best in the core

By Sydnee Bryant

What would life be without fries? Seriously though, this potato of choice can be paired with breakfast, burgers, and even fancy nights out. For obvious reasons, fries had to make the cut.

★ ★ WINNER: THE MARC ★ ★

It’s not surprising that a French restaurant has incredible French fries – steak frites are a classic for a reason, after all. But it is a delightful surprise just how incredible the hand-cut fries are. These golden-brown French treasures are elevated to another level when paired with the restaurant’s sinful truffle aioli. themarc.ca/

>> RUNNER-UP: BLUE PLATE DINER

This Edmonton staple offers both classic hand-cut fries and yam fries. These Kennebec potatoes are lucky that they get to become hot, crispy fries that are gluten-free and dairy-free, as well as safe for vegetarians and vegans to eat. The decadent yam fries reach peak deliciousness when dipped into the spicy mayo that accompanies them. blueplatediner.ca/

>> RUNNER-UP: SHERLOCK HOLMES PUB

Sherlocks garlic thyme fries are a delight, a true superstar. No mediocre chips here, just hot, buttery fries full of that amazing garlicky taste that we can’t get enough of. These fries do more than just take up room on your plate or soak up alcohol in your tummy—they make your meal complete. thesherlockspubs.com/

By Sydnee Bryant

Edmontonians are some of the most creative and hard-working folks around and we wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to amazing BIPOC products and places you need to check out.

★ ★ WINNER: DRINK VITALITEAS ★ ★

Founder Fanta Camara was inspired by her grandmother, a medicine woman in Mali, West Africa, to learn about how herbs and spices can affect health. Vitaliteas sells their custom blends of black, green, herbal, and decaf tea, as well as Chai, at a variety of stores, including RGE RD’s The Butchery, and Meuwely’s Artisan Food Market. vitaliteas.ca/

>> RUNNER-UP: VIEW AND BUY ART AT BEARCLAW GALLERY

For more than 45 years, Bearclaw Gallery has worked with Indigenous artists to promote Canadian First Nations, Métis, and Inuit art. Whether you’re looking for a piece of art for your living room or are shopping for gifts, consider supporting a Canadian Indigenous artist. The Inuit soapstone sculptures are particularly stunning. bearclawgallery.com/about/

>> RUNNER-UP: SHOP AT KYN APPAREL

This Edmonton-based clothing brand, founded by award-winning designer Alèthe Kaboré, mixes African prints with fabrics such as denim, lace, and tulle. A self-taught designer and seamstress, Alèthe was born and raised in Burkina Faso. Bold, colourful business and business casual clothes designed locally and available online? We’ll take one of everything. kynapparel.ca/

By Christopher Sikkenga

No, it isn’t 2008 and we’re not talking Four Loko. Instead, let’s talk 1908 and locomotives!

★ ★ WINNER: HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE STREETCAR ★ ★

From the gorgeous views at the top of the High Level Bridge to the history of the streetcars provided by the Edmonton Railway Society that operates the fleet, this is the best way to ride the rails. Additionally, the High Level Bridge Streetcar is the most efficient way to get from downtown to Whyte Ave. edmonton-radial-railway.ab.ca

>> RUNNER-UP: CP HOLIDAY TRAIN

Since 1999, a train with thousands of lights has traversed the country each holiday season to aid food banks. A modified car serves as a stage for performers to play at each stop. This year’s event will be a virtual concert, see the community tab on cpr.ca for more information.

>> RUNNER-UP: FORT EDMONTON PARK

Bill Graham rescued Locomotive 107, the steam engine, from a swamp in Louisiana. The massive 50 tonne engine provides a trip through time as you can move from the entrance of the park to a station near the fantastic new Indigenous Peoples Experience. fortedmontonpark.ca

By Sydnee Bryant

Allergies and specific food preferences are what make us all so unique and loveable, right? We’re happy to let you know of some restaurants that go above and beyond to cater to their customers’ needs.

★ ★ WINNER: THE MOTH ★ ★

This plant-based café is best known for their Instagramable space but they’re also a haven for anyone suffering from food allergies, sensitivities, or Celiac disease. Every menu item is clearly marked to indicate the presence of seven common allergens, and everything is dairy-free (even their amazing coffee and tea lattes!). mosaicsandmotharchive.com/themothcafe/

>> RUNNER-UP: REMEDY CAFÉ

This is where to find the best gluten-free wraps possible (they don’t fall apart!). A lot of their menu can be made gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan, and their menu is helpfully colour-coded! They also crush the raw dessert game, and offer lactose-free, almond, soy, and oat milks. And did we mention the vegan milkshakes? remedycafe.ca/

>> RUNNER-UP: LOVE PIZZA

The best gluten-free pizza in the city, hands down. The staff are very careful when handling a gluten-free order, and they offer an allergy guide on their website so that you can read up on everything beforehand. Dairy allergy or vegan? They’ve got you covered with Daiya mozzarella! They also have a keto-friendly crust! lovepizza.ca/

By Christopher Sikkenga

When we pave over paradise Joni Mitchell advises we go to a “tree museum,” or the U of A Botanic Garden to find peace and silence. All the concrete in the core carries sound through our skulls and these are the absolute loudest.

★ ★ WINNER: VOCIFEROUS VACUUM TRUCKS ★ ★

In 2015 the city started a project to “enhance the avenue with innovative, vibrant and relevant streetscape.” In March 2020 phase 1, the area from 109 Street to 114 Street started construction. Enter the vac truck! These shrill machines are used for sludge, sewers, or hydro-excavation to expose utility lines and pipes under the road. Jasper Ave was turned into a deafening soundscape for several months. Those of us living and working near the construction would have rather spent 10 hours a day with the brutal buzz of a dentist drill.

>> RUNNER-UP: PUB-CRAWLING PEOPLE

The goal of bar hopping is to be seen, and unfortunately heard. Those of us living off of Jasper Ave hear the call of the wild each weekend. The intoxicated excitement of e-scooter shenanigans and the agony of the ambulance aid can be heard throughout the evenings. Turn off your TV and enjoy the back-alley breakups and the drunken delusions howled at the moon.

