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Edmonton's Alberta Jewel

© By Pat Brennan

  They've witnessed some of the harshest winters known, yet the 10 famous palm trees in this northern city have prospered for 75 years. From their perch high atop the Alberta Legislature Building they watch Edmonton's notorious winters roll in from the northwest. But the view is from inside the dome that caps off the 80-foot-high rotunda in the heart of this magnificent structure, Alberta's legislature building, one of the most impressive government buildings in Canada.
     The $4 million Alberta spent to erect the building between 1907 and 1912 was 20 per cent of the province's gross provincial product - the value of all production in the province in those days. Of course that was before oil was discovered under those undulating prairie lands.
     The 88-metre-high rotunda inside the building wears more than 2, 000 tonnes of marble quarried in Quebec. The pillars ringing the main foyer in the building are also solid Quebec marble and weigh 16 tonnes each. Huge blocks of granite from Vancouver Island were used for the three-metre-high base structure of the building. Everything above that, including the six tall pillars holding up the ornate portico at the main entrance, is made of sandstone from near Calgary and from a quarry in Ohio.
     The palm trees at the very top of the building were given to Alberta as seedlings in 1932 by the government of California. They have survived Edmonton's renowned winters just fine and grown to more than seven metres high.
     You'll have to take the word of Alberta's Premier that the palm trees are real and are prospering. The public can't go up to see them up close and personal because the staircase is too dangerous, says Kerri Burton, head of visitor services at the legislature building.
     But the public is invited to tour the rest of the building and sit in on question period and debates when the house is in session. Tour guides conduct tours of the legislature building and surrounding gardens every day of the year, even in the depths of winter, as indoor walk ways connect the various buildings of the legislature campus.
     Much partying took place as Alberta celebrated its 100 year-old birthday. Although Alberta became a province in 1905, the westerners didn't get around to electing parliamentarians and creating a government until March, 1906. More than 6,000 scary-looking kids arrived at the legislature on Oct. 28 as it became ground zero for a Halloween festival. From Dec. 1 to Dec. 23 choirs sang Christmas carols daily at noon and in the evenings indoors and outdoors at the legislature. Feb. 19 may be one of the coldest days of the year for Edmonton, but more than 5,000 visitors arrived at the building for Alberta's annual Family Day activities.
     The large reflective pool near the front entrance is not just for looks. Kids are invited to wade in, and hundreds did when 24,000 people partied at the legislature building on Canada Day. Just outside the formal entrance to the assembly chamber stand two statues: one is Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and the namesake for the province. Her name also graces Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Across from her stands Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot Tribe. His leadership of native peoples in the West helped contribute to the peaceful settlement of Alberta.
     While strolling the corridors of power, you may get bowled over by all-star running back Normie Kwong, the lieutenant-governor of Alberta. Kwong, known as the China Clipper, was one of the best football players ever to strap on a helmet in the Canadian Football League. He won four Grey Cups, three with Edmonton and one with Calgary, was a perennial all-star and was named Canada's athlete of the year in 1955. Kwong is also one of the very few Canadians to have their name inscribed on both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup. He was one of the owners of the Calgary Flames when they won the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

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Patrick Brennan

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Details about the spectacular home of Alberta's legislature can be found at www.assembly.ab.ca or at 780-427-7362.
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonton
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Edmonton

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