How To Act When You See Others Harassed

One day last summer, a woman racially harassed Tracy Hyatt (The Yards Contributing Editor) in downtown Edmonton. The woman, who Hyatt says was a total stranger, approached her and some of her friends who were standing near the Grandin LRT station. And then she called Hyatt a slur. Hyatt was the only African-Canadian person in the group, so it was clear the slur was lobbed at her. But nobody called the stranger on her actions.

“I was quite surprised that, following the Make Something Awkward campaign, not one person said anything,” Hyatt says. “There were at least 10 people in the vicinity that saw and heard this go down.” Since no one came to her defense, Hyatt stood up for herself and said something to her harasser, who she says then backed down.

Experts say there are right and wrong ways to deal with harassment. Doing nothing, though the easiest play, is never the best option.

Harassment is a singular word for a range of behaviours, from the obvious (a verbal slur or physical touch) to the subtle (a vaguely threatening note, consistent belittling from a colleague). It can follow you anywhere, from the sidewalk to the bus, to your workplace, and even home. And it can be defined as aggression, pressure or intimidation. Victims often feel like they can’t speak up or defend themselves. But just as there are different types of harassment, there are also different techniques to handle it.

Here’s a quick guide to what experts say are the best responses are to different types of harassment.

Verbal Harassment


If you witness someone being verbally harassed, direct intervention is just one of the actions you can take, says Mary Jane James, executive director of Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). Saying something along the lines of, ‘Hey, that’s not cool. That’s not okay, please stop,’ can work, she says. Other techniques include engaging with the person being harassed to de-escalate the situation, or asking someone else to help you intervene. It’s also important to report the behaviour to a bus driver, security guard or other authority figure where the harassment is taking place. And it’s vital you document what you witnessed, James says, and check in with the victim. “After the fact, it can be helpful to simply ask the person if they are okay, if there is anything that you can do.”

Workplace Harassment


As the fallout of #MeToo illustrates, harassment often takes place among colleagues in a workplace environment. But people don’t always recognize negative behaviours like bullying, name-calling, belittling or intimidation, as harassment. It’s also something that can be challenging to speak up about, particularly if the behaviour is coming from someone in a senior position to the victim. In situations where someone is bullying a co-worker, having co-workers on your side can make a big difference. But both victims and bystanders often choose not to speak up for a number of reasons. “Self-preservation, not wanting to be seen as a troublemaker, fear of losing their job, fear of being ostracized by other employees, fear of losing friends, fear of not being considered for a promotion … the list is endless,” James says.

If you are the one being harassed, naming the behaviour is a good first step, James says. “Say what he’s done and be specific. Hold the person accountable for his actions,” she says. “Don’t make excuses. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Ask that the behaviour stop. One should also seriously consider filing of an internal complaint within their organization. Documenting the harassment is important.”

Physical Harassment


The harassment that’s easiest to recognize is physical harassment. If you or someone near you is in physical danger from a harasser who appears to be violent there are ways to handle the situation without escalating things. One simple step is to create distance between yourself and the harasser, says Randy King, owner of KPR Combat, a gym in Oliver that offers self-defense classes. “Don’t be there. If someone is harassing you and you can leave, then do that,” he says. There are also ways you can build self-confidence and physical skills to prepare for dealing with a potentially violent situation. KPR offers Self-Defense 101, a crash course for those with little to no martial-arts experience. The gym also has a more advanced course, which offers a look at the psychological aspects of self-defense, as well as more physical scenarios.

King says people who come to KPR for self-defense training sometimes share “very personal stories” about their experiences with violence. He believes self-defense training can give individuals the confidence they need to deal with harassment, even though they will hopefully never have to use the skills they have learned. “Self-defense training is a lot like a spare tire: You may never need it but if you need it and don’t have it, you are in trouble,” he says.

Sexual Harassment


Strangers, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, partners – basically anyone can sexually harass someone else. This makes sexual harassment one of the more pervasive types that both men and women face. The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton is a not-for-profit organization that provides trauma-informed services and support to victims of all genders over the age of three. In 2017, they received more than 3,500 calls to their 24-hour hotline, and they had about 1,000 new clients who access counselling services. Approximately 80 per cent of their clients are female.

Like workplace harassment, documentation is an important step to take if you are being sexually harassed or witness someone else experiencing it, James says. Whether you report the harassment to SACE or the police, having a paper trail can prove valuable if the problem persists. Having someone to talk to is also an essential part of accepting what happened and moving on from it.

Preventative Measures


Whether or not they have experienced harassment themselves, men play an important role in preventing it. That’s why SACE began offering an extensive program to several junior and senior high schools in areas that are more vulnerable and “at risk” about a year ago, James says. “Part of the program is teaching and mentoring these boys to be leaders, to be actively involved in the mentoring and education of their peers on issues of consent, healthy relationships.”

There are currently more than 100 boys involved in the program across the city, and James says she hopes SACE will receive the funding to continue the program in years to come.

Of course, men of all ages can contribute to a positive environment where no one feels harassed. Education often plays a role in diffusing situations where harassment can easily come into play, such as someone’s work environment – especially in male-dominated industries where women may feel more pressure not to speak up. In addition to other programming, SACE offers a comprehensive professional public education program on sexual harassment in the workplace, something many businesses in the city have participated in.

There isn’t a one-size fits all solution to dealing with harassment. That’s mainly because harassment can take place in many forms, in many different areas of someone’s life. The main thing to remember is to take action.

Preventing harassment means challenging the social and cultural attitudes that condone and facilitate it. Everyone has to take a stand, James says. “Calling people out on their behaviour is the first step to eliminating the pervasiveness of this issue.”

Best in the Core

May we have the envelope, please? This is our third birthday, and our third time trying to define what makes Edmonton’s core sweet. As always the hardest part is eliminating great stuff that doesn’t fit.

Many of us love the bizarre, aquamarine pedway linking the legislature to Grandin LRT station, for example. Or that snake and woman airbrushed on the fence at 102 Avenue and 117 Street. But are these familiar, lovable oddities really the best of what the core has to offer?

To get to the best, we asked writers and residents to argue out their favourites. And we pushed whacky new categories at them, too. The Best WTF? to celebrate the strange. The Best Growth From Stall to Shop to celebrate businesses emerging from farmers’ markets and food trucks. And beyond that, we zeroed in on four core characters who made the core a better place in 2017. So let’s tear open those envelopes. Please.

Best Spaces


WINNER: Compound House in Oliver

Oliver’s Compound House (and we’re giving it this name) is a big WTF. Stretching an entire neighbourhood block, the house is what looks like should be trendy, expensive lofts, but the building is rumoured to be owned by just one reclusive person. The urban tales are rife as a result. One (con rmed) rumour has it that this massive compound used to be the Beth Israel Synagogue. Well, they moved out 18 years ago. 10205 119 Street.

RUNNER UP: Freemasons’ Hall

Don’t lie: Every time you walk by this gothic temple you wonder about the secret club inside. The Central Masonic Temple was built in 1930 and it’s still a gathering spot for Edmonton’s oldest fraternity. 10318 100 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Shaw Conference Centre Funicular

Looking for a cheap thrill on a Sunday? This indoor funicular (think elevator on a hill) gives an excellent view of the river valley and costs nothing for a ride down to the river bank. 9797 Jasper Avenue. – BN

Best Urban Jumble

WINNER: Serenity

Serenity is density done well for Edmonton.
At 12 storeys, its human scale makes good use of a prominent Jasper Avenue corner. Residents get a high-rise feeling connected to Oliver while below pedestrians get an inviting facade and accent materials — and retail tenants at street level. Those disliking towers or fearing infill should look here for a good example of things done well. 10055 118 Street.

