Edmonton has some of the highest homeownership rates in Canada, so a lack of attention to its rental market has bred some misconceptions. One of them being that finding an apartment is harder and more expensive in the core, when the opposite is true if compared to Edmonton’s outlying areas. That’s good news for Oliver and Downtown dwellers, who are overwhelmingly young, living alone and renting. That said, if you’re looking for a place for under $1,000 a month, those days are pretty much over.
Homeowners: Average Selling Price, May-July 2015
+$42,322 from May–July 2014
DIFFERENCE FROM LISTED PRICE:
DAYS ON MARKET: 54
+12 from May–July 2014
-$12,121 from May–July 2014
DIFFERENCE FROM LISTED PRICE: -$7,884
DAYS ON MARKET: 49 +2 from May–July 2014
Restaurants come and go. Even the most hyped-up eateries are lucky to live a decade, and anything past that becomes an institution. That’s what makes Bistro Praha a monument linking old downtown with new downtown.
It serves continental classics that the modern eater seems to have lost all appetite for in the era of beer-can chicken and truffle popcorn—except here, where the tartare and schnitzel is as good as it was when it opened in 1977. The continuity was interrupted for two years after a fire destroyed its former home in the Kelly Ramsey Building on Rice Howard Way.
This photo, taken on a chilly night shortly after it reopened in 2011, shows how not just the decor but the mood was reassembled two blocks away, down to the mural that’s an exact replica of the one that perished in the fire. Even the chairs, tables and antique lamps are nearly the same. It’s still the late-night sanctuary for the opera and theatre crowd, too. And the classical music hasn’t waned.
Sometimes, things are just as good the second time around.
Spend enough time downtown and you’ll spot Nana Kumi, most likely on his road bike, a bright orange Masi Speciale covered in a collage of stickers from local businesses. But Kumi’s Oliver apartment is more than just a place for him to hang his signature commuter hats; it’s a way of life for the gregarious general manager and managing partner of Tres Carnales, one of Edmonton’s most beloved eateries. “I love everything about working in the restaurant, but downtown is who I am,” he says. “You can walk to where you need to, and no matter where you go, you will see a friend.” Here are a few of his favourite places along his four-minute ride.
Capital Plaza, 10800 97 Ave.
The newly built pavilion outside of the provincial legislature is a preferred stop on Nana’s daily ride. “This is one of my favourite new additions to Edmonton,” he says of the concourse that sits just north of the grounds. Nana—a self-described people person—appreciates the daytime people watching and the expansive plaza’s vista. “Looking down 108th street is unreal. The view itself is worth everything.”
Nana and friends often find themselves descending the staircase of this watering hole.The long, international beer menu, eclectic DJs and gourmet pub-grub are reason enough to frequent Red Star, nominated by Air Canada’s magazine as one of Canada’s Favourite Bars. But for Nana, it’s the people inside bringing him back. “It’s just one of those places that you can go into and somebody you know will be there,” he says. “Kind of like Cheers.”
Being no stranger to the small business model, Nana appreciates the independent coffeeshop’s warmth and friendliness. It’s also family owned—and that’s one of the biggest factors for near daily visits from Nana, an ardent supporter of local business. Of course, the barista’s expertly crafted coffee certainly doesn’t hurt.
Working at a nationally acclaimed taqueria means Nana’s never far from a spectacular meal. But the artfully prepared modern Italian at Daniel Costa’s 34-seater is a regular indulgence for him. His penchant for pasta gravitates him to the cavatelli, whenever the sausage sugo is on the menu. “It’s my comfort food, especially on Sundays. If I need a really good day of eating, it’s there.”
Rice Howard Way Before and after a shift at Tres Carnales, Nana likes to take in the restaurant’s surrounding area. He rides down the cobblestone roads, appreciating the architectural array of modernism and heritage buildings, as he savours the charms of Edmonton’s only official pedestrian street—meaning there’s no jaywalking tickets for the steady flow of foot traffic and the many friendly faces just outside his work’s front door.
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Remember that time on a Sunday in Edmonton when you had too many options for things to do and the Downtown and Oliver streets were crowded with people?
Of course you don’t. On Sundays, downtown can feel like a sleepy town you pulled into off the highway. To find a good coffee or a new pair of shoes, to hem a pant or fix a phone, to find out whether the new “it” restaurant lives up to the hype, can feel like you’re living an episode of the Amazing Race.
Actually, it often feels that way after six o’clock each day, but Sundays are guaranteed snoozers. The cafes are closed; a majority of bars are silent; offices are locked. And, thus, the sidewalks are barren. Even our autobahn-width streets and free street parking, a friendly plea to incoming shoppers, if nothing else, are lightly trafficked.
None of this holds as true in many of our suburban spaces. They don’t hold true on Whyte Ave. neither, where at least the shops stay open till five and popular restaurants like Meat and Ampersand 27 are open … late … seven days a week.
Since the post-millennium downtown revival, we’ve added close to 10,000 people to our core neighbourhoods. Many of them are young, make decent money and live interesting lives. Yet so many of the businesses in their neighbourhoods don’t cater to them. Instead, their business hours serve the ephemeral office crowd that drives in and out, for five days and 40 hours a week.
