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.

Eerie Edmonton

The Yards explores some of the core’s spookiest spots

There’s a chill in the air this time of year and the night is quickly descending. As you walk down a darkened street you feel a tingle up your spine. Is it the wind, or is there an eerier explanation?

Downtown Edmonton has its share of old haunts, so if you thought you were safe from the paranormal in Edmonton’s core, think again. With Halloween fast approaching, The Yards explores some of the core’s spookiest spots.

Hotel MacDonald and the Horseless Hoofbeats

The historic Fairmont Hotel Macdonald (10065 100 Street) is a longtime fixture of the core, opening its doors to visitors for the first time on July 5, 1915. But one of the hotel’s longest-running residents doesn’t voluntarily walk the halls in search of the spa; it gallops. One of the hotel’s most famous spooky stories is the legend of hoofbeats galloping around the eighth floor, the otherworldly racket of a workhorse that allegedly died when the foundation was being laid in 1914.

For those who aren’t scared by the concept of ghastly animals, the hotel reportedly has its fair share of human ghosts, too. Like the ‘boatman,’ the ghost of a 1913 sailor who sailed the North Saskatchewan River as part of the fur trade.

He appears as a man smoking while seated in a beautiful wingback chair. The sixth floor in particular seems to be a paranormal hotspot; hotel staff have told stories of calls from rooms that are vacant and doors that are mysteriously locked from the inside.

Whether or not these specters are good-hearted is up for debate, but stories like radios tuning into nonexistent 1950s era music stations certainly make it seem like the ghosts are looking for a good time. After all, the Hotel Macdonald was one of the first establishments to acquire a liquor license after prohibition in Alberta ended in 1924, making it the wingding hotspot in a then-relatively small town of 63,160.

McKay Avenue School and the Haunting of Rob Hlady

The Historic McKay Avenue School Archives & Museum (10425 99 Avenue), originally built in 1904, is popular with paranormal investigators and amateur thrillseekers alike. The old schoolhouse, which was also the site of the inaugural legislative assembly in 1906, is reportedly home to many spirits, and visitors report being spooked by feelings of being watched, strange noises, and water taps found running. A well-known recurrence is the blinds moving on their own accompanied by eerie laughter of students past.

One famous ghost that haunts the halls is a construction worker named Peter, who allegedly died in 1912 during renovations to the building. There is no archival evidence of anyone named Peter dying in 1912, but it has not deterred those who seek out McKay Avenue’s otherworldly population.

Be careful when contacting the dead. In the late 1980s, technician Ron Hlady, who was working at McKay at the time, began to notice strange events. Doors unlocking, furniture moving in other rooms, light switches going on and off, phone lines lighting up with no call to answer, and motion detectors picking up invisible movement. During a session in which Hlady successfully contacted Peter with a Ouija Board, he accidentally called upon another spirit that followed him home and terrorized his family.

Hopefully this doesn’t scare off visitors entirely. The beautiful building now serves as the Edmonton Public School Archives and is a fascinating museum that contains 1950s and 1880s era schoolhouses, and plenty of other resources about the history of education in Edmonton.

Alberta Block and the Lobotomized Caretaker

It’s a late-night walking home on Jasper Avenue. It’s nearing Halloween when the nights get longer and the leaves rustle in the wind. When passing the Alberta Block Building (10526 Jasper Avenue)—the old CKUA building—if the scent of cigar smoke is in the air with no smoker in sight, don’t be afraid. It’s only the smoke of the undead.

Rumour has it that the specter of Sam, a 1950s caretaker who was lobotomized after making threats against Premier Ernest Manning, played a part in CKUA’s choice to leave the building. On the CKUA website, an article about the move calls the Alberta Block “probably haunted.”

Sam’s cigar smoke has shown up in places like a women’s bathroom at night, accompanied by running faucets. Several employees of decades past have reported feelings of someone watching them, or even seeing an apparition of Sam, who apparently enjoys singing—fitting for the building’s history.

Sam is not alone in his singing: in 2009, a group of paranormal researchers recorded an unknown girl’s voice singing “go back, all the way back.” Seems like the building’s spirits have some amateur singing aspirations. CKUA began to broadcast out of the building in 1955 and left in 2012. The building is now owned by RedBrick real estate, and houses multiple businesses. Interestingly, the paranormal research and rumours slowed once CKUA left the building. Maybe Sam decided to tag along to their new location at the Alberta Hotel.

