Edmonton is a big city, but our first day trip was to the University of Alberta's beautiful botanical garden, about fifteen miles from downtown. The Japanese Garden Devonian Garden (so named apparently because it is in the town of Devon) is our kind of place; we think that Frederick Law Olmsted would have liked it too. The different groups of flowers and shrubs are interspersed with forest groves, lakes and streams. There are plenty of signs helping the botanically illiterate (like us) identify the flowers and trees. We walked through herb gardens, rose gardens, and a couple of displays of nothing but lilies. A blue garden has all blue flowers.
We got a close look at saskatoon bushes. The berries ranged from green to dark reddish blue, so it would have been impossible for a machine to harvest just the ripe berries. That explained why we had seen so many U-Pick saskatoon signs.
The Japanese garden was unexpectedly large, with a carefully crafted waterfall that split into two rocky streams which fed a small lake, and only a Butterfly Garden few ornamental stones and statues. It was an interesting contrast to the compact Japanese garden in downtown Portland, which was filled with buildings and porches.
We walked the maze, whose walls were made with Siberian pea shrubs which we had grown in the desert. In the springtime the maze will be a mass of yellow flowers. Speaking of the desert, the Desert Garden was not too impressive. The day we visited, it was 120 in Death Valley, and got down to 45 in Edmonton. On the other hand, the Alpine Garden was lovely and extensive, with a whole lot of unfamiliar plant species. We finished up at the butterfly house, where hundreds of butterflies were enjoying the plants and flowers.
The Devonian Garden is a far cry from the West Edmonton Mall. We spent an hour and a half walking the lower level, by which time we were ready for lunch. But this is not just a mall - it's a fully enclosed entertainment mecca. Besides movie theaters and casinos and bingo there are two or three or four family amusement parks ($75 Canadian a day for the whole family), lots of fountains and pools and ponds with dolphin and submarines and remote Skating rink in the mall controlled motor boats. A place called Red's offers a dozen pool tables and a full-sized bowling alley. There are perhaps three separate miniature golf courses. The giant water park has waves that roll in. There's a pirate ship and bumper cars and several arcades trying to remove all of Canada's quarters from circulation. We stopped to watch the senior citizens skating on the hockey rink, and passed dozens of restaurants and food courts. And oh, yes, there are some 800 shops as well.
As we left the Mall, we reflected on the real secret of Alberta's much-envied prosperity. It's not the oil, or the wheatfields, or even the tourists to the Canadian Rockies. It's the West Edmonton Mall, which provides an indoor, climate-controlled way for Canadians to escape the long dark cold winter days, while spending a whole bundle of money!