Creativity propels Edmonton’s continuing growth as a cultural hotspot in Canada, and the fabric of the city itself that allows that to happen. It is a tight-knit community of self-starters who saw the potential of their city, with its diversity and heritage, to transform from a somewhat out-of-the way, regional hub into an attractive destination for anyone and everyone.

With this in mind, we collaborated with Soul Search Canada to put together a guide that highlights some of the many ways that Edmonton will surprise you with its creative infrastructure.

A mural of Curious George on a wall in Edmonton.
A wooden sign embossed with the words "made in Canada."

COWORKING SPACES

If you’re a freelancer with a calendar that doesn’t allow for much free time, take advantage of all of the coworking spaces that Edmonton has to offer.

Homestead: Located in Edmonton’s recently revitalized downtown area, Homestead was designed to provide the type of space that its name suggests: a home away from home. Founder Tegan Martin-Drysdale toured coworking spaces across Canada and the US to study how she could create a shared environment where focus flowed naturally for freelancers? in Edmonton. Once the location — which also hosts a digital arts college and, most importantly, a coffee shop— became available, Homestead began their mission of “accelerating serendipity.” Read about memberships and day prices here.

URBN Cowork: “All you need is coffee and WiFi” could very well be the slogan to my life, but unfortunately, URBN called dibs. Their model revolves around flexibility, and encouraging a healthy attitude towards productivity that exists outside of the nine-to-five grind. Though coworking may be a relatively new concept in Canada, the response to URBN confirms that the practice has a bright future: they already have two locations, one in South Edmonton and the other in Sherwood Park, with plans to open a third in the very near future. They have parking on site in both locations. Browse membership options by clicking here.

Grow Centre: If you’re looking for a more casual space that still has all the comfort and amenities you require of a coworking space, Grow Centre is perfect for you. This 1200 square foot space is located in Old Strathcona, Edmonton’s most eccentric and creative neighborhood and has enough room to spread out and do your best thinking. There are hot desks and couches, a workshop room ideal for group meetings, and a massage table for when the creative frustration is all too pent-up. To read about pricing, including an affordable rate for students, click here.

TIMBRE: Starting as a workshop for craftspeople and hands-on creatives, TIMBRE expanded to become a coworking space and is currently in the process of relocating to better accommodate the community they’ve built. The new space will have a kitchen, a common seating area, and the woodshop that has cemented their name in Edmonton’s creative scene. There will also be dedicated studios for visual artists and graphic designers, and they even plan to cast their interdisciplinary net even wider with workshops on metalworking in the future. To inquire about the new space, contact them.

Food Central: The revitalization of downtown mentioned above happened in tandem with a boom in Edmonton’s food and drink scene, and the city is now host to some of the most remarkable forward-thinkers in Canada’s culinary industry. Food Central was founded as a resource for these types, but is a fully equipped, bonafide coworking space for creatives and professionals of all disciplines. The project is powered by the Agriculture and Food Council of Alberta, a dedicated group who maintain their own high standards and help community members to reach theirs. Read all about their pricing and availability here.

GALLERIES

Whether you’re looking to peruse murals, photographs, illustrations, sculptures, or installations, Edmonton’s art galleries have a little something from all over the world, for everyone’s tastes.

Art Gallery of Alberta: With a permanent collection of over 6,000 items that range from historical and contemporary paintings to sculptures, installations, and photography, the AGA is the premier art center in Edmonton and the surrounding region. After a major renovation at the beginning of the decade, it became a popular destination for visitors and thus a more high-profile exhibition space for works of art from Canada and around the world. In addition to its collection, it hosts a revolving series of fresh and bold exhibitions, including showcases of indigenous art and multi-sensory experiences of humankind’s relationship with nature. Read all about the current and upcoming exhibitions here.

Lotus Cafe & Gallery: This space combines a Persian café with an active community art center. A permanent collection of Persian art is on display and available for sale, while other pieces of all styles and origins come and go on a weekly basis. Unwind over some traditional stew and herbal tea while browsing the eclectic collection of paintings and sculptures or by working on your own project with the café’s free WiFi. The gallery also plays host to several weekly events, including an open mic night on Saturdays and even the very popular weekly “paint party,” where resident artists and the community work together on impromptu projects. Read about all their upcoming events here.