Edmonton General and the Sinister ‘B’ Wing

The Edmonton General Continuing Care Center (11111 Jasper Avenue), formerly known as the Edmonton General Hospital was built in 1895, making it 125 years old. This hospital has seen two World Wars, two pandemics, a Great Depression, and countless other smaller tragedies. No wonder it’s haunted.

The most common legend is that of the B Wing, a reportedly closed wing that is rife with hauntings. The distinct smell of sick humans lingers in the wing, despite it supposedly housing no patients. The 8th floor formerly housed the pediatric area and in this area, the sounds of children running around and crying can be heard, along with the sobbing distraught spirit of a mother seeking her lost child who disappears when seen.

There are also stories of a nameless construction worker who perished while working on the basement, whose phantom still roams the halls.

But there are more than a few mysteries surrounding the B wing of the hospital, some of them unrelated to ghosts. A spokesperson for Covenant Health denies the existence of an empty wing. A report for 2014 by the Alberta Health Services lists a B Wing that is still fully functional, which was built in 1959. The largest mystery about the Edmonton General Hospital is where these rumours come from: how can there be a haunted abandoned wing if there is no abandoned wing? The confusion and creepiness surrounding the Edmonton General Hospital and this supposedly cursed wing remain unresolved.

The Yards spoke to Dr. Rodney Schmaltz, an Associate Professor of Psychology at MacEwan University, whose research focus includes pseudoscience and why humans believe in the supernatural, to find out why humans are attracted to the supernatural. The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

Why are humans so fascinated with the haunted?

Rodney Schmaltz: There is curiosity about the unknown. People are interested in the afterlife. But you can go broader. There are people who aren’t spiritual but are interested in things like haunted houses. You can draw an analogy with horror movies. When you watch a horror movie, neurotransmitters release endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin. You get this natural high.

The interest, especially in regards to exploring haunted houses, is similar. When going into a haunted house, you’re relatively certain you’re safe: you can always run out. It’s a safe way of activating neurotransmitters that are associated with positive emotions. I look at commercial haunted houses like Deadmonton and how popular they’ve become. Even though it’s counterintuitive because it’s frightening, if you look at the footage of people going through haunted houses, it’s a scream followed by a laugh. It’s a way to elicit these positive emotions.

Can you talk about the phenomena of hauntings?

Rodney Schmaltz: What’s fascinating is why we experience a haunting. Plenty of people report that they’ve been in a haunted house or had an unusual experience in one. A lot of what drives the experience of a ghost or being in a haunted place is the expectation.

Researchers sent people into the Hampton Court Palace in the U.K., supposedly the most haunted place in Britain. People that expected to see or believed in ghosts reported unusual experiences. People that didn’t believe or didn’t expect ghosts didn’t experience anything. Everybody went to the same place, but that expectation was the factor towards what was experienced.

What could cause people to think they have a supernatural experience?

Rodney Schmaltz: Something that leads people to have these feelings of unease is infrasound. Infrasound is a sound below 20Hz. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it. If you’ve ever been to a loud concert and you get that vibrating feeling in your chest, it’s similar.

Infrasound is created by many natural things, like low rumbling pipes, thunder, or even high amounts of traffic. Haunted houses are usually quite old, and the haunting is usually centered in the basement. These are places where there’s a good chance that there are some low rumbling pipes in there.

About 30 per cent of Canadians believe in ghosts. You walk into a haunted house, and it’s cold, creepy, and all of sudden the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you feel a bit strange. Most people don’t know what infrasound is, so it’s not unreasonable that someone would think it’s a ghost. It’s not that people are irrational; it’s that they don’t know the other explanation. We’re bombarded with stories, TV shows, and movies about ghosts. Especially around Halloween, when it’s on people’s minds, if you go to a haunted place and have this experience, people then understandably attribute it to a ghost.

On the Front Lines

Edmonton charities grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations and clients

The shutdown of office towers, pubs and restaurants in the core during the COVID-19 pandemic created an eerie feeling for the residents of Downtown and Oliver. The streets resembled a post-rapture dystopia during work hours. Small groups of people lounged in parks or on cement benches by Jasper. Otherwise, things were silent.

The first presumptive positive COVID-19 case in Alberta was reported by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer for the province, on March 5. In the early days of lockdown, fears ran high. While many people were staying home and stocking up on cleaning supplies, toilet paper, flour, and yeast, service providers in the core were working to ensure they could continue to offer a place to go for those who didn’t have the resources to stockpile or a home to go to.

