It was a close call for two Oliver recreation facilities last December as the City of Edmonton looked for ways to reduce costs amid budget deliberations.
Oliver Pool and the Oliver Arena were facing budget cuts that would have shuttered them in 2021. Council was looking for ways to reduce tax rates for the year so the two downtown facilities, along with the Scona and Eastglen pools as well as the Tipton arena, were on the chopping block. The combined savings would have equalled about $1.2 million.
Vocal support from community organizations and residents saved the facilities, with council voting unanimously to continue funding them for this year.
“Now the big thing is waiting to see if anything changes in the operations of this pool and other outdoor pools in the city,” Lisa Brown said, Hall and Recreation Director for the Oliver Community League. “Another big question is investment in the facility to see if we will continue to have an outdoor pool in the long term.”
The Oliver Pool has been closed for the past two seasons. In 2019, the City shut it down to repair a leak in the bottom of the pool. It remained closed through 2020 due to the pandemic.
“My personal opinion is the City of Edmonton has too few outdoor pools and we need to be investing in ours,” Brown said. The city is currently wrapping up the recreation plan based on public engagement for the needs of Oliver residents.
Without nearby lakes or slow-moving rivers, there is no good alternative for cooling off in the summer and Brown said other communities are looking at outdoor pools as a way to deal with the consequences of climate change.
About 80 people signed up to speak against the closures at a city council meeting in early December. That large outpouring of concern was a crucial part in overturning the decision to cut funding.
“I think council got a bit of a lesson in the budget deliberations about how many Edmontonians feel about core services,” Councillor Scott McKeen of Ward 6, which covers Oliver, said. “Those core services are the recreation amenities in neighbourhoods. They are beloved. I was really heartened by that.”
McKeen said there’s an opportunity for the city to look beyond large recreation facilities, which end up becoming “regional facilities”, and to instead focus on smaller amenities such as the Oliver Pool and smaller parks with outdoor workout equipment.
More than 15,000 people used the pool in 2018, the last year that it was open. The year prior to that, 20,000 people walked through the gates. Oliver Arena attracts almost 30,000 people every year.
For Puneeta McBryan, the gulf separating her new job as head of the Downtown Business Association and her previous jobs in the world of marketing and communications isn’t as wide as it might seem.
“I really view the role as: I’m here to serve our business community downtown, in a sort of similar way to how I always have, except that I’m not running individual campaigns for each business,” McBryan said. “But we’re really trying to think about downtown as this destination— your own destination to live and work and invest in.”
Leaving her role at ZGM Modern Marketing Partners, McBryan joined DBA in December as its new executive director. Her decision to make the jump from advertising to an advocacy role came while she was on maternity leave, which gave her additional time to reflect on this career change.
“I was communications director for the mayor’s re-election campaign in 2015, so working with Don [Iveson] kind of gave me a front-row seat to what it can look like to be directly engaged in helping build the city that I want to live in, and that I want next generations to live in,” McBryan said.
Downtown businesses are still grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and while COVID-19 has had varying impacts across different sectors, such as on bars and restaurants, McBryan said she’s thinking of how to better downtown as a whole.
“I think our job is to think about downtown as an ecosystem,” McBryan said. “Each of these types of businesses, and all of the residents, and all the visitors who come downtown for bars and restaurants and shopping, all of these individual groups are a part of this ecosystem. And I think the best way that we can serve any of our members is to think of that big picture.”
Inclusion is another one of McBryan’s focuses, an issue that returned to public attention when a video surfaced of police officers kicking homeless people out of an LRT station this winter. McBryan said one of the ways DBA is committed to furthering inclusivity is by supporting other organizations already tackling the issue.
“I don’t think DBA ever wants to be or should be the main character in any of this kind of work,” McBryan said. “It’s more just recognizing where there are community grassroots organizations serving racialized communities downtown and our vulnerable population downtown, and doing whatever we can both with our dollars and our audience and our influence to support that work.”
As for the months ahead, with vaccinations proceeding and public health restrictions possibly lifting, McBryan said the plan is to get people back to the core in a safe manner through community events and other festivals, albeit with modifications.
“Those of us involved in downtown vibrancy are betting big on the most positive possible outcome,” McBryan said. “It’s gonna feel different, it’s gonna be different, there won’t be big crowds, but it’ll be some form of recovery as soon as possible.”
Phoning 211, or visiting ab.211.ca, is a useful first step for those needing assistance. Community resource specialists search for appropriate resources nearest to the caller. Inquire about advocacy when you call, as navigating through community and government programs can be stressful. For example, Edmonton’s CMHA office provides assistance with filling out AISH applications.
Calls to information services at 211 have increased 30 percent over the previous year according to Emma Potter, Director of Crisis and Navigation Support Services at the Canadian Mental Health Association. “There are challenges with mental health, isolation, loneliness and meeting basic needs,” Potter said.
The pandemic has certainly challenged many of us in many ways. Financial issues, eviction, anxiety, stress, and loneliness can feel catastrophic, and when you are in crisis, navigating ways to get support can be difficult. But help is available and we’ve gathered some resources for you.
In addition to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, those searching for financial aid can seek provincial assistance from Alberta Works. The Emergency Needs Allowance can be used for utilities, eviction payments, and more. Phone 780-415-4900 or visit Community Social Services.
For basic needs, Leftovers Rescue Food has a Fresh Deliveries program which operates on a pay what you want model. Phone 780-809-1962 or visit RescueFood.ca.
Seniors looking for groceries and prescriptions to be delivered at no cost can find help from BagHalfFull.com. The service was created by Canadian medical students to help those who cannot leave the house.
The Seniors Friendly Calling Program from the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (Sage) is an option for those who want some human connection. Phone 780-423-5510 and choose extension five to be added to the call list.
Self-isolation, closures, and the limiting of in-person interactions makes mental wellness a top concern. From March to December, the main issues for callers on the Edmonton Distress Line were mental health and loneliness. An excellent resource is DropInYeg.ca. The page provides locations for single-session counselling. During the pandemic, therapy is provided over the phone. Those with insurance should phone 780-424-0294 or visit PsychologistsAssociation.AB.ca in order to use the Psychologist Referral Service.
