Making space into place

When it comes to festivals in downtown Edmonton, change is coming. In 2018, construction of the Valley Line LRT will close Churchill Square, and big events like the Street Performers festival and The Works festival will find temporary homes, while Taste of Edmonton is working with provincial authorities to use the grounds beside the Alberta Legislature.

The shift got us to thinking: Just what do festivals create for downtown? We asked Doug Carlyle, who specializes in designing public plaes, like the new Centennial Plaza at the Legislature, what he thinks festivals bring to the core. Carlyle works for design firm Dialog.

Q: What’s your favourite downtown Edmonton festival?

A: It has to be Taste of Edmonton. It’s great to go to a place where there are lots of people. I think what festivals have done is allow Edmontonians to experience being in a scene with lots of people. The festivals have created that opportunity to come together.

Q: How does downtown benefit from hosting festivals?

A: Festivals have made us all aware of downtown and what a great place it can be. The other thing is it’s starting to create a momentum to transform public places. Churchill Square was once a green lawn surrounded by streets, but it has been transformed into a destination. Churchill Square continued to evolve as the street between it and City Hall was closed to accommodate pedestrians. Soon, the Churchill LRT station will be home to the Capital and Valley Lines making the square a transportation hub as well. We’re starting to think about streets as livable places.

Q: Streets as livable places?

A: Yes, and 104 Street is a great example. You aren’t just going to a single establishment, you’re actually going to a place. That street is not about cars traveling up and down. It’s about a market. It’s about a street performer. It’s about hanging out and having lunch. Festivals and events like the Saturday market create opportunities to see the world in a different way.

Q: You’re hopeful for the future of festivals downtown. Can you explain why?

A: Yes. But what’s that going to look like? The city is trying to operate and program Churchill Square so it has life almost all through the year. The other plaza that’s coming into place is the Ice District. So there’s going to be a second major public, or community venue there. Then, there’s the plaza at the Legislature. So there are three major public outdoor spaces that can start to flourish, given the chance. It’s very exciting.

Chris Sikkenga is a writer, video editor and podcaster who enjoys bad movies and any restaurant sandwich named after Elvis.

Churches Working Religiously to Serve You

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Churches of all denominations have played a significant role in establishing Edmonton’s earliest communities. For example, Alberta College (the antecedent to MacEwan University) was founded in 1903 by members of MacDougall’s Church board, while Robertson-Wesley United Church was instrumental in nursing sufferers of the Spanish Flu. But what about today? What larger role do they play?

Community-mindedness has never been lost amidst its religious mandates. Take, for instance, the work initiated by a handful of area pastors and reverends working, well, religiously, on projects for the neighbourhood at large—not just Sunday congregants.

Curtis Boehm started using Grace Lutheran Church as a resource for the Oliver community after joining the church in July 2014. In addition to its already well-established yearly garage sale, the pastor started organizing an indoor basketball club for the neighbourhood inside its gym every Tuesday at 7 p.m. He also led the creation of the Oliver Bike Club, which meets weekly from snowmelt to snowfall. “I’m really interested in building community activities so I can meet my neighbours,” Boehm explains, “I want to be a pastor of Oliver!”

Similarly, pastor Nick Trussell of Christ Church successfully applied for a Make Something Oliver (MSO) grant this past June to partially fund BBQ on the Block. This series of four free biweekly barbecues between July and August were well aligned with the OCL’s strategic goals, says MSO director Anika Gee. “The event welcomed all community members, not just those of the church; it made the project even more exciting.” She says Christ Church’s project let neighbourhood residents meet in person and hopefully develop lasting relationships.

Building a better community is also the theme of Robertson-Wesley’s Spirited Art Studio, which is open to creatives of every stripe Monday nights from 7 to 8:30 p.m. According to Karen Bridges, minister of congregation and community development, the free event invites people to come together and create something based on a specific theme or question. “This program is a great network which connects people’s passions and helps them find a way to offer what they have to others,” she says. The goal isn’t far from the ideals held by the Abundant Community Initiative, which Robertson-Wesley sponsored. “We provided funds through our trust fund, which are designated for community outreach.”

