Recap: Urban Beekeeping Tour at MacEwan University

Did you know that Downtown Edmonton is abuzz with urban beekeeping? While I was aware of the hives at the Shaw Conference Centre and Hotel Macdonald, I didn’t know that MacEwan University started a similar program in 2016. At the end of August, I attended a free tour of their hives to learn more.

Kerstyn Lane of MacEwan’s Office of Sustainability led the tour. We started outside, and learned about solitary pollinators, a vital but less often discussed group of pollinators. While most people are familiar with social bees that live in colonies, of the 300 species of bees that reside in Alberta, most are actually solitary bees. To help these bees, many organizations in Edmonton, including MacEwan University, are erecting bee hotels, which provide tunnels for the insects to lay their eggs in. The Edmonton & Area Land Trust has been promoting this as a way to help urban pollinators thrive, and has tips on how to build your own bee hotel, and a map of more than two dozen existing hotels in the city.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

MacEwan’s bee hotel

From there, the group moved onto the third floor of MacEwan’s Building 5. From the windows of a classroom, we were able to observe the resident beekeeper Troy Donovan and his assistant Liam as they tended to the rooftop hives. It was certainly a sight to see, with the hives in the shadow of Rogers Place and the new Ice District skyscrapers.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

MacEwan’s rooftop hives

The first of MacEwan’s four hives were installed in May 2016, and they have since grown to six hives. Troy (whose full time gig is actually in the University’s eLearning office) is able to monitor the temperature and the humidity of the hives through a bluetooth sensor. This is helpful particularly at this time of year as they are readying the hives for winter.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

Resident beekeeper Troy Donovan

He also showed us the plastic flow frames they use, which allow them to collect honey directly from individual frames as opposed to the more traditional method involving a centrifuge. They’re able to fill a 2L jar in just 20 minutes!

MacEwan continues to harvest more and more honey each year – from 80 pounds that first year to 300 pounds in 2017. This year, they’re expecting to bring in 600 pounds. The honey is currently used by Food Services, and we were invited to purchase honey at the end of the tour. MacEwan Honey isn’t yet consistently available at the on-campus store, but will be at some point in the future. The next opportunity to pick up this local treat will be at the upcoming Harvest Fair on November 6, 2018.

MacEwan Urban Beekeeping Tour

MacEwan Honey

Because of the cooler temperatures, Kerstyn wasn’t certain that any more free beekeeping tours would be scheduled for this year. However, for those keen to check out all three Downtown hives before the snow flies, MacEwan is organizing an urban beekeeping tour by bike on September 26, 2018 (tickets are $20 for the general public).

Thanks again to MacEwan for offering this opportunity!

2017 Alberta Open Farm Days at Erdmann’s Gardens and Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

Alberta Open Farm Days takes place every August, and is a great opportunity to visit with and learn about some of our food-producing neighbours. However, it is more difficult for those without a vehicle to participate in this annual event. This is where Northlands has played a key role over the past few years by offering one of the best deals of Open Farm Days: $5 organized bus tours of local farms. The morning and afternoon tours depart from their easily accessible Northlands Urban Farm, located just a short walk from Stadium LRT station.

Mack and I had a great time on the tour last year, so made sure to pick up tickets to this year’s iteration as well. We joined the morning tour, which would allow us to visit two farms in Sturgeon County: Erdmann’s Gardens and Greenhouses, and Sprout Farms Apple Orchards.

At Erdmann’s, we were greeted by Wendy Erdmann, matriarch of the farm. She shared that her husband Rony stared the farm in 1983, transitioning the fields from alfalfa to vegetables. They now farm 75 acres in crops and greenhouses, with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes making up their primary crops.

Erdmanns Gardens

Wendy Erdmann of Erdmann’s Gardens

Although they are not organic (Erdmann’s uses fertilizer and pesticides), they only spray when needed, and do employ some natural methods such as using organic sprays for their broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. They use the Redwater River for irrigation.

Erdmanns Gardens

Cucumber field

In the summer, they are busy with direct sales at three Edmonton area farmers’ markets, including the City Market, St. Albert, and Callingwood, but also offer some on-farm sales in July and August. Co-op stores have started recently carrying some of their produce, and Erdmann’s does work with several restaurants in the city as well, such as the Shaw Conference Centre, Zinc, and Tzin.

Erdmanns Gardens

On the tour

It was promising to hear from Wendy that her two sons, Shane and Cody, will be taking over the farm in the near future.

