Three tips for Rob Ford to enjoy his Alberta vacation

It’s no surprise Rob Ford took a vacation in Alberta. Most Torontonians think of it as a hyper-conservative province full of oil execs wearing goofy cowboy hats  and dad jeans. That’s a misunderstanding though. Edmonton is a thriving arts hub teeming with exciting theatre and music while Calgary features beautiful park space,  a wickedly friendly populace and great food trucks.

Our dear Mayor Ford’s somewhat sudden vacation was initially discovered thanks to Twitter. The Edmonton Journal reported  ATB Financial exec Glenn Kubish gave Ford some of Alberta’s famous western hospitality by picking him up in downtown Edmonton then driving him to city hall. Ford then unsuccessfully tried to get a jaw session with Mayor Stephen Mandel — who the Journal reports will return Friday from his vacation in Europe and see an Edmonton Eskimos game with Ford (if his plane arrives on schedule).

Now Rob Ford’s going to have loads of time in between Friday’s Edmonton Eskimos vs. Montreal Alouettes game and Saturday’s game in Calgary between the Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts. That’s why Ford should go native and experience some of Alberta’s greatest (and less well-known!) traditions: light rail transit, independent theatre and communing with nature.

Sure theatre and public transit may not be up to Ford’s tastes, but it’s a prime opportunity for Ford to expand his horizons and learn from the experience of two of Canada’s supposedly ultra-conservative cities. Maybe he’ll even learn something.

1) Check out Edmonton’s fringe festival

taken by @godmere

If Mayor Ford is the type of guy who likes to eat, he’s got to eat his way through the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. At the very least, he can go and get a chocolate-covered banana and gawk at how Edmonton became home to the world’s second largest fringe theatre festival.

Edmonton’s outstanding fringe fest features 215 productions chosen by lottery. This unbiased selection method means each play could be a deeply soulful production by grizzled theatre vets — or an amateurish mess made by high school students. What’s more,  downtown Edmonton is rife with  street performers, many of whom will be juggling hazardous and flammable objects for Ford`s childlike wonderment.

Some Torontonians may be shocked to hear Edmonton — in cowboy country Alberta no less! — has Canada’s largest fringe festival. But theatre is in Albertan’s blood.
While Fringe is unjuried, former Xtra editor Rob Salerno noted over Twitter that Alberta itself has four or five different juried festivals for new and emerging theatre. While Salerno incorrectly stated that Toronto has none (the folks behind Paprika Festival would beg to differ), if Ford wanted he could learn a lot about supporting budding young creatives from Edmonton’s example.

If Rob Ford has any time after watching the street performers and eating his way through Fringe, he should check out Rapidfire Theatre’s Harold of Galactus. This “improvised superhero comic book” is woven together on the spot by Edmonton’s own Chris Craddock and Mark Meer, who voices the male Commander Sheppard in the  Mass Effect video game series. Meer and Craddock  longstanding improvisers in Edmonton who have worked with fellow Rapidfire Theatre alum Nathan Fillion.

Here’s a video of the two performing the Harold for an audience in Regina.


2) Ride the rails

If possible, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel should take Ford on the LRT to Commonwealth Stadium to show him how great LRT can be.  It’s unfortunate Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is in Prince Edward Island as he could take Ford to my old stomping grounds at McMahon Stadium via the Banff Park LRT station that connects right to McMahon via footbridge . Mayor Ford won’t have to worry about parking and can safely get as soused as he wants!

What’s more, Mayor Ford should ride the rails to think about how all three of our cities can expand transit service. Each city is going through its own transit funding crunch. Edmonton itself is aggressively expanding LRT service while Calgary will soon open the West LRT in early 2013. As each city expands their service, they’re entering into a transit funding crunch that could stymie their ambitions.

Already, the much-needed Calgary southeast LRT — which has been in planning for 35 years —  has had its costs balloon to $2.7-billion with little in the way of federal funding coming any time soon. Unfortunately  Jason Kenney — who says he would would absolutely “love to see the southeast LRT ”  in a July 15 Herald article — even though his government hasn’t put one thin dime into the line.

3) Visit Prince’s Island Park and take in the public space

Alberta has many fine malls to peruse. Edmonton has the ubiquitous orgy of consumerism in West Edmonton Mall. Calgary’s Chinook Centre may not have WEM’s roller coaster or water park, but it has enough high-end retail to please Ford’s discerning tastes.

Alberta has a secret, though: its stunning scenery. And nothing is more beautiful than Prince’s Island Park in the heart of downtown Calgary. Ford should get the fish and game tasting menu from the River Cafe and watch the families with their young children merrily playing along the banks of the Bow River. Then he can amble over and take in the beautiful Peace Bridge.

The recent addition of the much-maligned Peace Bridge adds a new flair to the area, with its red and white helix design a stark contrast to the rest of the area’s more subdued architecture. The bridge went over budget and was delayed again and again. It represents everything that irritates the Calgary conservative — and Rob Ford if I could hazard a guess — but it is quickly proving to be a success despite its myriad past problems.

Over 6,000 people make the daily commute up and down the bridge. It’s also becoming a magnet for cyclists (boo! hiss!) and is becoming a favourite subject of photographers as well.   When you click that link you can see why —  it may have been a bit of a boondoggle, but it is a stunning piece of functional art and a splendid addition to the downtown core.



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