RUNNER UP: Mayfair

This sleek mixed-use building, completed in 2016 and inspired by active design principles, is setting a new bar for mid-rise rental downtown. The key to its goodness is Mayfair’s multiple uses. 10823 Jasper Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Central Court

This is a modest, older, affordable six-storey rental building that re ects — and adds to — its ‘hood. Steps from the 102 Avenue bike lane, retail is in the podium and amenities are a short walk away. 11212 102 Avenue. – DR

Best Place to Run Away

WINNER: Victoria Park

Be Alice and dive down the looking glass behind Le Marchand Mansion (100 Avenue at 116 Street), where a staircase leads to a magical trail. Whether you crave a peaceful walk or some seasonal Saskatoon berries to pick, escape is on offer here, as is access to Victoria Park, Ezio Faraone Park and Hawrelak Park. A great view to seek out is in Ezio Faraone Park, looking south, where you get the best glimpse of the High Level Bridge anywhere. 11523 100 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Grant Notley Park

No stairs? No problem. This small park (named after a former MLA who fathered our current premier, Rachel Notley) offers a welcoming place to sit and take in the picturesque view of the river valley. In the summer, you can also feast on a food-truck lunch here. 116 Street and 100 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Oliver Peace Garden Park

One of the best seedy nds on a neighbourhood stroll is this serene community garden. The inspirational space tended to by its users will have you wondering why there aren’t more gardens in the core. 10289 120 Street. – CS

Best Not-A-Main Street

WINNER: 104 Street

Edmonton has about nine designated main streets, but its best core streets are often smaller scale. The 4th Street Promenade, as few actually call it, links back to the city’s mercantile history in the early 1900s. On 104, you can spot the best and worst of Edmonton — from oversized parkades and for-lease signs to bustling subway entrances, a neon sign museum, a warehouse full of startup companies (and hipster haircuts) and a farmers’ market many cities would kill for.

RUNNER UP: 108 Street

Talk about waiting: Back in 1997, the city designated 108 Street as central to downtown revitalization. Construction began in 2011 and new street art arrived this year. The potential is still bigger than the result, of course, but the funky El Mirador apartments, food trucks, Federal Plaza fountains, Monument coffee shop, LRT access and pedestrian-first design make this a winner in, well, waiting.

RUNNER UP: 121 Street

This one is all about the experience — a street graced with the remaining treed-boulevard left behind by the former street trolley. The coming Oliver Mercantile Exchange, revamped Paul Kane Park and connections to the river valley and Brewery District make 121 an increasingly important street to walk. – TQ

Best in Business

Best It’s-A-Secret

WINNER: Grandma Pizza

Jakub and Jolanta Kulig moved to Edmonton from Greece 25 years ago and opened Grandma Pizza in the bottom of a residential tower. A few years ago, when the City of Edmonton came knocking and threatened closure, due to zoning regulations, neighbours rallied to keep the couple’s little pizzeria open. Customers love the family, the pizza and the location, which is a short walk from much of Grandin. 9837 113 Street.

RUNNER UP: Can Man Convenience

Looking for a quick light bowl of refreshing vermicelli for lunch? Or perhaps something a little toastier, like, say, bahn mi? Get it here for less than $10. And fast. 10240 124 Street.

RUNNER UP: Habitat Etc

Perfect for a little pick-me-up or a gift in a pinch, this artisanal YEG-centric gift shop is sure to have that something you’re looking for. 10187 104 Street. – BN

Best Growth from Stall to Shop

WINNER: Prairie Noodle

In 2014, five partners started perfecting ramen mixed with Alberta flavours in a series of pop-up restaurants. After a year of feedback they settled on the menu and a permanent location, and opened their doors. The space is intimate. You’re sure to interact with other patrons and at least three staff, most likely to discuss the remarkable ramen bowls — an ambiance those five partners worked to create. 10350 124 Street.


Macarons, meringues and other treats await you at this delightful, intimate retreat. Master pastry chef Arnaud Valade fills the place with baked goodness. Valade got his Edmonton start at our farmers’ markets, including City Market Downtown. 10038 116 Street.

RUNNER UP: Woodwork

One-of-a-kind libations like the House Sour and a menu of succulent eats (Brassica Salad, anyone?), mean nothing beats this intimate lounge — which got its start as the Nomad food truck. 10132 100 Street. – CS

Best in Threads

WINNER: Arturo Denim

This small but mighty team is slowly revitalizing Edmonton’s strong roots in denim manufacturing, which stretch back more than 100 years. Specializing in the best damn quality denim Japan has to offer, Arturo jeans are made to last. And they’ll repair ‘em like new if you damage them. 10443 124 Street.

RUNNER UP: Alberta Tailoring Company

With staff here paying special attention to how each garment should wear you’re sure to find the best fit. 10025 Jasper Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Swish Vintage

A time-capsule treasure, this hole in the wall holds some of the best memories in fashion from around Edmonton. 10180 101 Street. – BN

Best Regular Haunt

WINNER: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Regulars quickly get to know every inch of this intimate, seven-table space. Chef Corey McGuire’s crispy pork crostini, with maple balsamic apple compote and apple mayonnaise — called, simply, “Bacon” — is one of the best pork dishes in the city, period. The Patatas Bravas — fried potatoes with “angry” aioli — is also a favourite. Tip: Hit Tzin and say “Feed me!” The staff will understand. 10115 104 Street.


This dimly-lit, subterranean, neighbourhood gastro pub is known for its friendly service, tasty food and its Cheers-like re-creation of that downtown place where everybody knows your name. 10534 Jasper Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Remedy Café 124

There are many Remedy Cafés in Edmonton, where the original recipe chai and Indian fusion wraps delight patrons. But the warmest staff (and spot with the best patio) are in Oliver. 10310 124 Street. – LH

Best Mouth Burner

WINNER: Viphalay

“Mom,” as Vipha Mounma is called at Viphalay, uses chilies for almost every dish in her Thai cuisine. To heat up, spice addicts should try the Gaeng Ped (red curry with chicken or beef) or the Nua Na Lok (also known as Hell’s Beef). Water will not cool this burn. 10523 99 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Khazana

Almost everything at Khazana is concocted with bold and aromatic spices — but you’ll truly meet the four-alarm heat within an order of hot beef vindaloo curry. 10177 107 Street.

RUNNER UP: Noodle Bar by Nomiya

Those in search of hot stuff should slurp up some spicy miso ramen noodle soup at Noodle Bar by Nomiya. This miso is a flavourful kick to the traditional miso (soybean and pork broth) bowl for heat seekers. 11238 104 Avenue. – LH

Best Community


Best Fam Jam

WINNER: Festival of Trees

Glitter glee galore. For more than 30 years, the Festival of Trees has started the holiday season with whimsy. It raises money for a good cause, but mostly the festival raises everyone’s warmth, with a stand of Christmas trees and scenes, and of course, the endless decorated cakes, ginger-bread structures and kids activities.

RUNNER UP: Cariwest

It’s Carnival but in Edmonton, and Cariwest has brought the vibrant sounds and colourful costumes of the Caribbean community to our city for 30 years. The parade is off the hook.

RUNNER UP: All is Bright

This festival is lit. Residents of the core love to keep the winter streets filled with life. All is bright lights up the night and warms up 124 Street with family- friendly activities, music and food.

Best Parks and Rec

WINNER: Oliver Community Pool

Admission was free this past summer (thanks, Canada 150), so many jumped in at one of the area’s best kept secrets. The facility, opened in 1924, is clean, and its excellent lifeguarding make it ideal for a family outing. But many others love it, too — from Capital City Athletics, which uses the pool for post-workout cool-downs, and even area dogs, who jump in at season’s end. 10315 119 Street.


A staple of the downtown community since 1908, though in its current building since 2007, “the Y” offers free swims for DECL members on Sundays, 1pm-6:45pm. 10211 102 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Alex Decoteau Park

The off-leash dog run at Alex Decoteau Park, named after an Indigenous war and local hero from Edmonton, is perfect to help furry area residents get needed exercise. 10200 105 Street. – MHC

Best Art to the People

WINNER: Harcourt House

Harcourt is one of only three artist-run public galleries in Edmonton and offers some of its best contemporary-art exhibits. It also offers classes and workshops, where instructors can help you tap your creative side. The community of artists are friendly and welcoming to all. 10215 112 Street.

RUNNER UP: iHuman Youth Society

Little wonder some of Edmonton’s most promising art talent is coming out of a place devoted to using art to build up youth. 9635 102A Avenue.


This non-profit printmaking powerhouse offers courses and exhibitions for a wide array of people, ranging from professional artists to at-risk youth. The parties are also great. 10123 121 Street. – MHC

Best Way to Move

WINNER: Downtown bike network

Now every day is your leg day, or just a great day. Stopping at Bodega Tapas & Wine Bar (103 Street/102 Avenue) for an after-work drink is now as easy as removing your helmet. The city imagined these lanes a decade ago, but heroes within and without (Stantec) pushed the 7.8-kilometre grid into reality. To be clear, that current grid is puny compared to the 500 kilometres imagined in 2009. Still, the future promises more lanes, when the Valley Line LRT is finished, and a connection to the river valley, via the Mechanized Access.

RUNNER UP: Railtown Park

A lush corridor haven that gives you urban nature atop your feet or a bike. People are always here walking dogs, commuting or lounging. Use this to link MacEwan University’s new Allard Hall to the legislature.