During the initial lockdown, conversion of the Edmonton Expo Centre and the Kinsmen Sports Centre into homeless shelters allowed vulnerable people to safely get a meal, take a shower, or access medical or housing support while physically distancing. The city reported that an average of 675 people visited the Expo Centre on a daily basis, and as of July there has only been one case of COVID-19 in the homeless population. But in July, both temporary shelters closed and organizations and those that depend on them are having to adapt once again.

That includes Boyle Street Community Services, one of Edmonton’s largest charities supporting people experiencing homelessness and poverty, which operates numerous sites and services including the Boyle Street Community Centre.

“I think if you had told me that we got to July and we have only one case [in the homeless population] I would have been surprised. But then you think about the risk factors, like travel, and the fact that the contact between snowbirds and our clients is pretty minimal,” says Elliott Tanti, who works in communications at Boyle Street.

Months after lockdown, in July, there is a long line up along the side of the bright blue and white building that is the Boyle Street Community Centre. People are waiting to cash their cheques. This inner-city bank is a unique service for people who often lack access to financial services.

There’s a blue pup tent and a large blue patio umbrella and people are set up to wait. They sit close together and there isn’t much social distancing. In that way it is no different than when you are walking down Jasper Avenue and watching people sitting on patios.

“So the line up is here and then on cheque-day, which is now the first of every month, the city shuts down the street and we put guard rails down,” explains Tanti.

Services have changed since COVID-19, he says. “This used to be a free flow, kind of in-and-out [service]. Now we have all our doors locked and security is in charge of control. You get some questions when you come in—how are you feeling, do you have any symptoms, that kind of thing.” The maximum occupation for the building has been reduced to 50 people. They still offer lunch but encourage people to take it with them outside so that others can enter the building.

“Our goal is to provide as many services as we can, but in the safest way for our community and our staff,” says Tanti. “When this first started, we as a leadership group tried to remind our staff that this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Tanti stops to joke around with a man who has long dark hair by the hand-washing station. “I’m going to whoop you,” the man, named Robert, says jokingly.

“Not today—we have to enforce social distancing so we can’t be whooping each other,” replies Tanti.

Inside, the bank is a small space with pale yellow walls. There are three clients inside, two seated in front of glass screens talking to the bank tellers. The glass partitions are the sort that are now standard on any counter where the public comes to interact. “And you can see because of the way our buildings are set up it’s a pretty tight space. This has been the biggest impact on the bank. It is still pretty busy though. People still need to access their money,” says Tanti.

It has been a time of enormous upheaval, and not just because of the pandemic. While most people were sheltered at home, the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. led thousands of people to come out to the Alberta Legislature on June 5 in support of Black Lives Matter. It also reinvigorated a conversation about defunding the police, or appropriately funding social services where the responsibility of these gaps have fallen to police officers.

The calls to better fund social services instead of relying on police services have been underway in Edmonton since 2015 with the 24/7 crisis diversion program, an integrated community response team that responds to people in distress through 211.

REACH Edmonton, an organization whose core funding is provided by the City of Edmonton, coordinates the service on behalf of various social services organizations, including Boyle Street, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), and Hope Mission. The goal is to divert calls from police, particularly calls that are better handled through social services.

“There was a real understanding that people in non-emergency crises don’t need to engage with emergency services. So how can we support people during those times and leave the space for the police to do what they need to do?” says Madeleine Smith, Co-Director, Community Initiatives at REACH.

As a part of the Edmonton Council for Safe Communities, the only council of its kind in Canada, REACH also attempts to look at the root causes of why people feel unsafe in the community and to consider the underlying factors of crime. “At very early times in their lives when the roots of crime and disorder start long before there’s any engagement with the police,” says Smith.

During the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the partners did a mixture of triaging services through 211 and engaging with people in the streets to build relationships, provide food and clothing, or rides to the Edmonton EXPO Centre that was converted to a day-use shelter and used for COVID testing.

The first 211 call about COVID-19 was on January 31, and since then, 20 to 30 percent of calls to 211 have been about COVID-19.

The first call into the CMHA distress line was on February 2. The number one reason for calls to the distress line have been for mental health, but there is a rising concern at both Boyle Street and CMHA about an uptick in domestic violence.