There’s no reason for this other than culture. We’ve allowed Sunday shopping far longer than other cities. (Halifax, for example, only legalized shopping on the Lord’s Day in 2006, a decision that took far longer because of its deep Christian past. But while commerce took a step forward, the amended bylaw didn’t transform Halifax’s already bustling weekend streets; those were baked into the waterfront’s DNA.) It’s not like we don’t get out on Sundays, either. Down in the river valley, the trails and pathways are busy arteries of recreational life. But up in the downtown, it’s tumbleweeds.
Meanwhile Old Strathcona is a nexus of activity. Perhaps that’s why the City thought of Whyte first when piloting the possible car-free Edmonton, an effort to shut down the street for pedestrians for a few hours on select days. Maybe downtown businesses would benefit from it more.
It has worked elsewhere. Since the ’90s, Ottawa has closed Colonel By Drive to traffic every Sunday for pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, pets and all other forms of foot-based life. The results have been transformative. Colonel By Drive winds along the Rideau Canal (Ottawa’s version of our river valley) and ends up right downtown. Effectively, the route feeds pedestrians onto Ottawa’s once-dead Sunday streets. And since Sunday motor traffic is nearly absent anyway, few complained.
Imagine if we did the same downtown, and not just to accommodate nightlife, as it’s been proposed for Whyte, but day-life. On Sunday, we pick a road or two, which are hardly being used by motorists in the first place, and throw them open to people walking, biking or just loitering. We encourage businesses to extend not just their hours, but patios. Invite food trucks and kiosks. Buskers, too.
We can’t force businesses to open and treat downtown as more than a roofless stadium for the service sector. What we can do, though, is bring people here on Sundays, much in the way that festivals already do, only this wouldn’t have any planned programming—just whatever happens when we hand over our downtown to the people.
Tim Querengesser is president of The Edmonton Wayfinding Society.
You come to know a place very well once you’ve walked its every road, five days a week, for the last four years.
For instance, Janet Heikel, the postwoman in charge of a small but densely populated Oliver route, knows the next buildings to be supplanted by towers. She also knows which property’s residents are miffed that said towers will shade their pool. She knows which notable people go to which hair salon and she’s pretty sure she knows who’s addicted to online shopping. She knows the owner of the new izakaya is related to the owner of the new dental lab, and thanks to them, she now knows the best sushi and best dentists city-wide. And she knows that four times a year a certain community newsmagazine will add several pounds and hours to her shift, which she’s not too happy about.
She also knows to begin every day on the north side of her route, where seniors apartments Ansgar Villa and Kiwanis Place are. “They have a certain time that the mail has to come,” said the Canada Post worker of 28 years during a walkabout in July. “And let me tell you, they know everything.” Not just seniors, but construction workers and secretaries alike have made Heikel an authority on these nine-square blocks, but she needn’t their expertise to know that two Jasper Avenue crosswalks along her route—119th and 120 streets—are unsafe.
In four years she’s seen the aftermath of two serious pedestrian accidents and has heard of countless more. “Police used to park here and tag people who don’t stop,” said Heikel, pointing to the 119 St. crosswalk controlled by little more than a sign and some white lines. “But after they’re gone it’s back to the same thing.”
That’s starting to change. Last June, transportation engineers caved under immense pressure from city council and the Oliver Community League, which has raised concerns for years, and deemed those crosswalks—plus two more along the west side of Jasper Ave.—worthy of some traffic lights. Some were installed in August, but lights alone won’t tame the seven-lane, 50-kilometre-an-hour road. That’s why Jasper Ave. is about to undergo a makeover along 109 St. to 124 St.
Public consultations begin this fall and everything is on the table—wider sidewalks, fewer lanes, bike paths, trees, street furniture. Beginning in 2018, it could be the most transformative construction projecton the west side of Edmonton’s main street in a generation, and set the tone for future road projects across the Capital.
But only if the public asks for it; otherwise, the future avenue will resemble the current one, with fresher pavement. The potential redesign was decided after a rather awkward public chiding of the Transportation branch from City Council last December. It was presented in the Capital Budget debates as an $8.8 million road reconstruction, because, unlike the Jasper Ave. redesign east of 109 St., the Oliver portion falls out of the downtown master plan. It’s now been refashioned the “Jasper Avenue Street-scape Concept” plan. What’s the difference?
Imagine you had to renovate your house. Imagine the foundation was so cracked and the floors so pocked and the grass so weeded that the whole thing just needed to be razed and rebuilt. Would you reconstruct it verbatim? Maybe, it if was the perfect house and it suited your needs for the next 40 years.
But west Jasper Ave. is far from perfect. Unlike its Downtown side, there are no trees and few benches, and in addition to risky crosswalks, the sidewalks are narrow and the lanes wider for fast traffic flow. There are other problems too: Businesses hollow the public realm with lifestyle posters and barred and blackened windows, while others abut the side-walks with their parking lots. But those are not your property. Those are your neighbours’. Maybe once they see your spectacular new house they’ll step up in the way that buildings along Whyte Avenue have since its 1980s transformation.
Maybe. Until then, it’s just you, your lot and $8.8 million. What are you going to build?
“During the rush hours of the afternoon, Jasper avenue, the finest and broadest thoroughfare of the whole of the golden west, is frequently so crowded that a heedless farmer or truckman coming down the wrong side of the street will throw the whole system traffic into confusion and frequently causes runaways. … Ye horsemen beware.” – Edmonton Bulletin, 1907
Jasper Avenue is not a house. It’s a main street. In fact, it was originally called Main Street. It crosses through Downtown and into Edmonton’s most populated neighbourhood, one currently undergoing redevelopment and demographic change unprecedented since the 1960s. While surrounding core neighbourhoods shrink, stagnate or see incremental growth, Oliver (as well as Downtown) is growing at the rate of new suburbs. And though 60 per cent of Edmontonians drive to work, the same percentage of Oliver residents don’t, meaning they interact with the sidewalks more as they walk (14 per cent) or bus (21 per cent) to work.