RUNNER UP: Pogo CarShare

Instead of walking (a long distance) to a transit stop, and then … waiting … we can now hike our neighbourhood, find a Pogo, drive it downtown, park for free and walk to whatever festival we desire. Same exercise without the same loss of time. – CS

Core Compentencies


Riza Kasikcioglu

In January, Riza Kasikcioglu saw fire and ran toward it. It was evening and Kasikcioglu was working at Maximo’s Pizza & Donair, on Jasper Avenue and 117 Street, which he co-owns with his wife, Yeter. Suddenly, he saw the orange flames spill out of an upper-floor apartment in the 17-storey Oliver Place building across the street. He called 911. And then 47-year-old Kasikcioglu, who was in the military in Turkey, where he immigrated to Canada from, ran across Jasper Avenue, bounded up Oliver Place’s stairs and screamed at residents inside to get out.


Kasikcioglu says he knew he could lose his own life but believed in that moment the lives of others were more important. “Everywhere, I was hearing children screaming for help,” he says. “As a Muslim, I can’t allow any children or innocents to lose their life.” Eventually he came across a woman in a wheelchair who was trapped because the elevators were not running. He carried her down the stairs on his back.

Kasikcioglu says he’s heartbroken one person died that night. But without his quick response, many others would have remained in harm’s way. Today, you can still find Kasikcioglu at his Oliver pizza shop, welcoming his regulars warmly.

Annaliza Toledo

Walking through downtown Edmonton is brighter, thanks to Annaliza Toledo. Walls formerly bare, dirty or depressing are now alive with colour. The reason is that Toledo, along with her partner, Trevor Peters, created a festival to liven up the grey. Toledo and Peters are both artists, and in 2016 created the Rust Magic Festival to make our daily walks a little more Instagram-worthy.

Rust Magic brings graffiti and mural artists from around the world to Edmonton each summer. Once here, these artists paint spaces in highly walkable neighbourhoods – Oliver, downtown, Strathcona. All told, since 2016, Rust Magic has added 35 new works of street.

Toledo says the results are obvious. “It adds so much to everyone’s day to have something beautiful appear in front of you, large-scale, on your walk to work or your walk home,” she says. “Something like that makes such a difference in people’s lives. You are a product of your environment, so why not surround yourself with beautiful, artistic things?”

Next summer, keep your eyes peeled for more from Rust Magic. “I think we’ll do more quality murals and not concentrate on the number of the murals,” Toledo says. “We hope people will appreciate it like they have in the past.”

Olga Messinis

The next time you ride your bicycle downtown, send Olga Messinis a silent thank you. Messinis is the project manager behind the downtown bike network and has worked to make the 7.8-kilometre system a reality since August, 2016. Behind the scenes, in boardrooms, Messinis has fought the hard fight.

The lanes, opened this past summer, help improve equity on the road among Edmontonians, Messinis says. They will also improve quality of life for residents in downtown and Oliver – neighbourhoods where many already commute by bike.

And, Messinis says, the lanes incentivize change. Having them “encourages people who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and make healthier choices,” Messinis says. “Some people who have never chosen to commute by bike tell us that they are commuting by bike for the first time. One commuter, in her early 70s — a really well-dressed woman on a bicycle — told me that she loved them and this is the first time she ever thought she could ride a bike within downtown. That was a great feeling.”

Messinis bikes to her downtown office from across the river in Strathcona. If you see her out there, maybe don’t be so silent. Ding your bell in thanks.

Jordan Reiniger

Jordan Reiniger is helping people at the margins by changing the job market in their favour.

Many pushed to the streets in Edmonton’s downtown core are rejected by traditional employers. That’s where Reiniger comes in. He’s the director of development at Boyle Street Community Services. And over the last two-and-a-half years, he’s created social enterprise programs to create jobs.

Through Boyle Street Community Ventures, Reiniger has founded several companies, including a moving company, a cleaning company and a junk removal company. All told, these outfits employ about 25 people. The best part is that downtown and Oliver residents support the companies, with many calling on the moving company in particular. “It’s a really good service and a good way for people to participate in social change,” Reiniger says. “They’re spending money on something they would have spent money on anyways, but they are choosing to do so in a socially conscious way. There is a sense of community and the sense that we are in this together.”

Reiniger’s next step? Four Directions Financial, a community bank where people are not turned away from opening an account due to a lack of I.D., the most common barrier for people at the margins.

Best in the Core Awards by: Sydnee Bryant, Mary-Helen Clark, Linda Hoang, Brittany Nugent, Tim Querengesser, Dan Rose and Chris Sikkenga

The Line

“Hey John.”

“How are you, brother?” John Roberts replies, to each of the many men who greet him along the line.

Roberts is 50 and spends much of his time spreading needed kindness at the Boyle Street Co-Op. Today, he’s outside, walking along what he calls his community’s main street. To anyone not from Roberts’ side of downtown, this is an alley you dare not walk. But to hundreds of others, this line is their Jasper Avenue or 124 Street. Along this line are daily stops for many in the community: Boyle Street, Quasar Bottle Depot, Bissell Centre, and several other services to the east of the core. It’s also the place to connect, say hi, have a laugh.

The line extends 105 Avenue eastward, in the form of a multi-use pathway from where the paved avenue essentially ends, at 101 Street, to where it resumes again at 96 Street. And back here, life is bustling. Several men huddle near vents that blow heat from within the Epcor building’s massive parkade. Nearby, a few couples tend to waist-high piles of belongings and supplies outside their tents. The view is standard downtown Edmonton but with bleak additions. To the south are downtown’s glittering towers, but there’s also a deep, open pit behind the CN Tower. Nearby is a cold, doorless, north-facing back wall at the new Royal Alberta Museum.

Also here is what Roberts describes as a message that’s wrought in steel. It’s a multi-layer wall of chain-link fencing topped with barbed wire, and it stretches six blocks, often on two sides. Here, where the train tracks once split the city, colder, sharper steel now divides.

Roberts says the line is a recent demarcation between the street community he’s come to call his own and the people who are coming — developers and gentrifiers, working to take this space and make it palatable, unthreatening and commercial.

The line is invisible from downtown, but it’s all you see, walking along this community’s main street. “It looks like a prison back here,” Roberts says.

“From a business point of view it’s a gouging to push those people out. We have to admit and there’s no hiding it: Poor people do not bring much to a city. There’s places in the ‘States where they forbid helping homeless people. But hopefully we don’t ever lose our willingness to help others out. Once you put a culture like that with a culture like the one at Boyle Street, it doesn’t look good. And it doesn’t look good for us at all. It’s got a prison like effect. We’re a province that’s supposed to be rich. But we don’t look after our own very well. This shouldn’t be happening.”

“You can get a fine for leaving your dog in the car. But to line up 250 men while it’s blowing at their ears at 35 below, it seems people think, ‘Let’s just push that aside — let’s just build some fences around so those people don’t get in. Let’s put up cameras so others don’t have to see it.’ You have to look at it from the people who are investing in their business. People are protecting their investments. But they set themselves up, in my view, by putting a culture into something that doesn’t work with it.”

“Things here have changed drastically for us. The result [of new developments downtown backing onto Boyle Street] is the police are picking out my Aboriginal friends because they drink and they have problems. They’re carding them, asking them questions, harassing them. If they carry a backpack they want to see in the backpack. They have no reason or rhyme. It’s just another way to make their life miserable so they’ll hopefully move away. I used to cast these people off — ‘You can do something with your life.’ But when you get educated about the Native people and the schools we ran, we created a tidal wave impact into the culture.”

The Legend of the Lane

In 1990, a group calling itself simply ‘The Road Doctors’ painted Edmonton’s first guerrilla bike lane. Soon after, the city removed this lane and repainted it, creating the first ever official, on-road bike lane in Edmonton. To this day, nobody knows exactly who The Road Doctors actually were. But 27 years after the fact, one is breaking his silence.

Back in 1990, David Boroditsky—who’s now a business owner—was an avid environmentalist and active in Edmonton’s cycling community. As Boroditsky tells it, some “enterprising” city bylaw officers had been giving students tickets that summer for riding the wrong way down 88 Avenue (between 109 Street and the University of Alberta, 88 Avenue is an eastbound one-way). The tickets irked a lot of people. “It seemed like monetary injustice, preying on poor, defenceless university students, and the road was amply wide to enable cars, parking and bikes,” he says.

