Final What the Truck?! event of the season is Friday at Churchill Square!

What a season we’ve had for food trucks in Edmonton! We’re up to well over 70 trucks in the Edmonton area now, which is great news for diners looking for diverse menu options and lots of selection. We’ve had a good year with What the Truck?! more specifically as well. By the time our season is done this weekend, we’ll have featured more than 60 different trucks at our events and already this year we’ve connected 250 events with food trucks.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square
May 2015 was our busiest event ever

It might have been a chilly long weekend but summer is not over yet! Our final event of the season is going to be Edmonton’s biggest yet, with 35 trucks participating:

What: What the Truck?!
Where: Sir Winston Churchill Square
When: Friday, September 11, 2015
Time: 4-8pm
RSVP on Facebook!

You can check out the full lineup and menus here. This is our second event of the year at Churchill Square, as we started the season there back in May.

If you came to the May event this year and had a negative experience, I’d encourage you to give the event another shot. We’re always learning and trying to improve things, and we’ve worked with the food trucks to make some behind-the-scenes changes that should help. The number of menu items has been reduced, we’ve implemented a line-management system so that you don’t get stuck waiting for something that is sold out, and of course we have ten more trucks! If you came to our June, July, or August events, you’ll know that May was unusually busy and that your typical experience is much more positive.

If you’ve never been to What the Truck?! before, that’s okay too – we’d love to see you on Friday! Be sure to come prepared by checking out our FAQs and reading our Tips & Tricks page.

Stay tuned to our website, Facebook event, and Twitter for updates and other details!

In Edmonton, make it iconic

The Edmonton Public Library released a drawing today of the planned facelift for downtown’s Stanley A. Milner library. Pending funding from City Council this fall, Toronto’s Teeple Architects and Edmonton’s Architecture ATB would tackle the project. The total cost of the renovation is estimated to be $56 million.

new stanley milner library design

That figure includes asbestos removal and mechanical and electrical system upgrades, but it also means an attractive building, better suited to living alongside the other modern-looking buildings around Churchill Square.

“We really want it to be iconic,” said EPL CEO Linda Cook.

That word is what many people fixated on today. Iconic.



That got me thinking, are we overusing the word iconic in Edmonton?

To find out, I decided to look at the frequency of the word iconic in Edmonton Journal articles over the last couple of decades. As a comparison, I looked up the same data for The Globe and Mail. Hardly scientific, but good enough. Here’s what it looks like:

As you can see, the word wasn’t used very frequently before the turn of the millennium, after which it trends up. But what’s interesting is that it went up for both articles in the Journal and articles in Globe. So that suggests to me it’s not Edmonton-specific.

What about “iconic design” or “iconic building”? Here’s what that data looks like:

Again, an increase after 2000, but more in the Globe actually. For kicks, I also tried “world class”, that other favorite phrase for describing new projects in Edmonton!

I was surprised to see that usage of that phrase is much more consistent and while it has gone up, it hasn’t gone up dramatically.

Finally, here’s a look at the Google Trend data for “iconic” and “world class” in Canada:

A pretty similar story.

I like the idea of a refresh for the Stanley Milner library. Should we pay $56 million to make sure it’s “iconic”? I’m not sure. But it’s worth debating alongside all of the other capital requests.

For another take on the whole Big-Shiny-Thing-itis, check out this post from David Staples.

Recap: Christmas on the Square Holiday Light Up

The Downtown Business Association’s annual Christmas on the Square Holiday Light Up took place tonight in Churchill Square. Hundreds of Edmontonians braved the minus 12 degree weather to get out and see Santa and the lighting up of the 65-foot Christmas tree!

Holiday Light Up on the Square

The event got underway at 4pm, and featured food vendors, roving choirs, stilt-walkers, and more. The City Market also stayed open longer today, welcoming patrons inside City Hall until 6pm. In addition to warming up, kids could find face painters and balloon artists indoors!

