There may be a lack of green spaces in the core, but with the right know-how, backyard-deprived condo dwellers can nurture plenty of beautiful blooms and tasty veggies right on their balcony.
Container gardening is a great option for those wanting to take advantage of, and transform, their smaller outdoor spaces. “It connects us back to the natural environment that we often disconnect from as urban dwellers,” says Justin Keats, Garden Director of Oliver Community League.
Throughout the spring and summer, Keats teaches Oliver residents gardening basics and how to get the most out of their tiny outdoor spaces.
Here, Keats shares some tips on how to bring some green into your urban environment:
Check with your condo board or property manager for any guidelines or restrictions. This may affect the amount of space you can dedicate to your garden, height and weight of plants and pots, and even overall placements.
Start with a plan, and start small. Decide how you want to use your space. Are you looking to engage in urban food production or grow something more ornamental?
Consider the general climate. Edmonton resides in the 4a zone on the Plant Hardiness Index. Choose plants labelled 4 or lower, which are suitable for cooler climes. Plants higher than 4 enjoy our warmest months but are more susceptible to seasonal change.
Consider your micro-climate. Every balcony or garden plot will be different. These environmental factors dictate the types of plants that thrive best.
• Be mindful of the direction your balcony faces, as well as any surrounding structures that may block sunlight.
• East-facing balconies receive morning and afternoon sun, but usually retain a bit of the previous evening’s coolness.
• West-facing balconies get afternoon and evening sun and are generally warmer than those that face east.
• South-facing balconies enjoy the most direct sunlight and get maximum sun exposure during the hottest time of the day. Plants may require extra attention (watering more than once a day or some shade) to avoid drying out.
• North-facing balconies receive little sunlight and are best suited for plants that thrive in the shade.
Investigate the specific requirements for each plant. Read the plant tags, research online and ask questions at your gardening centre.
• Shade-friendly plants include begonias, lobelias, pansies, ferns, hostas, ivy, and some leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard.
• Sunnier areas are good for plants like marigolds, petunias, junipers, potato vines, tomatoes, strawberries, container eggplants, mini carrots, and herbs such as dill, thyme and oregano.
Mind your height. Balconies located on higher floors are more prone to cooler temperatures, especially as summer begins to wind down. Wind is also a factor at as you get higher. Protect your plants from wind by using a windscreen or by shielding more delicate plants with other pots.
Consider purchasing seedlings over seeds to get a head start. Many seeds require a longer growing season in our climate and will need to be grown indoors until the risk of frost passes.
Use large containers to avoid clutter and to ensure that you don’t overcrowd your plants. Take into consideration how much room each plant needs to grow.
Double-up your clay pots or use glazed pots to insulate and help prevent evaporation, and water at least once daily; limited soil space means that your soil will dry out quicker than the ground.
Most importantly, have fun, and experiment with various plants if you can. “Enjoy it! You don’t want it to become a chore,” advises Keats.
Need help getting your balcony garden started?
The Oliver Community League will host a balcony gardening workshop April 22 and 29 fro 1-3 pm at the Oliver Community Hall, 10326-118 St.. It’s an interactive workshop facilitated by OCL Garden Director, Justin Keats. You’ll learn gardening basics, including how to plan your space. Prepare to get inspired! A small $5 fee goes towards the OCL garden Capital Fund and donations are always appreciated.
Visit olivercommunity.com/gardens for more info or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A rendering of Alex Decoteau Park which opens this summer
A look at the community gardens hidden throughout the Oliver and Downtown neighbourhoods
Oliver Community League has one community garden located at 10259-120 Street. The name Peace Garden Park was chosen because 103 Avenue was formerly known as Peace Avenue. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are used in the garden. To find out more about the garden and how to join, email email@example.com.
Two options exist Downtown for those interested in community gardening. Our Urban Eden Garden located off Bellamy Hill has beds available to Downtown residents. The space is owned by the City of Edmonton, as part of its Partnership in Parks program. The second space opens this summer at Alex Decoteau Park on 105 Street. Plans include planters and composting facilities. To find out more about the Alex Decoteau Park garden and to get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s The Yards second birthday! But, please, save the streamers and cake—or at least pass them on to these people, places and passions that we celebrate every winter in this annual tribute. Because we here at the magazine and partnering community leagues are crazy about our neighbourhood. We really believe it to be the best in the Edmonton. And that would make this year’s award winners—chosen by staff, volunteers and writers—the best of the best.
RED STAR PUB It’s where locals come to wind down after work and run into familiar faces, neighbours and friendly staff who know them by name. This dimly lit, mellow pub has a comprehensive beer list, serving everything from low-brow Pabst to premium IPAs. Carefully made appetizers lead to long conversations and table-hopping as the evening progresses. 10534 Jasper Ave.
Credo You’ll almost certainly bump into somebody from your business network and have a power meeting on top of your pre-scheduled coffee. 10134 104 St.
Chicken For Lunch Visit “the Amazing Amy” Quon (of the Lingnan fame) enough times, and she’ll not only remember your name and have your order memorized, but she’ll move you through their winding line-up faster. 10060 Jasper Ave., 780-425-9614 —BN
Best Tailor (TIE)
OLIVER: MASTER TAILORS SEWING CENTRE Luba Korsountseva has tailored and made custom pieces for over 35 years. She has a keen eye for fabrics and quality design—and never shies from giving her professional opinion, even if you don’t want to hear it—so your garment looks its finest. And if you have a special piece that you’re looking to revamp, Korsountseva is always up for a challenge. 10147 119 St., mastertailorsedmonton.com
DOWNTOWN:TONY THE TAILOR Junko Daraseng, the owner of this 16-year old family business, has had one of the top Google ratings for tailors for five years. It’s easy to see why: atop excellent stitching, altering and hemming, you can just drop your garments of on the fly and someone will text you when they’re ready for pick up. The eco-friendly dry cleaning is a bonus. 10172 104 St. —BN
Best Signature Cocktail
BLACK PEARL’S SNOW CRAB CAESAR Craving a bit of Clamato with a side of the sea? Of course you are—you’re Albertan. This signature cocktail adds a fresh wave to the province’s favourite drink by swapping the rabbit food for a snow crab leg. Enjoy this $14.50 Caesar with some of the freshest seafood found in the city. 10132 104 St.
North 53’s Smoke & Oaked Fashioned A truly multi-sensory experience, it’s served fumed with a slab of torched oak that’s flipped over as a coaster for this $15 cocktail with oaked gin, maple syrup and a lightly stirred orange oil 10240 124 St., north53.com
Woodwork House Sour A variation on the classic whiskey sour, this signature cocktail is made with bourbon, lapsang tea-infused honey, lemon juice, egg white and an angostura bitter brûlée. 10132 100 St., woodworkyeg.com —BN
Best Place for Something Truly Unique
Source: Facebook / Swish Vintage
SWISH VINTAGE This tiny boutique brims with everything a vintage-obsessed shopper could possibly want. Owner Angela Larson’s eclectic antique jewellery, statement hats, barely-worn designer shoes and walls upon walls of jaw-dropping party dresses pair beautifully with her curated housewares, including teak cabinets, vintage club chairs and mid-century modern dishware. 10180 101 St.
Dress to Suit
Boutique Dress your best without breaking the bank at Edmonton’s only all-men’s consignment store, with an exhaustive selection of lightly worn formal and business-casual attire. 12070 Jasper Ave.