So he and two friends decided to act. “With paint rollers, duct tape and hockey sticks—and we had some stencils for ‘bike lane’ and ‘bikes not cars’—we took a trip down there on a Saturday night,” Boroditsky says.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of people out that night, so the trio hit—what else?—a frat party, where they drank beer and recruited a fourth member. Then, later that night, “we went back and laid down a line,” he says.

Later, Boroditsky anonymously wrote a press release from The Road Doctors about the lane. “We apologise (sic) for the wigglyness of the line,” it read, “but owing to our budget of $7.42, we were unable to employ state of the art straight line application technology.”

Boroditsky also gave a local radio station an anonymous interview, from a phone booth.

And then, magic. “There was a nasty editorial in The Sun, an article in The Journal and the city scraped the paint off, and threatened us with an $800 cleaning bill,” Boroditsky says. “But then they came back a few days after and actually put in a proper bike lane.”

The Yimby Hero

MICHAEL PHAIR PULLED ON THE BUILDING’S ugly tin cladding and saw red brick underneath. This building was worth saving. “No one knew — including me — that it had any architectural value at all, until a couple of people working there dragged me over,” Phair says.
“I pulled back a little bit and I was like, ‘Oh my God, look at that — that’s brick.’”

It was 1999. Phair was peering at bricks of the Phillips Building, on 104 Street in downtown Edmonton. Midco Equities Ltd., owned by Bill Comrie of The Brick, had purchased the building and adjacent parking lot in 1981. It first wanted to erect a 25-storey of office tower, but the economic crash of the early ’80s erased those plans. By the mid-’90s, Midco next wanted to demolish Phillips Building and replace it with a surface parking lot.

Local residents wanted the building to remain. So they contacted Phair, who was a city councillor at the time, and asked for his help to save it. And he did. Preventing developers from demolishing the Phillips Building became one of Phair’s first major YIMBY wins. He’s had dozens more since.

What’s YIMBY? The acronym stands for ‘Yes in My Backyard’ and it’s the opposite of the far more well known NIMBY (Not in My Backyard). Proponents of YIMBY actively seek to obtain or keep things in their neighbourhoods instead of trying to keep them out. From tangible YIMBY successes like the Icon and Fox tower developments on 104 Street, to the new downtown bike grid, to less obvious achievements like establishing the AIDS Network of Edmonton, Phair has made a career out of saying ‘Yes.’

One cheery July afternoon, Phair sat in his eponymous park on 104 Street to reflect on what the street was like before he and other YIMBYs got involved — and how people who want to become YIMBYs can learn from his approach.

“Most people forget that this was all empty here,” he says, gesturing at the high rises surrounding us. “There were no buildings here at all, except on the corner.” That corner, on Jasper Avenue, was occupied by the ruin of the Cecil Hotel. Running north from the Cecil were empty lots, derelict properties and a few historic structures, such as the Birks, Metals, Phillips and Great West Saddlery buildings. Some had businesses but many were empty or partially vacant.

Saving the Phillips Building — Worthington Properties bought it in 2000 and converted it into loft apartments — was an early victory for 104 Street and also Edmonton in a broader sense. It marked a slow shift in local thinking and proved that a small group of dedicated citizens could shape the future of their neighbourhood.

After the Phillips Lofts were completed, in 2002, developers next proposed several high rise towers on 104 Street — the Century first, then the Icon towers, and later the Fox towers. But the original plans for these towers looked a lot different than what developers eventually built. That’s thanks, again, to the YIMBYs.

“There were a number of people living in the area who met with me and formed a kind of coalition group to push the city and developers that high rises were fie, but we don’t want ugly buildings — this is a historical area,” Phair says. “And, we don’t want this parking that you see everywhere. And we want podiums — which was not in the plans.”

But Phair knew fighting for improvements on individual projects was always going to be a losing battle. The key was zoning. Phair recognized changes were needed to prevent developers from proposing to build whatever they wanted on 104 Street. “The importance of the zoning, in the end, is probably what ensures that you are getting kind of what you’d hoped and wanted,” he says. Eventually, Phair and others got city council to change 104 Street’s zoning, in 2004.

But because council makes zoning decisions, Phair says, YIMBY groups seeking influence over what needs to be added to development proposals will need to make their case before that body. “It’s important that you have connections with the local councillors or MLAs, depending what the situation is, so they know what’s happening,” he says. “Even if they don’t agree or don’t push for anything, it’s always better if they know – but hopefully you can make allies out of them. Many members of council — hate to be blindsided. I’ve been that way a little bit, too.”

To become an effective YIMBY, then, Phair says you’ll need to get in touch with city administration to discuss zoning options in your neighbourhood, inform your local councillor and then meet with developers, property owners and other stakeholders about any proposed development. Developers usually aren’t keen to make changes to their plans, Phair says, especially ones that cost more money. This is why he says it’s critical to gain allies with positive voices — you can always find someone to oppose something, and often that negative voice is the loudest.

Phair says compromise is also key.
The zoning changes council made on 104 Street — which requires towers to have podiums for retail and commercial space, design elements reflecting the area’s historic nature, and parking set backs — doesn’t have everything residents asked for, Phair says, but it was a good compromise. “Quite frankly, 104 Street would not be what it is today if that hadn’t happened,” he says. “It made just this huge difference.” But sometimes YIMBY voices can’t make compromise actually happen. Chris vander Hoek, a former board member of the Oliver Community League (OCL) and intern architect with NEXT Architecture, says the Brewery District, in Oliver, is a good example of that. Vander Hoek was on the OCL board in 2013 when First Capital Realty and Sun Life Investment presented its initial proposal for the site. He says he remembers feeling alarmed when he saw it.

“Everything was internally oriented around the parking lot,” vander Hoek says. In response, the OCL worked to amplify the community voice. It hosted open houses and charrette sessions so residents could provide feedback to the developer. Initially the tone was optimistic, vander Hoek recalls, but that changed after the OCL met with the developers. “It became evident that they weren’t interested in compromising at all,” he says. “Their whole attitude was simply, ‘Let’s just build it now. Let’s build this hybrid suburban model and then when the LRT comes and when it becomes more urban, then we’ll just knock it down and build a new version that’s more urban.’”

Today, vander Hoek says Brewery District is not a walkable space, as Oliver asked it to be, because nobody likes walking across parking lots or among blank façades, “We saw that in the plans early on,” he says. But the YIMBY voice could not change it.

It should go without saying, then, that effective YIMBY campaigns require patience — often, a lot of it. Phair says Edmonton’s bike lanes are a perfect example of a project that required not just compromise and political support, but also heaps of patience.

“I live on 102 Avenue and we’ve been wanting a bike lane and arguing and yelling at the city for years to get that,” he says.

Phair chaired a working group on the downtown bike lane project that the OCL established five years ago. Things got bogged down due to the costs involved, and then delayed by the 2013 civic election. Phair remembers endless meetings with city administration trying to push them to take action, to no avail.

Meanwhile, though, the number of people working on bike lanes continued to grow. Paths for People, a nonprofit advocating for better cycling and walking infrastructure in Edmonton, formed in 2015; Phair is on the board.

The process seemed permanently stalled, Phair remembers, until a couple things happened. First, almost all of the senior management team at the city’s transportation department either retired or was let go. Second, Stantec offered to cover half the cost to trial downtown bike lanes.

“All of a sudden, very positively, it’s all happening,” Phair says. “We are busy now putting together some information for candidates running for city council and for the school board members, because there needs to be some work done on schools, encouraging bikes.”

The thing about YIMBY projects is that they can be about more than just buildings and bike lanes. They can be about building community supports for things that some in the community may even be fearful of. Phair has done that YIMBY work, too. In the early 1980s, he helped establish the first version of the Edmonton Pride Parade, as well as the AIDS Network of Edmonton (later renamed HIV Edmonton).

When the AIDS crisis hit Edmonton—the first case was identified on July 1, 1984 — no one was working on the issue locally. Phair formed the AIDS Network in response. The group worked out of his house at first, because no one would rent them office space. At the time, sexual orientation wasn’t protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

“There was a great deal of hatred —‘You deserve it; this is God’s scourge’ — every Bible verse that you could use, twisted,” Phair remembers. “We called ourselves the AIDS Network. We chose that name because we were clear that it needed to be more than just members of the gay and lesbian community. There needed to be other players. I think that was critical, knowing that in order to get what you want, and when you’re dealing with a situation that’s negative or difficult, is you look for others that need to be part of it.”

Some of those other players included local unions and churches, who were friendly to the cause, as well as contacts with the police and media. Savviness with media is critical to YIMBY, Phair says, especially when the issue at stake is contentious.

