SYMPHONY UNDER THE SKY /// August 30 – September 2
From classics by Beethoven and Dvořák to the modern hits of Hollywood, hear beautiful music in the great outdoors. At each pleasant, relaxing evening in the park, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra will skillfully perform each musical treasure as the sky slowly turns to twilight as the backdrop. Hawrelak Park, 9330 Groat Road, winspearcentre.com
NUIT BLANCHE /// September 29, 7pm – 7am
Explore the downtown core in an animated and re-imagined way with interactive art installations at this all-night contemporary art party! Bring a curious mind and a good pair of walking shoes as you wander and join in the revelry from dusk til dawn. Visit the website for a complete list of activities and participating artists. Various venues, nuitblancheedmonton.ca
UP & DOWNTOWN MUSIC FESTIVAL /// October 5 – 7
Watch as downtown venues transform into intimate concert halls. The festival plays host to some of the best independent music in a diversity of styles, from electronic and psychedelic rock to folk and reggae. Headliners include throat-singer Tanya Tagaq, musical Afrobeat collective Antibalas, local soul singer Nuela Charles and indie rockers The Velveteins. Various downtown venues, including DECL community space, updt.ca
FALL GALLERY WALK /// September 22 – 23
Eight galleries open their doors wide for this special afternoon celebration of artistic diversity in the city. Stroll from gallery to gallery to enjoy light refreshments, live music, artist talks and more as you view contemporary, abstract, and traditional styles of painting, crafting and sculpture work. 124 Street between 103 Avenue and 107 Avenue, 124street.ca
FOR STORY LOVERS
GOTTA MINUTE FILM FESTIVAL /// September 24 – 30
While you wait for the LRT in late September, you won’t need a book or your phone to entertain you. One-minute silent films from local filmmakers will light up screens on train platform with clever and strange stories. Visit the Edmonton Public Library’s MakersSpace at Enterprise Square (10212 Jasper Avenue) any time during the festival to view all the films at once. Various transit platforms, gottaminutefilmfestival.com
EDMONTON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL /// September 27 – October 6
Add some entertainment to your lunch hour by feasting on some short films during this welcoming festival’s Lunchbox Shorts. Or, doll yourself up and attend one of the gala after-parties, where you can mingle with the visiting actors and directors. There’s a film for any taste as EIFF brings in many of the highly anticipated films from independent and international studios. Landmark Cinemas 9 City Centre, 3rd Floor, 10200 102 Avenue, edmontonfilmfest.com
LITFEST: EDMONTON’S NONFICTION FESTIVAL /// October 11 – 21
Get up from your reading chair and experience that new and hot nonfiction title you’re dog-earing live, with author talks, walking tours and other activities. Feature authors include Polaris Prize-winning, Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq—who will be performing in partnership with UP+DT Fest—and columnist and best- selling author Elizabeth Renzetti, whose book Shrewed takes a hilarious and heartbreaking look at the political lives of women. Various venues (including downtown), litfestalberta.org
124 GRAND MARKET / CITY MARKET /// Through October 6
Snack on what’s ripe or grab fresh-baked fall treats—and connect with your neighbours. Stock up just before October 8, when the City Market will return to its indoor location at City Hall. The 124 Street market closes October 4. Thursdays 4 – 8 pm, 108 Avenue between 123 and 124 Street, 124grandmarket.com & Saturdays from 9 am – 3 pm, 104 Street between Jasper Avenue and 103 Avenue, city-market.ca
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL /// October 19 – 20
Sip and savour dozens of distinguished wines, premium spirits and craft beers at this gourmet event. You’ll also be able to taste treats from some of Edmonton’s best restaurants that will pair perfectly with whatever you’re drinking. View the full menu on the website. Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Avenue, Rockymountainwine.com
GREY CUP FESTIVAL /// November 21 – 25
Start getting amped up for the Grey Cup game with celebratory events throughout the week downtown. Festivities begin with a kick-off party along Jasper Avenue on the Wednesday, a FREE all-day street festival throughout the week and a lively parade at noon before the main event. Visit the website for more details and a map of the festival grounds. Various venues, greycupfestival.ca
ALL IS BRIGHT /// November 10, 4 pm – 8 pm
Join businesses on 124 Street to kick off the winter season at this light festival, a perennial crowd favourite. Keep warm with hot beverages, sizzling entertainment and cozy fires. 124 Street and 108 Avenue, Helen Nolan Park, 124street.ca
There is no middle ground when it comes to gondolas in Edmonton. There’s just the Great Gondola Debate.
Ever since Edmonton first heard of the proposal to build a gondola that would run from a main station downtown, to Rossdale and ultimately Strathcona, the debate has raged. The idea originated in March as the winning pitch from The Edmonton Project, a development industry competition to build a new local landmark. (Other pitches: the world’s largest treehouse; a food- truck Ferris wheel.) In April, the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board sent the debate into overdrive when it said a gondola could be a “fast … and cost-effective” option to connect downtown and Strathcona.
