May we have the envelope, please? This is our third birthday, and our third time trying to define what makes Edmonton’s core sweet. As always the hardest part is eliminating great stuff that doesn’t fit.
Many of us love the bizarre, aquamarine pedway linking the legislature to Grandin LRT station, for example. Or that snake and woman airbrushed on the fence at 102 Avenue and 117 Street. But are these familiar, lovable oddities really the best of what the core has to offer?
To get to the best, we asked writers and residents to argue out their favourites. And we pushed whacky new categories at them, too. The Best WTF? to celebrate the strange. The Best Growth From Stall to Shop to celebrate businesses emerging from farmers’ markets and food trucks. And beyond that, we zeroed in on four core characters who made the core a better place in 2017. So let’s tear open those envelopes. Please.
WINNER: Compound House in Oliver
Oliver’s Compound House (and we’re giving it this name) is a big WTF. Stretching an entire neighbourhood block, the house is what looks like should be trendy, expensive lofts, but the building is rumoured to be owned by just one reclusive person. The urban tales are rife as a result. One (con rmed) rumour has it that this massive compound used to be the Beth Israel Synagogue. Well, they moved out 18 years ago. 10205 119 Street.
RUNNER UP: Freemasons’ Hall
Don’t lie: Every time you walk by this gothic temple you wonder about the secret club inside. The Central Masonic Temple was built in 1930 and it’s still a gathering spot for Edmonton’s oldest fraternity. 10318 100 Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Shaw Conference Centre Funicular
Looking for a cheap thrill on a Sunday? This indoor funicular (think elevator on a hill) gives an excellent view of the river valley and costs nothing for a ride down to the river bank. 9797 Jasper Avenue. – BN
Best Urban Jumble
Serenity is density done well for Edmonton.
At 12 storeys, its human scale makes good use of a prominent Jasper Avenue corner. Residents get a high-rise feeling connected to Oliver while below pedestrians get an inviting facade and accent materials — and retail tenants at street level. Those disliking towers or fearing infill should look here for a good example of things done well. 10055 118 Street.
RUNNER UP: Mayfair
This sleek mixed-use building, completed in 2016 and inspired by active design principles, is setting a new bar for mid-rise rental downtown. The key to its goodness is Mayfair’s multiple uses. 10823 Jasper Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Central Court
This is a modest, older, affordable six-storey rental building that re ects — and adds to — its ‘hood. Steps from the 102 Avenue bike lane, retail is in the podium and amenities are a short walk away. 11212 102 Avenue. – DR
Best Place to Run Away
WINNER: Victoria Park
Be Alice and dive down the looking glass behind Le Marchand Mansion (100 Avenue at 116 Street), where a staircase leads to a magical trail. Whether you crave a peaceful walk or some seasonal Saskatoon berries to pick, escape is on offer here, as is access to Victoria Park, Ezio Faraone Park and Hawrelak Park. A great view to seek out is in Ezio Faraone Park, looking south, where you get the best glimpse of the High Level Bridge anywhere. 11523 100 Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Grant Notley Park
No stairs? No problem. This small park (named after a former MLA who fathered our current premier, Rachel Notley) offers a welcoming place to sit and take in the picturesque view of the river valley. In the summer, you can also feast on a food-truck lunch here. 116 Street and 100 Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Oliver Peace Garden Park
One of the best seedy nds on a neighbourhood stroll is this serene community garden. The inspirational space tended to by its users will have you wondering why there aren’t more gardens in the core. 10289 120 Street. – CS
Best Not-A-Main Street
WINNER: 104 Street
Edmonton has about nine designated main streets, but its best core streets are often smaller scale. The 4th Street Promenade, as few actually call it, links back to the city’s mercantile history in the early 1900s. On 104, you can spot the best and worst of Edmonton — from oversized parkades and for-lease signs to bustling subway entrances, a neon sign museum, a warehouse full of startup companies (and hipster haircuts) and a farmers’ market many cities would kill for.