“Any major story about AIDS, we always got called for the local angle, and learned that you need to respond,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to put forward what we would think as the best foot, to put forward how we saw it and what we were doing — which then got through the media, got out that there were local people that had AIDS, there were local groups that were working on it to try to do things. We tried to sound reasonable.”

Sandeep Agrawal sees the YIMBY and NIMBY conversations through a planning lens. Agrawal is a professor and inaugural director at the University of Alberta’s Urban and Regional Planning Programs, where he focuses on the inclusion of human rights in urban planning. He is pushing Edmonton planners to look not only at planning legislation, bylaws and policy, but also to consider the Charter and human rights legislation, when dealing with NIMBY/YIMBY issues, like safe injection sites, supportive housing and potentially even adults-only buildings.

“Eventually, something that’s intangible becomes quite tangible in the form of use of land and a building and such — and then it becomes a planning issue,” Agrawal says. “Frankly, so far planners have yet to understand how these things affect their thinking, their practice and obviously their policies.”

The University of Alberta doesn’t have a course on NIMBYism specifically, but Agrawal teaches a course on land-use planning and policy that discusses it. “Land-use planning is all about uses of land and zoning, and when it comes to any kind of development, you have to deal with NIMBYism,” he says.

Awareness and education are ultimately what overcome NIMBYism, Agrawal says, since it’s often a knee-jerk, emotional reaction to change. Once people become aware of an issue and are exposed to it, more people come to accept it. Consider how absurd it seems today that someone could be denied office space based on their sexual orientation. This will undoubtedly hold true for everything from safe injection sites to bike lanes – it just might take a while.

Phair agrees. “I think in another eight or nine years, having bike routes will be so commonplace that they’ll just automatically happen, but it’s still going to take that time,” he says. Until your YIMBY victory has become permanent, he says, you just have to keep working on shifting the narrative.

“I can’t tell you how important I think it is to find some either positive voices or at least positive compromising voices,” he says. “As opposed to those that just don’t want it, period – and let them run the show and be seen as what everybody thinks and wants.

“Easier said than done,” he adds, with a laugh. “I wish it was that simple.”



SOCIAL MEDIA AND PRINT MEDIA: Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can help you nd and connect with people interested in working together, as well as to make you aware of what others are working on already. Consider physical newsletters, posters on bulletin boards in local businesses and ads in community newsletters, and local newspapers to reach community members who aren’t online.

CROWDFUNDING SITES: Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites can help grassroots organizations and startup dollars and help cover costs associated with public outreach and consultation.

CITY OF EDMONTON ZONING RESOURCES: There are zoning resources and information on the City of Edmonton website. Contact the planner who works on your area of the city for detailed information.

EDMONTON FEDERATION OF COMMUNITY LEAGUES: The EFCL can put you in touch with local community leagues and other associations and organizations who may be interested in working on YIMBY projects in their area. The EFCL also hosts seminars and work- shops on community issues.


YIMBY asks for DECL and OCL

MORE DENSITY DONE RIGHT: The design of developments is more important than just density or height. Still, increased density can bring more people to live downtown, and more amenities, which will make the area more sustainable in the long-term.

BIKE LANES: If built correctly, bike lanes can benefit all people. It’s all about offering more mobility options to engage a younger population who doesn’t want to own vehicles, and this can be augmented by car-share and ride-share.

MORE GREEN SPACE, LESS PARKING: Surface parking lots don’t make for the vibrant downtown we want. Some empty lots should be reserved for open green space and parks. Parks are people’s living rooms when they don’t have their own yard.

BETTER STREETSCAPING: Well-considered streetscaping is critical to the success of downtown for people as well as local pedestrian-oriented businesses.

REC AND COMMUNITY FACILITIES: Oliver has the population of a small town, yet many don’t drive, so we need recreation facilities close by. The Stanley Milner library in central downtown is out of reach for many Oliver residents, as are downtown rec facilities like the Don Wheaton YMCA.

SUPPORTIVE, AFFORDABLE AND FAMILY HOUSING: Oliver needs greater housing diversity to support inclusive, long-term human investment through socially responsible development.

FAMILY INFRASTRUCTURE: The downtown core lacks physical supports as well as services for families, like all-ages buildings, appropriate recreation facilities, affordable child care and even public washrooms.

Knock-On Effect

Coun. Andrew Knack is at a grey bungalow in Crestwood saying nothing much at all. Knack is campaigning for re-election in Ward 1 but tonight, the older female homeowner he has summoned with his knock to her door is not a supporter. Knack stands wordlessly absorbing views on subsidized housing (does not belong in Crestwood, she says) and property taxes (too high, she says) while, nearby, three boys play catch beside a white BMW. Crestwood’s average household income is $165,668, or nearly double Edmonton’s average, and it will be a central door-knocking target for Ward 1 candidates. Finally, after 15 minutes, Knack bids the woman goodnight. “I kind of make a terrible politician because I listen, even if I know, like her, they aren’t going to vote for me”, he says, once at the sidewalk.

Knocking on doors can win an election. In 2016, an unpopular Ted Cruz beat a popular Donald Trump in the Iowa Republican Party leadership primaries by hitting more front doors. For municipal politicians, who lack the political parties that help voters navigate toward or away from candidates and platforms, door-knocking is doubly-important. Fittingly, Knack is door-knocking tonight primarily to re-win his seat. It is serious business. As we walk, Knack opens Canvasser, an iPhone app he pays $100 a month for to organize his plan to knock on all 18,000 or so single-family, row-house and duplex doors in his ward, and crosses the woman’s house off the list. But Knack says there’s more to it. Door-knocking gives him a too-rare chance to hear peoples’ concerns face to face. It is a democracy moment with the purity of apple pie. “I care whether you can vote or whether you can’t—I talk with permanent residents who can’t vote, and I care equally as much about their opinion as someone who can go vote,” he says.

Let’s assume Knack is right, and that door-knocking is essential for potential city councillors to hear the concerns of residents. What does it mean, then, that up to half the doors in our city will likely not get a knock? According to Statistics Canada, about 49.3 per cent of Edmonton’s housing is multi-unit, from condo towers to low-rise apartments to mid-rise rental buildings. But these doors and the people who live behind them are effectively terra nullius during a campaign. According to Knack and several other council candidates I spoke to, it is hard to get inside multi-unit buildings to meet people. Once in, many residents—leery of marketers—do not want you there. And what is worse, Alberta’s election rules only allow you there for a short period, anyway.

Add these factors up and you understand why one candidate who is aggressively targeting multi-unit housing puts his odds at getting inside buildings at less than one in three. Knack, who lives in a multi-unit condo himself, says he has not had a candidate knock on his door during any election campaign. And as he walks toward his next door to knock on, he says his 18,000-door tally does not include multi-unit doors and that the pattern concerns him. “It’s a struggle. You actually technically can’t access [a multi-unit] building until nomination day [on September 18]. Think about that. I’ll be lucky, having started door-knocking at the beginning of July, to hit every door once—and that’s just every single-family house door. You add in all of the multi-unit dwellings and the ability to try and hit every door in four weeks, it’s impossible. You won’t connect with everyone.”

For candidates to come first, Knack has sketched out why those living in multi-unit housing in downtown, Oliver and throughout Edmonton could be coming last. Given so many of us live in buildings with multiple doors, how can it change?

Back in August, on another door-knocking night, Knack says he came to see what disengagement really looks like. He was in the Canora neighbourhood, where the average household income $59,976 and where many rent, often in multi-unit housing. At the doors, he says three individual people living in rental housing shared that they feel invisible. Knack says one resident told him, “as a renter,” she was “not allowed to vote”— (“I have no idea where she was taught that,” he says)— while two others told him their opinion did not count. “They said, ‘I just rent, so I don’t want to waste your time.’”

Knack has a compelling theory for why. To win elections, politicians door-knock and engage voters predominantly in areas with a history of high voter turnout. Those high turnouts are, traditionally, clustered in the high-income areas of wards where the doors are easily reached. And to Knack that embeds the cycle. “It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he says. “The spots where we have, by far, the largest voter turnout are some of the wealthiest communities with some of the highest percentages of detached-home ownership. And so if you’re a candidate, it’s not that you want to ignore areas [with multi-unit renters and owners] but you’d better go to where the highest voter turnout is first.”

Next, add the time-crunch created by rules that limit legal protection from being told to leave multi-unit buildings until a month before the vote. That amplifies things, he says. “If you’re short on time, something’s not going to get done, and often times it’s those areas that have low home ownership or low voter-turnout. Because nobody engages them, very few people go out and vote, which means the turnout is low, which means the next crop of candidates see that and say, ‘Well, why would I go there first?’”