Bloggers Armoire A veritable treasure-trove for Instagram stylists, this hip consignment store carries the latest in trendy apparel and accessories, as well as brand-name fashions at a fraction of the usual cost. 11016 Jasper Ave. —JP
Best Liquor Store
JASPER LIQUOR MERCHANTS It doesn’t look like much from outside, but this unassuming liquor store tucked beside a Husky might have the most bountiful booze offerings in the core. After a recent expansion, it has enough craft beer to keep any brew-head satisfied. And if beer’s not your thing, the chatty staff will guide you through their competitively priced wines and fine spirits from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. 11607 Jasper Ave., 780-488-3464
deVine Wines and Spirits You won’t find more knowledgeable staff than the employees in these aisles of carefully curated wines and spirits from the globe. Ask about deVine’s regular tastings. The only downside is early closing times. 10111 104 St.
City Cellars This brightly lit, of-the-path store is massive and houses one of the core’s largest liquor selections at a variety of price points. 10505 123 St. —JP
Best Breakfast on the Go
LOCK STOCK COFFEE’S BISCUIT SANDWICH Its contents—gourmet cheese, meats and homemade mayo—may be a rotating special, but it’s all about that homemade biscuit. Baked from scratch daily, this flaky goodness melts in your mouth. 10534 Jasper Ave.
Burrow’s Breakfast Sandwich Complete with savoury tomato jam, farm-fresh eggs, aioli, gruyere and (optional) farm bacon, this sandwich might actually make you enjoy getting lost in the pedway. Central LRT Station
Careit’s Coffee & Pastry Combo Add some sustenance to your morning cup of joe by adding a house-made “Careit cookie,” banana bread slice, or Portugese tart—all for just $3. 10226 104 St., 780-426-2429 —KH
Best Store to Shop for That Friend with a Kid
Courtesy: Instagram / @shop.babyplum
BABY PLUM An offshoot of Plum Home + Design on 124 St., this is the brainchild of mother-daughter duo Pamela Freeman and Jenna Pryor. The pair have stocked the e-commerce store (and the physical one) with the top baby brands from across Canada. Find quality clothes, toys, books and blankets—all given the slobbery stamp of approval by baby-sized judges. 12407 108 Ave.
Audrey’s Books The Jasper Ave. institution boasts a children’s book selection worthy of a “please mom!” moment, or two, from little bookworms. 17002 Jasper Ave.
The Skinny in Vacancy Hall Dress matchy-matchy with your kid before it becomes a fashion faux-pas. Shop for the super-cute and super-hip infants, toddlers, tweens and mommies in your life—online or of-the-rack—inside Mercer Warehouse’s Vacancy Hall. 10359 104 St. —NW
Best Place for Little Home Upgrades
THE PRINTS AND THE PAPER Sandy Muldrew has created a destination graphic arts shop that’s wonderfully curated with gorgeous paper products, high-end prints, limited edition artwork, artful movie posters, illustrated books and eclectic stationary—plus framing services, because you might find something too precious to expose to the elements. 10725 124 St.
Alberta Craft Council The ACC has advocated for the arts in Alberta since 1980 and there’s always something new at its gallery, shop or studio. Bring home some fine art creations made by local artisans to refine your style, whether its cutting edge and contemporary or timeless and traditional. 10186 106 St.
Hideout Local Distro This garage is teeming with treasures, including crafty leather products, jewellery and ceramic décor from Canadian makers, as well as local records and fashion for a piece of true Edmontonia. Vacancy Hall, 10363 104 St. —KH
Best Place to Tinkle
ALBERTA HOTEL BAR + KITCHEN Doc and Marty had the DeLorean, but for these diners the act of relieving themselves is all it takes to travel back in time. Antique marble tiles and gleaming fixtures harken to an age of glamour and opulence. But the real showstopper is reserved for the men: Standing proudly at almost five-feet tall and two-feet wide, the marble urinals are a sight to behold. 9802 Jasper Ave.
Cavern With floor-to-ceiling Carrera marble and rich, dark wood accents, plus luxurious soaps and fresh-cut flowers filling them with soothing scents, these restrooms give even the chicest boutique hotels a run for their money. 10169 104 St.
Bar Clementine The soft green walls, brass fixtures, Victorian-inspired details and classic audiobooks on the overhead speakers (think: Moby Dick) defy these restrooms’ 2016 craftsmanship. 11957 Jasper Ave. —JP
Best Place to Sweat
DON WHEATON FAMILY YMCA Take advantage of the after-work deal. For only $30 a month, the “Y” offers express memberships, meaning you can use the health, fitness and aquatic facilities weekdays from 7:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. And, with a DECL membership, Sundays and holidays are free! 10211 102 Ave.
Hive Fit Co. Perfect for the busy downtowner, this new workout hotspot offers 45-minute cycling, rowing and yoga classes in an on-trend environment you won’t want to leave. 10343 Jasper Ave.
Hotel Macdonald’s Fairmont Fitness Centre It’s not just for guests. You too can be a member and feel like royalty in this newly renovated fitness centre featuring a saline pool, sauna, steam room, whirlpool squash, court and private sundeck. 10065 100 St. —KH
Were it just an economic proposition, the expectations for the Ice District would not be so high. Were it just about creating jobs or boosting investment, then the September 10th open house at Rogers Place may not even be happening. Certainly other cities’ arena proposals have touted billion-dollar spillovers to rally taxpayer support—and most, for the record, have been wrong—but in a city as prosperous as Edmonton, merely boasting economic virtues, let alone hockey pride, to unzip the public purse would never pass muster. From the beginning, this project was about status. The confidence of our city. The face of Edmonton. The glory of downtown.
As Edmonton Journal columnist John MacKinnon put it in 2007, a year before billionaire businessman Daryl Katz bought the Oilers, “In a city with a small market mindset and a lingering inferiority complex even as it grows by leaps and bounds, might a single, heavyweight owner of the local hockey club help change how others see Edmonton? How Edmontonians see themselves?”
How it will change our outward appearance is yet to be seen; it’ll be at least another four years before the $2.5 billion dream is realized with its promised plaza, community rink, premium retail, glitzy hotels and residences. But how it will change our inward appearance is well underway, and nobody knows this more than the people living, working and studying in the core.
To them, the stadium’s silver body and surrounding towers are like a Rorschach test, reflecting their hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties about turning 25 acres of derelict or drab land into a major attraction. Where one sees an opportunity for social cohesion, another sees class division. To one, the promise of big crowds is a much-needed defibrillation for the heart of the city. To another, an unwelcome nuisance.
So, how will the Ice District change our core?
The truth is nobody knows. If you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 answers—which is exactly what we did. The Yards listened to ordinary Edmontonians from all walks of life, from arena supporters to detractors, from the corporate executive to the street-involved, in order to get a shake of their crystal balls.
A Downtown Restaurateur Who Played the Long Game Has Big Hopes
LINO OLIVEIRA Residence: Oliver Occupation: Co-owner of Sabor, Bodega, Urbano Pizza
“When we got here the arena was just talk. We didn’t even take that into consideration. We just loved the space. Business consistently got better, but the third year was the hardest. We became mentally exhausted and, financially, it’s such a big space, so we considered selling it, put out some feelers. The arena sure helped the idea of going forward. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. If we sold it, one day we’d look back and regret it.
