It’s a question some cities have pondered, only to arrive at a similar answer: streets are open when they’re for people, and closed when they’re exclusively for moving vehicles. While many European cities now aim to open their streets by closing their downtowns to private vehicles in the near future, we aren’t even close to that here in the car-crazed Americas. But Edmonton could still learn a thing or two from other cities in our own backyard.
CITY Bogota APPROACH Cyclovia
Imagine 1.7-million people showing up for anything. Next, imagine this happening every Sunday. That’s the success of Cyclovia, the world’s most popular public recreation event. It all started in 1974, when Bogota did that most basic of things and opened streets to people and closed them to automobiles. Today, 122 kilometres of streets are returned each Sunday to a staggering 1.7-million (a quarter of the city population) walkers, cyclists, joggers, strollers, crawlers, rollerbladers, dancers … well, you get the point.
CITY Ottawa APPROACH Bike days
Ottawa’s Sunday Bikedays see Colonel By Drive—which meanders its way to the footsteps of Parliament Hill—closed to anyone who isn’t using active transportation. And this has been happening since 1970. Today, each Sunday, more than 50 kilometres of roadway in Ottawa is opened to anyone but those in automobiles. And it’s become a centrepiece of the city. “The Sunday Bikeday program is the National Capital Commission’s longest standing program, a staple in the quality of life for local residents,” says Jean Wolff, a spokesperson with the NCC.
CITY Montreal APPROACH Pedestrian only
Montreal has a staggering 56 streets that are pedestrian only during the summer months to increase its already mesmerizing street vibrancy. Streets and businesses are competing to be added to the tally. The latest are in The Plateau, Saint-Laurent and La Petite-Patrie. One of the originals, on Saint Catherine in the Gay Village, has helped revitalize the area and has become iconic, with the Rainbow Ball art installation that hangs above it becoming known internationally as “Montreal.”
Have you been to New Chinatown? That’s what I’m calling Jasper Avenue and 109 Street. Within a block of this intersection nearly a dozen shops now serve Asian food. Stretch a few more blocks and the count jumps to include even a takeout shop that specializes in bite-sized duck necks.
Old guards like sushi-joint Kyoto, at Canterra, remain in New Chinatown. But what’s new are fast-casual and dessert places, some unique to Edmonton. Chinese Crepe sells jianbing, or Chinese crepes—and it’s the only jianbing shop in Alberta. Tsujiri, a Japanese chain for all things matcha, opened its first Canadian location outside of Toronto across from Save-On-Foods.
In Any-City-Asia, snacking is social. Snack places aren’t so much spots to share dishes but stories. And this is what’s so interesting about New Chinatown. Traditional Chinatowns in North America often cater to non- Asians, but New Chinatown doesn’t. Instead, it unapologetically brings Asian snacking culture to Edmonton. The shops are smaller, the colours are pastels, the fonts playful. The menus offer English but require experience. The staff will explain what, say, tapioca pearls are, but expect some serious side-eye if you ask.
So why this intersection?
To start, our first Chinatown is disjointed. Sunny Bong leads tours of it and says the first Chinese community was displaced and its buildings dismantled. Then, through the course of history, an influx of Indochinese refugees, and mismatches between planning and settlement meant that Edmonton’s Chinatown split in two, east and northeast of downtown. (You can learn about this and much more on his tours.)
Another factor is the North America-wide trend for urban Chinatowns to be overtaken by car-centric, suburban Chinatowns. Asian snacking culture is alive and well in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver; Markham, a suburb of Toronto; and in the 626 area-code of suburban Los Angeles. But unlike the ethnic ghettos created by racist policies from the past, these areas are statements of affluence. In Edmonton, there are a few pockets— roughly wherever there’s a T&T—but none has the concentration to be Edmonton’s Richmond.
Despite being downtown, New Chinatown is relatively car-friendly— another central factor. San King, who lives in the suburbs, says she’s constantly scouting good eats and has tried many places in New Chinatown. “Access is important,” she says. “Jasper and 109 are main roads. And there’s parking. Might not be free, but there’s parking.”
Demographics also play a role. New establishments are increasingly Mandarin-speaking, versus the Cantonese dominated Chinatown to the east. Hoi-Yee Wong attributes this to the “fourth-wave” of Chinese immigration. This is people, mainly from mainland China, and many are students. Indeed, 2016 census data for Edmonton shows there were nearly as many people speaking primarily Mandarin at home as Cantonese. And students like the New Chinatown corner. “This is a very convenient neighbourhood, especially for students,” Wong says. “A walkable area with LRT access.”
All these factors have given rise to New Chinatown. But San doesn’t like that name. “Many of these [shops] aren’t even Chinese.”
