Old Strathcona is a historic district in south-central Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Once the commercial core of the separate city of Strathcona, the area is now home to many of Edmonton’s arts and entertainment facilities, as well as a local shopping hub for residents and students at the nearby University of Alberta. Many of the area’s businesses are owner-operated but, chains have also made inroads. A good proportion of Edmonton’s theatres and live-performance venues are also in the area. The district centres on Whyte (82) Avenue and has shops, restaurants, bars and buskers.
Whyte Avenue, historic buildings blend with youthful exuberance to make Old Strathcona one of Edmonton’s trendiest neighbourhoods. The city’s celebrated arts and cultural community make its home here, as does a plethora of unique local boutiques, one-of-a-kind art galleries and music shops, and trendy restaurants and cafés.
After the amalgamation of the cities of Strathcona and Edmonton, Strathcona went into an economic slump and little re-development occurred, allowing many of the area’s old buildings to continue to the present day. In the 1970s, the Edmonton city council bought many properties along 104 Street in preparation for a freeway through the historic area. A “Save-the-district” movement emerged and the plan was abandoned. Old Strathcona then became more Bohemian in tone, as well as performing its historic purpose of supplying goods and services to local residents, students at the nearby University of Alberta, and residents of the nearby County of Strathcona whose county offices would first be located in Old Strathcona.
The Strathcona Hotel, the first building built after the arrival of the railway that had established the hamlet of South Edmonton in 1891 (leading to the town and city of Strathcona) has been in operation ever since (excepting the period of Prohibition, 1916-1923), and other bars were never absent from the district. However, in the 1990s, many new bars were established in Whyte Avenue buildings that had previously held offices and shops. The area’s night-time ambience began to change dramatically. The area has attracted media attention over the years for its revelry.
Over time, the area has become the premier entertainment strip in Edmonton and is the locale for events such as the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Although it has lacked alternative music venues since the 1990s heyday, there is a strong revival of music venues on Whyte Avenue with several offering live entertainment for various genres. The primary location for clubs and nightlife is on Whyte Avenue between 99 and 109 Streets, with the majority of clubs directly on Whyte Avenue or on adjacent side streets.
Whyte Avenue arguably remains the centre of Edmonton’s alternative lifestyles, containing various independent clothing and other types of shops catering to a variety of alternative subcultures (ranging from hippie to raver to goth etc.). Clothing is the fastest growing business trend in the area, with retailers all along the avenue. Old Strathcona is a bastion of small, local and independent business.
There are a number of restaurants in this area, many locally owned. Several of the bars also have kitchens. In total, there are almost 100 places to eat in Old Strathcona.
Old Strathcona is home to a vibrant independent theatre scene, with nine theatre companies operating out of several buildings in the neighbourhood, including the Varscona Theatre and The Walterdale Playhouse. The Varscona Theatre alone is home to several award-winning companies:
Teatro la Quindicina
Plain Jane Theatre Company
The variety show That’s Terrific!
Improvisation troupe Die-Nasty
Every August, Old Strathcona plays host to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, the largest and oldest Fringe Theatre event in North America. Edmonton historian Lawrence Herzog called the diversity of material being produced in the Old Strathcona Theatre District “wide and astonishing.”
Old Strathcona is also known for its art-house theatres, The Princess Theatre and the Garneau Theatre. In 2011, Edmonton’s Metro Cinema Society took over management of the Garneau Theatre, while The Princess continued to be operated by Magic Lantern Theatres.
Old Strathcona celebrates all year long. January brings Ice on Whyte, a sculpting competition and outdoor ice playground. June features Improvaganza, an invitational international improv festival, hosted by Rapid Fire Theatre.
In mid-July, the Whyte Avenue ArtWalk puts more than 230 working artists on the sidewalks of Old Strathcona, and on the final Sunday of Artwalk, Whyte Avenue closes the entire street for a massive Street Sale.
In August, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival welcomes hundreds of thousands of theatre-goers and festival patrons. The fall brings the Chante Festival and many events during the Edmonton Halloween festival.
Old Strathcona has a year-round farmers’ market that requires all vendors to be primary producers. Edmonton’s market garden industry finds an average of 10,000 customers every Saturday.