On April 26, a fire at the Gibson Block—one of Edmonton’s most iconic buildings—displaced 66 homeless women. Over its 103-year life, it was a boarding house for German immigrants, a bathhouse and numerous private businesses, but in recent years it housed the Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre (WEAC)—a 24/7, 365 days a year operation. That is, until the fire.
The sprinkler system did the most harm. “It nearly made this big ’ol boat float away,” says WEAC director Tanya Tellier. Water damaged half of the building. “Ceilings were falling down from the third floor all the way into the basement.”
Now with the Gibson in the repair stages, the program, which hopes to re-open its doors in the fall, sees the crisis as opportunity. “We’ll increase access to our elders and our community, as well as events that are going on, and we want to partner with other organizations in the community for this to be an official place for Aboriginal ceremonies.” says Tellier. WEAC also wants to make its programming more accessible for women to come in, volunteer, or participate in groups, rec activities, clinic care or sharing meals, even if they aren’t staying in the residence. Upon opening, expect to see local art in the building’s window display, too. “Overall, what we are striving for, is to be good neighbours.”
There’s even more good news for the Gibson: in July, city hall gave its owner, E4C, permission to use the ground floor for just about any commercial, retail or food business. We may finally see this truly unique building reach its potential.
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!”
Restaurants come and go. Even the most hyped-up eateries are lucky to live a decade, and anything past that becomes an institution. That’s what makes Bistro Praha a monument linking old downtown with new downtown.
It serves continental classics that the modern eater seems to have lost all appetite for in the era of beer-can chicken and truffle popcorn—except here, where the tartare and schnitzel is as good as it was when it opened in 1977. The continuity was interrupted for two years after a fire destroyed its former home in the Kelly Ramsey Building on Rice Howard Way.
This photo, taken on a chilly night shortly after it reopened in 2011, shows how not just the decor but the mood was reassembled two blocks away, down to the mural that’s an exact replica of the one that perished in the fire. Even the chairs, tables and antique lamps are nearly the same. It’s still the late-night sanctuary for the opera and theatre crowd, too. And the classical music hasn’t waned.
Sometimes, things are just as good the second time around.
Shutting down a street is hard. But an alley? So long as you’ve got a van to block it off and a couple of rowdy queens on guard you’re set. At least that was the thinking during the days of Flashback—a gay bar considered one of the hottest clubs in Edmonton if not Canada in the 1980s. Some even called it “Studio 54 of the Prairies.”
For one weekend every summer the alley alongside the warehouse on 104 St.—which was later converted into the Excelsior Luxury Lofts—hosted the Drag Races, a ritual marking the end of one Ms. Flashback’s reign and the crowning of another. Spectators, mostly gay men, crowded the loading docks or stood amidst garbage bins for a view of the gravel strip where young men challenged each other to tug-of-war fights and three-legged races, and drag queens stumbled and clambered in their heels (the libations didn’t help).
It was great summer fun. But much more than that, it was a public show of support and defiance.