That divided urbanists, transit lovers and downtown advocates who normally find themselves on the same team. And Robert Summers is not surprised.
Summers, the associate director of urban and regional planning at the University of Alberta, says gondolas are often regarded as a novelty or tourist attraction in North America. And transit proponents in Edmonton, he says, seem to see the proposal as taking attention away from more necessary projects.
“For some people, the gondola discussion is a distraction from the goals they have been working towards, which is high-quality LRT connectivity throughout the city,” Summers says. “Every moment spent discussing gondolas is a distraction from what they see as a more meaningful discussion on LRT, bike lanes or other proven transit options.”
How about people who think a gondola is an interesting idea? “Those who are supportive of continuing to discuss the gondola further have seen the relatively low cost and low timelines for the possible implementation of the gondola, as well as the numbers of people it can move,” Summers says. These types are “intrigued enough to continue the discussion.”
But what about the problem itself— transit connections between downtown and Strathcona? And questions of who will pay if we build a gondola?
Currently, residents of Oliver and downtown can ride transit to Strathcona (but not really Rossdale) by taking a series of infrequent and meandering buses. Or they can walk, bike or take a bus to LRT to cross the river—and then take a bus to Strathcona. Or they can just walk or bike. Or take the High Level Bridge Street Car.
In short, connections between the city’s two main urban areas are laughable.
The matter of who pays has also yet to be settled. In June, council’s urban planning committee voted to investigate the gondola, including its potential costs. City officials are determining how much a feasibility study itself would cost and whether the private sector would really pay for the project. The Edmonton Project founders have said the private sector would pay for everything. Some remain unconvinced of that.
One thing is certain: the Great Gondola Debate is not over.
On May 12, 1922, Lulu Anderson tried to buy a ticket to ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ at the former Metropolitan Theatre on Jasper Avenue. Lulu was 36 and a member of the Black community. She enjoyed the theatre and had visited the Metropolitan many times with her friends. But May 12 was different. The theatre staff denied Lulu entry. Worse, they “assaulted” her, according to a column in the Edmonton Journal.
Lulu decided to stand up.
Few Edmonton residents know Lulu’s story. And to understand what happened to her downtown that night, in 1922, we need to back up a bit. For starters, despite many who still believe the opposite, Alberta was home to anti-black racism. Minstrel shows were extremely common in theatres; indeed, actors of the era routinely performed in blackface. In 1920, a minstrel parade was even held downtown. Segregation was also common across the city. From 1910 to 1950, Black Edmontonians were denied entry into theatres, swimming pools, bars and even hospitals. One more well-known example is from 1938, when a Black nurse was denied entry into nursing training at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Lulu’s story has long intrigued me. I first came across small scraps of it in a headline I found in archives of the Edmonton Bulletin: “Colored Woman Sued Theatre.” It was a story I’d never heard before. The article was sparse on details, so I kept digging. Next, I found references to Lulu elsewhere, such as a Bulletin article noting her place in a choir performance for Nellie McClung, as well as a story noting she’d sold 100 tickets for her church choir
“Colored Woman Sued Theatre.” It was a story I’d never heard before.
I grew up in Edmonton. As a young Black child, all of my schooling was here, and during all those years at school, I was never taught about someone like Lulu or our city’s Black history. I grew up thinking Black people were relatively new here. Schools taught me the white version of history. But reading Lulu’s story and learning about Black history made me realize that people like me helped build this province.
It became my goal to find out more about Lulu. Her actions are unbelievably courageous. She stood up for racial justice 40 years before the civil rights movement hit its peak, at a time when lynching and violence were common. Her bravery is one reason I became determined to learn about her life. My journey took me to the Provincial Archives of Alberta, the City of Edmonton Archives and the legal archives at the Provincial Court of Alberta.
My first quest was to find Lulu’s original case file. This, I believed, would help for a couple reasons. First, it would give me access to her examination, where I would be able to read what happened in her own words. Second, it would have important details about her life, such as other family members and her past occupations, and these would give me more leads to follow-up on. But no luck. An archivist informed me that all case files for the period of 1921 to 1949 were destroyed in 1971.
Confused, I decided to reach out to Edmonton’s historian laureate, Marlena Wyman, to find out why. “These decisions were not made by archivists,” she told me. “Rather, it was government that decided when documents would be destroyed.” Wyman added that Alberta didn’t have the same resources devoted to archivists back then as it does now. “For example, we now have a master’s program for archivists, but back then we didn’t.”