“They said, ‘I just rent, so I don’t want to waste your time.'”

Edmonton historian Shirley Lowe says there are other amplifications of the pattern and that they link to historic election laws. Lowe points to Jack K. Masson and Edward C. LeSage’s book, Alberta’s Local Governments, where the authors write: “Election rules are seldom neutral; they operate to the advantage of some people and the disadvantage of others.” In Alberta municipal elections, the authors argue advantages have been created by laws such as one that allowed British citizens living in Canada to vote in municipal elections even if they were not Canadian citizens. Another, dashed only in 1983, discriminated against non incumbents by allowing a candidate’s occupation to be shown. Incumbents would simply write, “Mayor,” or “alderman,” as their job and look far more electable on the ballot as a result. It made incumbency then—and arguably now—an iron-like qualification for Edmonton City Council.

But it’s rules around property ownership that Lowe points to as we talk about the multi-unit engagement gap. Up until 1977, a bylaw explicitly favoured people who owned property over those who did not by allowing only them to vote on council candidates and fiscal rule changes. While the rule now only requires a voter to be a resident of your municipality on election day, and to have lived in Alberta at least six months prior to it, some of the property sentiments linger. And they disadvantage people in multi-unit housing. “It’s systemic,” Lowe says. “The City of Edmonton still sends out notices about developments, but they don’t do it for renters. That means even a temporary land owner, like a developer, has more rights than someone who’s lived around that property for a long time.” As a result, she adds, renters have long been “second class citizens.”

That feeling, directly expressed to Knack on the doorstep in Ward 1, is something being thought about in wards across the city as politicians campaign. That includes Ward 6, which covers downtown and Oliver.

The ward’s incumbent, Coun. Scott McKeen, says he’s run up against the barriers to door-knocking in multi-unit condo buildings similar to the one he lives in. In 2013, he says, he had volunteers inside a multi-unit building knocking on doors when they were challenged in the halls. “The resident told them they had to leave, but it turned out one of the volunteers was a former city hall lawyer,” he says. “He knew the legislation and explained it. The resident grudgingly let the volunteers continue.”

“If people are not voting, you’re caught in this silo of making decisions based o a very select group of individuals”.

Is this unexpected? No, McKeen says. “I don’t think this [reaction] is unusual. Most buildings don’t allow people in to canvas door to door. The election rules allowing entry are not widely known and so people can be upset with the intrusion. I live in a condo building and it’s weird to have someone knock on your door. As someone once said, the door to your apartment is unlike the door to a house. It’s more like opening your bedroom door to a stranger. You feel more vulnerable.”

One of McKeen’s main challengers in Ward 6, Tish Prouse, says he has encountered anger from people while trying to engage residents in multi-unit buildings and has resorted to different techniques as a result—from simple social media discussions to a series of barbecues near the larger buildings that people can come to and meet him at. He says that he recognizes candidates over-emphasize door-knocking on single-family homes and that it skews their take on what matters to their ward. “You want to have proper representation of a demographic,” Prouse says.

Voter turnout in Edmonton is low compared to the Canadian average, at less than 37 per cent in both the 2010 and 2013 municipal elections. And the least likely age block to vote is the 18 to 29 bracket. Matthew Redfern, who is running for council in Ward 7, has a term for that group. “Those are what I associate with the rental years,” he says.

For some in Edmonton, the rental years are transitional, while for others they are a lifestyle choice. Regardless, for a city where the median age is just 35, renters are a significant number of voters. Indeed, according to Edmonton’s 2016 census, 49 per cent of residents own their housing while 29 per cent rent it (though, a whopping 21 per cent provided no response to that census question). For context, the 2011 federal census put the owner-renter spread in Edmonton at 65 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.

Redfern feels connected to the people living as renters in multi-unit voters. He identifies as Dutch and Cree (his mother, a residential school survivor, was born on a trapline near Moosonee, Ontario) and for much of his 20s and 30s lived as a renter in multi-unit apartment buildings. And this meant that he never interacted at his door with a municipal politician, he says. “It didn’t enhance my engagement in democracy and local politics.”

So, like many in the 2017 campaign, Redfern is trying to work around the traditional engagement gaps. His approach is to venture into Beverly Heights, the lowest income portion of Ward 7, to knock on doors and meet people. Many of the people living in the neighbourhood live in older detached housing, which they rent, though there are some low-rise apartments, too. The average household income in Beverly Heights is $68,749.

Redfern says the feedback can be stark. “I haven’t met a single person yet that told me they’ve had someone knock on their door [in Beverly Heights],” he says. “I’m the first candidate they’ve seen in any election— municipal, provincial or federal. In Beverly, it’s a lot of rental houses, a lot of…”— here, his voice changes and he grins—“…indigenous type people. They don’t get much attention. We’ll find out if it works. Those are home owners, renters and definitely voters.”

How can the engagement gap for Edmonton residents living in multi-unit housing change?

McKeen says it is “critical” to door-knock in multi-unit housing. “Though some buildings do a terrific job at creating a sense of community, apartment living can be isolating. So it’s important that candidates take on the challenge of getting in those buildings, knocking on doors and meeting people where they live.”

His solution is simply perseverance.

Redfern is actively seeking to engage a voting group that others have ignored, but is not sure it will lead him to victory. He admits he is doing it out of principle. “We’re missing their voice, a whole different perspective—people who are living a different life than your detached home homeowner,” he says. “Not everybody has a house and a dog and a wife and 1.8 children, whatever is ‘normal’ now. Most people in their renting years don’t vote, which is a shame because they use a lot of city services.”

He also says there is a need for more open venues for voters to engage with candidates, and laments that some community leagues have stopped offering candidate forums.“Maybe the elections office could hold forums,” he says. Knack says he has also thought about how to fix the situation but has not hit on the magic bullet. “There’s several things” to try, he says. “Could we open up the rules to allow candidates to get in [to multi-unit buildings] earlier?” But, do that, he says, and “you would run up against the issue of people just not feeling comfortable answering the door.”

Still, as he walks to knock on doors in Crestwood, Knack says he hopes to work to change the situation. “How do you start to break through it,” he asks. Canora, he notes, has a voter turnout below 20 per cent, which could mean as little as 10 per cent of households (some have more than one resident) are reaching the ballot box. Voter turnout in Crestwood, on the other hand, where he has just gotten an earful from a resident about taxes, is way higher.“You have to be careful to expand who you’re hearing from,”he says. “If people are not voting, you’re caught in this silo of making decisions based on a very select group of individuals.”

Are Injection Sites Safe?

Supervised injection sites are set to arrive downtown by the end of 2017 as the province, the city and health agencies all dig in to battle an opioid crisis that claimed 343 lives in Alberta in 2016 alone, and 80 in Edmonton in the first six months of 2017.

But are they safe? Yes, experts say— because they are safer than the alternatives.

“The main reason that we started looking into this was the health and safety of people,” said Marliss Taylor, program manager of Streetworks Needle Exchange, a roving injection-supervision service that operates primarily in the Boyle Street area. “Health and safety were our two big drivers. When people are injecting these substances outside, and it’s just poisonous out there, overdose is a huge risk factor.”

Community agencies including Streetworks and Moms Stop the Harm, along with researchers from the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Police Service, have all endorsed adopting supervised injection sites in Edmonton. But rather than a single location, as other cities have used, by the end of 2017 Edmonton will see multiple supervised injection sites within or close to downtown, including the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, the George Spady Society and the Royal Alexandria Hospital (for inpatient treatment only).

Why multiple sites? Taylor said many potential users of the new sites told researchers they would only be willing to travel between four and 10 blocks to use them, meaning multiple locations were needed.

Unsurprisingly, some worry that the locations will draw people in from elsewhere—but it’s not the case, said one expert. “I know a lot of people are convinced we are going to be bombarded with people, but [research shows people will travel only] four to 10 blocks,” said Rosemary Fayant, a peer specialist at George Spacy Society. “You’re not going to go downtown, use a safe consumption site, and take a bus home— if that’s how you get around. You would do it in the comfort of your own home. But in the downtown area, there’s so much homelessness, that they don’t have that luxury.”

The locations also have other services in place, offering discretion for people wanting supervised injection. Taylor said 80 per cent of those surveyed said they were already injecting in public near the future sites as it is.

The model for Edmonton’s supervised sites is the layout of Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver, a HIV day-health facility and 24-hour nursing care residence.