Before the pandemic, many calls into the hotline about domestic violence would typically come in during the workday or late at night when the abuser was sleeping, which may not be an option with many working from home. Tanti says there is a similar issue in identifying child abuse as reports would often have come through teachers at school.

“That’s definitely something we have been watching for really closely,” says Emma Potter, Director, Crisis and Navigation Support Services at CMHA. “And we have only in [July] started to see our numbers go up around issues related to domestic violence.”

Katherine O’Neill, chief executive officer for YWCA Edmonton, says that even identifying the issue of domestic violence in a pandemic has been tricky. “Normally, a crisis comes and goes quite quickly, but we are going to be in a crisis situation for a year or longer. This is extraordinary for a non-profit to keep on top of,” she says. “Since this crisis has happened we have been absolutely overwhelmed with requests for support.”

The YWCA offers counselling, and specializes in domestic violence cases, on a sliding scale depending on income and what a person is able to pay. The current estimated waitlist would be a year long.

O’Neill says the increase in domestic violence “comes down to the fact that there is a lot of stress in the home economically and having the children in the home more […] When you put all that together in an unhealthy relationship, it can lead to violence.”

She adds that not all violence is physical either—there can be financial abuse and people withholding funds.

“We really need to make sure that as a community we recognize that this can happen in any household and abuse can happen in many forms,” she says.

Despite the challenges, a move to online counselling has given some opportunities for the YWCA to expand their reach. They have been able to assist with counselling services as far as Iqaluit.

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

There are still many unknowns for social services in the core during COVID-19. Information from health officials and requirements, such as mandatory masking, are changing swiftly.

Both Tanti and Smith have talked about the struggle to keep up with information, and the flexibility to address the gaps that they see. “People are really struggling to deal with a changing environment, changing practices, [and] changing expectations,” says Tanti.

As this article goes to press, the Edmonton municipal government is passing a requirement for mandatory masking on transit and in all indoor public spaces.

The uncertainty extends to funding availability and financial implications as well. In May, the Alberta government announced $30 million in emergency funding to charities and non-profits to support them during the pandemic, but organizations like Boyle Street are also donor-funded. “I have been taken aback at how generous Edmontonians have been. We have seen smaller donor donations, but a lot more of them,” says Tanti.

Still, it is hard to predict the long-term financial implications of COVID-19. A ballooned city and provincial budget and increased deficits could have an impact on the delivery of future services. We may not see the systemic impact of COVID-19 for some time. There are financial hardships for many families through job loss or access to childcare, and family poverty could be on the rise as a result.

“As of yet I don’t think we have a clear picture of what [funding going forward] looks like and I don’t think those government bodies have had those conversations yet either. There is a fear in lots of people’s minds in our sector that the financial struggle that COVID has landed the country and province in will serve as a basis for a decrease of programs, which is the exact opposite of what we need right now,” says Tanti.

There is also concern about the closing of the emergency shelters at the Edmonton Expo Centre and Kinsmen Sports Centre. A joint letter dated August 1 and signed by nine local groups, including the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights and EndPovertyEdmonton, argues that the closure will lead to issues in vulnerable communities.

“While we recognize the temporary EXPO Centre was established to respond to COVID-19 needs, its closure on Friday, July 31 is going to have severe impacts on the city,” the letter said.

The letter called for immediate action, including a joint-proposal from the Government of Alberta and the city for a new day-use shelter and for more funding to groups that do street outreach, and for “immediate resource mobilization” to groups that are having to fill the gaps of government programs.

While over the summer there has been a sense that people are eager to return to normal, the climbing number of positive COVID-19 cases reminds us that the virus is still around, and our current environment may be with us for some time. The fears of the early days have somewhat ebbed, and the hoarding of toilet paper has stopped, but the social upheaval continues.

SUPPORT PHONE NUMBERS

  • Community and Social Services Helpline: 211
  • Edmonton Police Complaint Line: 780-423-4567
  • Alberta 24-Hour Mental Health Line: 1-877-303-2642
  • CMHA Edmonton 24-Hour Distress Line: 780-482-4357
  • Edmonton Sexual Assault Centre 24-Hour Crisis Line: 780-423-4121
  • Alberta ONE LINE for Sexual Violence: 1-866-403-8000
  • Access 24/7 Addiction & Mental Health Services: 780-424-2424
  • Kids Help Line: 1-800-668-6868
  • Child Abuse Hot Line: 1-800-387-5437
  • Teens Helping Teens: 780-428-8336
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010

EMERGENCY SHELTERS

  • Lurana Shelter | Crisis Phone: 780-424-5875
  • SAGE Seniors’ Safe House | Crisis Phone: 780-702-1520
  • WIN House | Crisis Phone: 780-479-0058

Ghostly grub

Are ghost restaurants haunting our neighbourhoods, or scaring up business for entrepreneurs?