Nevertheless, I believed a copy of Lulu’s lawsuit case must exist somewhere. My next stop was the Law Courts, to see if the case was reported in legal publications at the time. Again, I had limited luck. I discovered the docket sheet for Lulu’s case and found it
“These decisions were not made by archivists. Rather, it was government that decided when documents would be destroyed.”
lasted from May 26 to November 3, 1922, when Judge Lucien Dubuc made his decision. Thankfully, the decision was summarized in the Edmonton Bulletin. Dubuc ruled against Lulu, arguing the theatre was justified removing her. “[M]anagement could refuse admission to anyone upon the refunding the price of the ticket,” he reportedly said in his ruling.
I was not surprised by this ruling thanks to my work learning about Black history in Edmonton. During Lulu’s time, Black Edmontonians were well used to discrimination. And many stood up to fight it. In 1924, a group of Black mothers protested segregation at the Borden Park swimming pool by lobbying City Hall. Another group of Black Edmontonians formed civil rights organizations, like the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (AAACP). And of course, on May 26, 1922, Lulu sued the Metropolitan Theatre for barring her entry for being Black.
Emmanuel African Methodist Church congregation, early 1920s, Edmonton. Glenbow Archives ND-3-1199
This protest was part of a tradition that spans the whole province. Examples include Charles Daniels, who in 1914 was similarly denied entry into the Sherman Grand Theatre, in Calgary, due to the colour of his skin. The unique thing about the Daniels’ case is that he won—eight years prior to Lulu, in 1914. There was also Ted King, who was the president of the AAACP and sued a Calgary motel for refusing Black patrons.
But back to Lulu. The Edmonton Journal reported she hired lawyer Samuel Wallace for her lawsuit. Wallace belonged to the law firm Joseph A. Clarke and Company, and Clarke would later go on to become mayor of Edmonton. Interestingly, the firm’s office was on the second floor of the McLeod building. This means Lulu must have visited this building to prepare her case—a building that was one block away from the Ku Klux Klan’s future headquarters, which was behind the current Westin Hotel.
The name of the case was Lulu Anderson vs. The Brown Investment Company (which owned the Metropolitan Theatre). Despite the frustrations at the Law Courts, my search for Lulu continued. Perhaps the most personal and one of the most important pieces of information I found was from a column in the Edmonton Journal, called “Our Negro Citizens.” The column was written by Black Edmontonians and provided “stories of interest” for the city’s Black community. After spending hours scanning the columns, I was able to confirm Lulu was active in the Black community and a member of the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church— one of the two all-Black churches in Edmonton, the other being the Shiloh Baptist Church.
“[M]anagement could refuse admission to anyone upon the refunding the price of the ticket.” – Judge Lucien Dubuc, as reported in the Edmonton Bulletin.
Lulu was an active member of the church choir with numerous articles specifically noting her when reporting on concerts. As already noted, Lulu performed for Nellie McClung—a member of the Famous Five and an Alberta MLA. In addition, it seems Lulu was friends with Mrs. Poston who, in 1923, challenged segregation at the Borden Park pool.
The most important document I came across on ancestry.ca was an immigration slip from one of her visits to the United States. From this slip I determined Lulu was born in Atlanta City, New Jersey, in 1885. At some point, the immigration slip suggests, she came into Canada and settled in Edmonton. She lived at 9609 105 Avenue, near what is today the Bissell Centre. She was 36 years old at the time of the court case and had a sister named Bernice White, who lived in Los Angeles. She was also married to Cornwallis Anderson. It’s unclear if they had children.
Aside from this, I wasn’t able to find anything else about Lulu’s life. But I was determined to find a photo of her.
Civil rights cases in Canada are often void of a personal connection. We rarely have images that show Canada’s segregation in images and those who fought against it. Contrast this with the United States, where we have vivid photos of segregation and intimate profiles of those who stood to fight against it. Finding a photo of Lulu was deeply important.
Thankfully, her connection to the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church provided me with my first lead. I looked for all possible references to the church in the city and provincial archives but came up with nothing. But I came across a photo when reading an article by Jennifer Kelly – a Black University of Alberta professor. At the top of the article was a photo of a congregation, with a description that read, “Emmanuel African Methodist Church Congregation, early 1920s, Edmonton.”
The bottom right of the photo has the tag, “McDermid Studios.” My hope was the original photo would have a more specific description, so I went through the McDermid collections at the Glenbow Museum. I found that the photograph was taken in 1921. Lulu was active in the church in 1921.
I was left with one conclusion: Lulu was in this photo.
I don’t remember how long I stared at the photograph but it was a long time. I scanned every face, looking at the emotions and weight each expression carried. I couldn’t help but become emotional. Until now, I only read about the experiences of these Black Edmontonians. But for now I was seeing their faces for the first time and felt a more personal connection. These were the Black Edmontonians who came before me and paved the way for my own civil rights. These were people who, for now, history has forgotten and whose stories deserve to be told.
