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.
Without regulation, third-party delivery apps could be the end of local restaurants
In the early months of 2020, before most of us had heard about the COVID-19 virus that was sweeping across China, Samuel Lee and his family decided to close the dining room of their two Hanjan Korean restaurants in Edmonton. They were the first in the city to do so, even before it became mandated. It was not an easy decision as Hanjan, with 650 seats across its locations, makes the majority of its money from hosting big groups for sit-down meals.
“Because we have family in Korea, we saw what was happening over there and they gave us insight into what is going to be happening in Edmonton,” Lee said. Hanjan switched from dine-in to delivery and pickup only. “And I’m really glad that we hopped on it fast because it gave us time to adjust and get everything down pat before all the other restaurants.”
This quick thinking likely saved the business and, in fact, Hanjan opened a third location in Oliver in the midst of the pandemic in September 2020. The Oliver location was a lucky find during deliveries at the Hargate building.
“When we were signing the lease it was during the pandemic when dine-in was still closed [for the first time],” Lee said. “But we were looking into the future and thinking this is going to end sooner or later. I really loved that it was inside the heart of Oliver because we’re really community and family-focused and we really love the population density there. That neighbourhood always has really friendly people.”
When the Oliver location was found, Hanjan was doing all of its own deliveries rather than relying on third-party delivery services like SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats and DoorDash. “We used to just do our own delivery because I really didn’t want to pay those fees, but then as someone who also uses Skip and Uber, I know that it has the convenience [factor] and it’s really well thought out,” Lee said. “What we do now is we do use a third-party, but when people order delivery we always put a nice message and coupon with it saying: “Hey if you enjoyed us this time, we have our own home delivery system.” And include our website and a discount for their first order.”
Dealing with delivery
Because dine-in services in Edmonton restaurants have been closed twice now due to COVID, restaurants have the options of closing, using their own delivery drivers or using third-party delivery apps. But what many customers don’t realize is that none of these options are in the best interest of our local businesses. Closing means no revenue coming in. Using their own delivery drivers comes with its own challenges. Using third-party services is convenient, but with fees reaching up to 30 percent, it means restaurants are often losing money on orders.
Scott Crockatt is Vice President of Communications and External Relations with the Business Council of Alberta and has seen how the pandemic has been hitting small and medium businesses, particularly local businesses, harder than larger ones. Third-party delivery services swooping in and taking a huge bite of profit isn’t helping.
“I think that those companies take a very substantial cut and it makes it really difficult for businesses to make money. They provide a valuable service, but I understand why restaurants are looking for alternative ways. They’re looking for more competition in the market,” Crockatt said.
“I’d frankly really like to see the cut those businesses are
taking come down because I think if it doesn’t they put
themselves at risk of regulation.”
Will regulation work?
Actually, that’s exactly what the provincial NDP are calling for: a cap of 15 percent on third-party delivery fees. Deron Bilous is NDP Official Opposition Critic for Economic Development and Innovation and says 15 percent is a healthy margin that ensures third-party companies continue doing well, but also protects local businesses.
“Because of the COVID restrictions [local restaurants are] in this precarious position where they’re reliant on delivery. There’s no dine-in. So for many of these restaurants, they can’t afford to have their own driver and it’s inefficient to have one driver anyway,” Bilous said. “So they have to use these third-party deliverers, whether it’s Uber Eats or DoorDash or SkipTheDishes. The challenge is with some of these folks charging up to 30 percent [in fees], restaurants are losing money. They’re actually losing money to stay open.”
When we’re in a pandemic like this it would’ve been really nice for the government to put a cap on those fees and maybe help out the restaurants a little bit more.
Bilous said the solution is pretty straightforward by putting a cap on third-party fees in order to protect local businesses. “We value all businesses, but at the end of the day when you have these international food delivery companies taking a huge chunk out of our local and small businesses at risk, then we need to step in to ensure that we’re protecting our own local small businesses and communities. That’s what governments do. If we do nothing, by summer there will be a significant number of businesses that will no longer exist.”
Black cloud effect
The quality of life for residents in the core could change, and not in a good way if restaurants and other businesses begin closing and aren’t able to re-open.
“So in the normal course of operations when a few
businesses close and there’s a normal cycling, that is
actually beneficial,” Crockatt said. “It can keep things
fresh, it can even bring in new restaurants and new
retailers. But what we get really concerned about is if
many close at once around a similar timeframe. It can
have a bit of a black cloud effect, as I call it, on the
surrounding community. It can act as a drag on even the
other businesses that are open because people are less
inclined to come to an area and get back involved in it.”