“What I hope and think will happen is, with the extra daily exposure we’ll get from being so close, every time there’s a game there will be thousands of people exposed to our brand. It’s going to be tough competition out there; the chains concern us, but we still have a niche.
“During the 1980s, the chains came in and the independents couldn’t survive anymore. West Edmonton Mall opened, everybody left, the suburbs grew and all the little shops closed down. I was working downtown as a kid and coming here every day. As soon as the rush hour was over you could hear the wind in the streets. So even if I had nothing to do with this business or downtown, I think it’s a great thing.”
A Community Worker Wants to Be Part of the Excitement
IAN MATHIESON Residence: Griesbach Occupation: Director of Operations, Boyle Street Community Services
“There will certainly be more people seeing the inner city, which is a good thing. People think this is an unpleasant part of society, but you’ll see some of the most amazing examples of compassion and citizenship here. Of course, there will be challenges as well. Any time someone interacts with our community and our community interacts with folks who aren’t familiar with them, there has to be an understanding that our guys, who work and live in our community, are as much citizens of Edmonton as anyone else. That takes some time.
“We’re waiting to see what it will look like on an event night. Crowds leaving, public intoxication from the people at the event—it can put our community members at risk when those big events let out and people aren’t thinking rationally. There’ve been a lot of arena developments around the world and they’ve ended up displacing people. This is a chance to do things differently. We want to be part of the excitement around it. We want to be good neighbours and the Katz Group and Oilers want that too.
“The best case scenario is community members whom we serve are getting jobs with businesses there, that there’s a partnership with the Ice District and inner-city services, that we’re working together. The worse case scenario is it becomes a closed space for only a few people who can afford it. The [Alex Janvier tile mural] inside is great, but will our indigenous community members actually get to see it?We understand that it’s business—the Ice District isn’t here to save the world—but if they want to create public spaces, and use public dollars to do that, then the city primarily has a responsibility to ensure that all of the citizens irrespective of income, or whether they’re intoxicated, have access.”
A Boyle Street Client Doubts We’ll All Get Along
FABIAN GREYEYES Residence: Oliver Occupation: Casual cleaner
“People around here will be trying to get into their cars and the whole nine yards. I know the kinds of people around here. Whether or not I choose to have [Boyle Street Community Services] here, it has to be moved to keep the conflicts away.
“The worst case scenario is we’re still here and there will be fights and arguments every day from the fans. They’ll be scrapping each other, for sure. It’ll be chaotic down here between the white guys and native guys.
“The best case scenario is we move five, ten blocks away from the immediate arena and things go a little smoother. I like it here, but I know it can’t be here. One of them has to be moved and, of course, they can’t move the arena.”
“This is going to bring even more people, increase more traffic to the area, which is positive. It will probably also increase property prices and lease agreements, as it becomes more of a desired area, but I see that as more of a benefit. Everything will cost more, but it will renew downtown.
“The one downfall is, if it’s booming, if people are intoxicated, it could increase some problems. I remember the 2006 Oilers riots; I wouldn’t want to see that happen again. The arena will be so central, and people get pretty crazy sometimes.”
A Senior Dreads the Noise
ANDREW BROWN Residence: Oliver Occupation: Retired project management consultant
“One major problem we have now, living as we do on Jasper Avenue, is the traffic noise, particularly from souped-up sports cars and motorcycles, which basically goes on and on every nice sunny day. I’m afraid we’ll get the same thing in the winter months now when that arena opens.
“The other issue is going to be parking. We live six blocks from it and parking is going to be dreadful. It will spread into Oliver—left, right and centre. It’s going to make driving difficult and we’ll have noise till 11:30pm, when the traffic clears, because there’s only two escape routes to get south of the river. They never thought through the consequences, just like the High Level Bridge suicide barriers.”
A Season Ticket Holder Predicts a Spark for the Team (and a Headache for Drivers)
“I’m an avid sports fan and long-time Oilers season ticket holder—so anything to get the team to the next level. I think this actually could help the Oilers in trades. International events give a positive outlook on Edmonton, and the Ice District will just add one more flavour to who we are as a city. Growing up here, and working downtown for 30 years, I saw it go through its time, from when it was a ghost town, to slowly coming around over the last decade with new bars and restaurants and condominiums and towers, to what it is today. I’ve watched the whole thing get built from my office window.
“We’ll have to see what the logistical problems are with moving all those people downtown, in and out of the building, having them park somewhere. When Katz Group wanted additional parking for their own land, the city said there’s 18,000 spots downtown, what’s the problem? They’re right. I know where to go to park any day, any time of the night. It isn’t an issue if you know
what you’re doing.”
A Psychic Forecasts Good Things, Mostly
AYANNA DEMMONS Residence: Queen Mary Park Occupation: Tarot card reader
“This represents a new beginning. It’s going to bring a lot of good energy, a lot of new people. I look at these next 50 years, and it’s going to be a good thing. Edmonton is changing from a redneck town to a metropolitan town, and that’s always good.
It will bring a lot more business to the city, so Edmontonians can set up some standard living allowances for poverty stricken people, and right now I’m one of them. I’ve been in my apartment for two years. The arena is going to build up my area, but it’s also going to raise my rent. My apartment is a Main Street [Equity] building, so this is a moneymaker for them.”
A MacEwan Student Fears the Wrath of Parking Prices
“When I started here, parking was $60 a month, which was pricy but reasonable, but it jumped $100. They said they had to match the prices downtown, in other words, the arena. It takes from my student loans, and it will only get worse. The purpose of having it downtown is to get people using buses and commuting here by public transit. For people living here, it will be better. But there’s not a bus I can take.”
A Construction Worker Takes Pride in What He’s Helped Create
VASCO KALALA Residence: Central McDougall Occupation: Journeyman plasterer at the Ice District
“I’m also an artist, so I get passionate about creating, entertaining and seeing other people happy. The moment I realized that what I was doing was helping community, bringing people together, it became more than a job. Just to be a part of something that’s that big, for the community and the city, is amazing.
“It will make Edmonton a more iconic place. I’ve seen a lot of hockey players come in to tour the new arena, when they come and see where they could be living, how beautiful the city is. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this? It’s a cool package, especially for the people who say they don’t have a reason to go downtown. I’ve been in Alberta for seven years. I never had a reason to go downtown before; it didn’t feel alive. The arena will bring some life.”
All interviews were edited for brevity and clarity.
As the adage goes, good fences make good neighbours. But for condo dwellers, when all that separates your living space with the one next door is a single wall, you’re bound to butt heads. With real estate in the core at a premium, prospective homebuyers are exploring the realities of condominiums—whether apartment-style complexes, three-story walkups or townhouses. They offer the opportunity to own a slice of our city’s burgeoning central neighbourhoods, but shared living spaces require a special type of cooperation.
The condo board. It’s both the first line of defence for issues that may arise and the first source of frustration for new owners. A well-run committee can improve your quality of life, but few board members are experts in conflict and financial management. “If the condo board isn’t doing their job, it will be reflected in the corporation’s condo documents and reserve fund study, which is required to be updated every five years,” says Anand Sharma, president of the Canadian Condominium Institute North Alberta Chapter. “These documents tell you how the condo board is saving money, how they are allocating their money for capital projects, and whether they are acting efficiently.” It all comes down to a cohesive and well-run board.
Though not many people actually enjoy the monotony of balancing budgets, and only a sadist would enjoy breaking the news that everyone must pitch in for a new elevator. Hiring a management company instead of self-governing might formalize the process and ease the board’s administration duties but it’s the elected board of directors who make the decisions, says Sharma. “But at the end of the day, the buck stops with the board.” So what makes a healthy board?
