Literary City Guide | EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA
Tour Guide: ATHENA RAYPOLD
Relationship to Edmonton: Home. Never lived anywhere else, and though I have dreamed of living in other cities, I could never venture far from Edmonton’s grasp. Between the lush river valley, green spaces and trees throughout the city, the amazing food scene, the thriving art and literary community, and the wonderful, friendly, people, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman
Writing soundtrack: Modest Mouse (Good News for People Who Love Bad News or Strangers to Ourselves)
Pen or Pencil: Pen. Love the feel and aesthetic of a good pen.
Coffee or Tea? Tea, I have enough energy already.
Paperback or Hardback? Paperback, for its scent and suppleness.
Mandolin Books & Coffee Company. The ideal reader's space, Mandolin Books & Coffee Company is a small bookshop and cafe in Highlands. Locals flock to Mandolin to read, play games, write, or just hang out, the vibe is both calming and cozy.
Audrey’s Books. A local shop on Jasper Avenue’s historic MacLean Block, Audrey’s is Edmonton’s oldest independent bookstore. It’s charming, well laid out, and supports the local writing community. Audrey’s hosts many readings and literary events.
The Edmonton Bookstore. Located on Edmonton’s historic and popular Whyte Avenue, The Edmonton Bookstore buys and sells antique and out of print books, as well as CDs and DVDs. It’s a book collector’s dream.
The Wee Book Inn. Family owned, with three locations in Edmonton and a signature, fuzzy cat in each location, The Week Book Inn is hands-down, Edmonton’s best used book store for both rare, old, and popular books.
Happy Harbor Comics. Edmonton’s premier comic book store, Happy Harbor Comics, is an award winning store with an excellent reputation across the country. Happy Harbor has created a community for gamers, comic book and graphic novel lovers in this city and promotes this community through events like the “Drawn to Write” youth camp for aspiring comic book writers and creators, Open Door Comic Creator Meetings, and Free Comic Book Day.
Edmonton Public Library. Internationally acknowledged for its social outreach and community programs, for innovation and creativity, and for leadership, EPL was the first Canadian library to be selected as the Library Journal’s 2014 Library of the Year.
Bruce Peel Special Collections Library. A climate-controlled, secure, closed-stack library, the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta preserves and conserves library artifacts and treasures. Visitors can view the current exhibit or look at materials with expert curators in the reading room.
Edmonton Literacy Classroom on Wheels Bus. A free literacy program for children up to age six (and their parents), the Edmonton Literacy Classroom on Wheels Bus travels to different locations weekly with a facilitator to provide families with literacy assistance and free borrowing.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Words with Friends (yegwords). With events every 8-10 weeks, Edmonton’s Creative Writing Collective, Words with Friends, actively builds a community of writers and provides an opportunity listening, sharing, and performing. They have successfully created an exciting and welcoming literary community for both writers and readers through their regular and special events.
Edmonton Story Slam. A competitive, uncensored, regular storytelling event, Edmonton Story Slam is one of three ongoing story slams in the world. Competitors get five minutes (sans props) to share an original, unpublished, unshared story; judges are randomly selected from the audience.
LitFest. Edmonton’s annual non-fiction literary festival, LitFest, is the only non-fiction literary festival in Canada. A fun, endlessly interesting event that spans ten days and has a headlining speaker (2013’s headliner was Dan Savage) from the world of non-fiction.
Edmonton Poetry Festival. An annual festival since 2006, the Edmonton Poetry Festival is a week-long celebration of poetry: various free and paid events throughout the city over the course of week involve participants as both creators and audiences.
Tales: Storytelling Festival. A five day festival celebrating oral storytelling, the Tales: Storytelling Festival includes both free and paid sets and workshops.
Breath in Poetry Collective. A weekly spoken word poetry night running Tuesdays at Rouge Lounge, the Breath in Poetry Collective also runs workshops in primary, secondary, and post secondary schools as well as collaborates on other local poetry events.
Third Verb Writing Workshops. Offering intensive writing workshops for the experienced and amateur writer, Third Verb classes provide three hours of in-class instruction from published authors, online feedback, ongoing writing exercises, an introduction to Edmonton's writing community, and a swag bag.
Canadian Literature Centre. The CLC promotes Canada’s literary culture through uniting readers, writers, academics, publishers and collectors, making it a great resource for writers and researchers.
Writer's Guild of Alberta. The WGA represents professional and up and coming writers in Alberta and creates programs and events for Alberta writers. They also offer a membership to Alberta writers and young writers.
Art Gallery of Alberta. Housed in one of Edmonton’s most architecturally unique buildings, the AGA is both an art gallery and an event venue. The AGA promotes Edmonton’s artistic community through exciting exhibitions, programs, and events.
Fringe Festival. Edmonton’s famous, ten day Fringe Festival hosts local, national, and international artists and playwrights in a dynamic environment. It’s an annual hub of artistic activity from plays to street performers to local artists and vendors.
Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Internationally renowned and continually sold out, Edmonton’s Folk Music Festival strives to attract the best in folk music and to provide a local, artistic experience that inspires. Much like the Fringe Festival, Folk Fest hosts various local vendors and artists.
Royal Bison Art + Craft Fair. Running every spring and fall, the Royal Bison Art + Craft Fair hosts all local handmade artisans (literary, artistic, textiles, music, food, plants, jewelery, clothes, etc.). It’s a unique opportunity to buy or sell local, handmade goods of any kind. You’ll always find something really cool at this fair.
