Tag Archives: Edmonton

And I Would Walk 21,152 Steps…

Or about nine miles. Not quite 500 but I think the Proclaimers would still be proud. On Sunday (January 5), I finally walked with Tom on one of his marathon hikes to visit his new found haunt, The Sweet Pea Cafe in Laurier Heights. About a three hour walk from Glenora there and back, with a lovely half hour respite for a coconut milk latte (both of us), a strawberry muffin (him) and cheese and herb scone (me). It was very nice, but a much longer walk than I’m used to. I’m very glad we had that mid-way stop. If I had worn my winter boots, it would have been too painful. Thankfully, there was no snow on the sidewalks, so I wore my running shoes. No probs.

View of Mackinnon Ravine from, as Tom calls it, “the Donna McKinnon Bridge”
A not quite frozen over North Saskatchewan River on Jan 5, which I assume is now frozen solid (Jan 10)

It was an absolutely perfect day to walk. We started around 11:30 when the sun was out and the temperature was a frosty -7C. By the end, the sun was still gloriously bright and the temperature had risen to plus 4C. I knew this would be the day to walk, since the following two weeks (I am writing this on Friday, January 10) would be brutally cold. And it is. It snowed 15 cm on Wednesday, and this morning, I waddled to the bus stop under dark skies and -23C temperatures. Double gloves. Hood up. Frown on. Still, it’s sunny so that helps. Sort of.

Tom, shortly after he walked his millionth step (over the past 37 days). Yes, he tracks that kind of thing…

The Sunday walk was a version of what Tom does almost every day. He’s become quite the warrior. Or maybe it’s OCD? In any case, he is unwavering. Not sure how he will do it or if he will do it next week when the temperature drops to -27C as the high for several days, but if there is a way, he will find it. Unfortunately, there is an Oilers game on Tuesday, so we will both have to figure out how to get there without dying. I’m thinking public transit. And lots of Bailey’s.

A Blue Sky Start to 2020

The not-quite-finished Ice Castle in Hawrelak Park

The week between Christmas and New Years is typically cold as balls, but this year, it was mild. Today, the sky was blue and the temperature reached plus 4! However, as I write this (Jan 2), Facebook has reminded me that last year it was 8C, a record breaking day for Edmonton. Nevertheless, it was beautiful and sunny.

Tom and I walked to Hawrelak Park from my place. Round trip it ended up at 13,633 steps. My feet were very tired/sore and I blame my newish boots. I’ve certainly had better over the years.

Hawrelak lake, not completely iced over
The North Saskatchewan River from the Hawrelak/Laurier Park footbridge

There were many, many people at Hawrelak. It was teeming with winter enjoyists skating at the newly created oval near the lake (which has not completely frozen over), trekking the trails, and even barbecuing. We wandered by the ice castle, and though it was spectacular it is not yet finished. There was an ice carver on the top, working in a t-shirt against the blue sky. Not something you see everyday.

Dude in t-shirt working on the ice castle

It seemed a little quiet in the woods. I have read that there are far fewer songbirds now, and that may account for the quiet canopy. On the other hand, it may also have something to do with the time of day (we left around 1 pm). Still, there were chirping chickadees and the odd woodpecker. I tipped one of the many bird feeders over (slightly) to get some seed, and eventually a chickadee landed on my outstretched hand. I always feel so honoured when a bird eats out of my hand, even if I had to borrow the seed. Must remember to pack some for my next walk in the woods.

Tom contemplating life, the universe and everything. Also, the Oilers.

It’s easy to get lulled into a state of comfortable amnesia by the relatively mild December and early January we are having, but the weather wasn’t dissimilar from last year and we still got nailed in February. Fingers crossed. I am back at work as of today, and this morning it was 2C but now it’s -1C and rather blowy. Blue sky though!

Sunrise: 8:50 am/Sunset: 4:26 pm

What Happened to November?

Warm, for the first time in years

It’s been awhile – more than a month – since I wrote in this blog! I haven’t stopped walking. On the contrary, since Tom and I decided to walk to the Oilers games from my place instead of driving all the way to the university and then taking the train, I’ve hit 10,000-plus steps on more days than would be normal for this time of year. Or, the new normal, since I don’t seem to be overall walking as much. I still walk home most days, but that is only 45 minutes, give or take, and about 6,000 steps.