>> RUNNER-UP: THE BELLS OF THE BASILICA

Pardon? I missed your surprise at the St. Joseph’s Basilica being on this list because my ears are ringing. While some may enjoy the clangor, being neighbours with the cathedral bells is challenging. The 1990 addition of bells to the basilica made sure to comply with the noise abatement bylaw, but it is easy to lose one’s train of thought in the last few minutes of the workday when the brain is struck by the chimes at 5:22 pm.

By Christopher Sikkenga

The fantastic thing about living downtown is that escaping to nature is only several steps away. When things get too noisy, one can descend to the River Valley in a variety of ways.

★ ★ WINNER: 114 STREET STAIRS ★ ★

For those of us looking for some quiet reflection and something in between a full-on workout and mechanized transportation, the stairs hidden where 114 Street meets 99 Avenue are an excellent compromise. The stairs in the neighbouring Grant Notley Park and those at the end of 113 Street have large seating areas at the top which can attract more people. On 114 Street, seating consists of a single bench which allows for easier social distancing in these uncertain times. The staircase is a straight shot to the River Valley trails, without any switchbacks, to efficiently deliver you from the noise of the Albertan Provincial Vehicle, the pickup truck. Slip down at 9850 114 St NW.

>> RUNNER-UP: CONSTABLE EZIO FARAONE PARK STAIRS

This is the popular spot for the disciples of cardio. The roughly 202 steps see a lot of traffic because of the challenge and the access to the Commonwealth Walkway which travels 10km along the North Saskatchewan River. Get moving at Constable Ezio Faraone Park, 11004 97 Ave NW. Learn more about the Commonwealth Walkway at edmontoncommonwealthwalkway.com

>> RUNNER-UP: THE 100 STREET FUNICULAR

If cardio is not your cup of tea, the 100 Street Funicular has your back. Completed in 2017, the mechanized River Valley access floats you from downtown to a small promenade above Grierson Hill Road. From there, you can continue to a river lookout or take an elevator down to the River Valley trails. Ride down at 10007 – 100 Street NW.

By Sonia De Fazio

Home, shmome. If you gotta work on your own, at least there are some great local spots for ambiance and background buzz to make you almost miss the cubicle life.

★ ★ WINNER: DOSC ★ ★

By far the coziest and most delicious spot to set up shop in Downtown. Located in the historic Metals Building, hugging the corner of 104 Street and 101 Ave, DOSC offers a creative coffee shop space for the nomadic worker. Whether it’s a crypto check-in, email blast or a spot to sit and research, DOSC’s snacks, staff and scenery are what makes this coffee shop office the best in the core. Next time you’re there, try the waffles. Spoiler alert! You’ll actually be eating a waffle-shaped donut and it will blow your mind. dosc.ca

>> RUNNER UP: ICONOCLAST

Located in the Oliver Exchange building, this is a happening spot for being tucked away on a side street. It’s a great place to people-watch while you pretend to read a book. In the warmer months grab your drink and your laptop and settle into one of the tables on the sunken patio. Coffee is roasted daily and if you seriously haven’t tried it yet, then it’s time to treat your taste buds. iconoclastcoffee.com

>> RUNNER UP: LOCK STOCK COFFEE

Lock Stock is a classic choice to hunker down and bang out a few hours of work. Suggested for an early morning or early afternoon work blitz, since they do close at 3:00 pm. The Lock Stock workspace is consistently cool. The coffee is always hot, the breakfast sandwiches are always satisfying and the tunes always fresh. lockstockcoffee.com

By Sonia De Fazio

Sometimes you just want to grab something and go. No fear, we’ve tried all the spots and found the best cheap eats to keep you satiated and your wallet happy too.

★ ★ WINNER: DALLA ★ ★

If you’re on the hunt for a delicious meal that will fill your belly and not break the bank, Dalla has you covered. It is an Italian restaurant, humbly carrying on the Zenari’s family legacy, with a space and menu that feels like your home away from home. Their new restaurant breathes life into the heart of our city, standing bright and beautiful on bustling Rice Howard Way. After getting pulled in by the high ceilings, hanging foliage and wholesome wall art, you’ll fall head over heels for their panini menu, all around the $10 mark and guaranteed to tantalize your taste buds. Panini menu available everyday until 3:00 pm. dalla.ca

>> RUNNER UP: DORINKU OSAKA

Slurp up the intricate flavours of Japan at Dorinku Osaka. Located on Jasper Ave, off 104 Street, Dorinku offers a small but mighty ramen menu that will be sure to warm your heart and cool down your spending. The ramen menu is available at lunch and dinner, offering a range of traditional broth flavours and fresh ingredients, all around the $11 – $15 range. They even offer their ramen as a frozen takeaway option, so you can cook it up in the comfort of your own home. Large portions and big taste on a small budget makes Dorinku Osaka a solid runner-up for best cheap eats during the week in the Core. osaka.dorinku.ca

>> RUNNER UP: COSMIC PIZZA & DONAIR

Hankering for a few slices of ‘za? Cosmic Pizza & Donair is your downtown destination for pizza by the slice at a slashed price. Located at the entryway of the Fox Tower 2, it offers a cheap, quick and tasty option for the tummy rumblies. Whether it’s a snack attack, second lunch or a quick bite before your next destination, you can easily fill up on two of their hefty slices for under $10. cosmicpizza.ca.

By Sonia De Fazio

Taking your time to look at things you didn’t even know you needed has a kind of therapeutic essence to it, doesn’t it? Indulge in some shopping therapy at these quiet and quirky spots.