Blue Plate Diner has been serving the community for more than 15 years with favourite dishes such as mac and cheese and meatloaf. But the restaurant has experienced more than its share of changes recently, from a new location (12323 Stony Plain Rd.) to the mandated closure of its dining room due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for John Williams, co-owner, adapting to change is par for the course in the restaurant industry. Their latest adaptation due to the pandemic is utilizing third-party delivery apps for the first time to cater to consumer demand. Williams has even considered taking this further and creating a “virtual kitchen” using Blue Plate Diner’s kitchen space.

“You have to be able to adapt and survive, and ghost kitchens might be a way to do that,” he says.

Also known as virtual kitchens, ghost kitchens offer multiple food-delivery options from a location that may or may not offer dine-in. Chefs often prepare food for multiple restaurants and cuisines and fill online orders placed through popular third-party delivery apps such as SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.

The kitchens, which have become increasingly popular across the country, were first introduced to Edmonton in 2019 and are disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant model. Now there are five permanent-structure and nine mobile kitchens that are licensed in the city, according to Alberta Health Services, with at least seven of them located in the core.

“It’s almost like a mini food court, so to speak,” says Marc Choy, president of Ghost Kitchens Canada. “If people can get the convenience of offerings from six different brands all from one [delivery] fee, then all of the sudden that makes their life much more convenient.”

How do you have one kitchen doing nine different types of food with any authenticity?

Glenn Quinn, co-owner, Tzin Wine and Tapas

Ghost Kitchen Canada’s business model involves having a physical location that offers dine in, take-out, and delivery. The Toronto-based company has three locations in Edmonton, including one on 117th Street and Jasper Avenue. Each location offers food from multiple brands and a range of cuisines.

Other companies, such as Miami- based REEF Technology, don’t offer dine-in at all. The company, which operates Impark, uses parking lots to station trailers that provide kitchen space to virtual brands including Red Corn Taqueria, American Eclectic Burger, Breakfast All Day Everyday, and Rebel Wings.

The kitchens don’t rely on foot traffic for business, allowing them to operate in locations with lower rental rates. “You don’t need to be on a main street to be able to deliver,” Choy says. “As long as the driver can find you and as long as you have a presence on an online platform, then you don’t need visibility, access, signage—all those things which are typical to the restaurant industry.”

The savings on overhead might allow current restaurateurs the opportunity to be innovative and experiment with different sub-brands. This is what draws Blue Plate Diner’s Williams to the idea, especially during the uncertain times of a pandemic.

“Say this continues on for us for months—we can always make another virtual restaurant and have that available through one of the third-party delivery apps or our own delivery,” he says. “I would consider doing something completely different than what we’re doing now just to give that distance from the Blue Plate brand.”

Convenience vs. dining experience

The popularity of third-party delivery apps has certainly risen over the past few years, and with it, the existence of ghost kitchens. Canadians spent more than $4.3 billion in 2018 on online food delivery, which was a 44 per cent increase from 2017, according to Restaurants Canada. An Angus Reid Survey in 2019 found that 29 per cent of Canadians had used a food delivery app at least once. This same survey predicted growth to slow from 2019 to 2021, with the possibility of an additional peak in 2022.

While ghost kitchens offer consumers convenience, some restaurant owners are skeptical of their longevity and ability to build brand loyalty.

“I think consumers have lots of options when it comes to food and delivery, and I’m not so sure that, in the long run, ghost kitchens will be able
to create the brand that’s necessary and get the repeat business that’s necessary to be successful,” says Gavin Fedorak, co-owner of Love Pizza (10196 109 St.).

His restaurant tried third-party delivery but eventually opted out due to the large cuts the apps take, which can be as much as 30 per cent, and issues with service quality of the drivers. “We put a lot of work into our restaurant, making the food from scratch, making the pizza, getting the order right, then we were handing it over to somebody that didn’t care,” Fedorak says.

Glenn Quinn and Kelsey Danyluk, co-owners of Tzin Wine and Tapas (10115 104 St.), have seen how both ghost kitchens and the business model of third-party delivery have disrupted the restaurant industry, but have chosen to focus on providing customers with a unique dining experience.