Holiday Light Up on the Square

Out on the square, entertainment included singer Sean Sonego, the Kings University Choir College, violinist John Calverley with singer Elizabeth MacInnis, and Booming Tree Taiko. Global Edmonton’s Shane Jones and Kevin O’Connell hosted the event.

Here’s a quick video of some of the highlights:

Just after 6pm, Mayor Iveson was joined by his wife Sarah Chan and Councillor Ben Henderson on stage to welcome Santa and help countdown the light up. It seemed to take forever for Santa and his helpers to get on the stage! Eventually he did, and he asked the mayor if he had been a good boy this year. “Well 62% of voting Edmontonians think I was,” Mayor Iveson quipped. Then Santa asked what he’d like for Christmas. “An LRT line to the Southeast,” was the response. The crowd loved it!

Holiday Light Up on the Square

Everyone on stage led the countdown to the light up. Finally, the 14,000 LED lights on the tree came to life and the crowd cheered. A few seconds later, fireworks in the opposite direction! Timed to the music, the brief fireworks show capped off a fun afternoon.

Holiday Light Up on the Square

The tree was donated by Millar Western Forest Products, and was installed and decorated by EPCOR. If you couldn’t make it down tonight don’t worry – the tree will be there all season long! You can see more photos here.

What kind of festival does Metropolis want to be?

After eight weekends in Churchill Square, Metropolis has come to an end. Featuring four large shrink-wrapped structures, the new festival took a different approach to staging a winter event. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was successful. Sharon has already done a very thorough job of discussing some of the highs and lows of the festival as we experienced it over the past two months, so please make sure you read her post. She concluded:

“It’ll be interesting to see what organizers decide to do next, and what Metropolis might look like should the festival return again. Although I am glad Events Edmonton took a risk, I hope they are able to learn from this initial run and improve in the future.”

I’ll be a little stronger and say that I would be disappointed to see Metropolis return next year only slightly improved. If it is going to continue, I feel a major overhaul is needed. Originally envisioned as a showcase of cold weather construction techniques but sold as a festival to help Edmontonians embrace winter, Metropolis did neither.

Metropolis & Fireworks
The structures were nicely lit on New Years Eve, but were plain and white most of the rest of the time.

I think it’s clear the “build it and they will come” approach that Metropolis took was a failure. I know it’s a lot of work to get something like Metropolis off the ground, so it’s no surprise that the idea was scaled back numerous times (from nine structures down to six and eventually down to just four). Programming an event over a single weekend takes a lot of effort, let alone over eight weekends, even when you leave the programming to others as Events Edmonton did. As a result, there was little to draw people to the festival, and the attendance reflected that. As recently as December, Events Edmonton was estimating attendance of about 13,500 people per day or 300,000 total for the festival. I would be absolutely shocked if they achieved anything even remotely close to that. As Sharon noted in her post, we walked through Metropolis most weekends while it was on and it never seemed busy.

Maybe it was the warm weather or maybe it was the lack of marketing (remember the atrocious website they launched with?). Maybe it was that Events Edmonton put too much faith in the community stepping forward to do something with the structures. Maybe it was poor communication or maybe it was broken promises to partners. Realistically, it was probably the combination of these and other factors that ultimately prevented Metropolis from achieving success. That said, I think there are two fundamental issues facing the festival:

  1. Metropolis was born out of the idea that we should celebrate the cold weather construction techniques that have made Edmonton and other northern cities possible, yet the festival did very little of that.
  2. Metropolis took place in January and February and was therefore considered a “winter” festival, but embracing winter is about much more than picking the right dates on the calendar.

Cold Weather Construction

A little over a year ago, I sat down with Giuseppe Albi to talk about Metropolis. At the time he was still trying to build support for the new festival, so his pitch was well-rehearsed by the time we met for coffee. He talked about the idea itself, but also were it came from. Events Edmonton had been considering ways to mitigate the extreme cold that we often get on New Years Eve, and hit on the idea of some sort of temporary heated dome. That didn’t happen of course, but it provided the seed for Metropolis.