★ ★ WINNER: RAM GIFT SHOP ★ ★

Allow your curiosity to keep you just a little longer at the Royal Alberta Museum Gift Shop. It’s one of those shops that you drop in intending to kill 10 minutes but end up staying for 45 because you’re hypnotized by the perfectly curated selection of gifts and goodies. The RAM Gift Shop has everything from pottery to puzzles to prints, made by local artisans from across Alberta. You’ll hop in on a whim and leave happily with books, jewelry and apparel you didn’t know you needed until you did. ramshop.ca

RUNNER UP: ARMSTRONG BLOCK CANNABIS

Come for the chronic, stay for the crew. Armstrong Block takes runner up for most loiter-able people factor. After you talk selection, catch up with the cool staff and toss a few tickles over to the store cat, you’re easily tagging an extra 15 minutes to your routine purchase time. The staff are super genuine and fun to chat with. They can mingle you into submission with their humour and hype. One second you’re comparing kush, the next you’re divulging into details about evening plans to slay some saliva with a side of All Happy takeout, and they are right there, encouraging you every step of the way. historicplaces.ca

RUNNER UP: THE ARTWORKS

Loiter in luxury at The Artworks. The exquisite display of art, florals and home decor will make you and your minutes melt. The Artworks is brimming with beauty. You’ll walk in ready to buy a one-of-a-kind greeting card, bouquet or sentimental piece of jewelry, but then stick around to bask in the beauty of the whole store. The intricate selection of gifts creates a majestic museum vibe that will tempt you into investigating each individual piece, as if it were a sacred and rare relic. theartworks.ca

By Sydnee Bryant

Softly falling snow, sparkling in the winter light, the Core offers some beautiful places to take a stroll through crunchy snow-covered streets and trails.

★ ★ WINNER: LOUISE MCKINNEY RIVERFRONT PARK ★ ★

Take the funicular down to this beautiful park, located right next to Downtown (or brave the stairs; we’re not your mother). Louise McKinney offers classic views of the North Saskatchewan, plenty of places to sit down for a break, and enough trees laced with snow to appease even the most cynical of winter walkers. edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/parks_rivervalley/louise-mckinney-riverfront-park

>> RUNNER-UP: 104TH STREET PROMENADE

If you’re a fan of mixing walking with window shopping, 104 Street and 104 Avenue is the spot for you. Grab a hot beverage from Credo and stop in stores whenever you need to warm up, or something catches your eye. And when you get hungry—there’s plenty of fantastic dining options at your fingertips. exploreedmonton.com/attractions-and-experiences/4th-street-promenade

>> RUNNER-UP: 124 Street

This area mixes retail and residential, making it the ideal spot for a leisurely stroll. Admire the window displays, get a hot drink or a snack, then continue on to view the houses, lit brightly with festive decorations. It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon outside—a Candy Cane Lane-esque spot tucked away on the westside of the core. 124street.ca

5 ARTISTS 1 LOVE:

An Offer of Connection and Joy

ISOLATION AND CONNECTION

In 2021, the annual music show connected to 5 Artists 1 Love was cancelled because of the provincial mandates. “During COVID, because we couldn’t meet each other there was even more reason to somehow reach out to each other and ensure we’re hearing each other and connecting.” Darren Jordan said. As the curator and producer of 5 Artists 1 Love, he creates a space for Black artists to share their paintings, sculpture, music, poetry, and creativity every February. Celebrating 15 years of the art show, 5 Artists 1 Love filled the second floor of the Art Gallery of Alberta last February. Unfortunately, Alberta was in a lockdown. As mandates relaxed, the AGA extended the show until September. The music show of 2021 was not so lucky.

However, Jordan and the team at 5 Artists 1 Love put together a video retrospective about the show’s 10 years of history available on their website, 5artists1love.com. Additionally, 5 Artists 1 Love has been involved with Culture Days for many years. In the midst of the pandemic and in partnership with the National Black Coalition of Canada – Edmonton Chapter, 5 Artists 1 Love created “The Not So Tiny Desk Series,” a video performance playing off the popular NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. Musician, engineer and producer Enoch Attey has been involved with the annual concert in a variety of ways. Attey performed in the video, which is available on the 5 Artists 1 Love Youtube channel. Attey said there was a real need for the music and reminder of community in between COVID waves. “The wild thing is, could I use the money at the time? Yeah. For me, what was more important at that time was I haven’t played with anyone in a minute. I haven’t seen anyone in a minute. It’s been harder each day to find a reason to play. They could have been paying me 20 bucks and I still would have showed up.”

“As a creative it is hard,” Jordan reflected. “Most of the artists
I know, most musicians are always griping that they don’t have enough time to rehearse, to paint, to create. Most of these people have day jobs. So you would think that most people would be on fire in terms of their creative output.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has many of us feeling anxious because of all the uncertainty. Jordan, who works in mental health continued, “You may not have the spirit right now because of what’s going on in the world. The uncertainty zaps your energy and it can sometimes cover that spark that you need.” Jordan hopes that the art show and the music performance of 5 Artists 1 Love are bringing people together to support each other. “Now, more than ever, people need to connect. Now, more than ever, people need to share joy together.”

DIVERSITY WITHIN

As the 5 Artists 1 Love website states, part of the spirit behind the organization is to provide “Edmonton residents with the opportunity to celebrate the cultural mosaic within the city’s Black community.” As the Black Lives Matter social movement continues to grow and evolve it feels important to remember the diversity within the Black community.

“That’s key. I think a lot of people tend to forget that and lump Black people together, but it’s a lot more than that.” Attey put it this way, “There’s folks from Trinidad, folks from Jamaica who are going to see things and experience things completely differently. I’m going to taste someone’s dish and be like, ‘Nah, I am not about that.’ Then there’s the dish I grew up with, and I’m like, ‘Yes! And everyone else is like are you crazy?'”

Jordan is passionate about exposing people to the variety of cultures within the Black community. “Not only are we celebrating that diversity within ourselves, but we’re sharing it with the people that come through the door as well. We’re connecting and educating with other communities and cultures as well. Nothing but good can come from that. You can’t hate somebody once you’ve shared their culture, broke bread with them or danced with them or you nodded your head to some Marvin Gaye.”