Erdmanns Gardens

Erdmann’s Farm

Before we departed, Wendy provided each attendee with a bag of veggies to take home – it was more than generous, and an appreciated token from the visit.

The group hopped back on the bus for our second stop, Sprout Farms Apple Orchards, located next to Prairie Adventure Gardens. In many ways, Sprout Farms feels like one of the region’s best kept secrets – I was astonished to learn that the orchard grows 150 varieties of apples.

Farmer Amanda Chedzoy explained that they moved to the property in 1980, and the farm began as a tree nursery. In 2000, they transitioned to a u-pick apple farm, planting any extra stock they had on hand. Since then, they’ve decided to move away from the u-pick business because it has been difficult for them to manage, and have adopted a Community Supported Agriculture model this year, in addition to selling pre-picked fruit. Sprout Farms is not certified organic, but they use organic practices, and haven’t sprayed in three years.

Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

Amanda Chedzoy of Sprout Farms

Although they do grow many varieties, they primarily offer 14 types of apples spread over 700 trees. Amanda shared that the fruit was very small this year due to continued drought conditions. Although they had 7 varieties available that day, she encouraged us to return next month, as September is their prime picking period.

Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

Apples!

Like Erdmann’s, Amanda mentioned that her sons will be taking over the farm in the future – given the prevailing narrative about the lack of interest subsequent generations have in continuing the farm business, it was very encouraging to hear from two families that this is not the case for them.

Sprout Farms Apple Orchards

On the farm with my parents

Before we left Sprout Farms, we had the chance to try some fresh-pressed cider, and buy some of their pre-picked apples from the on-farm store.

Thanks again to Northlands for organizing a great morning of farm tours!

104 Street Feast by Edmonton Food Tours

Mack and I were very fortunate to be able to spend Food Day Canada in early August with Karen Anderson. Karen is a culinary ambassador based in Calgary, well-known for her food writing and tours of markets and dining districts in our neighbour to the south. However, in the last year, she expanded her Calgary Food Tours business to encompass Edmonton and Canmore as well, rebranding as Alberta Food Tours.

In Edmonton, they presently offer three types of tours: Strathcona Feast centres on the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and adjacent area; 104 Street Feast winds its way through the City Market; and the newest Downtown Delights tour exposes diners to old and new gems in the core. Karen engaged several well-known food personalities to lead the local tours, including Edmonton Journal writer Liane Faulder and chef Cindy Lazarenko. But on occasion, Karen leads the groups herself, which is how we came to meet her in August.

Karen had invited us to attend one tour of our choosing; although Mack and I are weekly patrons of the City Market (and residents of 104 Street), we selected the 104 Street Feast option because we wanted to see how Edmonton Food Tours would highlight something so close to home for us (for the record, Get Cooking also offers a City Market tour, followed by a cooking class).

All Edmonton Food Tours are $115 per person, and cover all of the food and drink samples over the course of three hours. We learned later that Karen prides herself on compensating the restaurants and producers she has partnered with. In total, Alberta Food Tours supports over 70 producers in the province.

104 Street Feast begins at Kitchen, Chef Brad Smoliak’s culinary studio. Home to cooking classes and wine dinners, the space is warm and inviting, and Brad made us feel right at home. The small group gathered around the large island for coffee and an introduction of what to expect that morning.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Starting off at Kitchen

We started off with a hearty Ukrainian brunch that we would contribute to. Brad gave us a quick tutorial on how to assemble perogies before setting us loose. He’d prepared a basic dough (a simple and ingenious 2:1 ratio of flour to Dairyland sour cream, mixed together with a dough hook) and a filling of potatoes and Winding Road cheese for us to use. Since his philosophy at the studio is to get people back into the kitchen, Brad recommends having a perogy party to socialize while making up enough batches to go around.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Making perogies!

This was the highlight of the day for me – it was my first time making perogies “from scratch”, and it is something I could definitely see myself doing in the future.

After that, the dishes just kept on coming from the kitchen. Served family-style, this was a unique brunch that I couldn’t imagine being offered anywhere else. Although all of us had big appetites, we barely made a dent in the food.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Brad serves up perogies

The meal highlighted ingredients sourced from the City Market. There was a simple and fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes dressed with cold pressed canola oil that helped cut through the richness of some of the other dishes (I especially loved the flecks of dill).

