Bringing Life to The Core Through Art

EPCOR’s art installation on the LRT site will make it more appealing to passersby

Construction sites featuring a variety of art designs will bring more vibrancy to the core during the long months they take to complete, specifically along 104 Avenue and 113 Street where the LRT line is being expanded.

Valley Line construction
Photo Credit: Mack Male

The Valley Line West LRT project is going to be under construction for about five years, so EPCOR wanted to make the area look more appealing to the public.

EPCOR partnered with MacEwan University design and fine art students to submit art pieces that will be posted in what they call art hoarding. John Naboye and Quinton Wong are recent graduates from the Bachelor of Design program working with EPCOR to make this project come to life.

“They want to make sure that the residents in the area aren’t staring at a construction site. They want to make sure that they’re staring at something nice,” Naboye said. “Since 104 Avenue is going to be a hotspot for construction in the next couple years, having these art pieces up definitely helps in making the area more vibrant rather than unappealing to people who walk by.”

The plan is to incorporate a mixture of different art such as graphics, paintings, and photography for pedestrians and drivers to enjoy. Wong and Naboye are acting as a jury, reviewing and selecting student submissions. The plan is to get about 10 to 15 student works submitted for the project. EPCOR will grant honourariums and include the artists’ names.

“I think it can make the community proud of the diversity that will be shown throughout the art works. As the jury, we will be looking to see how we can showcase how multicultural and diverse the community is in that area, and the way people see community and how they interpret it. I think that’s something very special with the Oliver community,” Wong said.

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t get Heritage Days probably again this summer, but I hope through this we will see a bit of that,” Wong added. “It’s always a good reminder for people in Edmonton when they get to experience different cultures and people bring a little bit of themselves through these kinds of things.”

If there’s going to be construction, it may as well be nice to look at. The art installation will be in place this summer.

A close call for water and ice

Oliver pool and arena narrowly avoid getting axed

It was a close call for two Oliver recreation facilities last December as the City of Edmonton looked for ways to reduce costs amid budget deliberations.

Oliver Pool and the Oliver Arena were facing budget cuts that would have shuttered them in 2021. Council was looking for ways to reduce tax rates for the year so the two downtown facilities, along with the Scona and Eastglen pools as well as the Tipton arena, were on the chopping block. The combined savings would have equalled about $1.2 million.

Vocal support from community organizations and residents saved the facilities, with council voting unanimously to continue funding them for this year.

“Now the big thing is waiting to see if anything changes in the operations of this pool and other outdoor pools in the city,” Lisa Brown said, Hall and Recreation Director for the Oliver Community League. “Another big question is investment in the facility to see if we will continue to have an outdoor pool in the long term.”

The Oliver Pool has been closed for the past two seasons. In 2019, the City shut it down to repair a leak in the bottom of the pool. It remained closed through 2020 due to the pandemic.

“My personal opinion is the City of Edmonton has too few outdoor pools and we need to be investing in ours,” Brown said. The city is currently wrapping up the recreation plan based on public engagement for the needs of Oliver residents.

Without nearby lakes or slow-moving rivers, there is no good alternative for cooling off in the summer and Brown said other communities are looking at outdoor pools as a way to deal with the consequences of climate change.

About 80 people signed up to speak against the closures at a city council meeting in early December. That large outpouring of concern was a crucial part in overturning the decision to cut funding.

“I think council got a bit of a lesson in the budget deliberations about how many Edmontonians feel about core services,” Councillor Scott McKeen of Ward 6, which covers Oliver, said. “Those core services are the recreation amenities in neighbourhoods. They are beloved. I was really heartened by that.”

McKeen said there’s an opportunity for the city to look beyond large recreation facilities, which end up becoming “regional facilities”, and to instead focus on smaller amenities such as the Oliver Pool and smaller parks with outdoor workout equipment.

More than 15,000 people used the pool in 2018, the last year that it was open. The year prior to that, 20,000 people walked through the gates. Oliver Arena attracts almost 30,000 people every year.

What’s in a name?