Like any good relationship, open lines of communication are key. Still, balancing the wants of everyone in the building is hard. “You are interacting with people that you don’t see everyday. It can be hard to get a read on people, or to tell another grown adult to do something without coming across as bossy,” says Matthew Garrett, who has served on his petite building’s five-unit board since moving in, in 2014. Joining your condo board shouldn’t be as painful as a bikini wax from a first-year cosmetology student. If your corporation is willing to work together, the process of governing can actually be pleasant.
“I don’t necessarily like to be in control of everything, but I like to have a say in my own destiny,” says Jeff Johnston, who served as his former condo’s president for four years. Even in the midst of overseeing a major structural repair to the building’s foundation, he found it to be incredibly rewarding. They regularly met in someone’s suite to discuss goings-on in the building or the neighbourhood. “It wasn’t all drudgery,” he says. “The meetings were quite fun, and it helped us to build a community.”
Now doesn’t that sound nice? That’s why we’ve prepared a comprehensive breakdown of every issue, foreign word and colourful character you might encounter on your path to harmonious homeownership in the core.
A pesky Meowth in Grant Notley Park, one of Edmonton’s most popular Pokémon Go hotspots.
Driving home to my apartment last month, I spotted a crowd of adults staring intermittently at their phones in Kitchener Park. Kitchener is usually filled with frolicking children and the occasional couple walking their dog, so this was a most unusual site. As I pulled over and walked up to the nearby hill, other drivers—in nurses scrubs and dress shirts—followed suit. “What’s going on?” I asked the nurse.
“Pokémon Go,” he said. As he explained it, it was a location based augmented reality game, and it had just been released that morning.
It’s been two months since the most popular mobile game in history turned every street in Edmonton—and the world—into a virtual safari, so it hardly feels necessary to explain its premise. But for anyone who’s just emerged from a coma, Pokémon Go is like a standard game, in that you play as a virtual character on a virtual adventure in a virtual world. Only, the developers removed the virtual component—now you are the one physically going on the adventure by walking your neighbourhood. To replenish your supplies that catch and heal the wild Pokémon that you discover through your screen, you must get to a Pokéstop, give it a whirl, a la Wheel of Fortune, and collect your booty.
Pokéstops are located at real life landmarks, thus there are probably over 100 Pokéstops in Oliver, as there are in Downtown and the Whyte Ave. area. The age of these neighbourhoods mean they’re rich with big and small monuments of note. So while a “Poké Trainer” (the player) in the new northeast neighbourhood of Ozerna could walk a mile just to discover a tiny memorial plaque on a park bench, in Oliver that same trainer can discover hidden gems merely metres apart.
As someone new to Oliver, this was a great way for me to discover my new community. When catching Pokémon in the Kitchener Park field, I joined forces with strangers running the field after some rustling bushes on-screen led us to a Drowzee by a playground. My curveball absolutely missed it and the lil’ bugger escaped, but then I looked up to an impressive of the old neighbourhood with train tracks and carriages. I’d never seen it before. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that Oliver had a community garden until our squad was catching Caterpies hiding between the rhubarb stalks.
The two main hubs for players in Oliver are Railtown (the park near west of Save On Foods) and Grant Notley Park (around the Gazebo at the top of Victoria Hill). These Pokéstop-riddled parks have been transformed to areas where crowds of players hang out at all hours of the day. Despite making parking in the area harder than finding a Snorlax sometimes, the crowds have helped vitalize these areas and tear down some of the typical barriers to talking to random strangers.
Recently, I was in Grant Notley Park, a place I’d passed through many times but never sat down to enjoy the incredible river valley vista. That is, until someone dropped a “lure” there to attract some digital wildlife. Suddenly every bench was occupied and a few dozen people were standing around or laying in the grass. A thickly bearded trainer even brought a power bar for people to charge their phones. Oddly, it was fairly silent despite the crowds. Maybe this can be seen as antisocial to some, but that’s not necessarily true. One player in the gazebo broke his silence to tell me that he usually spends his evenings at home by himself anyway, and suddenly seeing other players outside reinforced to him that he’s not alone.
Later, strolling along Victoria Promenade, where lie eight Pokéstops in a row, I asked trainers if they’ve learned anything new about Oliver through the app lens. One trainer enjoys reading up on all of the busts and memorials converted into Pokéstops. Another said her favourite discovery was the woodpecker graffiti on the side of Mountain Equipment Co-op. A couple in the middle of sending their Pokémon into battle at On The Rocks (now a “Pokémon gym” — sparser but grander landmarks than Pokéstops) told me how much safer they feel being out after dark, with many more people out and about. By joining with other players, they were able to see Oliver at night—something they weren’t comfortable doing before.
The next time I went to Grant Notley Park, the trainers were much chattier and comfortable with each other. When a guy casually mentioned to two women that it was he who laid down the lures, someone screamed, “There’s an Aerodactyl two blocks away! Follow me, muggles!” Like firefighters called to the scene of an accident, a dozen trainers, myself included, jumped up from our grassy spots and sprinted in the direction of that man towards Jasper Ave.
It truly felt like I was on an adventure with my neighbours.
Oliver’s Top 4 Pokémon Hot Spots
Railtown: Pokéstops fill this park bustling with bikers, joggers, dog-walkers and, now, dozens of trainers. Keep your eyes peeled for the Ekans nest, which has seemingly invaded a Pikachu nest. I guess snakes do eat mice, right?
Grant Notley Park: Here lie two Pokéstops atop one of the most beautiful views of the city. The gazebo is particularly useful in protecting yourself from the rain, plus available power outlets mean you can catch Pokémon all day and night.
Victoria Promenade: One of the best spots in Edmonton to restock on Pokeballs. Check out the many busts, sculptures and a fountain, while getting some good mileage on hatching your eggs.
124th Street: Over a dozen Pokéstops riddle this main street. Catch these critters while enjoying coffee and pastries on any one of the nearby café patios, or check out some of the many independent art galleries here, while waiting for the Pokéstops to recharge.
Over the decades, and especially over the last couple years, Edmontonians have watched Downtown music venues fade, leading to something of a winter for the local scene. But now, in the spring of 2016, new life is sprouting from the core. In the past seven months, the Needle Vinyl Tavern, 9910 and the Chvrch of John joined relative newcomers Bohemia, Rocky Mountain Icehouse and Stage 4 plus the mainstays like the Starlite Room, Brixx and OTR. It looks like the start of a live music renaissance, at least for the core.
In fact, the Edmonton Live Music Initiative—a new program endorsed by the municipal and provincial governments—is strongly considering designating it the “Live Music District.” Might we be witnessing the revival of something absent from this side of the river for the last 50 years?
Back in the 1960s there were no fewer than 15 venues on Jasper Ave. between 100th and 109th streets. They had names like the Old Bailey, the Shasta Upstairs, the Midtowner, the Embers and Tita’s. Each hosted musicians seven nights a week. They were so close to each other that bands could cross the street between sets to watch another show. Musicians flocked to our city to earn a living doing what they loved—no side job or supportive spouse required.
And it happened practically over night. The Edmonton of the 1950s was a dry city where men and women were expected to socialize in separate nightclubs.
