The Great Date Debate

Avenue asks two writers to recommend novel adventures for a first date, while simultaneously testing the compatibility of these strangers.

Dinner-and-a-movie dates have become parodies of themselves, so we asked writers Jessica Hainstock and Michael Hingston to recommend novel adventures for a first date, testing the compatibility of these strangers. As their suggestions and responses show, we may have found journalism’s perfect couple.


1. Edmonton Canoe’s Half-Day Canoe Trip

$60/couple, includes equipment and transportation; pre-book min. two days prior; 780-470-5352,

We can recreate my favourite scene from The Notebook when Edmonton Canoe provides us with a canoe, paddles and a lifejacket, essentially everything required for a Sunday afternoon on the North Saskatchewan River.

Well, everything except for actual paddling skills, which Edmonton Canoe manager Corinna Kuhnert says is a non-issue. After paddlers are driven from Capilano Park to the starting destination: “You just put your canoe in the river at Emily Murphy Park and paddle until you get to Capilano Park.”

Homework assignment: Google “How to Paddle a Canoe” by Sunday

His Response: Canoeing is a blast, yes, and if we can let the current do most of the work for us, all the better.

As long as we make a pact right now that we won’t accuse each other of steering the boat into those rocks over there, we should be fine.

My homework assignment? Wiki The Notebook

2. Sorrentino’s Couples Cooking Classes

$150/couple, includes food and wine; pre-book approx. three weeks prior; 780-477-2789,

The last time I “cooked” something, the result was a burnt bag of kernels. But Christopher Hrynyk, catering chef manager with Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group, says: “If a monkey like me can cook, anyone can.”

So that’s comforting.

From his station in the centre of the stainless steel kitchen, Hrynyk instructs classes to create an appetizer or a dessert and an entree, which, in July, will both be Caribbean-themed. Wine is served to complement our culinary master- pieces, as well as help you forget about any cooking mishaps.

Honestly, I never thought eyebrows suited you in the first place.

His Response: Wait, are you implying there’s more to haute cuisine than eating a box of crackers? What if they’re fancy crackers?

Actually, I love cooking, and I don’t think there’s a better way to learn how than from a pro in person. On the other hand, it’ll be harder to convince you I invented the meals if we’re learning them together.

3. Sugar Swing Dance Club Classes

$12/class and dance; $10/dance only; Orange Hall, 10335 84 Ave., and Strathcona Community League Hall, 10139 87 Ave.,

While thinking that we will be the next John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John might be lofty, Saturday night drop-in class at the Sugar Swing Dance Club is a Lindy Hop in the right direction.

During the 45-minute class we’ll learn some basic East Coast swing moves, like the tuck-turn and the right-side pass. Not to worry, lifts aren’t covered in this class, so a pre-date protein shake is unnecessary. The same goes with poodle skirts and pocket combs.

We can dance together or, if you keep charley-horsing me in the thigh, rotate partners. Following the class, if we’re ready to take our moves public, the dance floor opens for three hours of swing dance.

His Response: This one makes me nervous. For every man you’re able to loosen up and encourage to dance, there’s another who’ll freeze up at the mere thought of a tuck-turn.

Not that I’m one of the latter, of course. I’m, uh, speaking for a friend.

4. The Horses at Northlands

118 Avenue and Wayne Gretzky Drive, 780-471-7379,

Let’s avoid swapping “so you’re the youngest then?”-type questions and opt instead for being outside, in the grandstands, leaning over the rails and roaring for Blushing Angel in Lane 7 to pull ahead in the last quarter mile!

Odds are we’ll bond over our $11 payout on the $2 “place” bet we went halfers on, or the fact that we both wore argyle sweater vests to the track.

If it’s successful, we can start training regularly every Wednesday, Friday and weekend in preparation for the Canadian Derby in August.

His Response: About the only thing I understood from what you just said is “argyle sweater vest.” But if you’re talking about betting on horse racing – or, as I call it, the “old-timey Indy” – I’m in.

We’ll have to make sure we’re going in with similar levels of irony, though.

Personally, I have a strict policy on betting for the horse with the funniest name.

5. Hotel Selkirk’s Murder Mysteries

$49 to $89; held episodically throughout the year; Fort Edmonton Park, Fox Drive and Whitemud Drive, 780-496-7227,

The plot of this murder conspiracy is played out over a four-course dinner, so be prepared to drop your spoon and sprint to the study to see who is doing what with which unassuming household item.

Professional actors play the suspects, and we are the detectives watching the scene unfold from room to room. At the end of the night, we submit our clue sheets and our guess for whodunnit.

Dressing to the party’s changing themes is optional, but in the interest of making an informed decision, you should know I look great in a deerstalker.

His Response: A fancy dinner mixed with interactive theatre is a super-concentrated way to break the ice.