If you would like to contribute to the community, volunteering is still happening within many organizations. For example, phone 780-701-9014 or visit ConnectingEdmontonSeniors.ca to help make friendly calls to seniors.
CMHA is also accepting volunteer applications. Potter said this will become more important as in-person activities begin resuming later this year. To learn more visit edmonton.cmha.ca.
VolunteerConnector.org is a page where you can search for opportunities using a variety of filters including time commitment and remote volunteering.
Finally, if volunteering is not an option, consider
donating to community organizations. Like the
people of our neighbourhoods, organizations have
also been affected by the pandemic as fundraising
events have been cancelled. CMHA, Bag-Half-
Full, Leftovers Rescue Food, and Sage are all
supported by donations.
Without regulation, third-party delivery apps could be the end of local restaurants
In the early months of 2020, before most of us had heard about the COVID-19 virus that was sweeping across China, Samuel Lee and his family decided to close the dining room of their two Hanjan Korean restaurants in Edmonton. They were the first in the city to do so, even before it became mandated. It was not an easy decision as Hanjan, with 650 seats across its locations, makes the majority of its money from hosting big groups for sit-down meals.
“Because we have family in Korea, we saw what was happening over there and they gave us insight into what is going to be happening in Edmonton,” Lee said. Hanjan switched from dine-in to delivery and pickup only. “And I’m really glad that we hopped on it fast because it gave us time to adjust and get everything down pat before all the other restaurants.”
This quick thinking likely saved the business and, in fact, Hanjan opened a third location in Oliver in the midst of the pandemic in September 2020. The Oliver location was a lucky find during deliveries at the Hargate building.
“When we were signing the lease it was during the pandemic when dine-in was still closed [for the first time],” Lee said. “But we were looking into the future and thinking this is going to end sooner or later. I really loved that it was inside the heart of Oliver because we’re really community and family-focused and we really love the population density there. That neighbourhood always has really friendly people.”
When the Oliver location was found, Hanjan was doing all of its own deliveries rather than relying on third-party delivery services like SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats and DoorDash. “We used to just do our own delivery because I really didn’t want to pay those fees, but then as someone who also uses Skip and Uber, I know that it has the convenience [factor] and it’s really well thought out,” Lee said. “What we do now is we do use a third-party, but when people order delivery we always put a nice message and coupon with it saying: “Hey if you enjoyed us this time, we have our own home delivery system.” And include our website and a discount for their first order.”
Dealing with delivery
Because dine-in services in Edmonton restaurants have been closed twice now due to COVID, restaurants have the options of closing, using their own delivery drivers or using third-party delivery apps. But what many customers don’t realize is that none of these options are in the best interest of our local businesses. Closing means no revenue coming in. Using their own delivery drivers comes with its own challenges. Using third-party services is convenient, but with fees reaching up to 30 percent, it means restaurants are often losing money on orders.
Scott Crockatt is Vice President of Communications and External Relations with the Business Council of Alberta and has seen how the pandemic has been hitting small and medium businesses, particularly local businesses, harder than larger ones. Third-party delivery services swooping in and taking a huge bite of profit isn’t helping.
“I think that those companies take a very substantial cut and it makes it really difficult for businesses to make money. They provide a valuable service, but I understand why restaurants are looking for alternative ways. They’re looking for more competition in the market,” Crockatt said.
“I’d frankly really like to see the cut those businesses are
taking come down because I think if it doesn’t they put
themselves at risk of regulation.”
Will regulation work?
Actually, that’s exactly what the provincial NDP are calling for: a cap of 15 percent on third-party delivery fees. Deron Bilous is NDP Official Opposition Critic for Economic Development and Innovation and says 15 percent is a healthy margin that ensures third-party companies continue doing well, but also protects local businesses.
“Because of the COVID restrictions [local restaurants are] in this precarious position where they’re reliant on delivery. There’s no dine-in. So for many of these restaurants, they can’t afford to have their own driver and it’s inefficient to have one driver anyway,” Bilous said. “So they have to use these third-party deliverers, whether it’s Uber Eats or DoorDash or SkipTheDishes. The challenge is with some of these folks charging up to 30 percent [in fees], restaurants are losing money. They’re actually losing money to stay open.”
When we’re in a pandemic like this it would’ve been really nice for the government to put a cap on those fees and maybe help out the restaurants a little bit more.
Bilous said the solution is pretty straightforward by putting a cap on third-party fees in order to protect local businesses. “We value all businesses, but at the end of the day when you have these international food delivery companies taking a huge chunk out of our local and small businesses at risk, then we need to step in to ensure that we’re protecting our own local small businesses and communities. That’s what governments do. If we do nothing, by summer there will be a significant number of businesses that will no longer exist.”
Black cloud effect
The quality of life for residents in the core could change, and not in a good way if restaurants and other businesses begin closing and aren’t able to re-open.
“So in the normal course of operations when a few
businesses close and there’s a normal cycling, that is
actually beneficial,” Crockatt said. “It can keep things
fresh, it can even bring in new restaurants and new
retailers. But what we get really concerned about is if
many close at once around a similar timeframe. It can
have a bit of a black cloud effect, as I call it, on the
surrounding community. It can act as a drag on even the
other businesses that are open because people are less
inclined to come to an area and get back involved in it.”
One local business that decided to close its operations for a few weeks in early 2021 is DOSC, a steakhouse, cocktail bar and café located downtown. “DOSC is really passionate about creating an experience with people, so translating that into take-out just doesn’t really work.
That’s kind of why we had to end up closing that down,” Bianca Condren said, head of Human Resources, Events and Communications at the Hoot Company, which also owns Seoul Fried Chicken, Dorinku and Japonais Bistro. The restaurant did re-open for dine-in beginning Valentine’s weekend.