“No entertainment was offered or, for that matter, necessary in these dismal establishments,” recalls Tommy Banks, who began his career in local clubs before becoming a nationally recognized jazz pianist, talk-show host and senator.
But to his and many other musicians’ fortune, Alberta broke away from prohibition. “Edmonton’s nightlife scene changed suddenly and dramatically,” he explains.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s antecedent was created to maintain a tight and orderly nightlife. Part of this control included prompt midnight shutdowns every night of the week. But the 1960s was a time when dancing was the social function, so the liquor board said if a venue provided a band of three members as entertainment, it would allow drinking until 2:00 am. After some quick calculations, venue owners grabbed their telephones to hire as many bands a week as their rooms could hold.
But, as is apparent today, the gig didn’t last. Cliff Minchau, a bassist who has been gigging in Edmonton for nearly 50 years, says venues began replacing musicians with strippers and installing VLTs. He says it brought a seedy tone that turned audiences off clubs, and the payout from venue owners kept shrinking.
“Bookers wanted two guys who sounded like five guys that they could pay like one guy,” Minchau says. And with the advent of turntables, the DJ and disco movements overtook live music as abruptly as a record scratch.
No downtown venues founded before the turn of the century remain. Modern mainstays, such as the Starlite Room (established in 2004), have continued to host performances every other day, but these hangers-on are the exception—the live industry decline is practically rote at this point, not only in Edmonton but also abroad.
London, England, went from 430 venues in 2007 down to 245by 2015. Austin, Texas—which often earns an Edmonton comparison as a similarly sized, liberal bastion in conservative, oil-soaked America—officially reported last year that the once-heralded “live music capital” was full of musicians living below the poverty line. Closer to home, the core’s Four Rooms, Sidetrack Cafe, New City Suburbs and the Artery (recently revived in McCauley as the Aviary) remind us that closing venues in this city is nothing new.
“From our conversations with a number of venues, promoters and musicians,” says Jenna Turner, communications director of the Edmonton Arts Council, “two [hindrances] arose: the red tape as far as zoning and development, and the not-so-simple issue of building a value and appreciation for live and local music.”
Bylaws, such as minimum parking and closing times, are currently being challenged by passionate citizens. But the latter? Local musicians have the talent, venue owners have the drive and our reinvigorated core is regaining its former glory.
Now all the music scene needs is an excited audience showing its support. This means going to see bands you haven’t seen before or buying an extra beer or meal to offset the venues’ costs and help increase musician fees. It means taking a photo of the band and posting it to your social media with a link to the band’s music and a shout-out to the club. It’s dancing with abandon when the moment hits. (It’s definitely not talking during a song.)
Really, it just comes down to truly enjoying music. And what could be easier than that?
The Yards’ Guide to Live Music: Stages, People and Issues
I’ve lived in the El Mirador apartments for 10 years. A whitewashed complex with Spanish flair in the heart of downtown—the buildings are impossible to miss. What most Edmontonians don’t see is the courtyard, a unique space where residents have created a sense of community that’s unusual for apartment dwellers. We have communal barbecues and we relax together under the spruce tree on hot afternoons. Sometimes the courtyard draws strange visitors, but one neighbour with a great vantage point acts as de facto building security.
However a sense of dread has always hung over us. How much longer can a modest three-storey building hold its ground in a rapidly revitalizing neighbourhood? The answer came in late November when we learned that the owner’s representatives had met with the Downtown Edmonton Community League to discuss future redevelopment. They’re currently in the pre-application stage for rezoning several adjacent lots on 101 Ave. and 108 St., including the 75-year-old Rochester Apartments, a small brick building next door. If approved by city council, redevelopment will mean bulldozing our homes and replacing them with mixed-use retail and residential towers.
The owner, developer and lawyer John Day, is celebrated for rehabbing and reinventing such heritage buildings as the Garneau Theatre and Kelly Ramsey. But there are no such plans for El Mirador, which sits on Capital Boulevard, the recently revamped street between the Alberta Legislature Building and MacEwan University. Property owners in the area are sitting on veritable gold mines, so it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to redevelop, but tearing down El Mirador means yet another loss for the city’s architectural tapestry.
Edmonton seems to have the same debate every year. A historical structure is threatened; there’s public outcry. Sometimes the building is saved, like the McDougall United Church in late 2015. Many times, it’s demolished, like the 117-year-old Etzio building on Whyte Ave., which earned a spot on the National Trust for Canada’s “worst losses” list last year. These historical buildings tell stories about the city and its communities. They are part of our shared memory, but they’re also owned by people with very real property rights. Their existence is precariously balanced between public and private interests. The question is: When does one outweigh the other?
El Mirador has been part of the city’s landscape for 80 years. According to documents in the City of Edmonton archives, a building permit for R. H. Trouth was approved in July 1935, and he built the first 12 suites by the end of the year. Subsequent permits allowed Trouth to build more suites and the Patricia Annex, which was completed in 1954.
The apartment complex is listed on the city’s Inventory of Historic Resources, a classification that offers little protection for the building; it’s simply an acknowledgement of the building’s historical significance. Owners of inventoried buildings can apply to have their properties added to Edmonton’s Register of Historic Resources and, if approved, the buildings are officially designated and owners agree to maintain them and protect them from demolition. In exchange for choosing to designate their buildings, owners can receive financial incentives. This official designation was crucial to saving the Molson Brewery and United McDougall Church.
Edmonton allocates $1.5 million per year to its Heritage Reserve Fund, which is primarily used for rehabbing buildings new to the registry. The department receives about six applications for historical designation per year, each one vying for a piece of this very modest fund.
Heritage guidelines vary across Canada, but Alberta’s Municipal Heritage Partnership Program assesses properties by looking at their eligibility, significance and integrity. With rare exceptions, properties must be at least 50 years old and in their original locations. Historical significance can come from the people or groups that once occupied the building, activities performed in it, or its design. Above all, says the City’s principal heritage planner David Johnston: integrity is key. Do most of the original building materials remain? Have significant changes been made to the structure? Was the original construction up to snuff? If the answers are no, it’s enough to sink a beautiful old building with an important story.
Even if buildings meet these requirements, many owners aren’t interested in designation, which becomes permanent on the property title and transferable to every owner thereafter. Some owners worry that such an inflexible property could be very hard to sell when the time comes. Beyond that, it has to be maintained to the City’s standards.
Two of my friends in El Mirador have a shabby piece of plywood reinforcing their bathroom ceiling, and they still experience the occasional leak when their upstairs neighbour takes a bath. My windows don’t open all the way. Each winter, the heating fails at least once or twice, and some apartments are icy-cold until April. Each issue can be seen as yet another disincentive for designation.
Upgrading and maintenance are easier— and cheaper—said than done. However, once an owner chooses to officially register a building, the City attempts to balance the financial scales. Rehabilitation grants for residential buildings cover up to half of approved costs to a limit of $75,000, and owners can apply for $10,000 for maintenance every five years thereafter. There are some things the grants won’t cover, like heating or electrical upgrades. But apartments like El Mirador are technically commercial properties and, as such, they are eligible for more generous grants. The City contributed $225,000 to the Phillips Lofts building, $260,000 to Westminster Apartments and $548,000 to the McLeod Building, according to Johnston.