Giuseppe told me about his interest in architecture, something he has loved ever since high school. He remembered cutting articles out of the newspaper when they wrote about a new building going up. One in particular that he talked about was the Professional Building, the first building in Canada built using cold weather construction technology. As he told Elise Stolte in December:

“We pioneered working in cold climates, and 1961 was crucial. That basically ushered in an era of cold-climate construction technology. For 50 years now, we’ve used it all over and we’ve built most of Western Canada and the North with that technology.”

We talked about many other aspects of the festival that day, but what I took away from the conversation was Giuseppe’s passion for showcasing our history of cold weather construction techniques. It really struck me as an important aspect of how Edmonton came to be – imagine how little we’d be able to construct if we needed it to be warm all the time! Apparently we are one of the few cities with a scaffolding training program too. Finding a way to extend the construction season to make the most of our climate is a great story, and I one that I think is worth showcasing.


To be fair, Giuseppe did at least bring some awareness to this story. Metropolis was on the program at the Cold Climate Construction Conference that took place here in Edmonton last May, for example. I certainly have a heightened awareness about cold weather construction, and am interested to learn more.

The real opportunity was at the festival itself however, and that opportunity was missed entirely. Sure the structures themselves were built using scaffolding, but I don’t know much more about them than that. There was no information on site, no presentations about cold weather construction. In the program (which originally cost $5 but was given away by the end of the festival) there are a few features on construction companies, but very little in the way of education.

I wish Metropolis had been more focused on cold weather construction. It would have resulted in a less pedestrian event, and would probably have been of interest to a smaller number of Edmontonians, but I think the chances of success would have been much greater.

Embracing Winter

A few hours after that conversation with Giuseppe, I met with Pamela Anthony, the Artistic Director of Winter Light. I had been very critical of Winter Light and the significant funding it received from the City, but I felt it was finally starting to develop something unique. Last year’s Illuminations featuring Circus Orange was simply amazing. It was freezing cold outside, but the Square was packed with people enjoying themselves. “You need motivation to go somewhere when its cold,” Pamela told me. “It’s exciting how hungry people were for that.”

We of course talked about Metropolis. Aside from a lack of communication (neither Metropolis nor Winter Light reached out to one another) Pamela sounded happy that someone else was also putting energy into building the winter festival scene. She wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the plan for Metropolis itself, however. “It shouldn’t be about denying winter or sheltering people from winter,” she said. “It’s not a commitment to the winter experience.”

I have thought a lot about that conversation over the last year, and I’m convinced now that Pamela was absolutely right. Just because a festival takes place in January doesn’t mean it’s a “winter” festival. There is nothing about Metropolis that celebrated winter. Bringing people indoors is most certainly not a commitment to the winter experience. Especially when the food and programing offered is the same as anywhere else.

To some extent, I think Metropolis was able to take advantage of the momentum behind “downtown revitalization” to gain support. It was said that Metropolis would bring some focus to downtown during the winter months, and that was certainly the message Giuseppe brought to the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force in October. I remember hearing then and many times after, that “when it is colder than minus 15, people don’t want to be outside”. Kind of like the argument made for the pedways that connect the downtown core. Thing is, we have lots of proof that people will happily spend time outside!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
People! Outside! In the cold! At Illuminations 2011.

I have already mentioned last year’s Illuminations. The square was full of people enjoying winter that night, even though the temperature was minus 20 with a wind chill of minus 26. How about Deep Freeze? Both last year and this year, Deep Freeze demonstrated that people enjoy doing things outdoors. How about the Mill Creek Adventure Walk? I was blown away by how many people participated this year, it was incredible. And then there’s the annual favorite, Ice on Whyte. Thousands of people attend that outdoor event every year!

