The weather has warmed up and summer is here, so patios are the place to
be. Even while restaurants were closed for in-person dining, outdoor seating
has been consistently available. It’s great that we can still enjoy delicious
food and refreshing drinks under the sun while, obviously, remaining socially
distanced. Here is a list of some of the core’s must-try patios.
As of publication, patios were open for dining. Depending on summer restrictions, you may need to order your food for takeout and have a picnic in the park.
Tiramisu is known for its delicious Italian food and is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For a private outdoor setting with your cohorts, igloo dining is available on the small but mighty patio. Be sure to book ahead of time.
CRAFT BEER MARKET
CRAFT offers tasty local and fresh-food options and is known for its broad selection of beers. The rooftop patio recently underwent renovations and features games and a cocktail camper bar. It’s the perfect spot for a hot- summer day when you’re dreaming of camping outside of the city.
CENTRAL SOCIAL HALL
Central Social Hall’s patio is a lively social setting with first come, first served seating. Great food, drinks, and service, combined with a chic and colourful atmosphere—check out the bright pink umbrellas!— creates a vibrant and energetic mood for you and your cohorts.
ODD COMPANY BREWING
Odd Company offers many different kinds of beers in sizes from growlers to pints, which hit the spot after a long work day or even just kicking back on the weekend. This patio is equally enjoyable daytime or nighttime as you can sit next to cozy fire pits, giving the place a backyard vibe where you’ll feel right at home.
Baijiu features Asian-inspired eats and one-of-a-kind cocktails. In fact, bartender James Grant was recently named Canada’s Bartender of the Year. The patio has strands of hanging outdoor bulbs and umbrella-clad picnic tables, which creates a perfectly romantic or social ambiance during the night, with a fun selection of music.
Come the October civic election, Edmonton will see new
ward names and new boundaries. Both Downtown and
Oliver fall into newly-formed Ward O-day’min, which is the
Anishinaabe word for Strawberry or Heart-berry.
The new boundaries are part of a city-wide boundary revision done in May 2020. Stephen Raitz, a member of the ward boundary commission, said that the main factor in determining the new boundaries was population— keeping neighbourhood and community leagues together while devising a map that better represented changes in the city’s demographics. Additionally, the commission had to account for future growth by balancing older and newer neighbourhoods in each ward.
“The purpose of the ward boundary commission was to
depoliticize the process,” Raitz said. “You want to produce
something that is as far beyond the politics of ward
drawing as possible.”
While some wards look drastically different, Ward O-day’min
looks fairly similar to the previous Ward 6. Both have a
majority of neighbourhoods in common including Downtown
and Oliver, as well as McCauley and Boyle Street.
One difference is that the neighbourhoods west of Groat
Road are now part of Ward Nakota Isga. Instead, Ward
O-day’min includes four additional neighbourhoods north
of Downtown: Prince Rupert, Spruce Avenue, Westwood,
and the new carbon-neutral community of Blatchford.
Based on the engagement with the public Raitz said, “It
was pretty clear that on the other side of Groat Road, the
communities of interests are more so aligned with Stony
Plain Road than they are with the downtown core, so
that’s why those neighbourhoods got shifted into Ward
“And then it was seen that the neighbourhoods that are north
of downtown shared a stronger connection with the core.”
NEW FACE ON COUNCIL
Downtown and Oliver residents will be voting for a new councillor to represent their ward in Edmonton City Council as two-term Councillor Scott McKeen isn’t seeking a third term. But what exactly does a councillor do, and how do they fit within the larger picture of local government? McKeen said a councillor’s duties include things like dealing with local complaints, funding events, construction projects, as well as larger problems like poverty and homelessness. However, the job at its most fundamental is to advocate for constituents at City Hall. “If you took a neighbourhood and there is a project going into that neighbourhood, some people in the neighbourhood might be completely in support of that and a similar number might be completely opposed to it,” McKeen said. “So, if you’re representing your constituents, you still have to vote yes or no when that project reaches council.”