Just as Edmonton recognizes Ukrainian and French heritage, Jordan reminds us, “Just because you’re Black, we’re not a monolith. We don’t all respond the same way. We don’t all act the same or share the same views.” As a performer, Attey noted that Jordan and the team at 5 Artists 1 Love could use their social capital after 15 years to attract bigger acts. Attey went on to say, “But every year there’s a push, how can we do something different this year? Who wasn’t showcased last year that we can showcase this year, that has a completely different voice than anything we’ve ever heard before? That drive for innovation and solving that puzzle is epic. It’s the thing that has me waiting by the phone, hoping Darren calls me and says, ‘Yo Enoch, I need you.'”

Jordan has a core group of artists to rely on for 5 Artists 1 Love events, “but it is imperative that we make way for people who haven’t had that opportunity. So, for example, where the art show is concerned, it doesn’t matter how successful or how well received your work is, two times. You are allowed to be in the show twice as a featured artist. And what that does, it opens the door for new and emerging artists to throw their hat in the ring to show the city, the community what it is they have to offer.”

In addition, 5 Artists 1 Love has used The Wall to encourage more community participation. This feature of 5 Artists 1 Love allows anyone to provide a 12 x 12 gallery-ready, 2-inch thick canvas with art based on a different theme each year. Feature artists in the art show are encouraged to participate in The Wall, but Jordan says individuals from a variety of different backgrounds share their work. “One of the goals of the show is to invite people to the party. How do you hate somebody when you have learned about their culture, experienced their culture, you’ve heard their stories. You make the connection in the similarities you have in your values and cultures as well. What I try to do is be a conduit for those conversations. Set something up so that people can gather, meet and learn about each other in a safe and welcoming environment.”

BEING BETTER ALLIES

Conversations about racism can be uncomfortable. How do we, as Edmontonians, rise to that challenge? Jordan offered, “Acknowledging that it is an uneven playing field and that there’s a history that precedes you or your family. I believe behaviour is purposeful. A system like that, a system that is uneven, inequitable there’s a reason why. I think people need to be honest about the fact that it does exist.” Jordan believes that our city is constantly changing with a rich influx of different cultures. “We’re fortunate in that respect. It goes back to educating each other. Sometimes there are people within our own community that don’t know much about another set of people, another group. And if they’re given an opportunity to share that culture through music, food and art I just think it makes for a much more cohesive and positive community as a whole.”

Attey commented that being part of the music production of 5 Artists 1 Love allows him to engage “with people from different backgrounds, worldviews and mindsets and cultural roots. I get to engage with them all on even ground. It doesn’t matter if the person sitting next to me is black or white or indigenous, we are all there to enjoy, partake, contribute to this beautiful exposure of culture, and to learn.”

Despite the pandemic, over 6000 people went through the AGA during the 2021 5 Artists 1 Love show. The 2022 art show has been extended to run from February to April. Darren Jordan is “hoping to do the 5 Artist 1 Love music show in-person this year. We’re at the Winspear. It’s been my goal from day one that we’ll play at the best stage in the city. Looks like that might happen.” Saturday February 5, 2022 is the scheduled date. Tickets to the last 11 years of the shows sold out quickly, but should you miss out Jordan mentioned they’re always looking for volunteers. There is an application available on the 5 Artists 1 Love website, along with contact information to be part of The Wall. 5 Artists 1 Love is always looking for sponsors and can contact them through the website as well.

Enoch Attey is a guitarist and the music director for an Edmonton group called Melafrique. You can find more information at linktr.ee/Melafrique_. Attey hopes to be involved in the 2022 show in some capacity. “What’s so deep about Edmonton for me, especially coming from a place like Washington D.C. where the music scene is thriving, what’s so deep for me is that here you have the unique opportunity to not just contribute to the scene but shape and change it, To mold it. I never would have dreamt that was a thing I could do.”

urban reserves

LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE AND HARMONY

What would an urban reserve look like in the middle of Edmonton?

Indigenous populations in Canada are growing, especially in urban areas. According to the 2016 census, half of the population of First Nations people live in the western provinces. From 2006 to 2016, the number of Indigenous people living in a metropolitan area of 30,000 or more increased by 59.7 percent.

In the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, established in 1991, Chief Georges Erasmus and Justice Renée Dussault called Canada, “A test case for a grand notion” where people with different cultures and perspectives shared resources and power. They write, “The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.”

Urban reserves are one such way in which to try this out. They have been around in one form or another for a few hundred years. There are currently around 120 urban reserves in existence right now in Canada. One of the first modern urban reserves was created in Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan about 30 years ago.

There are two ways they have traditionally developed. The first is a reserve based near or within a city. This type of urban reserve dates back to the 1800s. The second, also called a new urban reserve, is a sort of satellite holding by a First Nation band. One example of this would be Yellow Quill First Nation owning a small street in Saskatoon, which includes a First Nations bank.

POSTCOLONIAL spaces

Urban reserves are a modern way of envisioning postcolonial Indigenous spaces for commerce, community and recreation.

“A lot of the current research challenges that these reserves are still very much governed by colonial norms,” said Zane Davey, a graduate student from McGill University in the School of Urban Planning. Davey would like to see more when it comes to the development of urban reserves and was personally motivated to research these areas because he sees the possibility for creating new Indigenous spaces with urban reserves.

“Right now they are at the beginning stages of establishing indigeneity and decolonization within the urban space.”

Historically, a lot of the development on urban reserves was focused on commercial or industrial growth: things that are important to a community’s success. They have not had as much of a focus on housing for community members.

But the social aspect of an urban reserve is an important consideration. “I believe that it could become a space in which culture is celebrated, where there is Indigenous housing, [such as] social housing provided to members of the nation,” Davey said.

WORKING AND LIVING TOGETHER

CHIEF BILLY MORIN, the youngest chief in Enoch Cree Nation history, declined to be interviewed for this piece as he is not currently speaking about urban reserves. However, Chief Morin did an Ask Me Anything in June on this topic in conjunction with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.

“It takes time, it takes effort, it takes teamwork,” Morin said in his recorded presentation about the creation of urban reserves. “Earlier this spring my awesome City Councillor Sarah Hamilton made a motion that the city will develop an urban reserve strategy.

