I’ve lived in Edmonton for quite a while now; my entire life, in fact. 24 years may not seem like a long time to most hardened veterans, but as I broach my 25th year and prepare to enter what I’m told is an “inevitable quarter-life crisis,” I can’t help but reflect on the city I’ve grown up in.
I’ll admit, I haven’t always identified Edmonton as home. Despite being raised here, there have been times during the long winters where dreams of escaping to the beach came to mind. As a teen, I occasionally used to joke that there were more than a few reasons we’d earned the nickname “Deadmonton” (some less amusing than others, unfortunately). Yet now, as I close in on 2 1/2 decades here, I can safely say that I’ve truly begun to consider the city I was born in as home.
Now, we may not be quite as prolific as some of the other cities I’ve visited: we lack the lights and busyness of New York, the historical ruins of Rome, or the star-studded streets of LA. Even so, I can no longer deny that Edmonton, and the residents that inhabit it, have a certain undeniable spirit. There’s something special about a city that manages to thrive in subzero temperatures, where the unrelenting winters often seem to last deep into what is supposed to be “spring.” Lacing up your skates and doing a few loops around Hawrelak park with your friends, taking in the Christmas lights at the Legislature, visiting an ice sculpture festival, and sledding down Connor’s Hill (which you may recognize from a certain festive Apple commercial)…all of these things make winter a little more magical than miserable. We’re not the type to give up because of the elements; we embrace them, and make them our own. We love our sports with a fervor, and despite the fact that the local team may not be top of the league on a yearly basis, it’s hard to explain the energy that explodes across Rexall when our boys hit the ice. We’ve got local haunts, an expanding cultural scene, and a unique juxtaposition of rural meets urban. Want to go horseback riding before you check out an art exhibit, or watch some calves being wrangled before taking a stroll through a world class research hospital? We’ve got you covered.
I know Edmonton doesn’t always get the best rep, and I’ll be the first to admit that there are definitely some areas that we need to improve upon. While a quick perusal of online forums will leave some with the impression that we’re little more than a city with high rental rates and penchant for stabbing (yes, it seems we’ve somehow garnered a bit of a reputation), the view offered by such outlets are disconcertingly one-sided. What they fail to identify and share is the personality that makes Edmonton worth embracing. We’re friendly. Sure, our drivers may have some interesting interpretations of road rules (sorry, folks, it had to be said), but we’ll also dig you out of waist deep snow in the dead of winter with a smile. Why? Because we’re in this together. The fact that the Duchess Bake Shop has been featured internationally as a vetted “must visit” spot speaks to our rapidly developing food and drink industry, not to mention the entrepreneurial spirit that embodies Albertan nature. We’ve got a gorgeous river valley to play in, an ever developing downtown core, and just a few hours away we have the Rocky Mountains in our extended backyard. With endless festivals year round, there’s always something to celebrate, and a reason to be active.
So, to our critics, I would say this: Edmonton is a city that is constantly in the process of (re)defining itself. Just like any other city, big or small, Edmonton is also more than just the sum of its parts. We have a history that we’re proud of, and we’re just as excited to see where we’re headed. We know that we’ve got some room to grow, and believe me when I say we’ll be the first ones to gripe to you about it over a bottle of beer. At the same time, we’ll help those of you that are new to our city adjust to your first Albertan winter, and heck, maybe even help you have a little fun in the process. Come experience us in earnest before you decide who we are; I promise you that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Do I plan to stay in Edmonton forever? Most likely not. As much as there’s a part of me that belongs here, I believe that there’s something to be gained from going out and exploring on your own. Even though I may leave, I can say that I am proud of where I’ve come from, and I’m so excited to see how it will continue to grow as a city. Whether it’s the nature, culture, or the people, Edmonton has something for everyone. That’s exactly why I know that no matter where I go, there will always be a part of me that calls this city home. The beauty experienced here is understated, but once you find it, it stays with you for a lifetime.
Here’s to a fantastic last few decades together, Edmonton. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
Banner photograph courtesy of Wanderer Online Photographer Julie Kim