Winter is part of Edmonton’s identity, but it can be a tough sell.
While many choose to spend the colder months indoors, there’s a push to embrace the sub-zero temperatures and what the city has to offer outdoors.
“We’re really focusing on winter in Edmonton because we ignored it for a long time,” said Isla Tanaka, the City of Edmonton’s WinterCity planner.
“We have winter design guidelines for the city for how to build better and to build for all seasons.”
As far as Tanaka knows, she’s the only one with the job title “WinterCity planner” in the country.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” she said with a laugh.
Tanaka pointed to Edmonton’s growing winter patio scene as one example to get people outdoors in the colder months.
“It took a while for winter patios to pick up,” she said. “We started working on them about six, seven years ago.”
This winter Tanaka said there are 16 outdoor patios open.
“Not every day, of course, and let’s face it, patios aren’t open every day in the summer either,” she said.
Coming up on 10 years in Edmonton, Café Bicyclette was one of the first winter patios in the city.
“We have the fireplaces, we have the heated benches, so they’re all different initiatives that we’ve developed and tried over the last few years,” said Daniel Cournoyer, executive director of La Cité Francophone, which runs the café.
Cournoyer believes we’re all being pushed to rethink how we perceive winter.
“When we do our patio parties we have great turnout. We have live music, we get people moving and dancing and that’s how you keep warm in winter,” he said.
Cournyoer also produces the Flying Canoe Volant.
The winter festival started a decade ago with about 3,500 visitors. Last February he said attendance reached more 60,000.
“We need to program — we need to program well, but when we do it well people come and people enjoy,” Cournyoer said.
“People are looking to be outside and I think, pandemic aside…there’s no better place to be than outside.”
Jeremy Derksen is a publisher with Seekers Media. It’s an online magazine all about promoting the outdoors.
“I’ve spent the better part of my career sharing that with people,” Derksen explained.
In the last five years he said he’s noticed a change.
“It’s really exciting to see how much people are really embracing that now,” Derksen said.
“There’s just so many options and why not get out and enjoy. We’ve got a long winter we have to learn to love it.”
He believes the growth in Edmonton’s WinterCity strategy has pushed innovation from many venues, including Café Bicyclette.
“I think that Edmonton’s local… culinary scene has really embraced that as a way to keep people coming through the doors,” Derksen said.
Tanaka said her job focuses on both urban and social planning.
“It’s about supporting local economy, local events and then the bigger events, the large festivals as well, and we also focus on changing the story around winter.
“That’s what we are trying to do: change everyday living in the wintertime.”
Tanaka believes that is happening, but the work is far from over.
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