Explore Downtown Edmonton’s history at your own pace with our self-guided walking tour. You’ll discover the stories behind buildings you never knew, and take in the sights of Downtown along the way.
1. Fairmont Hotel Macdonald 10065 100 Street
Opened in 1915, the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald was originally built to serve the passengers on the Grand Trunk Pacific railway as they travelled across the country. This makes it one of the handful of railway hotels in Canada and it was also built in a similar style to the chateaus found in France, just like the Banff Springs and Chateau Frontenac.. The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is now home to what has been voted as Downtown’s best patio for both its stunning river valley views and fantastic cocktails. With a combination like that you have to spend an evening there to enjoy it.
Across from the Mac, as locals affectionally call the hotel, sits a small park along Jasper Avenue. Here is where you can find a statue in honour of Frank Oliver. A prolific businessman and politician, he is credited for bringing the printing press to Edmonton and he was the publisher of the Edmonton Bulletin in the late 1800s. While these accomplishments have been honoured by Edmontonians for most of our history and a central Alberta community named after Oliver, it is also important to recognize the darker past behind Frank Oliver. He also played a role in forcibly moving Indigenous people off their land to further develop the city. In 1906, The Oliver Act was passed which encouraged buyers to coerce Indigenous people into selling thousands of hectares of land for close to nothing and then flipping the land for a large profit.
2. The Starlite Room 10030 102 Street
What we now know as one of Downtown’s premier live music venues, The Starlite Room, has a long history of serving the community. Originally designed for the Salvation Army, the building was used as a meeting hall up until 1965 when it was converted to house the city’s first professional theatre company. Since the Citadel moved into its current home in Churchill Square, the original building has had many commercial uses including a restaurant in the basement and live music venue upstairs. The building still boasts its original architecture with the towers, large arched doorway and the single balcony on the North tower. River City Revival House is the restaurant occupying the basement and has opened a patio for the summer months. Being on one of the quieter Downtown streets and covered by large trees, this patio is definitely one to check out on a weekend afternoon.
3. Paramount Theatre (Metropolitan Theatre) 10233 Jasper Avenue
Walking along Jasper Avenue and 102 Street you may notice the old theatre standing just off the corner, but what many here don’t know is that there used to be another theatre right next door. While the Metropolitan Theatre no longer stands here today, its history must be remembered and more specifically the story of Lulu Anderson. As described by Bashir Mohamed in his article “Finding Lulu” published in The Yards, Lulu was an avid movie-goer and loved to treat herself to watching a screening of her favourite films. Although a loyal customer, in 1922 she was denied entry into “The Lion and The Mouse” and was assaulted by theatre staff for no other reason than she was a black woman. She took her case to court but was ultimately ruled against with the judge stating his reasoning that as long as the ticket price was refunded the theatre management could remove whomever they wanted from the premises.
4. Neon Sign Museum 104 Street and 104 Avenue
The Neon Sign Museum, at 104 Street and 104 Avenue, transports us back to a time of chrome-covered cars and slicked-back hair, as the walls of the Telus building and the Mercer Building feature refurbished signs from the past. Enjoy a night stroll in the neon glow and take some time to read the historical plaques that accompany each sign. Part of that glowing collection is the Georgia Baths sign. This sign used to hang above a bathhouse that was once located on Jasper Avenue. Public steam baths used to be very common at the turn of the century. As written by Neon Sign Museum administrator David R. Johnston in Ornamentum, the baths “were considered very luxurious. But by the 1940s, when showers built into people’s homes became more common, bathhouses became popular among gay men. After viewing the museum grab a bite or cocktail at Mercer Tavern, Rostizado’s by Tres Carnales or Baiju. At Baiju, you can sit on their patio right underneath some of your favourite neon signs.
5. Michael Phair Park 10124 104 Street
Tucked along 104 Street is Michael Phair Park. It’s named after a former Edmonton city councillor and is home to public art of Indigenous significance. Metis artist Destiny Swiderski pays homage to Bohemian waxwing birds in her piece AmiskwacÎw Wâskâyhkan Ihtâwin. Made up of 150 copper birds, each having Cree syllabics and English translations on them, this piece was meant to not only brighten the park space but also bring to light the Indigenous history of the area as it backs on to Beaver Hills House park as well. Michael Phair Park sits along one of the most walkable streets in Downtown with a wide variety of restaurants just steps away. Next door, there’s a Bite of Brazil by Pampa or The Black Pearl, a seafood restaurant. There are also plenty of other restaurants just down 104 Street.
6. Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum (McKay Avenue School) 10425 99 Avenue
Built in 1881, McKay Avenue School is one of the oldest schools in the Edmonton area. It was originally built for $1,000 as a one-room schoolhouse. A much larger school was built 20 years later to accommodate a growing Downtown population. Thanks to the Edmonton Public School Board, the original one-room schoolhouse still stands today on 104 Street for history-buffs to see. The modern school was named after surgeon Dr. William Morrison MacKay. However, you may notice a slight discrepancy in the spelling of the name. During construction in 1905, a sandstone block bearing the school’s name showed up misspelt – a communication breakdown at its finest. Unfortunately, the block was too expensive to replace so they decided to go with the spelling as-is. Another fun fact about the school is that it’s a few years older than the Alberta Legislature Building and was used as the home for the provincial government for a few years when there was no official legislature building.
7. Federal Public Building 9820 107 Street
The Federal Public Building is one of the few tributes to the Art Deco style that can be found in the core. Built in the 1950s during the height of the Art Deco era, this building was designed by architect George Heath MacDonald. Recent renovations have expanded the lobby to include areas for the public to enjoy and learn more about Alberta and our history, as well as a gallery with rotating art exhibitions. After exploring the grounds, walk a few blocks west to grab a coffee and pastry from District, or if you’re looking for one of the best lunches Downtown head to 109 Street to Grandin Fish and Chips for a bite to eat.