Summed Up in a 360 Degree Photo
If you ask me why I love paddling on the North Saskatchewan River, I could simply point to this picture. It encapsulates the elements that I believe make paddling through Edmonton feel incredible. Here's why:
1. Bridge Architecture: if you imagine the "tiny planet" in the photo as a clock, a white bridge denotes the 12 o’clock position. The Walterdale Bridge is one of Edmonton’s most iconic structures, and a magnificent feet of engineering; using thrust-blocks instead of piers to span the 200m wide river. It is certainly not the only bridge you’ll come across though. A leisurely 1.5 hour paddle from Whitemud Park to Louise McKinney Riverfront Park will bring you under 6 different bridges. Other structures overlooking, and visible from, the river include Keillor Point (aka End of the World), and the Funicular.
2. History: if you look at the 1 o’clock position and squint a little, you’ll see the distinctive chimneys of the Rossdale Power Plant; which began operations in 1902 and produced power until 2008. The City is now looking at repurposing the space while preserving the heritage of the site, which is really exciting news for the river valley. Hotel McDonald is also prominently visible from the water. While not nearly as old, the Edmonton Riverboat (formerly River Queen), is back in operation as it approaches the quarter century mark. Traveling past the York boat at Fort Edmonton Park is a great reminder that the river, as a trading route, predates Edmonton as a city, and Alberta as a province. The river is also dynamic, with no greater evidence than the (still visible) manholes that went over the bank after a landslide destroyed three homes in 1999.
3. Downtown Skyline: between 4 and 6 o’clock you can see the towers in downtown Edmonton start to dominate the horizon. Edmonton is currently experiencing its greatest period of high rise construction in decades; in part spurred on by the removal of a downtown height restriction, investment in the Ice District, as well as a focus on revitalizing the core. When paddling on the North Saskatchewan, the appearance of the downtown core is both striking and unexpected, as it is well concealed by a bend in the river.
4. Urban Wilderness: between 6 and 11 o'clock is untamed wilderness. It is fitting that this takes up the largest section of the "tiny planet" as the continuous connection of parks in the river valley give Edmonton the longest urban park system in Canada! The parks range from open grassy areas, treed areas with trails, to cliffs with the park at the top of the cliff. The decision to protect the North Saskatchewan River Valley was incredibly forward thinking, and we are reaping the rewards now. On the river you can be minutes away from the chaos of the city, but feel hours removed. For me, the river is calming; a place where any problems feel small and insignificant, and I can simply live in the moment.
Not pictured in the title photo: the people. Paddling on the river brings an awareness that the river valley is something to be shared collectively with others. Some people fish at the mouth of Whitemud Creek. Others take a break under bridges or splash in the water around any gravel bar they can find. Some even pan for gold. If you’re on the river just after sunrise, you can watch members of the Edmonton Rowing Club start their training by going upstream. The river is a shared resource, and I hope to share it with others from the best viewing platform out there: a stand up paddleboard. It looks even better in person.
Chad writes about Edmonton, SUP, travel and his van. We participate in affiliate programs, and can earn a commission on qualifying products linked in the blog.