Friday, October 4, 2013

Pit Stops: Alexander Circle

In a prairie city, where the streets are laid out in orderly grid fashion, a circle (not a cul-de-sac dead-end circle but a true, free-flowing traffic-circle circle) is something of a novelty. In Edmonton, though, most traffic circles are busy and dangerous spots if you’re on a bicycle. Most cyclists try to avoid them.

One lovely exception, however, is Alexander Circle, in the west end of the city, at the intersection of 133 Street and 103 Avenue. This elegant roundabout in leafy Glenora, tucked away between two busy commuting routes (102 Avenue and Stony Plain Road), is a peaceful gem of a spot and a swell place to take a break when on a bike ride.

You’d never know you’re only a few hundred metres away from two hectic thoroughfares, thanks to the huge elm trees and the burbling fountain, which drowns out city traffic noise (and, in some ways, feels way too European for Edmonton. )The rest of the inner circle is well-groomed lawn and gardens, with a couple of benches. It’s a perfect pit stop for a breather or even a picnic. On a summer afternoon, there’s no better place in town to loll and loaf about on the grass, admiring the verandas of Glenora .

They take their verandas seriously in Glenora.
AC is well known to, and appreciated by, long-time west-enders and well-heeled Glenora types who walk their dogs around it and let their kids dip their feet in the little pool. (There is a small sign forbidding wading, but kids—including my own—have been known to frolic in the water on hot days; I’ve never seen a local make a fuss about it.) On spring Saturdays, you’ll find wedding parties getting their photos taken at the circle too.

The secret passage-way is at the end of this avenue.
The circle is named for Harold Rupert Leofric (!) George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis, the 17th Governor General of Canada from 1946-52. Not sure what his connection was to this neighbourhood, why he is honoured in this way in this place. Alexander was a famous military strategist, reputedly a charismatic Vice Roy, and an aristocrat’s aristocrat. (The decision to honour this particular man probably reveals much about the colonial self-image of the  folks who lived in Glenora 50 years ago when the circle was built.) The old-world style of the fountain is somehow in keeping with the Earl’s blue-blood pedigree.

Savvy cyclists can even take a secret passage-way to the circle, one that completely bypasses the busy roads. An off-shoot of the river-valley trail climbs up from McKinnon Ravine, under 102 Ave and spits you out one block from the spurting fountain. Some days, I grind up that steep trail just so I can ride around the circle once before heading right back down to the river valley. It’s a lot of work for a quiet little revolution, but some places are well worth a little sweat getting to.

Go for it, Desmond!
I stopped by the circle the other day on my way home from work. It was a gorgeous fall afternoon. A gaggle of daycare children was gathered around the fountain. They had walked there, in a slow, snaking line. Like me,  they went once around the fountain (“No going in the water, Desmond!” the teacher barked), and then dawdled back down the street to where they’d come from. Now that’s my idea of a field trip.


  1. I remember the first time I stumbled across Alexander Circle. I was towing toddlers Gil and Horatio in the chariot exploring nearby neighbourhoods. We were thrilled to find the fountain. Ever since, it's been a favourite stopping spot for us, too.

  2. i remember walking on the monkey trails ( a dirt path that runs thru the bush above groat road) to the museum each week, but stopping at the fountain to wash the mud off my shoes!

    1. Nice! What's a fountain for, if not washing off some mud?


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