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TRAVEL - Edmonton, Alberta

Shopping, Arts and Culture, with a diverse LGBTQ+ Community

Travel by Steve Polyak (From GayCalgary® Magazine, August 2018, page 32)
TRAVEL - Edmonton, Alberta: Shopping, Arts and Culture, with a diverse LGBTQ+ Community
Image by: GayCalgary
TRAVEL - Edmonton, Alberta: Shopping, Arts and Culture, with a diverse LGBTQ+ Community
Image by: GayCalgary
TRAVEL - Edmonton, Alberta: Shopping, Arts and Culture, with a diverse LGBTQ+ Community
Image by: GayCalgary
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As part of all the travel features GayCalgary has been doing on places we sponsor events at, writing a travel feature about Edmonton is something that I knew I would have to eventually do. The problem is that GayCalgary sponsors a lot of events in Edmonton, so trying to figure out which weekends would work best to cover the event we are sponsoring, plus explore Edmonton was not easy. With most destinations, gay pride either ties in travel adventures like it does for Whistler or Jasper, or the events are easier to manage to cover activities, like Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and Banff. Edmonton Pride is just too massive of an event to try to also visit museums or art galleries, do food reviews, check out West Edmonton Mall and other things that would be of interest for a tourist.

I was planning to be in Edmonton twice in one month which worked perfectly for a travel feature. One weekend would be for the Great Canadian Bear Weekend and then a couple of weeks later for the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose Coronation. GayCalgary Magazine is a proud sponsor of both events and they both also draw visitors to Edmonton outside of Pride Weekend.

My transportation to Edmonton for the Great Canadian Bear Weekend was with Ebus, a discount bus service provided by Red Arrow. The Edmonton downtown stop is a couple blocks away from most of the hotels. Even though it is a discount version of the standard Red Arrow buses, it still has free wi-fi and the same drop off locations as the main service. It has 4 seats per row like a standard charter bus, while the higher end Red Arrow buses have 3 seats per row which offers more room around the seats and they also have self-serve free cookies, tea, coffee, bottled water and pop.

My hotel stay was at the iconic Chateau Lacombe Hotel. Check out the complete article at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5755 . Bus and LRT routes are just a couple blocks from the hotel, which makes it easy to get around if you don’t drive or traveling on a budget. If you want to explore the valley, there are sidewalks around the hotel that will give you a spectacular view of the city as well as stairs that will take you down into the valley.

The first event, outside of covering the bear weekend, was the Cariwest parade and festival. The parade happened along Jasper Avenue and ended at Enterprise Square. Cariwest is Edmonton’s Caribbean Arts Festival which has been running for over 30 years.  Check out the article at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5760 on Cariwest and photo highlights of this vibrant and lively event.

As soon as I was able to, I took Edmonton transit to West Edmonton Mall which is North America’s biggest mall. For the Great Canadian Bear Weekend, the Saturday daytime activity is the bears at World Waterpark which is inside West Edmonton Mall. With having a busy schedule for the day and needing to take photos of the water park and other West Edmonton Mall attractions, I did not get a chance to go down the water slides as often as I would have liked to. If you go on weekends, expect there to be some line ups for the more popular slides, so I recommend you going either on a weekday or in the evening. The water park though is exceptional for the number of slides, hot tubs and other activities that you can do. Check out the article on West Edmonton Mall and other activities in the water park and throughout the mall at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5762 .

The evening had the big dance for the Great Canadian Bear Weekend. For more information about the event as well the organization, Fellowship of Alberta Bears, check out the article at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5758 .

A couple of weeks later, I was back in Edmonton for the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose (ISCWR) Coronation. The host hotel for the event is the Edmonton Inn and Conference Centre. Read the article about hotel at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5756 and the ISCWR at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5759 . For this trip I took a Greyhound bus since the bus depot is just a short walk to the hotel. It is about a 15-minute cab ride downtown from the hotel and Greyhound depot.

Close to the hotel is the Alberta Aviation Museum. I have been wanting to visit this museum ever since I started covering events in Edmonton. I had checked into the hotel room and quickly made my way to the museum, so I could spend as much time in the museum before covering the coronation in the evening. Check out the article about the museum at http://www.gaycalgary.com/a5757 .

During my visit to Edmonton, I also finally got a chance to walk around the Alberta Legislature Building. The only time I have seen the building is when I am driving by it coming to or from the downtown core. Completed in 1913, the Legislature Building has a Beaux-Arts architecture style, so it has a large central dome with massive roman pillars with lots of detailed stone carvings. Surrounding the building is lush green gardens with wading pools and water fountains. A short distance away from the "Ledge" are other government buildings which also have interesting architectural features.

Edmonton keeps travelers busy with festivals happening throughout the year. A major event for the arts is the Edmonton Fringe Festival which is the oldest and largest fringe festival in North America! With constantly sold out shows, expect to see some great performances. They boast having close to 1,600 artists performing from around the world and over 1,200 indoor performances. They also have outdoor live performances and other outdoor activities, so you can enjoy the late August weather.

