Sweet, Sweet Edmonton

Oh Edmontonians, your city is so well situated! To weary travellers, you offer sweet respite, or so your chroniclers tell us when serving literary fare.

In these samples of Edmonton, we invite you to notice the sugar, candy, desserts, sweet drinks, and sauces. Perhaps this city’s prime location makes it utterly delectable? Be warned though, sugary fare does not mean straightforward or simplistic. Complexity lies within Edmonton’s “sweet” offerings.


Edmonton’s River Valley in winter.
Photo Credit: Kerry Boyd

Emily (née Ferguson) Murphy’s “Janey Canuck in the West.” (1910) opens its “Edmonton” chapter by declaring, “Nature did her best for Edmonton. Seated like a queen on a throne, she may cast her shoe over as large and fine an extent of the country as the Dominion has to show. There seems to be no limit to the possibilities of this northernmost city on the banks of the Saskatchewan river” (280).

The chapter entitled “The Old Fort” describes Edmonton’s origins as a Hudson Bay Company fort and “a haven” for travellers, hunters and Company workers with their weary, “famished eyes” (295). Some travelled thousands of miles to and from the fort to the shores of Hudson Bay, where furs would be shipped to European markets. At Fort Edmonton, sugar (along with tea and flour) was one of the most popular edible commodities for which Native trappers would trade animal pelts (296).

Tasting the modern cityscape while also evoking its past, Dorothy Livesay describes a dark candy of automobiles, asphalt, fossil fuels, and pollution in “The Pied Piper of Edmonton”:

O glitter city
my tongue licks up
your licorice
I swallow cars
and black tar strips
I suck a licorice whip
and conjure horses
flying above the high-rises
galloping into cloud— (61)

Painted in Waterlogue

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd

Robert Kroetsch’s novel The Studhorse Man evokes layers of time when his protagonist, Hazard Lepage, a horse breeder looking to mate his stallion Poseidon, arrives accidentally in an automobile-clogged Edmonton. Hazard becomes waylaid by nuns (Sisters of Temperance) at the Home for Incurables, located somewhere down a back alley north of Whyte Avenue and along Saskatchewan Drive. Fed “enough to eat daily” to the point that a paunch is starting to appear (52), Hazard is distracted from his mission, playing cards, winning, sleeping, and consuming sweet breakfasts in bed:

“In spite of his growing concern, he must have fallen asleep, for the next thing he knew Sister Raphael was gently shaking him awake. He opened his eyes to a steaming hot pot of coffee, to buttered toast with jam and a bowl of oatmeal that was running over with milk and brown sugar.” (60)

Painted in Waterlogue

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd

In Todd Babiak’s novel The Garneau Block, Shirley Wong (the wife of Raymond Terletsky, a nearly retired Philosophy professor at the University of Alberta) operates a store, the Rabbit Warren, on Whyte Avenue. One morning while opening her shop, she contemplates what has given Edmonton its identity (Gretzky, the city’s local shops), but unfortunately since the late 1980s, American retail and fast food chains have dramatically altered the south side of the city. As if on cue, her friends David and Abby Weiss enter the store to see if Shirley would like anything from Starbucks (40-41). Later, David enters the iconic coffee chain to purchase his wife a caramel mochaccino. Abby prefers fair trade organic coffee and supports her local businesses, but ever since her first sip of a caramel mochaccino, “something in her was transformed” (44). She now consumes Starbucks as long as David buys the specialty beverage and it is “unavailable at the Sugarbowl, their local” (45).

Unlike his wife, David Weiss has no qualms about purchasing Starbucks coffee. A staunch Conservative and retired high-school teacher, David dines with fellow riding association presidents at the Hardware Grill on Jasper Ave. NW, where he manages a last-minute reservation by mentioning that the Premiere will be attending the lunch to discuss PC policy. From David’s perspective, the rich foods on the menu ought to be Edmonton’s standard cuisine:

“Somewhere, he knew, a chef was wrapping fancy bacon around a hunk of bison and drizzling blueberry sauce over it…. This is what vexed him about Edmonton: the city’s tragic habit of voting against its interests of settling for grilled tofu when it could have bison with fancy bacon and blueberry sauce. Calgary had a better airport and more head offices than Edmonton simply because its citizens voted as a Conservative block. In the nine years since he joined the party, David Weiss had come to see himself as a walking and talking Calgary. If he hadn’t joined, he would be a plain old Edmonton—needlessly complicated, unsure, artsy, and angry.” (72)

Finally, Miriam Mandel expresses hunger for sanctified sweetness following heartbreak in her poem “ManWoman”:

Oh, my Lord God, my
Immaculate Piece of Pie
with Whipped Cream,
Soothe me, heal me
When my Broken Heart
is mended,
when my Hunger is
Oh, Piece of Pie in the Sky,
Oh, Flavour Beatified
amen. (73)

Have you overdosed on sugar? Are you developing a paunch? Let’s pause and contemplate all this sweetness before offering some further reflections on the “glitter city.”

Painted in Waterlogue

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd


 Edmonton Sampling Menu

Babiak, Todd. The Garneau Block: A Novel. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2006. Print.

Ferguson, Emily. “Janey Canuck in the West.” 3rd ed. London: Cassell and Company, 1910. Internet Archive. Web. 14. Feb. 2015.

Kroetsch, Robert. The Studhorse Man. 1969. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2004. Print.

Livesay, Dorothy. “The Pied Piper of Edmonton.” 39 Below: The Anthology of Greater Edmonton Poetry. Ed. Allan Shute and R.G. Fyfe. Edmonton: Tree Frog, 1973. 61-65. Print.

Mandel, Miriam. “ManWoman.” 39 Below: The Anthology of Greater Edmonton Poetry. Ed. Allan Shute and R.G. Fyfe. Edmonton: Tree Frog, 1973. 72-73. Print.


Written by: Shelley Boyd

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