Around the Core: Winter 2019

Christmas and beyond in downtown Edmonton means cooler temperatures, that’s for sure. But it doesn’t mean there’s any less to do in the frozen core. Concert venues are ramping up for Christmas and New Year’s festivities. And once that’s over January brings a raft of new opportunities for fun. Drink wine, paint a picture, enjoy one of many performances of Winterruption.

/// Nov. 27 – Dec. 8
The Citadel Theatre and the Downtown Business Association present the second annual Dickens Fest! Featuring the Pavilion of Lights, a holiday market, as well as holiday teas and dinners. And of course the Citadel has a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, until Dec. 23.

/// Nov 30 – Dec 23
Don’t miss this new adaptation of a holiday favourite. Citadel Theatre 9828 101 A Ave

/// Every Saturday night
$40 gets you two hours of painting instruction. Please note prices do not include food, drink or gratuity. 10125 109 Street, Edmonton

/// Dec 1 – 14
Milk Crate and the Christmas Bureau are working together on this special fundraiser, with 100% from each Candy Cane Shortbread Cookie sold to the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton. Order them by the dozen as a client gift, hostess gift, stocking stuffers, or just because… Main Floor Epcor Tower 10423 101 St

/// Dec 4 and 11
McDougall Church’s free “Come Home to Christmas” concerts Dec. 4 and 11. The iconic downtown church provides musical artists–including Ron Long, Kimberly McMann, and A/B Trio–hot apple cider, cookies, and coffee from Starbucks. Bring your lunch. Donations support E4C’s School Lunch Program. Doors open at 11:45, music starts at–you guessed it–noon.

/// Dec 5 – 23
Visit the Alberta Legislature Dec. 5 at 4:45 p.m. for the annual light up of the spectacular display at the building and on the grounds. From then on, there are musical performances in the Legislature rotunda’s grand staircase. There are free hourly building tours weekdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and weekends from noon to 5. Once it’s cold enough, there is public skating on the south grounds.

/// Dec 6
Chocolate and Coffee pairing – learn how chocolate is paired with single origin coffees and hand-blended teas. Tix $46, Credo’s 124 Street doors open for the event at 7:15 p.m. 10350 124 St NW

/// Dec 6 – 8
The holiday season isn’t complete without the full rendition of Handel’s Messiah at the Winspear. Sir Winston Churchill Square, Corner of 99 St & 102 Ave

/// Dec 7
Snap Gallery’s biggest yearly fundraiser. It’s SNAP’s last bash on Jasper Ave. before they move to Queen Mary Park. Go for the art. Stay for the party.

/// Dec 9
Enjoy yoga in a calm gallery space amongst the art. Classes are suitable for all ages and stages. Discounts available for members. Tickets at

/// Dec 12
ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Get a head start on some of your Christmas baking. This class features goodies that can be frozen or safely stored, like Earl Grey Thumbprint Cookies, Candy Cane Nanaimo Bars and Grandma’s Poppycock. 10035-105 Street, Main Level

/// Dec 13
This annual Francis Winspear Centre for Music/Christmas Bureau/The Breeze fundraiser brings singing to the masses with a lunch-hour carolling with admission is by cash donation. Sir Winston Churchill Square NW–Corner of 99 St & 102 Ave

/// Dec 13 – 15
ESO brings The Music of Star Wars, conducted by Bob Bernhardt, to the Winspear in mid December. Need a break from Christmas Music? This is your jam.

/// Dec 27
Live Jazz by Keat Aaron and the Swells and a roving burlesque performances by Whisper Sisters Burlesque at The Crash Hotel Lobby. You can also purchase a 3-course dinner by chef Nathin Bye. Crash Hotel Lobby – 10266 103 Street, Edmonton, Alberta

/// Dec 31
A free evening of music and entertainment in support of the Edmonton Food Bank. McDougall Church offers its facility at no cost and its volunteers ensure the evening runs smoothly. Pro tip: Head out the front doors to catch a glimpse of the fireworks at the Alberta Legislature at 9 p.m. (Yes, nine, don’t ask us why.) Featured are, Bill Bourne, Back Porch Swing, Braden Gates, and Celtara. 10025 101 St.

/// Dec 31
Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. Dinner, dance and hotel packages starting at $99. 10065 100 Street NW

/// Saturdays
The market has moved into its new space in the historic GWG building at 97 Street and 103 Avenue. Currently the market runs Saturdays, but Sun- days are planned. Check the website. 10305 – 97 Street

By Student Tours Canada. You don’t need to be a student. The evening starts at The Pint, 10125 109 St, and buses will squire you around the city. Purchase tickets here.

/// Jan 14 – Feb 18
Free classes at Mountain Equipment Coop., All levels: from beginner to experienced yogi. Tuesdays – 7-8:00 p.m. 11904 104 Ave.

/// Jan 23 – 26
Multiple Venues in and around the Core. Sites include Starlight, Temple, Downtown Comm. League, Cask and Barrel, Rocky Mountain Icehouse, and Abbey Glen Park at Jasper and 102 Ave. The lineup includes Wu-Tang Clan member GZA, Ezra Furman, No Age, Coleman Hell, Nuela Charles, Partner, Bully and Begonia and more.

/// Jan 29 – Feb 8
Grant MacEwan University presents Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, set during the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials and written against the backdrop of the 1950’s McCarthy-era communist scare. Theatre Lab, Allard Hall, 11110- 104 Ave

/// Feb 14
The main event in a series of Foundry Room sessions focusing on various chocolates and chocolate desserts guided by a local dessert chef. The Valentine’s Day events highlight is a Dessert Buffet featuring Silk and Slate Catering and Viva Dance Company’s “Sweet Nothings.”

