Despite winter’s late arrival to the capital region, the City of Edmonton’s WinterCity strategy is promoting a wide variety of activities and events in the upcoming months as it continues its “rah-rah winter” mandate.
The WinterCity strategy, now in its third year, is a wide-ranging initiative aimed at celebrating the season by making the city more livable during its colder months, while encouraging people to spend time outdoors.
“In the last few decades people have gotten used to pretending that winter doesn’t happen,” WinterCity coordinator Susan Holdsworth says. “But it’s a core part or our identity, and we need to stop apologizing about it and start boasting about it.”
While some of the strategy’s goals are more nebulous and long-term—such as setting up guidelines for new city architecture to be more winter-friendly, developing winter policies for crosswalks or encouraging a “winter lens” in all forms of development—others aspects of the initiative are things Edmontonians can actually sink their snowshoes into this winter.
This includes the continuation of a pair of WinterCity contests—the Winter Signature Drink Contest and Winterscapes (the season’s version of a front yards in bloom contest). Both events are in their third year with interest growing, particularly for Winterscapes, Holdsworth says.
“We had 10 entries the first year and over 50 in the second, so we’re expecting even more this year,” she notes.
Other returning promotions include the Valentine’s Day Disco Skate at City Hall and Sip and Slide Sundays, in which a hot chocolate squad visits designated toboggan hills throughout the city, offering free hot beverages for sliders of all ages.
The most exciting new undertaking this winter will be the start of a commuter skating-trail pilot project in the river valley. Utilizing some of the infrastructure that already exists at the Victoria Park Oval (the outdoor skating area near the Victoria Golf Course), a kilometre-long skating trail will be built through the river valley. A new winter chalet in Victoria Park will also serve as a centre for activities on both the oval and the trail.
Its concept was originally put forward two years ago by Matt Gibbs, an urban architect student at the University of British Columbia. While his proposal was a much more ambitious project, which would have created an 11-kilometre skating trail through the downtown core, the pilot version of the concept could be the start of something much bigger in years to come, Holdsworth says.
On a smaller scale, WinterCity has put together a Winter Party Tool Kit this year for community leagues and other groups that want to put on an outdoor winter event.
“It will have ideas for activities, resources and ways to make the event more comfortable,” Holdsworth says.
WinterCity’s annual budget of $373 000 will help fund and promote various events and activities, but it will also build on assets that already exist by encouraging residents to undertake their own projects.
That’s exactly what is happening this winter in Century Park, where a community-based initiative has been started to promote and simplify cross-country skiing for people coming directly off the LRT line.
Shauna Rae is the co-founder of the Ski2LRT project, which has placed a rack for locking up cross-country skis right outside the Century Park LRT station.
“I’ve been cross-country skiing in my neighbourhood for a few years, and there are a lot of tracks set throughout the area,” Rae explains. “Looking around I noticed there was nothing between the tracks and the train station to stop someone from getting directly off the train and skiing the trails.”
Once the idea of putting a cross-country ski rack outside the station was born, Rae says garnering support was easy.
“People were so receptive to the idea. The Southwest Area Council put in $700 in funding, Rona and Home Depot donated materials and City Minimix helped with the concrete pad to put the rack on,” she adds.
The biggest hurdle was coming up with a design for the rack, as existing bike racks or alpine-ski racks wouldn’t work and locking, commuter-style cross-country ski racks are not a common item.
“It was kind of like figuring out how to lock sticks,” says Rae, who is an electrical engineer but had no specific experience in designing racks.
After researching the variances needed to fit the most common styles of cross-country skis, several prototypes were produced and finally, with the assistance of welder Alayna Dornbush, the rack was completed and installed a few weeks ago.
One of the most anticipated parts of the WinterCity strategy in its inception was the development of a year-round patio culture in which bars and restaurants would keep their outdoor seating areas open throughout the winter. There are a few special events that utilize patios in the winter—such as the Farewell to Winter Patio Party held April 1 to 3 which takes place at various pubs, coffee shops and restaurants throughout the city—but businesses such as Café Bicyclette in the La Cite Francophone building, the Urban Green Café in Louise McKinney Park and Wild Earth Bakery are keeping their patios open during the season as well. There will also be outdoor patio seating in Sir Winston Churchill Square. For a complete overview of Edmonton’s outdoor winter offerings, check out Vue Weekly’s Cool Winter Guide or Edmonton’s WinterCity publication, the Winter Excitement Guide (edmonton.ca).