She’s right. From Korean bingsoo (shaved ice dessert) to Thai gai-yang (grilled chicken), New Chinatown is pan-Asian. Indeed, it’s not unlike the mix of food you’d find on offer in Any- City-Asia.
Maybe I should call it “Asian Corner” instead?
BY: JACKIE LEE
Jackie Lee lives, works and eats downtown. He is originally from Hong Kong and has snacked his way throughout Asia.
Go to any city council meeting or peruse the newspaper and you’ll undoubtedly find a community league representative advocating for what’s best for the neighbourhood. While this may seem normal here, even banal, the community league as an idea is a uniquely Edmonton creation.
Some say community leagues have shaped our city, provided first platforms to several political leaders and built a culture of civic engagement that other cities lack. But just how and why did Edmonton’s community leagues start? And where are the leagues going in the future?
The answer requires a look back into the past and into the future.
Boom Bust City
In 1917, residents of Jasper Place created a unique movement. The setting was a population boom. Edmonton had grown—from a sleepy town of 700 people, in 1892, to a thriving capital city of 67,243 in 1913. Edmonton had also, by 1913, amalgamated the City of Strathcona and the Village of North Edmonton. Wooden buildings were replaced with Edwardian brick and stone structures; utilities, bridges and roads were constructed; schools and hospitals were in place; business was booming. Land prices and real-estate investments were at an all-time high.
But not all was well in the booming city. Between 1904 and 1913, the City of Edmonton approved 274 subdivisions and moved its western municipal boundary from 142 Street to 149 Street. That carved out the community of Jasper Place (Crestwood) from the larger unincorporated community, now West Jasper Place. 1913 then ended with an unexpected economic collapse. Real estate speculators cut their losses. Subdivisions were left undeveloped.
Enter George M. Hall. Hall was an American journalist who came to Edmonton in 1912 as the Industrial Commissioner for the city. By 1913, however, Hall’s position was abolished. Regardless, he and his family continued to live in Jasper Place, which was isolated and had little infrastructure. Upset by this, Hall and the neighbourhood formed the Jasper Place Ratepayers Association (JPRA) in 1917. Hall travelled to the United States to research the Social Centre movement, which had formed Community Clubs in American cities, and the idea intrigued both the JPRA and the Horticultural Society. The University of Alberta provided an expert on the Social Centre Movement to speak when the two organizations held meetings with residents – and on March 3, 1917, they merged to form the 142nd Street District Community League.
The league advocated for modern sewer systems, better roads and sidewalks, and for social and recreational events to bring people together. The principles the league adopted ensured the organization was open to all regardless of class or ethnic background; that it would not be affiliated with any political or religious order and that members would be both men and women. Hearing all community voices was a central value.
The 142nd Street league’s work did not go unnoticed. In 1918, Bonnie Doon created its own league, advocating for water services and transportation. Strathcona organized in 1918 as well, and then came Westmount, in 1919. West Edmonton (now Calder), Riverdale, Terrace/Forest Heights, Calgary Trail (now Allendale), and Bennet School (now Cloverdale) all formed leagues in 1920.
The communities identified their individual needs but soon realized they were competing for limited resources. By 1921, The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) was formed. The first act of the Federation was to negotiate land for parks and recreation.
Through property tax defaults resulting from the earlier real estate crash, the City of Edmonton had become the owner of almost half of all the land in the city—between 1918 and 1920, the City of Edmonton took ownership of 70,000 lots. In 1922, the city happily leased a block of land to each community league, for one dollar per year; the understanding was that it would be developed and used as parkland.
Leagues Arrive in Oliver and Downtown
The West End Community League was formed in 1922, in time to take advantage of the parks promise. By 1923, the league developed Kitchener Park, convincing the Gyro Club, a volunteer service organization, to install playground equipment, the EFCL to provide trees and the Horticultural Society to contribute plants and expertise. An Edmonton Journal ad on May 10, 1923, asked that “all citizens having the good of the community at heart and desirous of providing a beauty spot…arm themselves with spades.” An army of spade toting citizens answered and 150 trees were planted.
On March 20, 1923, the call went out in the Edmonton Journal to “Citizens who have stubbed their toes and lost heels on worn out sidewalks, housewives who have moaned the dust of cinder walks, parents who want swimming pools and playgrounds in their district and all the public spirited citizens of the District of Oliver School.” At the first annual general meeting that year, further consideration was given to “the elimination of unnecessary noise, particularly at night, including domestic cats, shunting engine and trains, rattling street-car horns and whistles and crying babies in public audiences.” It’s unknown how successful the league was controlling cats and babies, and the community would be bordered by trains for decades to come. But the playground and swimming pool initiatives were resounding successes. The West End pool opened in 1924, following the openings of the South Side (now Queen Elizabeth) pool in 1922 and the East End (now Borden) pool, earlier in 1924.