“While in a shutdown with a restaurant of that size you’re actually hemorrhaging money. Even with government funding,” Condren said. “So to kind of keep the business open long term, without having to go into bankruptcy and shut it down completely, our plan was to just close it temporarily.”
During the first lockdown, DOSC was relying on their own delivery platform, which proved difficult for many reasons including competing with the third-party delivery companies, trying to get customers to visit the website to order and driver burnout. DOSC did switch to using third-party delivery for a while, but it left them with a sour taste.
“They take a massive chunk of your profits,” Condren said. “Restaurants run at a very low profit range anyway and when you’re doing take-out you’re not going to charge people the same as what you would if they dine in. So you’re already lowering your prices as they are. So it’s very slim margins.”
An eye on quality control
DOSC also had concerns about
the safety of the food and the
quality of experience third-party
drivers were giving to customers.
“We’re all about making people feel safe when they’re eating our food for takeout as well. And I don’t want to slam any delivery drivers from third-parties, but you don’t really know what they’re doing with the food. And from what we’ve seen when they’ve come into the restaurant sometimes and how they act with the food, we were actually hesitant to give them the food in the first place. You don’t know if they’re being COVID-friendly,” Condren said.
“Then there’s also the minuscule things like not being able to have an updated price and how long it takes to transfer the food products to their website and everything else that comes with third-party apps. They’re big corporations and that’s how they get there, by charging these fees, but when we’re in a pandemic like this it would’ve been really nice for the government to put a cap on those fees and maybe help out the restaurants a little bit more.”
Recovery in the core
It’s been a long year of COVID restrictions, health scares and stress, and with no clear end in sight, the thought that our local businesses are struggling so much is deeply disheartening.
Ward 6 City Councillor Scott McKeen, whose constituency includes Oliver and Downtown, said residents of the core are obviously frustrated. McKeen said being stuck in their homes has led to more complaints about things that might have seemed trivial before like noise from civic operations and snow clearing, as well as more concerning things like folks not wearing masks in public places such as transit.
But he’s heard positive stories as well.
“I’ve heard more than a few people say that pent-up demand will mean a flush of consumer dollars flooding into sectors like hospitality. Housing is already in a slow recovery and it might be that the future is brighter than some predicted. Some businesses expanded during Covid and even some restaurants did well in transitioning to a delivery model,” McKeen said. “But I don’t want to downplay, in any way, the small and medium-sized businesses that continue to struggle.”
The BCA has some pretty eye-opening stats on business recovery following a natural disaster: as many as 40 percent of businesses can be expected to never re-open. And of those that do survive, another 26 percent will close down within the next year to a year and a half. “Those numbers come from disasters and this is a little bit different, but I think in many ways it’s useful for us to think about it in a similar way,” Crockatt said.
Even though things may seem like they’re better because restaurants have re-opened, that’s not necessarily the case. So what can we do to help our local businesses now and over the next couple years until they’re past the re-opening and recovery stage?
“Supporting local is as easy as writing a review or buying a gift card if you don’t feel safe to dine out right now,” Condren said. “Even before we re-closed down again, we were still down 30 – 40 percent of sales from the previous year because we were still operating at a limited capacity. Just be aware of team members that are working behind the scenes and on-site. They’re putting themselves at risk.”
Exploring the wildlife all around us in the core of the city
Edmonton’s core is known for many things: the noble Legislature, bustling Jasper Avenue, and the vibrant Oliver
neighbourhood. What doesn’t often come to mind is the wildlife. The streets we navigate daily are shared with plants,
animals, and insects. According to Mary-Ann Thurber, ecological planner with the City of Edmonton, we live in a special
place for wildlife. “With respect to the River Valley, Edmonton is in a unique area. We’re in this transition zone between
the prairies and the boreal forest.”
Dr. Colleen St. Clair, conservation biologist at the University of Alberta, added that our River Valley is important to
wildlife. “[It] is said to be the largest contiguous green space in a city in North America. To have that much natural
habitat, that goes right through the middle of the city, Edmontonians do not realize how rare that is.”
Here’s a snapshot of the wildlife you may find in the core.
Coyote (Canis latrans) These scavengers are very prevalent in the core. Slightly larger than a dog, they’re lanky with tan or grey coats and bushy tails. They’re one of the species found in Edmonton known as urban exploiters, which St. Clair classifies as animals that thrive within the city. If we want to keep these animals wild, be wary when leaving out food. “[Human food] makes them much more dependent on people. That dependency quickly results in conflict.”
Porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) These bark-loving critters are herbivores. Covered in quills, they waddle around swinging their large, flat tails. St. Clair said their population within city limits is higher than in the wild. “They’re declining in lots of areas outside of cities. No one really knows why.” Likely it’s due to the reintroduction of fishers, a type of weasel that preys on them. So a place like Edmonton makes great habitat for a porcupine. “There’s not really much that can kill a porcupine in the city, coyotes would probably be the only thing.
Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) These nocturnal omnivores are the size of a cat, and identifiable by the white stripe on their backs. People fear skunks because of the spraying, which can blind a person for up to 15 minutes. However, they will not spray unless provoked. If you encounter a hissing and stomping skunk, slowly back away from it. If you do happen to see a skunk out during the daytime, report it to 311, as this may be an indicator of aggressive behaviour.
White-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) White-tailed jackrabbits might be 100 times more prevalent in the city than the prairies, according to St. Clair. Jackrabbits are the largest hares found in Alberta. Their fur changes from brown in the summer to white in the winter. These herbivores might look like bunnies, but they’re identifiable by their black-tipped long ears, giant rear legs, and running speed of up to 64 km/h.
Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) These rodents glide around Victoria Park, according to Thurber. They are omnivores with brown fur and white bellies, and are distinguishable from the common red squirrel by their mouse-like face. And, of course, the stretchy skin between their front and hind legs which allows them to glide for distances of up to 20 metres.