“The Church is there for the community,” explains Boehm. “A fellow pastor even recommended I get involved with the OCL as soon as I started.” Though Boehm recently stepped down as OCL’s volunteer director, he says that the connections he’s made have helped him understand his audience better. “Where you live, where you are, where you go,” he says, “that’s where your work is.” And that, for these generous souls, means Oliver.

Cools news, Rumours and Excitement around the Core

Photo courtesy of Instragram

Photo courtesy of Instragram

Have you noticed sturdy and steel lime green stems cropping up around town? Those are Steam Whistle Brewing’s bike repair stations for DIY fixes. You’ll see one just outside Kelly’s Pub on 104 St., complete with a tire pump and tools, so you’ll rarely have to walk your velo home with a flat tire.

Robertson-Wesley United Church brings back its Spiritual Arts Collective for the fourth consecutive year. But this time they’re doing it differently, by hiring several artists- in-residence in the areas of media arts, photography, film, and physical theatre or dance—and, yes, that might include clowns.

There aren’t many young parents in Central Edmonton, but you wouldn’t know it from the energy on the “YEG Downtown Moms” Facebook Group. Its mere 60 members have been very active, sharing tips, worries and questions about how to bring up baby in the core. It’s a great place for young moms to connect in the virtual space, as well as the physical, when they meet regularly at Café Tiramisu and the DECL Community Space.

The museum’s new downtown home won’t be finished for another year, but you can get involved now by joining the board of the Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society. Established in 1982, it supports the RAM through fundraising and runs programs like “Go!” so low-income Albertans can access the museum with ease. Email Peggi to apply.

Want to share central Edmonton gossip? Got some news to spread? Give us a shout at editor@theyardsyeg.ca.

Hidden Gem of the Season: Get Cooking

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Hidden on the ground floor of MacEwan University’s student residence, Get Cooking appears unremarkable—another takeaway café supplying students with sandwiches and muffins. But step behind the counter and enter the working kitchen, and you’ll discover a world of culinary excellence.

Owner Kathryn Joel, a graduate of London’s Le Cordon Bleu and Leiths School of Food and Wine, brings her expertise of global cuisine to this quiet corner of the university campus every evening. Her educational kitchen—with its central island, video monitors and movable steel tables for flexibility and collaboration— becomes a hub for the city’s top chefs.

It also helps apprentices wishing to learn from masters like Joel and Michelin-star restaurant trained chef Doreen Prei.

Joel marries an appreciation of local ingredients with her international background. Born in Melbourne, Australia, Joel lived in England, Scandinavia and the US before moving here to teach culinary classes from her Riverbend home. But while intimate, the small kitchen couldn’t accommodate her vision.

Having an Oliver location with a commercial kitchen has allowed her to cater private events, bring in other chefs and excite young people about cuisine.

She hopes classes like Cooking for Two, Seafood Skills or 30-Minute Meals will “demystify cooking” and encourage the use of quality local and international ingredients. “We’re bringing flavours from afar into Edmonton’s home kitchens,” says Joel. The classes come with wine parings and take-home recipe packs. “It’s a night out with restaurant-level food but in an interactive environment.”

Her guest chefs love it, too: “It’s like a playground,” says Prei. She enjoys the freedom the venue brings, allowing her to use locally sourced ingredients and meet foodies. But if you’d rather leave it entirely in the hands of the experts, you’re in luck. Saturdays’ pop-up brunches are served “family style” with a focus on central Alberta ingredients like Jerusalem artichokes and free-range chicken.

Meanwhile, Food Fight YEG events put on a reality TV-style cooking battle between Edmonton’s celebrity chefs, like Chopped competitor Shane Chartrand.

