Life Travel

Enjoy Edmonton's great indoors 0

DOUG ENGLISH, Special to QMI Agency
The Enjoy Centre, which opened last summer in St. Albert near Edmonton, features a ceiling that can be opened in good weather, controlled by an in-house weather station. (Special to QMI Agency)

The Enjoy Centre, which opened last summer in St. Albert near Edmonton, features a ceiling that can be opened in good weather, controlled by an in-house weather station. (Special to QMI Agency)

Shopping malls tend to leave me cold. But there's a huge new retail facility near Edmonton where I happily whiled away a couple of hours.

It's called The Enjoy Centre, and if the name lacks imagination, what's inside most certainly doesn't.

Picture a 22,000-square-metre building whose main floor has a 30-metre ceiling. A ceiling made of glass, so on a clear day everything under it is bathed in sunlight. A ceiling that can be opened in good weather, controlled by an in-house weather station.

The centre opened last summer on the western edge of St. Albert, just outside Edmonton. It's owned by the Hole family, a familiar name in Alberta. Starting with a vegetable farm, they developed Hole's Greenhouses and Gardens, which became one of the biggest garden centres in Western Canada.

Lois Hole wrote 14 best-selling garden books and was Alberta's lieutenant-governor when she died in 2005. A provincial park named for her is next to the centre.

Gardening paraphernalia dominates the main floor. Another section is filled with plants from mid-April through Canada Day weekend. After that it becomes an event space

There are also nine tenants. They're all from Alberta, including Calgary-based Amaranth Whole Foods Market, a spa, a deli and shops selling fine furniture and home furnishings. A restaurant, Prairie Bistro, features locally grown foods. It's self-serve on one side, but the other is a fine-dining facility facing west so diners can catch the sunset.

Not surprisingly, a family almost literally rooted in the land for more than half a century is big on the environment. Part of the centre's mandate is "to construct an icon of sustainable design." When I visited in September, they were saving or recycling enough water to serve their needs. Rainwater and snow melt is collected in a huge cistern; "grey water" is reused.

Sustainability extends to little things, too. Pots used for garden plants are made of rice, corn and other natural materials, so are compostable. The manager who showed us around allowed that this was "slightly more expensive" than the green plastic stuff we see in Ontario, but obviously something the Holes consider worth the extra.

Another stop for gardening enthusiasts is Muttart Conservatory, located in the river valley that runs through downtown Edmonton.

The Muttart, which underwent a $6-million renovation in 2009, consists of climate-controlled glass pyramids. The design maximizes the penetration of light and accommodates taller plants and trees. Each pyramid contains plants from a different climatic zone. There are 700 varieties all told. Highlights include:

-- The Wollemi pine from Australia. Its mother tree, called Gaia, is one of the oldest plants on earth, around at 150 to 200 million years.

-- More than 5,000 species of orchids, the largest collection in North America. Northern Alberta may seem an unlikely location for exotic plants but orchids can be tougher than we think. Twenty-six species are native to Alberta, and guide Marla Daniels told us 16 of these can be found in the Wagner Natural Area, just west of Edmonton.

Guided tours are available in summer but a self-guided one is easy thanks to signage that tells not only the plant's name but, in many cases, its purpose.

Don't leave without looking at the colourful mural surrounding the courtyard. It's the work of Alex Janvier, an Alberta First Nations artist. Among his best-known works is the mural Morning Star that adorns a dome in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.

A small lobby restaurant called Culina serves tasty sandwich and soup or salad combos starting at $12.

The conservatory is within walking distance of downtown hotels, and a footbridge from the Shaw Conference Centre makes access easier.

denglishtravel@gmail.com


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