Want more proof? Look at the most popular ideas on the WinterCity Strategy’s IdeaScale site. Skating trails, snow hills, safer sidewalks, an outdoor pool, street hockey, an outdoor ice bar festival, an outdoor Christmas market, winter camping, etc. None of those ideas are for things that take place indoors. I think the WinterCity Strategy page is spot on:

This strategy is about changing how many of us feel about winter – from enduring to embracing it. It’s about how we can create a city where people want to be outside on sunny winter days because there are inviting, vibrant public spaces with activities and comfortable places to gather. It’s about using light to create warmth and luminescence during long winter days and using snow as a resource, for things like wind barriers and ongoing public sculpture activities.

Does that sound like Metropolis to you? It sure doesn’t to me.

What kind of festival does Metropolis want to be?

I think Events Edmonton needs to decide if Metropolis is going to be a festival about cold weather construction, or if it is going to be a festival for the masses that truly embraces winter.

I would love to see an event focused on cold weather construction – our history, where are we now, and what’s coming in the future. That would be truly interesting. Reading through Giuseppe’s “Vision for Metropolis” in the program guide, I am once again reminded of his love for this topic. “Winter construction fascinates me,” he wrote. A festival that focused on that fascination would indeed be worth staging.

I would also love to see a downtown event focused on winter.  But on embracing winter, not enduring it. With lots of activities and opportunities for Edmontonians to see that winter doesn’t have to suck. Pulling that kind of festival off means being outside, however. I don’t get the impression that Events Edmonton is willing to commit to the outdoors.

If Metropolis returns next year, I hope it does so with a renewed sense of purpose and a clear mission.

Recap: Truck Stop

On Thursday we held the first ever Truck Stop – a smaller, lunchtime version of What the Truck?! inspired by the food truck pods of Portland. The colder weather is coming and that means most of Edmonton’s food trucks will be closed until next year, so we wanted to try to extract the most out of our fall season as possible. Five trucks parked on 102A Avenue in front of City Hall to serve lunch from 11am until 2pm: Bo Thai, Drift, Eva Sweet, Fat Franks, and Smokehouse BBQ.

Truck Stop

Considering it was a cold day, we were quite pleased with the turnout! Lots of people even took advantage of the seating available – next time we’ll try to get the heat lamps and bonfires going! Churchill Square is a gigantic venue so we were happy to be located on the avenue instead, though the square itself did get busier after noon, with the final zumba class of the year. And of course there was a lot of foot traffic, with people walking to and from their offices.

Enjoying Truck Stop
Photo by Brittney

The vendors all did quite well, though Smokehouse BBQ seemed to be the most popular. Normally located in Nisku, they received a warm welcome from Edmontonians, selling more during the three hours of Truck Stop than they would have over four days in their usual spot! Their food was tasty – we had the three rib mac and cheese and the bacon bomb sandwich.

Smokehouse BBQ
The line-up at Smokehouse BBQ

Smokehouse BBQ
Bacon bomb and three rib mac & cheese

We don’t have any more What the Truck?! events planned for 2011, but we are going to be doing some planning for next year in conjunction with the vendors. Clearly the demand is strong! Thanks to everyone who came out to Truck Stop for lunch. Thanks also to the City and the vendors for helping us make it happen on such short notice. We’re looking forward to future food truck extravaganzas!

You can read Sharon’s recap here and you can see the rest of my photos here. Brittney’s photoset is here!

Winter Light 2011: Illuminations featuring Circus Orange

It was cold outside tonight, but Churchill Square was still full of people for Winter Light’s Illuminations. This year the event featured Yukigassen, a Japanese snow battle sport, roving performers, the Illuminations Choir, and the Edmonton premiere of Circus Orange, a Toronto-based pyrotechnic circus troupe. They performed TRICYCLE, “a dramatic fusion of live music, clown, circus, dance, aerial performance, mechanics, pyrotechnics and fire arts.” It was amazing.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Perfect night for a stroll in Churchill Square!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Warming up by the fire.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
I love the way City Hall looks at night, all lit up.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
The tricycle in front of the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
She got everyone’s attention then led the crowd to the tricycle.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
The large crowd followed the tricycle throughout the square. It was great!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
The fire looked awfully close to the trees! You can see a video of it here.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
A few kids were scared of these guys!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Circus Orange takes flight!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Don’t you love seeing the square full of people?

