A Valley Between Them

There is no middle ground when it comes to gondolas in Edmonton. There’s just the Great Gondola Debate.

Ever since Edmonton first heard of the proposal to build a gondola that would run from a main station downtown, to Rossdale and ultimately Strathcona, the debate has raged. The idea originated in March as the winning pitch from The Edmonton Project, a development industry competition to build a new local landmark. (Other pitches: the world’s largest treehouse; a food- truck Ferris wheel.) In April, the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board sent the debate into overdrive when it said a gondola could be a “fast … and cost-effective” option to connect downtown and Strathcona.

That divided urbanists, transit lovers and downtown advocates who normally find themselves on the same team. And Robert Summers is not surprised.

Summers, the associate director of urban and regional planning at the University of Alberta, says gondolas are often regarded as a novelty or tourist attraction in North America. And transit proponents in Edmonton, he says, seem to see the proposal as taking attention away from more necessary projects.

“For some people, the gondola discussion is a distraction from the goals they have been working towards, which is high-quality LRT connectivity throughout the city,” Summers says. “Every moment spent discussing gondolas is a distraction from what they see as a more meaningful discussion on LRT, bike lanes or other proven transit options.”

How about people who think a gondola is an interesting idea? “Those who are supportive of continuing to discuss the gondola further have seen the relatively low cost and low timelines for the possible implementation of the gondola, as well as the numbers of people it can move,” Summers says. These types are “intrigued enough to continue the discussion.”

But what about the problem itself— transit connections between downtown and Strathcona? And questions of who will pay if we build a gondola?

Currently, residents of Oliver and downtown can ride transit to Strathcona (but not really Rossdale) by taking a series of infrequent and meandering buses. Or they can walk, bike or take a bus to LRT to cross the river—and then take a bus to Strathcona. Or they can just walk or bike. Or take the High Level Bridge Street Car.

In short, connections between the city’s two main urban areas are laughable.

The matter of who pays has also yet to be settled. In June, council’s urban planning committee voted to investigate the gondola, including its potential costs. City officials are determining how much a feasibility study itself would cost and whether the private sector would really pay for the project. The Edmonton Project founders have said the private sector would pay for everything. Some remain unconvinced of that.

One thing is certain: the Great Gondola Debate is not over.

Mystic River


CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE — MAP LEGEND Grey: LRT Stations / Blue: Boat launches / Red: Construction / Purple: Restaurants / Green: Parks and BBQ spots / Orange: Recreational sports / Light Blue: Attractions

Everybody wants a piece of the North Saskatchewan. Some want to cycle, paddle or run through the river valley. Some want to walk their dogs. Others want to enjoy a coffee, beer or entertainment riverside. How can we have it all? The debate over access and amenities in the river valley has been ongoing for as long as most Edmontonians can remember. But to fully grasp accessibility, it helps to know what’s already there, what’s in the works and what the future holds. There’s a lot to enjoy already—if you know where to go—and more is set to come.

For starters, in the central river valley, the funicular and south LRT will open new portals onto the river valley. Meanwhile, new development is in planning for Dawson Park and Rossdale Flats. From 82 St. on the east to 136 St. on the west, north and south of the river valley topography is changing quickly. By 2025, you might find yourself strolling seamlessly from European promenade into western Canadian wilds within just a kilometre or two along the riverbank. Until then, here are the basic puzzle pieces easily accessible from the core, mapped out to represent the changing physical reality of Edmonton’s most treasured natural asset.


Dawson Park (Planned)
There’s a new vision for this dated downtown parkland recognizable by its unique white clay coulee formations and popular bike trails. Final design and construction timelines aren’t known yet, but planning and consultation are underway.

River Valley Wayfinding
Bolder, more attractive signage along the parks and trails —with updated maps, clearly marked amenities and at-a-glance directions—is on its way starting this year. South LRT Bridge at Louise

McKinney Park
By 2020, a new LRT line—with pedestrian crossing—will span the valley, linking to a south side station by Muttart Conservatory. Mechanized Access and “Touch the Water” Promenade. We’re just a year away from a funicular linking the Hotel MacDonald area to the river valley, where the vision is to build a promenade stretching to the new Walterdale Bridge within the next, well, let’s say decade; the City needs more time for funding and development.

New Walterdale Bridge
The final arch was raised this spring and completion is anticipated by 2017.