“I don’t remember how long I stared at the photograph but it was a long time. I scanned every face, looking at the emotions and weight each expression carried.”
Unfortunately, the photo included no detailed information. I was unable to find where Lulu was. It’s a strange feeling, having gotten this close. Lulu is someone I spent days researching. I ended with this photo. She is there but I don’t know exactly where.
Still, knowing she is somewhere in the photo is humbling. I look around the group and, even though I don’t know who exactly she is, I know she is there, surrounded by community. Every face in that photo represents a friend who she sang with or who stood by her when she fought against racial discrimination. In many ways the photo represents her case. She fought against racial discrimination with others. Lulu may have been one person but had a community behind her.
Lulu lost her case but her stand was significant. She stood for racial justice 20 years before Viola Desmond stood up, after similarly being denied entry into a theatre in Halifax. Viola is now being honoured on our $10 bill. And Lulu stood up 30 years before Rosa Parks, who fought against segregated buses in the United States. Today we know about Viola and Rosa. But still little about Lulu.
It saddens me there are no memorials to Edmonton’s heroes in this fight, or that their history is not taught in our classrooms. I believe this is all part of the consistent whitewashing of Edmonton’s history. A sign on the wall of the Gibson Block building downtown, which said, ‘White Help Only,’ was literally painted over at some point with white paint. And Frank Oliver, who aggressively worked against black immigration, is nevertheless honoured with a neighbourhood named after him.
Perhaps we can use Lulu’s case as an example to challenge or begin undoing this white washing. Perhaps we can take action as downtown residents and celebrate our very own hero in Lulu Anderson.
She should be a major historical figure in Edmonton. I’m glad I finally found her.
BASHIR MOHAMED works for the provincial government. In his free time he researches and writes at www.bashirmohamed.com/blog
My friend told me a story that left us both in tears.
An elderly man—who spent his career working in our community—had come into the medical clinic where she works to be assessed for his ability to keep his driver’s licence. Prior to his appointment, he told my friend how his career had been worked on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, that he feared losing his licence and that his wife’s health was failing. She sincerely wished him luck as he walked down the hall into the examination room.
Some time later, she knew the news the clinician gave him wasn’t what he wanted to hear. She could hear shouting, things being thrown, the man threatening to end his own life.
As she recounted the experience, we both wept.
This man’s story has stuck with me and has kept me thinking about how we plan our cities, communities and lives. Sure, this man may have chosen to live somewhere where driving was his only option for mobility, as many have done and continue to do, but it’s our collective responsibility to ask for better designed communities that enable multiple modes of transportation. It’s a question of resilience.
In Oliver, we have multiple seniors residences. Our neighbourhood is built for a relatively resilient life; we have access to public transit, new bike infrastructure and lovely tree-lined streets that are a joy to walk along. Our residential neighbourhood has a number of services within it.
But if you live in one of these facilities— Manoir St. Joachim, Kiwanis, Ansgar, or Our Parents’ Home—you will often find you have to cross Jasper or 104 Avenue. Both are seven-lane roads with drivers that are prone to speeding.
Research shows this can be a barrier that keeps people trapped at home.
We are gaining a better understanding of how social isolation can severely impact our mental and physical health. People who lose their ability to drive often lose their independence. They can lose their social connections. And then they may lose their health. Urban design and transportation planning have far reaching impacts on our lives, some of which we may not realize until we are facing a driver’s licence suspension.
If you could no longer drive—maybe ever again—how much would your life change? Would you be able to meet all your needs? It’s an interesting thought experiment. Try it. And then advocate for a better community for all.
Our fall issue delves into the history of community leagues. But if we look ahead into the future of our own league and downtown community, it’s clear there will simply be far more residents living here.
DECL is responding to an unprecedented number of new development applications. Many of these proposals are developments that will house hundreds, if not thousands of new residents. Many boosters talk about “20,000 in 2020,” and if these new proposals go ahead, we will be a little behind but not far off from those numbers. Urban planning experts say these are the sort of population numbers necessary for downtown to be sustainable, to encourage walkable retail and to retain offices and workers.
The first significant push for new residential housing downtown was in the form of the new Capital City Downtown Plan, in 1997. An update to that plan, in 2010, saw a confirmation that a significant future for our downtown was having people live here. Since that first plan, we saw an approximate doubling of our population, from 6300 in 1997 to about 13,000 people today. Downtown Edmonton has been one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods during that time.
Much of proposed development for the future comes from a new confidence in downtown due to recent investment, both public and private. New residential towers combined with public money flowing into parks and streetscaping are spurring results. The most significant ‘catalyst’ project downtown, Rogers Place, is now being augmented by western Canada’s tallest towers. Alex Decoteau Park has given residents a place to meet neighbours and be proud of the place we call home.