Tom, on the other hand, has fully converted to the walking lifestyle. He was in mourning for a few years about not being able to run anymore because of his knees, and while he did walk with me fairly often on weekends, he didn’t see it as a viable fitness alternative to running. In late July, after a long period of inactivity, he started walking on his own. And, true to form, he has become obsessed, logging between 20,000 and 30,000 steps a day. Bravo to him! Over 25 years of walking, I have measured my walks in terms of time, not steps or kilometres, but the step counter app (Pacer) has become quite a good gauge, and in Tom’s case, motivator, to get moving.

Walking home through the Legislature Grounds Monday night

As for temperatures, we had several snow episodes in November, followed usually by warm ups, so while it hasn’t been snowless, the sidewalks have been clear for much of the month. The freeze-thaw cycle has continued into December, but the landscape is now white. (Only recently did the river freeze over, however.) It always seems to snow whenever I need to drive somewhere. A few extremely cold days too, but because I haven’t been keeping up with the blog, I can’t say what days. I now have a much warmer coat that for the first time in years goes past my ass, so I am able to withstand whatever weather is thrown at me, for the most part. Last Friday (December 13), Tom and I walked to Padmanadi’s from my place (about 25 blocks) in a blizzard. We arrived, however, safe and sound and ready to partake in an all-you-can-eat-soy and soy adjacent buffet.

From the LRT, the river only froze over in the last couple of days

Very often, the weather between Christmas and New Year’s is a frozen hellscape, but this year it looks relatively moderate. Hopefully that means a lot of walking. Real walking, in the woods. Preferably with a dog.  

About -6C today. Sunrise: 8:47 AM. Sunset: 4:15 PM.

Sunny (ish) Sunday

Beautiful Mill Creek Ravine (upper path)

Gorgeous walk in Mill Creek Ravine this morning with Tom. Most of the leaves have fallen, especially in the last week, revealing the Andrew Wyeth landscape beneath. I love sunny Sundays.

Mill Creek. Low, and soothing

When we started around 11:45 am, some dark clouds had rolled in, but buggered off once I had a pleaded with them. It stayed coolish (around 4C) but with the blue sky overhead, it was a perfect autumn day.

We went to north Mill Creek this time, which is a bit shorter, because it appears to have rained last night, and I didn’t like our chances on the monkey trail re-route which is straight down the ravine near the trestle bridge.

I introduced Tom to the steep set of ass-kicker stairs near Connor’s Hill, which he took two steps at a time. It’s been a long time since I was up that set of stairs. I used to run up them. I didn’t run, but I made them fairly easily. Fantastic view from up there. Lots of ups and downs on this walk, although we didn’t quite make 10,000 steps.

Nice view after getting our asses kicked…

And then our usual lunch at Route 99. Nice way to spend a morning!

4C, about an hour.

When ABBA Came to Town

40 years ago today, September 13, 1979, I saw Abba perform in Edmonton – the first stop in what would turn out to be their one and only concert tour of North America.  

I still remember lining up on the escalator at Woodwards in downtown Edmonton, waiting for the ticket office on the 2nd floor to open. I bought two tickets, one for me and the other for my friend Robbin, who was the person who bought me my first ABBA album, ABBA’s Greatest Hits, in 1976 when I was 12.

The tickets sold out in three hours.

Looking back, it seemed like a premature move on the band’s part to put out a greatest hits compilation when they had only been together for four years at that point, but the album was a success, breaking the Canadian music charts top 10 for the first time with Fernando. I wore that album out, which is something that doesn’t happen anymore. Digital downloads don’t show their wear, but pressed in every skip, hiss and pop of that vinyl album is my teenage self. The gate-fold image of the two couples, Benny and Anni-Frid (or Frida) on one side, Agnetha and Björn on the other, is still one of my favourite album covers of all time.

My gateway drug

I’m also pretty sure (but not 100% sure) I saw Björn in the wild, in jogging gear, near what was then the Four Seasons Hotel (now Sutton Place). The band was in Edmonton for several days prior to the concert, so it’s possible. We made eye contact, but I did not say anything. He understood.

Graham Hicks, a music reporter for the Edmonton Journal, wrote several articles before and after the concert.  

“The tour was supposed to start in Vancouver, but Dave Horodezky of Brimstone Productions, the Edmonton promoters, got on the blower to Sweden,” said Hicks in a column dated September 11, 1979, two days before the concert. “He had a good case to make. Collectively, Alberta is a big, big fan of ABBA. Its Greatest Hits album sold more than 100,000 copies in the province. Edmonton also had the Coliseum for ABBA to play in – considered to be one of the best arenas in North America [now decommissioned] for rock concert staging. And the hall was available two days ahead of time, for rehearsals.”

Ola Brunkert, the band’s drummer, said to Hicks: “We’re excited. It’s our first tour in two years. I’m not nervous now, too tired, but wait until Thursday!”

