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Old Strathcona, Edmonton

By Miriam Joly

It’s mid-August, and I’m sitting in the sun at a café in Old Strathcona, a district of Edmonton, Alberta. I’m sipping iced-tea while watching a menagerie of people walk by. A young couple: he has a blue Mohawk and skull tattoos, and her outfit promotes some form of Wiccan religion. They walk ahead of a young mother. Dressed in pastel yellow, she’s pushing the stroller of a toddler sucking noisily on her juice box. Old Strathcona is the epitome of diversity.

Located across the river from downtown, this is the heart of Edmonton. Anchored by Whyte Avenue, ghosts of the Klondike Gold Rush haunt the living with original buildings of this late 19th century era. Their square storefronts accommodate unique gift shops, quaint pubs and a bouquet of international cuisine.

Located conveniently close to the University of Alberta and its thousands of young students, Whyte Avenue has become the watering hole of the newly adult, as well as the old. Bar hopping from the soft and sad guitar of Blues on Whyte, to the deep bass of dance music at The Roxy, the music lover will soak in a plethora of sound and beat. The Attic, located above the Savoy Lounge often introduces local bands playing folk, alternative or hard rock. And just around the corner is the Cook County Saloon, with its Chevy drivin’, cowboy boot stompin’ country twang. Filthy McNasty’s, the Black Dog, Woolly Bully’s, and O’Byrne’s Irish Pub – where to next? The night keeps me young, and the good times are forever.

Two in the morning, the bars let out, and the line-up begins…at The Funky Pickle Pizza. Home of the city’s best concoctions of tangy cheeses, exotic vegetables, and meat, a slice of heaven fills the belly with exploding flavour. And now, it is off to bed to be up early for the world renowned Fringe Festival of theatre.

Theatre companies from around the globe come to The Fringe to show their talent at various venues in Old Strathcona. Over a hundred different performances of all genres tickle the palette. Floating balloons and painted faces of young children dance around the grown-ups watching buskers juggle flaming torches and kiwis. A troop of African drummers finds itself competing with a bagpiper for crowd. They spontaneously join forces to create a deep tribal sound mixed with the lively folk tunes of the Scottish Highlands.

The smell of curry from an Indian food tent wafts the air to mix with the cinnamon of Latin-American churros next door. And to wash it all down, the sweet and tart sensation of freshly-squeezed-before-your-eyes lemonade. The sun kissed afternoon warms the skin while the sound of joy feeds the soul. 

With a final slurp, I finish my iced-tea, tip the waitress, and join the milling people on the sidewalk. I follow and old granny, walking her French poodle, and dodge a couple of teenagers on skateboards. Among the ghosts of the Klondike, the energy of Old Strathcona is alive.

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