With Fall arriving and the days getting cooler and shorter I was happy I was able to recently squeeze in one last city exploration by bike – this time of the north side- finding new corners to an area I thought I knew well having lived on one of its streets once upon a time.
I pointed by handlebars toward my old high school, Ross Sheppard High School, to find its familiar façade intact but changes underway to the large lawn that ran between the front doors and the busy 111th Avenue. A driveway drop-zone for students seemed to be part of the modernization project and while I reflected that it was probably time for improvements since very little had changed in the 3 decades since my graduation losing the lawn where a few idle moments were spent in my brief time at “Shep” made me a little nostalgic.
Beside the high school is the Peter Hemingway Fitness & Leisure Centre which was Coronation Pool until renamed in recent years for the award-winning architect of the facility with its striking sloping shape as well as another well known city landmark, the pyramids of the river valley’s Muttart Conservatory. Tucked behind the pool is a lesser known but interesting architectural public building, the round space saucer-shaped Queen Elizabeth Planetarium, one of the country’s first planetariums when it opened to the public in 1960 and named to commemorate a Canadian visit by our monarch the previous year. Having been succeeded by the much larger but equally as cosmic in outward appearance Space and Science Centre (now the Telus World of Science) in 1983 – the angled white exterior peaking in on the right – the old planetarium sits closed, a grounded space ship parked in a quiet corner of Coronation Park.
Heading east from Coronation Park finds more neighborhoods in Westmount spotted with residential “infill”, a wonderfully bureaucratic beige term to denote mature houses making way for new ones. The upside is that the city finally found its way to repave the streets making for smooth backstreet no-hands free cycling at a leisurely pace.
Another cityscape I’d experienced only from a moving car speeding along 107th Avenue which cuts it in two is the Edmonton Cemetery, the city’s oldest cemetery established in 1886 on the outskirts but now surrounded by a bustling capital.
Many city founders and dignitaries are buried in the Edmonton Cemetery including Emily Murphy, one of the Famous Five who fought to have women declared as ‘persons’ under Canadian and British law before the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1927.
Within the cemetery is a Military Field of Honour established in 1922 to honour those soldiers who gave their lives defending country & commonwealth.
The neighborhood around the cemetery is Queen Mary Park which was once Hudson Bay Company Reserve before becoming developed for residential use in the 1950s like other north side Edmonton areas including Westmount and North Glenora.
As quiet now as the cemetery are the grounds of the former Edmonton City Center Airport having seen its long legacy of aviation come to an end. Canada’s first licenced airfield in 1929 was named for the mayor Kenneth Blatchford before later becoming the Municipal Airport or more simply as the ‘Muni’. A series of plebiscites in the mid 1990’s saw a majority of Edmontonians vote to consolidate all scheduled passenger air traffic to the Edmonton International Airport and a 2009 city council decision began a phased closure to eventually convert the land for new residential development. I vividly recall studying in the newly opened Grant MacEwan City Center Campus in 1993 and having Boeing 737’s roar overhead as they were on final approach to the Muni and actively supported the airport’s decreased roll in passenger traffic and eventual closure. While rich in Canadian aviation history having the Muni to me only served to divide our passenger traffic leaving Edmonton with more regional flights than nonstop connections to other Canadian, American and overseas destinations. Consolidation of passenger flights to the Edmonton International has seen its traffic numbers soar and a number of new routes added including most recently a year-round nonstop flight to Amsterdam operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
Like the control tower one lucky survivor of the airport’s changing role is the Alberta Aviation Museum which is housed in a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan hangar built in 1941 -1942 and now designated a Provincial Heritage Site and an Edmonton Municipal Heritage Site. The museum is well worth a visit not only for the forty vintage aircraft on display but the hands on exhibits and flight simulators.
The ride ended with a spin around the NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) campus which borders the airport grounds along before returning home via the straight & true north/south paved bike path that used to be a railway line. The views along this stretch perhaps aren’t as noteworthy as those on the south side but the trail here is level and without blind corners so not without some advantages. The north side isn’t without its charms and look forward exploring more of this part of the city and ending in the brewery district with a pint on a patio.