There are also the additional complexities of being the councillor representing Edmonton’s core, as it is home to four business improvement areas and the Ice District, as well as other cultural flagships like the Winspear Centre and the new Royal Alberta Museum. Conversely, the area is also where some of the city’s biggest issues like homelessness are noticeable.
“In some ways, it exemplifies the best of Edmonton and the greatest challenges of Edmonton, and the most of Edmonton,” McKeen said. “There’s so much stuff to advocate for and keep track of.”
While many of the issues that councillors deal with on a municipal level can be rather technical, McKeen said that a lot of that can have a direct impact on day-to-day life, as well as requiring good planning to avoid unintended consequences. One example he cites is how street trees planted near Jasper Avenue and 124 Street would often die because they were planted without the proper soil and adequate room to grow, leading to money being wasted as the trees needed to be replaced.
“How do we build cities that are not just efficient and beautiful and lively and vibrant but are actually communal in a way that invites social interaction and invites people to leave their homes,” he said. “That is the challenge of future city councils and cities like ours.”
These are good questions to keep in mind as we vote in a new city councillor in October.
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.”
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.
“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.”
Examining the holes in the ground that dot the core
NOTHING SPEAKS TO A CITY’S CAN-DON’T ATTITUDE AND THE ACTIVE BRUTALITY OF IDLE GREED QUITE LIKE A FENCED-OFF HOLE IN THE GROUND.
Oliver and Downtown boast an impressive slate of pits, chasms, and gullies. When all it would take is a little TLC to turn some blank, dusty nothingness into a pocket park, a community garden, or a Thunderdome, how did pits edge their way to the top of the pecking order in the public landscape?
Believe it or not, not that long ago pits were seen as a nuisance. In 2017, amendments to the provincial tax law were being considered to allow cities to levy additional taxes on commercial lots that were sitting unused. Nothing came of it, and pits have since come to be adored as essential aspects of the municipal biome. With that in mind, here are some of the notable pits of downtown and Oliver.
A Pit for the Modern Yuppie
This fun and flirty micropit is cozily nestled across from Earl’s Tin Palace between a church and an apartment building. Today’s young professional is turning away from the gaudy half-block sized pits of decades previous in favour of something more sleeker and Instagram friendly. This pit is proof positive that even in a future of infill and urban density, every neighbourhood will always be able to accommodate a fenced off hole in the ground.
This rule bending bad boy at 116 Street and Jasper Avenue is an existential reckoning. For years it sat empty, until finally Westrich built a claustrophobic sales centre on a square of astroturf showcasing a model of The View: Grandin City. It is a pit with a shack, with a model of what a different pit will become. Like a snake eating its own tail, gaze into the abyss and confront the unending cycles of the universe.
The Ravages of Capitalism
Regency Developments are the proud owners of this pit, which belongs in the upper echelons of pitdom based on sheer poetry. It is where the BMO once stood, vibrating in the harmony of commerce! Fiscal exchange! Amortization! All reduced to rubble. This is a pit for the intellectual, the post- Capitalist academic. Smoke cigarettes, gesture at a pastel crimson obstacle course of rebar under the neon gaze of City Centre’s billboards and quote Marx (Engels too, if you really want to impress people).
The Two Solitudes
Just north of the Oliver Exchange is a pair of sibling pits diametrically opposed in character, aroma, and mouthfeel. If new to pits, this is a great place to start. Whatever you do, don’t look at Paul Kane park. It is not a pit.
The southern of the two pits is cleaner, bleaker, and adorned with a fresh placard with a picture of a building, just in case you forget what’s supposed to actually be there. The developer is keen to start construction, and until that day we are huddled in anticipation like teens waiting for their prom date to descend the staircase.
The northern pit is more mature, refined. It is confident, and self-assured in its pit-ness. There is no aspirational development placard, no false promises, just a washed-out company logo and an aroma I can only describe as “nutty”. This is the only pit on this list to boast a lone scraggly tree next to a tattered garbage bag.