The second mention of Jasper Ave. existing in city archive files is, in fact, about its footpaths. (The first record is its renaming from “Main Street” on Feb. 18, 1882). “The need for sidewalks is greatly felt,” reads the 1883 municipal document urging landowners to invest in them. “There is nothing that gives more City-like appearance to a place than good sidewalks.” It then lays out the benefits: convenient mobility, enhanced property values and the chance to “show to parties that may come here this summer that we do not lack faith in the place ourselves and have some little enterprise in us.”
Deeper into the archives, one sees when road congestion becomes problematic. “During the rush hours of the afternoon,” reads a 1907 Edmonton Bulletin article, “Jasper avenue, the finest and broadest thoroughfare of the whole of the golden west, is frequently so crowded that a heedless farmer or truckman coming down the wrong side of the street will throw the whole system traffic into confusion and frequently causes runaways. … Ye horsemen beware.”
Whyte Ave. and Jasper’s seven-lane widths originated from the need for horsemen to freely turn their carriages, so it’s not until the postwar boom that Ye Carmen and Ye Carwomen must beware. In 1961, four of the ten most accident-prone intersections for cars dotted Jasper, between 100th to 109th street. It would take the city’s best traffic engineers to find solutions with tow-zones and underground parking, so people wouldn’t disrupt traffic by parking until they were beneath it.
Today, not a single Jasper or Whyte crossing makes the top 10 list of vehicle collisions. Not even the top 20.
But year after year, they dominate in pedestrian accidents, according to data acquired through a freedom of information and privacy request by #RebootWhyte, a grassroots campaign to improve Strathcona’s main street. The two worst Jasper Ave. intersections were 113 St. and 109 St., with 13 and 20 pedestrian and bike accidents each since 2005.
There are two ways to look at this: that it’s only natural places with the highest pedestrian volumes would see the most injuries, or that we’ve failed to adequately protect pedestrians in places where they’re most at risk.
Jasper Avenue in 1913, before the automobile revolution.
It was a scorching July morning, so Janet Heikel didn’t mind if the sprinklers on Beth Shalom’s lawn spritzed her grey uniform. The flowers were in full bloom. Street-sweepers dabbed their perspiring foreheads. And construction workers hammered away at a nearly finished Jewish seniors residence on the corner of 119th and Jasper, where, 12 months ago to that day, an Earls employee crossing the road was, according to a witness, “tossed like a rag doll,” because a car didn’t stop for her. She was 19 and may never live independently again, yet she may not be alive today if she were one of the seniors living up the block or who’ll soon move into the residential tower.
According to city statistics, they’re five times more likely to die in pedestrian collisions. In 2015’s first four months, five of six pedestrian deaths were seniors. “You should see them standing on the corner with their walkers and canes,” said Heikel. “If they’re not aggressive—and they’re not—no one stops. You have to make a point of stepping out. …There’s been so many times I’ve just said, ‘Come with me, come with me.’”
And it’s not just the elderly she worries about. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind has an office nearby staffed with visually impaired people like Bruce, the custodian on a first-name basis with Heikel. “There’s an audible signal on that,” he said, pointing his broom down the road to 121 St. He turned to the uncontrolled intersection at 120 St. “So I guess you’re taking your chances on that one.” Is that enough for him to walk a block? “No. I’m, like, whatever.”
And therein lies the problem. People don’t like detours, especially if they’re on foot. A traffic engineer might stand on the corner with a clipboard and counter and conclude that traffic lights are unnecessary because there’s a controlled crosswalk 100 metres away. But a pedestrian is, like, whatever. And so he puts one foot in front of the other, assured that a crosswalk wouldn’t exist if it weren’t safe.
In defence of the traffic engineer, Jasper Ave. isn’t a pedestrian plaza. It’s always been and will remain a thoroughfare dutifully transferring the passengers of 30,000 cars, busses and motorcycles to their destinations daily. Whatever comes of the new streetscape, it will need to balance Jasper’s dual identities as main street and thoroughfare, but realizing that one of those identities has long outperformed the other is important to restoring the balance.
“If you’re coming in from an 80-kilometre road and you see these bloody seven-lanes here,” said historian Shirley Lowe, co-author of The Life of a Neighbourhood: A History of Edmonton’s Oliver District 1870–1950. “You think, ‘It’s a car street’—and it is.”
Lowe grew up here in the ’50s and ’60s, shortly after the “West End” was renamed Oliver, and just as the car craze transformed it into what it is today. “I was six years old when I would walk up to Jasper Avenue, get on the number five, go downtown to the school of dance, get off on 106th Street, have my dance lesson, cross Jasper Avenue, get on the bus and get home. By. My. Self.” Would she dare let a child cross it alone today? “No, because of the culture of the road. They’re not looking for pedestrians. I bet if you parked a kid on that corner [119 St.] hell would freeze over before a car would stop.”