In the 1930s, the league built a skating rink and clubhouse at 114 Street and 107 Avenue. Then, in 1961, Molson’s Brewery donated a building that was moved to 118 Street and 103 Avenue, to be retrofitted and used as a clubhouse. The building served as a meeting and social hall for the league until its recent structural failure last year.
In 1937, the West End Community League changed its name to Oliver Community League. The neighbourhood had taken the name of the school district and “West End” was no longer an appropriate description.
The 1930s and the Second World War slowed community league activities, but afterwards, returning veterans and the resultant baby boom reactivated things. Population growth saw major change arrive. From 1961 to 1966, 13 high rises were built in Oliver, and by 1973 there were 38 more. The family homes that originally stood through the community were being demolished, and families were leaving. Young, single people filled the smaller living spaces. Most saw themselves as temporary residents and a community league did not appeal to them.
Jasper Avenue – taken December, 1942
Development also overtook downtown—only most of the new buildings were offices and commercial towers. The once diverse community, which originally featured houses and apartments on both sides of Jasper Avenue, was razed and rebuilt as a centre of government and commerce. This development was fueled by an oil boom, and the vision was to become a modern metropolitan city. At the time that meant building single use communities—a commercial downtown connected to the suburbs by freeways.
Downtown residents during this period were still part of the Rossdale Community League. That league started as the Ross Flats Community League, in January 1929, and served the flats as well as the people on the hillside. There was no league for the top of bank community until 1931, when the new Rossdale Community League expanded its boundaries north to 104 Avenue, west to 109 Street and east to 97 Street. Construction of the James MacDonald Bridge, in 1970, spelled the end of the Rossdale and city centre connection. Although the Rossdale Community League revived itself, in 1974, the downtown neighbourhood had changed so significantly that it could not form a community.
Then, in 1982, history repeated itself: the oil economy crashed. Downtown, only half rebuilt, died—and this time, there was no diversity to regenerate it. The residential and small business communities were gone.
Fast-forward to 1997. The Capital City Downtown Plan identified an urgent need for a residential community and a budget for financial incentives to create housing. Bev Zubot and Mary Jane Buchanan were hired as Downtown Community Coordinators and tasked with seeking out and connecting the isolated residents of the towers. Posters inviting people to “Come Create Community Fun” led to a plan for Cornfest, now an annual event. In 1999, the organizing group formed the Downtown Edmonton Community Association (DECA) and, in 2003, they became an official community league.
“The community development program created opportunities for neighbours to interact, discover common interests, and work together to shape their neighbourhood,” Zubot says.
Chris Buyze moved near the newly improved 104 Street in 1999. He was attracted to the “cool heritage buildings” and the opportunity to live and work in the same neighbourhood. But he says the lack of amenities and places to meet people made him realize creating community was needed. For Buyze, the community league was the answer.
Today, Buyze has been the president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League for 10 years. He says his friendships and long-term connections have all been made through the league. And, now, thanks to a population that has grown from 5,300 in 1997 to close to 14,000 today, the league is healthier. There are 200- 300 active members; 13 are board members, others sit on committees. Buyze says many are there to enjoy the social events. DECL also involves itself in new developments, park planning, block parties, Christmas mixers, community clean ups and programs for kids.
“The community league is able to provide services and programs that the city cannot,” Buyze says. “It is a platform for people to achieve community needs and it leaves room for evolution.”
Like Buyze, Luwam Kiflemariam is a young professional who’s dynamic and articulate. She has lived in Oliver for four and a half years and she, too, is a board member. After volunteering with a number of organizations, Kiflemariam says she has found her niche with the Oliver Community League currently as vice president. Most importantly, she says it gives her a voice in her community, the opportunity to make friends, and a way to give back.
“I truly believe that human beings look for meaningful ways to contribute to society,” Kiflemariam says. “I think that Edmonton community leagues, such as Oliver’s OCL, offer residents a platform to connect with their communities in a safe and engaging way.”
Both leagues concede that urban isolation is real and wish more people knew that the league was there for them. And both leagues face the challenge of communicating with the large number of residents who live in secure buildings. The old method of door-to-door introductions is impossible.
Buyze says he would like more seniors to get involved, as well as people new to the city. He says he would like to hear more from the diverse populations that are coming to live downtown.
Nevertheless, Laura Cunningham- Shpeley—the new executive director of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues and the former president of the Ritchie Community League—says leagues like DECL and OCL are becoming more important today, not less.