One local business that decided to close its operations for a few weeks in early 2021 is DOSC, a steakhouse, cocktail bar and café located downtown. “DOSC is really passionate about creating an experience with people, so translating that into take-out just doesn’t really work.
That’s kind of why we had to end up closing that down,” Bianca Condren said, head of Human Resources, Events and Communications at the Hoot Company, which also owns Seoul Fried Chicken, Dorinku and Japonais Bistro. The restaurant did re-open for dine-in beginning Valentine’s weekend.
“While in a shutdown with a restaurant of that size you’re actually hemorrhaging money. Even with government funding,” Condren said. “So to kind of keep the business open long term, without having to go into bankruptcy and shut it down completely, our plan was to just close it temporarily.”
During the first lockdown, DOSC was relying on their own delivery platform, which proved difficult for many reasons including competing with the third-party delivery companies, trying to get customers to visit the website to order and driver burnout. DOSC did switch to using third-party delivery for a while, but it left them with a sour taste.
“They take a massive chunk of your profits,” Condren said. “Restaurants run at a very low profit range anyway and when you’re doing take-out you’re not going to charge people the same as what you would if they dine in. So you’re already lowering your prices as they are. So it’s very slim margins.”
An eye on quality control
DOSC also had concerns about
the safety of the food and the
quality of experience third-party
drivers were giving to customers.
“We’re all about making people feel safe when they’re eating our food for takeout as well. And I don’t want to slam any delivery drivers from third-parties, but you don’t really know what they’re doing with the food. And from what we’ve seen when they’ve come into the restaurant sometimes and how they act with the food, we were actually hesitant to give them the food in the first place. You don’t know if they’re being COVID-friendly,” Condren said.
“Then there’s also the minuscule things like not being able to have an updated price and how long it takes to transfer the food products to their website and everything else that comes with third-party apps. They’re big corporations and that’s how they get there, by charging these fees, but when we’re in a pandemic like this it would’ve been really nice for the government to put a cap on those fees and maybe help out the restaurants a little bit more.”
Recovery in the core
It’s been a long year of COVID restrictions, health scares and stress, and with no clear end in sight, the thought that our local businesses are struggling so much is deeply disheartening.
Ward 6 City Councillor Scott McKeen, whose constituency includes Oliver and Downtown, said residents of the core are obviously frustrated. McKeen said being stuck in their homes has led to more complaints about things that might have seemed trivial before like noise from civic operations and snow clearing, as well as more concerning things like folks not wearing masks in public places such as transit.
But he’s heard positive stories as well.
“I’ve heard more than a few people say that pent-up demand will mean a flush of consumer dollars flooding into sectors like hospitality. Housing is already in a slow recovery and it might be that the future is brighter than some predicted. Some businesses expanded during Covid and even some restaurants did well in transitioning to a delivery model,” McKeen said. “But I don’t want to downplay, in any way, the small and medium-sized businesses that continue to struggle.”
The BCA has some pretty eye-opening stats on business recovery following a natural disaster: as many as 40 percent of businesses can be expected to never re-open. And of those that do survive, another 26 percent will close down within the next year to a year and a half. “Those numbers come from disasters and this is a little bit different, but I think in many ways it’s useful for us to think about it in a similar way,” Crockatt said.
Even though things may seem like they’re better because restaurants have re-opened, that’s not necessarily the case. So what can we do to help our local businesses now and over the next couple years until they’re past the re-opening and recovery stage?
“Supporting local is as easy as writing a review or buying a gift card if you don’t feel safe to dine out right now,” Condren said. “Even before we re-closed down again, we were still down 30 – 40 percent of sales from the previous year because we were still operating at a limited capacity. Just be aware of team members that are working behind the scenes and on-site. They’re putting themselves at risk.”
Edmonton is rolling out a new waste collection system. Here’s what you need to know.
New Year’s is long gone but some Edmontonians may soon be making a new resolution—to spend a little more time with their trash.
The City is rolling out a new waste cart system as part of its 25 Year Waste Strategy, which aims to divert 90 percent of residential waste from landfill. The new cart rollout will involve separating trash into three streams: organic waste, garbage, and recycling.