For Gil Penalosa, founder of Toronto’s 8–80 Cities and Bogota, Colombia’s former parks commissioner, whether public spaces are safe for children and seniors is the very metric with which he consults municipalities. “If everything we did in our cities was great for an eight-year-old and great for an 80-year-old,” he explained, “then it would be great for everybody.”
It’s a fresh take on a city that saw eight per cent more pedestrian accidents last year, despite dramatic declines in car collisions overall. But it’s ever more urgent as baby boomers age into retirement. By 2031, a million Albertans will be 65 or older. Many will retire in central neighbourhoods to maintain their independence, to walk to the grocer, medi-clinic and bus stop. To keep social ties. “Their number one issue is isolation,” said Penalosa. “They’re terrified of the day they lose their drivers licence, not because they love their cars, but because they want mobility.”
“BEING ABLE TO WALK AND BIKE SAFELY IN EDMONTON SHOULD BE A HUMAN RIGHT.”—GIL PENALOSA, FOUNDER AND CHAIR OF 8–80 CITIES
Meanwhile, Millennials—the second largest generation and biggest cohort of the Canadian workforce—are pouring into downtowns and more often choosing not to drive. In 50 years, their children and grandchildren will contribute to Metro Edmonton’s 2.1 million population. What are these generations inheriting? “This isn’t something trivial,” he says. “Being able to walk and bike safely in Edmonton should be a human right.”
Looking at pictures of Jasper Ave., old and new, Penalosa said true walkability can never flourish for as long as there are seven lanes of traffic moving at 50-km an hour and pedestrians must push buttons to cross it. “That’s a clear symptom of their priorities.” But above all, he said, it will take “vision and guts.”
No doubt the 2009 transportation master plan, The Way We Move shows vision. But when it came time for city administrators to deliver on that vision the only guts in sight were those left on the floor last December after councillors tore Transportation a new one. That’s because the downtown bike corridor, complete streets (a policy to serve all road users safely) and active transportation (a policy for walking and cycling) were effectively defunded in the proposed Capital Budget that would direct Edmonton’s growth for the next four years.
“I’m concerned that we still haven’t figured out that people on their feet, on the street, and some-
times on bikes, is a sign of a great and healthy and interactive and integrated city,” an exasperated Mayor Don Iveson said to Transportation head Dorian Wandzura. “And I’m frustrated that after seven years … that still hasn’t gotten through.”
After a brief intermission to welcome George H. Luck School students eager to see city hall’s inner workings, councillors continued to grill Wandzura’s team for its disappointing Jasper Ave. improvement plan, as if they were the sixth graders present. “Can you explain to me how [this] fell off the table?” rebuked Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen. “Why we didn’t look at this as an opportunity to do a new urban design, why it’s just a like-for-like rehab—why’d that happen?” Coun. Henderson, who represents neighbourhoods along Whyte Ave., called it “nonsense” and “absolutely crazy.”
The tone was more positive in June as Transportation planners unveiled a new approach to crosswalks, taking pedestrians’ safety, rather than just the national traffic guidelines, into consideration. Ten Jasper, Whyte and 104th avenue intersections would soon have manual controls, at a cost of $100,000 each. However, upgrading the other 190 crosswalks identified as inadequate will take 20 years, while others that probably should have been on the list were disregarded. “I still feel that pedestrian safety is taking second place to concerns about traffic flow,” Coun. Henderson said via email.
A senior administrator who’s asked not to be identified said the message to promote walkability doesn’t resonate for the majority of their colleagues in Transportation. “There’s a lot of will in the planning area, but when we hit operations, people who actually run busses, ETS and LRT are very rigid about how they want things to work.”
The City employee worried that planners working on the Jasper Avenue Streetscape Concept will turn to the rules—guidelines on road width, for instance—and “over-engineer” it just as they did Scona Road.
The 2012 arterial road rehab resulted in ticked-off and ticketed drivers speeding in lanes clearly designed for efficiency, as well as residents of the Mill Creek neighbourhood appalled by its hostile design.
Scona Road is also known as 99 St. But in the Transportation department, it has another nickname: “The Beginning of the End.”
On the afternoon of another summer scorcher, Dorian Wandzura boarded the no. 7 bus, enthusiastically greeted the driver and flashed his ETS staff pass clipped to his slacks. He left the suit jacket at home and wore an “Edmonton Elections 2013” T-shirt, one of his first local keepsakes after arriving in the middle of the political race from the City of Regina. He spent his first months as the new Transportation GM listening more than leading, observing his staff’s prevailing outlook while allowing the refreshed council to find its own. Then he moved on his ambitious plan to align all 3,400 staff with the same four goals around accessible and sustainable transportation.
Employees describe the GM as a strategist. One of his favourite stories to tell happened at NASA happened before he was born, and it’s about John F. Kennedy. While touring the space centre in 1962, the President asked a janitor what he does there. Legend has it the janitor replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
“That’s the quintessential story of alignment,” explained Wandzura, as the bus climbed Scona Rd. “The janitor plays as equal a roll to getting a man on the moon as the eggheads in the lab. It’s really about making sure the experts understand their role in active transportation and creating vibrant spaces.”
