Yellow leaves appearing as early as August 14 are the harbinger of winter, when close to six months of moonscape erase the concept of colour from one’s memory.
The view from Groat Bridge was of black trees on white ground with snow-covered hills holding up a grey twilight. Even the evergreens weren’t green. Bret remembered when the sun had been high in the sky at this time of day. (Beyond the Precipice)
Summer is fleeting here. Edmontonians say our winter weather unites us, makes us hardy.
We don’t worry about whether we will have a white Christmas, but whether there will be snow on Halloween.
Edmonton is the most northerly city in North America with a metropolitan population of over one million. At a latitude of 53.5° N, it lies as far north as Dublin, Manchester, Hamburg, and almost as far north as Moscow and Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia. Edmonton has lower July and January mean temperatures than both Moscow and Novosibirsk.
Don’t let mean temperatures fool you, though. In reality, we can see winter daytime highs in the -30s Celsius, with wind chills well into the -40s. Temperatures here truly are more like the interior of Antarctica. Or Mars.
Coldest: -48.3°C (-54.9°F), wind chill -61°C (-77.8°F) on Jan. 26, 1972 (The Weather Network).
Hottest: 37.2°C (99.0°F) on June 29, 1937 (Wikipedia).
The City of Edmonton reached 34.1°C (93.4°F) on July 9, 2015 (Global News).
If that’s not exotic, I don’t know what is.
In a typical summer, Edmonton will hit +30°C one to several times per season. In a typical winter, the city will see -30°C one to several times. It can reach +28°C at the end of September (though not usually) and snow at the end of August (though not usually).
The issue of daylight
Longest day: more than 17 hours of daylight, with twilight beginning just after 4:00 a.m. and lasting until 11:00 p.m.
Nineteen hours of light followed by a short night during which the sky is more indigo than black really makes it worth living here. But it never lasts long enough.
The golden trees and too blue sky marked the passing of the fall equinox, when daylight was lost at a rate of over four minutes a day as they hurtled into the clutches of monochromatic winter.
Bret looked out across the river valley, its trees ablaze with the hue of fire as September shifted into October.
Shortest day: 7.5 hours of daylight.
Notice this is shorter than a workday.
Outside, it had clouded over, and dusk settled in at half past three.
In the winter, the night sky is jet black. Snow helps to reflect city light, but on the highway, your headlights illuminate a few meters of white expanse beneath a dome of deep-space darkness.
Winter tightened its stranglehold. As he approached the acreage, the temperature fell. His back windows frosted over on the inside in spite of the heater blowing on full.
Even in this exotic climate, Edmontonians carry on just like the rest of the populated world. To me, not a fan of winter, this behaviour has the distinct characteristic of denial. The Inuit have historically followed the ebb and flow of light and weather cycles, sleeping significantly more in the winter than in the summer. We, though, with our industrialized, out-of-touch-with-the-natural-world mentalities carry on as if the darkness and -30°C didn’t exist, as if we lived in Europe (warmed by the Gulf Stream) or the United States (more winter daylight).
In Edmonton, we don’t have school and business closures due to weather conditions, like they do in Ontario. What’s more, schoolchildren and the working population yawn through the dark winter days during which they are forced out before sunrise, expected to be alert and functioning, only to return home after dark. We soldier on, not adapting our hours to the reality around us, because, you know, the rest of the world does it this way. I think a little hibernation would be helpful.
But there is also beauty.
As the sun’s disc glowed through a veil of white, hoarfrost fell from trees in silent chunks, chipping away the platinum brilliance until only the drab of winter remained. Bret crossed a frozen stream, its surface churning with ice fog like a poisonous atmosphere on some distant planet.
It’s not always -30°C here. On many winter days, people spend time outdoors skiing, skating, walking through the river valley, and attending winter festivals, including the Ice on Whyte sculptures.
The setting sun lit the underside of the broken clouds in flamingo pink; its orange orb cast the illusion of flames across the glassy snow.
Edmonton is a vibrant cultural, educational, and governmental centre. It is Canada’s Festival City, hosting numerous festivals year-round.
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival, held yearly in Old Strathcona in August, is the oldest and largest fringe theatre festival in North America.
In addition to festivals, Edmonton’s culture, education, and fitness facilities include museums, art galleries, bookstores, theatres, symphonies, concert halls, two universities (University of Alberta and MacEwan University), colleges, vocational schools, sports arenas, fitness centres, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, a zoo, a river valley system … the list is practically endless. Edmonton even has a French Quarter.
The city is the home of Fort Edmonton Park (Canada’s largest living history museum), the Muttart Conservatory (botanical gardens in glass pyramids with tropical, temperate, and arid biomes–great to escape to in winter–plus events and courses), and beautiful Legislature grounds open to the public.
Edmontonians and tourists enjoy the skating rinks, cross-country ski trails, downhill skiing, bicycle paths, running events and marathons, picnic areas, bird watching, golf, swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), wave pools (indoor), and parkland.
Theatres (Arden and Festival Place) and recreational facilities are also found in nearby St. Albert and Sherwood Park.
Skydive Eden North, Rabbit Hill Snow Resort, the Devonian Botanic Garden, various beaches and campgrounds, and the Rocky Mountains are only a short distance away.
Schoolchildren on fieldtrips have numerous opportunities to experience fun and learning through the Telus World of Science, Bennett Environmental Education Centre, Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site, Citadel Theatre, Francis Winspear Centre for Music, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, New Edmonton Wind Sinfonia, Royal Alberta Museum, Art Gallery of Alberta, City Hall, Alberta Legislature Building, University of Alberta events and workshops, Galaxyland (previously Fantasyland), and much more.
In the summer months, City of Edmonton playgrounds run Green Shack Programs with Program Leaders who also have first aid training. Children can drop by to join in games, sports, crafts, music, drama, and weekly special events.
In addition to many of the places mentioned above, there are ethnic restaurants, indoor and outdoor cafés, and night life to enjoy.
Actor and voice actor Nathan Fillion (Castle, Serenity, Firefly, Halo video games, among others) was born in Edmonton. He attended the University of Alberta and Concordia University College.
Edmonton is a city with so many educational, social, and employment opportunities that my children, who have now all graduated from grade 12, don’t need to leave town to pursue post-secondary educations and careers.
However, sometimes Edmonton feels like North America’s best kept cultural secret, which is why when I write about life in Edmonton in my books, I hope to illuminate a little of its splendor.
Related: Experiencing Edmonton (videos)
Links to the Festival City’s year-round events