The Dr. Peter Centre and Insite, the first supervised injection site in North America, have both helped reduce the spread of HIV in Vancouver, with only 30 new cases reported last year (compared to 2,100 in 1996), as reported Insite’s website. They also state that users of the facility are 30 per cent more likely to receive treatment for addiction.

In Edmonton, the supervised injection sites will consist of three rooms: An intake, where a nurse obtains information about the person; a series of booths and a resident nurse, where the user injects; and a third room, where Taylor said, “the magic happens.”

Magic? Because the community member will be lucid and not going through withdrawal, the third room is where social workers will engage with them. If they are open to seeking treatment, Taylor said this is where trust will be built to facilitate those services.

During a presentation at DECL about the sites, Ann Galbradt, project coordinator with Access to Medically Supervised Injection Sites Edmonton, said community information nights have shown most downtown residents area are either supportive or neutral about the sites.

She said some are concerned the inner city will be bombarded with addicts, and that the risk of violence will increase.

But Taylor said a person injecting in a safe, sterile and calm environment versus in an alley, where they are scared, is comparable to enjoying drinks with friends versus having drinks at a tense family dinner. “When you’re injecting in a back alley, and you’re frightened, and it’s dark, and you’re just hoping to inject fast, you would have a very different reaction to the drug then if you are in a place where you feel safe and secure,” she said. “Our anticipation is that by the time they’re in the third room, they’ll be in a much better headspace, and the reaction to the drug will be different.”

During the meeting, Milap Petigara, DECL treasurer, said he worried the sites would give people another option to inject while also seeing them inject outside in an unsafe manner. He also expressed concern that this was further entrenching the homeless community into overburdened areas like downtown, as well as attracting traffickers who prey on addicts.

But Taylor pointed out that these people are already in the community, injecting near fences and behind dumpsters. This would allow them to inject safely to prevent skin infections, disease and death.

“That’s been the concern, we get a lot of ‘Oh my gosh, you’re going to be releasing people that are out of their minds in our neighbourhoods?’ But that’s kind of what’s already happening right now.”

Other cities in Canada have discussed safe injection sites, including:

VANCOUVER: Currently home to the only two operational supervised injection sites in Canada. Since 2010, there have been more than 1.5 million visits.

TORONTO: After nearly 200 drug-related deaths in the first half of 2016, the city received funding for three safe injection sites that will be opened within the year. Three-quarters of residents who inject drugs said they would use it.

VICTORIA: There are three proposed sites in the city after 622 reported fentanyl-related deaths in 2016. A pop up location built in late 2016 reached capacity in a matter of days.

The size of the crisis: Edmonton and fentanyl

By Kevin Pennyfeather

In the first six months of 2017, Alberta Health recorded 241 deaths caused by fentanyl overdoses — and 80 happened in Edmonton.

Elaine Hyshka is an assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s school of public health, and has devoted her career to tackling the opioid crisis. We caught up with her to chat about Edmonton and fentanyl.

Q: Is fentanyl a dominant street drug in Edmonton?
A: Yes, essentially we have a variety of opioids available on the illicit market, and the majority of them do tend to test positive for fentanyl. That implies that a lot of the opioids that are circulating right now are clandestinely manufactured and that they’re being produced with fentanyl. Sometimes they’re made to look like Oxycontin or Oxy 80 pills, or they’re these golden powders — and those powders are either identified as fentanyl or being sold as heroin.

Q: Why would substance users intentionally use fentanyl?
A: If it’s the only drug or opioid that’s the easiest to access, then people who have opioid use disorder, are going to use fentanyl because that’s all that’s available to them, or potentially all that they can afford — even though there may be knowledge that fentanyl is a risky substance.

Q: What misconceptions exist about the kind of people dying from opioid overdoses?
A: It’s pretty clear that overdose deaths are affecting people from across the socioeconomic spectrum and from all walks of life. If you look at the recent overdose report [released in August], it gives you a sense of the diversity of people who are dying. The easiest way to think about this is everybody is affected by overdoses — but if you are low income, you are particularly at risk.

Whereas before the quote was around 80 per cent are dying outside Edmonton’s core, now it’s 59 per cent. That’s significant, and I think it speaks to the need to provide overdose prevention services in the core, as well as in other parts of the city.

Canada 150 and some tougher history for Edmonton


Calvin Bruneau was blowing minds by telling facts rather than fiction. It was 2012 and Bruneau, who heads a First Nations group that isn’t fully recognized by Canada, was narrating the history of Edmonton. But as he lectured to the first-year native studies class at the University of Alberta, he included the Papaschase people in the story.

Edmonton’s standard foundation myth is full of yarns about forts and voyageurs, pioneers and oil derricks, business people and settlers. Historically, the sometimes beautiful, sometimes stark stories of indigenous peoples and their lands have been left out of Edmonton’s story. But Bruneau didn’t omit them as he talked that day and sure enough, mouths dropped.

“The majority of the students were in their 20s, young, and I could tell by the look on their faces that they hadn’t heard of Edmonton’s history and the history of the Papaschase reserve,” Bruneau says. “There was one student who said she’d grown up on the south side and had no clue about this history. She was just blown away. The real history was hidden from them.”

Canada is 150 years old on July 1. Ottawa is bankrolling a birthday party set to sweep through our city and many others. But the indigenous nations that Canada swallowed to become a country are many thousands of years old. And the story of their lands, which many settlers took, and their cultures, which colonialism attacked, are plot points that Canada has struggled to place in its happy-birthday narrative.

Knowingly or not, Edmonton residents, including those who live downtown or in Oliver are connected to this darker, often hidden story. Indeed, some of the same people Edmonton has lionized as founders are those who indigenous peoples, like the descendants of the Papaschase, see as the central characters responsible for taking what was theirs. So, as we prepare to mark Canada’s 150th birthday in our city, some say it’s time for some harder work—to advance the conversation and make these two histories one.


Rob Houle is tall and dwarfs the chairs at the Kids in the Hall bistro as we talk. “It’s fine that people want to celebrate Canada 150 and whatever else, but it has a much different understanding and interpretation for indigenous people,” he says. “To a lot of indigenous people, Canada 150 represents the things that were lost.”

Houle is a member of the Swan River First Nation and has written several indictments of Edmonton’s history from an indigenous perspective. A central reason for why he says he struggles with Edmonton celebrating Canada 150 largely goes back to one man: Frank Oliver.

Oliver is something of Edmonton royalty. To this day he’s celebrated in city discussion as a pioneer, a business man and Alberta’s first member of parliament. Fittingly, Oliver’s name is everywhere. In the 1950s, the city named the neighbourhood he built his house within after him. There’s also Oliver School, a park and a community rink, as well as a power centre. Oliver is given a prominent story at Fort Edmonton Park, too, celebrated for his use of his printing press to publish the city’s first newspaper, The Bulletin.

But Oliver’s role in Edmonton’s history is far different when you ponder his dealings with indigenous people. History shows he used The Bulletin and his powerful positions in governments to systematically attack many indigenous nations and ultimately take their land, upon which much of our city was built.

It’s a point Houle can’t omit. “He may have done some things, he may have helped the city of Edmonton become what it is today, but people have to realize that the reality and the truth is a lot of that success came at the cost of someone else, and a lot of those people were indigenous people,” he says.

Consider the Papaschase. In 1877, as Chief Papaschase—known to newcomers in Edmonton as John Gladieu-Quinn—signed Treaty 6 at a spot roughly where the Alberta Legislature now resides, the Papaschase saw the Canadian government attempt to reduce their vast, traditional territory to a land reserve of just 100 square kilometres in size. Papaschase selected the land he wanted, as was his right, choosing a square of land about 10 kilometres south of the North Saskatchewan river.

But the land was ideal for farming and Oliver knew it. In editorial after editorial, he targeted the Papaschase reserve. He lobbied Ottawa for “settlers rights” and dismissed the Papaschase people as “lazy,” or, incredibly, as not “true Indians.” Meanwhile, the Papaschase version of history recalls how rations promised by the Canadian government never arrived and that the disappearance of the buffalo, which coincided with European settlement of the North American prairies, saw them slowly starving to death in their reserve.

In 1888, 11 years after signing Treaty 6, Oliver succeeded—at least in the eyes of Canada. Three men, who were then living on the Enoch reserve to survive, signed what Canada took (and remains to this day to support) as a land surrender to the Papaschase reserve. Three signatures and it was gone.

Today, the former Papaschase reserve is parts of Old Strathcona, Ritchie, Queen Alexandra, Hazeldean, Pleasantview and Mill Woods, to name a few neighbourhoods. Papaschase has been all but erased—aside from one industrial neighbourhood, just north of the Whitemud and east of Gateway Boulevard, which bears the former chief’s name.

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a Papaschase application to pursue a land claim and calls for about $2.5-billion in compensation.

Houle says he will never forget Oliver’s connection to this history.

“I purposely avoid Oliver [neighbourhood] because it has a reminder for me, as an indigenous person—one I’m sure people from Enoch and people from Papaschase has an even stronger recognition of—of what this guy did to them,” he says.


Cory Sousa first learned of the hurt surrounding Frank Oliver’s name when he was involved in discussions to move the privately-owned downtown park that was named after Oliver.

That park is currently in a sort of limbo, as its former home—right beside Hotel Macdonald—is being developed. But when some proposed moving it into the Oliver neighbourhood, the community spoke.

“People on the project were very much like, ‘We don’t want this racist,’” Sousa recalls. “I think that was the first time that I heard or became more aware of just how much he was disliked and how there was concern regarding Frank Oliver.”

Sousa is a principal planner with the City of Edmonton’s naming committee and has been pushing— along with strong public support from people like Mayor Don Iveson— for dramatic change in what receives name recognition. Most recently he’s advocated assigning indigenous names within Edmonton’s river valley trails in the future.

He says he feels names can be tools for creating the conversation many say Edmonton needs to have during Canada 150.

And, he says, there are signs of progress. Consider Alex Decoteau Park, opening in September along 105 Street at 102 Avenue. Originally the park was set to be called “Renaissance Park,” but Sousa and others worked behind the scenes to see it honour Decoteau, who among other things was an Edmonton police officer, a soldier in the First World War and a marathoner.

Their victory on that name spurred more movement. Sousa says he’s now hopeful that several new suburban neighbourhood developments in the city’s south will be named along indigenous themes. And one of the overall area names—think Windermere or Hardisty, for comparison—will be Decoteau. “Getting Decoteau was huge because that whole area is going to be home to 50,000 people, which is like a small city in Alberta,” Sousa says. “So, 50,000 people are now going to be saying ‘Decoteau,’ and I think that’s just a really neat tie to who he was and the history.”

But Sousa knows there are other names that might be hard to change. Oliver is one of them, he says. Instead, he sees more possibility with new names, or in shifting existing ones, to spark conversation and learning.

“We’re pounding on a door, saying ‘We want back in to our own place.” – Calvin Bruneau

Which takes us back to the Papaschase Industrial area. “Why an industrial area?” Sousa asks. “We want to really respect the history of Papaschase to those lands, so why wouldn’t you name the whole area Papaschase and bring more prominence there? Then the busses will have the neighbourhood name, people will have it in their taxes, or roads. If there’s one individual or family name that we should really bring more attention to it’s Papaschase.”


Bruneau heads the Papaschase, though there are other groups that claim to represent the descendants of former Chief Papaschase as well.

Regardless, he says his battle is to see the Papaschase become part of Edmonton’s mainstream story.

We meet the day he’s finished work consulting with the city on artwork depicting Chief Papaschase, to be installed at a stop in Mill Woods along the future Valley Line LRT. But that’s just the beginning, he says.

In future, Bruneau says he’s hoping to create an urban reserve where land, profits and taxation powers are returned to the Papaschase. And as Canada 150 approaches, he’s hoping his nation’s story will prompt many in Edmonton to ask why they know so little about his history.

“Edmonton is our city, but at the same time, too, it’s like we’re knocking on a door,” he says. “We’re pounding on a door, saying ‘We want back in to our own place.’ We’re getting there, but it’s just like there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Urban Gardening: The green-thumb guide to growing food and blooms on your balcony

There may be a lack of green spaces in the core, but with the right know-how, backyard-deprived condo dwellers can nurture plenty of beautiful blooms and tasty veggies right on their balcony.

Container gardening is a great option for those wanting to take advantage of, and transform, their smaller outdoor spaces. “It connects us back to the natural environment that we often disconnect from as urban dwellers,” says Justin Keats, Garden Director of Oliver Community League.

Throughout the spring and summer, Keats teaches Oliver residents gardening basics and how to get the most out of their tiny outdoor spaces.

Here, Keats shares some tips on how to bring some green into your urban environment:

  1. Check with your condo board or property manager for any guidelines or restrictions. This may affect the amount of space you can dedicate to your garden, height and weight of plants and pots, and even overall placements.
  2. Start with a plan, and start small. Decide how you want to use your space. Are you looking to engage in urban food production or grow something more ornamental?
  3. Consider the general climate. Edmonton resides in the 4a zone on the Plant Hardiness Index. Choose plants labelled 4 or lower, which are suitable for cooler climes. Plants higher than 4 enjoy our warmest months but are more susceptible to seasonal change.
  4. Consider your micro-climate. Every balcony or garden plot will be different. These environmental factors dictate the types of plants that thrive best.
    • Be mindful of the direction your balcony faces, as well as any surrounding structures that may block sunlight.
    • East-facing balconies receive morning and afternoon sun, but usually retain a bit of the previous evening’s coolness.
    • West-facing balconies get afternoon and evening sun and are generally warmer than those that face east.
    • South-facing balconies enjoy the most direct sunlight and get maximum sun exposure during the hottest time of the day. Plants may require extra attention (watering more than once a day or some shade) to avoid drying out.
    • North-facing balconies receive little sunlight and are best suited for plants that thrive in the shade.
  5. Investigate the specific requirements for each plant. Read the plant tags, research online and ask questions at your gardening centre.
    • Shade-friendly plants include begonias, lobelias, pansies, ferns, hostas, ivy, and some leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard.
    • Sunnier areas are good for plants like marigolds, petunias, junipers, potato vines, tomatoes, strawberries, container eggplants, mini carrots, and herbs such as dill, thyme and oregano.
  6. Mind your height. Balconies located on higher floors are more prone to cooler temperatures, especially as summer begins to wind down. Wind is also a factor at as you get higher. Protect your plants from wind by using a windscreen or by shielding more delicate plants with other pots.
  7. Consider purchasing seedlings over seeds to get a head start. Many seeds require a longer growing season in our climate and will need to be grown indoors until the risk of frost passes.
  8. Use large containers to avoid clutter and to ensure that you don’t overcrowd your plants. Take into consideration how much room each plant needs to grow.
  9. Double-up your clay pots or use glazed pots to insulate and help prevent evaporation, and water at least once daily; limited soil space means that your soil will dry out quicker than the ground.
  10. Most importantly, have fun, and experiment with various plants if you can. “Enjoy it! You don’t want it to become a chore,” advises Keats.

Need help getting your balcony garden started? 

The Oliver Community League will host a balcony gardening workshop April 22 and 29 fro 1-3 pm at the Oliver Community Hall, 10326-118 St.. It’s an interactive workshop facilitated by OCL Garden Director, Justin Keats. You’ll learn gardening basics, including how to plan your space. Prepare to get inspired! A small $5 fee goes towards the OCL garden Capital Fund and donations are always appreciated.

Visit for more info or email

A rendering of Alex Decoteau Park which opens this summer

A look at the community gardens hidden throughout the Oliver and Downtown neighbourhoods

Oliver Community League has one community garden located at 10259-120 Street. The name Peace Garden Park was chosen because 103 Avenue was formerly known as Peace Avenue. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are used in the garden. To find out more about the garden and how to join, email

Two options exist Downtown for those interested in community gardening. Our Urban Eden Garden located off Bellamy Hill has beds available to Downtown residents. The space is owned by the City of Edmonton, as part of its Partnership in Parks program. The second space opens this summer at Alex Decoteau Park on 105 Street. Plans include planters and composting facilities. To find out more about the Alex Decoteau Park garden and to get involved email

Interested in urban gardening? Check out The Yard’s Spring Issue Launch Event on March 23! Learn more here


The Second Annual Best in the Core Awards


It’s The Yards second birthday! But, please, save the streamers and cake—or at least pass them on to these people, places and passions that we celebrate every winter in this annual tribute. Because we here at the magazine and partnering community leagues are crazy about our neighbourhood. We really believe it to be the best in the Edmonton. And that would make this year’s award winners—chosen by staff, volunteers and writers—the best of the best.

Best in Business:
Celebrating the shops, bars and eateries we love

Best in the Community:
The spaces, people and events that make our neighbourhoods awesome

Best Volunteers:
How Sam Jenkins and Jas Panesar Dropped Everything for the Fort McMurray Wildfire Evacuation