RUNNER UP: 108 Street
Talk about waiting: Back in 1997, the city designated 108 Street as central to downtown revitalization. Construction began in 2011 and new street art arrived this year. The potential is still bigger than the result, of course, but the funky El Mirador apartments, food trucks, Federal Plaza fountains, Monument coffee shop, LRT access and pedestrian-first design make this a winner in, well, waiting.
RUNNER UP: 121 Street
This one is all about the experience — a street graced with the remaining treed-boulevard left behind by the former street trolley. The coming Oliver Mercantile Exchange, revamped Paul Kane Park and connections to the river valley and Brewery District make 121 an increasingly important street to walk. – TQ
Best in Business
WINNER: Grandma Pizza
Jakub and Jolanta Kulig moved to Edmonton from Greece 25 years ago and opened Grandma Pizza in the bottom of a residential tower. A few years ago, when the City of Edmonton came knocking and threatened closure, due to zoning regulations, neighbours rallied to keep the couple’s little pizzeria open. Customers love the family, the pizza and the location, which is a short walk from much of Grandin. 9837 113 Street.
RUNNER UP: Can Man Convenience
Looking for a quick light bowl of refreshing vermicelli for lunch? Or perhaps something a little toastier, like, say, bahn mi? Get it here for less than $10. And fast. 10240 124 Street.
RUNNER UP: Habitat Etc
Perfect for a little pick-me-up or a gift in a pinch, this artisanal YEG-centric gift shop is sure to have that something you’re looking for. 10187 104 Street. – BN
Best Growth from Stall to Shop
WINNER: Prairie Noodle
In 2014, five partners started perfecting ramen mixed with Alberta flavours in a series of pop-up restaurants. After a year of feedback they settled on the menu and a permanent location, and opened their doors. The space is intimate. You’re sure to interact with other patrons and at least three staff, most likely to discuss the remarkable ramen bowls — an ambiance those five partners worked to create. 10350 124 Street.
RUNNER UP: Arno’s
Macarons, meringues and other treats await you at this delightful, intimate retreat. Master pastry chef Arnaud Valade fills the place with baked goodness. Valade got his Edmonton start at our farmers’ markets, including City Market Downtown. 10038 116 Street.
RUNNER UP: Woodwork
One-of-a-kind libations like the House Sour and a menu of succulent eats (Brassica Salad, anyone?), mean nothing beats this intimate lounge — which got its start as the Nomad food truck. 10132 100 Street. – CS
Best in Threads
WINNER: Arturo Denim
This small but mighty team is slowly revitalizing Edmonton’s strong roots in denim manufacturing, which stretch back more than 100 years. Specializing in the best damn quality denim Japan has to offer, Arturo jeans are made to last. And they’ll repair ‘em like new if you damage them. 10443 124 Street.
RUNNER UP: Alberta Tailoring Company
With staff here paying special attention to how each garment should wear you’re sure to find the best fit. 10025 Jasper Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Swish Vintage
A time-capsule treasure, this hole in the wall holds some of the best memories in fashion from around Edmonton. 10180 101 Street. – BN
Best Regular Haunt
WINNER: Tzin Wine and Tapas
Regulars quickly get to know every inch of this intimate, seven-table space. Chef Corey McGuire’s crispy pork crostini, with maple balsamic apple compote and apple mayonnaise — called, simply, “Bacon” — is one of the best pork dishes in the city, period. The Patatas Bravas — fried potatoes with “angry” aioli — is also a favourite. Tip: Hit Tzin and say “Feed me!” The staff will understand. 10115 104 Street.
RUNNER UP: Red Star
This dimly-lit, subterranean, neighbourhood gastro pub is known for its friendly service, tasty food and its Cheers-like re-creation of that downtown place where everybody knows your name. 10534 Jasper Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Remedy Café 124
There are many Remedy Cafés in Edmonton, where the original recipe chai and Indian fusion wraps delight patrons. But the warmest staff (and spot with the best patio) are in Oliver. 10310 124 Street. – LH
Best Mouth Burner
“Mom,” as Vipha Mounma is called at Viphalay, uses chilies for almost every dish in her Thai cuisine. To heat up, spice addicts should try the Gaeng Ped (red curry with chicken or beef) or the Nua Na Lok (also known as Hell’s Beef). Water will not cool this burn. 10523 99 Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Khazana
Almost everything at Khazana is concocted with bold and aromatic spices — but you’ll truly meet the four-alarm heat within an order of hot beef vindaloo curry. 10177 107 Street.