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
They took the front wheel of the tricycle off and put the acrobat inside!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
Then it lit up!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
And there were fireworks!

You can see the rest of my photos here.

Tonight’s event did a lot of things right, in my opinion. They finally spent some of the large Winter Light budget – I can’t imagine that Circus Orange was cheap! It was a fantastic show that looked expensive, with lots of lights, fire, props, and a crane. It was worth it. Another thing I loved was that they used the entire square. The tricycle started at the Art Gallery and the large crowd followed it to Three Bananas and back through the square toward City Hall, with different stops along the way. The storytelling aspect was great too, with the scary stilt guys and the clown who never spoke in English. Lots of fun for everyone!

The temperature doesn’t matter. You know what people do when it’s cold? They dance to keep warm. It adds to the experience! And tonight, the people who stayed until the end were rewarded, with a big finale that even featured fireworks. For a few minutes, I forgot that I was cold!

Kudos to Winter Light for a great event. Let’s have more of this please!

Edmonton’s Hot to Huddle 2010 Grey Cup Festival Kick-off!

Tonight the 2010 Grey Cup Festival officially started here in Edmonton with a big kick-off party outside City Hall. Hundreds of people braved the cold to see the Grey Cup in person, to experience the flashmob and fireworks, and to get a first look at Huddle Town.

Purolator delivered the “special guest” that everyone was hoping to see.

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

There were fans of all teams on hand to celebrate!

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

With the Zipline in the background, everyone listened for the official kick-off of the festivities.

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

After the dignitaries had spoken, there was a big flashmob on the CN field (I suppose no one saw it coming, but the large group of people lined up on the field, with security preventing others from joining in, made it clear that something was up…not to mention the volunteer for the flashmob page on the website).

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

Fireworks quickly followed the entertaining dance number!

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

The trophy was so close you could almost touch it.

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

The end of the kick-off program meant the official opening of Huddle Town, the giant heated tent in Churchill Square.

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

Meanwhile, a Peewee football game was played on the CN field.

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

Here’s an overhead shot of City Hall and Huddle Town.

2010 Grey Cup Festival Kickoff

The festival is now officially underway!

You can see upcoming events at the official site (when it works) or at ShareEdmonton (and subscribe to the iCal here). You can see the rest of my photos from the evening here.

Ready, set, huddle!

Sneak Peek at the new Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton

Nearly thirty people from Edmonton’s very active social media community attended the blogger sneak peek today at the new Art Gallery of Alberta in downtown Edmonton. Armed with smartphones, video cameras, audio recorders, and lots of digital cameras, we toured the new building with Sarah Hoyles, the AGA’s Media Relations and Communications Coordinator, and Gilles Hebert, the AGA’s Executive Director.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

The very striking building is situated at #2 Sir Winston Churchill Square, on the northeast corner between City Hall and Chancery Hall/Century Place. I think it is just as beautiful on the inside as it is distinct on the outside. Everyone is in for a real treat when it officially opens to the public on January 31!

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the building with Torch Reporter Chris Wheeler, so I thought I’d start this post with some of the under-construction shots I took at the time:

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Art Gallery of Alberta

And here’s one of AGA Board Chair Allan Scott, who has been working to make the new AGA a reality for more than ten years:

Art Gallery of Alberta

On to today’s tour! We met in the foyer, right underneath the borealis.