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes

Meatballs, made with Acme ground beef and Irvings Farm Fresh pork, were simmered in a rich mushroom gravy, while Brad’s house-made kielbasa was accompanied by local Brassica Mustard.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Meatballs with mushroom gravy

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

House-made kielbasa

The nalsknky were easily my favourite, a house-made buttermilk cheese rolled in a crepe then doused in a mustard cream sauce. The perogies held up well, considering the inexperienced hands that had created them, and were served in Mack’s preferred way – with onions and lots of butter.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Nalsknky

Satisfied and eager to stretch our legs, the group wandered over to the City Market to commence the tour. In all, we would stop at ten different vendors or shops.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

With Pat Batten from Ocean Odyssey Inland

At each vendor, Karen would provide some background about the business, then for most, we were offered a taste of a product or a sample to take home.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Sampling steak and cheese pies from Meat Street’s Thea Avis

Given the market was in full swing with other customers to serve, it wasn’t possible for each vendor to tell their own story, but I did appreciate when this was possible. For instance, Alan Cosh, one of the founders of the Fruits of Sherbrooke, shared with us the evolution of the non-profit that began in order to reduce food waste. They began with the production of applesauce, then pies, but finally found their form in jams. Today, they make 45 different varieties (including their bestseller, a chipotle rhubarb ketchup), and having finally broken even two years ago, is now making fruit snacks and applesauce tubes for inner city schools.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Alan Cosh from Fruits of Sherbrooke

We also had the opportunity to chat with Ian Treuer of Winding Road Cheese. Based in Smoky Lake, Winding Road is unique because of their use of a plant-based thistle rennet (as opposed to the more common animal-based rennet). Ian was also fresh from a second place award at the American Cheese Society Conference for his washed rind RDB cheese, which is quite the coup for a cheesemaker who stared as a hobbyist just a few years ago. Winding Road currently offers seven different types of cheese, ranging from the stronger Highland Hall, a soft bloomy rind cheese, to a mild German butter cheese. Mack, upon sampling the award-winning RDB, actually stopped in his tracks to appreciate its flavour.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Ian Treuer from Winding Road Cheese

The entire tour took place at a relaxed pace, and we never felt rushed to move on. The three hour length was reasonable, and would allow guests to continue to browse the market afterwards on their own if they chose to do so. As a whole, the 104 Street Feast is a good resource for locals hoping to learn more about the market, as stories and firsthand connections to producers can be very powerful, but I did think the selection of vendors leaned more towards prepared products. It’s my bias as the City Market provides the foundation of our weekly groceries, so I would have liked to see more farmers included apart from Gull Valley and Reclaim Farm. A meat or egg producer would have rounded things out nicely, and might provide locals with a reason to return to the market on a more frequent basis.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

City Market

Still, the fact that not one, but two tours centre around the City Market is encouraging. 104 Street Feast definitely sets itself apart with the decadent Ukrainian brunch, perogy lesson, and the opportunity to hear from producers firsthand. If you’re hoping to learn more about one of Edmonton’s food institutions, I’d encourage you to consider joining this tour.

Edmonton Food Tours’ 104 Street Feast continues weekly every Saturday until October 7, 2017.

Food by Foot: Edmonton’s Best Brunch with Epicurean Adventure Tours

When travelling, Mack and I try to join at least one walking tour – we’ve found it’s the most enjoyable way for us to explore and learn about new destinations. Of course, when food can be added into the mix, all the better.

For that reason, it’s great to see that Edmonton is finally getting its share of pedestrian-oriented food tours. Last summer, Calgary-based Karen Anderson expanded Calgary Food Tours to include Edmonton and Canmore, under the banner Alberta Food Tours. Local food writer Liane Faulder and chef Cindy Lazarenko lent immediate credibility to this new Edmonton venture. Coincidentally, another upstart company also launched at the same time in the city called Epicurean Adventure Tours (EAT).

EAT is the brainchild of two local foodies, Bryanna Kumpula and Melissa Bourgoin. Inspired by similar tours they’d experienced abroad, Bryanna explained that their original intentions were to showcase Edmonton’s food scene to intrepid tourists. However, they’ve found in the last six months of operations that it’s actually mostly locals that have discovered them through EventBrite. In my mind, it really speaks to the continued growth of our culinary industries on all fronts.

I met up with Su for EAT’s Edmonton’s Best Brunch tour on a Sunday in March. Tickets were priced at $60, and covered our tastes at five locations. We were joined by two other pairs; EAT groups range in size from 4 to 12.

