This Is Edmonton: A Photographic Introduction

Sunrise on downtown and Jasper Avenue, Edmonton's main street.

Edmonton is a city not typically celebrated for its beauty and character; the perception from outsiders is often that this is a drab industrial town, a place where people go to make money in booming Alberta, but not a place people would want to settle and lay down roots. The reality, however, is that Edmonton has a lot to offer residents and visitors, and many people who come for the economic opportunities end up living the rest of their lives here. Where architecture is concerned, the “drabness” criticism has until recently been somewhat justified, but Edmonton has been starting to explore new architectural ideas in recent years and demanding more of its built form and public spaces. The city has always done an excellent job of preserving the natural beauty of the North Saskatchewan River valley and its many tributary creeks and ravines. As North America’s northernmost large city, there’s a lot of entrepreneurial and independent spirit here as well, which gives us some interesting characters who are anything but drab. This city has so much more to offer than a big shopping mall.

Sunset at pyramidal City Hall in downtown Edmonton. © Tom Young 2012

Sunset at pyramidal City Hall in downtown Edmonton. Edmonton architecture is somewhat pyramid-obsessed.

Clouds seem to form above the curving metal roof of the Art Gallery of Alberta in downtown Edmonton. © Tom Young 2012

Clouds seem to form above the curving metal roof of the Art Gallery of Alberta in downtown Edmonton.

Families gather on a hot summer day at the Alberta Legislature Grounds, Edmonton. © Tom Young 2010

Families gather on a hot summer day at the Alberta Legislature Grounds, Edmonton.

Glass skyscrapers reflect one another in downtown Edmonton. © Tom Young 2009

Glass skyscrapers reflect one another in downtown Edmonton.

A Canada Goose heralds the return of spring in downtown Edmonton. © Tom Young 2011

A Canada Goose heralds the return of spring in downtown Edmonton.

Morning fog creeps across the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton's dramatic river valley. © Tom Young 2012

Morning fog creeps across the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton’s dramatic river valley. The valley is home to North America’s largest continuous stretch of urban parkland, a total of 7,400 hectares.

Festival-goers line up for drinks in the beer garden at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Folk Fest has been a magnet for music lovers every August at Gallagher Hill since 1980. © Tom Young 2012

Festival-goers in the beer garden at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Folk Fest has been a magnet for thousands of music lovers every August since 1980 at Gallagher Hill.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performs at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park every September long weekend in Edmonton. © Tom Young 2010

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performs at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park in Edmonton’s river valley every September long weekend.

Edmonton has its fair share of unique characters. This man rides his bike all over the city and plays his accordion "just to entertain people". He refuses offers for donations. © Tom Young 2011

Edmonton has its fair share of unique characters. This man rides his bike all over the city and plays his accordion “just to entertain people”. He refuses offers for donations.

An Edmonton Transit System train arrives at Bay/Enterprise Square Station in downtown Edmonton. The current LRT system is a single 21-kilometre northeast to southwest line. However, a northwest spur line is under construction and a new southeast to west line is in the detailed engineering stages. © Tom Young 2011

An Edmonton Transit System train arrives at Bay/Enterprise Square Station in downtown Edmonton. The current LRT system is a single 21-kilometre northeast to southwest line. However, a northwest spur line is under construction and a new 27-kilometre southeast to west line is in the detailed engineering stages.

Edmonton has its fair share of unique characters. This man is sometimes seen carrying an antique rifle, in addition to the buckskins and coyote furs that he wears. © Tom Young 2011

Another example of Edmonton’s cast of unique characters. This man is sometimes seen carrying an antique rifle, in addition to the buckskins and coyote furs that he wears.

Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona is host to historic buildings, interesting shops and cafes, and plays host to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival for ten days every August. It also plays host to young partying crowds pretty much every weekend night. © Tom Young 2012

Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona is host to historic buildings, interesting shops and cafes, and the Edmonton International Fringe Festival for ten days every August. It also plays host to young partying crowds pretty much every weekend of the year.

Edmonton's Canada Day fireworks light up the sky over the North Saskatchewan river valley. © Tom Young 2011

Edmonton’s Canada Day fireworks light up the sky over the North Saskatchewan River valley.

A passing pedestrian is illuminated by a streetlight shortly after a snowstorm in downtown Edmonton. © Tom Young 2009

A passing pedestrian is illuminated by a streetlight shortly after a snowstorm in downtown Edmonton.

Early 20th century houses face an elm-lined and snow-covered street in Mill Creek on Edmonton's southside. © Tom Young 2010

Early 20th century houses face an elm-lined and snow-covered street in Mill Creek on Edmonton’s southside.

All images © Tom Young 2009-2012

25 comments

  1. Beautiful photos, Tom! You’ve captured the beauty and quirks of Edmonton. Well done.

  2. Great photo series Tom, captures some of the Essential Edmonton very nicely!

  3. Great post Tom. I thought some of these shots looked familiar…

  4. Loved your photos – how they capture many facets of our city. More please.

  5. A beautiful reminder of where we live.
    Thanks for posting.

  6. Hi there Tom, I actually remember seeing your photos on Eric Kim’s photo blog last year, but I lost the page. Luckily one of my followers on tumblr reposted a link to this. I still remember that photo from on Eric Kim of the accordion man distinctly, so good.