Former historian laureate Shirley Lowe doesn’t express much sympathy for owners who argue that their buildings have fallen too far into disrepair to be salvaged. In some cases, lack of maintenance is intentional — “demolition by neglect,” she calls it. “Usually the reason you want to demolish it is because you can reap a reward, an immediate reward, perhaps at the expense of the community.” The only thing that matters to most developers is a cost comparison of upgrading a building versus tearing it down to build anew. In strictly economic terms, the answer is rarely in favour of the former, so long as city council approves rezoning the site. Once zoning changes, explains Johnston, property owners have a “massive economic opportunity sitting in their lap. … They can sell the land with this additional opportunity now enshrined.”
City council has to balance many interests, and sometimes those priorities are in conflict. Infill and density in the core are important goals, but they don’t necessarily align with historical preservation, as demonstrated by the fate of El Mirador. Upzoning—changing the zoning to allow for larger structures or retail space—is a significant barrier to saving heritage buildings. “And every time we do that,” says Johnston, “it’s just another death blow to our ability to try to retain these historic buildings.” And while the costs of maintaining a historical building can be significant, there can also be an economic benefit, says Dan Rose of Heritage Forward and member of the Edmonton Historical Board. Rose offers the example of 104 St., which was practically derelict 15 years ago. “You can basically quantify the value of historic character based on the foot traffic, the retail spending, the economic activity of Old Strathcona and 104 St,” says Rose (who is also involved in the Yards and OCL).
Despite its beautiful street renovations, Capital Boulevard isn’t exactly Whyte Ave. or 104 St., so what will happen to El Mirador? If it’s demolished, the planned redevelopment will consist of two mixed-use high-rises on three-storey pedestals—similar to owner John Day’s new Kelly Ramsey Tower—and 276 underground parking spaces. Day, like many councillors and people living within the core neighbourhoods, is a champion of density. His two towers, alongside two more proposed towers on the adjacent land owned by Maclab Enterprises, would each be up to 90 metres and could ultimately add 800 units, perhaps doing for the street what the Icon Towers did for 104 St.
Historical buildings often lose out to new developments; their chances are even worse when the proposals tout principles from Edmonton’s planning documents, like increased downtown residents and street-level retail. Ultimately, when it comes to heritage preservation, Lowe says we need to ask ourselves one question: “As a city, do we care?”
El Mirador has been living on borrowed time for decades. According to an Edmonton Journal article from August 1978, the landlord at the time told the paper, “I don’t think El Mirador will be around in 10 years. It may be even shorter.” The building’s existence was precarious then for the same reason it is now: the land would be even more valuable with something bigger built on it. While bylaws and zoning influence the city’s development, market forces have shaped Edmonton’s urban fabric since its inception, and the oil industry’s peaks and valleys have been imprinted on our cityscape over the last half-century. “The booms have quite often taken the buildings that were significant,” says Lawrence Herzog, who co-authored The Life of a Neighbourhood: A History of Edmonton’s Oliver Districtwith Shirley Lowe.
Even Herzog seems surprised that El Mirador has lasted. He attributes its longevity to its place on the western edge of downtown, away from much of the past demolition in the city centre. In the last decade, however, development has spread outward from the downtown core, putting the building in the path of the wrecking ball. But demolitions also tend to be put on hold during busts, so El Mirador may be given a reprieve.
“The economy has obviously slowed down, so I think it’s going to slow down a lot of projects,” says John Day. It could be four to five years until redevelopment is underway—if ever. But that doesn’t change his mind on salvaging the building; he insists some sort of redevelopment is inevitable.
It’s unsurprising, but saddening for me to hear this confirmation. El Mirador is Edmonton’s only example of this architectural style.
Our city hasn’t always done a good job of preserving its heritage buildings, but there’s a change in the atmosphere, says Herzog. Young adults are promoting awareness about our heritage and Baby Boomers are growing nostalgic. And that, he hopes, will be true of property owners too. “If the sole motivation is to flip or to make money, then historic buildings are always going to lose,” he says. “But if owners have got a motivation to preserve a landmark, to leave a legacy, to do right by the community, to make the tapestry of the block stronger by doing their part [and] taking care of their property, then there’s more pride connected to that.”
Few apartment residents are as proud as El Mirador’s, and our sense of community is by design. The courtyard is a central gathering place and our windows face our neighbours, not a street or a parking lot. When I first visited the building at 17 years old, I sat on the floor of my apartment, hoping desperately that my rental application would be accepted. I still smile when I walk up to the building and someone excitedly asks if I live here. It’s an irreplaceable feeling.
The Endangered List: Four Beautiful Buildings That Might Be Doomed
Photo by Simon Law/Flickr
Paramount Theatre 10233 Jasper Ave. The National Trust for Canada considers the dormant cinema, built in 1951, at risk, and rumours about its doom have been swirling in the news for two years. With a lease sign up again, don’t expect ProCura’s plans for a glass residential tower anytime soon.
The Royal Alberta Museum 12845 102 Ave. Nothing proves our disposable outlook on architecture more than the fact that mere months after the museum moved out of its original home, a Provincial report stating possible demolition emerged. The National Trust for Canada listed it as one of Canada’s top 10 endangered buildings in May.
The Graphic Arts Building 9523 Jasper Ave. The quaint art-deco commercial building was hotly debated because the owner slated to demolish it was none other than the City of Edmonton itself. It’s now seeking a buyer or considering dismantling and storing the building for future reconstruction.
The Rochester Apartments 10125 108 St. El Mirador’s brick neighbour (built c. 1941) is also owned by John Day and part of the same plan to construct mixed-use towers on Capital Boulevard. —Staff
Photo by Paula Kirman / flickr.com/photos/raisemyvoice
Standing alone on the Living Bridge, an abandoned railway turned garden on 97 St., I noticed few things out of place beside the kale and tomato planters: dirty discarded jeans, filthy tees, empty creamers and food wrappers. I poked at an empty chip bag with my foot; it folded in on itself and revealed a bloodied syringe underneath. There was no one around, but there were signs of human life everywhere.
It was an overcast fall day. I’d just climbed the skeletal metal staircase to the bridge, a place I’d only previously seen from the smudged bus window. It was conceived by artists and designers Chelsea Boos, Carmen Douville and Erin Ross in 2013 as an urban intervention to beautify an “unused” space by transforming it into a community hub/edible garden. Though privately owned by Qualico Communities, the Living Bridge is otherwise a very public space.
Community gardens are often built on the ideals of accessible space and public ownership. The Living Bridge is fully maintained by volunteers who lay no personal claim to anything planted, but collectively keep the garden alive. The bridge’s website states its purpose “is to foster pride and community engagement for the Downtown Edmonton, McCauley and Boyle Street neighbourhoods that intersect its borders.” Set about halfway through Chinatown—right on the corners of these three distinct neighbourhoods—it acts as a nexus, at least in a geographical sense.
While Downtown holds a lot of business-class wealth, Boyle Street and McCauley tend to be remembered for crime, prostitution, drugs and homelessness. Seldom are these two neighbourhoods recalled for their diversity; the area is also home to a large Aboriginal, East Asian and African population, as well as an artistic community. Long-time resident Timothy Anderson belongs to the latter. The author and MacEwan University instructor recognizes that the garden’s traces of poverty make some residents uncomfortable—the syringes, abandoned wardrobes, hollow remand jail towering above—but he reminded me that “ownership” is a fluid concept, and the ways we express pride over anything, whether spaces or objects, are subjective.