Our day started at Blue Plate Diner, one of Downtown’s most popular brunch haunts (they also offer breakfast on weekday mornings). Here, we were treated to a half order of their eggs beneduckt, made with duck confit – it had a nice balance of textures, enhanced with a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs beneduckt from Blue Plate Diner

One of my chief complaints about the tour as a whole was the lack of backstory – whether that be history, context, or points of interest. One of the reasons I choose to participate in paid group tours is for the value add of information or access. And when the tours centre around small businesses in particular (when there are fewer degrees of separation between the customer and the owner), the connection to the story behind the business is important because it can help encourage repeat visits.

I acknowledge that for this particular tour, I was biased because I happen to live on the same street as many of the establishments we visited. Still, in the case of Blue Plate Diner, I was expecting some introduction to co-owners John Williams or Rima DeVitt, or in lieu of that (as not all owners or managers can be available at all times), for our guide to fill in the blanks. Blue Plate would have been a great place to talk about the evolution of 104 Street from its warehouse roots to the modern day condos, outdoor City Market, and Ice District proximity.

Our second stop was down the street to KB & Company. I was most looking forward to this visit, as I’m a little embarrassed to say I hadn’t made it down to this eatery yet. I was curious about what led owner Kristina Botelho to pilot a vegan menu in an area that hasn’t embraced similar ventures (see Earth’s General Store). Alas, the tour didn’t include that tidbit, or anything about KB & Company beyond its menu.

The half order of oat & hempseed waffles, with bananas, macaroon granola, almond-coconut whipped cream, and maple syrup, was very good. Served warm, it tasted every bit as indulgent as waffles with powdered sugar and dairy-based whipped cream, but not as sweet.

EAT tour

Oat & hempseed waffles from KB & Company

We detoured next to Craft on Rice Howard Way. The brunch crowd here was quiet, but it was still pretty early for a Sunday. We were seated at one of the tables at the front where the Great One had autographed (lacquered over, of course).

Craft was prepared for our arrival – a manager took us to their keg room, where they had 30 Alberta beers on tap, including Red Deer’s Troubled Monk, one of their newer additions. We learned that they do source from some local producers, including Morinville Greenhouses and Popular Bakery. We also trekked up to the mezzanine level where we could watch some of the cooks prep Craft’s Meals that Mend contribution to the Ronald McDonald House that evening. Craft sealed the deal with a 2 for 1 coupon for a future brunch meal.

EAT tours

Rotating keg room at Craft

We tried one of their breakfast tacos, with scrambled egg, beer can chicken, guacamole, feta, and pica de gallo in a flour tortilla. It was accompanied by their signature hot sauce, though most of us thought it could have rated higher on the heat meter. But overall, it was something I’d consider ordering for myself.

EAT tours

Breakfast tacos from Craft

We returned to 104 Street for our final two businesses. Evoolution was our penultimate stop. If you’ve been to any of their locations before you know that customers are encouraged to sample the different olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ranging from single origin and flavoured oils to vinegars of varying types and flavours. Our group was not treated any differently as we browsed the different products available on the shelves. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Evoolution (which has since expanded to six locations in Edmonton, St. Albert, Canmore, Banff, and Calgary), and it was great to see the number of made-for-Evoolution products they’ve expanded to include, such as olive leaf tea and Wild Prairie soap and Violet Chocolate Company bars made with Evoolution olive oils.

Our last visit was to Credo, the always bustling neighbourhood coffee shop. Our group managed to snag a couple of tables, and enjoyed a cup of coffee or tea. Owner Geoff Linden came to say hi before we left, but again, I was left wanting a bit more from our EAT guide – she could have talked about the Intelligensia coffee they use, the third wave coffee scene in Edmonton, or even how they anchor the so-called "Coffee District".

EAT currently offers two other walking tours in addition to Downtown brunch – a desserts tour and a bacon and brews tour. Bryanna says she hopes to add Old Strathcona and Ellwood Drive tours to the roster in the future.

While I enjoyed spending the morning with Su and other food-loving Edmontonians, I was hoping the tour would offer more information along with the food. I hope EAT considers integrating more of these stories into future tours.

Stories Behind the Chopsticks: Chinatown Food Crawl

I love the idea of food crawls – they’re not only a great way to meet other people, but they spotlight multiple establishments within walking distance of one another, thus promoting the neighborhood on a larger level. In the past, with the seemingly defunct Edmonton branch of Dishcrawl, the focus was on areas that were already mainstream – Downtown, Old Strathcona, 124 Street.  In some ways, the food crawl is a more powerful tool when wielded to expose people to quadrants less ventured. Two years ago, the North Edge Business Revitalization Zone (covering Queen Mary Park and Central McDougall, just north of the Arena District) did this with their Flavour Journey Restaurant Tours. Now, McCauley Revitalization has embraced the food tour with a series called Stories Behind the Chopsticks.