“Demographics are shifting,” she says. “Now, a new and even more diverse population has the opportunity to influence the shape of neighbourhoods in Edmonton.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jasper Avenue looking west – taken November 24, 1962
Edmonton is full of these people. On the news, we most often hear stories about those who make big changes to our city. But outside of that, there are also thousands of little stories of people working in their community to make life better responding to need.
Here are three of them. We call them Community Champions.
Ten years ago, when Maryanne Wiebe lived in St. Albert, she says she would never have to pick up garbage. But living downtown is a different story. Now she’s out cleaning litter so often that many core residents recognize her.
“They call me ‘the garbage picker’ or ‘garbage lady,’ but I prefer to be known as their neighbor—because that’s what I am,” Wiebe says.
After raising their children, Wiebe and her husband decided to move to central Edmonton and embrace downtown living. “We walk almost everywhere,” she says.
She walked about 20 blocks to work every day. And that’s where everything changed.
“So, I am walking around downtown, minding my own business and I think, ‘Boy there’s a lot of garbage here,’” Wiebe says.
For the first year it bothered her. “I was just angry,” she says. But after that, she wanted to make a difference. Wiebe signed up for Capital City Clean Up and adopted blocks of the city to clean—14 of them along 100 Avenue.
Wiebe says she felt self-conscious the first time she took out garbage bags. But in the seven years she’s been part of the Clean Up, she says she’s become so adept using her trash grabber that she can swipe a floating paper bag out of the air.
She goes out once a week. In just two weeks’ time, she collects two large black garbage bags of litter from the streets. Over the years she’s finely tuned her routine. She knows where all the city garbage cans are, so she can empty as she goes. The worst thing she’s ever picked up? A jar of urine by the Edmonton General Hospital.
“Some people think I am doing community service. People stop to say they hope my parole officer knows I am doing a great job. Or they stop and ask me why I am doing this.”
So why is she? “I’ve always said it takes a village to make things work and I am a part of that village.”
Her route takes her by the Edmonton General where she has gotten to know some of the long-term residents. “Oliver is Edmonton’s best kept secret,” Wiebe says.
Curtis Boehm’s work as a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church is all about connection.
And he sees a lot of them. Outside, he says he notices who’s on the street. “The walking traffic in this neighbourhood is incredible,” he says.
And it’s through his proximity to the church building— he and his family live beside it—that he gets a chance to speak with some in the community who are homeless. He takes time to learn their stories.
“Many people have a route that they take every day, and Oliver is a refuge from some of the issues that happen in the inner city,” he says.
Boehm has worked at the church since 2016 and is an active member with the Oliver Community League. Boehm also managed the Oliver Bike Club for a bit. Badly, he says, as he has three school-aged children. He remains an avid cyclist, and often bikes to his visits around the city.
Many of the connections Boehm makes are through church programs like the basketball game nights that they host or the summer garage sale. But the church is also a space for groups to meet. Everything from Alcoholics Anonymous to condo board AGMs. Even the Oliver Community League now meets at the church.
Boehm says being a part of the OCL is a chance to learn what people in the core care about and how it aligns with Grace Lutheran’s mission. He says issues like walkability, challenges for seniors and combatting urban isolation are shared concerns. “When I started here we thought this would be an ideal way to be a part of our community.”
Recently, the church combined their potluck with one held by the community league. “It was a great chance for the church people to meet the community league members,” he says.
Although not everyone who comes to the church is from Oliver, the community has many elderly people who choose to live in the area because they are close to services, he says.
Boehm says Oliver is a small corner of the city but that there are many opportunities to connect with its people. “All those things are part of what drew me here.”
Elliott Tanti wanted to be an actor but ended up helping his community instead. After he finished his political science degree at the University of Alberta, he moved to Vancouver to pursue acting.
But, “I wasn’t very good,” Tanti says.
Today, Tanti works to help the homeless. He serves as a communications representative at Boyle Street Community Services. Aside from this, he has also volunteered with Edmonton Homeless Count and worked as a staffing clerk at a continuing care facility.
Tanti lives in Oliver and is a strong advocate for the work people do at Boyle Street. “It is one of those places that you walk in a room and you immediately feel a sense of belonging, and there’s an aura about the place that is really incredible,” he says. “Some of the most abused people in society are coming through our doors every day.”
He says he feels blessed to do the work that he does. Not only for the chance to help people but also the sense of purpose it gives him.
“I think a lot of it has to do with my own privileges,” he says. “I’ve had lots of opportunity in my life – beyond being a white straight male.”
For example, he recounts a meeting with City of Edmonton officials about public spaces, where he brought some of the Boyle street clients with him.
“I had no fear about going through the front door, but our community did,” he says. “I see my work as a way to open doors for other people who have not had the same opportunities.”
