What does Edmonton, the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta, have that the rest of Canada and the entire USA are jealous of (probably)? Surprisingly, and rather pertinently for me, it is home to North America’s largest shopping mall – the West Edmonton Mall. So big in fact that I couldn’t even squeeze the whole façade into a single photo. From its inauguration in 1981 until 2004 it was actually the largest mall in the world until the oil-rich Gulf States and the consumer hungry Chinese took the title away. The list of superlatives is fairly random but impressive all the same. It has:
- The world’s highest permanent indoor bungee jump
- The world’s second largest indoor theme park
- The world’s largest indoor wave pool
- The world’s largest indoor lake
On top of these it also has a shooting range, an ice hockey rink, parking for 20,000 vehicles, and over 800 stores and services. In peak season the footfall can exceed 200,000 while annually over 30 million people visit. To put this in to perspective, the Eiffel Tower in Paris receives a mere 7 million visitors in a year!
All in all, I was rather surprised to find this in a city which isn’t even the largest in Alberta – that honour goes to Calgary, where I have just come from. And, although the thermometer didn’t drop below 15 degrees Celsius during my stay, Edmonton, like Calgary also has freezing weather for much of the year. The record low was recorded at -61 degrees Celsius with wind chill. Grrrrr!!
Edmonton’s economy chiefly revolves around the oil and gas industry as well as being an important financial, research and education centre in Canada. It sits at the top end of the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor some 270km north. It also has the distinction of being the furthest north of any North American city with a population over one million. Edmonton sure is supplying fact after fact after fact! Which is just as well because, unfortunately, I didn’t really see much of the city aside from the mall and other shopping areas on my brief visit prior to heading even further north to my next destination, the wonderfully named city of Yellowknife.
A 90 minute flight from Edmonton, Yellowknife may be known as a city but in fact it has a population just shy of 20,000. It is the capital of the Northwest Territories, an area which is larger than South Africa, and is home to almost half the population of the territory. The name comes from the local Dene tribe and the colour of the tools they used to make from copper deposits.
Yellowknife is actually a very new settlement and began life only in the mid-1930s when gold was discovered in the area. The first mine opened in 1938 and within 30 years it became the capital of the Northwest Territories and thus an administrative town as well as merely just to service the mining industry. Falling gold prices and increased operating costs forced the final gold mine to close in 2004. However, a new lease of life was brought to Yellowknife with the discovery of diamonds in the area and the subsequent opening of four new mines. These mines now mean that Canada is ranked third in the world in terms of diamond production by value.
So, what is the town like? Well it’s very small, however it does manage to have its own Walmart store as well as a couple of more upmarket supermarkets. Nightlife and entertainment options are somewhat limited but I’m sure workers for mining companies are used to this as mines generally tend to be in the middle of nowhere. There is one cinema, one theatre and, much to my dismay, only one McDonald’s. I say dismay as I’ve acquired a penchant for their Oreo McFlurrys with extra hot fudge sauce over the past week!
It may only be a few hundred kilometres south of the Arctic Circle but Canada’s famed liberalism is alive and well, with Yellowknife’s very own Gay Pride event being touted around town. It’s a great place to live if you like canoeing or kayaking too. It seems that every other vehicle has one attached to the roof and with an abundance of lakes in the surrounding area (including the deepest in North America) there’s plenty of water sport activities. However, the summer is the best time for this as in January there are an average of 17 days with wind chills below -40 degrees Celsius! More Grrrrr!!
I’ll leave you with a snippet of (related) information about the planet Mars. Believe it or not there is also a place called Yellowknife on the Red Planet. It’s a little bit colder there, though, with temperatures recorded as low as -153 degrees Celsius! Fortunately my next stop, and last location in Canada before moving on to the USA, is a little warmer – catch up with you from Vancouver!