“You can equate meal-delivery disruption in the restaurant industry to Amazon’s disruption of the retail industry. We want convenience. We want everything without having to go and get it,” Quinn says. “I would like the consumer to be aware of where the money actually goes.

If people can get the convenience of offerings from six different brands all from one [delivery] fee, then all of the sudden that makes their life much more convenient.

Marc Choy, president, Ghost Kitchens Canada

“[This is a] big disruptor to experience-driven restaurants who make their business on food, service and atmosphere,” Quinn continues. “I understand it because it makes sense to some people to save on brick and mortar and things like that, but how do you have one kitchen doing nine different types of food with any authenticity?”

Neighbourhood specters

For those who care about neighbourhood walkability and supporting local, ghost kitchens have raised eyebrows for other reasons. Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, questions the appropriateness of having ghost kitchens located on high streets such as Jasper Avenue.

“It’s important that we keep those spaces for their intended purpose, and that’s to front our walkable, inviting main streets,” he says. “Those retail bays and restaurant bays are meant to be people- forward [and] provide activation and add to the vibrancy of our streets.”

Because ghost kitchens can partake in a variety of activities, there is a range of use classes under zoning bylaws in which they might fit. Factors such as customer seating or whether the location is used for strictly food preparation all contribute to how a kitchen is classified.

“The city is currently reviewing the permitting and licensing for ‘ghost kitchens,’” said Karen Burgess, a communications advisor for the City of Edmonton, in a written statement. The statement explains that the kitchens are permitted and licensed on a case-by-case basis, depending on their location and on-site activities.

“It’s hard to say what their classification should be, and I think that’s where we wanted to make sure that there’s clarity, that there was an even playing field,” O’Donnell says, emphasizing that he believes the kitchens should follow the same regulations and requirements as anyone else would in the restaurant industry.

“We need to make sure that ghost kitchens, or whatever iterations there are of that world, have a proper classification, have proper zoning required, have areas that they are permitted and others that might be discretionary or not permitted.”

Ghost kitchens must meet all food safety regulations under the Public Health Act, says Alberta Health Services, and must be inspected and have a valid food handling permit.

Delivering the future?

With COVID-19, both third-party delivery apps and ghost kitchens seem here to stay as the restaurant industry innovates to survive. Even with his concerns, O’Donnell agrees that ghost kitchens may offer entrepreneurs a unique opportunity.

“Innovation in industry is great. It allows other businesses to shift and other ways for businesses to deliver offerings in new and innovative ways,” he says. Blue Plate Diner’s Williams agrees, especially as restaurants face COVID-19 and the impacts of the pandemic on their typical business model.

“These days, since the future is so uncertain, you need to be able to [pivot]. You have to be able to reinvent yourself, be flexible and change with the changing environment,” Williams says.

Greening your space, inside and out

Our guide to gardening in the core

Whether you’ve got a tiny yard, a balcony, or you’re a condo-dweller with no green space to call your own, anyone can have beautiful blooms and a delicious source of food right in their own kitchen. There are many reasons to make plants a permanent part of your life, no matter the season. Plants provide oxygen, beautify your space and reduce indoor air pollution by acting as mini green air purifiers. All you need is the right tools and a little know-how to get started.

Taking your houseplants from surviving to thriving

We all know one. Maybe you are one. The houseplant killers who bring home an armful of plants, keen to bring some green to their space, but despite their best efforts see their money and time wasted when their new babies inevitably shrivel up and die.

One thing you may not have considered? Light. The more light, the better. If you have south-facing windows, those are the absolute best spot for more houseplants. Putting your new plant babies there just might bring your killing streak to an end. West-facing spots are second-best. You can pretty much choose any plant you want for these locations.

“If you have lots of light, the world is your oyster,” says Miranda Ringma, co-owner of Zocalo, a nursery and florist in Little Italy. If you’re a fan of tropical or flowering plants, south-facing exposure is mandatory. Ditto for fans of cacti and succulents—while some of these plants can adapt to lower light conditions, they won’t thrive unless they get a lot of sun.

Low light will limit what you can grow successfully. Rooms that face due north receive the least amount of light and are best avoided unless you have no other options. Eastern exposure is better, as these spots catch the morning sun.