A community member’s perspective on the renaming of Oliver

In the Fall 2020 issue of The Yards, Robyn Paches, Oliver Community League President, stated “the Oliver Community League is in opposition to honouring Frank Oliver with our community name.” The Yards spoke with Oliver resident and Indigenous advocate Emily Riddle to discuss the impact of Frank Oliver’s legacy on Indigenous people today. Riddle is nehiyaw from the Alexander First Nation, located in Treaty 6 territory. She is a writer, the Senior Advisor on Indigenous Relations with the Edmonton Public Library, and is a member of the Yellowhead Institute Board of Advisors.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Yards: What does the name Frank Oliver mean to you? 

Emily Riddle: I grew up with this narrative around Frank Oliver establishing the first newspaper in Western Canada. As an Indigenous woman from this territory, I’ve learned that he advocated for our removal. Edmonton is home to sacred places that we were removed from for generations because of Oliver. When Oliver was Minister of the Interior, he advocated for policies that led to the removal of a component of our reserve which was only settled in a [Treaty Land Entitlement Claim] in the early 2000s for Alexander First Nation. One thing that always comes up is the argument about erasing history. Why do we always believe white people are brilliant entrepreneurs, when in reality Oliver’s entrepreneurial spirit and writing crushed Indigenous and Black people in Edmonton? Why are we celebrating this man who started a newspaper using what we lost? 

The Yards: What’s the significance of changing the name?

ER: For Indigenous people, naming is a different cultural practice. We believe names already exist in the universe, and they are given through ceremony. If you look up our names of locations in Edmonton, we didn’t name them after people, we named them after landmarks or things that happened there. I hear the argument that changing the Oliver name would mean erasing history. It means having a more robust conversation about [the name’s] effect on Indigenous and Black people. I would like the neighbourhood to be given an Indigenous name. There are a fair amount of Indigenous people that live in Oliver, but we were removed from that territory by the man the neighbourhood is named after. It shouldn’t just be residents of the neighbourhood who are deciding whether or not we should rename it.

The Yards: Any thoughts on a new name?

ER: Ideally that would be informed through ceremony and meeting with Indigenous people. The conversation needs to start around what the land was utilized for. The location of the Victoria golf course was a significant camping spot. I’ve been ruminating on it having something to do with that campsite.

Refashioning Jasper Ave

A greener, pedestrian-friendly main street takes shape

The west end of Jasper Avenue is getting a new look, with a major overhaul planned over the next three years, resulting in what the community hopes is a vibrant design that is friendly and functional for all users.

The Imagine Jasper Avenue project is focusing on revitalizing the Oliver segment of Jasper Avenue, from 109 Street to 114 Street, with remaining phases up to 124 Street to follow.

The goal will be on commuter- and pedestrian-friendly design. Upgrades to the street will include seating, bus shelters and soil cells for new trees. Jasper Avenue will also be made narrower, lowering crossing distances across the street, as well as across side streets.

“There has been a lot of work to make sure the design is the main street for a community.”

Derek Macdonald, co-chair of the Oliver Community League Civics Committee

“There has been a lot of work to make sure the design is the main street for a community,” said Derek Macdonald, co-chair of the Oliver Community League Civics Committee. “[Imagine Jasper Avenue] does a really good job of the prioritization of pedestrian safety, making sure crosswalks don’t feel as scary as they do now.”

The intersection at 110 Street will also get an upgrade, with a high-visibility bike lane to improve safety and a traffic signal with a dedicated phase for cyclists.

The project has been in development since 2015, and the Oliver Community League has been working closely with the city to ensure the west side of Jasper Avenue is more than just a transportation corridor into downtown.

The project has the support of councillors including Ward 6 Councillor Scott McKeen, whose ward encompasses both the Downtown and Oliver communities.

“Jasper Avenue is Edmonton’s main street—it is not just a commuter route into the downtown,” said McKeen. “To my mind, it needs to reflect main-street grandeur. The project will narrow the street, widen the sidewalks, upgrade the street lights and furniture and bring a healthy tree canopy to support it as a strolling boulevard.

“Oliver is Edmonton’s most population-dense and least car- oriented neighbourhood. It deserves a great walking, dining, shopping street running through its midst.”

