 2010.

Since then, Jurassic Forest has undergone a number of upgrades, and have increased the animatronic figures from 42 to 51, and have enhanced their educational displays. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we hoped to be intrigued.

Jurassic Forest

T-Rex

The dinosaurs were split between two heavily shaded trails (something we were thankful for on that day). We initially liked the idea of “stumbling upon” the creatures as we turned the corner, unknowingly tripping a motion sensor, causing the figures to come to life.

Jurassic Forest

Edmontonsaurus, on the right

But in some ways, we were disappointed that the dinosaurs had such limited movement (opening of eyes, raising of arms, and flicking of tails).

Jurassic Forest

Stegasaurus, one of my childhood favourites

Mack was also anticipating that we’d be able to get closer to the animatronic displays. The novelty of seeing them in the distance like wildlife quickly go old, and some of the figures were hard to see in the bush.

Jurassic Forest

In the distance

While we appreciated the placards describing each dinosaur, there were also some randomly placed placards about the flora and fauna, which may not have actually coincided with their location. We understand the facility was trying to encourage learning about our own native species still present, but they seemed like an afterthought.

Jurassic Forest

T-rex selfie!

Since we were there anyway, we extended our stay with a round of mini golf. It was probably a mistake to remain out in the full sun for any longer than we had to, but it was a fun side activity.

Jurassic Forest

Journey to Extinction mini-golf

The Telus World of Science now has a similar animatronic exhibit called Dinosaurs Unearthed, so you may not have to travel as far to see these prehistoric creatures come to life. But it is at a smaller scale, and doesn’t have the built-in appeal of the outdoors. And while I’m not sure I’d recommend Jurassic Forest for very young or older children, it was still a site to experience.

Looking forward to our next adventure close to home!