West Rossdale River Crossing (Planned)
The vision for Rossdale Flats suggests park and public market space, upscale residential and mixed commercial, but construction is still years away.

Infographic: Central Edmonton’s Trees

Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Prunus virginiana. Ulmus americana. You probably don’t know these plants by their cryptic scientific names, but you’ve definitely seen them.

According to the City of Edmonton’s open data portal, there are over 15,000 trees rooted on public property in the downtown area, including over 500 fruit trees. They contribute to flood mitigation, air pollution control, beautification and food security. They all require different maintenance, so leave the pruning, trimming and removal to City staff.

But there’s one easy way residents and business owners can be better urban stewards: Point your hoses and sprinklers at nearby trees during drier seasons—especially after such a mild winter. Not everything has to be so complicated.

summer shade1

Found in Translation

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Emilienne Ngo Batoum’s new life in Canada got off to a rough a start. The Cameroonian translator hoped to continue her career in Montreal last year, where her husband had lived since 2010. She arrived bright-eyed but quickly found prospective employers thought Batoum was unqualified, despite having a master’s in translation and 10 years experience. Faced with the possibility of two additional years of schooling and thousands more in academic debt, the couple set their sights West. “Many people told me good things about Alberta,” she says. “So I said, why not?”

Batoum arrived in Edmonton on March 10. By April, she was already translating. Starting small with a hotel’s restaurant menu, she now has corporate contracts stretching to Toronto, and helps other newcomers communicate in court or at settlement agencies. It wasn’t just the “Alberta advantage” that gave her a boost. “Living downtown was really helpful for me because I have all these organizations around me.”

Her journey serves as an essential list for downtown newcomers looking to find solid ground, and it began the day she met Grazyna Pkaos, at Edmonton Immigration Services Association’s outpost in the Stanley Milner Library. The settlement officer got her started as a volunteer translator for EISA, which helped bolster her resume. Pkaos also directed Batoum to Alberta Works Centre a few blocks east, where she was provided with a career counsellor and additional training, and then to Catholic Social Services on 107 Ave., where Batoum had an official English language skills assessment.

None of her career milestones would have happened as quickly without local charities ensuring the couple met their basic needs upon arrival. Luckily, their 95 St. apartment is just steps from the Salvation Army,where they can get fresh bread and other foods whenever necessary. “They don’t look at you like a beggar,” she says. “They look at you as one of themselves.”

What isn’t within walking distance is easily accessible by LRT. The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers by Stadium Station helped her with job searching, food banks, housing and free professional womenswear from nearby charity Suit Yourself. The organization has a long history of settling new Canadians and taught Batoum about the International Qualifications Assessment Service course that she passed in just three months to become an associate translator. “It’s almost everything you need to know when you move here. Believe me, it was amazing.”

Batoum’s new life has turned a quick corner but she’s not planning to leave the core anytime soon. “I’m somebody who likes downtown because everything is closer. You have the library, city hall. During the summertime there were a lot of events here and I attended almost all of them!”

But one thing would make it better: a white Christmas—absent from Montreal’s mild 2014 winter. “That’s my dream. I’ve only seen it in movies.”

Man About Downtown

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Spend enough time downtown and you’ll spot Nana Kumi, most likely on his road bike, a bright orange Masi Speciale covered in a collage of stickers from local businesses. But Kumi’s Oliver apartment is more than just a place for him to hang his signature commuter hats; it’s a way of life for the gregarious general manager and managing partner of Tres Carnales, one of Edmonton’s most beloved eateries. “I love everything about working in the restaurant, but downtown is who I am,” he says. “You can walk to where you need to, and no matter where you go, you will see a friend.” Here are a few of his favourite places along his four-minute ride.

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  1. Capital Plaza, 10800 97 Ave.

    The newly built pavilion outside of the provincial legislature is a preferred stop on Nana’s daily ride. “This is one of my favourite new additions to Edmonton,” he says of the concourse that sits just north of the grounds. Nana—a self-described people person—appreciates the daytime people watching and the expansive plaza’s vista. “Looking down 108th street is unreal. The view itself is worth everything.”

  2. Red Star Pub, 10534 Jasper Ave. 

    Nana and friends often find themselves descending the staircase of this watering hole.The long, international beer menu, eclectic DJs and gourmet pub-grub are reason enough to frequent Red Star, nominated by Air Canada’s magazine as one of Canada’s Favourite Bars. But for Nana, it’s the people inside bringing him back. “It’s just one of those places that you can go into and somebody you know will be there,” he says. “Kind of like Cheers.”