Working in communications was something Tanti says he sort of fell into. With his varied background he found himself drawn to work in the inner city. And he credits his father, who has a career in communications.
Today he uses his skills to tell stories of people who often are kept invisible, often with social media. He uses it to shift perception.
“I really enjoy changing the hearts and minds of people in the community— whether it is my condo board or my friends who have also moved into Oliver.”
Though he tries to make change, Tanti says the front-line workers at Boyle Street are the real heroes.
4 Ways You Can Become a Core Hero
Who doesn’t want to be a hero? Well, if you engage in your community it’s easy to become one—with or without a cape. Here are four big ideas to set you on the path.
Half of all Albertans volunteer. And each year, this chunk of volunteers offers Alberta the equivalent of $8.3B in time and energy. Indeed, in some ways, volunteerism is an essential part of our society. But why is volunteering critical to becoming a core hero? Karen Link, executive director of Volunteer Alberta, says it comes down to a “beautiful mathematical equation.” Volunteering helps your community, but also boosts your personal mental health, which trickles back into your community. In short, the good multiplies. “Volunteering is about community and individual well- being,” Link says. “There’s a direct correlation. It’s that pathway to feeling connected and belonging.”
2. SHOP LOCAL
This one can be counter intuitive. After all, shouldn’t you just do things yourself to better your community? No. You should also spend in your community at local shops, because local businesspeople are aiming to better your community, too, as well as keeping the money they earn within it. Discover more of them and it’s another win-win. “Simply put, shopping local means that people have taken the time and effort to explore our community and discovered something unique and local,” says Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “Imagine if we all explored a little more of this city.”
3. TAKE A CLASS
Throughout your community are dozens of organizations offering classes for people with varying skills, from amateur to pro. If you want to become a hero in your own ‘hood, take one. For the reasons why, we asked Amy Leigh at the Society of Northern Alberta Print-Artists (SNAP), in Oliver. “Taking a class at SNAP not only directly supports a local, not-for- profit, artist-run centre but it allows one to connect with folks within their community,” Leigh says. “Beyond it fosters ongoing conversations and capacity building in addition to igniting possibilities for future collaboration, knowledge and skill-sharing.”
4. START AN IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
Oliver Community League features several projects, like the Abundant Communities initiative, Make Something Oliver, Free Little Libraries, and the Mitten Tree. Want to be a community hero? Take a page from OCL and start a project that makes your community stronger and people will get behind. “Oliver may be a challenging community because of our diversity and our size, but it is those very things, and our vibrancy and connectedness, that make it possible to just try something out,” says Lisa Brown, president of the Oliver Community League. “If you positively impact just a few people, it’s certainly worth the effort.”
SYMPHONY UNDER THE SKY /// August 30 – September 2
From classics by Beethoven and Dvořák to the modern hits of Hollywood, hear beautiful music in the great outdoors. At each pleasant, relaxing evening in the park, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra will skillfully perform each musical treasure as the sky slowly turns to twilight as the backdrop. Hawrelak Park, 9330 Groat Road, winspearcentre.com
NUIT BLANCHE /// September 29, 7pm – 7am
Explore the downtown core in an animated and re-imagined way with interactive art installations at this all-night contemporary art party! Bring a curious mind and a good pair of walking shoes as you wander and join in the revelry from dusk til dawn. Visit the website for a complete list of activities and participating artists. Various venues, nuitblancheedmonton.ca
UP & DOWNTOWN MUSIC FESTIVAL /// October 5 – 7
Watch as downtown venues transform into intimate concert halls. The festival plays host to some of the best independent music in a diversity of styles, from electronic and psychedelic rock to folk and reggae. Headliners include throat-singer Tanya Tagaq, musical Afrobeat collective Antibalas, local soul singer Nuela Charles and indie rockers The Velveteins. Various downtown venues, including DECL community space, updt.ca
FALL GALLERY WALK /// September 22 – 23
Eight galleries open their doors wide for this special afternoon celebration of artistic diversity in the city. Stroll from gallery to gallery to enjoy light refreshments, live music, artist talks and more as you view contemporary, abstract, and traditional styles of painting, crafting and sculpture work. 124 Street between 103 Avenue and 107 Avenue, 124street.ca
FOR STORY LOVERS
GOTTA MINUTE FILM FESTIVAL /// September 24 – 30
While you wait for the LRT in late September, you won’t need a book or your phone to entertain you. One-minute silent films from local filmmakers will light up screens on train platform with clever and strange stories. Visit the Edmonton Public Library’s MakersSpace at Enterprise Square (10212 Jasper Avenue) any time during the festival to view all the films at once. Various transit platforms, gottaminutefilmfestival.com