Plus, by the end we’ll feel full and noble.

Your deerstalker is fine by me. And in the spirit of murder mysteries, I’ll be wearing my finest Clue-inspired regalia: all mustard everything.


1. Segway Tour of the River Valley

$50-75 each, includes rentals, helmet and training session; pre-book min. one day prior; 780-995-7347,

Finally, a chance to explore the twists and turns of the river valley, while channelling our inner retired Floridian.

No prior experience (or athletic ability) needed. You and I will just head down to Louise McKinney Park. There, we’ll get trained on site, and then take off on a tilting, whirring, mildly futuristic-feeling tour of Edmonton’s greenbelt. Tours are bookable for either 60 or 90 minutes, and include informational stops about both the Segway and the river valley itself.

If there’s a goofier way to enjoy the great outdoors, I’d like to hear it.

Her Response: Here’s the thing with a “goofy” first encounter: I want to date you, not develop sweat stains together before launching off of a sizeable embankment and being ambulanced away. Maybe our first few dates could be ones that don’t threaten our attraction? Or my face’s structural integrity?

Or, at least, let’s try the West Edmonton Mall Segway tour until I’ve got this thing under control.

2. Gallery Walk on 124th Street


The most concentrated blast of visual art in the city is found in this cluster of six galleries around Jasper Avenue and 124th Street. There are two “official” gallery walks this fall, but it will be even more fun to grab a map and take everything in at our own pace whenever we want, except, of course, on Sundays.

We’ll see all kinds of striking Canadian art, from paintings to sculptures to glasswork. The artist-run SNAP focuses on innovations in printmaking, while the Bearclaw Gallery dedicates itself to works by First Nations artists.

And, since we’re in the neighbourhood, why not stop in at the Duchess Bake Shop and pick up a few macarons for the trip?

Her Response: It will be like art gallery boot camp: We can chat up gallery owners, hobnob with artists, get insider information on the scene. And you can impress me by buying a piece well beyond your means.

Ready your man-purse because macaron rations are a must now that we’re in training. Stamina is what separates the aficionados from the dilettantes.

3. Transcend’s Coffee-tasting Course

$85/couple; pre-book approx. three weeks prior’ 9869 62 Ave., 780-430-9198, and two other locations,

Edmonton’s coffee scene has come a long way in the past few years, but for my money, the best in town comes from Transcend.

Forget about flavoured syrups. Their coffee is so good, you barely have to add sugar. And once we take one of its in-depth, interactive coffee-tasting courses, which run approximately two and a half hours the last Friday of the month, we’ll move from being customers into connoisseurs.

The courses cover all of the basics of java education, from understanding home-brewing methodology to viewing photos and videos of where Transcend’s beans originate. Best of all, we’ll each get a fresh bag of coffee to take home.

Her Response: The only thing more exciting than our evening of bean-bliss is the knowledge that we share complementary ideologies on what makes a good cup of coffee.

Those types of differences can sink a relationship before it even starts.

4. Farm-fresh U-picks

Approx. $3.50-$4.00/454 grams; Roy’s Raspberries, 26421 Highway 16A, Acheson, 780-962-3959; Horse Hill Berry Farm, 3203 211 Ave., 780-456-4930

Like many Edmontonians, I swear by the produce at my local farmers’ market. But if the weather’s particularly nice, we can go to the source and pick our own raspberries straight from the bush.

We’re charged by the pound, so we can take our time, getting to know each other while enjoying the change of scenery. Roy’s Raspberries boasts 14 different varieties (including two golden!), but we could also drive to the northeastern edge of city limits for Horse Hill Berry Farm, which has grass lanes between the berry rows, meaning we won’t need to bring our Wellies.

Either way, I’d probably bring some bug spray.

Her Response: Grass or not, I’m bringing my polka dot rubber boots. So count me in, but on one condition: This won’t result in us buying a 10-pound pail of strawberries. I don’t think I’d do well on a six-month diet of smoothies and jam.

5. Kinsmen Pitch and Putt

$20 each/18 holes or $16/nine holes, equipment rental fees not included; 9100 Walterdale Hill, 780-432-1626,

Tucked behind the Kinsmen Sports Centre, and surrounded on all sides by a protective ring of trees, this full-length pitch and putt course may be one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

The course (which, despite its name, has no direct affiliation with the sports centre) boasts a full 18 holes, none longer than 100 yards. In other words, it’s more adventurous and contains fewer windmills and pirate galleons than mini-golf. But, it’s still low-key enough that we won’t feel bad about fudging the numbers on our scorecards when nobody’s looking.

On a related note, what’s your stance on mulligans? Lenient, I hope.

Her Response: A date that improves our short games as well as our tans is just good time management. On account of the liberties you seem willing to take with our scores though, I’ll assume all official scorekeeping from here on out, Mr. Mulligan Man.

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