Lynx (Lynx canadensis) Although you’re unlikely to spot a lynx in the core, St. Clair said it’s happened before. In 2019, photographer Tim Osborne snapped a photo of a lynx napping on the Legislature grounds. These carnivorous animals are identifiable by their big feet and tufts of fur at the tip of the ears. Lynx may be mistaken for a large housecat. They are known for their huge appetite and can eat an entire white-tailed jackrabbit in one sitting. They are generally tolerant of human presence, but if encountered you should back away and call 311.
Although we would love to include a list of insects found in the core, it’s impossible. According to University of Alberta biologist and insect specialist John Acorn, “There are thousands and thousands of different species of insects and things like spiders and daddy long legs in the Edmonton area.” Major and minor pollinators include species of bees and butterflies, of which there are plenty every year.
As far as poisonous insects go, Acorn said there is really nothing to worry about. “In terms of insects that actually result in people going to the hospital, there are bees and wasps.”
People may worry when they find spiders and insects in their home, but as long as they’re not a pest like bed bugs, Acorn said it’s best to leave them alone. “If you do find insects or spiders in your home, that’s not an indication that your home is not clean. It’s an indication that your home supports life.” He stressed that to preserve our lovely pollinators, something to consider is reducing our pesticide usage.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) Last May, a wildlife camera at the top of Bell Tower caught a peregrine falcon once again making a nest for her eggs at 31 storeys high. “The role of neighbourhoods and urban infrastructure is sometimes a good thing,” Thurber said, referring to the height of Bell Tower and its proximity to the River Valley. This at-risk bird can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. It is a carnivorous species that feeds on other birds, and can be identified by the stripes on its body and flanks, and a wingspan of up to four feet. The peregrine falcon is well known for its directional instincts, able to locate the nesting site after travelling great distances.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) The largest goose in the world, the Canada Goose has been known to fly as far as northern Europe. This goose has a telltale white and black head, loud honk, and is fiercely protective of its offspring. It is an omnivore abundant in areas close to the River Valley. At one point, Canada Geese were on a sharp decline due to habitat loss.
Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) This fast-growing, salt-tolerant, deciduous tree is common throughout the core. It is tall and thin with thick, egg-shaped leaves. The balsam poplar is most identifiable in June, when it produces cotton-like fluff that floats in the wind. It’s usually the culprit for the rustling sounds made during windy days.
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) The green ash is another deciduous tree. Growing up to 60 feet, its branches can spread up to 45 feet wide. It’s a hardy tree with branches that bend upwards at the tips, and green leaves that are wide and long (up to a foot in length). This tree is most identifiable by its light green or purplish flowers, and in the fall it produces single-winged whirligigs that flutter down and cover the streets. It is the most planted of all ash trees.
American Elm (Ulmus americana) The American elm has been extensively planted downtown. It has grey bark with deep diamond-shaped fissures. It can grow more than 260 feet tall with an umbrella-shaped canopy up to 65 feet wide, perfect for dappling the sunlight. Its flowers are usually small and pinkish with no petals. An easy way to identify this tree is by its fruit: flat, green, egg-shaped, and with small white hairs fringing it. This tree can live for up to 200 years.
The core never sleeps. At nighttime, the area is flooded with artificial light from streetlights, homes, and businesses. Carrie Ann Adams, ecology PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, said this might be harming the wildlife.
“Typically, nocturnal predators will have an advantage when there is a full moon and there is more light in the environment,” Adams said. “In the new moon, when the nights are darker, the prey species can be more active because they’re less likely to be caught by predators.”
Artificial light can cause sky glow. Sky glow is when light is reflected off of the atmosphere back down onto the earth, causing an eerie glow. Especially on cloudy nights, sky glow can be seen as an orangish hue hanging over a city.
“Sky glow … can bring illumination levels up to near the level of the full moon, at any time of the month,” Adams said. “Imagine you’re a mouse, hiding from an owl. You’re going to have a lot more trouble hiding when there’s all of that illumination.”
Turn off all your lights when you’re not using them; a mouse may just thank you for it.
Sadly, there’s only so much room on a page. Here are some who didn’t make the cut, but you might see sneaking around the core: red squirrels, black bears, pigeons, magpies, lichen, cougars, owls, white tail deer, house mice, meadow voles, and mule deer.
Igloo Dining at the Riverside Bistro, Courtyard by Marriott
A Canadian solution to distanced dining—dine outside in a colourfully-lit private igloo overlooking the river valley. It’s $150 for 90 minutes, which includes a $100 food and drink credit. Reservations required.
Eating too much frozen pizza? Get Cooking is hosting classes to bring out your inner Iron Chef! With online and in-person options, and specializations in wine pairings and vegan/vegetarian meals, there’s something for everyone.
Every year, thousands of Edmontonians join the Downtown Business Association (DBA) in Sir Winston Churchill Square to celebrate another holiday season with tree-lighting and carollers. Though things may be different this year due to COVID-19, check online to see how this year’s holiday season will be kicked off in the core.
Dang Show, a band which started as a protest movement in Iran (and remains banned in the country) is coming to the Royal Alberta Museum to share their fusion of jazz and traditional Persian music. Tickets start at $45.57.
Evolution of the Arts in a Digital World (Virtual)
Starting January 6, 2021 | 10 a.m.
This free weekly virtual event is hosted by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO). The ESO will lead discussions about the interaction of technology and arts. The panels will feature global experts.
Calgary drag queen Misty Meadows is coming to Evolution Wonderlounge for a one-night, one-woman performance. This hilarious and heartfelt show won’t be live-streamed. Evolution is selling tickets to parties of four or more. Tickets start at $60 per party.
As the Citadel Theatre reopens with COVID-19 precautions, join them for the original production of Heaven. It’s the story of Black pioneers settling in Alberta after fleeing the southern United States. Written by Cheryl Foggo. Tickets start at $34.65.
This exhibition at the Alberta Art Gallery by Edmonton-born artist Curtis Talwst Santiago focuses on the Trinidadian idea of ‘liming.’ Liming means to meet and socialize. Santiago explores liming in the gatherings in his childhood home through diorama. Admission prices vary.
The temperature may be taking a dip, but that doesn’t mean the downtown economy has to.