EDMONTON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL /// September 27 – October 6
Add some entertainment to your lunch hour by feasting on some short films during this welcoming festival’s Lunchbox Shorts. Or, doll yourself up and attend one of the gala after-parties, where you can mingle with the visiting actors and directors. There’s a film for any taste as EIFF brings in many of the highly anticipated films from independent and international studios. Landmark Cinemas 9 City Centre, 3rd Floor, 10200 102 Avenue, edmontonfilmfest.com
LITFEST: EDMONTON’S NONFICTION FESTIVAL /// October 11 – 21
Get up from your reading chair and experience that new and hot nonfiction title you’re dog-earing live, with author talks, walking tours and other activities. Feature authors include Polaris Prize-winning, Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq—who will be performing in partnership with UP+DT Fest—and columnist and best- selling author Elizabeth Renzetti, whose book Shrewed takes a hilarious and heartbreaking look at the political lives of women. Various venues (including downtown), litfestalberta.org
124 GRAND MARKET / CITY MARKET /// Through October 6
Snack on what’s ripe or grab fresh-baked fall treats—and connect with your neighbours. Stock up just before October 8, when the City Market will return to its indoor location at City Hall. The 124 Street market closes October 4. Thursdays 4 – 8 pm, 108 Avenue between 123 and 124 Street, 124grandmarket.com & Saturdays from 9 am – 3 pm, 104 Street between Jasper Avenue and 103 Avenue, city-market.ca
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL /// October 19 – 20
Sip and savour dozens of distinguished wines, premium spirits and craft beers at this gourmet event. You’ll also be able to taste treats from some of Edmonton’s best restaurants that will pair perfectly with whatever you’re drinking. View the full menu on the website. Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Avenue, Rockymountainwine.com
GREY CUP FESTIVAL /// November 21 – 25
Start getting amped up for the Grey Cup game with celebratory events throughout the week downtown. Festivities begin with a kick-off party along Jasper Avenue on the Wednesday, a FREE all-day street festival throughout the week and a lively parade at noon before the main event. Visit the website for more details and a map of the festival grounds. Various venues, greycupfestival.ca
ALL IS BRIGHT /// November 10, 4 pm – 8 pm
Join businesses on 124 Street to kick off the winter season at this light festival, a perennial crowd favourite. Keep warm with hot beverages, sizzling entertainment and cozy fires. 124 Street and 108 Avenue, Helen Nolan Park, 124street.ca
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.
On May 12, 1922, Lulu Anderson tried to buy a ticket to ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ at the former Metropolitan Theatre on Jasper Avenue. Lulu was 36 and a member of the Black community. She enjoyed the theatre and had visited the Metropolitan many times with her friends. But May 12 was different. The theatre staff denied Lulu entry. Worse, they “assaulted” her, according to a column in the Edmonton Journal.
Lulu decided to stand up.
Few Edmonton residents know Lulu’s story. And to understand what happened to her downtown that night, in 1922, we need to back up a bit. For starters, despite many who still believe the opposite, Alberta was home to anti-black racism. Minstrel shows were extremely common in theatres; indeed, actors of the era routinely performed in blackface. In 1920, a minstrel parade was even held downtown. Segregation was also common across the city. From 1910 to 1950, Black Edmontonians were denied entry into theatres, swimming pools, bars and even hospitals. One more well-known example is from 1938, when a Black nurse was denied entry into nursing training at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Lulu’s story has long intrigued me. I first came across small scraps of it in a headline I found in archives of the Edmonton Bulletin: “Colored Woman Sued Theatre.” It was a story I’d never heard before. The article was sparse on details, so I kept digging. Next, I found references to Lulu elsewhere, such as a Bulletin article noting her place in a choir performance for Nellie McClung, as well as a story noting she’d sold 100 tickets for her church choir
“Colored Woman Sued Theatre.” It was a story I’d never heard before.
I grew up in Edmonton. As a young Black child, all of my schooling was here, and during all those years at school, I was never taught about someone like Lulu or our city’s Black history. I grew up thinking Black people were relatively new here. Schools taught me the white version of history. But reading Lulu’s story and learning about Black history made me realize that people like me helped build this province.
It became my goal to find out more about Lulu. Her actions are unbelievably courageous. She stood up for racial justice 40 years before the civil rights movement hit its peak, at a time when lynching and violence were common. Her bravery is one reason I became determined to learn about her life. My journey took me to the Provincial Archives of Alberta, the City of Edmonton Archives and the legal archives at the Provincial Court of Alberta.