Front Gallery: Located in Edmonton’s 124th Ave. gallery district, Front has become a centerpiece of the local art scene on account of its reputation to surprise and challenge its audiences. The gallery features the work myriad artists, from modern Canadian impressionist painters to photojournalists and well-known and established creators like English artist Damien Hirst. In addition to their sale collection, there are new events on a monthly basis, which have recently centered around women in local art and abstract modernism. It’s hard to know for sure what you’ll see when you walk through Front’s door, but that makes it all worth visiting. Get an idea of what they usually display by visiting their website.

Muttart Conservatory: The instantly recognizable glass pyramids of this art center house botanical gardens, multimedia displays, and a feature space that changes between five and seven times a year. There is an art wall that showcases pieces from local artists and a permanent installation of blown glass celebrating the biological diversity on display at Muttart. Each of the pyramids hosts a plant garden from a different climate, making it easy to feel transported to a lush rainforest or an arid desert all within the same complex; in terms of inspiration on-demand, it doesn’t get much better than that. There is also a concert series, and other themed events that you can read all about by clicking here.

EVENTS

Edmonton is known as “Canada’s Festival City” for good reason, with a wide variety of events happening year round. So whenever you’re in town, there is sure to be something that will get the inspiration flowing.

Edmonton Folk Music Festival: Since 1980, the second weekend of August has been dedicated to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, making it one of the most historic and longest-running events in the global folk community. Weekend and day passes sell out within minutes every year, which should tell you everything you need to know; if you need extra convincing, consider that performing acts have included the likes of Joni Mitchell, City & Colour, Brandi Carlile, Van Morrison… the list really goes on. Hosted on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, the skyline of Edmonton provides the backdrop for a festival ground that includes countless food vendors and a popular beer garden. Keep up with news of the 2019 festival here.

Servus Heritage Festival: This annual, three-day celebration of Alberta’s multicultural community continues to break its own attendance record every year, with the 2017 festival welcoming an estimated 500,000 visitors. There is no admission fee, meaning that it is totally free to learn about and interact with the cultures of over 85 communities from around the globe, representing everyone from local aboriginal groups to Bangladeshi and Ukrainian immigrants. Every culture prepares food, performances, and displays about their heritage, and there is even a Canadian citizenship ceremony that takes place on-site every year. Read more about the festival here.

International Fringe Festival: Based in the eccentric Old Strathcona neighborhood, this is the world’s second-largest fringe festival, second only to the massive Edinburgh Fringe. Like other festivals in Edmonton, it expands every year, and there were an estimated 850,000 attendees in 2017. An emphasis is placed on theatre, but performers from all areas of art and entertainment are encouraged to enter the lottery, which grants entry to about 1,500 artists. If you’re feeling creatively bereft, seeing the envelope pushed on such a scale is probably the perfect remedy to get the gears turning again. Find out about year-round fringe events and next year’s festival on their website.

EIFF: Showing over 50 feature and 100 short films from indie and up-and-coming directors every year, the Edmonton International Film Festival runs for nine days at the end of September and into early October and supports cinema “as a means to transform the way people see the world.” As such, they accept submissions from all genres, as long as they tell strong stories. Last year, there were romantic comedies set in 1990s France, dark Canadian dramas, and a documentary about an athlete with spinal cord injuries who pushed himself on a sled 100 miles to the South Pole. Regardless of whatever medium you work in, watching other people’s films is always a great way to step out of your own headspace for a while. Read all about the festival on their website.

The bar at Clementine in Edmonton.

SHOPPING

Aside from its famously large mall, Edmonton has a number of shopping districts that reflect the eclectic nature of the city’s neighborhoods. From books to local products, handmade goods, and all sorts of other bric-a-brac, here are a few artsy shops for your list.

Blackbyrd Myoozik: Browsing a local, independent record store is always one of the best ways to step into a city’s artistic history and familiarize yourself with its unique soundscape. Blackbird is a staple of Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona, a district much-beloved for its art and cafes. Founded by local musicians in 1993, the store’s business has an international reach, with a network of suppliers who help them source modern and classic titles at the best prices for their customers. They also sell music equipment and tickets to local events, so drop in and ask them who the hottest show in town is. Browse their featured and upcoming releases here.