For several years, the City of Edmonton has been encouraging businesses and the community to embrace winter with their Winter City Strategy. Those adaptations are even more important this year with COVID-19.
“Businesses are going to embrace a lot of the principles in the winter city strategy,” said Chris Buyze, president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League. “Unfortunately it’s taken COVID to do that. Maybe there’s a silver lining that we may have a bit more vibrancy in the winter months than we have had in the past on the street.”
Businesses have had to adapt to changing regulations and safety precautions to deal with COVID-19. Restaurants and bars looked to patios and outdoor dining during the summer months, which are considered to be safer with a lower likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. Plummeting temperatures would normally push patrons back indoors, but in the middle of a pandemic, businesses may look to keep their patios open and keep patrons coming back.
The temporary patio program with a streamlined approval process has been extended until at least March 31, 2021. The city is evaluating each proposal to ensure it works with snow removal and pedestrian safety.
“The city has been flexible in allowing people to keep their patio through the winter. It’s now up to businesses to embrace it and make it comfortable for patrons to be there, including heaters and blankets,” Buyze said. “There’s a lot of time in January where it can be 0 and -5 where it can be perfectly comfortable.”
Beyond patios, there is other work being done downtown to bring some joy to the winter months. The Downtown Business Association has extended their Downtown Live program, a grant program that helps bring local artists to different venues in the core.
“The intent is to draw energy and excitement to our business areas,” said Nick Lilley, the interim executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “We want to do that in a safe and manageable way.”
Foot traffic downtown has suffered through the pandemic. Businesses have had to find new ways of attracting clients and keep in touch with those who may not be travelling through the core during the pandemic.
“Agility has become a higher competency for so many different businesses. They need to adapt and be innovative. Everything from expanding digital presence to compliment the brick and mortar approach to knocking down the odd wall to create additional space for social distancing on site,” said Lilley. “We have seen so many rise to that challenge.”
A community member’s perspective on the renaming of Oliver
In the Fall 2020 issue of The Yards, Robyn Paches, Oliver Community League President, stated “the Oliver Community League is in opposition to honouring Frank Oliver with our community name.” The Yards spoke with Oliver resident and Indigenous advocate Emily Riddle to discuss the impact of Frank Oliver’s legacy on Indigenous people today. Riddle is nehiyaw from the Alexander First Nation, located in Treaty 6 territory. She is a writer, the Senior Advisor on Indigenous Relations with the Edmonton Public Library, and is a member of the Yellowhead Institute Board of Advisors.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Yards: What does the name Frank Oliver mean to you?
Emily Riddle: I grew up with this narrative around Frank Oliver establishing the first newspaper in Western Canada. As an Indigenous woman from this territory, I’ve learned that he advocated for our removal. Edmonton is home to sacred places that we were removed from for generations because of Oliver. When Oliver was Minister of the Interior, he advocated for policies that led to the removal of a component of our reserve which was only settled in a [Treaty Land Entitlement Claim] in the early 2000s for Alexander First Nation. One thing that always comes up is the argument about erasing history. Why do we always believe white people are brilliant entrepreneurs, when in reality Oliver’s entrepreneurial spirit and writing crushed Indigenous and Black people in Edmonton? Why are we celebrating this man who started a newspaper using what we lost?
The Yards: What’s the significance of changing the name?
ER: For Indigenous people, naming is a different cultural practice. We believe names already exist in the universe, and they are given through ceremony. If you look up our names of locations in Edmonton, we didn’t name them after people, we named them after landmarks or things that happened there. I hear the argument that changing the Oliver name would mean erasing history. It means having a more robust conversation about [the name’s] effect on Indigenous and Black people. I would like the neighbourhood to be given an Indigenous name. There are a fair amount of Indigenous people that live in Oliver, but we were removed from that territory by the man the neighbourhood is named after. It shouldn’t just be residents of the neighbourhood who are deciding whether or not we should rename it.
The Yards: Any thoughts on a new name?
ER: Ideally that would be informed through ceremony and meeting with Indigenous people. The conversation needs to start around what the land was utilized for. The location of the Victoria golf course was a significant camping spot. I’ve been ruminating on it having something to do with that campsite.
Every year, The Yards brings you a list of great things to do, places to eat, and sights to see in the core. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been staying home, ordering in, and overall living a lot differently in 2020. So we’ve decided to do the Best in the Core a little differently, too.
This year, we are bringing you the things we loved this year—unique stories of the people, places and activities that inspired us through the pandemic. These are the businesses that give back, the people that create community, and the places that brought us together safely. It’s our physically-distanced high-five to those who made the pandemic days a little brighter in the core.
If we’ve missed anything or you want to share something inspiring with us from your 2020, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us on social media and keep the good vibes going.
CATEGORY: Best Community Helpers
Camp Pekiwewin: Held together by volunteers, elders, organizers and experienced frontline workers, Indigenous-led Camp Pekiwewin is a place of safety, security and visibility for the houseless community in Edmonton. Since July, Camp Pekiwewin, which is nêhiyawêwin for coming home or in-bound, has provided tent homes, food, clothing and other donations to its residents, as well as 24/7 access to life-saving harm reduction supplies. Not only was this much needed in the wake of the pandemic, but the group has had an impact on forwarding the conversation on the need for government funding for supportive housing.
Grass do-gooders: Local condo owners put the community in community garden this spring when the City of Edmonton reduced the areas where it mowed due to the pandemic. The anonymous good samaritans rallied together to mow the grass around Peace Garden Park, which doubles as Oliver’s only community garden and a public park space for neighbours to come together safely.
Linda Hoang: The Edmonton blogger and ambassador for Edmonton and Alberta eats is always the first person to give a shoutout to local businesses. In the spring, she created ‘Spin the Wheel of Local: Edmonton Edition,’ a virtual randomizer that includes more than 100 local businesses to support. Hoang also used her influence on social media to spur food mobbing for struggling businesses and to showcase all our city has to offer and for that she deserves a nod.