MAYBE THE REAL PITS ARE THE FRIENDS WE MADE ALONG THE WAY
Remember that this guide, at best, only scratches the surface on the pits of Oliver and Downtown. Every time a landowner says “Screw it, not my problem,” wherever a patch of land is caged up because it won’t yield enough profit to buy a new yacht, a pit gets its wings. It was announced in April that the 75-year-old buildings at Oliver Crossing, home to Louisiana Purchase and Urban Timber Reclaimed Co. will be getting demolished. A few blocks away El Mirador, architectural gem and home to me, will meet the same fate. I guess what I’m trying to say is that time makes pits of us all.
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.
“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.
Stakeholders discuss what a closure of the street could look like
If you’ve seen the chatter about 104 Street on social media recently, you may have noted many voices are calling for the promenade-style street to become pedestrian-only.
The street is unique in the downtown; as part of the warehouse district, it retains a vintage feel. It also has many restaurants and retail businesses at grade as the city redid the streetscaping in 1998. The lack of curbs helps create more space for sauntering.
The Downtown Farmers Market was a longtime patron but in 2019 moved to 97 Street. In the summer of 2020 the Al Fresco on 4th Summer Series began as an outdoor market. 104 Street has held many weekend events including A Taste of Al Fresco this March.
Now folks are asking: what if the street was closed all the time? Restaurants are allowed to extend their patios when the street is closed to traffic, and during COVID, we’ve all come to realize how important open-air dining is.
Two of 104 Street’s stakeholders weighed in with their hopes and concerns about the future of the street. Jimmy Shewchuk, owner of Say Uncle, a southern bbq restaurant, and Ed Fong, owner of deVine Wines & Spirits. Fong was also the past chair of the 104 Street Committee.
“The extended patios in the past year have proven themselves in terms of the business case and the vibrancy for the street, so I think the weekend closure— looking at a Friday evening to a Sunday evening—makes a lot of sense to me,” Shewchuk said.
Al Fresco and two other weekend closures in April for Downtown Dining Week drove a lot of business to 104 Street. Shewchuk said it was a bump in revenue that was really needed at this time and believes weekend closures will continue to help struggling businesses bring in more customers. But he recognizes there needs to be a discussion with all stakeholders.
“I think we need to take a long hard look at what we want 104 Street to be,” Shewchuk said. “We have a mixed-use street and that makes it really difficult to make all parties happy all the time. So I think we just really need to create an exciting vision for the street and really establish it as an asset for Edmonton and for downtown and start to design that.”
In a downtown that tends to empty out after 5 o’clock,
104 Street is unique as an area that has a lot of residents.
“We’ve always believed, as a community, that the street could be a very interesting and vibrant venue if it was programmed effectively,” Fong said. “What we were never in favour of was closing the street just for closing the street every weekend without programming and the only type of programming would be that bars and restaurants can extend their patios.”
With so many businesses and residents involved in the discussion, it could be hard to get consensus on permanent street closures or weekend street closures, but hopefully once all stakeholders get involved in the discussion, a vision will begin to form.
EPCOR’s art installation on the LRT site will make it more appealing to passersby
Construction sites featuring a variety of art designs will bring more vibrancy to the core during the long months they take to complete, specifically along 104 Avenue and 113 Street where the LRT line is being expanded.
The Valley Line West LRT project is going to be under construction for about five years, so EPCOR wanted to make the area look more appealing to the public.
EPCOR partnered with MacEwan University design and fine art students to submit art pieces that will be posted in what they call art hoarding. John Naboye and Quinton Wong are recent graduates from the Bachelor of Design program working with EPCOR to make this project come to life.
“They want to make sure that the residents in the area aren’t staring at a construction site. They want to make sure that they’re staring at something nice,” Naboye said. “Since 104 Avenue is going to be a hotspot for construction in the next couple years, having these art pieces up definitely helps in making the area more vibrant rather than unappealing to people who walk by.”