“If I were to close my eyes and fast forward, I could easily see [Jasper Ave. as] a vibrant people-place—lots of activity, lots of vitality, where for 16 hours of the day it has life to it. Where pedestrians and vehicles share this lively place.” –Dorian Wandzura, City of Edmonton’s general manager of transportation
Then why were several of those tenants—not just on Jasper, but city-wide—ignored in the last budget proposal on his watch? “We dropped the ball,” he admitted; Transportation made an error in “not connecting” the street’s necessary renewals with Oliver’s growth. But, he said, funding a complete redo of Jasper in the budget could have displaced a firehall or the Milner’s makeover, hence the $8.8 million won’t be nearly enough to cover the entire 15-blocks and council will need to find money elsewhere in 2019. (As one senior planner put it: “It’s chump change.”)
But that hasn’t discouraged Wandzura. “If I were to close my eyes and fast forward,” he said, “I could easily see [Jasper Ave. as] a vibrant people-place—lots of activity, lots of vitality, where for 16 hours of the day it has life to it. Where pedestrians and vehicles share this lively place.”
He knows a new streetscape won’t achieve it alone, but it’s the first step. To get there, the city—administrators, politicians and residents alike—must view it as a community project rather than just a road project, he said, which is why meaningful public consultation, absent on Scona Rd., is imperative. Wandzura thinks it could be a watershed moment determining how all “premier streets” are upgraded from now on.
One of them, Whyte Ave., was right outside the no. 7’s window. Wandzura pointed to extended street patios, rainbow crosswalks and a polka-dotted alley closed to cars, as evidence of his department’s cultural change. Getting there during a period of rapid growth is like “changing a tire while the car is in motion,” he said. But he insisted they’re getting there.
The unnamed City employee, however, was unconvinced and worried any public consultations could turn to a “bait and switch,” resulting in rigid compromises. The Oliver community will need to “push” if they want serious change, said the administrator.
But push for what? Asked what would make the west side of Jasper friendlier, Janet Heikel didn’t have a clear idea beyond more controlled cross-walks. All she had was a hunch: “For some reason, it’s like a drag race here.” At that point, she ceased being the the sage postwoman and became the common pedestrian.
But if enough pedestrians show up this fall, then maybe together they can help identify those reasons and make it a main street again.
The Oliver Community League has played a critical role in moving Jasper Ave.’s makeover from a rudimentary road project to a full-scale redesign. This timeline shows you how persistent advocacy and engagement makes a tangible difference.
Pre-2010–today: OCL fields residents’ complaints that Jasper Ave. is unpleasant, noisy, and, above all, unsafe. League minutes suggest it’s also car-centric, in disrepair and that it literally divides our community in two.
2011–today: OCL meets numerous times with your councillors Jane Batty (2011–2014) and Scott McKeen (2014–present) to discuss these concerns.
Fall 2014: City administration proposed that Jasper Ave. be repaved in the 2015–2018 Capital budget cycle.
Nov. 2014: OCL members Lisa Brown and Erin Toop present to the full City Council at the budget public hearing. They asked for a safe and welcoming Jasper Avenue, a place for Oliver residents to gather and connect, a street that brings our community together rather than divides it.
Dec. 2014: City Council agrees, voting unanimously to redirect the administration to run a public consultation process that would re-envision the ave.
Fall 2015: City of Edmonton-led consultations begin. The OCL’s message to you? “It’s important that community members participate. We encourage everyone to attend the public meetings or to provide feedback online.”
Spruce up your crib with new furniture built with your own bare, fully fingered hands, thanks to the guidance of acclaimed woodwork design boutique Oliver Apt. This daylong beginner class is safe and fun, taking you through the steps of crafting a beautiful contemporary bench. Sorry, Ron Swanson won’t make a cameo, but pizza will. Plaid clothing optional. ($600 in advance starting Saturdays in Sept/Oct; incl. materials and refreshments; Oliver Apt., 10225 100 Ave.)
Design stencils and layer colours as you construct your pop-art masterpiece during this six-week beginner workshop on the basics of printmaking. These techniques will pay off in vibrant design prints perfect for posters and shirts. Not your thing? The Society of Northern Alberta Print-artists can indulge your etching, letterpress and relief print courses. ($286 starting September 22; SNAP Print Studio, 10123 121 St.)
It’s your chance to find out why Kavalan—this year’s “World’s Best Whiskey”—comes 10,000 kilometres from Scotland. The first step to becoming a connoisseur of Taiwanese and Indian single malt whiskies is attending deVine Wines’ tasting and presentation. Sip and learn about the extensive history and unique molasses distilling process of this new and exploding market.($50 in advance on Sept. 24 at 7pm; deVine Wines, 10111 104 St.;devinewines.ca
Annie Parent, owner of the eclectic boutique Habitat Etc., walks you through the steps of building and caring for your own succulent garden. Perfect for an evening out with friends, each of you leaves with your own personalized arrangement of echeveria, stonecrop and more.($50 on Sept. 22, incl. materials and refreshments; Habitat Etc., 10187 104 St.)
No guarantee your set will top the charts, but this 12-week introduction to music software Abelton Live will teach you how to produce sick electronic music and hip-hop beats. These seminar-style classes with the DJs and concert promoters known as Night Vision will build your confidence with music theory, mixing and mastering as you transform into a pro. Wait, did we actually say “sick”? The transformation’s begun… ($700–$800 starting Sept. 13; Night Vision Music, 11231 Jasper Ave.)
Ease your way into the season with the help of this holiday entertaining workshop. Learn some of the coming season’s trending eats, such as Spanish dates and chicken parmesan tidbits, alongside Gail Hall, one of Edmonton’s most knowledgeable chefs and culinary educators. ($175 on Nov. 14, incl. all ingredients, recipe kit, apron, wine and certificate; Seasoned Solutions Loft Cooking, 10249 104 St.)