Art Gallery of Alberta

Here’s a shot of our guides, describing the borealis above:

Art Gallery of Alberta

Our first stop, after the coat check, was Zinc, the Art Gallery of Alberta’s new restaurant. Still under active construction, we got a very quick glimpse at what dining in Churchill Square might be like. As Sharon remarked, standing in Zinc is reminiscent of standing inside Cactus Club Bentall 5 in downtown Vancouver.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Here’s Chris and Sharon, representing Edmonton’s food bloggers:

Art Gallery of Alberta

Next we ascended the grand staircase to the third level, which provided us with a fantastic eye-level view of the borealis, as well as the opportunity to step outside onto the City of Edmonton Terrace.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

We slowly made our way back downstairs, pausing on the second level to learn more about the way the new building is meant to capture snow. It’s explained in this video, which also provides a sneak peek at Storm Room, an interactive ten-minute exhibit featuring water, among other things:

Passing by the front entrance, we next visited the basement level, which features a number of education spaces (the rooms are named after colors, such as orange and yellow), theatre space, the AGA sales office, and the LRT entrance.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

A lot of thought went into the design of the new AGA, something that architect Randall Stout illustrated very well during his talk back in September. It’s a building that you have to visit multiple times – it looks different depending on the season, weather, and time of day. It’s a fantastic addition to Edmonton’s downtown, and to the city as a whole.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Thanks to everyone who made it out to the tour today! You can see the rest of my photos here.

Here are some of the other posts from today’s tour (I’ll update as more appear):

Edmonton Winter Light 2009

winter light 2009 Today marks the start of Winter Light 2009, a new festival designed to “usher in the winter season” and “enjoy Edmonton’s winter spirit.” The opening ceremonies were held tonight in Churchill Square and City Hall. It couldn’t have happened on a day more representative of winter than today – temperatures were around –22 C (and –32 C with the wind chill) and we received a fresh dump of snow during the day!

Sharon and I made our way to Churchill Square at about 7:45pm and found it mostly empty except for the volunteers. Despite having a number of warming tents and fire/heat displays, most people were inside City Hall enjoying the free food (provided by NAIT) and the entertainment of Le Fuzz and others.

Winter Light 2009Winter Light 2009 - Inside City Hall

We wandered around the square for a bit and eventually found the information tent where they were offering free hot chocolate to anyone who brought their own cup. Great way to be a little more environmentally responsible! The hot chocolate tasted great and allowed us to stay outside a little more before heading indoors.

Sharon was excited to see what culinary delights NAIT was offering so we headed straight for the tables of food. Unfortunately the good feeling we had by bringing our own mug for hot chocolate disappeared when we found the disposable plates and spoons being used for the food! Ah well – everything was very tasty!

We spent some time enjoying the performances, and managed to catch the official “welcome” to Winter Light with one of the organizers and Councillor Ben Henderson (Councillor Kim Krushell was also in attendance):

Next up for Winter Light is Deep Freeze on 118th Avenue, which takes place this weekend on January 10th and 11th. Activities include outdoor curling, free hay rides, snowshoeing, snow sculpting workshops, and of course, free food! On January 15th the sixth annual Ice on Whyte festival gets underway.

Although there were far more people out for the much colder New Year’s Eve than there were tonight, I wouldn’t call the festival’s success into question just yet. The main events are what will really draw people in, and tonight was basically just free marketing for those events.

I’m excited to see how the next 10 weeks unfold – I’d say Winter Light 2009 is off to a fairly good start. You can see my photos from this evening at Flickr, and some video at YouTube.

UPDATE: Sharon posted her thoughts and a bit more about the food at her blog.

Edmonton Notes for 11/15/2008 – Holiday Light Up! Edition

Earlier this evening, Sharon and I went to check out the Christmas on the Square Holiday Light Up! event. Mayor Mandel and Santa were on hand to help light up the largest Christmas tree we’ve ever had in Edmonton – 83 feet tall, with over 8000 energy efficient lights on it! BrightNights was also launched, and there were choirs, free wagon rides, and a tented version of the 104th Street City Market. Great weather today meant that Churchill Square was absolutely packed!

Holiday Light Up!Holiday Light Up!

You can see more photos and video here. The neat thing about the fireworks is that they were timed to the music!

Here are some Edmonton-related things I found interesting this week: