Elk Island has 800 bison, 300 elk, 200 deer and about 1000 beavers in Canada’s only full fenced national park. The park is only a 30 minute drive from downtown Edmonton and is 194 square kilometres in size. One of our country’s oldest parks, early naturalists recognized the unique character of this land in what is known as the beaver hills. Formed by a collision of three glaciers, rolling hills and thousands of sloughs and ponds were left behind in this small district which is completely surrounded by Prairie otherwise.
Our Edmonton Food Tours team – Karen Anderson, Liane Faulder, Cindy Lazarenko, Suzanne Dennis, Howard Kowalchuk and Debra Anzinger – pulled in on a windless, 25 degree Celsius Saturday evening. It had been a dry summer so there were no mosquitos to pester and only the promise of a dinner laden with Alberta market fresh ingredients to look forward to.
The dinner was “long table” in format and hosted by Brad and Leanne Smoliak and their team from Kitchen by Brad. Our team of six guides and a few significant others and friends joined a group of 30 to enjoy the setting and the food.
The menu for the evening was as follows:
Billionaire’s Bacon – Irving’s Fresh Farm Bacon dipped in brown sugar and maple syrup
Ukrainian Platter of house made kielbasa, Winding Road Artisan cheese and condiments
Alberta Caviar – diced and roasted vegetables with corn cakes
Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Dry rubbed bison sirloin
Icelandic Arctic Char
Saskatoon Rhubarb Crostata with Whipped Cream
Sitting at long tables, in a pavilion that was built in 1932, the gathered chatted and appreciated the feast of local that chef Smoliak had procured that morning at Edmonton’s 104th Street City Market. The fish and bison were cooked over a wood spit a stone’s throw from the table. Food always tastes better outside but this food would have tantalized no matter where it was served. Fresher is better, and nothing is as fresh as local.
The Smoliaks also provided entertainment for the evening with a visit from a young park warden who proved a gifted story teller. She reminded us that bison herds used to be measured by the indigenous people by how many days it took to pass a herd. Elk Island’s population of bison are controlled in size by transferring animals to other national parks to add genetic diversity to breeding herds and to increase populations. Bison are a keystone species. Wherever they roam they improve the quality of the land and the biodiversity of species in the area.
After dinner we watched the sun set and a group of 100 canoes take to the waters of Astotin Lake under the direction of Priscilla Haskin of Haskin Canoe. It was the eve of a full moon and the group watched the sun set and the moon rise. It was a modern day mid-summer’s night dream come true in terms of weather and peacefulness. I’d return to glide my paddle with those clever people. My husband spied a golf course nearby and then there was yet another attraction.
One of our team was staying in one of Elk Island’s most exciting new features – comfy semi-permanent tenting structures called oTENTiks. With soft walls and a firm floor, the interior is decked out with raised beds, tables and chairs, solar powered lighting and a fire pit and gas grill on the campsite. The park has only five of these dreamy little units. They start taking reservations in January – which would take some imagination right about then. It’s now on my bucket list to stay in one.
With a fire going, marshmallows roasting and handy little bottles of prosecco to sip on, our long table dinner adventure turned into a long evening of storytelling and appreciation for where we live. If you go, do arrange a designated driver and do book soon. Check the calendar on Kitchen by Brad for tickets to these annual Long Table Dinners. This was a great way to celebrate the splendour of Alberta’s food and natural beauty.
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