My first quest was to find Lulu’s original case file. This, I believed, would help for a couple reasons. First, it would give me access to her examination, where I would be able to read what happened in her own words. Second, it would have important details about her life, such as other family members and her past occupations, and these would give me more leads to follow-up on. But no luck. An archivist informed me that all case files for the period of 1921 to 1949 were destroyed in 1971.
Confused, I decided to reach out to Edmonton’s historian laureate, Marlena Wyman, to find out why. “These decisions were not made by archivists,” she told me. “Rather, it was government that decided when documents would be destroyed.” Wyman added that Alberta didn’t have the same resources devoted to archivists back then as it does now. “For example, we now have a master’s program for archivists, but back then we didn’t.”
Nevertheless, I believed a copy of Lulu’s lawsuit case must exist somewhere. My next stop was the Law Courts, to see if the case was reported in legal publications at the time. Again, I had limited luck. I discovered the docket sheet for Lulu’s case and found it
“These decisions were not made by archivists. Rather, it was government that decided when documents would be destroyed.”
lasted from May 26 to November 3, 1922, when Judge Lucien Dubuc made his decision. Thankfully, the decision was summarized in the Edmonton Bulletin. Dubuc ruled against Lulu, arguing the theatre was justified removing her. “[M]anagement could refuse admission to anyone upon the refunding the price of the ticket,” he reportedly said in his ruling.
I was not surprised by this ruling thanks to my work learning about Black history in Edmonton. During Lulu’s time, Black Edmontonians were well used to discrimination. And many stood up to fight it. In 1924, a group of Black mothers protested segregation at the Borden Park swimming pool by lobbying City Hall. Another group of Black Edmontonians formed civil rights organizations, like the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (AAACP). And of course, on May 26, 1922, Lulu sued the Metropolitan Theatre for barring her entry for being Black.
Emmanuel African Methodist Church congregation, early 1920s, Edmonton. Glenbow Archives ND-3-1199
This protest was part of a tradition that spans the whole province. Examples include Charles Daniels, who in 1914 was similarly denied entry into the Sherman Grand Theatre, in Calgary, due to the colour of his skin. The unique thing about the Daniels’ case is that he won—eight years prior to Lulu, in 1914. There was also Ted King, who was the president of the AAACP and sued a Calgary motel for refusing Black patrons.
But back to Lulu. The Edmonton Journal reported she hired lawyer Samuel Wallace for her lawsuit. Wallace belonged to the law firm Joseph A. Clarke and Company, and Clarke would later go on to become mayor of Edmonton. Interestingly, the firm’s office was on the second floor of the McLeod building. This means Lulu must have visited this building to prepare her case—a building that was one block away from the Ku Klux Klan’s future headquarters, which was behind the current Westin Hotel.
The name of the case was Lulu Anderson vs. The Brown Investment Company (which owned the Metropolitan Theatre). Despite the frustrations at the Law Courts, my search for Lulu continued. Perhaps the most personal and one of the most important pieces of information I found was from a column in the Edmonton Journal, called “Our Negro Citizens.” The column was written by Black Edmontonians and provided “stories of interest” for the city’s Black community. After spending hours scanning the columns, I was able to confirm Lulu was active in the Black community and a member of the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church— one of the two all-Black churches in Edmonton, the other being the Shiloh Baptist Church.
“[M]anagement could refuse admission to anyone upon the refunding the price of the ticket.” – Judge Lucien Dubuc, as reported in the Edmonton Bulletin.
Lulu was an active member of the church choir with numerous articles specifically noting her when reporting on concerts. As already noted, Lulu performed for Nellie McClung—a member of the Famous Five and an Alberta MLA. In addition, it seems Lulu was friends with Mrs. Poston who, in 1923, challenged segregation at the Borden Park pool.
The most important document I came across on ancestry.ca was an immigration slip from one of her visits to the United States. From this slip I determined Lulu was born in Atlanta City, New Jersey, in 1885. At some point, the immigration slip suggests, she came into Canada and settled in Edmonton. She lived at 9609 105 Avenue, near what is today the Bissell Centre. She was 36 years old at the time of the court case and had a sister named Bernice White, who lived in Los Angeles. She was also married to Cornwallis Anderson. It’s unclear if they had children.
Aside from this, I wasn’t able to find anything else about Lulu’s life. But I was determined to find a photo of her.
Civil rights cases in Canada are often void of a personal connection. We rarely have images that show Canada’s segregation in images and those who fought against it. Contrast this with the United States, where we have vivid photos of segregation and intimate profiles of those who stood to fight against it. Finding a photo of Lulu was deeply important.
Thankfully, her connection to the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church provided me with my first lead. I looked for all possible references to the church in the city and provincial archives but came up with nothing. But I came across a photo when reading an article by Jennifer Kelly – a Black University of Alberta professor. At the top of the article was a photo of a congregation, with a description that read, “Emmanuel African Methodist Church Congregation, early 1920s, Edmonton.”