  3. Credo Coffee, 10134 104 St. 

    Being no stranger to the small business model, Nana appreciates the independent coffeeshop’s warmth and friendliness. It’s also family owned—and that’s one of the biggest factors for near daily visits from Nana, an ardent supporter of local business. Of course, the barista’s expertly crafted coffee certainly doesn’t hurt.

  4. Corso 32, 10345 Jasper Ave. 

    Working at a nationally acclaimed taqueria means Nana’s never far from a spectacular meal. But the artfully prepared modern Italian at Daniel Costa’s 34-seater is a regular indulgence for him. His penchant for pasta gravitates him to the cavatelli, whenever the sausage sugo is on the menu. “It’s my comfort food, especially on Sundays. If I need a really good day of eating, it’s there.”

  5. Rice Howard Way
    Before and after a shift at Tres Carnales, Nana likes to take in the restaurant’s surrounding area. He rides down the cobblestone roads, appreciating the architectural array of modernism and heritage buildings, as he savours the charms of Edmonton’s only official pedestrian street—meaning there’s no jaywalking tickets for the steady flow of foot traffic and the many friendly faces just outside his work’s front door.

Do you live and work in Central Edmonton? Tell us your favourite highlights in The Route. Email editor@theyardsyeg.ca.

For the Love of Vibrancy

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook/Duncan MacDonnell

Always being on call for work has its challenges, but for public affairs officer Duncan MacDonnell the simple solution is to live downtown. Summer—or wildfire season—can be especially busy at Alberta government’s department of environment and sustainable resources. Luckily, when Duncan is needed, he’s rarely more than a five-minute walk from the office.

But living centrally means more than a quick commute to the civil servant, who doubles as a professional photographer. “Downtown is incredibly vibrant. I love to shoot film and I never run out of things to photograph.”

He adds, “I don’t buy the idea that downtown is the young, urbanite kind of place. … You’ve got this great diversity of both people and places and that’s a huge factor for why I live where I do.”

Here are just a few of his favourite highlights around his home and office.


  1. Constable Ezio Farone Park, 11004 97 Ave.
    Duncan walks just about everywhere, so what better path to take than this one with sprawling trails and beautiful views of the river valley? He regularly heads to this popular park for exercise or to wander around with his camera and a roll of film. Weekends are his favourite time to visit because although it isn’t a big park, it’s usually alive with picnickers and athletes—a vibrancy that gives him a “special feeling.”
  1. The Common9910 109 St.
    This gastro-lounge is his go-to place to business lunch or unwind after work, especially on Wednesdays. He appreciates the vintage-meets-modern decor, including a wall of vinyl records and ’80s Hollywood portraits. It pairs well with their extensive single malt scotch menu. But his favourite is the fish and chips. Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier reinvents the tempura battered fish weekly with what’s fresh, so Duncan never tires of this constantly evolving plate. “I’m a huge fan…which is saying something from a guy from the coast.”
  1. The Metro10250 106 St.
    Friday nights see Duncan shooting pool with buddies at this billiards lounge. The laid-back bar never makes them feel old or uninvited, even though it’s weekends are heaving with young adults. “We’re just these harmless old guys that love to play pool and the Metro is very welcoming to us.”
  1. City Market Downtown104 St.
    Some come to shop; Duncan comes to shoot. He loves starting Saturdays with a jaunt to the farmers’ market to capture some photos of the bustling environment, and immerse himself in it. On his way out, Duncan will pick up ingredients for the night’s supper from such suppliers as Edgar Farms (the asparagus are legendary) and Irving’s Farm Fresh (whose sausages are delicious and dizzying in their variety).
  1. Rose Bowl Pizza & Rouge Resto-Lounge10111 117 St.
    Duncan often frequents “the best pizza place in town” with work friends and associates, and savours the carne pizza so much that he rarely tries anything new. The authentic thin crust pizzas are hard to decline, but he also comes for the brief time-travel one experiences lounging in its retro and funky ’70s-style bar.

Do you live and work in Central Edmonton? Tell us your favourite highlights in The Route. Email editor@theyardsyeg.ca.


Riding the Corridor


Me and my trusty ride, passing by Robertson-Wesley United.