RUNNER UP: Noodle Bar by Nomiya
Those in search of hot stuff should slurp up some spicy miso ramen noodle soup at Noodle Bar by Nomiya. This miso is a flavourful kick to the traditional miso (soybean and pork broth) bowl for heat seekers. 11238 104 Avenue. – LH
Best Fam Jam
WINNER: Festival of Trees
Glitter glee galore. For more than 30 years, the Festival of Trees has started the holiday season with whimsy. It raises money for a good cause, but mostly the festival raises everyone’s warmth, with a stand of Christmas trees and scenes, and of course, the endless decorated cakes, ginger-bread structures and kids activities.
RUNNER UP: Cariwest
It’s Carnival but in Edmonton, and Cariwest has brought the vibrant sounds and colourful costumes of the Caribbean community to our city for 30 years. The parade is off the hook.
RUNNER UP: All is Bright
This festival is lit. Residents of the core love to keep the winter streets filled with life. All is bright lights up the night and warms up 124 Street with family- friendly activities, music and food.
Best Parks and Rec
WINNER: Oliver Community Pool
Admission was free this past summer (thanks, Canada 150), so many jumped in at one of the area’s best kept secrets. The facility, opened in 1924, is clean, and its excellent lifeguarding make it ideal for a family outing. But many others love it, too — from Capital City Athletics, which uses the pool for post-workout cool-downs, and even area dogs, who jump in at season’s end. 10315 119 Street.
RUNNER UP: Don Wheaton YMCA
A staple of the downtown community since 1908, though in its current building since 2007, “the Y” offers free swims for DECL members on Sundays, 1pm-6:45pm. 10211 102 Avenue.
RUNNER UP: Alex Decoteau Park
The off-leash dog run at Alex Decoteau Park, named after an Indigenous war and local hero from Edmonton, is perfect to help furry area residents get needed exercise. 10200 105 Street. – MHC
Best Art to the People
WINNER: Harcourt House
Harcourt is one of only three artist-run public galleries in Edmonton and offers some of its best contemporary-art exhibits. It also offers classes and workshops, where instructors can help you tap your creative side. The community of artists are friendly and welcoming to all. 10215 112 Street.
RUNNER UP: iHuman Youth Society
Little wonder some of Edmonton’s most promising art talent is coming out of a place devoted to using art to build up youth. 9635 102A Avenue.
RUNNER UP: SNAP
This non-profit printmaking powerhouse offers courses and exhibitions for a wide array of people, ranging from professional artists to at-risk youth. The parties are also great. 10123 121 Street. – MHC
Best Way to Move
WINNER: Downtown bike network
Now every day is your leg day, or just a great day. Stopping at Bodega Tapas & Wine Bar (103 Street/102 Avenue) for an after-work drink is now as easy as removing your helmet. The city imagined these lanes a decade ago, but heroes within and without (Stantec) pushed the 7.8-kilometre grid into reality. To be clear, that current grid is puny compared to the 500 kilometres imagined in 2009. Still, the future promises more lanes, when the Valley Line LRT is finished, and a connection to the river valley, via the Mechanized Access.
RUNNER UP: Railtown Park
A lush corridor haven that gives you urban nature atop your feet or a bike. People are always here walking dogs, commuting or lounging. Use this to link MacEwan University’s new Allard Hall to the legislature.
RUNNER UP: Pogo CarShare
Instead of walking (a long distance) to a transit stop, and then … waiting … we can now hike our neighbourhood, find a Pogo, drive it downtown, park for free and walk to whatever festival we desire. Same exercise without the same loss of time. – CS
In January, Riza Kasikcioglu saw fire and ran toward it. It was evening and Kasikcioglu was working at Maximo’s Pizza & Donair, on Jasper Avenue and 117 Street, which he co-owns with his wife, Yeter. Suddenly, he saw the orange flames spill out of an upper-floor apartment in the 17-storey Oliver Place building across the street. He called 911. And then 47-year-old Kasikcioglu, who was in the military in Turkey, where he immigrated to Canada from, ran across Jasper Avenue, bounded up Oliver Place’s stairs and screamed at residents inside to get out.