Led by Freya Fu, the tours have been a way for her to connect Edmontonians with an oft-overlooked neighbourhood: Chinatown. Plagued by a reputation of its high concentration of social services and housing, many dismiss Chinatown as unsafe and unwelcoming. Those who do miss out on the gems – food stores like Ying Fat tofu factory and Shan Shan Bakery, happening late night hot pot restaurants like 97 Hot Pot and Urban Shabu, or my personal favourite, pho joints like Pho Tau Bay and King Noodle House.

Freya established connections with several business owners in Chinatown to create four tours in May, each highlighting four restaurants. Two were open to the public, and the $35 tickets sold out in just a few days. I have to say I was initially disappointed that the public tours were held in the afternoon (I think much of the stigma Chinatown has to overcome relates to its evening economy), but I also recognize the need to work with the owners at a time convenient for their regular customer flow.

I had the pleasure of accompanying Freya on her May 30, 2015 tour as a volunteer. There were about two dozen people in the group who gathered at our first stop: Lee House (10704 97 Street). The second location of the southside Korean mainstay, proprietor Mrs. Lee shared that she had started the restaurant twenty-two years ago with her husband. She was clearly very proud of her scratch cooking, and her son shared that she was particularly excited about this branch because of its proximity to the Lucky 97 Supermarket across the street, allowing for easy access to fresh ingredients.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Mrs. Lee and her son, of Lee House

We were treated to a family-style feast, including bulgogi, japchae, chicken balls, and an assortment of pickled accompaniments. The japchae (stir fried sweet potato noodles) is a favourite of mine, and the Lee House version doesn’t disappoint.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Korean-style feast

Zen Sushi (10518 101 Street) was the second stop. I confessed that I had walked past the storefront on 101 Street countless times, but had never peeked inside.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Zen Sushi interior

Henry, the owner, grew up in the neighbourhood, and expressed his commitment to help grow and develop McCauley. He intends at some point in the future to start “Zen After Dark” where their usual all you can eat concept will be set aside in favour of a special ramen menu on Friday and Saturday nights. This would help drive foot traffic in the area and he hopes to make Zen a positive destination.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Making sushi

I’m not a sushi eater, so I didn’t partake in much at this stop. Zen also had some kinks to work out in their ordering system for a group our size, but I’m certain they would have streamlined it by the second crawl.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Travelling on foot

Next, we headed to the adjacent Golden Szechuan (10508 101 Street). Specializing in regional Szechuan cuisine (known for its unrelenting heat), we were served a beautifully plated sampling of dishes: shredded pork with Szechuan sauce, sliced beef tendon in spicy sauce, and my favourite, sliced fish in hot sauce.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Golden Szechuan sampling

It would have been ideal for the owners to provide more of an introduction to the cuisine, as I was certain many would have benefited from learning about what separates Szechuan cooking from other, more familiar, Chinese styles.

Before dessert, we made a quick stop at Ruby’s Bakery (10642 98 Street) to pick up some treats.

Chinatown Food Crawl

How many people can fit inside Ruby’s Bakery?

Offering Hong Kong-style baked goods, including elaborate wedding cakes, it was difficult to ignore the wafting aromas of freshly made sweets. The coconut tarts were such a hit that some tourgoers ended up purchasing more to take home.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Coconut tart and tulip cake

With our to-go boxes in hand, we ambled next door to Tea Bar Café (10640 98 Street), one of several Chinatown establishments serving up bubble tea. An alternative to coffee shops, the blended fruit-based drinks with tapioca pearls proved to be a refreshing way to end our journey. Similar to Golden Szechuan, I would have appreciated some more information from the owner about the history of bubble tea.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Mango bubble tea

Overall, from conversations with participants, most had never been to any of the establishments prior to the tour. Many said they would return on their own, now knowing what to expect. Freya had the ingenious idea to distribute a coupon book offering deals to each of the businesses, which will hopefully further encourage repeat visits.

Thanks again to Freya for the opportunity to join her on the tour! And if you missed it, you’re in luck – due to popular demand, a second tour, featuring different restaurants, is taking place on July 15, 2015 at 6:30pm. The link to the tickets will go live on July 2 at 7am.

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.