As of 2018, Edmontonians diverted only 36 percent of their waste from landfill. The new system will help change that, Jodi Goebel said, Director of Waste Strategy at the City of Edmonton. “It’s the first big step in our journey to our zero-waste future. Sorting waste at home and using carts helps us better divide the materials that Edmontonians are sorting; it’s easier and more efficient to process. It also allows for safer waste collection, and all of that together helps us keep utility rates stable.”
The biggest change on the road to zero-waste is that residents with new carts will be required to sort out food scraps from their garbage. Edmontonians could choose between a small (120 litre) or large (240 litre) cart but had to submit requests by mid-February. The default size is large. You can put in a request online to swap cart sizes after you’ve received your first one. Switching sizes one time is free but if you change your mind again, it will cost you.
Garbage will be collected every two weeks year-round, while food scraps will be picked up weekly from spring to fall, and every two weeks in winter. The recycling schedule will stay the same.
WHO GETS THE NEW CARTS?
Anyone who lives in a single unit or certain multi-unit homes can expect to receive a new garbage cart, a food scraps cart, and a food scraps pail between March and August 2021. Twenty-two thousand multi-home units will be included in the new cart rollout, Goebel said. Residents in Oliver and Downtown who live in a building that qualifies will receive their new carts throughout July and the new collection system will begin the week of August 3.
Other multi-unit residences, such as highrises and apartment buildings, will be part of a different program, which is still in the works. “The intent is that we will do a similar staged implementation that would begin in 2023 and may take a couple of years,” Goebel said. “The variety with multi-unit sites is enormous and it’s quite a bit more complex than the single-unit sector that we serve, so we know that we’re going to be learning as we go.”
TRASH YOUR COMPLAINTS
The Edmonton Cart Rollout isn’t optional—it’s part of life in the city now. Gradually, Edmonton’s 400,000 households will shift to this new model.
If you’re unsure if you will receive new carts, visit Edmonton.ca and put in your address. It will tell you if and when you can expect your new carts. Residents are encouraged to check out Edmonton.ca/waste or call 311 if they have questions.
Exploring the wildlife all around us in the core of the city
Edmonton’s core is known for many things: the noble Legislature, bustling Jasper Avenue, and the vibrant Oliver
neighbourhood. What doesn’t often come to mind is the wildlife. The streets we navigate daily are shared with plants,
animals, and insects. According to Mary-Ann Thurber, ecological planner with the City of Edmonton, we live in a special
place for wildlife. “With respect to the River Valley, Edmonton is in a unique area. We’re in this transition zone between
the prairies and the boreal forest.”
Dr. Colleen St. Clair, conservation biologist at the University of Alberta, added that our River Valley is important to
wildlife. “[It] is said to be the largest contiguous green space in a city in North America. To have that much natural
habitat, that goes right through the middle of the city, Edmontonians do not realize how rare that is.”
Here’s a snapshot of the wildlife you may find in the core.
Coyote (Canis latrans) These scavengers are very prevalent in the core. Slightly larger than a dog, they’re lanky with tan or grey coats and bushy tails. They’re one of the species found in Edmonton known as urban exploiters, which St. Clair classifies as animals that thrive within the city. If we want to keep these animals wild, be wary when leaving out food. “[Human food] makes them much more dependent on people. That dependency quickly results in conflict.”
Porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) These bark-loving critters are herbivores. Covered in quills, they waddle around swinging their large, flat tails. St. Clair said their population within city limits is higher than in the wild. “They’re declining in lots of areas outside of cities. No one really knows why.” Likely it’s due to the reintroduction of fishers, a type of weasel that preys on them. So a place like Edmonton makes great habitat for a porcupine. “There’s not really much that can kill a porcupine in the city, coyotes would probably be the only thing.
Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) These nocturnal omnivores are the size of a cat, and identifiable by the white stripe on their backs. People fear skunks because of the spraying, which can blind a person for up to 15 minutes. However, they will not spray unless provoked. If you encounter a hissing and stomping skunk, slowly back away from it. If you do happen to see a skunk out during the daytime, report it to 311, as this may be an indicator of aggressive behaviour.
White-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) White-tailed jackrabbits might be 100 times more prevalent in the city than the prairies, according to St. Clair. Jackrabbits are the largest hares found in Alberta. Their fur changes from brown in the summer to white in the winter. These herbivores might look like bunnies, but they’re identifiable by their black-tipped long ears, giant rear legs, and running speed of up to 64 km/h.
Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) These rodents glide around Victoria Park, according to Thurber. They are omnivores with brown fur and white bellies, and are distinguishable from the common red squirrel by their mouse-like face. And, of course, the stretchy skin between their front and hind legs which allows them to glide for distances of up to 20 metres.
Lynx (Lynx canadensis) Although you’re unlikely to spot a lynx in the core, St. Clair said it’s happened before. In 2019, photographer Tim Osborne snapped a photo of a lynx napping on the Legislature grounds. These carnivorous animals are identifiable by their big feet and tufts of fur at the tip of the ears. Lynx may be mistaken for a large housecat. They are known for their huge appetite and can eat an entire white-tailed jackrabbit in one sitting. They are generally tolerant of human presence, but if encountered you should back away and call 311.
Although we would love to include a list of insects found in the core, it’s impossible. According to University of Alberta biologist and insect specialist John Acorn, “There are thousands and thousands of different species of insects and things like spiders and daddy long legs in the Edmonton area.” Major and minor pollinators include species of bees and butterflies, of which there are plenty every year.
As far as poisonous insects go, Acorn said there is really nothing to worry about. “In terms of insects that actually result in people going to the hospital, there are bees and wasps.”
People may worry when they find spiders and insects in their home, but as long as they’re not a pest like bed bugs, Acorn said it’s best to leave them alone. “If you do find insects or spiders in your home, that’s not an indication that your home is not clean. It’s an indication that your home supports life.” He stressed that to preserve our lovely pollinators, something to consider is reducing our pesticide usage.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) Last May, a wildlife camera at the top of Bell Tower caught a peregrine falcon once again making a nest for her eggs at 31 storeys high. “The role of neighbourhoods and urban infrastructure is sometimes a good thing,” Thurber said, referring to the height of Bell Tower and its proximity to the River Valley. This at-risk bird can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. It is a carnivorous species that feeds on other birds, and can be identified by the stripes on its body and flanks, and a wingspan of up to four feet. The peregrine falcon is well known for its directional instincts, able to locate the nesting site after travelling great distances.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) The largest goose in the world, the Canada Goose has been known to fly as far as northern Europe. This goose has a telltale white and black head, loud honk, and is fiercely protective of its offspring. It is an omnivore abundant in areas close to the River Valley. At one point, Canada Geese were on a sharp decline due to habitat loss.
Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) This fast-growing, salt-tolerant, deciduous tree is common throughout the core. It is tall and thin with thick, egg-shaped leaves. The balsam poplar is most identifiable in June, when it produces cotton-like fluff that floats in the wind. It’s usually the culprit for the rustling sounds made during windy days.
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) The green ash is another deciduous tree. Growing up to 60 feet, its branches can spread up to 45 feet wide. It’s a hardy tree with branches that bend upwards at the tips, and green leaves that are wide and long (up to a foot in length). This tree is most identifiable by its light green or purplish flowers, and in the fall it produces single-winged whirligigs that flutter down and cover the streets. It is the most planted of all ash trees.
American Elm (Ulmus americana) The American elm has been extensively planted downtown. It has grey bark with deep diamond-shaped fissures. It can grow more than 260 feet tall with an umbrella-shaped canopy up to 65 feet wide, perfect for dappling the sunlight. Its flowers are usually small and pinkish with no petals. An easy way to identify this tree is by its fruit: flat, green, egg-shaped, and with small white hairs fringing it. This tree can live for up to 200 years.
The core never sleeps. At nighttime, the area is flooded with artificial light from streetlights, homes, and businesses. Carrie Ann Adams, ecology PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, said this might be harming the wildlife.
“Typically, nocturnal predators will have an advantage when there is a full moon and there is more light in the environment,” Adams said. “In the new moon, when the nights are darker, the prey species can be more active because they’re less likely to be caught by predators.”
Artificial light can cause sky glow. Sky glow is when light is reflected off of the atmosphere back down onto the earth, causing an eerie glow. Especially on cloudy nights, sky glow can be seen as an orangish hue hanging over a city.
“Sky glow … can bring illumination levels up to near the level of the full moon, at any time of the month,” Adams said. “Imagine you’re a mouse, hiding from an owl. You’re going to have a lot more trouble hiding when there’s all of that illumination.”
Turn off all your lights when you’re not using them; a mouse may just thank you for it.
Sadly, there’s only so much room on a page. Here are some who didn’t make the cut, but you might see sneaking around the core: red squirrels, black bears, pigeons, magpies, lichen, cougars, owls, white tail deer, house mice, meadow voles, and mule deer.