Until you’ve done a mile on somebody’s tires, you can’t appreciate where they’re coming from—or going. While I regularly ride through downtown, I don’t often cover 102 Ave. in its entirety. But to write about downtown cycling tracks (see “Cycling of Change” and “The Tao of Tooker”) I literally needed to put rubber to road.

So, on a warm May afternoon, I set out east from 146 St., charting a straight(-ish) line that was almost 50 blocks from one end of 102 Ave. to the other.

My trusty old grey roadie and I were going to test some cycling assumptions. What is downtown car and bike traffic really like? How forgiving are curb lanes? Will this thing even work?

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A passing cyclist in Oliver, between 116 St and 102 St.

Because I live south of the river, my travels rarely take me west of 124 St., to the Glenora and Westmount neighbourhoods that will be serviced by the $8.8 million bike lane, which begins construction in 2016. So, to me, that end of 102 Ave. is unfamiliar terrain. It’s also, from a cycling standpoint, least pleasant.

Growling one-tons, rumbling delivery vans, youth hockey player-toting SUVs and cocky Audis regularly whip by me and leave scant cushion for this cyclist. Potholes, heaves and unswept debris rattle my frame.

Construction on Groat Bridge forces me to stray from the faithful path, but by 124 St. I’m back on track. Past the steeple of Robertson-Wesley United Church, everything changes. In Oliver, 102 Ave. becomes a residential thoroughfare lined with doting elms. Cars seem a little more accustomed to sharing the road, perhaps through habit as more cyclists appear to frequent this part of the route.

Once in downtown proper, it’s clear from their body language that cyclists here are tense and wary. Cars, cabs and buses merge in and out, in and out, in and out—intersection by intersection until the congestion around Churchill Square sends them astray. But east of 100 St. the street is drastically less busy.


Intersection at 102 Ave and 103 Street.

At a relaxed pace, the entire journey takes 25 minutes or less. A little longer than it would take me in my mini van, but not nearly as enjoyable.

I reach the end feeling that the potential is great, and so is the need. Here, along this every changing and busy urban corridor, there could be an oasis—a slower, sweeter way to drink from city life.

Perhaps that’s just what Edmonton’s diesel-driven pace needs.

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Looking onto Churchill Square.


Through Her Lens


With large urban parks and rolling trails along the river valley, it’s no wonder Raffaella Loro loves calling Oliver home. “We’re kind of in the suburbs of downtown,” the photographer and communications advisor jokes about the southeast portion known as Grandin. “We’re in the centre of the city but we’ve got a tiny little yard and access to green space.” Best of all, the 20-minute walk to city hall, where she works for the city manager, lets her effortlessly capture Edmonton’s natural and urban transformations with her Canon. “It’s a really exciting place to be right now.”

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1. DISTRICT COFFEE, 10011 109 St.
Raffaella will pop in for a latte in the mornings to fuel her quick commute. “I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker until Nate [Box] first opened Elm Cafe. Now I’ll happily partake in a coffee pilgrimage whether it’s to Elm, District or a stroll to Riverdale to visit Little Brick,” she says about the entrepreneur’s cafe empire around downtown. While there, she might treat herself to an artisanal salted caramel or one of pastry chef Erica Vliegenthart’s fresh baked goods.


“Transision” by Josh Holinaty and Luke Ramsey

She’ll sometimes stroll a block south of Jasper to admire a painting so easily missed by pedestrians and drivers not looking up. “It makes me happy every time I walk pass,” she says. It’s easy to see why: “Transition” tells a story of compassion and environmentalism between two massive creatures made up of bright vegetation and cold industrial buildings. “There’s a lot of depth to it. You can spend a fair amount of time examining the details.”

3. ZENARIS, 10180 101 St.
She meets with friends after work for a bottle of Prosecco at this family-owned Italian restaurant in the middle of Manulife Place. The seating and cocktail bar are nestled in the middle of the busy indoor corridor, making for perfect people-watching and patio dining on the rainiest of days.

4. FLOC BOUTIQUE, 10106 124 St.
To squeeze in a few extra steps on her Fitbit, Raffaella scoots down to this 124 St. womenswear boutique offering superbly personalized shopping. Style consultants pair the latest trends from Sanctuary Clothing, Fever London and St-Martens. “I just recently found a great dress and a beautiful navy jacket with an architectural collar and leather sleeves.”

5. LUX BEAUTY BOUTIQUE, 12531 102 Ave.
Raffaella then tucks into LUX for perfect “gifts to pamper” and tips on the latest luxuries from owner Jennifer Grimm and fellow beauty experts. The specialty beauty shop is known for carrying top-quality, hard-to- find products. “My friends and I are obsessed with this face mask called Glam Glow.”