Phase One of the Imagine Jasper Avenue project is expected to wrap up in 2022, with an approved project budget of $26 million. The rest of Imagine Jasper Avenue, out to 124 Street, will entail two more phases, with budgets to be examined by City Council in the future.

Macdonald said the Oliver Community League will be advocating to include those next phases relatively quickly.

“I think it’s important to accelerate this process to do all of these phases in a timely manner. We don’t want it to extend over a decade. If that happens, phase one infrastructure could be years older than the new stuff being put in. The whole point is to create a consistent look and feel,” he said. The east end of Jasper Avenue, in Downtown, is also being revitalized, from 92 Street to 109 Street, as part of the Jasper Avenue New Vision project, with anticipated completion in 2022.

Putting neighbourhood recreation into motion

Despite being one of the highest density neighbourhoods in the city, Oliver residents have a challenge accessing recreation and green spaces in their own backyard. That’s why the Oliver Community League (OCL) has made advocating for recreation space a priority.

As of 2020, there are nine approved and nine proposed rezoning projects for the Oliver neighbourhood, none of which are outdoor recreation spaces. One approved project includes approval for an indoor recreation space.

“Our parks and streets in high-density neighbourhoods are our living rooms.”

Lisa Brown, Chair of OCL’s RecreACTION Committee

“Our parks and streets in high-density neighbourhoods are our living rooms. It’s where we stretch our legs, fill our lungs, exercise, meditate, and improve our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing,” says Lisa Brown, Chair of OCL’s RecreACTION Committee, a committee that was created to advocate for more recreation space in Oliver.

There are some steps being taken in this direction—in January, city council passed a motion directing the administration to work with OCL on a 100th Avenue corridor analysis, and provide a report to the urban planning committee by the end of June with recommendations for meeting Oliver’s recreation needs.

“My office has pushed the city to recognize that Oliver is lacking green space and lacking recreation space. At the same time, the city council, unfortunately, has approved tower after tower after tower,” says Ward 6 Councillor Scott McKeen. He emphasizes that pressure and thorough planning will be needed to ensure the city follows through on the motion.

There are many areas where OCL sees potential for the improvement or creation of recreation space, including the possibility of widening sidewalks and improving the 100th Avenue corridor, adding dog parks to existing parks such as Railtown or Ezio Faraone Park, repairing the basketball court at Kitchener Park and more.

Derek Macdonald, OCL Civics Director, points out that there have been some positive developments already, such as creating bike lanes on 102 Avenue. “You have city furniture, you have new sidewalks, you’ve maintained that existing tree boulevard,” says Macdonald. “You can see that the areas where the city has invested in public infrastructure are being picked up by people and being more actively used compared to the areas that haven’t seen that investment yet.”

Dr. Karen Lee, a professor at the University of Alberta and the author of Fit Cities, explains the importance of adding recreation spaces to neighbourhoods, not only for health but for the overall wellness of the community.

“Places that were pedestrianised […] became safer in terms of injuries. When air pollution was measured, the air quality got better. Often retail sales would actually also spike. Because when people are stuck in their cars in traffic, they’re not necessarily going to businesses.”

One potential solution Lee suggested for Oliver can currently be found in New York City or Taipei, where pocket parks are used. Pocket parks are smaller parks that often include playgrounds and adult exercise equipment, and are a method of creating new open spaces without major redevelopment.

For continued updates on recreation spaces in Oliver, visit

We call it the village

“We call it the Village,” says Johanna Wishart, 85, describing her high- density home community of Oliver. Wishart lives in a sunlit apartment with a glorious view up and down Jasper Avenue, just blocks away from several adult grandchildren whose school-age children pass near her place on their way to and from school.

In Oliver, a growing throng is moving towards retirement or identifying as senior citizens. In the city’s latest census, thousands of Oliver residents identified themselves as over 70, including an impressive 460 residents over 85. In all, about a third of the population of almost 20,000 is age 55 and over.

“Wishart describes challenges she and her neighbours have noticed, from intersections that don’t work for slower-moving pedestrians, to isolation in winter months”

Oliver’s pedestrian and cycling trails, sidewalks sheltered by green leafy trees, small parks and easy access to the vast river valley, as well as vast selection of cafes, shops and galleries, are features that enhance the neighborhood for all residents, not just seniors.

