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.”

OCL: Summer Events 2019

OCL Community Space, 9907 114 St.

OCL PICNIC IN THE PARK
July 11, June 13, August 15, 6-8pm
Come enjoy Oliver’s green space by having a picnic with your neighbours. We will be visiting different parks in Oliver. June 13 at Oliver Park, July 11 at Pocket Park beside the Pearl, August 15 at Monsignor William Irwin Park

CANADA DAY PANCAKE BREAKFAST
July 1, 9-11am
Come celebrate Canada Day with your fellow neighbours and grab your membership card if you don’t have it already. Grace Lutheran Church will be serving free ice cream, 8pm onwards. Parking lot of Grace Lutheran Church at 9907 114 Street

OLIVER SUMMER GREEN SHACK PROGRAM
July 3 – August 23, 10am-1:30pm Mon-Fri
The City’s back with children’s programming. Additional information here. Kitchener Park

GARAGE SALE AT GRACE LUTHERAN CHURCH
August 24, 9am-2pm
Come get some treasures from this annual garage sale. Table discount for OCL members. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street

BICYCLE SHOW & SHINE
June 22, 12-4pm
Bring your special ride, enter for best in show, and enjoy a drink & food while gushing over your favourite two wheelers. Oliver Park

Oliver Community League
9907 114 St NW
Edmonton, AB T5K 1P7
web: olivercommunity.com
e: info@olivercommunity.com
Facebook: OCLYEG
Twitter: @OCLYEG
Instagram: @OCLYEG

OCL board of directors: Robyn Paches (President), Luwam Kiflemariam (VP), Kirsten Mah (Secretary), Lisa Brown, Justin Keats, Jade Arnaout, Mark Workman, Derek MacDonald, Geoffrey George, Les De Zwaan, Sarah Toderian, Adrian Bruff, Allison Rosland

Public Spaces Matter

I lived in Oliver for more than seven years before I knew we had a pool. It isn’t really advertised. Instead, it’s tucked away in the middle of our neighbourhood. If you were walking by Oliver Park, the pool would be easy to miss.

Even though it’s hidden, Oliver Pool is a gem – especially in a city where we don’t have a beach to flock to on a hot day. When outdoor pools became free over the past two years, Oliver Pool became accessible to so many more.

Oliver has the most residents of any other neighbourhood in Edmonton, more than 18,000. Our population spans all ages, from babies in apartments to seniors in our many seniors residences. It spans abilities, incomes and cultures.

Our community has a potential hub in Oliver Park. We have the pool, unless City Council decides to close it, and the Oliver Community League is working hard to move through the city’s process to replace our hall on our land at Oliver Park. Our arena will not be replaced, which gives us space to develop a small facility to serve the needs of our community. We can preserve the playground, mature trees and green space. Imagine Oliver Park having something for everyone.

You’ll read more about the proposed land swap between Oliver Park and the former St. John’s School site, to allow the construction of a 24-storey tower on Oliver Park, in this issue of The Yards. The Oliver Community League recently voted against this proposal and will advocate for city
council to do the same.

Personally, I think it would be a shame to lose Oliver Park, the pool, and the overall potential of a community hub. There are so many other spaces to build towers along 104 Avenue.

My engineering background and passion for sustainable built environments drove me to the Oliver Community League, and I’ve relished the opportunity to shape what’s built here. But what these past five years have shown me is that infrastructure means nothing without a community. We need to invest in our public places, in our recreation spaces, in our complete streets. This is where we connect with our neighbours. And it is these relationships that build our communities.

Lisa Brown

OCL Winter Events

Tuesdays (except December 25 and January 1), 7-9pm | Drop-In Basketball

Enjoy a pickup game or just shoot some hoops at this regular basketball drop-in that’s open to the Oliver Community. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street

 

December 10, January 14, February 12*, 7pm | Civics Committee

This highly engaged committee meets on the second Monday of the month (unless otherwise posted) to discuss developments in Oliver. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street *Tuesday after a stat holiday

 

December 10, 6pm | Oliver Reads

Oliver’s book club meeting will discuss Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. Get your free membership to the Edmonton Public Library for a hard copy or e-book version. Join the club by emailing us at events@olivercommunity.com MEC community room, 11904 104 Avenue

 

January 18, February 15, 8pm | Walking Pub Crawl of Oliver

Join your neighbours, meet with new and old friends and explore some local pubs. Locations TBD; please check up on OCL’s Facebook page. Meet at Oliver Park, 118 Street and 103 Avenue by the playground. No pub crawl in December.