Junque Cellar: You never know how a mystery object in a store like this will give you some inspiration for your next work. This place peddles anything and everything that’s been lost in another time and found its way to Old Strathcona. There are pop culture items such as comic books, posters, and records, as well as throwback interior items like lava lamps and beaded curtains. Give your favorite space or next creation a vintage look with an old rotary phone, some dishware and ceramics, or other “funky junk.” There is also a huge selection of used books and vintage clothing with new items arriving every day.

Old Strathcona Markets: In addition to the smattering of independent boutiques in the neighborhood, Old Strathcona hosts an expansive Antique Mall and a year-round farmers’ market. The former has over 27,000 square feet of rare treasures, and serves up lunch in their retro café. They put on temporary shows throughout the year as well, including an Oktoberfest celebration with vintage bar items and a popular annual kitchen show. The farmers’ market has over 130 vendors every Saturday and provides free parking. Browse their vendors here.

City Market: This year-round farmers market takes advantage of the revitalization that Edmonton’s downtown area has seen in the past few years. Retail has not taken off in the district in the same way that gastronomics has, but that could be because this market has every base? covered. Every Saturday, you can browse local art, handmade clothing, home decor, plants, and of course, some amazing food. City Market has a proud history that stretches back more than a hundred years, so go see what all the century-long fuss is all about.

CAFÉS

Whether you fancy a cup of a joe, a bite to eat, or a little tipple to help the creative juices flow, Edmonton has a great selection of cafés that can cater to every mood and taste.

Mandolin Books & Coffee Co.: No creative guide would be complete without a good bookshop, and that side of the business is a bonus to Mandolin’s coffee. They brew with beans from local supplier Catfish Coffee and the current owners have lived in the historic Highlands neighborhood for 17 years, making this locale a truly community based collective. Each month, they feature the art of a different Edmonton artist on their walls. As a purveyor of used books, their prices are low, and their coffee is genuine. There’s not much more you can ask for!

BRU Coffee + Beer House: I’m not sure exactly what people mean when they refer to the “creative juices,” but if I had to guess, I’d imagine that it implies coffee and beer — the former to help the creativity flow, the latter to relax those muscles at the end of a long day spent trying to be original. Luckily for you, BRU has you sorted whatever your situation, proudly brewing the meticulously-sourced roasts of local experts Transcend and tapping a wide selection of wheat beers, coffee ales, porters, and lagers. If you need some extra creative motivation, attend one of their Wednesday painting nights or Saturday open mics. Read about upcoming events here.

The Carrot Community Arts & Coffeehouse: In their own words, this café serves up “more than just great coffee.” It is the headquarters of the registered non-profit Arts on the Ave society, which aids the transformation of 118th Avenue into a community arts district. The group uses Carrot as a staging area for many of their events, which range from inter-disciplinary festivals (such as a family arts festival in September and Byzantine, a celebration of outdoor winter activities every January) to live music performances and open mic nights. Carrot also features a monthly art wall, a fine crafts and gift shop, and a Christmas arts bazaar. Keep up with everything going on here.

Block 1912: Located in trendy Old Strathcona, this café is well-known for its sweet treats, including homemade cheesecake, gelato, tiramisu, and a host of vegan options. Even so, the location has earned its reputation as an all-day hangout by serving up beer and cocktails and offering some outdoor seating, great for people-watching along the bustling Whyte Avenue. Block 1912’s hidden gem is the book nook, an exchange with a “take a book, leave a book” policy that allows for a break from afternoon brainstorming sessions. They’re open until midnight every day, so keep this place in mind as a sweet escape.

A cup of coffee with latte art sits on a white plate on a brown table.

Did we miss your favorite creative tidbit of Edmonton? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Joseph Ozment
Originally from Tennessee, Joseph Ozment is a writer and musician whose relationship with travel was shaped by growing up between the Southern U.S., Wales, and Hong Kong. So far, he's written for a newspaper in Russia, released a handful of home recordings, and started a novel (with plans for more, someday). When he's not busy running country roads or cheering on Liverpool FC, he's most likely making the next cup of coffee, or plans for the next trip.