On a canoe in the middle of the North Saskatchewan River, surrounded by the city of Edmonton above, there is a strange sensation of having simultaneously escaped the urban bounds while discovering the city anew. Emerald foliage gives way to silvery reflections and classic sandstone as you look up towards the Alberta legislature, downtown skyscrapers, the historic streetcar clanging over the High Level Bridge and the glass pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory.
For visitors checking out Edmonton’s highlights and attractions, the most obvious way to get around is by vehicle or transit. That’s how most people, local and visitor alike, do it. But take the route less paddled and you’ll find that many of the city’s best experiences are accessible by boat—and, you’ll get an adventure in the bargain.
In Edmonton’s early days, the present-day equivalent of a Boeing was the York Boat, like the one that lies preserved near the pullout at Rafter’s Landing at Fort Edmonton Park. Like the rest of Fort Edmonton’s early history exhibits—from the Fort of 1850, to operating 1930s midway rides—this is living history, and occasionally it still gets sailed.
A little further downstream—literally and chronologically—lies the John Walter Museum. Walter was Edmonton’s first millionaire, and also the first to launch a regular ferry service. Christened the City of Edmonton, Walter’s paddlewheeler was the precursor to today’s Edmonton Queen Riverboat, which offers cruises of the musical and food variety, for a different way to enjoy the water.
Or jump in with Black Gold River Tours for some high speed history via speedboat—including panning for gold.
Just as intriguing as the human history is the natural history. Did somebody say safari? Most of the animals at the Valley Zoo are more exotic than what you’ll encounter along the river, but after all, you never know.
Citizen science is the specialty at John Janzen Nature Centre, where visitors can watch bees work, explore a pond ecosystem, sample edible plants and learn about composting (hint: don’t combine those last two).
Lastly, those glass pyramids—the Muttart Conservatory will nicely bookend a safari experience with some exotic plants and habitats, from tropical to desert, and a great patio dining experience at the Culina Muttart.
Perhaps you fancy yourself a time traveler? Just north from the Muttart at Louise McKinney Park, you can jump on a Segway with River Valley Adventure Co. and go from fur-trade past to sci-fi future in under 60 seconds.
Or, imagine going from the hull of a canoe to thousands of metres high above with E-Z Air Helicopters. Wild perspective swings like that will leave lasting impressions, for a day you won’t forget.
Above all, traveling the city by boat is not about a set itinerary, it’s about leisurely exploration that rides the currents and changes with a whim. Entrust the provision and ferrying of your vessel to one of Edmonton’s canoe rental outfitters, Edmonton Canoe or Haskins Canoe, and you’ll have one less care along the way.
With festivals at river valley parks (like Servus Heritage Festival at Hawrelak Park, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival at Connor’s Hill), new food options like Little Brick Café in Riverdale, and city golf courses and outdoor swimming pools in easy reach, you can mix and match to come up with your own perfect paddle adventure.
Best of all, there are no traffic jams and the parking is free!
Servus Heritage Festival at Hawrelak Park