“First Nations have their own rights and rules, but they live under the auspices of the federal government,” Morin continued as he explained about the sovereignty of Indigenous people and why urban reserves are important.

The key ideas regarding urban reserves and why they benefit First Nations people include social aspects, cultural aspects, and urban planning.

“Can an urban reserve lend itself in a plot to the city that provides services to Indigenous people in a different way than the great service providers that already exist?” Morin asked regarding the question of whether urban reserves can also address homelessness in Edmonton.

Urban reserves would likely be able to bring in additional resources through the federal government that the province or the municipality would not be able to, to help battle issues such as homelessness and addiction.

WHAT WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND

Both Davey and Morin are working to address the stigma of urban reserves based on many people not understanding how they work.

“As soon as someone mentions a reserve being built in the city, settler conditioning definitely makes people think of stereotypes, rural and neglected areas,” Davey said. “People think you’re going to have reserve dogs running around.”

The business owners on an urban reserve also face stigma when people mistakenly believe that there aren’t any taxes paid on the land. This may cause people to resent the new business owners, but it is based on a misunderstanding of how fees are paid.

“TAXES [ARE] A BIG WORD for all Edmontonians and it is a big word for First Nations too,” Morin said. He was referring to the misconception many people have that First Nations people don’t pay taxes. In fact, Indigenous people do still pay income tax. But they may not pay property tax if they live on a reservation.

According to the City of Edmonton’s website, municipalities are involved in providing services to the urban reserve lands through a municipal fee- for-service agreement and may also play roles in community notification and in bylaw and land-use planning harmonization as the urban reserve is developed.

Davey said when it comes to educating the public, the city should be responsible for informing them about the economic benefit for the municipality through shared revenue. They should also be mindful of their bylaws and planning restrictions to avoid further imposing colonial notions of living spaces on the urban reserve. Davey argues that it is important to take the opportunity for urban reserves to have their own sovereignty in how they control the land they have acquired.

The fee-for-service that is paid by the First Nation in lieu of municipal taxes would pay for the costs of policing, fire, drainage, bylaw enforcement and all of the other services a city provides.

At the same time, Davey said it is important to take the opportunity for urban reserves to have their own sovereignty in how they control the land they have acquired.

lessons FROM WINNIPEG

In Winnipeg, Treaty One Territory, there is a project on the former Kapyong Barracks site in west Winnipeg, which is now Canada’s largest urban reserve. The Kapyong Master Plan speaks to the highest ideals of Indigenous city-building. They plan to use the designs from Indigenous artists and landscape architects and to promote Indigenous design.

As a part of creating their master plan, Treaty One Nation, Canada Lands Company and the City of Winnipeg worked together on a community engagement process that included neighbouring residents and businesses. They hosted a powwow at the site and gathered feedback on preliminary design and planning concepts. From that input they created a community that focused on holistic elements in urban design. There are cultural camps and education integrated with community spaces, residential areas and even stormwater management facilities.

As Edmonton partners with Enoch Cree First Nation to develop urban spaces for Indigenous people, it is a good time to imagine how the city can also help to showcase Indigenous architecture, public art, and even memorial spaces. This is a unique chance to develop Indigenous-municipal relations and showcase First Nations culture as it exists in 21st Century Canada.

An urban reserve in Edmonton is an opportunity for all of us to live together in peace and harmony.

trash talk

YEG garbage cans

THE BEST MAGPIE LUNCHBOXES IN THE CORE

Upon moving to Western Canada, I was impressed by how clean the cities are. I theorized that our closeness to nature compelled Canadians to care more for the environment. However, upon closer inspection of Edmonton it would appear that nature is one of the worst litterers.

In the core my closest neighbour is the magpie. They often swoop past my head to greet me as I walk my dog. Like me, the magpie does not seem to be a fan of musicals. Instead, they would rather chatter endlessly as I walk to the Peace Park or the 124 Street Grand Market. While the magpies are not friendly with my dog, she loves the fruits of their labour, such as a discarded chicken bone. See, our community garbage cans are not actually for waste disposal, but are fine dining restaurants for the magpies.

After a hard day of keeping pigeons and seagulls out of the city and shouting at people to stay off the lawn, the unofficial mascot of Edmonton needs some carbs and there is no better place than the trash cans of our city, but what containers are the best in the core?

(Honourable Mention)
The Explore Edmonton Barrel

These containers are typically found in the trails and in some parks. They are simple barrels with a brightly coloured wrap around them and some have a yellow lid with a small opening in the middle. Now the lid can be challenging for the magpie, but there is a higher chance of finding a delicious chicken bone. These barrels are chosen by Park Services because of their large capacity. This means they do not have to be emptied as often. Barrels that have had the lid removed by entrepreneurs seeking bottle depot cash, or barrels that never had a lid to begin with are an open delicatessen for the intelligent relative of the crow, the magpie.

Jenny Hong, Director of Corporate Waste Transformation shared that one advantage of high-capacity barrels means less disruption of the turf and park lands by vehicles servicing the cans. “Receptacles with inviting openings are so much easier for picnickers and dog walkers to use.” Perhaps the magpies are just having a picnic? Hong reported, “A lid or restrictive opening is less likely to allow animals and birds to get in, but the trade-off is the human interface. Sometimes with a restrictive opening people end up disposing of their waste beside the can. Or, they find that they cannot fit everything in there from their child’s birthday party very easily.”

(Honourable Mention)
The Black Steel Bars Basket

As far as my creative corvid neighbour is concerned, a garbage can is a garbage can. Technically, these baskets are maintained by businesses and retailers and are not the responsibility of the city. Some have an ashtray on the top, others have an inner ring great for perching magpies in search of dinner. The vertical steel bars that are designed to deter graffiti allow the birds that are flightless to make their way up from the ground. Since these cans are located in high traffic areas, they attract the rougher, more fearless magpies. Plus, the cans in the retail areas have a higher percentage of uneaten convenience store hotdogs, leftover Timbits, or day-old baked goods.