Some of the new proposed residential towers are pushing westward, into the warehouse area west of 104 Street. These proposals are a direct result of the proposed ‘Central Park’ planned for 106 Street to 107 Street, on vacant land between Jasper Avenue and 102 Avenue, an area at least four times larger than Alex Decoteau Park, which would serve the recreational needs of much of our neighbourhood.
The city is actively working with landowners in the area to purchase land, and developers are hedging their bets that this new catalyst will bring new opportunities and life into what is currently mostly gravel parking lots.
But this revitalization could stall. It will require Edmonton City Council to continue to invest in our downtown, particularly to make the development of this park and other important catalyst projects like streetscaping a priority in the upcoming fall budget. Continued momentum in both public and private investment downtown requires us all to work together and come to consensus on the type of community we want to see.
If you want to learn more about how our downtown is changing, what’s proposed, and share what you’d like to see develop, our development committee we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have one more month to enjoy this popular OCL program! Destinations and themes vary each week. All levels of riders encouraged! Meet at Oliver Park, 118 Street and 103 Avenue
Picnic in the Park | Thursdays for September, 6-8pm
Weekly picnics roving to each of our parks. Stop by for some lemonade, games, OCL membership and to meet your neighbours. Bring your family, friends, pets and snacks. Parks in Oliver – see social media
Oliver Reads | September 17, 6pm
Our first book club meeting will discuss “Birdie” by Tracey Linberg. Get your free membership to the Edmonton Public Library for a hard copy or e-book version. Stay tuned for details on book two! MEC com- munity room, 11904 104 Avenue
Community League Day | September 15, 12-4pm
Join the OCL as we participate in the city-wide celebration of community leagues. A beer garden, barbecue and games in our beautiful park round out the day. Kitchener Park, 114 Street at 103 Avenue
Walking Pub Crawl of Oliver | September 21, Oct 19, & Nov 16, 8pm
Join your neighbours, meet with new and old friends and explore some local pubs. Locations TBD; please check up on OCL’s Facebook page. Meet at Oliver Park, 118 Street and 103 Avenue
Oliver Halloween Trick or Treat | October 31
OCL helps bring trick or treating to our high density neighbourhood. Keep an eye out on OCL’s Facebook page and newsletter to learn more about how you can participate.
Program and Events Committee | September 25, October 23, & November 27, 7pm
Come volunteer with the OCL and help plan events for the community. BRU, 11965 Jasper Avenue
Civics Committee | September 10, October 9*, November 13*, 7pm
This highly engaged committee meets on the second Monday of the month to discuss developments in Oliver. *Tuesday. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street
Natalie remembers the day she finally broke into tears.
It was hot out, June or July, and the 27-year-old was headed back to her apartment in Edmonton’s newly minted Ice District after a dip to cool off at Oliver pool. She’d thrown a simple summer dress over her bikini for the journey. Natalie says she can’t remember exactly what the man yelled as he sped past her in a car while she waited for the light to change on 104 Street near 104 Avenue, but it was something about that dress, how it revealed her body, how it was, in his opinion, too short. It wasn’t the exact words that got to her anyway. It was the fact that they just wouldn’t stop.
Constant sexual harassment wasn’t what Natalie expected to encounter when she moved into Square 104, across from the Mercer Warehouse, in August 2016. She was excited to be part of downtown’s revitalization. And she was exactly the kind of young, urban professional the city and developers say they’re hoping to attract to the area, engineered around Rogers Place. But after the $600-million-plus facility opened in September 2016, both Natalie and her roommate, Brittany Davey, noticed the change. Their neighbourhood became a hostile place.
They first noticed the trash. On mornings after events at the arena, the streets were papered with fliers for a nearby strip bar. And then they noticed they were increasingly targeted by groups of often drunk men who flocked to the area. “Every single time I would leave the apartment I would get catcalled, or someone would yell at me or approach me and just, like, make me so uncomfortable,” Natalie says. “It got to the point where if I was just getting approached by a random person asking for directions or for money, I would jump.”
The hostility extended into their home. Davey says she was catcalled while on her balcony overlooking 104 Avenue. “I was definitely yelled at a few times,” she says. “Something like ‘Show me your tits,’ which is really nice when you’re trying to enjoy your home.”
Whether it was due to the type of crowds heading to events at the arena, or just that more people were coming to the neighbourhood, the women can’t say, but their response was to retreat. They started staying home on game nights, keeping off the balcony and altering the routes they took through the neighbourhood. Natalie even changed how she dressed. “I would put on what I wanted to wear and look in the mirror and be like, ‘Is this going to encourage someone to approach me?’ If the answer was ‘Yes’ I’d change,” she says. “I hated that. I hated that so much.”
When Davey moved to Ontario this past fall to go to school, Natalie chose to move out of the area, too. “I haven’t been back since.”
