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As the world around us shrank during the pandemic, many people embraced a local, community-focused, and even DIY mindset. For Edmonton’s creatives and small business owners, this spirit has long been a way of life and is at the core of two upcoming Christmas markets.
Royal Bison Arts and Crafts Fair has been supporting local creators for 15 years, cheering on artists of all kinds at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Center (8426 Gateway Blvd.)
The vendor-led marketplace was started by Edmonton expat illustrator Raymond Biesinger, and is prized for being handpicked (hundreds of applications are reviewed by a jury each season) and a bit of an oddity. The holiday market lasts for two weekends, November 25-27 and December 2-4, with a third weekend dedicated to a spring market.
“Buy local. Skip the mall,” says Vikki Wiercinski, one of the seven organizers. “Come for something curious and different.”
Royal Bison has become familiar to loyal customers over the years, reliably holding its own in the same space and regularly featuring several of the same popular vendors. But it also changes every season by continually introducing new local artists and designers. This iteration will see newcomers like Sanguine Studio, self-described as “a one-woman show designing and creating radical stained glass windows,” and the Kindred Pots collective studio, a group of potters who create fun and original pieces.
Traditional arts are in fashion
These creators are part of a trend Wiercinski has seen emerge in recent years as creatives reinvent traditional media.
“Pottery is really, pardon the pun, on fire right now,” Wiercinski says. “It’s something your funky aunt did in the ’70s. Now a lot of these old or maybe outdated craft media are having this crazy renaissance.”
She attributes part of the renewed interest to accessibility, with more studios in the city for mediums like stained glass or ceramics.
“These are things you can’t do yourself at home,” she says. “You need to learn from someone. You need to work on them in a studio space.
“These more intensive crafts are making a comeback and being reinterpreted in this new, modern way.”
Like so many events, Royal Bison has been held online for the past few years. With no physical space constraints, the organizers were able to feature around 100 vendors in each market, some from as far away as British Columbia. While that aspect of the online market was a benefit, the organizers and sponsors are happy to be back in person.
“The Royal Bison is so much about community, as much about being face-to-face, as much about meeting your neighbors, whether it’s your cabin mate or meeting someone you know when you come as a customer,” says Wiercinski. “We operate with community connections. We’re back, focused on local and I think that’s what counts the most and what has made Bison what it is.”
Fort Edmonton park lights up
It is also returning to full capacity Edmonton Christmas Market. It’s been a modest affair for the past few years, starting at ATB Place in 2019 before moving to Army & Navy the following year. After a five-day pilot at Fort Edmonton Park that saw some 13,000 people last holiday season, the market is returning to much broader festivities.
Hosted by the Public Food Hub Co., the company behind the 124 Grand Market, among other businesses, the holiday market runs for three weeks this year. And while last year’s event was contained in the intermediate space, this season the market will span 40 percent of the park, and organizers expect 50,000 people to come through the gates.
“Fort Edmonton Park has always been a dream location,” says co-founder Kirsta Franke.
The site typically sits dormant during our icy winter months, but its period-specific buildings add a nostalgic touch to an outdoor holiday event that includes much more than shops.
The airport hangar will feature more than 120 rotating vendors, all offering locally made goods, from jewelry from Prairie Poly and Smithstine Copper to spirits from Strathcona Spirits and Black Diamond Distillery.
Kids in Kevin McDonald’s Hall (December 1-3) is one of several performers bringing The Capital Theater to life on Thursdays and Saturdays. rapid fire theater Grindstone Theater 11 o’clock number and local drag acts are also scheduled.
The midway will continue to be the main food and drink hub, though attendees can find bargains everywhere. The blue and yellow marquee will house Woodshed Burgers, Three Vikings and The Workshop Eatery, and the carousel will be in motion, adding a festive touch.
Stroll or ride a horse-drawn sleigh along 1920 Street decked out in Instagram-ready “magical” light installations. The speakeasy Mahogany Bar at the Selkirk Hotel will serve mulled wine, hot chocolate and other treats, while the Ukrainian Bookstore will be a hub for wreath, pot and candle workshops.
There are charity opportunities on the site for donations to the Christmas Bureau, Edmonton Food Bank, and United Way. The organizers aim to fill the park train, which Franke affectionately thinks of as the Polar Express, with new and gently used outerwear.
Last year’s attendees ranged from young families to seniors, from groups of friends to couples. While it’s not easy to create an event that caters to so many different audiences, that’s the bold goal of the Edmonton Christmas Market.
“It’s designing your own adventure,” says Franke. “There is going to be something for everyone to enjoy, a complete experience. Not just the market and supporting local businesses at this great time of year, but lots of fun things to do with friends, family or on a date night.”
Royal Bison Arts and Crafts Fair
Where Old Strathcona Performing Arts Center, 8426 Gateway Blvd.
When November 25-27, December 2-4
Admission $4 at the door, kids are free
Edmonton Christmas Market
Where Fort Edmonton Park
When November 30 – December 18
Tickets $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 6-17 (children under 5 are free), and $45 for families (2 adults, up to 4 children). Fees are added and timed entry must be reserved. “Christmas cash” cards are used for food and beverages at the venue, and online orders will save 10 percent. Money left over from Christmas can be donated to the Edmonton Food Bank at the end of your visit.