08. Edmonton? Why?

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

Arrival in Edmonton marked my first experience with AirBnB.com accommodation. While I have rented many apartments from web-based services in the past, AirBnB has emerged as the dominant force in the market. It is having effects on the hospitality industry not unlike those Uber is having on the taxi industry. The benefit of the AirBnB arrangement is a higher quality product delivered at less cost – in this case a fully furnished and equipped apartment for $150 per night, versus a cramped hotel room for $250 a night. The cost is that one bears the risk of a substandard experience, with limited recourse.

Or worse. I recently overheard a group exchanging their fears of AirBnB: fraud, robbery, peeping video cameras, sexual assault in the night, even kidnapping and murder. Yikes.

In theory, AirBnB mitigates this risk by registering the landlords, providing reviews of prior customers, and stepping in when things go awry. In reality, every hotel presents much the same risks. Indeed travel itself increases all of these risks. Travel requires a level of trust in the kindness of strangers. As I have said before, travellers, like immigrants and fugitives, are inherently optimistic, sure of something better just over the horizon.

I hope not to discover whether I am wrong about this, but I think the AirBnB paradigm provides some protection and recourse in the event of fraud or lousy product.  In my case, with regard to robbery, peeping video cameras, sexual assault in the night, and even kidnapping, well, the joke is on them. This leaves murder.

My sixth campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will require all web-based accommodation services to research and report on the gun ownership and gun licenses of prospective hosts and guests. Alternatively, guns and appropriate ammunition can be provided to all guests.

Edmonton might seem an odd stop for a presidential campaign. Virtually every person told that I was planning two nights in Edmonton asked “Why?”

Only recently Edmonton was a boom town, rolling in the wealth of the black sludgy gold from northern Alberta’s oil sands. The oil price crash of the past few years has taken the gloss off that ecological felony. Throughout, Edmonton retained a middle-class feel. Many residents fly out to even more god-forsaken places, abandoning their families for regular two or three week stints at extremely well-paid jobs in the resource extraction sites (mines) that dot the true north. I’m guessing the local politicians call these “working families”, which given how little they see of each other, may actually be the case. I thought it would be worth a look.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As the provincial capital, Edmonton has plenty of local politicians, as well as other public servants, innocuous and insidious. There’s also a considerable base of academic and university employment which, on the whole, creates the effective illusion that if there were no city here on this oft-frozen tundra, we’d need to invent one. Which is what they did. Thus Edmonton has a better raison d’être than most cities, albeit a rather mercenary one.

The AirBnb apartment was located near the Assembly Building (seat of Alberta’s provincial government), only blocks from City Hall and downtown. The owner, who lived in another apartment in the same building, let us in, giving us some basic advice about local restaurants and grocery stores. The place was clean, modern, spacious, functional and comfortable. It was decorated about as drably as imaginable, but then, one cannot expect fine art in a short-term rental property.

Edmonton’s numbered grid of broad avenues and generously proportioned streets is a snap to figure out if you can remember that, unlike New York, the avenues go across while the streets go up-and-down. There’s also a pernickety insistence on pronouncing, say, 88 St as “Eighty-eight Street”, or 104 Ave as “One-Oh-Four Ave”, rather than “Eighty-eighth Street” or “Hundred-fourth Ave”.

With the legislature, schools and universities all out of session, we found the city streets quiet. We met a friend for a drink, a native Edmontonian. “Why are you here?” she asked rhetorically. IMG_0925Before I could reply she embarked on an explanation that many residents had fled to enjoy the short summer, and to avoid the storm of construction that a short summer engenders. We invited her to join us for dinner, but she had plans, warning us as she left “Edmonton is NOT a foody town.”

Perusing several restaurants in the vicinity of Edmonton’s premiere “eat streets”(104 St and Jasper Avenue) we were disappointed to find most establishments were surprisingly similar: the same pub-food on offer, the same limited  wine list, the same menu font, the same “seat yourself” policy, the same knife-and-fork-wrapped-in-a-white-napkin-held-together-with-a-black-sticky-band-tossed-on-the-table-when-you-sit-down. If you come to Edmonton hoping to be served elk au poivre with an impertinent Okanagan pinot noir, you will be disappointed.

We ended up splitting a tall and generous double-burger at a friendly place called Burg sitting outside next to a short and squat Torontonian named Bert. We got to chatting, and upon hearing we had planned to spend two nights in Edmonton, Bert asked “Why?”

IMG_0369In the morning we toured the Assembly building.  It contained the usual sceptres, orbs, portraits, and myths.IMG_0367IMG_0368




In the near future it will be the scene of some tumult as for the first time in forty-four years the good people of Alberta tossed their Progressive Conservatives out of power in favour of the New Democratic Party. The Progressive Conservatives were trounced to the point that they won’t even lead the opposition, an honour captured by something called the Wild Rose Party.  That is all fine and good – democracy at its most interesting – but what is really gripping is that seventy of the Assembly’s eighty-seven members are newbies, with no experience as members. Fasten your seatbelts!IMG_0381

When the Alberta Assembly first opened, portraits of King George V and Queen Mary were commissioned, and they hang there to this day. The artist using a remarkable technique that makes the monarchs’ eyes, and, of all things, their knees, follow one across the room as one passes.  Moving one’s head back and forth, one can enjoy a vision of monarchs squirming.  In the lead-up to The Great War, it is nothing short of poignant. The photos hardly do it justice, but have a look:



Afterward we wandered around downtown, checking out the Art Museum and various other sights.  We stopped in very briefly at the incredibly depressing casino. Later we visited the ballpark, thinking we might attend that night’s game of the minor league baseball club, the Capitals.  Severe thunderstorms were threatening, and the ball park offered little cover, so we thought better of it. Instead we took a long a sunset walk in the parkland along the North Saskatchewan River, which was truly lovely.

Heading home, we picked a rotisserie chicken and a salad at the Save On Food supermarket.  It was the best meal I had in Edmonton.