BURDEN OF SILENCE
We don’t often associate street harassment with the egregious examples of sexual misconduct that have brought powerful men to their knees in the era of #MeToo, but it’s all part of a sexual violence continuum that pervades our culture, says Mary Jane James, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). The degradation, humiliation and fear women face while on city streets — particularly in hyper-masculine ecosystems fueled by alcohol and sports, where women are regarded as props for the evening —makes many women feel unwelcome and unsafe in their own communities. And yet, too often, we don’t take it seriously. “People do not think of street harassment — catcalling and all of those things — as sexual violence because it’s been allowed to be normalized,” James says. “It’s been going on since time began and women were just taught to just suck it up and move on.”
The prompt closure of The Needle Vinyl Tavern in November, after allegations of sexual assault and harassment surfaced, shows that Edmonton — like the rest of North America — seems to have drawn
a line in the sand around workplace sexual harassment. Since The Needle closed, demand for a pilot program SACE has offered with the U of A Sexual Assault Centre since February 2017, to make bars and clubs safer for women, has skyrocketed. However, once people leave those bars, women are often still seen as prey, James says. Compounding the problem, many men who would never see themselves in the same category as Harvey Weinstein, or even Aziz Ansari, think nothing of a drunken catcall on a night out with the boys.
“I really don’t think that a lot of men who engage in street harassment view this as harmful, as a part of sexual violence,” James says. “But it starts there. Rape culture is what’s allowed this issue to be present in our lives for so long, because it’s surrounded in silence.”
“Right now in Edmonton there are no consequences for street harassment. At what point do men start to realize that this is damaging and hurtful, and there are consequences for this behaviour?”
– MARIELLE TERHART
How best to break that silence, however, is a puzzle. Groups like Hollaback Alberta have surfaced in recent years to support women in reporting street harassment, collecting their stories and tracking harassment hotspots in the city. A 2015 report from the group examined more than 1,000 reported incidents of street harassment in Edmonton, with the vast majority occurring on city streets, in malls and on transit. Jasper Avenue and Whyte Avenue were two of the top areas identified by respondents. Edmonton Police Service spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard, meanwhile, explained that while isolated catcalls are not technically a crime, women can and should call police when they feel they are being harassed. Collecting data on where harassment occurs can help create long-term strategies to improve police presence, lighting or correct other environmental factors that put women at risk, Sheppard says. But the fact remains that faced with harassment in the moment, most women feel powerless.
Marielle TerHart isn’t used to keeping quiet. The 28-year-old social media consultant, comedian and downtown loft resident says frequent street harassment is her “number one problem with living downtown,” a community she otherwise loves. To deal with her humiliation and anger in a healthy way — and to try to educate men on its effects — she often makes harassment part of her standup comedy routines. With her propensity for outspokenness it’s frustrating that in the moments harassment happens — say that time she was asked for her underwear while walking downtown — she feels silenced. “Yelling back doesn’t seem to help and it’s almost always when I’m alone, so in those situations I’m not in a position of power and I don’t feel safe,” she says. “It’s also often shouted at me from cars, that seems to be a real trend.”
Equally frustrating for TerHart is that she doesn’t feel street harassment is a central concern for those with direct interest in the health of downtown. TerHart said she recently met with Coun. Scott McKeen to discuss street harassment but felt nothing happened as a result. (McKeen, on the other hand, says he plans to follow up with TerHart and discuss hosting an anti-harassment event downtown and that women who face harassment downtown should contact him.) TerHart also says sexual harassment and assault were absent from the safety section of a recent survey conducted by the Downtown Business Association; homelessness, meanwhile, was mentioned three different ways.
TerHart says she uses her privilege and the channels available to her as a white, educated woman to advocate for herself and other women in the neighbourhood — she’s cognizant of the fact sexualized violence disproportionately affects homeless, marginalized and Indigenous women. Still, she says she’d like to see at least some of the responsibility placed on the perpetrators. “Right now in Edmonton there are no consequences for street harassment. At what point do men start to realize that this is damaging and hurtful, and there are consequences for this behaviour?”
LEARNING WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
That’s exactly what Zanette Frost, supervisor of programs and initiatives at the City of Edmonton, says the city is working to encourage through its Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative. Convened in 2015, the council initiative has been working with groups like Hollaback Alberta, SACE and Men Edmonton, a group that aims to promote healthy masculinity, to educate the public, particularly men, on what gender-based violence is. They also aim to encourage bystanders to safely step in when they see it happen.
So far, projects have taken place in pockets. For instance, the council conducts lunch-and-learns with corporate or religious organizations and has partnered up to present public screenings of the documentary, The Mask You Live In, which explores how our narrow definition of masculinity affects men and boys. An interactive art exhibit, This Is What It Feels Like, made a mini-tour on the U of A and MacEwan campuses just before Christmas, giving men a chance to step inside a booth where they were subjected to harassing comments that women had reported receiving on the streets of Edmonton.