Then there are the Kitchen Parties—culinary theme nights like “Gin, Pimms and Gastropub,” a modern take on English pub favourites, and “Greek Getaway,” featuring grilled octopus and cocktails.

Tickets to these events often sell out in mere hours. Book yourself for a cooking class, Food Fight or Saturday brunch at getcookingedmonton.com.

Board Game Cafes Crop Up in Oliver

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Ever since the German game Settlers of Catan gained popularity in North America in the 2000s, there’s been a movement of people putting down their controllers or phones and taking up the die in an effort to test their wits and meet new people, I.R.L. A new way to foster human interaction is organically taking hold right here in Oliver where two board game cafés have opened, Table Top Café (10235 124 St.) and the Gamers’ Lodge (10459 124 St.).

Prior to their openings, the OCL hosted free, all-ages games nights every month, complete with snacks, a table of new titles like Hive—an addictive strategic game akin to chess—and the promise of making new friends. (The league has since cancelled them, now that the needs are met by new businesses.)

Mary McPhail of the OCL says it’s the human touch missing from our digital lives that’s spurring the trend. According to The Guardian, board game purchases have risen by as much as 40 per cent annually since 2010. There’s a constant flow of new games released every year— some of them selling millions of copies.

What’s behind the resurgence? Brian Flowers, owner of Table Top Café, has a theory: “When you enter a competitive atmosphere, everyone’s paying attention to the game, not their phones.” Plus, he says, “It’s a really good icebreaker.”

Flowers’ friend and self-admitted boardgame aficionado Rudy Janvier agrees. In fact it’s how he met Flowers. “It began as just a regular thing on Sundays with some friends. And then when I moved to Oliver I started going to the community league’s nights to find more people who wanted to learn about new games.”

Another reason for this revival might just be that the games are getting better. Some of the most funded Kickstarter campaigns are games dreamed up by highly creative people. Janvier also points to massive conferences, like SPIEL in Germany, that allow players to contribute to the creation process. In other words, designers have learned that we want something more engaging than crib, Chinese checkers or backgammon.

But with a constant rotation of new titles to sample at Table Top and the Gamers’ Lodge, where does one even start? If you’re really up for a challenge, Janvier recommends Pandemic Legacy, an apocalyptic campaign game giving you a chance to command an imaginary centre for disease control.

Looking for something more general? McPhail loves Dixit, a story-building card game made for the word nerds among us.

Of course, if you prefer the classics, they’re easy to come by. “I remember a retiree coming in with her Chinese checkers board,” recalls McPhail. “She kicked my butt!”

Connecting Kids in the Core

IMG_0277Yvonne Epp used to see a lot more strollers on the streets. Previous to moving to Downtown for work, Epp, her husband and their two small children lived in downtown Ottawa, where they were accustomed to seeing other kids in the core daily. The transition has been an adjustment.

“When we first moved here, I’d see other strollers, and almost wish I had a business card that said ‘Downtown Mom: Do you want to be my friend?’” she says. Epp, who joined DECL in February because she wanted to contribute a parent’s perspective, was initially discouraged and pondered moving to a more family-friendly neighbourhood.

Instead, she decided to “be a part of the change” and started the Urban Kids Playgroup to connect downtown’s few families.

Heather Popowich, for one, is glad she did. “It’s so important for [kids] to play with other kids in a different environment,” says the mother of a toddler.

At the group the kids have abundant toys, snacks and space to explore. “They get so excited!” says Popowich, though she could say the same about the parents in attendance. The adults get to lounge in comfy couches with coffee, making rare connections with other parents, while the kids entertain one another.

Epp hopes the group reaches a point where the kids can go on mini field trips around the core, to the Epcor Tower or the AGA, and help establish a stronger sense of community.

“We need to pull [the core’s families] out of the woodwork,” says Epp, “and this group is like the bait.” (For more information visit Urban Kids’ Facebook page at facebook.com/ yegurbankids)

Urban Kids Playgroup: Jun 13, Jun 27, Jul 11, Aug 15, Aug 29: It’s where downtown children (0–5) play together and their caregivers meet. (10:30am, DECL Space, 10042 103 St.)