Think game apps are distracting? Wait till you’re creating your own with the world’s most popular video game design technology. The workshop hosted by Edmonton Digital Arts College covers design foundations, application and customization using the Unity 3D platform. Over 15 weeks, participants collaborate on a game from concept to completion, while each gets one-on-one time with an industry professional. Best of all, unlike level 147 of Candy Crush, this class won’t cost you a dime. (Free starting in October; Stanley Milner Library)
Neighborhood Bridges founder Nicola Fairbrother with Jon Headley (and one of his two pet snakes).
Against the backdrop of a brightly painted wall and colourful bouquet, Nicola Fairbrother doesn’t appear to fit in in her own office. Dressed in all black—from her shoes to her horn-rimmed glasses—it’s easier to see in her the former punk-rock road manager than the current founder of a social services agency. But its her non-conformism that makes Neighborhood Bridges a radical and pioneering agency for intellectually disabled people.
“I wanted to scorch the earth and do something big,” says Fairbrother, a central Edmonton resident who founded the organization in 2007, which is now in an office behind Oliver Square. She’s doing it by ignoring the narrative that people with disabilities are a societal burden, along with a glossary of terms she believes has bred institutional inequality. Within these walls, “support workers” are “human rights workers,” and the organization is a “community.”
Together—Fairbrother, co-founder Joanna Brown, 100 advocators and advocatees, their innumerable roommates, friends and families—are all “community members.” Once equality is established in language, she says, it’s established in the homes where these people with intellectual disabilities live.
But this “community” is more than semantics. Its office and nearly all 18 homes it manages are within Oliver, Queen Mary Park and Westmount.
A decade ago, Fairbrother teamed with Brown to find geographic areas for their organization, based on a series of “human indicators” necessary for community development: housing costs, vacancies, employment opportunities, transit routes, parks, community leagues. Together, all of these support people with intellectual disabilities to be fully accepted as citizens, live autonomously and develop relationships that could alleviate some of the symptoms of oppression that they endure.
These three core neighbourhoods had what’s necessary to help mitigate poverty and social isolation, according to Brown. The amenities were proximal and landlords more than willing to rent to people with disabilities. A priest openly embraced and supported their vision and many businesses showed diverse hiring practices, including the Oliver Community League Hall, which for years hired a custodian from its community. “Many people in these three central neighbourhoods were really excited to team up with us and help make this community a healthy one,” says Brown.
By integrating its offices and members into our neighbourhood, the organization wants everyone to reflect on what it means to celebrate all human variation, to embrace and accept the characteristics of disability, limitations included, instead of treating these characteristics as “a medical problem to solve or a moral problem to manage,” says Fairbrother, who recently directed a documentary on controlled breeding called Surviving Eugenics.
Though we no longer genetically engineer disabilities out of our communities, Fairbrother sees social isolation, lack of personal will and mistreatment as another form of eugenics.
Growing up with her father in South Africa during the Apartheid era, her earliest notions of the world was an unjust place. “At a young age, I saw countless human rights violations and a general disregard for the human form,” she says, grimacing. She turns to a wall covered sporadically with portrait photography. “And here I was living the life of the white privileged; we had servants and all that.”
She was a teenager by the time they moved to Edmonton in 1986. Fairbrother best describes those years as “unbridled chaos and nihilism,” which was channeled into road managing punk bands and spreading angry anthems of Generation X across Canada. “If your next question is, did my general sense of mid-1980s’ nuclear apocalypse disenfranchisement affect the work I do?” she asks. “Then yes, it certainly did.” Her smile widens. “I’m a pissed off kid of the nuclear age.”
When she realized her anger could be better placed, she turned to human services, varying from social to advocacy work. Often times, she grew frustrated with colleagues and consultants, whom she says recognized the need for significant changes to their practises but didn’t act on it. They were ethical, fair-minded, well-intentioned people, she says, but unless their practises were more radical the lives of the people for whom they advocated wouldn’t be greatly improved. More disheartening was the idea that she shouldn’t have personal relationships with clients, and that she—the social worker—was in control of their life choices.
She started researching philosophers and critical thinkers like James C. Scott, who studied oppressed populations in Southeast Asia, and looked to early disability activists who fought for human rights. She came away realizing that disability wasn’t the problem. It was poverty.
Most people living independently with intellectual disabilities make well below $27,300, Canada’s “unofficial poverty line” for single people. Unemployment sits around 70 per cent. That’s not because they can’t work, says Fairbrother, but because of a cultural narrative that “these people are to be taken care of, and so they’re surrounded with paid support instead of authentic relationships.”
Eight years later, the agency is housing people that medical professionals never imagined would be living out in the community. People deemed too sick or too unstable even for group homes now live autonomous lives, gaining employment at community leagues, local businesses like Studio Bloom on 124 St. and meaningful volunteerism like helping build Westmount’s community garden.“The notion that people with disabilities are a burden is a huge problem for us.”
Fairbrother glances at her pinging cellphone and smiles. Jon Headley, someone she advocates for, has texted to say he’s on his way to the office. About an hour later, she hears a loud bang outside. “Oh, Jon must be here,” she says, laughing.
Headley enters smiling and apologetic. He’s still getting used to his new motorized wheelchair, but it’s maybe one of the smaller changes to his life since being referred to Neighborhood Bridges in 2012. “I get to make my own choices,” he says, “and I’m still getting used to the fact that I’m able to control my life now.”