“If you look at the plants that grow in the mall, those are low-light plants,” Ringma says. “They’re not usually as sexy.” Nonetheless, she says there are still options for dim rooms. Bromeliads offer a great colour pop in low light, while spiky sansevieria and vining pothos provide interesting interior design opportunities.

Aside from proper light, house plants need water and fertilizer to thrive. Many people kill plants with kindness—too much water is often worse than not enough, as this causes the roots to rot and is almost always fatal. If your plant starts yellowing and dropping leaves, often that’s a sign of root rot. Let your plants dry out between watering—the top of the soil should feel dry to the touch. Just don’t let them get bone dry: if they start to wilt, they need water. In the summer, house plants usually need watering about once a week or more, depending on how hot and sunny it is. In the winter, plants can often go two or three weeks (or over a month for cacti and succulents) between watering.

Sun-loving houseplants: monstera3, ficus, succulents2, cacti1, any flowering plants

Shade-friendly houseplants: sansevieria (snake plant)4, peace lily, bromeliad, pothos5

Outdoor oasis: Plants on the balcony

You aren’t the only one who likes to enjoy the summer sun on a patio—your plants want a sunny holiday, too. Balconies are inevitably brighter than any room inside, even if you’re facing north or east, and even house plants love the opportunity to grow outdoors.

“Many houseplants are actually happy to photosynthesize outside with sunlight,” Ringma says. “Most plants will do quite well outside, except for the ones with big, sensitive leaves that are going to catch the wind.”

To get your houseplants used to the cooler night temperature and more intense sunlight, start by putting them outside for a couple hours on one day, then a couple more the day after that— ideally starting in a shady spot and then moving to full sun—and continue for at least a week, preferably two.

Another thing that does great on the balcony or in a small yard during the summer months is annual bedding plants. These beautiful blooms can add a pop of colour and cheerfulness to your space, and you can go as big or small as you’d like with your arrangements. Make sure you choose plants that are best-suited to the area’s light availability.

No matter what you choose, Ringma offers some simple advice. “I always tell people to try things and experiment. For any gardening, whether it’s inside or outside on a balcony, just try it. Do you like the idea of that thing being there? Then try it—it’s fun!”

Shade-friendly bedding plants: hostas², ferns, impatiens, ivy

Sun-loving bedding plants: everything else! geranium, marigold¹, zinnia³, petunia, begonia

Eat your greens: Growing your own veggies

You can grow plenty of vegetables in a small apartment or balcony. The easiest place to start is a container of sprouts on your kitchen counter—there are many types of sprout- growing containers you can purchase to grow your own alfalfa, radishes, lentils and other sprouts from seed. A sunny kitchen windowsill is also a great place for herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Herbs can be started from seed though this is a bit tricky; it’s easier to buy seedlings—nurseries will have these, but you can even find them in many grocery stores.

Balconies are also perfect spots to try your hand at growing some more substantial veggies that will make a tasty addition to your summer dinners. For beginners, a tomato plant can be a good place to start, especially if you have full southern exposure, but avoid those labelled “indeterminate” or “vining” as these tend to get too big for a container.

When choosing vegetables for containers, select smaller plants. Lettuce, spinach and any other type of salad greens do very well in containers and they don’t need as big a space. Root vegetables aren’t a great choice for containers as they need a deep space to grow, though radishes are small enough for container growing.

Unless you get a jump on the season by starting them indoors in early spring, it’s best to buy veggie seedlings. Choose a large pot—as big as your space will allow—and water them very frequently, whenever the soil becomes dry to the touch. If they are in a very hot and sunny south-facing spot, you may have to water container veggies every day (keep this in mind if you have any vacation plans).

No matter which direction your balcony faces, there are veggies that should work for your light. Take a look at the tag that comes with your plants, or the seed packet, to get an idea of what might work for you.

Sun-loving veggies: tomatoes, peppers (bell and hot), strawberries, herbs

Shade-friendly veggies: lettuce, spinach, green onions, chives

Community gardens

For those who want to dig in the dirt free from the constraints of containers and grow a larger crop of veggies, central Edmonton has several community gardens. To get involved, email the garden coordinator.

  • Oliver Peace Garden Park (10259 120 St.)
  • Urban Eden Community Garden (9836 Bellamy Hill Road)
  • Alex Decoteau Park Community Garden (10230 105 St.)
  • Central Community Garden (in front of the Prince of Wales Armouries)

For a map and contact information for all of Edmonton’s community gardens, visit Sustainable Food Edmonton