Hong reminds us, “The cans reflect the buildings we’ve built or parks we’ve developed at a specific time.” For example, the recently renamed Unity Square likely has these large capacity, black steel bar baskets so that they do not have to empty them more than once a week. The recent Brewery District has cans that reflect the thinking of today where they have prioritized sorting garbage and recycling.

Blue or Black Plastic Can

The city has been using these familiar large cans on our sidewalks and LRT stations. Blue cans are maintained by Transit Services and the black by Waste Services. The large opening makes them an excellent restaurant for our feathered friends. The cans are open 24/7, always have a table, and seemingly never run out of chicken wings. However it can be a gamble for the magpie. ETS and Waste Services regularly empty these receptacles.

In the last decade, these plastic cans brought some cohesion for Waste Services. Consistency made the containers easy to recognize and the important inviting openings encouraged their use. The larger capacity meant it was less likely to overflow like the concrete artifacts they replaced. However, change is around the corner.

Runner-up! Silver Cans of Revitalized Jasper Avenue

The small footprint of these cans mean they may fill quickly, so the birds will have to make reservations for a meal before the cans are serviced. The intelligent, impish magpie that prefers to hop can also use the grooved design to climb the side. The top of the can has a smooth, wide ring for surveying the menu and enjoying appetizers.

These new cans are a departure from the familiar black and blue plastic cans. Neighbourhood revivals and other special projects like Imagine Jasper Avenue are creating beneficial, inviting public spaces. There is an effort being made to match the benches, planters, and the trash receptacles. Hong shared, “Now in the downtown we have a new streetscape manual that is emphasizing consistency, but also trying to balance it with the character of that stretch of Jasper Avenue or The Quarters.”

Our best in the core magpie lunchbox is an 80’s brutalist landmark in the city, the old aggregate concrete garbage cans. While the slender metal insert of these receptacles allow for easy and frequent servicing, they still overflow quickly. The mix of concrete and pebbles give an excellent perching option for grip and comfort as the ravenous, raven- adjacent rooster looks for that discarded french fry.

Why are we feeding the magpies?

Why is there no lid or flap to seal away the waste?

Hong put it this way: “Part of the reason the city does not have cans with lids and flaps is the yuck factor. Knowing that there is debris and gunk coating the flap, even more so during COVID, people do not want to touch the flaps.” Hong went on to explain that some may have physical limitations to push a flap open and that isn’t an inclusive design. Hong added that many inquire about the lack of bear bins in our city. Again, with the pandemic, accessibility issues, and a less-inviting opening, these receptacles are not practical. The City of Calgary has told Hong they have replaced most of their bear bins.

The city is enhancing public recycling opportunities by introducing the three stream system to places like Fort Edmonton, Churchill Square, public pools, and the City Hall fountain area.

Created with research and engagement with municipalities in Ontario and BC, Hong stated the new cans, made locally, include recycling, food scraps, and garbage. The city wants to evaluate the performance of this system and continue to improve it. Unfortunately for the magpies, the new cans have a canopy over the top to protect the contents from rain and snow.

The next time the fretful feathered foe swoops from tree to signpost stalking your morning walk, tell the magpie many of their favourite restaurants are about to close. Park Services will continue to use some barrels, but they will be wrapped in coloured designs matching the new cans and grouped in threes. Hong’s final take on our unofficial city mascot is worth repeating.

“Yes, there may be some troublesome birds that pick some bones off and throw them onto the ground, but the fact that there are these readily acceptable receptacles that keep our streets clean, that keep pet waste off yards and parks spaces. That is a great way to mitigate environmental and human and animal health risks.”

Out of the Closets & Into the Streets

We take a trip down memory lane to discover the history of Edmonton’s Gaybourhood

Most major cities have a neighbourhood that has clearly defined itself as the “gay” neighbourhood, an area where LGBTQ2S+ folks can build a community together while living, working, shopping, and eating at welcoming businesses. Toronto’s Church Street and Vancouver’s Davie Street are just two that come to mind. Edmonton breaks tradition by having not one but two gaybourhoods that have come together to form a community for LGBTQ2S+ Edmontonians.

Edmontonian Ron Byers was 18 years old when he moved from Laurier Heights into his first apartment in Downtown Edmonton. The year was 1969, the same year that Bill C-150, which legalized same-sex relations between consenting adults, was passed under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Not coincidentally, that was also the year that Edmonton’s gay community started to truly develop. 1969 also marks the year Club 70, Edmonton’s first gay bar, opened Downtown.

It lasted three days before being shut down.

The history of Club 70’s first attempt at building a safe space for gay men to socialize, the subsequent lawsuit against the landlord that locked them out the moment he realized it was an establishment catering to gay men, and the club’s eventual victory and reopening in a new location is all chronicled online as part of Edmonton City As Museum Project (ECAMP). ECAMP, an initiative of the Edmonton Heritage Council, includes a website, a podcast, and events (in non-pandemic times).

BACK IN THE DAY

Byers and Rob Browatzke, one of the owners of Evolution (Edmonton’s current queer-friendly club), wrote a detailed five-part series on The History of Edmonton’s Gay Bars for ECAMP. Their work includes a list of every known gay bar that has existed in Edmonton from 1969 to 2018. While compiling the list, they realized that only two of the gay establishments in Edmonton’s history have fallen outside the borders of Oliver or Downtown—Club Aquarius, located in Old Strathcona (1971) and Pink Noiz Ultralounge, located on Yellowhead Trail (2018).

This did not happen by accident.

“Downtown and Oliver have always been the homes to LGBTQ nightlife,” said Browatzke.

“The history of the gay community started Downtown,” agreed Byers. “Back in the late 1950s to 1960s, there was no place for gay people to go. When I moved here in 1969, my best friend from junior high school somehow clued into me being gay—I didn’t even know it at the time—and he dragged me downtown to Jasper Avenue between 105th and 106th Street.”

Byers said that was a very popular place for gay people to hang out. There were two coffee shops there but no bars there at the time.