Past organizations assisting Headley frowned upon the client-worker relationships, but that’s key to the premise of Neighborhood Bridges. Most agencies will house several disabled people in a group home with one or two support staff; Bridges’ community members each have personally dedicated advocates and live with non-intellectually disabled roommates contracted by the agency to provide additional support as needed. Headley feels especially lucky because one of his roommates isn’t just a close friend, but a chef. Tonight, he’s more than comfortable inviting Fairbrother over for dinner because they also think of each other as friends.
Headley was drawn by the organization’s rejection of traditional values, like group housing, and how it encourages people to truly become active members of the broader community. For Headley, it’s playing on an organized wheelchair soccer team in Boyle McCauley and becoming a member of the Self Advocacy Federation for disability pride. “They treat me like a person,” he says about Neighborhood Bridges, “not just a client.”
Over time, the founders hope that other communities will see their own versions of Neighborhood Bridges, and that they’ll be a part of helping them take root. “My only hope is they don’t look exactly like us,” says Fairbrother. “We are the redheaded step-child and in many ways the first of our kind. Social change starts with the agitators and I hope we’ve created a foundation for other organizations to adopt and evolve.”
Are you a property owner willing to offer long-term leases to Neighborhood Bridges members? Does your business have diverse hiring practises and an interest in mitigating poverty in the disability community? The organization embraces local partnerships. Get in touch at 780-758-2815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the summer sun sets, the crowds that blossomed in Churchill Square blow their seeds west, to an L-shaped strip that comes alive every fall with the vast majority of downtown’s 30,000 students. Following the marketing trend of “district-ifying” downtown (Ice District, Warehouse District, etc.), Norquest College, one of 10 post-secondaries within this region, has nick-named it the Education District.
But you don’t need official demarcation to see this district take shape. These colleges are quickly developing new campuses, parks, student housing and parking garages to accommodate a student population set to grow by nearly 40 per cent, according to the Downtown Business Association.
What’s this mean for the future of our neighbourhoods? Find out on p. 19, where recent MacEwan graduate and VICE Media writer Mack Lamoureux investigates. As a bonus, he shares with the next cohort of Oliver and Downtown pupils what he knows about finding cheap rides, food and beer.
Even if your keg-stand days are over, it’s never too late to pursue some form of learning. This fall begins the lengthy process of remodelling the Oliver side of Jasper Ave. and potentially transforming it from a seven-lane thoroughfare to a pleasant promenade. I say potentially, because it depends on what residents want. Our cover story (p. 14) looks into the problems and possible solutions for our main street.
Maybe civics isn’t your cup of higher education. What about whiskey tasting and printmaking? I doubt you’ll snooze through the list of casual classes assembled for you on p. 8. It’s written by Brittany Nugent, who, like Lamoureux, is a MacEwan talent and downtown neighbour. Same goes for Jyllian Park (“Man About Downtown”; p. 7) and Allison Voisin (“The Human Touch”; p. 12). These four writers—pulled to our neighbourhood for an education, now helping us see it differently—show how making Downtown and Oliver a student destination could enrich it for everybody.
That’s probably not what comes to mind when you think of the students next door. One’s more likely to wince at the late-night revelry and fast-food restaurants that will follow—and no doubt they will, and already have. But I, for one, welcome the next generation to our core neighbourhoods. Not just because they’ll offer much needed vivacity to our public streets at night, but because they may also be the next generation of Edmontonians.
Maybe by immersing themselves in the city centre, instead of being segregated in a traditional university campus, they’ll see Edmonton’s inner-workings, grow attached, and stick around. In a world where cities compete amongst each other for global talent, creating an environment in which they want to hang up their hats—and degrees—could be to all of Edmonton’s advantage.
I want to believe Mayor Don Iveson’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation. I want to believe that, as an “Honorary Witness,” he will be responsible “along with [his] fellow leaders to be the keepers of history.”
I want to believe his words. But more than believing, I want to see this commitment in the redevelopment of an area with vital links to Edmonton’s Indigenous history.
Since as far back as 8,000 C.E., Rossdale Flats has been a gathering site for the Blackfoot, Assiniboine, Cree and Metis. Here, they traded, practised rituals, performed the Goose Dance and the Sun Dance. Here, they assembled themselves for easy access to the North Saskatchewan River.
Rossdale has a rich history as evidenced by the Rossdale Flats Aboriginal Oral Histories Project, a study, completed in 2004, that revealed a living memory of Edmonton’s lesser-known and lesser-celebrated Indigenous history.
Indigenous Peoples, vital to the fur trade, frequently camped just outside the walls of Fort Edmonton. The Metis called it Fort-des-Prairies; the Cree, Amiskwaskahegan (Beaver Hills House). Fort Augustus II and Edmonton House II, both critical fur trading posts, were part of Rossdale at one time. After the floods of 1830, the fort was relocated to higher ground near the site of the present day Alberta Legislature. However, Indigenous Peoples continued to live in Rossdale trading furs, building York boats and transporting whitefish to the fort. Remnants of Red River cart trails are present today, in the tangle of streets through the river valley.