Surrounding the garbage—or perhaps tucked between it—the Living Bridge is divided into 24 planting beds made of temporary twine planters with a mix of flowers, brush and edibles. The local food movement was trendy when the garden started up, but no one really eats the produce, explains garden coordinator Stephanie Bailey. Like several urban DIY fads and movements, it’s a marker of self-sustaining communities and liberal identity. But ultimately, small urban gardens like this just aren’t a viable form of food security on their own. Bailey (who has since left the coordinator role) is more hopeful about the bridge’s potential to unite communities. “As opposed to other urban community gardens where you would pay for your plot, this was everyone’s garden,” she said. “So you can help garden whatever plot you want.”
When she started managing the project in 2014, she wanted to preserve its initial “by and for the community” ethos. The garden was planted by volunteers, primarily from a young and professional creative class, who didn’t all live in the area and couldn’t necessarily speak for its residents. So with the support of Boos, Douville and Ross, Bailey recruited 65 community members from Boyle Street, McCauley and Downtown to tend to the garden. The result was a mix of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but Bailey still wondered if so many different types of people would be meaningfully engaged to take collective ownership over a single project.
Photo by Paula Kirman / flickr.com/photos/raisemyvoice
Almost as quickly as a garden went up, so too did a camp; people started staying overnight. And the City of Edmonton, which helped get the project off the ground by supplying fertilized water, decided to retract its involvement with the Living Bridge last year.
Nearby, Mary Burlie Park was already known for violence, one City representative indicated to Bailey, and administrators took issue with the garden’s potential to attract “loiterers” and extend these issues. “I never once had any problems with people from Mary Burlie who were spending time on the bridge,” says Bailey, but she doesn’t deny the risky activities that occur on the bridge. (The city employee who worked closely with the Living Bridge organizers was unavailable for an interview.)
She recalls an organized volunteer cleanup that turned up hundreds of needles under a big water barrel. Clearing the bio-waste is obviously necessary, but she says it is also important that Edmontonians are exposed to the area’s realities of poverty and addiction. One businesswoman, Bailey recalls, had never seen a drug needle before. “[She] had no idea this was happening here,” says Bailey.
No one wants to see dirty needles on their footpaths—and that includes the people who use them. But the City’s concern with safety seems to adhere to a very particular definition of “safe.” What activities, what kinds of people, count as unsafe? And whose safety and sensibilities are top priority?
“Where do you want people to go?” asks Timothy Anderson, who is still bothered by the City’s decision to remove drinking water sources used by the homeless community from Giovanni Caboto Park a decade ago. He tried to remedy the situation by keeping one of his outdoor hoses out for the homeless, but his neighbours weren’t fans of the crowds it drew. “Most of the time they’re just hanging out, laughing, joking, finding what fun they can in their lives. They’re not quiet, but why do people find that so offensive? If I saw two or three of the students from MacEwan on the sidewalk in exactly the same position as a clump of homeless people, would I feel that that was something that shouldn’t be there? The answer is ‘no.’ So why do people find that so threatening?” Ironically, it seems that the street-entrenched communities of Edmonton are forced to live in the shadows while existing in the spotlight.
Months after my first visit last fall, I returned on a sun-drenched spring day. Again, I found myself alone, but I ventured past the freshly sown seeds into Mary Burlie Park and met a couple of people sitting under a tree.
They asked me if I had the time, and I asked them what they thought of the bridge. One man, who has been homeless for a year, called it “awesome.” He added, “It’s a crosswalk for the homeless. It’s history,” and he’d hate to see it torn down, which he thought was inevitable.
He was talking about the bridge itself, and not necessarily the newly added gardens, decorative planters and seating. Those are benchmarks of revitalization, which he had mixed feelings about. Pointing to the Ice District and future Rogers Place, he said it will expose many middle-class Edmontonians to homelessness and poverty, and, ultimately, increase prejudices, particularly against aboriginal people.
Edmonton, he believes, is trying too hard to make itself perfect, or at least look that way, covering up its economic disparity and pushing the people pegged as “problems” further into the peripheries. Given all the redevelopment, he said it’s hard for him to care about the Living Bridge, since he considers it temporary anyway—like a placeholder until it’s sold.
The other person in the park, however, felt differently about the bridge. “I’m homeless and Aboriginal,” she stated, “and I love this garden.” She told me that she camped on the bridge for a whole year—weeding, watering and planting in the garden whenever she could during the growing season. One group of gardeners had brought flower bunches but only planted half of them—and never returned. “I couldn’t stand to see [the plants] die,” she said. So she tended to them herself. Gardening is “spiritual and therapeutic,” she said. “It helps me think less about my plights.”
Bailey acknowledged the irony of the Living Bridge to me: Some people, including City administrators, object to people using the bridge to camp, yet harbour no qualms about artists—many non-residents—coming in and altering the old rail-yard to their whims. Nobody had a problem with her reimagining the site because “I’m just a middle class, white kid,” Bailey stated matter-of-factly.
What people forget about “urban interventionism,” Bailey explained, is that one rarely reimagines an “unused” or “neutral” space; someone has probably already been using that land. Before they were flowerbeds, they were human beds. Though street-entrenched people are seldom credited or even acknowledged for building their own definition of community, the Living Bridge offers a space that allows them, and others, to cultivate a unique sense of pride in their own neighbourhood.
She recalled one late night when she’d biked by the bridge and noticed a knocked over water barrel. Bailey struggled to lift the heavy container until three men camping in the garden came to help. Then, as she left the bridge, someone walked over to the barrel, and she heard the men tell the person not to play with it. “It was like 24-hour surveillance.”
Susan Forsey has two babies, and like any good mother, she pretends she doesn’t have a favourite. But she does. “You’re supposed to love all your kids equally, but this is my baby and I would have been happy with this,” she says, voice hushed, finger pointed at a reclaimed wood table in the corner of Cask & Barrel.
She and Wayne Jones, her partner in life and business, opened the 1,300-sq.-ft. bar in 2012 with the intent of providing good beer, wine and scotch to an older and refined crowd. When it first opened in the Confederation Building on 104 St., Forsey was there every day, open to close. But nowadays, Cask’s bigger sister Rocky Mountain Icehouse gets most of her attention. Nearly three times Cask’s size, the restaurant in the Jasper Block building one street northwest opened in July 2015 and Forsey calls it the colicky one of the two. “It’s way easier to open up a smaller place, and make sure it’s successful, than a bigger one,” says Forsey, who, like Jones, has 20-plus years in hospitality behind her. “This place could do the same amount of sales that [Icehouse] could do with half the staff.”
In Edmonton’s core, where bigger appears to be better—bigger arena, bigger museum, bigger university—smaller isn’t just surviving; it’s thriving. Yet our streets don’t provide enough of these fine-grain, hole-in-the-wall businesses that let people like Forsey and Jones take a risk, succeed, then grow. Anyone who’s walked Toronto, Montreal or a great number of cities’ downtown streets knows the sight of a trail of sandwich boards—each one indicating another small business. On one side of one block you could enter and exit a dozen doors. The store bays are long and narrow. Their owners, usually behind a counter. “You need to have a lot of really great small retail bays to have small business,” says Ian O’Don nell, vice president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League. “That’s something we’ve been challenged by, because we’ve moved or redeveloped a lot of the older sites that Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal have retained.”
There is, however, a movement afoot to rewrite this in the core, and Lisa Baroldi, co-founder of the urban networking vehicle Designing Downtown, can point to the cause: “You’ve got really creative entrepreneurs pushing developers in different directions and making demands to do different things,” says the Oliver resident.