So what appeals specifically to seniors? Some have lived in Oliver for years, moving in as working professionals and making the strategic decision to stay as they age. Others are downsizing, trading car-dependent larger homes for a transit-rich, walkable neighbourhood with plenty of services and amenities. Still others like Wishart are part of family groupings with multiple generations enjoying the benefits of living near the core. She describes family gatherings in “the Village” to celebrate birthdays, with many local restaurants to choose from within a few blocks of their homes.

Gary Simpson has lived in Oliver for over 25 years. He extols its frequent bus service, large drug stores, and extensive grocery stores on either end in the Brewery District and on 109 Street. He notes a range of housing options including affordable rental walk-up apartments. Part of the appeal is the large number of medical, dental, naturopathic, chiropractic and medical specialist clinics. The Edmonton Seniors Centre (ECS), 11111 Jasper Ave., hosts an array of activities from experts bringing newcomers into the origami fold to watercolourists sharing their art – as well as game clubs for snooker players, yoga classes, and road trips to Elk Island Park and the River Cree Casino.

Oliver’s senior community leaders readily identify pockets of vulnerable community members including LGBTQ+ folks as they age. Former councillor and activist Michael Phair is an Oliver resident who has been part of a team working on housing options that don’t just tolerate, but embrace LGBTQ+ identifying seniors.

And Wishart acknowledges challenges in Oliver, from intersections that don’t work for slower-moving pedestrians, to isolation in winter months. Even in the city’s most walkable neighbourhood, when sidewalks are snow and ice-covered, seniors are often home-bound for weeks. Also, being in proximity to her grandchildren doesn’t always translate into in-person visits during cold and flu season. She adds, “but we can still keep in touch by text.”

ECS, in partnership with the Oliver Community League hosts monthly socials where new connections are made over snacks or tea. A real bonus for any community is when its senior citizens are able to contribute ideas in a meaningful way. To find out how it can better meet the needs of its senior citizens, Oliver Community League held an engagement event last fall with the assistance of MacEwan University’s social work program, and is exploring the feedback received. And Oliver’s older citizens have much to contribute and are doing so every day.

The greening of Oliver–10 years on

Edmonton has over 90 official community gardens, with three in the Downtown and Oliver area. That’s a far cry from the thousands in place a century ago, but it’s well up from less than a dozen in 1989, according to local author Karen Chase Merrett in her book “Why Grow Here: Essays on Edmonton’s Gardening History.”

The Oliver Peace Garden Park was created a decade ago out of a mostly concrete slab, and it recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The event was marked by the community league with a free BBQ and an evening social on Aug. 29. The community came together to celebrate this asset, with Loblaws City Market donating food for the BBQ, and additional expenses were covered by the OCL Make Something Oliver microgranting program.

The celebration highlighted the garden’s contribution to neighbourhood connections that contribute to Oliver’s vibrancy as a community. They offer more than just an opportunity for residents to grow food – they also contribute to healthy and active lifestyles. Gardners have also contributed food to the wider community through the Meals on Wheels program.

Oliver’s community garden is at 103 Avenue and 120 Street and was named Peace Garden Park because 103 Avenue used to be called Peace Avenue. The park serves a dual purpose – it’s a community garden and a park space, with the 87 ground-level and raised beds arranged in a peaceful circle, bisected by pathways.

Any member of the community league (and memberships are free!) can apply for a community garden plot. There is an annual fee of $40/year and members have to agree to a one-hour volunteer shift per year and agree to the terms, which include organic gardening and ensuring noxious weeds are removed on sight. The garden is governed by a committee of the Oliver Community League.

Highrise families on the way up

Life is better for families in central Edmonton these days. The city’s bike network has made cycling much safer. The Alberta government brought in a new law ending the practice of adult-only rental buildings. And this summer, we saw the first public playground open in downtown Edmonton at MacKay Avenue School (which closed to students in the 1980s and now operates as a museum.) All of these changes are making the core more attractive for families, although without a working school the Downtown still lags behind Oliver, which hosts two elementary schools.