Some of those early inhabitants of the Flats are buried in the Rossdale Cemetery (also known as Old Fort Edmonton Cemetery), and some of their descendants still reside in Edmonton. I am one. Senior Gabriel Dumont, my Metis ancestor, who worked as a free trader and guide with the Hudson’s Bay Co. and North West Company, camped on the flats before guiding missionary M. L’abbé Jean-Baptiste Thibault to the first Catholic mission in Western Canada (Lac. Ste. Anne).
Many descendants of the Papaschase Band, who illegally surrendered their reserve and were forcefully transferred to other bands such as Enoch and Saddle Lake, are also keenly aware of their ancestors buried there. Joy Sinclair, founder of the Sun and Moon Visionaries Gallery in the old Donald Ross School in Rossdale, has several generations of family who were instrumental in establishing the fort buried here too.
Until last May, when Sun and Moon Visionaries was effectively defunded and closed, I gathered with world-class ceramic artists, crafters, painters, dancers, musicians and writers there, offering art workshops to Indigenous Peoples. We lamented having to leave Rossdale and our ancestors behind. Now I wonder what the future holds without the presence of another aboriginal community hub.
Indigenous history is dependent on the awareness and goodwill of an industry that has the power to further wipe it out with the very instruments that colonized Edmonton.
Through its Aboriginal Relations office, the City cites “ongoing consultation and engagement with First Nations and Metis communities.” But who can claim representation of these communities when few Indigenous Peoples and no organizations actually reside in these gentrified areas, and when they don’t have a stake in the shape, design and vision of Rossdale?
Back in 2011, Calder Bateman, on behalf of the City, made a laudable effort to engage 100 invited Aboriginal participants for feedback on the Epcor site’s future. It’s also commendable of the West Rossdale Urban Design Plan to cite as one of its strategic priorities “[to] commemorate and respect thousands of years of history, with the designation of historical places and structures.”
But how influential can Indigenous Peoples be without economic claim and land ownership in the neighbourhood? Without economic leverage, Indigenous history is dependent on the awareness and goodwill of an industry that has the power to further wipe it out with the very instruments that colonized Edmonton.
Instead of a tourist-seeking canal that’s been proposed by some in the private sector and celebrated by high-profile boosters, I want a culturally appropriate facility for local Indigenous Peoples to gather here and continue the tradition of sharing knowledge, language and arts. A place on land significant to not only Indigenous history, but to the very origins of this city.
I hope in their wisdom, the community advisory committee and design planners take a wider view of history than the pervasive Canadian narrative that forgets Indigenous use and occupation.
Marilyn Dumont authored The Pemmican Eaters. A nationally acclaimed poet, she’s served as a writer- in-residence at numerous institutions, including the Edmonton Public Library. She lives in McCauley.
September is when we get back into the swing of routine after a fun-filled summer. But for the Oliver Community League, summer 2015 was very busy with programs, events and civics alike. Here are some of the highlights:
• A traditional Canada Day pancake breakfast was a hit attended by about 300 people.
• Make Something Oliver, the OCL’s micro-granting initiative, sponsored three events over the summer, totalling $3,000. These grants allowed Oliver residents to launch their own events and help make Oliver even more awesome.
• We hosted a senior’s tea in Peace Garden Park in June, a community rummage sale at our hall in July and a potluck in August.
For the first time, OCL and DECL partnered on a new summer soccer program in the core. Geared to kids under 5, the Urban Kids Preschool Soccer club attracted an impressive 20 players from seven neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, in partnership with EPL, we hosted a book club for newcomers and gaming afternoons for kids. Our monthly board game nights also gained popularity.
We’d like to give special thanks to our summer student, Angelika Matson, for her enthusiasm and initiative in planning three OCL events. Our Events and Programs Committee continues to experiment with programs appealing to a range of residents, but there’s always more we can do and help we could use. Email us if you have ideas for future activities, wish to help organize one or just have feedback.
Overall, the OCL’s engagement in the neighbour hood’s planning and development last season was strong and driven by the interest of many residents. It’s brought one development project to fruition and kick-started community engagement on another.
After years of preparation, Kitchener Park redevelopment broke ground this summer. Once construction is completed, tentatively this fall, residents will enjoy a themed playground paying homage to our historical connection to rail (already echoed in our beautiful mural), plus additional benches and picnic tables. Meanwhile, the Jasper Avenue redevelopment community consultation is underway, and the Civics Committee is working hard to engage Oliver residents and bring the results of that engagement to Coun. Scott McKeen and City of Edmonton administration. This will be an ongoing process.
Our board is dedicated to building a sense of community. Your involvement is what keeps Oliver an amazing place to live. We look forward to seeing both new and familiar faces at our next events.
Sept. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 20—Walking pub crawl of Oliver. Pub locations announced closer to each date. (8pm, starts at Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)
Sept. 19—OCL and DECL co-host the neighbourhoods’ chapter of Edmonton Federation of Community League’s Community League Day, a fun-filled afternoon for families to relish in park games and barbecue, before heading to the beer garden for the evening. (2pm–12am, Oliver Park, 10326 118 St.)
Sept. 30, Oct. 28, Nov. 25—BYOB(oard Game) night and get to know your neighbours. (7pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)
The OCL board of directors is: Lisa Brown (President); Simon Yackuli (Secretary); Leah Hilsenteger (Treasurer); Jarrett Campbell; Danny Hoyt; Amanda Henry; Hossein Zahiri; James Eastham; Justin Keats; Curtis Boehm; Luwam Kiflemariam; Erin Wright; Dustin Martin; Marija Petrovic; Rowan Kunitz.