The Icon Towers on 104 St., developed by Langham Developments Ltd., are good examples of that push, what with those residential towers’ podiums playing host to a variety of small retailers and restaurants. Soon Langham’s Fox Towers will repeat this exactly one block north. More offices and towers along 124 St. and Jasper Ave. are being built or retrofitted with small storefronts, but our core still lags behind most other cities’, to say nothing of the small bays available on Whyte Ave. just across the river. But if the dozens of cranes reaching over the skyline mean anything, it’s that big change is possible.
Developers have their reasons for going “big.” Big tenants usually bring with them an established clientele and financial stability, plus having one large tenant instead of many small tenants is easier to manage. “It’s more difficult for mom and pop shops to provide a background and history and demonstrated financials than, say, a 7/11 or an Earl’s,” says O’Donnell. “So landlords will typically prefer to have a brand name.”
AT NEARLY 20,000 SQ. FT., THE FORMER SOBEYS COULD FIT 14 CASK & BARRELS. BUT YOU COULD FIT TWO TZIN WINE & TAPAS INTO ONE CASK. AND AT LEAST THREE COFFEE BUREAUS. IT JUST DEPENDS ON HOW YOU DEFINE SMALL.
Eric Slatter is a leasing agent with Colliers International who’s worked on tenant agreements for commercial bays both small and big, new and old. Although the tendency for developers is to try securing large companies with predictable profits, he says carving out smaller retail makes financial sense for them. “If it’s a 3,000-sq.-ft. space, it limits how many tenants can use [it],” he says. “If you can divide that into three 1,000 sq.-ft. units, you would be able to charge a premium on each one of those square feet.”
But tripling the tenants could also triple the headaches, which is why many developers continue to develop sizeable spaces to attract tenants with sizeable reputations. Even then, it doesn’t always work out. Slatter points to the still vacant Sobeys on 104 St., kitty-corner to Cask & Barrel, which closed in the summer of 2014, seven years into a 10-year lease. “All your eggs are in one basket in that sense,” says Slatter, who represents the landowner.
Coffee Bureau is one of several tiny retailers emerging in the core. (Mack Male/Flickr)
At nearly 20,000 sq. ft., the former Sobeys could fit 14 pubs the size of Cask. And while Cask is comparatively small, seating 77, when placed on the “small scale” it’s a monster. You could fit two TziN Wine & Tapas into Cask. And at least three Coffee Bureaus. It just depends on how you define small. Small can mean a farmers’ market stall or a food truck. In fact the city’s thriving food truck scene might have as much to do with a lack of appropriately sized commercial spaces as it does with the Food Network. As urbanist and The Happy City author Charles Montgomery said on a recent visit to Edmonton, “Food trucks are great, but they’re like an indicator species that says, ‘Yeah, you screwed that up’.” His point is that Edmonton has failed to offer small-scale restaurants space in the first place.
And that’s unfortunate because the smaller an entrepreneur starts the more room they have to grow. “And people who get that right,” says Baroldi, “they’re going to be incredibly successful.”
Annie Parent’s cozy gift shop Habitat Etc.
Just ask Annie Parent. She started out selling handmade terrariums at the City Market Downtown. When it was time to leave her work in the pharmaceuticals industry and set up her dream gift shop, Habitat Etc., the 34-year-old chose a 550-sq.-ft. former office in 104 St.’s McKenny building, not just because it was close to the market but because of its size. She could have rented some- thing larger for the same price on a different street but, she says, “the challenge is finding a small space to start. The hardest thing in retail is having such large overhead in the beginning.”
Now a year into business, she has opened up the walled-off storage room to accommodate the growing number of customers interested in craft workshops.
“It’s market-driven. So, at the very least, we need the City of Edmonton to minimize other barriers to establishing small businesses, such as parking minimums.” — Lisa Brown, Oliver Community League president
Starting a business, even one the size of a closet, isn’t easy. There are macro-hoops that micro-entrepreneurs have to jump through.
First, you need to find a space, which isn’t as easy as it looks. Nate Box, for instance, searched for two years before opening his first of five businesses, Elm Cafe, on 195 sq. ft. inside the base of an Oliver apartment. And then there’s the bureaucratic process of meeting building code and zoning regulations. Coffee Bureau, for example, was expected to have a barrier-free bathroom, even though it would take up one-fifth of the cafe. That’s because Bureau seats 10 people. If, in the future, owners wanted to add more seats, they’d have to also add another bathroom, a physical impossibility.
“We’re always asking developers to install small bays in new buildings when we’re discussing their rezoning applications, but there’s no guarantee that’ll happen,” says Oliver Community League president Lisa Brown. “It’s market-driven. So, at the very least, we need the City of Edmonton to minimize other barriers to establishing small businesses, such as parking minimums.”
Zoning bylaws regulating the number of parking stalls a business must have in order to open have caused many well-publicized delays for businesses, especially outside of Downtown proper, which has reduced parking requirements. The well-intentioned rule is supposed to accommodate commuter customers, but as public transit use grows and the inner city becomes more of a place to live (or a “lifestyle,” as Baroldi calls it), they’re becoming irrelevant. A pilot project will relax the rules in Oliver, on 124 St. and on Whyte Ave., but some would-be business owners would prefer none at all. Slatter, who worked on the 109 St. deal with the owners of the Common, says the fact that the restaurant and club had no parking stalls wasn’t a deterrent. The owners said they didn’t even need any—and if the line-ups outside the bar on a Friday night are any indication, they were right.
The City of Edmonton is open to relaxing rules to encourage more small business in our neighbourhoods. But, says Peter Ohm, branch manager of urban planning and sustainable development, fundamental to these potential changes is population density. “That’s key in having a foundation that gets people to support smaller businesses,” he says. “Smaller businesses aren’t going to come to an area if there aren’t people there to shop.”
In 2010, city council adopted a plan to revitalize the core through a series of catalyst projects and public investment, including attracting more residential development. According to the 2014 census, the combined population in Downtown and Oliver was sitting around 32,000 people. That’s up about 5,000 from 2008. With about a dozen residential towers proposed or in development, the population will only swell, which, in turn, could drive developers to carve out small spaces for the basic amenities their tenants will come to expect.
And that’s what makes Cask & Barrel successful, says Forsey. With its bar that easily takes up one-third of the entire square footage, Cask offers something big can’t: friendly familiarity. “I have customers that have been coming here for three years, and they’re my friends,” says Forsey, just moments after Ian O’Donnell enters and is greeted by name. “It’s almost like Cheers, right?”
Growing Up and Out
The Bar: The Common
First Opened: 2009
Initial Size: 1,400 sq. ft.
New Size: 4,500 sq. ft., grew to 8,000 with basement addition
“The challenge was that it was just too small right from the get go.” —Kyla Kazeil, co-owner
The Bakery: Duchess Bakeshop
First Opened: 2009 Initial Size: 1,600 sq. ft.
New Size: grew to 4,500 sq. ft. with neighbouring bays, later added an additional 14,000 sq. ft. location in Queen Mary Park
“We wanted a space we could actually grow into, not grow out of.” —Garner Beggs, co-owner
The Barber: Barber Ha
First Opened: 2011
Initial Size: 500 sq. ft.
New Size: 1,800 sq. ft.
“Initially we were really sad to have to move because we loved how intimate that space was, but in the end, it worked out for the best.” —Linda Ha, owner