“In our highrise there are 13 other kids. Playdates are plentiful and coordination is easy”

Heather MacKenzie

Heather MacKenzie lives with her two children in a highrise in Oliver. She supported the move to end bans on kids in apartments. She talked to The Yards about the joys and challenges of raising a family in the highest density community in the city. Asked if allowing kids in apartments has made a difference, MacKenzie says there are more children attending Oliver school – and more children walking to school – than ever before. The city’s Green Shack programs in the core are well attended. “We were literally kicking kids out of the core and now that we’re not, there they are. It’s amazing.  It’s wonderful.”

MacKenzie says, “In our highrise there are 13 other kids. Playdates are plentiful and coordination is easy – they can just head to see if second floor Leo or eighth floor Leo is home. We are able to host family events together – we have a Halloween Party; carolling at Christmas in the lobby together. A lot of really special things happen when a number of families choose the same lifestyle in a highrise together.” Lots of nearby amenities makes it work for Heather’s family: “Within a 10-minute walk we have skating after work, sledding, skiing, swimming… three playgrounds within a 15-minute walk. The legislature grounds are our front yard and the river Valley is our backyard.”

Heather’s biggest frustration? “Jasper Avenue is a big challenge. It’s clear to my kids that they will never be able to just run off to school the same way another nine-year-old might. They’re frustrated by having to be escorted.” Families living downtown may have a slight advantage over the Oliver kids in this regard – they can use the downtown’s extensive pedway system to avoid traffic dangers. The public library, the museum and the art gallery are all connected via the pedway system, which runs under Jasper Avenue in several places and provides two points of access to the river valley: Canada Place and Telus Plaza. The Downtown Edmonton Community League offers drop-in playgroups on Friday mornings, and the Library has also offers programming. The funicular is also a welcome addition for those with mobility challenges, including families pushing strollers. Mackenzie says the new MacKay Avenue playground is a welcome addition.

Oliver and the Downtown are close enough together that, “any service or amenity that pops downtown has a direct benefit for our kids and vice-versa.”

Equity tower

The new CNIB building on Jasper Avenue is designed with vision impairment in mind

Crews demolished the CNIB building at 120 Street and Jasper Avenue in March to make way for a new, 32-storey tower, expected to stand by 2022.

The old building was the oldest CNIB property in Canada, while the new tower has been designed with the help of Chris Downey, an American architect who lost his vision. It will feature elements to aid in navigation for those with sight limitations.

But what does the demolition mean for Oliver and surrounding residents, who rely on its services? They’re still available at the CNIB’s temporary home, at 11150 Jasper Avenue, said Matthew Kay, executive director of vision loss rehabilitation, Alberta & NWT Division.

“There’s always a few growing pains when moving into a new space, but as far as accessibility goes, this is more accessible than our previous space”

Matthew Kay

“All services have remained, and we will be adding new services,” he said.

The temporary building is split into two different organizations: CNIB and Vision Loss Rehabilitation Alberta.

Kay said Vision Loss Rehabilitation Alberta offers assessments, and skills development, like white-cane training and guide-dog training. “This can be anything from cooking, cleaning, pouring a cup of coffee, anything you need to live independently.”

The CNIB offers volunteer services, like matching people up with a vision mate that can help with grocery shopping. “We also offer employment services where we help people develop skills, with resume building and connect them with potential employers,” Kay said.

The interim location is accessible to almost everyone, as it’s on a public transit route. “As far as accessibility goes, this is more accessible than our previous space,” Kay said.

Once complete, the new building will feature many residential units, with a portion of units reserved for the visually impaired. Textural patterns will be on the floor to assist cane users. There will be provisions to manage glare for those sensitive to light. Doors on the main floor will have different lighting and contrasting colours to help those with low vision. Fragrance gardens will be added as well to assist with navigation.

According to CNIB, about 60,000 Albertans are affected by vision loss.

Kay said the way we build cities affects those with visual impairments and needs to be considered.

“Ultimately, I would like to see more accessibility in homes and small businesses. Large print signs, audio street lights, these are all important to our clients,” he said.

“Also, always be aware. If you see someone with a white cane or a guide dog, treat them with the respect they deserve. If someone asks for assistance, help them, but remember, they are independent and we shouldn’t make any assumptions based on the fact that they have a visual impairment.”