Exploring Edmonton’s Fountains – charting a path through our city’s waterscapes

They may not be Trevi Fountains or Bellagio jets, but Edmonton’s fountains are brief and fleeting joys in our winter city. While the swiftly flowing North Saskatchewan River is the jewel in Edmonton’s crown, its waters flow just as beautifully through dozens of fountains around the city—from the water features in Paul Kane Park and Beaver Hills House Park to the peaceful fountains tucked away around the University of Alberta campus.

Edmonton Fountain

Fountains make recreational spaces for us to splash around in, mark significant events in our civic history, and create more peaceful public spaces for us to visit as they reorganize the waters of the North Saskatchewan River into countless tributaries and distributaries across the city. If you like feeling the spray of cool water on your face, soaking your sweaty feet and making a wish as you flick a coin over your shoulder, here are some of Edmonton’s best fountains to check out this summer.

Legislature Fountains

Alberta Legislature Building and Grounds
Built: 1959, 1967, 1983

Constructed in the early ’80s during the legislature grounds’ redevelopment, the fountains and cascading water gardens in front of the Alberta Legislature are some of the most popular in the city for wading. Less well-known are the two fountains to the south of the building—one of which was installed for Canada’s centennial year in 1967—and the fountain inside the building’s rotunda. This fountain was installed in 1959 for Queen Elizabeth’s first royal visit to Alberta after her coronation. It produces an acoustic phenomenon known as the “magic spot” where you can stand three floors above the fountain and hear its waters raining down on your head.

Alexander Circle Fountain

103 Avenue and 133 Street
Built: 1952

Named after the Harold Alexander, First Earl Alexander of Tunis (Canada’s 17th Governor General) Alexander Circle Park is the epitome of the Glenora neighbourhood: vaguely posh, nostalgically British, impossibly quaint and charming. The fountain in the centre of the circular park was installed in 1952, and it’s a peaceful little oasis away from downtown. That’s not to say that the Alexander Circle Fountain is too classy to have a little fun—in 2012, someone poured laundry detergent into the fountain, creating a frothy spectacle in the heart of the picturesque park.

City Hall Fountain

1 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Built: 1992

Edmonton is currently on its third city hall. The postmodern building opened in 1992, replacing the square, modernist city hall from 1957. It also replaced an infamous fountain, which included  a 40-foot jet of water and a 20-foot bronze sculpture of nine geese. Officially titled “The Migrants,” the fountain’s sculpture was more popularly known as “The Spaghetti Tree.” The old sculpture is tucked into a nook on the west side of the new city hall, while in front of the building a series of curvilinear water arches contrast with the iconic glass pyramid.

Ortona Memorial Fountain

Giovanni Caboto Park, 95 Street and 109 Avenue
Built: 2006

The Ortona Memorial Fountain was installed during Giovanni Caboto Park’s revitalization 10 years ago. The fountain commemorates the courage of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment during the Battle of Ortona over Christmas 1943, which saw over 60 Edmonton soldiers killed while liberating the small Italian town from Nazi forces. The fountain in Giovanni Caboto Park was chosen because it resembles the fountain that stood in Ortona’s town square, though it’s actually a replica of a fountain from Marietta, Georgia. Directly across from the Italian Centre, the Ortona Memorial Fountain is an excellent place to relax with some Pinocchio gelato or a spicy panini.

Carlson Aquascape

Citadel Theatre’s Lee Pavilion, 4 Churchill Square
Built: 1984

The Carlson Aquascape is named after Carlson Construction, the company that built the Citadel Theatre’s Lee Pavilion in 1984. Although it’s almost best to visit the humid tropical atmosphere of the Lee Pavilion in the winter months, when snow is swirling outside its large windows, the Carlson Aquascape is also a great place to visit when the sun is too searingly hot outside. The waterfall holds six thousand gallons of water, and though it’s dazzling to crane your neck up from the bottom of the fountain, it’s best viewed from the Lee Pavilion’s third-floor walkways.

Great Divide Waterfall

High Level Bridge
Built: 1980

The Great Divide Waterfall was designed by Peter Lewis for Alberta’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 1980. For almost 30 years, the waterfall—which was seven metres taller than Niagara Falls—pumped 50 000 litres of water per minute into the North Saskatchewan River. After Environment Canada suggested that pumping chlorinated tap-water directly into the river might not be the best idea, the waterfall was turned off in 2009 and officially decommissioned in 2014. Although it no longer functions, you can still see the skeleton of it—the grandest of all of Edmonton’s fountains—just like you can see the old Spaghetti Tree fountain at City Hall. If you walk along the bridge’s east side, you can see dozens of pipes running overhead where the water used to burst out and rain down into the river.

Bruce Cinnamon
bruce@vueweekly.com