Little Free Libraries on the Move

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Two years ago, former Oliver resident Annalise Klingbeil was enamoured by street-side newspaper boxes filled with free books cropping up in her hometown of Calgary, and she sought to bring the global movement to Oliver under the name Oliver Little Free Libraries.

With the help of the OCL, Klingbeil wrangled 10 boxes, got local artists or community members to give them eye-catching makeovers, filled them with donated books and watched it take off—beyond Oliver.

Ritchie resident Debbie Forsyth was inspired by the Oliver movement and has since channelled her lifelong love of reading into setting up eight boxes in her south-side neighbourhood.

Likewise, St. Albert’s self-diagnosed “community-development book junkie,” Angie Dedrick sourced 12 news-boxes from the Edmonton Sun in spring 2014 to spread across the suburb. Says Dedrick, “The Little Libraries wake us up to community and remind us of our desire for connection, and maybe even give us permission to open up to it.”

Klingbeil, who’s since returned to Calgary, says, “At its core, the project is a chance for Oliver’s residents to get to know each other and build community.” (Find a library near you.)

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Klingbeil introduced the concept to Edmonton. That’s incorrect; Strathearn launched a bilingual little library in 2012.

Five Fascinating Facts About Oliver

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In a city bound by startling growth, it’s easy to forget the history right beneath our feet. Luckily for Oliver residents there’s The Life of a Neighbourhood: A History of Edmonton’s Oliver District 1870–1950, writers Lawrence Herzog and Shirley Lowe’s 2002 biography of the community’s first post-Colonial 80 years. The softcover, perfectly bound book makes a gorgeous gift to yourself or friends. Pick it up for just $10 at any official OCL event at the community hall.

Here’s a sample of the countless surprises within its 167 pages:

1. Edmonton General Hospital was Canada’s first to have a fully operable X-ray machine.

2. A man who was killed while working on the High Level Bridge was actually entombed in its northern-most pier.

3. Oliver School used to house a miniature rifle range in its basement so that the attending boys could get target practice at playtime.

4. The gold ceramic used in some of the mural illustrations in St. Joseph’s Basilica was originally meant to decorate lampposts in Nuremburg during one of Adolf Hitler’s many rallies.

5. Witnesses have confirmed that almost 900 swimmers would squeeze around Oliver Pool (originally “West End Pool”) at once to beat the heat.

From the Wreckage

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Many were shocked by the sudden fiery demise of Oliver’s Leamington Mansions in October. Built during the First World War, the brick walk-up fell dormant in 2004, but
 was set for a resurgence when one of Canada’s biggest apartment managers recently bought it and had almost completed renovations.

Sadly, it’s gone forever. At least most of it. On the morning following the blaze, Dan Rose—a member of the OCL’s Civics Committee and founding member of Heritage Forward—worked diligently alongside the demo crew to save its stone entrance and name-plate from the wrecking ball.

“Keeping those remnants around is pretty much all we can do to preserve the memories that shaped where we are today,” he says. Rose is hopeful that the artifact will be preserved by the City and landowner, and eventually reused on another building site.

Korean Delights

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53.54° N, 113.49° W | 10625 99 Ave.

The smell of steaming Korean cuisine wafting outside K&M Grocery & Deli is irresistible—you just have to find the place first.

Located in a pocket of 106 St. and 99 Ave., the family business has been hiding in plain sight for almost 30 years. But locals who work nearby know it well for its delicious and freshly prepped bulgogi to-go, featuring beef, chicken or pork options for under seven dollars a box.

Just steps from the Matrix Hotel and across from Edmonton’s newly renovated Public Federal Building, owners Jin Jeoung and Sonia Yu see all kinds of people. And they’re constantly surprised how many of them still crave a sweet ice-cream Screamer in the middle of winter. Says Jin, “It’s the most popular item all year.”