    I agree with everything you’ve said in the opener, and I think we have similar approaches with our photography, trying to show that Edmonton is in fact a worthy and interesting city. You’re right, this city is more than a megamall and an ’80s hockey dynasty, but many people don’t know that. Part of it really comes from within, this city really doesn’t properly promote itself to other markets, something Calgary excels at.

    Old Strathcona’s character is the best in Canada between Vancouver and Toronto, in my opinion. The vibrant festivals, the whimsical snowstorms, the expansive river valley which we really do take for granted. All things that make Edmonton a special city. I gotta tell you, there’s just an atmosphere to this city and a character that I haven’t found much in Western Canada, except maybe Winnipeg (another underrated city). It’s unfortunate that many just view this city as a means to an end, to get in, soak up money, and then sink it in out east or in B.C.

    Luckily, it really seems Edmonton is turning a corner. Despite the aforementioned character, the city has had its fair share of issues since the 1980s, but each passing year, that is becoming less and less of an issue. The new Arena District will probably be a big game changer for the vibrancy of Downtown, and I look forward to it. Neighbourhoods like Alberta Avenue and the Quarters have really been making great strides in recent years, with the intent giving us a larger palette of interesting, character neighbourhoods.

    As for your photos, very well done. I always like seeing street photography from Edmonton, or Alberta, or really anywhere in Canada because it is so scarce compared to the States or Europe or Japan. The late night shot of the two guys and girl on Whyte Ave is very nice, as is your Low Level Bridge fog shot. The opening sunset on Jasper and the AGA shot are also exceptional.

    If you’re interested in seeing some more Edmonton street photography, my blog (citiesandcitizens on tumblr) is mainly about Edmonton street photography. No pressure, but if you do check it out, drop me a line and let me know what you think.

    Have a nice day and thanks for sharing your work.

  7. Thanks all for the compliments on the post and the images! I will definitely be doing more of these in future, likely on more defined Edmonton themes.

    Tyler, thanks for your comments. I agree that Edmonton has a lot of great things about it that are rarely boasted about. It just doesn’t seem to be the Edmonton way. I also think we have a long way to go before we have much to boast about on the urbanism front, specifically. But there are definitely some positive changes afoot, and hopefully we can help to support those changes through this new Spacing forum.

    I can’t access tumblr on this work computer, but I will be sure to check out your street photography when I have a chance. I’m not sure if you are aware, but Erik Kim helped inspire some local shooters to create the Edmonton Street Photography Club, which may interest you. I’ve only managed to make it out to one of their monthly meet-ups, but they are an enthusiastic group. Find them on facebook. They have a flickr group as well, but it is less active.

  8. Great photos. I retired to BC’s Sunshine Coast a few years ago. Thanks for the tour. The last photo almost makes me miss hearing the crisp snow crunching under my feet.

  9. Truly appreciated seeing these images. Made me so nostalgic for Edmonton…a beautiful mix of communities with a big heart. If it wasn’t so far away from the mountains, I would have stayed forever.

  10. I was sure that there would be a spacing Alberta in the future. Calgary got the shaft! Spacing yyc anyone?

  11. excellente photos!!! greetings from Argentina, the other extreme of America

  12. Hi there,
    I’m currently living in London, Ontario for the year for grad school and looking at these photos sure make me miss Edmonton even more. There is a certain unique Edmonton vibe that you can’t really describe. It’s a vibe that you just have to live in to know it. I know that Edmonton does not have the same scenes as Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, but why should we? We’re Edmonton and we shouldn’t try to be something else that we’re not. We’ve got our own special Edmonton scene. Living here in Ontario makes feel even more proud that I’m from Edmonton. Thank you so much for posting these photos. It helps with the homesickness, just a little. I can’t wait to come back to Edmonton, my home.

  13. Tom – your photos are special. They remind me of someone else we both remember well.

  14. Excellent photos and beautiful stories reminds me of why I love Edmonton so. Thank you!

  15. Wonderful showcase. I’d like to see more. It’s time we view our city through different lenses. Thank you for this.

    – Brad..

  16. Tom, well done. Great article. But you already know that I’ve always been a big fan of your pics ;).

  17. More of your creative genius! These are really good – you’ve captured some interesting parts of the city. And I love the people in your shots. Well done TT.

  18. Great photos Tom. It’s great to be able to see the City through the eye of a citizen who appreciates the finer qualities which make it unique. Keep it up!

  19. Fantastic photos, Tom! We live in a beautiful city and thanks for sharing your perspective.

  20. Beautiful photographs 🙂 It’s funny to be looking at these pictures, and then in the last photo, there’s my house!!

  21. Great photos and i enjoyed reading about the city. Well done!

  22. Beautiful! More please! It’s important for those of you who “see” to share with those of us who forget to look. Thank you!

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