LoveGood Food Exchange Box: Beatrice, a food exchange box at Paul Kane Park, has seen more than 10,000 non-perishable food items come and go since May as community members take what they need and leave what they can. The brainchild of Quinn Wade, or Harry Schnitzel of the Lovegood drag family, the box is a response to the community’s growing need for food support throughout these challenging times.
CATEGORY: Best Community Jams
(Christopher Sikkenga / online edition)
Christ Church Garden Grooves: Visitors to Paul Kane Park were serenaded by saxophonist Quinn Wade throughout the days of summer. Footsteps away, musical salvation was heard every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Christ Church’s beautiful gardens. Reverend Sue Oliver and music director Dr. Joy Berg created the lawn concerts for the local community to congregate at a safe distance. Audiences were treated to folk, opera, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. “By a small miracle,” Rev. Sue added, “none of the concerts were rained out.”
Downtown Business Association Beats: The summer of COVID-19 was especially hard on local restaurants. One effort to allow safe distancing was the addition of new patios. The Downtown Business Association stepped up and created the Downtown Live series. Offering promotional support and grants up to $750 to businesses hosting performers, the Downtown Live series brought jazz to The Common, DJs to Central Social Hall, and much more. The tunes continued all over town as winter approached with more than 40 events in total.
ESO Outdoor Concerts: A silver lining during the uncertainty of the pandemic was music accessibility for everyone. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performed hundreds of shows outdoors throughout the summer. From curling rink parking lots and playgrounds to the Edmonton Ski Club and a cul-de-sac jam session with Martin Kerr, the ESO spread joy throughout the city.
Virtual Dance Parties: The uncertainty in March left many of us disconnected and alone in our bubbles. In order to rekindle connection, Blair McFarlane, aka DJ Junior Brown, organized a livestream of his “House Night.” More than 8,000 fans from around the world and Edmonton united to listen to electronic house music and chat during the first night alone. DJ Junior Brown (also co-owner of Red Star and The Bower) and friends delivered live music online from March to August.
CATEGORY: Best for Bringing Us Together
Al Fresco: When the nice weather hit, we were all feeling a bit stir-crazy. This summer, the 104 Street Action Committee made being outdoors with others safe and fun by introducing Al Fresco on 4th. Extended patios for local restaurants and food trucks, a one-way directional open-air market, and live performances helped us follow public health guidelines while staying connected to our community.
Black Owned Market YEG: This pop-up style market launched this summer with the goal of providing a space for Black-owned businesses to showcase their products to the greater community. Not only have they hosted their own markets at Habesha African Market (10418 107 Ave), but they also hosted a tent at 124 Street Grand Market featuring black-owned vendors and products. Watch for future markets at facebook.com/bomyeg.
Great Downtown Sweep: Hundreds of volunteers came out to show pride in their community as part of the Great Downtown Sweep on October 23. The event was organized by the Downtown Edmonton Community League, Downtown Business Association and partners on the Downtown Recovery Task Force. The first 200 to register received vouchers to try out winter patios at select restaurants. It was a win-win-win: help spruce up the community, visit with some neighbours, and get a voucher to support local businesses.
November Project: November Project Canada started up in Edmonton seven years ago and is all about accountability and inclusion. Although the format has (necessarily) been modified to include online workouts, that means that even more people can access programming. And throughout the summer and beyond, November Project Canada added socially distanced 6 km runs and scavenger hunts on holiday Mondays. It was a great way to keep moving and keep in touch with our fellow runners.
CATEGORY: Best Way to Get Outside
Balcony Bliss: Having your own little slice of the outdoors, away from crowds and COVID-19, became the most coveted apartment trend of the year. No backyard? No problem. Sinking into a lounge chair on your private balcony was a means of escaping, if only for a few minutes. And if your neighbours happened to treat you to an impromptu guitar solo or Italian aria, all the better.
City of Edmonton’s Shared Streets: In April, the City of Edmonton closed lanes to vehicle traffic to allow people to safely get outside while physically distancing, modifying more than 30 stretches of road in high-density areas. A study done in partnership with the University of Alberta found that this initiative reduced physical distance violations by 52.4 per cent on Saskatchewan Drive and 24.5 per cent on the Victoria Promenade. We give this initiative a thumbs-up for great urban design and allowing us to safely stretch our legs during the pandemic.
Into the Wild: Did you know there are eight parks in Oliver and seven in the downtown core? That’s in addition to the 20 major parks in the wild, luscious River Valley. With some of the city’s recreation centres still closed, and indoor play time at a minimum, Edmontonians rediscovered their love for the city’s amazing parks this year, as well as more than 160 kilometres of maintained trails in the gorgeous river valley.
Scootering: Cruising down the Oliverbahn was one of our favourite COVID-friendly activities this year. With two vendors offering shared e-scooters in Edmonton, anyone can take a scenic trip from Oliver to Downtown. Download the app to locate and pay for your scooter time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-way trip—leave your scooter where another weary traveller can find it and carry on.
SIDEBAR: How can you make a difference in your community this winter?
Have the long nights started to get to you? The depressing cold seeping into your soul? As Charles Dickens said, “no one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” To warm your heart (but not your hands), here are three ways to make a difference this winter.
Winter makes it harder for some to get around, and the pandemic makes things worse. Consider volunteering to be a driver in the downtown area for Edmonton’s Food Bank. Visit their website for more information or call 780-425-2133.
Edmonton’s winters can be freezing, and to those sleeping outside it’s a lot colder. Contact Boyle Street Community Services at 780-424-4106 to make a monetary donation for winter clothing.
When the white stuff flies, become everyone’s favourite neighbour. Shovel someone else’s sidewalk or driveway!
CATEGORY: Best Innovators in Business
Earls: One of the activities most fraught with anxiety since the pandemic hit has been grocery shopping. Which aisle is up and which is down? What do I do if the apple I pick up to inspect is bruised? Am I supposed to bring my reusable bags or not? Well, Earls took the angst out of shopping by offering grocery and dinner kits. From fresh produce to frozen meat, they’ve got our back. Thanks, everyone’s favourite chain restaurant.