There are other sites to see in Edmonton like Fort Edmonton, Royal Alberta Museum, Alberta Railway Museum and the Muttart Conservatory. I have still not been able to visit any of these attractions, but I hope to for our next travel feature on Edmonton. With so much happening in Edmonton, it is hard not to find something to do while you are there.

Edmonton’s LGBTQ+ Community

As the LGBTQ community becomes more integrated in to the main stream, gay bars are shutting down across Canada. In Edmonton, some notable standouts from gay bar closures was the Roost Nightclub (http://www.gaycalgary.com/a50 ) which shut their doors just after celebrating their 30th Anniversary. To what I understand, prior to closing its doors, the Roost was the oldest gay nightclub in Canada. The last lesbian bar in Western Canada, Prism Bar and Grill (http://www.gaycalgary.com/a231 and http://www.gaycalgary.com/a487 ) was also based in Edmonton. Both bars, along with lots of others were a necessity back when the gay community was still fighting for equality, and they gave a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community where people could feel like they had a family of close friends and be themselves.

With the amount of gay bar closures that have happened in Edmonton, I recommend before heading out to check the GayCalgary online business directory. We constantly remind gay bars and businesses to fill out our free directory listing. This way you know what is currently open or closed since several Edmonton gay bars have opened their door to close them less than a year later. (http://www.gaycalgary.com/gaybars )

Edmonton Pride is the biggest gay event in Alberta and it runs over the course of 10 days. The Edmonton Pride Parade and Street Festival occur the same day with smaller events happening throughout the 10 days. The parade follows along Whyte Avenue towards the location of the Street Festival, and the parade can be up to a couple of hours long and with lots of rainbow decorated floats, drag queens, businesses and community organizations.

For the past 5 years, the street festival is at End of Steel Park, which is a very large park where they can set up two separate stages. The all ages area has the main stage along with most of the merchants and food vendors. Appearing on the main stage are speeches, drag numbers, some live musicians and other extraordinary talent. The second stage is inside the fenced off 18+ beverage garden where live musicians and DJ’s entertain the crowd. Over 1000 people pack the beverage gardens with lengthy line ups to get in prior to the Pride Parade ending. Edmonton Pride keeps growing every year and is a worthwhile event to check out. GayCalgary Magazine is a proud sponsor of Edmonton Pride, check out their website at http://www.edmontonpride.ca .

When events like Edmonton Pride or other major gay events happen, larger gay friendly establishments will step up to the plate. Knoxville’s Tavern will have two nights for Edmonton Pride. Lance Bass from *NSYNC will host Friday night, and there will be performances by Aaron Carter, and the Larger Than Life – Ultimate Boy Band Tribute. Saturday night they will host the long running event Pure Pride, which is the biggest dance party during Edmonton Pride Weekend. RuPaul’s Season 8 finalist, Naomi Smalls will be headlining, with very talented local queens Gogo Fetch, Jesse Hannibal and Argintina Hailey opening the show. Other gay friendly venues will also be opening their doors for the weekend.

With attending a lot of prides every year, I can see firsthand people getting annoyed that they came out to celebrate pride and are stuck in line ups to get into venues due to occupancy capacity. For some locals, it might be ok to wait in line for an hour or more, but when you are a tourist that has also paid for accommodation, transportation and budgeted for a weekend of gay pride fun, it can be frustrating. Gay friendly venues opening their doors during gay pride and for other gay events helps gay tourism for that destination and the local economy. Depending on how the venue and event is set up, they might have a stage for paid gay talent to perform, fundraise for local gay charities, purchase advertising/support local gay media, and much more. I also recommend buying your tickets in advance since some of the events sell out hours before the doors open for the event.

The arts community stands out in Edmonton too with groups like Guys in Disguise and the male burlesque troop Man Up! Guys in Disguise has been around since 1987 creating theatre productions with a queer twist that has received North American fame for quality drag theatre. Multi-talented Darrin Hagen of Guys in Disguise, has held several roles in the arts including playwright, author, actor, composer, director, TV host and more. He had been named in 2005 as one of the 100 Edmontonians of the Century. Best time to catch Guys in Disguise productions is during the Edmonton Fringe Festival, which happens in late August. There are usually two or three different productions that you can catch but I highly recommend buying tickets in advance since they are always sold out. Visit http://www.guysindisguise.com website for their upcoming schedule.

Man Up! is a mix between theatre, burlesque, and men in high-heels. This polished dance troop has given me goose bumps while photographing them at different sold out events throughout Alberta. When you watch them, you want to always see more because they take you on a journey where they tease the audience and build up each of the numbers to an explosive end. Man Up! has performed at Edmonton’s Fringe Festival but check their website http://www.manupyeg.com for when they are on tour too.  GayCalgary is a proud media sponsor of both Guys in Disguise and Man Up! and enjoy working with both groups.


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Contributor Steve Polyak |


Locale Edmonton |


Topic Accommodation and Lodging | Arts | Edmonton Pride | Fellowship of Alberta Bears | Gay Pride | Guys in Disguise | ISCWR | ManUp! | Museum | Prism Bar | the Roost | Theatre | Travel |


Photo Gallery Edmonton | Travel |


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Image by: GayCalgary

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