The plan is to incorporate a mixture of different art such as graphics, paintings, and photography for pedestrians and drivers to enjoy. Wong and Naboye are acting as a jury, reviewing and selecting student submissions. The plan is to get about 10 to 15 student works submitted for the project. EPCOR will grant honourariums and include the artists’ names.
“I think it can make the community proud of the diversity that will be shown throughout the art works. As the jury, we will be looking to see how we can showcase how multicultural and diverse the community is in that area, and the way people see community and how they interpret it. I think that’s something very special with the Oliver community,” Wong said.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t get Heritage Days probably again this summer, but I hope through this we will see a bit of that,” Wong added. “It’s always a good reminder for people in Edmonton when they get to experience different cultures and people bring a little bit of themselves through these kinds of things.”
If there’s going to be construction, it may as well be nice to look at. The art installation will be in place this summer.
It was a close call for two Oliver recreation facilities last December as the City of Edmonton looked for ways to reduce costs amid budget deliberations.
Oliver Pool and the Oliver Arena were facing budget cuts that would have shuttered them in 2021. Council was looking for ways to reduce tax rates for the year so the two downtown facilities, along with the Scona and Eastglen pools as well as the Tipton arena, were on the chopping block. The combined savings would have equalled about $1.2 million.
Vocal support from community organizations and residents saved the facilities, with council voting unanimously to continue funding them for this year.
“Now the big thing is waiting to see if anything changes in the operations of this pool and other outdoor pools in the city,” Lisa Brown said, Hall and Recreation Director for the Oliver Community League. “Another big question is investment in the facility to see if we will continue to have an outdoor pool in the long term.”
The Oliver Pool has been closed for the past two seasons. In 2019, the City shut it down to repair a leak in the bottom of the pool. It remained closed through 2020 due to the pandemic.
“My personal opinion is the City of Edmonton has too few outdoor pools and we need to be investing in ours,” Brown said. The city is currently wrapping up the recreation plan based on public engagement for the needs of Oliver residents.
Without nearby lakes or slow-moving rivers, there is no good alternative for cooling off in the summer and Brown said other communities are looking at outdoor pools as a way to deal with the consequences of climate change.
About 80 people signed up to speak against the closures at a city council meeting in early December. That large outpouring of concern was a crucial part in overturning the decision to cut funding.
“I think council got a bit of a lesson in the budget deliberations about how many Edmontonians feel about core services,” Councillor Scott McKeen of Ward 6, which covers Oliver, said. “Those core services are the recreation amenities in neighbourhoods. They are beloved. I was really heartened by that.”
McKeen said there’s an opportunity for the city to look beyond large recreation facilities, which end up becoming “regional facilities”, and to instead focus on smaller amenities such as the Oliver Pool and smaller parks with outdoor workout equipment.
More than 15,000 people used the pool in 2018, the last year that it was open. The year prior to that, 20,000 people walked through the gates. Oliver Arena attracts almost 30,000 people every year.
For Puneeta McBryan, the gulf separating her new job as head of the Downtown Business Association and her previous jobs in the world of marketing and communications isn’t as wide as it might seem.
“I really view the role as: I’m here to serve our business community downtown, in a sort of similar way to how I always have, except that I’m not running individual campaigns for each business,” McBryan said. “But we’re really trying to think about downtown as this destination— your own destination to live and work and invest in.”
Leaving her role at ZGM Modern Marketing Partners, McBryan joined DBA in December as its new executive director. Her decision to make the jump from advertising to an advocacy role came while she was on maternity leave, which gave her additional time to reflect on this career change.
“I was communications director for the mayor’s re-election campaign in 2015, so working with Don [Iveson] kind of gave me a front-row seat to what it can look like to be directly engaged in helping build the city that I want to live in, and that I want next generations to live in,” McBryan said.