Kasikcioglu says he knew he could lose his own life but believed in that moment the lives of others were more important. “Everywhere, I was hearing children screaming for help,” he says. “As a Muslim, I can’t allow any children or innocents to lose their life.” Eventually he came across a woman in a wheelchair who was trapped because the elevators were not running. He carried her down the stairs on his back.
Kasikcioglu says he’s heartbroken one person died that night. But without his quick response, many others would have remained in harm’s way. Today, you can still find Kasikcioglu at his Oliver pizza shop, welcoming his regulars warmly.
Walking through downtown Edmonton is brighter, thanks to Annaliza Toledo. Walls formerly bare, dirty or depressing are now alive with colour. The reason is that Toledo, along with her partner, Trevor Peters, created a festival to liven up the grey. Toledo and Peters are both artists, and in 2016 created the Rust Magic Festival to make our daily walks a little more Instagram-worthy.
Rust Magic brings graffiti and mural artists from around the world to Edmonton each summer. Once here, these artists paint spaces in highly walkable neighbourhoods – Oliver, downtown, Strathcona. All told, since 2016, Rust Magic has added 35 new works of street.
Toledo says the results are obvious. “It adds so much to everyone’s day to have something beautiful appear in front of you, large-scale, on your walk to work or your walk home,” she says. “Something like that makes such a difference in people’s lives. You are a product of your environment, so why not surround yourself with beautiful, artistic things?”
Next summer, keep your eyes peeled for more from Rust Magic. “I think we’ll do more quality murals and not concentrate on the number of the murals,” Toledo says. “We hope people will appreciate it like they have in the past.”
The next time you ride your bicycle downtown, send Olga Messinis a silent thank you. Messinis is the project manager behind the downtown bike network and has worked to make the 7.8-kilometre system a reality since August, 2016. Behind the scenes, in boardrooms, Messinis has fought the hard fight.
The lanes, opened this past summer, help improve equity on the road among Edmontonians, Messinis says. They will also improve quality of life for residents in downtown and Oliver – neighbourhoods where many already commute by bike.
And, Messinis says, the lanes incentivize change. Having them “encourages people who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and make healthier choices,” Messinis says. “Some people who have never chosen to commute by bike tell us that they are commuting by bike for the first time. One commuter, in her early 70s — a really well-dressed woman on a bicycle — told me that she loved them and this is the first time she ever thought she could ride a bike within downtown. That was a great feeling.”
Messinis bikes to her downtown office from across the river in Strathcona. If you see her out there, maybe don’t be so silent. Ding your bell in thanks.
Jordan Reiniger is helping people at the margins by changing the job market in their favour.
Many pushed to the streets in Edmonton’s downtown core are rejected by traditional employers. That’s where Reiniger comes in. He’s the director of development at Boyle Street Community Services. And over the last two-and-a-half years, he’s created social enterprise programs to create jobs.
Through Boyle Street Community Ventures, Reiniger has founded several companies, including a moving company, a cleaning company and a junk removal company. All told, these outfits employ about 25 people. The best part is that downtown and Oliver residents support the companies, with many calling on the moving company in particular. “It’s a really good service and a good way for people to participate in social change,” Reiniger says. “They’re spending money on something they would have spent money on anyways, but they are choosing to do so in a socially conscious way. There is a sense of community and the sense that we are in this together.”
Reiniger’s next step? Four Directions Financial, a community bank where people are not turned away from opening an account due to a lack of I.D., the most common barrier for people at the margins.
Best in the Core Awards by: Sydnee Bryant, Mary-Helen Clark, Linda Hoang, Brittany Nugent, Tim Querengesser, Dan Rose and Chris Sikkenga