El Beso: If you haven’t experienced the culinary delights of gourmet tacos, you need to try El Beso (10432 Jasper Ave). Not only is El Beso creative in the kitchen, but they also got creative during the pandemic. They started offering take-home taco kits, custom margarita and cocktail kits, and even allowed a peek behind the counter with Instagram Live lessons from their bartends.
Food Bike Tour: Food Bike Tour started in 2016 to support local restaurants and cafes, all while getting some cardio in during Edmonton’s more mild months. During the pandemic, Food Bike Tour came up with a safe alternative to their usual indoor events: Chef’s Kits and Cocktail Kits. Order your meal kit and optional drinks/cocktails, and they will ship all the fresh, prepackaged ingredients to your door along with an instructional video from local rockstar chefs.
Hoot Company: Hoot Company is a restaurant group made up of Japonais Bistro, Dorinku Tokyo, Dorinku Osaka, DOSC Restaurant, and Seoul Fried Chicken. Back in April, the five restaurants made it easy to please everyone by offering “family sets” on Sundays and Wednesdays for delivery or take-out. That meant you could order ramen, fried chicken, sushi, and steak all in one meal. They also eliminated the need to make a trip to the beverage store by adding sake, wine, beer, and various imported Japanese drinks to their delivery services.
Uproot Food Collective: Uproot Food Collective (10552 114 St) makes it easier and more cost-effective to support local. Along with their three anchor brands—Honest Dumplings, South Island Pie Co., and Natural Kitchen Delights—you’ll also find a myriad of other local gems. If you love the idea of a farmer’s market but don’t want to line up social distance style outside in the freezing cold, then you’ve got to check this place out.
CATEGORY: Best Outdoor Eats
(Miranda Herchen / online edition)
Furry friends and kiddos: Patios were the fan favourite this summer, even for your small or four-legged companions. Dog treats made in-house, water bowls and puppy-loving staff—sister companies Cask and Barrel and Rocky Mountain Icehouse welcome you and your furry friends to enjoy a drink and a comfy seat, no matter the season. If you want to take in patio season but have the little ones with you, Craft Beer Market and its rooftop patio welcome kids until 9 p.m. and have a ‘Half Pints’ menu with all the classics.
Patio Parties: These were a highlight of summer, and patios will continue to be a core staple even as the seasons change. Some special shout-outs: Baijiu’s 80-seat outdoor patio is ready for a socially distanced party with heaters, firepits, live music, a DJ, and booze and bao, of course. Glowing string lights, wooden tables and surrounding greenery make Odd Company Brewing’s patio the perfect place to drink a local craft beer. The parking lot turned ‘Beer Arena’ at Campio Brewing Co. was the go-to patio to cheer on the Oilers with your friends while social distancing.
Picnics: One of the best ways to enjoy food during this pandemic has been picnics, and there were some local restaurants that made it even easier to pack up and enjoy an outdoor meal. Brio Bakery offers a lineup of specialty breads and pastries to choose from each day of the week. Culina to Go has individual or family-sized meals, which showcase local ingredients and vendors, and are ready to eat. Every Wednesday, get that home-cooked-meal feeling with a full plate of dinner, complete with dessert, from Kitchen by Brad’s rotating Kitchen to Go menu.
CATEGORY: Best at Giving Back
(Justin Bell / online edition)
Edmonton Tech Companies, for an hour’s wage to Edmonton Food Bank: A penny for your thoughts? Or maybe an hour’s wage for the Food Bank? Edmonton’s tech sector, many of whom are located in the downtown core, banded together earlier this year to ask employees to donate one hour’s wages per month to Edmonton’s Food Bank. Many businesses matched employee contributions, making for some impressive donations. The idea was started by Edmonton-based We Know Training, and expanded to include more than 20 companies.
Hoang Long, for free Thanksgiving meals: Hoang Long Casual Fare (10037 109 Street) donated and dished out 350 pounds of Thanksgiving food on October 10, including chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. Those who needed it could visit their storefront to be served, and the restaurant also delivered food to local agencies for distribution. What a great way to give back during a time when many are struggling.
Love Pizza, for delivering pizza to frontline workers: Working through the late shift or toughing out a busy day is so much easier with a fast and easy snack. Love Pizza, one of the newest pizza parlours in the core, decided front line workers should be rewarded for their hard work during the global pandemic. In March, they started delivering pizzas to front line workers, along with notes of encouragement. When they asked for donations from the public to help their initiative, they raised $1,000 in less than 48 hours.
Oodle Noodle, for donating 10 per cent of takeout and curbside orders: The downtown lunch crowd will be familiar with Oodle Noodle, the noodle flingers with multiple locations. The company has a long history of donations and working with local charities, so it should come as no surprise they would do the same during a global pandemic. In mid-April, they donated 10 per cent of all takeout and curbside pickup orders to local charities in the city, an initiative that lasted through the summer.
Edmonton Police Service gets a big slice of the municipal funding pie, but could funds be better used elsewhere?
This summer, thousands gathered in downtown Edmonton—even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—to protest the treatment of black people in Canada and the US. People at the rally held signs that said “defund the police” and “racism is a pandemic too—Black Lives Matter.”
Amidst the global conversation around race, a discussion was sparked about the amount of resources being devoted to traditional policing here in Edmonton, and whether funds could better be spent on things like affordable housing.
Activists took this message to city hall, where, during a multi-day public hearing this summer, 150 citizens gave their opinion on the role of police, with many speaking in favour of diverting part of the police budget into social services. The result was an $11 million reduction of the planned funding increase for Edmonton Police service, which was originally slated for a $75 million increase from 2019-2022. The projected total annual budget for EPS in 2020 is $471.60 million.
For some, there is a disconnect in the help that is requested by Edmontonians in crisis and the help that is on offer. 211, a helpline of Alberta’s community and social services, reported that the number one unmet need in Edmonton in September was residential housing options; an unmet need being when 211 is unable to provide a referral for the need identified. The top issue identified in 211 calls in September overall was mental health concerns.