Downtown businesses are still grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and while COVID-19 has had varying impacts across different sectors, such as on bars and restaurants, McBryan said she’s thinking of how to better downtown as a whole.
“I think our job is to think about downtown as an ecosystem,” McBryan said. “Each of these types of businesses, and all of the residents, and all the visitors who come downtown for bars and restaurants and shopping, all of these individual groups are a part of this ecosystem. And I think the best way that we can serve any of our members is to think of that big picture.”
Inclusion is another one of McBryan’s focuses, an issue that returned to public attention when a video surfaced of police officers kicking homeless people out of an LRT station this winter. McBryan said one of the ways DBA is committed to furthering inclusivity is by supporting other organizations already tackling the issue.
“I don’t think DBA ever wants to be or should be the main character in any of this kind of work,” McBryan said. “It’s more just recognizing where there are community grassroots organizations serving racialized communities downtown and our vulnerable population downtown, and doing whatever we can both with our dollars and our audience and our influence to support that work.”
As for the months ahead, with vaccinations proceeding and public health restrictions possibly lifting, McBryan said the plan is to get people back to the core in a safe manner through community events and other festivals, albeit with modifications.
“Those of us involved in downtown vibrancy are betting big on the most positive possible outcome,” McBryan said. “It’s gonna feel different, it’s gonna be different, there won’t be big crowds, but it’ll be some form of recovery as soon as possible.”
Phoning 211, or visiting ab.211.ca, is a useful first step for those needing assistance. Community resource specialists search for appropriate resources nearest to the caller. Inquire about advocacy when you call, as navigating through community and government programs can be stressful. For example, Edmonton’s CMHA office provides assistance with filling out AISH applications.
Calls to information services at 211 have increased 30 percent over the previous year according to Emma Potter, Director of Crisis and Navigation Support Services at the Canadian Mental Health Association. “There are challenges with mental health, isolation, loneliness and meeting basic needs,” Potter said.
The pandemic has certainly challenged many of us in many ways. Financial issues, eviction, anxiety, stress, and loneliness can feel catastrophic, and when you are in crisis, navigating ways to get support can be difficult. But help is available and we’ve gathered some resources for you.
In addition to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, those searching for financial aid can seek provincial assistance from Alberta Works. The Emergency Needs Allowance can be used for utilities, eviction payments, and more. Phone 780-415-4900 or visit Community Social Services.
For basic needs, Leftovers Rescue Food has a Fresh Deliveries program which operates on a pay what you want model. Phone 780-809-1962 or visit RescueFood.ca.
Seniors looking for groceries and prescriptions to be delivered at no cost can find help from BagHalfFull.com. The service was created by Canadian medical students to help those who cannot leave the house.
The Seniors Friendly Calling Program from the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (Sage) is an option for those who want some human connection. Phone 780-423-5510 and choose extension five to be added to the call list.
Self-isolation, closures, and the limiting of in-person interactions makes mental wellness a top concern. From March to December, the main issues for callers on the Edmonton Distress Line were mental health and loneliness. An excellent resource is DropInYeg.ca. The page provides locations for single-session counselling. During the pandemic, therapy is provided over the phone. Those with insurance should phone 780-424-0294 or visit PsychologistsAssociation.AB.ca in order to use the Psychologist Referral Service.
If you would like to contribute to the community, volunteering is still happening within many organizations. For example, phone 780-701-9014 or visit ConnectingEdmontonSeniors.ca to help make friendly calls to seniors.
CMHA is also accepting volunteer applications. Potter said this will become more important as in-person activities begin resuming later this year. To learn more visit edmonton.cmha.ca.
VolunteerConnector.org is a page where you can search for opportunities using a variety of filters including time commitment and remote volunteering.
Finally, if volunteering is not an option, consider
donating to community organizations. Like the
people of our neighbourhoods, organizations have
also been affected by the pandemic as fundraising
events have been cancelled. CMHA, Bag-Half-
Full, Leftovers Rescue Food, and Sage are all
supported by donations.