Journey Man


Patrick Nybakken doesn’t just live downtown; he’s helping rebuild it, as a plumber on the City’s new $300 million office tower in the Edmonton Arena District. After having lived close to the Oilers’ current home, Patrick made the move downtown last year and now enjoys a 20-minute morning walk to the site on 104 Ave. and 101 St. It has come with a connection to his neighbours that he’s never felt in other parts of the city. “I am bound to run into a friend, or see a person I have never met but passed many times. We give each other ‘the smile and nod.’” He adds, “And more and more interesting places are always popping up.” Many of these new additions have cropped up along his commute to work and, best of all, have made it easy for him to be a conscious consumer.



Patrick’s made a lot of lifestyle changes in the last year, including taking supplements and vitamins. For those, he visits Earth’s General Store and stocks up on Vitamin D, probiotics and shea butter for the cracks in his hands—a side-effect of his labour.


While some days his job is exercise enough, other days the YMCA picks up the slack. “When I started going, I was going to spin classes,” he says. Now Patrick has added more routines: squats, lunges and push-ups. Since going, he’s made friends with other fitness-minded folk.


Patrick’s go-to meeting place is Transcend’s newest location, a minimalist-designed cafe inside the basement of the Mercer warehouse. He says it serves Edmonton’s best long black coffee (double-shot espresso in hot water). He’s fond of its variety of locally roasted beans, along with its clover machine method of brewing, which rescues the single-origin beans’ inherent flavours. It’s even helped educate his palate. “I’ve come to learn I’m a fan of the lighter roasts. Sweet notes…even a little sour.”


Patrick loves hunting for interesting vintage pieces while knowing his money is going towards a good cause. At this little-known thrift store, proceeds help victims of disasters such as fires and flood. “I usually look for unique knick-knacks for the house.”

5. MOTHER’S MARKET, 10251 109 ST.

On Friday evenings, Patrick stops by the weekend indoor market for fresh produce and meats. “I have a vehicle, but it’s nice not to have to drive sometimes for groceries.” He eats healthy, never forgetting some fresh garden carrots from Lund’s Organics, but can’t resist wild boar bacon from Foremsky’s Market Meats and Irvings Farm Fresh pork shoulder for his pulled pork recipes.

Walk The Walk


When Breanne Kraus landed a job in her hometown after years living in Calgary, her first impulse was to find a home on the south side.

“I thought downtown Edmonton wasn’t safe, and dirtier than downtown Calgary, but I tried it because it was more convenient for work,” says the events development officer with Alberta Cancer Foundation. “Now it’s going to be hard to get me out.”

The 24-block trek isn’t just more convenient for work, it lets the health advocate—organizer of Bust-a-Move, an annual six-hour workout that raised $1.2 million last year—make living a healthy lifestyle part of her daily routine.

 It’s like a scene out of Manhattan when couples sit at these park benches and take in the river valley and southern skyline view. “I didn’t know this existed before I moved to Oliver,” she says. “I just never came down here. It’s beautiful. All summer, my fiancé and I came down here on our bikes or to run stairs.”  (100 Ave & 121 St.)

Breanne loves that she can make a quick dash across the street when dinners are one ingredient short. “It’s so great when you just need a last minute thing like garlic.” While she’s there, she can’t resist Ezekial’s sprouted grain bread and favourite snack, salted Snapea Crisps. “It’s like a chip made from a pea. So it’s healthier.” (12120 Jasper Avenue)

It’s where Japanese cuisine meets French cooking, and where Breanne finds her favourite dish—a warm and spicy tempura roll with crab, avocado, salmon and tuna. Aptly called Love Crunch, it’s one reason the contemporary room has become her and fiancé Tanner’s favourite date night spot. “Though I’d totally order it alone.” (11805 Jasper Avenue)

The couple meets for fitness training after work. “We go four times a week, decide which body part to focus on and do a lot of weight lifting to target those areas.” (10205 101 St.)

The Hotel Macdonald might be turning 100 years old next year, but this lifelong Edmontonian didn’t discover its historic lounge until landing her new job. “A colleague recommended it for coffee and now I’m obsessed. It’s so gorgeous, and I love that I can go there anytime for a French vanilla and biscotti in an oversized chair.” (10065 100 St.)