In frustration, many citizens and activists have turned to the police budget—$471.60 million in 2020—asking why some of that money can’t be allocated to housing and mental health support.
The cost of policing is a major municipal expense, taking up a projected 14.71 per cent of tax supported city expenditures in 2020—the largest single expense on the books. Since 2016, there has been a 23.4 per cent increase in the police budget, looking at the projected 2020 expenses. Alberta has a year-over-year population growth of 1.38 per cent. The estimated 187.3 officers per 100,000 people, which was data reported in 2018, makes Edmonton the fourth strongest police presence in the country.
These funding realities exist despite Mayor Don Iveson often addressing the lack of affordable housing. In a letter released on social media on October 7, Iveson wrote that Edmonton faces a critical shortage of 900 units of supportive housing, while the city is estimating that 180 new people are becoming homeless each month.
This crisis in affordable housing is increasing, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying 11 per cent record unemployment in Alberta. As a result, Edmonton continues to grapple with how to provide more housing options, as evidenced by the emergence of Camp Pekiwewin, a 170-tent camp erected in Edmonton’s river valley.
“Now is the time to shift our focus and tax dollars from policing and surveillance to community-led initiatives that nourish our communities.”
Black Lives Matter YEG
“No other provisions were made for the houseless in the city,” says Shima Robinson, the media liaison for Camp Pekiwewin who spoke to The Yards a few days before the camp closed on November 6. “Obviously there’s an issue [around homelessness] and that is partly what the camp was established to address,” she says.
The camp’s placement at the Rossdale power plant was deliberate. “The camp site is, traditionally, a place of ceremony. Reclaiming it was a big big deal,” says Robinson. The space was being used as overflow parking for the nearby ReMax Field.
“That is not the proper use for the land given that kind of history,” says Robinson. She added that the camp was also created as a prayer camp, and is meant to fulfill spiritual needs as well as fill the gap in housing.
The organizers of Camp Pekiwewin are among those who want to see the city’s financial resources allocated differently. They also don’t believe that the police are necessarily best suited to respond to community members in crisis. “There’s an endemic culture in policing for disdain for houseless community members. They just don’t see them as valuable citizens,” says Robinson.
The camp has had a lot of interactions with the police during its short existence. Police Chief Dale McFee, during a community update on October 7, 2020 said that calls to police in Rossdale have more than doubled since last year. The calls were often related to nuisance or a disturbance.
“There were a number of incidents at the outset of the camp that required EMS where police showed up instead or with EMS and escalated situations,” says Robinson.
“Ideally, police don’t show up for any kind of wellness check or minor disturbance,” she adds. “We have a social infrastructure of outreach workers and mental health counsellors. There are social workers where people are trained to deal with mental illness. It is imperative that people have access to these services when they are at their highest point of crisis.”
Black Lives Matter Edmonton, who co-organized the summer rallies, called for police funding to be transferred to services such as REACH Edmonton’s Crisis Diversion Team, and gathered more than 13,000 signatures this summer with calls to invest in community and divest from policing, writing on their website: “Cyclical police violence against Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized communities has persisted since the inception of policing in North America. Anti-Black practices, like carding, remain an entrenched tool the Edmonton Police Service uses to inflict harm on our loved ones. Now is the time to shift our focus and tax dollars from policing and surveillance to community-led initiatives that nourish our communities.”
Hannan Mohamud is the co-host of “Is This For Real,” a podcast that explores the lived experiences of Black people in Edmonton, and they are working on a soon-to-be released episode on mental health.
“I feel like mental health wellness in the Black community is something that is rarely acknowledged within ourselves, let alone society. And to talk about mental health and policing is a very underrated, serious, dangerous conversation that needs to happen,” says Mohamud.
Mohamud also feels like the public does not hear much about police interaction and what can go wrong. “If you listen to the Alberta Serious Injury Response Team, police and some news articles[…] no one is really saying that mental health calls coincide with police services and lead to brutality. It is community members who have been saying this,” she says.
In September, the Edmonton Journal reported the use of force by city police was on the rise, with mental health complaints leading the cases where force is involved, according to a report to the Edmonton Police Commission.
Between January and June, there were 1,290 use of force occurrences—up 11.9 per cent from the same time last year. Eighty-three of them involved Mental Health Act complaints.
David Veitch, Deputy Chief Community Safety and Well-Being Bureau with the Edmonton Police Service, acknowledges that he has heard concerns about the excessive use of force or discrimination from the community. “I’m not saying that we don’t have issues with some of our interactions. We know that and we heard that from the public.”
He also added that they have a professional standards branch that investigates complaints.
Veitch says that there has been a review of calls for service to police, to see what calls could be handled by a different service, but sometimes it is difficult to know in advance who should respond. “When we look at the data, we sometimes don’t know the nature of the call until we get there,” he says.
Along with the increase in use of force occurrences, domestic violence calls to police have also increased during the pandemic. According to Veitch, there has been a 10 per cent increase in domestic violence incidents, and the police are seeing the level of violence increase in the calls that they respond to.
Veitch says that once a situation is deemed safe, they can still hand off care to the appropriate agencies. However, both Robinson and Veitch mentioned that hours for social services tend to be Monday to Friday, and not typically late into the evening.
“That doesn’t help us at three or four in the morning. Although there is work with REACH Edmonton who we do a number of these hand-offs to, we still need agencies that are 24/7,” Veitch says.
When asked about the concerns raised by community groups like BLM and Camp Pekiwewin about a hesitancy to call police, Veitch says that they are undertaking more than 50 community consultations, although these consultations are complicated because of COVID-19 and not being able to gather in large groups.
“Many of those communities are coming to the meetings and talking about very disappointing interactions with police. But they’re also talking about very positive interactions with the police. What we would all like is a consistency in response and practice,” says Veitch.
Many community groups and police agree there is a need to expand services to include more assistance for people in crisis, but how that looks amidst funding cuts from government remains to be seen. One thing remains clear—there are many in the community who are asking for change.