While art installations and documentaries might seem like a soft response to what is a serious social problem, Frost says getting men to realize how they are complicit in or contribute to sexualized violence is the first step toward shifting a culture that promotes it. “My thinking has always been that if it prompts a couple of questions then there’s something changing. That’s what we hope for,” she says.
In 2018, the City of Edmonton will roll out a widespread awareness campaign dubbed “It’s Time” (to end gender-based violence) with a website, video and coasters distributed at bars and restaurants.
The council has also partnered with the Edmonton Eskimos, the Edmonton Sports Council, 630 CHED and other organizations, with the aim of bringing the campaign to sports events, festivals and other public events. According to Frost, the city hasn’t yet reached out to the Oilers Entertainment Group to join the initiative due to limited staff, but it may do so in “phase two” of the project.
This spring, the city is also due to complete an exhaustive scoping study of how and where gender-based violence takes place in Edmonton. It started this as part of the United Nations Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces program, which it joined in 2016. Results of the study will inform policies and initiatives to combat violence against women going forward. “We’re really working to end all that violence within a generation,” Frost says.
All of that’s hopeful, but it’s still a Band-Aid solution for the arena district, says Kyle Whitfield, an associate professor in planning at the University of Alberta who specializes in planning for vulnerable communities. She describes the area as one that seems to have been planned around hyper-masculine industries without regard for the experience of women. She also notes that planning is still a male dominated field, and, as a result, the design of public spaces seldom looks at the needs of women — even as accessibility for other groups, such as those with disabilities or seniors, are now routinely taken into account. “It seems kind of old order to say we need to plan about issues related to women,” Whit eld says. “This is 2018, you’d think we’d be way beyond that, but we’re not.”
The city has recently adopted a policy to apply gender-based analysis to all of its decision-making, from budgeting to planning, Frost says, but that wasn’t in place when the arena district was developed. It’s unclear whether the tool will be applied to the remaining phases of the development.
In cases where vulnerable populations haven’t been included in the planning process, inviting them to assess the space afterwards can be crucial in correcting elements that make them feel excluded or unsafe, Whit eld says. “If we got a group of 50 women and we said, ‘Come and assess the Ice District in general and tell us how this suits your needs and how it doesn’t,’ I think there’s some value in doing that.”
Susan Darrington, executive vice president and general manager for Rogers Place, says her organization held two years of consultations with community stakeholders, including community leagues, the Downtown Business Association and social agencies such as Boyle Street Community Services, prior to the arena opening. While the issue of community safety was a frequent topic of discussion, she says women facing street harassment was never identified as a specific area of concern. Going forward, however, Darrington says the Oilers Entertainment Group would consider partnering with the city on a gender-based assessment of the Ice District or a public education campaign. “We’d be open to having a meeting with them on anything they’re taking a look at,” she says, noting half the arena’s patrons are women and that her organization takes their safety seriously. “Our safety and security plan is for all patrons as well as people who are living and working in the downtown core.”
Angela Larson has a simple suggestion for making downtown feel safer: provide more reasons for different types of people to be out on the streets. Larson is the owner of Swish Vintage, located in Manulife Place, and says she’s perceived a marked decrease in street activity since she got her first job downtown at the age of 13. Over the decade she’s been in business at her current location, she says she feels downtown’s mall-like areas have started emptying out as well, a reflection of changing shopping habits and a challenging retail environment. Swish is now one of the only street-facing retailers left on 102 Street and increasingly, the only people Larson sees outside her door are either marginalized or “up to no good.” Men frequently come into her shop and verbally assault her. Compared to when she was younger and catcalls were more suggestive in nature, Larson says at 52 the comments she gets now are more aggressive — “women-as-bitches kind of thing.” She even had one guy grab her phone and start to make a drug deal. As a result, Larson, like many other retailers in Manulife Place, doesn’t stay open in the evenings. During the day, a security guard is supposed to check on her once an hour, “to make sure I’m alive.”
“If we got a group of 50 women and we said, ‘Come and assess the Ice District in general and tell us how this suits your needs and how it doesn’t,’ I think there’s some value in doing that.” – KYLE WHITFIELD
While the arena promised to breathe new life into downtown, Larson says she’s seen little evidence of it. Thousands of people now live in new condos in the area, but there’s nothing drawing them out onto the street. Rents along 104 Street are too expensive for small retailers, she says, and retailers don’t stand to benefit from evening crowds heading to the arena. “If I’m going to a concert, I’m not going to go shopping first and bringing my bags with me,” she says.