The bottom right of the photo has the tag, “McDermid Studios.” My hope was the original photo would have a more specific description, so I went through the McDermid collections at the Glenbow Museum. I found that the photograph was taken in 1921. Lulu was active in the church in 1921.
I was left with one conclusion: Lulu was in this photo.
I don’t remember how long I stared at the photograph but it was a long time. I scanned every face, looking at the emotions and weight each expression carried. I couldn’t help but become emotional. Until now, I only read about the experiences of these Black Edmontonians. But for now I was seeing their faces for the first time and felt a more personal connection. These were the Black Edmontonians who came before me and paved the way for my own civil rights. These were people who, for now, history has forgotten and whose stories deserve to be told.
“I don’t remember how long I stared at the photograph but it was a long time. I scanned every face, looking at the emotions and weight each expression carried.”
Unfortunately, the photo included no detailed information. I was unable to find where Lulu was. It’s a strange feeling, having gotten this close. Lulu is someone I spent days researching. I ended with this photo. She is there but I don’t know exactly where.
Still, knowing she is somewhere in the photo is humbling. I look around the group and, even though I don’t know who exactly she is, I know she is there, surrounded by community. Every face in that photo represents a friend who she sang with or who stood by her when she fought against racial discrimination. In many ways the photo represents her case. She fought against racial discrimination with others. Lulu may have been one person but had a community behind her.
Lulu lost her case but her stand was significant. She stood for racial justice 20 years before Viola Desmond stood up, after similarly being denied entry into a theatre in Halifax. Viola is now being honoured on our $10 bill. And Lulu stood up 30 years before Rosa Parks, who fought against segregated buses in the United States. Today we know about Viola and Rosa. But still little about Lulu.
It saddens me there are no memorials to Edmonton’s heroes in this fight, or that their history is not taught in our classrooms. I believe this is all part of the consistent whitewashing of Edmonton’s history. A sign on the wall of the Gibson Block building downtown, which said, ‘White Help Only,’ was literally painted over at some point with white paint. And Frank Oliver, who aggressively worked against black immigration, is nevertheless honoured with a neighbourhood named after him.
Perhaps we can use Lulu’s case as an example to challenge or begin undoing this white washing. Perhaps we can take action as downtown residents and celebrate our very own hero in Lulu Anderson.
She should be a major historical figure in Edmonton. I’m glad I finally found her.
BASHIR MOHAMED works for the provincial government. In his free time he researches and writes at www.bashirmohamed.com/blog
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.
Our fall issue delves into the history of community leagues. But if we look ahead into the future of our own league and downtown community, it’s clear there will simply be far more residents living here.
DECL is responding to an unprecedented number of new development applications. Many of these proposals are developments that will house hundreds, if not thousands of new residents. Many boosters talk about “20,000 in 2020,” and if these new proposals go ahead, we will be a little behind but not far off from those numbers. Urban planning experts say these are the sort of population numbers necessary for downtown to be sustainable, to encourage walkable retail and to retain offices and workers.
The first significant push for new residential housing downtown was in the form of the new Capital City Downtown Plan, in 1997. An update to that plan, in 2010, saw a confirmation that a significant future for our downtown was having people live here. Since that first plan, we saw an approximate doubling of our population, from 6300 in 1997 to about 13,000 people today. Downtown Edmonton has been one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods during that time.
Much of proposed development for the future comes from a new confidence in downtown due to recent investment, both public and private. New residential towers combined with public money flowing into parks and streetscaping are spurring results. The most significant ‘catalyst’ project downtown, Rogers Place, is now being augmented by western Canada’s tallest towers. Alex Decoteau Park has given residents a place to meet neighbours and be proud of the place we call home.
Some of the new proposed residential towers are pushing westward, into the warehouse area west of 104 Street. These proposals are a direct result of the proposed ‘Central Park’ planned for 106 Street to 107 Street, on vacant land between Jasper Avenue and 102 Avenue, an area at least four times larger than Alex Decoteau Park, which would serve the recreational needs of much of our neighbourhood.
The city is actively working with landowners in the area to purchase land, and developers are hedging their bets that this new catalyst will bring new opportunities and life into what is currently mostly gravel parking lots.
But this revitalization could stall. It will require Edmonton City Council to continue to invest in our downtown, particularly to make the development of this park and other important catalyst projects like streetscaping a priority in the upcoming fall budget. Continued momentum in both public and private investment downtown requires us all to work together and come to consensus on the type of community we want to see.
If you want to learn more about how our downtown is changing, what’s proposed, and share what you’d like to see develop, our development committee we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.