“One of them, called the Pig N’ Whistle restaurant, was kind of the more popular spot. Some of the trans folk would go there quite regularly. The other one was just a few doors east, in the space that is now Rocky Mountain Icehouse. That strip of Jasper Avenue is where people cruised and got picked up. The police used to sit across the road and watch, observe, and take pictures of the gay people. And they periodically arrested the drag queens and trans people just for fun. Because that was the start of the gay community, gay people started living nearby.”

WHERE TO LIVE?

In what is now the El Mirador apartments, there was a rooming house. “That was filled with a lot of gay people,” recalled Byers. “It was grungy, dingy, and cold but it was cheap, and it was Downtown.”

“I think gay people as a community have always gravitated towards Downtown, partly because of safety in numbers,” explained Browatzke. “Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a lot of these people were disowned by their existing family and friends, so they were looking for a new one. By socializing and living all in the same area, they were able to create these communities.”


The El Mirador used to having a rooming house for the gay community
Photo credit: Kurayba

Club 70 was located at 10593 Avenue and 101 Street, just a five-minute drive from the El Mirador. Another popular cruising spot, known as “The Hill,” was also nearby, on the road between the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald and the Chateau Lacombe (which opened in 1966), on the edge of the River Valley.

But there was a problem, and it led to Edmonton’s somewhat unique double gaybourhood situation.

There weren’t a lot of apartments in the Downtown core, so the gay community began to spread west, to Oliver, which began development in the 1960s. At that time, there weren’t a lot of apartments in Oliver either, but that quickly began to change. As development in the area continued, there was eventually an abundance of apartments and apartment-style condos to rent.

“There weren’t a lot of places [in the 1950s and 60s] that accepted gay people,” said Byers. “If you moved in with another guy and you appeared to be gay, landlords kicked you out. And they could do that. They could get away with it and nobody complained. There was nothing that anybody could do about it.”

“As more gay people began moving to Oliver, it became a kind of a hub,” said Byers.

However, Oliver didn’t have a lot of commercial buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, and it lacked the big performance spaces needed for events popular within the gay community, such as drag shows. “There was never really any spots for a gay bar to move into,” remembered Byers. “That was kind of the drawback.”

“But the combination of Oliver and Downtown— residences in Oliver and commercial businesses and socializing Downtown—created a nice symbiosis,” said Browatzke. “Especially because, until recently, with the push for more housing Downtown, there weren’t a lot of people living Downtown. They were all just living on the other side of it—a nice stumbling distance from the clubs. But Oliver was always peppered with little gay businesses. I think they are fairly spread out, but Oliver definitely still does have that reputation as the ‘gaybourhood,’ especially for people of a certain age.”

THE COMMUNITY EXPANDS

Multiple LGBTQ2S+ community and support groups have had a home in Oliver, Downtown or both throughout the years, including the Gay and Lesbian Community Centre of Edmonton (GLCCE), the AIDS Network, and the Pride Centre of Edmonton. Browatzke and Byers also point out that many “straight” bars and restaurants are now very gay friendly and very welcoming to Oliver’s LGBTQ2S+ community—and not only when Pride celebrations are happening. “There have certainly been a lot of gay-friendly watering holes in Oliver,” said Browatzke. “When Woody’s Pub (2002-2016), which was on Jasper Avenue and 117th Street closed, people that had been going there basically seven days a week for a decade were looking for a new watering hole. They found that On The Rocks welcomed them with open arms and have been there ever since.”

It’s certainly fitting that Oliver is where early Pride events also took root. The first Pride celebration was a small gathering in 1980, with the first week-long celebration not taking place until 1983. At that time, the Edmonton Pride Centre was run out of the basement of a building on Jasper Avenue and 124th Street.


A Pride celebration in the core in 2014. In the early days, Pride didn’t even have a parade. Look how far we’ve come!
Photo credit: Mack Male

“It was certainly a much different Pride than the one you know. It was a much smaller thing. I don’t think the first parade was even until 1991 or 1992,” said Browatzke.

“The first Pride events were limited, and I didn’t even go to the first ones,” remembered Byers. “The first one had people with paper bags over their heads so that they couldn’t be identified. People were still that afraid, and it was a very real fear. You could get fired for being gay. Very few people even wanted to be associated with the parade. But the Gay and Lesbian Awareness Association (GALAA), they’re the ones who organized that first parade, which was more a protest than anything.”

“I was talking to Michael Phair [former Edmonton City Councillor and Alberta’s first openly gay elected official] yesterday and he said the first parade—from what he remembers—was just down the sidewalks and the street. They didn’t even have the influence as a group with the city to close down even part of the street,” added Browatzke.

Byers said it took quite a few years to get the City of Edmonton on board with Pride. In 1991, then-mayor Jan Reimer issued the first proclamation for a Gay Pride Day. “The first proclamation from the City for the festival as we know it now happened in 2003, which would have been Bill Smith’s last term [as mayor], under the threat of a complaint that had been filed with the Human Rights Commission by the Pride Committee. He finally gave in, very publicly and loudly against his will. But then Stephen Mandel took over as Mayor, then Don Iveson, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since—there’s been no issue getting that proclamation,” explained Byers.

In 2001, Byers helped reformat Pride from what it started as—a small parade down the side streets of Oliver and Downtown—into a festival-style event. “The parade started at 116th Street and 100th Avenue, and then we went down Jasper Avenue and ended up at the Oliver Arena,” remembered Byers. “In the arena itself, we held a carnival-type atmosphere with shows, beer gardens outside, food service. The Edmonton Rainbow Businesses Association (active from 1998 – 2013; reborn as Queer YEG) had booths set up. Drag Queens did drag shows. There were a couple of carnival games.”

Pride has retained a similar format ever since. “It’s obviously grown in size, but that format was such a success that there wasn’t really much to change,” said Browatzke. “I think it stayed in Oliver until 2004. I believe 2005 is when the parade started going the other way down Jasper Avenue and ending up in Churchill Square, where it stayed until 2014. They moved it to Whyte Avenue in 2015.”

While the last Pride celebrations, in 2018, did happen south of the river, it’s not necessarily indicative of where Edmonton’s queer heart beats the loudest.