Getting the right mix of businesses and more life on the street downtown is an ongoing challenge, says Downtown Business Association Executive Director Ian O’Donnell. Bars and restaurants are often the only businesses that can afford the higher rents on 104 Street, although smaller retailers are starting to populate more peripheral areas such as Jasper Avenue or Rice Howard Way. While O’Donnell confirmed the DBA didn’t ask directly about street harassment in their 2017 survey, the issue did surface in the results — some people wrote it in under “other.” “Certainly that topic was brought to our attention through that, but not at a significant level,” he says. According to the survey, general perceptions of safety downtown have increased since the last one was conducted in 2010, with the arena drawing more interest to the area and boosting the police presence by 50 per cent.
Still, O’Donnell acknowledges that if women are feeling unsafe in the area, at any time of day, that’s going to have a detrimental impact. “The arena has certainly brought a lot of people a lot of money, and it’s helped the downtown from an awareness and an exposure standpoint,” he says. “But if there are negative impacts and incidents, then that’s going to slow that. So we certainly want to make sure that we’re a part of that solution.”
Just what that solution is may be not be clear just yet, but dedicated residents like Larson and TerHart are game to be a part of it.
“There’s a lot of big positives to living downtown,” says TerHart. “One community needs to make the effort to bring these changes.”
These are important times for women. Strong women are finding their voice, having been silenced for so long. Women everywhere are being empowered to share their stories. The issues we’re seeing come forth on television, in Hollywood are now happening in our own downtown streets.
Our spring issue is dedicated to the women of Central Edmonton, the women in our lives that do so much and are the lifeblood of our families, friends and community. Even today these women face challenges, prejudice and other injustices that make us collectively shake our heads in disbelief.
The Yards decided to tackle these tough topics, like the abrupt closing of The Needle Vinyl Tavern, and the rumours that surrounded it. The Needle was a wildly successful bar that supported LGBTQ events and was host of local bands. The news of alleged inappropriate behaviour came as a shock. Little did we know that the opening of Rogers Place would also see women residents raise intimidation and safety concerns. Many visitors don’t see downtown as a neighbourhood where people live, let alone women.
We also wanted to celebrate the many achievements of women who contribute to creating a safe, welcoming and vibrant downtown neighbourhood. And we wanted to highlight the stories of those who work in downtown’s culinary scene who have gone above and beyond to show us how the hospitality industry can show leadership by addressing some of the issues women face.
One such program that helps women feel safer in bars is the Best Bar None program by Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. The program “demonstrates a continuing commitment to providing top-notch service in well-managed and safe environments.” In February 2017, the voluntary program expanded to include a written policy that covers sexual harassment. At their eighth-annual awards night in November, several downtown bars, including Central Social Hall and Kelly’s Pub, were recognized for their efforts.
What recent events have shown us is that these policies are not enough to ensure people feel safe working in, living in and coming downtown. We must admit we have a problem and all take steps to work collectively to ensure our communities are safe for all people.
IN FEBRUARY 2014, I TORE TWO ligaments, my meniscus and tendons while skiing. I would two require surgeries. I spent six weeks on crutches in 2014, as well as five weeks in 2015 and four weeks in 2016, all during winter months. The injury allowed me, if only for a short time, to see our city through the eyes of a woman with a disability.
It wasn’t until our board started discussing concepts for this issue of The Yards that I recognized how vulnerable I was while I recovered. I couldn’t put weight on my right leg so I couldn’t run. Being an able-bodied woman, I had always taken comfort knowing I could at least sprint if I had to escape an unsafe situation — a tactic I’ve had to use in the past. But on crutches, if someone had followed me home or tried to hurt me, I would have had little defense. Given that it was winter, I was often traveling in the dark, too.
Perhaps naïvely, I did not reflect on my safety at these times. Still, it became apparent Edmonton is not disability friendly. My only modes of transportation were walking (or more accurately, crutching) and public transit. And Edmonton’s design flaws became apparent: Ramps from the sidewalk to the crosswalk often deposited me right onto the roadway, if a ramp existed at all. Pedestrian-triggered crossing lights often had “beg buttons,” and these were placed so inconveniently that it was difficult for me to flick the button and cross the street in time. Streets coated in ice and snow made my movements treacherous and risky. Even door power-assist buttons were awkwardly placed, resulting in me being hit by a door more than once.
Many argue city designers should adopt a limited-mobility lens in order to accommodate not only those with disabilities, but seniors, children, parents with strollers, and people with carts and walkers. Doing so, some argue, will see cities create pedestrian bump outs, ramps at every crossing, shorter crossing distances on roads and the accommodation of pedestrians through construction zones.
I agree with this view. From improved sidewalk lighting to land-use planning policies that increase the number of people on the street, there are numerous way to make our cities safer — for all. We’ve all been young and, hopefully, we’ll all be old. Our mobility will eventually be limited. That’s why inclusive design and policies must include each and every one of us.