Losing Independence

My friend told me a story that left us both in tears.

An elderly man—who spent his career working in our community—had come into the medical clinic where she works to be assessed for his ability to keep his driver’s licence. Prior to his appointment, he told my friend how his career had been worked on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, that he feared losing his licence and that his wife’s health was failing. She sincerely wished him luck as he walked down the hall into the examination room.

Some time later, she knew the news the clinician gave him wasn’t what he wanted to hear. She could hear shouting, things being thrown, the man threatening to end his own life.

As she recounted the experience, we both wept.

This man’s story has stuck with me and has kept me thinking about how we plan our cities, communities and lives. Sure, this man may have chosen to live somewhere where driving was his only option for mobility, as many have done and continue to do, but it’s our collective responsibility to ask for better designed communities that enable multiple modes of transportation. It’s a question of resilience.

In Oliver, we have multiple seniors residences. Our neighbourhood is built for a relatively resilient life; we have access to public transit, new bike infrastructure and lovely tree-lined streets that are a joy to walk along. Our residential neighbourhood has a number of services within it.

But if you live in one of these facilities— Manoir St. Joachim, Kiwanis, Ansgar, or Our Parents’ Home—you will often find you have to cross Jasper or 104 Avenue. Both are seven-lane roads with drivers that are prone to speeding.

Research shows this can be a barrier that keeps people trapped at home.

We are gaining a better understanding of how social isolation can severely impact our mental and physical health. People who lose their ability to drive often lose their independence. They can lose their social connections. And then they may lose their health. Urban design and transportation planning have far reaching impacts on our lives, some of which we may not realize until we are facing a driver’s licence suspension.

If you could no longer drive—maybe ever again—how much would your life change? Would you be able to meet all your needs? It’s an interesting thought experiment. Try it. And then advocate for a better community for all.

Lisa Brown

President, Oliver Community League

OCL Fall Events

Oliver Bike Club Wednesdays for September, 6pm

You have one more month to enjoy this popular OCL program! Destinations and themes vary each week. All levels of riders encouraged! Meet at Oliver Park, 118 Street and 103 Avenue

Picnic in the Park Thursdays for September, 6-8pm

Weekly picnics roving to each of our parks. Stop by for some lemonade, games, OCL membership and to meet your neighbours. Bring your family, friends, pets and snacks. Parks in Oliver – see social media

Oliver Reads September 17, 6pm

Our first book club meeting will discuss “Birdie” by Tracey Linberg. Get your free membership to the Edmonton Public Library for a hard copy or e-book version. Stay tuned for details on book two! MEC com- munity room, 11904 104 Avenue

Community League Day September 15, 12-4pm

Join the OCL as we participate in the city-wide celebration of community leagues. A beer garden, barbecue and games in our beautiful park round out the day. Kitchener Park, 114 Street at 103 Avenue

Walking Pub Crawl of Oliver September 21, Oct 19, & Nov 16, 8pm
Join your neighbours, meet with new and old friends and explore some local pubs. Locations TBD; please check up on OCL’s Facebook page. Meet at Oliver Park, 118 Street and 103 Avenue

Oliver Halloween Trick or Treat | October 31

OCL helps bring trick or treating to our high density neighbourhood. Keep an eye out on OCL’s Facebook page and newsletter to learn more about how you can participate.

Program and Events Committee | September 25, October 23, & November 27, 7pm

Come volunteer with the OCL and help plan events for the community. BRU, 11965 Jasper Avenue

Civics Committee September 10, October 9*, November 13*, 7pm

This highly engaged committee meets on the second Monday of the month to discuss developments in Oliver. *Tuesday. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street