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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Reis | Travel > Local is lekker

Local is "sweet": Erin Karman on Edmonton, Canada

Imke van Heerden - 2009-10-15

Erin, tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm a 22-year-old living in Edmonton, Canada. My mom grew up in Edmonton as well, but my dad emigrated from the Netherlands when he was 21. My mom's parents are also from the Netherlands, so I have a lot of Dutch in my background! Actually, I recently returned to Edmonton after a semester living in the Netherlands. What an experience! I currently study psychology at the University of Alberta. As it's my last semester, I'm pretty busy with school, but in my free time I head to Starbucks to meet my girl friends, head out to a movie, make dinner with friends, occasionally head out to the bar on the weekends. On Saturday nights I attend church with my friends and then often head to somebody's house to play games, watch a hockey game or just hang out.

Could you tell us something about the history of Edmonton?

Edmonton has been the capital of my province, Alberta, since 1904. It is the educational and political centre of our province and the sixth largest city in Canada with just over a million people. In the 1940s, oil was discovered near Edmonton and it became known as "oil city" (influencing the title for our NHL hockey team - the Edmonton Oilers). Edmonton is not a city in danger of natural disasters, but people still talk about the tornado of 1986 (known as Black Friday) which killed 27 people.

Would you encourage tourists to visit the city? Why or why not?

While I love Edmonton, it isn't a huge tourist city compared with other cities in Canada (eg Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal). However, there are exciting things to see. The Edmonton River Valley is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America (17 times bigger than Central Park in New York). West Edmonton Mall is a huge attraction. It was the biggest mall in the world until 2004, complete with the largest indoor water park, an amusement park, minigolf, and hundreds of shops! In the summer, Edmonton becomes Canada's "Festival City". Pretty much every day of the summer you can attend a number of festivals (Shakespeare in the Park, the Street Perfomers' Festival, Taste of Edmonton, etc). Also, the absolutely GORGEOUS Rocky Mountains are only four hours away (which for Canadian standards is really close). If I was visiting Edmonton, the summer would be the best time to travel there, as the weather is gorgeous, the festivals are everywhere and there are many mountain trails open.

What distinguishes Edmonton from other cities?

Edmonton isn't incredibly dissimilar from other North American cities. One thing that is unusual is the fact that Edmonton is the cultural, educational and political centre. For all other provinces in Canada, these things are divided between cities within a province. Through a few loopholes, Edmonton was able to set itself up to hold the provincial parliament while also hosting the province's university. You get everything in one city :).

Which tourist attractions should be avoided?

Because Edmonton is not set up as a tourist city, there aren't many tourist traps.

If a friend visited you in Edmonton, where would you take him/her that most tourists would never know about? In other words, what and where are the undiscovered jewels of the city?

Whyte Avenue is a street with a lot of cute, independent shops and coffee houses. At night it comes alive with young people, as some of the most popular bars are on this street. Hawrelak Park is a really nice place to picnic and rent a paddleboat in the summer, or in the winter it's a great place to go skating.

What do local young people do in their free time? Where do they hang out? Is there a large variety of clubs/bars/theatres etc?

There are a lot of country bars in Edmonton, but there's a bar for any music taste: top 40, country, rock, dance, retro etc. Theatres are scattered across the city, colloquially designated as "expensive" (approx $13) or "cheap" (approx $3).

What are some common misconceptions regarding Edmonton and Canada as a whole? How would you rather describe your city and/or country?

The most common misconception is that Canada is exactly the same as the United States. Honestly, the two countries are quite similar, but there are significant differences. While the US is a "melting pot" of assimilation, Canada prides itself on being a multicultural "mosaic". It is very easy to maintain your cultural identity while still integrating with Canadians. Canadians are also more laid back and tolerant.

Canada is also regarded as being a freezing cold country. This is partly true (from November to March); however, the summer months are beautiful and very warm. We don't live in igloos or own pet polar bears ;). (Believe me, people have asked me about this before.)

What is Canada's perception of the US?

I think Canadians like the US, but are also a bit hesitant because they really want to separate themselves from the US. We don't want to be viewed as simply "following their lead". We are quite connected in a number of ways because of trade, entertainment, sports, etc. For these reasons, as well as our proximity, we are close allies.

Please tell us more about the contemporary cultural scene (art, film, literature, music, dance, theatre, etc).

Edmonton has a number of literary and film festivals throughout the year. There are a number of theatres, art galleries and music halls. A number of ballet performances are run throughout the year and there are many theatre productions put on at numerous venues throughout the city. Edmonton also sells out concerts for the most popular musical artists.

Are there any interesting trends and traditions in Edmonton that people who don't live there might find interesting?

Traditions in Edmonton usually revolve around the summer festivals. Heritage Day allows various countries to display their traditional foods, dances, clothing etc at various booths. Taste of Edmonton is another festival where restaurants around Edmonton set up a tent in Churchill Square for people to sample their food. There is also a street in Edmonton where all the neighbours intensively decorate their houses for Christmas. Many people take a night during Christmas to stroll or drive through.

What do you hope and fear for the future of your country? Would like to live there for the rest of your life?

I hope that Canada will continue to maintain its multicultural, tolerant attitude, along with setting itself up as in independent country (from both Britain and the US). Our alliances are important, but we want to ensure that we are seen as a sovereign country. Canadians are quite agreeable; they don't like to ruffle too many feathers. I fear that this will continue to seep into our political life to the point where we aren't saying what we wish for in the international arena, to avoid confrontation.

I wouldn't restrict myself to living only in Canada. With my Dutch roots I definitely have a big urge to live in the Netherlands, but I could definitely see myself living in Canada for the rest of my life. It's a positive and safe place to live and raise a family.

How do the English and French speakers relate to one another? Are they separate communities?

Edmonton is really separated from the English-French debate. While we are a bilingual country, in the western part of Canada few people speak French. However, in Quebec they certainly are separate communities. Just as many of us in the West don't speak French, there are many in Quebec that do not speak English. French is their first language and there is definitely tension between English Canadians and French Canadians.

How does Canadian English differ from American English? Do you have some interesting words? Has the proximity to French influenced the language at all?

Proper Canadian English is actually incredibly similar to British English; however, with the American influence there is a shift for our language to be more like our southern neighbours. Most differences are in the spelling - usually adding a "u" in Canadian/British English (eg colour vs color [US]). English already does adopt many words from French, but I think Canadians have adopted even more due to the close proximity between the two languages.

Unique Canadian words/phrases: toque (winter hat), double double (two cream and two sugar in a Tim Horton's coffee), loonie (a $1 coin), toonie (a $2 coin), ’eh (a common word you'll hear at the end of most Canadian sentences).

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