To be honest, I don’t recall much from the concert. My memories are images rather than sound. The icy blues, the sparkles. The anatomically correct satin pantsuits of Benny and Björn. I also distinctly remember Frida donning a Gretzky hockey jersey, marking the first time his name, and the Edmonton Oilers, came into my consciousness.

Graham Hicks joined 120 other international journalists at the post-concert media scrum. “Everything went smoothly,” said Björn Ulvaeus, no longer sporting his satin pantsuit. “We didn’t have too much self-confidence after not playing live for 2 1/2 years, so it was an incredible relief when it worked. If the rest of the audiences are as good as Edmonton, this tour will be great.”

Well, I did my part.

It was not always cool to love ABBA. Some may argue, it still isn’t, but back in the 1970s long before the Mamma Mia revival, it was not cool to love ABBA. Or maybe I’m conflating my own lack of coolness with the musicians that I loved, and the clothes that I wore, and uh, the things that I said. My love of Abba did not endear me to any clique. Not then, not now.  

The first time I saw Erasure’s video for their cover of Take a Chance on Me, I thought they were parodying ABBA – until I saw the original video. It was not parody – it was full on (loving) replication, in drag. ABBA’s music videos are most memorable for their fabulous 70s era clothes, which to this day still have the power to startle. Almost all of their videos, and ABBA: The Movie, were directed by famed Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who would go on to direct My Life as Dog, the Academy Award nominated Chocolat, and one of my favourite films, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Erasure’s version of Take a Chance on Me

The glorious music of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida imprinted on my developing brain at such an early age, it forever restructured it to be a receptacle for all things sweet, colourful and preferably, Swedish. I knew their lyrics were far from poetic, and sometimes silly, but I memorized them anyway and found solace and joy in the stories they told. Their melodies and in particular, their voices, were uplifting and for someone who couldn’t carry a tune, easy singalongs. I strongly identified with Frida, a fellow redhead, and learned to differentiate her edgier sound from Agnetha’s mournful voice – admittedly a soft skill, but a skill nonetheless.

People often associate ABBA with disco, but out of their seven original albums (along with the single Dancing Queen from their earlier album Arrival), they only put out one identifiable disco collection, Voulez Vous, in 1979 and half the songs on that album were not disco at all. I can’t envision John Travolta bumping and grinding to Chiquitita. In fact, many of ABBA’s pop songs are quite melancholic, especially on the last two albums, Super Trouper and The Visitors. As Benny and Björn’s command of the English language developed and the personal lives of the group got messier, songs like Honey, Honey gave way to The Winner Takes It All as real life loss began to creep inexorably into their lyrics (and voices). Nevertheless, ABBA remains melodic escapism at its absolute best.   

In 2011, I travelled to Sweden to visit my sister and brother-in-law who were living in Gothenburg on a year-long sabbatical. It would be two years before ABBA: The Museum, would open in Stockholm, but I still found the country absolutely beautiful (and their kanelbulles tasty). Visiting Gamla Stan in Stockholm with its soaring architecture was particularly resonate. A poster of the group standing in front of the iconic Gamla Stan buildings was on my wall for many years. I hope I get to make a Holy Pilgrimage to the museum one day, and eat more kanelbulles with pärlsocker.

Gamla Stan in 2011, not a Björn in sight…
ABBA in Gamla Stan

Love and work collided in 2016, when – in my role as a writer for the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts – I thoughtfully assigned myself the job of profiling a new course offered by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies called Mamma Mia: Queer I Go Again! taught by Swedish scholar (and ABBA fan) John Eason.

Up to that point, I hadn’t realized how deeply embedded ABBA was in the LGBTQ community. It was a dream assignment, and although it ended up being a shorter article than I had hoped, the meeting with John was long, elaborate and delicious. It was the first conversation I’d ever had with a true ABBA fan, or at least one who knew a lot more than I did. I wanted to be his friend.  

“A lot of it goes back to sentimental music and singers who display fewer stereotypically masculine qualities or inhibitions about accepting emotion,” he said at the time. “For sexual minorities, ABBA and pop culture in general is more important, because many other minorities are born into a support system, whereas we’re not. It’s a survival instinct to want to escape from your problems. Whether you’re getting bullied or pushed around, whether your parents are homophobic, pop music has a particularly important role for sexual minorities.”

Although I can’t claim to be part of a sexual minority, I certainly felt like a club of one often enough to know how powerful it is to find validation and escape in music.    