Transcend (Mercer Warehouse). Located in Edmonton’s warehouse district on popular 104 Street, this cozy coffee shop is tucked away in the basement of the historic Mercer Warehouse. Transcend has several locations in Edmonton and they source their coffee beans through meaningful relationships with sustainable farmers and roast their beans locally. You can visit one of their shops for a little ambience, specialty coffee, and yummy treats.
Elm Café. Known for both their coffee and their amazing catering, Elm Café is a tiny take away location downtown that offers delicious craft sandwiches and light fare.
Iconoclast. Nestled away off Oliver Square’s beaten path, Iconoclast is a local coffee house with a unique atmosphere. The coffee bar stands in the middle of an industrial room with tables around it, including a ping pong table.
Lock Stock Coffee. A new little coffee shop, Lock Stock Coffee is making waves in Edmonton and is located in good company, burrowed between Red Star Pub (same owner) and The Bower on Jasper Avenue downtown. Offerings include their fab coffee and yummy baked goods.
A PROPER MEAL
MEAT. I love this place. It’s ineffably awesome. From mouthwatering brisket to chewy, smoked, bacony ribs; from savoury Brussels sprouts to perfect, crunchy green beans; from unbelievable pecan pie to scrumptious banana bourbon parfait, MEAT has it all, plus a fun, social community atmosphere and a bourbon menu to blow your mind. Oh, and they have a southern style brunch too. Biscuits and gravy, need I say more?
The Next Act Pub. Owned and operated by the same glorious team as MEAT and located next door in Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona, The Next Act came first. With an upbeat ambiance, ever-changing but always local art, amazing staff, and the world’s best pub menu, The Next Act has been my home away from home for years. Their burgers are to die for, their poutine is simply the best, and their house salad is fruity and delicious. They, too, serve brunch at an amazing price with amazing flavor. Try the Pulled Pork Melt or their perfect Eggs Benedict.
Cavern. Situated on Edmonton’s 104 Street, this a place for cheese lovers. Cavern operates as both a cheese and meat deli and a small, sit down restaurant with the best salads and charcuterie that Edmonton has to offer. Plus they offer both a cheese club and cheese classes (with wine)! The triple cream brie is so damn good, so light and creamy, I dream about it.
Solstice Seasonal Cuisine. For a high-end meal at an affordable price try Solstice Seasonal Cuisine on 124 Street. Their food is phenomenal, the room small and cozy, and the service is outstanding.
Canteen. If you’re looking for affordable gourmet in a beautiful atmosphere on 124 Street, Canteen is for you. With lunch and dinner offerings, in addition to weekend brunches, Canteen never ceases to impress.
El Cortez Mexican Kitchen+ Tequila Bar. Rife with ambiance, El Cortez doesn't just offer phenomenal Mexican and Latin cuisine for brunch and dinner, but their décor is authentic, artistic, and ingenious. When you walk in, it's like you've entered another world. Added bonus, El Cortez boast one of Edmonton's finest female chefs, Lindsay Porter, and also supports local artists and musicians.
Blue Plate Diner. Just a few doors down from Cavern, Blue Plate Diner has been a downtown mainstay for years. With it’s kitschy cool décor and fabulous food offerings (including popular vegetarian options), the Blue Plate offers gourmet comfort food with ambiance. Their Mac & Cheese is my favorite in the city and their brunches are always packed.
Duchess Bake Shop. Recently featured as the only Canadian bakery to make Buzzfeed’s best bakeries in the world list, Duchess is a Parisian style bakery on 124 Street in which every. single. item. is fantastic. Everything is made fresh daily with preservative free ingredients (which you can also buy next door at their Provisions shop). I literally cannot go to Duchess without buying at least three to four items, filling my belly to burst. My favorites include macarons, sour cream cherry pie, raspberry pistachio financiers, orange chocolate scones, applewood smoked cheddar and caramelized onion brioche, their oh-so creamy daily quiche, the Duke cake. Did I mention that everything is amazing?
Dauphine Bakery and Bistro. Back over on 104 Street, Dauphine started out as a farmer’s market stand called The Queen of Tarts. The stand’s success lead to a shop on the very same street as the weekly market. Dauphine offers a wealth of cakes, tarts, cookies and delicious breakfast and lunch offerings.
Jacek Chocolate Couture. Making hand crafted chocolates that are both beautiful and delicious is what Jacek does. With a shop on 104 Street, Jacek offers both truffle collections and chocolate bars, in addition to sipping chocolate.
Upper Crust Café. Just north of Whyte Avenue, Upper Crust Café has the very best cheesecake, German Chocolate Cake, and other delectable desserts available at their front counter. Incidentally, they are also a great restaurant and caterer.
“Edmonton you have always been a home
called ‘Beaver Hills House’ by the Cree
you have always been a place of settling
we have been growing around your river city heart”
– Mary Pinkoski, Edmonton’s Poet Laureate
ATHENA's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: Looking down on the river valley from pretty much anywhere.
2. Favorite place to write: Snacking on fresh ricotta smeared on warm focaccia topped with honey at Leva Cafe
3. Favorite museum: Fort Edmonton Park
4. Favorite coffee shop: Mandolin Books & Coffee Company
5. Favorite thing about Edmonton: The people, the restaurants, the river valley.