Home to trendy Whyte Avenue, the busy University of Alberta, and a history that extends back over 117 years, Edmonton’s Old Strathcona District is the cultural, fashion, and culinary epicentre of the capital region. This neighbourhood, located on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River, is one of the few regions of Edmonton where heritage buildings are preserved and celebrated. The brickwork of the shops along Whyte Avenue, the centre of Old Strathcona, hints at a history extending back to the late 1800s. Originally called “South Edmonton,” the area was chosen as the northern terminus for a railway that extended from Calgary, completed in 1891. It is said the railway company wanted to capitalize on any future land value of the railroad terminus, so rather than extending the tracks over the North Saskatchewan River into then-Edmonton, they stopped on the riverbanks and created the new South Edmonton. It turned out to be a wise business move — South Edmonton soon overtook Edmonton as the region’s commerce centre, and land valued increased as expected.
The trains brought settlers; South Edmonton was a town by 1899 and designated “The City of Strathcona” in 1907. Construction of the first buildings began around today’s 103rd street — many of which still stand today. In fact, today’s Strathcona Hotel was one of the first buildings erected. Growth continued, and in 1912, the citizens of Strathcona voted themselves into Edmonton.
Growth in the area ebbed and flowed for the next few decades — but Strathcona’s fortunes changed in the 1970s, when, during an economic upswing, Edmonton’s downtown core was essentially demolished and rebuilt anew. Strathcona was spared this “revitalization.” This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it set the area up for its historic designation in the coming decades. As the area transformed from “run-down” to “heritage,” today’s Old Strathcona was born. In 2007, The Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area was created — ensuring the preservation neighbourhood’s character for future generations to enjoy.
When staying at The Sutton Place Hotel Edmonton, Old Strathcona is a must-visit neighbourhood. Within about 30 square blocks, you can enjoy more than 100 places to eat and drink, 54 clothing shops, 40 hair and body care stores, nine book and magazine stores, 25 health and wellness services, and the most live theatre per capita in Canada.
Beyond the storefronts and eateries, though, there are some great community attractions in the neighbourhood as well. Every Saturday, year-round, residents and visitors alike flock to the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market (10310 – 83 Ave.) to pick up fresh baked goods, organic produce and meat, arts and crafts, and generally enjoy the hustle bustle. Also, from May 20 to September 4, one can take in a sky-high ride aboard the Edmonton Radial Railway Society High Level Streetcar — a throwback to the days when Edmontonians travelled in style aboard San Francisco-like streetcars. (The sky high part comes when you cross the North Saskatchewan River from 46 metres above, atop of the High Level Bridge.) There are also bus tours, guided walking tours and heritage museums and houses to explore.
Several of Edmonton’s signature events take place in Old Strathcona. The beginning of April brings Edmonton Fashion Week, where local, Canadian and international designers have their haute couture on display at the Transalta Arts Barn (10330-83 Ave). Also in the first week of April is the Night Of Artists, where more than 200 musicians, dancers, poets, storytellers and more get together in the Transalta Arts Barn. Beyond that, summer brings the Jazz Festival and Canada’s Largest Fringe Festival and winter brings the annual Ice on Whyte ice carving competition, among so many other events.
But perhaps the best pleasure Old Strathcona brings is also its simplest: just enjoying the atmosphere of Edmonton’s trendiest, most historic, and most culturally diverse neighbourhood. It is people watching at its finest!