Two years later, seeing Mamma Mia at the Citadel in 2018 with my bestie Barb was one of the most wonderful ABBA-adjacent experiences of my life. I had avoided the movie, not for any philosophical reason per se, other than I didn’t think of myself as a second-wave ABBA fan. I couldn’t claim nostalgia for the music of my youth because ABBA had never left my fictive turntable. Now, it was the music of my middle-age, and boy, did we middle-agers have fun that night! I finally watched the movie a few weeks after seeing the musical but it just didn’t capture the joy of the live production, or the music.

ABBA has always been in my life, and always will be. I say that now proudly and unapologetically. In fact, I suspect I will be singing Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a urinary incontinence pad) at the old folk’s home.

And I still won’t be cool.

Notes on ABBA:

Favourite Album: Super Trouper. Honourable mention: The Visitors

Top ten favourite songs (in no particular order):

  • Lay All Your Love On Me
  • The Day Before You Came
  • Move On
  • Fernando (including Spanish and Swedish versions)
  • Arrival
  • The Piper
  • The Visitors
  • Cassandra
  • The Winner Takes It All
  • Waterloo

Favourite covers: Erasure’s Abba-esque, Madonna’s Hung Up and Mike Oldfield’s Arrival

Favourite movie featuring Abba’s music: Miriam’s Wedding, with honorable mention to The Martian (and its heart-pounding Waterloo) and the Swedish film Together

Read my posts from Sweden (and Norway) here

Finally, ABBA…thank YOU for the music!

And yes…I realize this is in my walking blog, but I had no where else to place it, and purchasing the ticket AND getting to my seat at the concert did, in fact, involve walking.

Holiday Walks

I’ve been off since June 27, a little more than a week. Unlike last year at this time, which was sweltering, May and June have been cool and wet, and July has started off unseasonably cold as well. I don’t want to complain, because my place gets very hot, and rain is always good, buuuut…it’s been tough to plan a lot of outdoor activities. Also, it’s the tail end of worm season, so some of my usual paths are still off limits. Nevertheless, I’ve had a few good walks, and yesterday was one of the best walks in recent memory.

Sharon, Stella and I went to Goldbar Park. I’ve only been there once (with Sharon and Maggie), because it’s on the far east side of Edmonton, but wow, it’s fantastic! It straddles Rundle Park, and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but both were spectacular, and the weather was perfect. Blue sky, no rain, and about 15C, which was fine for a morning walk.

We started off by crossing the Ainsworth Dyer footbridge, which is almost exactly like my old love, the Cloverdale pedestrian bridge at Louise McKinney Park (sacrificed for the incoming Valley Line LRT). The difference is that some park vehicles can cross it, but other than that it’s the same wooden and steel expanse, open to the sky, and creaky underfoot. Stella hates bridges where she can see a bit of the water through the slats. It scares her, so she walks very slow and low.

Right off the bat, I spotted a pelican, but I only brought my phone, so no good photos. Lots of swallows too.

Ainsworth Dyer bridge

The park(s) are full of water features. Mini-lakes, streams, sloughs, multiple bridges, and lots of birdlife. Stella helped herself to one duck-filled pond, and was super happy just trotting around the park, wet and sparkly in the sun.

We looped around Rundle and then followed an unpaved path along the river in Goldbar, which is off-leash. I was totally paranoid about Stella wandering off into the river, which is running very high and fast, but a combination of my yelps, Sharon’s calm assertiveness, and eventually, the return of the leash, kept this curious water dog out of the drink.

Fantastic walk, in good company, under beautiful skies.

The previous day (Wednesday) Tom and I walked through Glenora/Ravine Drive in the late afternoon. It too was a great walk, under mottled grey skies and some sun. Such a beautiful neighbourhood, with amazing views of the river valley. We used to walk together more, but it’s fallen off the radar of late. I blame hockey, binge-watching series like, most recently, Deadwood, and rain/cold.

River valley from Glenora

View from Glenora bridge (142 Street)

The night before, Tuesday, I really wanted to go for a walk in the afternoon, but Tom was still asleep (he’s largely nocturnal), and the early evening looked wet, so although we didn’t go together, I threw on my running shoes and headed out around 6:15 pm. Happily, there were no worms hanging from the trees along Victoria Park Road or even River Road, but the bad news was that I was chasing a big, black cloud and I lost. By the time I was mid-way through McKinnon Ravine, the rain started. I got pretty soaked. There was a big rainbow over Groat Road, but it was still raining at that point and I didn’t want to risk ruining my phone. Nearing 124th Street, the rain stopped. I’m glad I went for that walk. It felt like something the old Donna would do. Priorize a walk over just about everything.

Chasing clouds through McKinnon Ravine