“Edmonton never really had a gay ghetto-like Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto but Oliver was always the closest that we had,” said Browatzke. “A lot of other Canadian cities are seeing their gay ghettos get non-ghettoized as gay people get more comfortable moving out to the suburbs. They’re choosing to live where they want to live, not necessarily in a gay area for safety or community.”


To learn more about Edmonton’s gay history and read more of Browatzke and Byers’s work, visit the Edmonton Queer History Story Portal.


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Growing Communities with Gardening Guerrilla

Turning vacant bits of land into little urban utopias

Laura-Belle Robinson quietly positioned a planter on the curb where the street meets the avenue, on the area between the sidewalk and the street that property owners must mow, but are not allowed to use. The trampled triangle of dirt between the two sloped sidewalks was a good location as the grass would not grow there in this part of Oliver.

As the weeks went by and the flowers bloomed, she watched her neighbours stop and take in the colourful bouquet. She witnessed a parent encourage their child to bend down, place their face into the blossoms and breathe in the aroma.

One day Robinson was watering the planter and a driver at the stop sign rolled down their window to thank her. The little planter even found itself on the neighbourhood Facebook page. Unfortunately, the social network reported that the planter was a victim of vandalism. Robinson gathered some wooden dowels and twine to repair the damage and save any surviving flowers. Upon opening her front door, she found a single marigold plant on the steps. Someone had dug the annual out of their own flower bed to replenish the little planter.

This story from Robinson, owner of Renovision Design, illustrates that guerrilla gardening is much more than cultivating land without permission. The environmental movement got its start in New York in the ‘70s. A group called the Green Guerrillas cleaned up an abandoned lot and planted a garden. Today, that lot is home to a legitimate community garden.

In fact, guerrilla gardening is the origin of many community gardens. When a community tends a garden in a previously unused property it inspires others. For example, to get a plot in the Oliver Peace Garden Park there is a lengthy waitlist.

“One group of people in a neighbourhood can make a difference,” Robinson said. “The ripple effects are huge— plant life, pollinators, human life.”

A neglected property in a neighbourhood can attract furniture and other items that people have disregarded. Yet, we tend to treat spaces that are alive with more respect. As gardens grow, so does the community. “It is our boulevard. It is our sidewalk. It is our yard. It is our neighbourhood and it is our city,” Robinson said.

Essentially, laws alone don’t affect change; individuals do.

Wild Green Potential

“This is my yard. This is your yard. This is city land, but we don’t often read city land as collectively ours,” said Dustin Bajer of Forest City Plants. About 10 years ago he created the Edmonton Guerilla Gardeners Facebook Group and was pleasantly surprised it gained so much support.

“I see an eight-foot wide strip that runs for 500 feet that could have healthy, spongy soil and hold a variety of native species and maybe some food-producing plants,” Bajer said. “Building up a spongy soil would hold all the water that lands there, feeding the boulevard trees, but also reducing the amount of rain that runs through the gutter that the city has to process.”

Bajer has worked on many city projects and he is confident Edmonton initiatives like the Urban Forest Management Plan are a step in the right direction. The plan’s focus is to increase the tree canopy to cool the city in the summer and retain heat in the winter. Still, large infrastructure changes require planning, paperwork, and time.

There is an immediate gratification to guerrilla gardening. While it takes time to cultivate the plants, the transformation takes place much quicker than an application process for development. When it comes to the public space, Bajer said, “Guerrilla Gardening is a symbol of what could be there. Seeing potential in that space.”

Individuals Can Make A Difference

Research shows that plants can affect our physical and psychological well-being. Of course, plants also have a direct impact on climate. When we recycle, we’re trying to lessen the damage that we’ve already done. The means of production and transportation that brought, for example, bottled water to us has already damaged the environment.

The act of guerrilla gardening is additive. One flower may attract a honey bee who then stops by a balcony garden to pollinate cucumber plants which feed a family. Perhaps that’s one less trip in the car to the store for the family. Meanwhile, the honey bee will join the hive that provides honey and the plant uses water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen.

“Putting life in a place that previously didn’t have it? That seems like an ethical thing to do,” said Bajer. “There’s an ephemeral quality to guerrilla gardening because you’re participating in it, but it is not yours. You’re doing it for the community.”

Gardening Is A Hopeful Act

The narrative around climate change is that humans are destroying the planet. There is evidence to support the claim, but guerilla gardening is one way to help counteract its effects. Bajer believes it is empowering as individuals are implementing change in their own neighbourhoods.

Robinson described it as people being present in their environment. Gardening is engaging and collaborative and people have a real sense of pride in their harvests.

It can also be satisfying when using a plot without permission, but not in the way we may think. The guerrilla gardening world is more do-it-together than do-it-yourself. It is a process consisting of cultivating soil and plants, reclaiming space, beautifying our community, nurturing our mental health, feeding us, and healing our planet.

“We can literally grow a greener future if we want. That is 100% within our ability,” Bajer said.

Losing Money to Stay Open

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.

Bianca Condren

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.”

Coyotes and Jackrabbits and Elm Trees, Oh My!

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.

Mammals

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)

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)

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.

Insects

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.

Birds

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum)

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.

Plants/trees

Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera)

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.

STREETLIGHTS

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.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

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.

Best in the Core (Winter 2020)

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

(Miranda Herchen)

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

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

(Josh Pruden)

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
Photo Credit: Gallican Buki

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

(Sydnee Bryant)

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.

Lime Scooters
Photo Credit: Mack Male (Flickr)

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?

(Benjamin Hollihan)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. When the white stuff flies, become everyone’s favourite neighbour. Shovel someone else’s sidewalk or driveway!

CATEGORY: Best Innovators in Business

(Josh Pruden)

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
Photo Credit: Curtis Comeau

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.

Policing and the people

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.

(Left) June 5, 2020: A closeup of a demonstrator’s sign at a Black Lives Matter protest at the Alberta Legislature Building. (Right) October 18th 2020: Camp Pekiwewin, located next to ReMax field. Photo credit: Shutterstoc

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.