/// Feb 14 – 15
Your ticket includes an all-inclusive sampling of hors d’oeuvres and wines from all over the world. Edmonton Convention Centre, 9797 Jasper Ave.

/// Feb 22, 5 p.m.
Robertson Wesley United Church hosts a night of church fun, including Bible Trivia, Name That Hymn, and Hidden Secrets of the Church. An all-ages event featuring complimentary root beer floats. 10209 123 St.

Best in the Core

Each year the Yards staff and board members sort through a myriad of great things to do, places to eat and sights to see in Edmonton’s downtown and beyond. We try to bring you experiences we love; food that brings joy, new experiences for readers to try, and great places to go. And if there’s something we missed, let us know! Tell us on social media, snail us a mail, or even collar us in person. We’d love to hear from you.

Best Place to Be Seen

JW Marriott Lobby Bar (Photo: William Frost)

WINNER: JW Marriott Lobby Bar
High ceilings, gleaming marble bar, and a variety of seating arrangements ranging from cozy to comfortable-group, make this the ultimate hangout when you’re in the mood to be noticed. Signature cocktails, charcuterie and cheese boards, and fresh seafood to please all of your senses. Hit up Happy Hour every day 3 – 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close. (10344 102 St, 780.784.8580, Braven – The Lobby Bar)

RUNNER UP: Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market (new location)
The Quarters on the east edge of downtown is the new home of the farmers’ market, and it’s still a hot destination every weekend. Pick up everything you need while staying warm regardless of the weather. (YEGDT Market)

RUNNER UP: Archetype
With four custom designed workout studios for yoga, HIIT, spin and boxing classes, plus specially trained coaches, this is more than a gym – it’s an Instagram-worthy lifestyle. (10344 102 St Suite 501, 780.784.8585, Archetype)

RUNNER UP: Alex Decoteau Park – Dog Off-Leash
You and Fido are sure to make new friends at this popular off-leash park–bring a ball and show off your pup’s fetching skills. (10230 105 St, Alex Decoteau Park)

– Sydnee Bryant

Best Brunch

OEB Breakfast Co.

This all-day breakfast spot has risen well above the classic eggs benny fare with its exquisite breakfast poutines featuring everything from philly-style beef short-rib and brown butter hollandaise to lobster and shrimp scrambled eggs. Sides include duck-fat fried potatoes and chicken blueberry sausages. It’s open every morning and serves breakfast all day so Tuesday morning can be the new Sunday brunch. (10174 100A St, 587.520.0936 or 110240 124 St, 780.250.0788, Eat OEB)

RUNNER UP: Blue Plate Diner
After faithfully patronizing this restaurant for 15 years in the warehouse district, fans were devastated when co-owners John Williams and Rima Devitt announced they were leaving 104 Street, but their new larger location near 124 Street does not disappoint. They’re also running brunch every day of the week. Try the Blue Plate Breakfast–it comes in a large and a small size for $14 and $9. The new space houses a bar and a spot for coffee drinkers. (12323 Stony Plain Rd, Blue Plate Diner)

RUNNER UP: Yellowhead – Drag Brunch
Once a month Yellowhead Brewery runs Drag Brunch. You purchase tickets for one of two seatings at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. and for $30 you get an all-you-can-eat buffet brunch. It’s an all-ages venue but patrons are warned there could be use of adult language and subject matter. (10229 105 Street NW, search Eventbrite for Yellowhead Drag Brunch)

– Jodine Chase

Best Below Ground

Prairie Noodle Shop

WINNER: Prairie Noodle
You cannot get more underground than the radical mix of Alberta flavours and ramen. The wizardry of Chef Eric Hanson and the crew of the locally owned shop is featured in seasonal menus, but they are constantly exploring their passion for original and inviting cuisine. This winter, experience their latest creation or savour a ramen bowl with one of the shop’s sensational umeboshi eggs. (10350 124 St, 780.705.1777, Prairie Noodle Shop)

Descend to Cavern for a morning caffeine injection, a stimulating lunch meeting, or to snag some triple crème brie for your evening. Visit this charming space to get cultured. (10169 104 St NW, 780.455.1336, The Cavern)

RUNNER UP: The Shoe Shine Shack
Get your kicks collecting sneakers? Have them detailed at this subterranean secret. Shane and his team offer dazzling results while you wait–or drop your dressier shoes off for a polish and do curb-side pickup. (10359 104 St NW, 780.236.5428, The Shoe Shine Shack)

– Sydnee Bryant

Best Reason to Download an App

WINNER: Ritual
A must for any downtown foodie this app helps you find walking-distance deals at restaurants and coffee shops. Skip the lines and pre-order meals, or be the office hero by mastering the group-ordering function. Collect points for all of your actions (bonus points if you choose from the Wellness Menu), and earn reward money to cash in at any of nearly 30 spots.

RUNNER UP: What’s the Deal?
Never again miss a Caesar Sunday or a Taco Tuesday with restaurant specials all in one place. Find local deals sorted by day of the week or location. What’s the Deal

RUNNER UP: Lime/Bird Scooters
E-scooters mean going out for lunch and making it back on time for the afternoon meeting. Cover a lot more ground downtown while revisiting your youth. Just try it. Lime | Bird

– Miranda Herchen

Best (reason to visit) Lobbies

WINNER: Hotel MacDonald
Stop into the lobby of downtown’s 100–year–old railway hotel at any time of the year and you’re in for a treat. There’s always something on display–sometimes it’s a Lego replica, other times you’re greeted by Smudge, the hotel’s canine ambassador. At Christmas time, the replica gingerbread hotel is not to be missed. (10065 100 St NW, Fairmont Hotel MacDonald)

Hotel MacDonald (Photo: Mack Male)

Epcor is using the spacious lobby of its building in the core to showcase artists with permanent installations, visiting shows, and musicians. The lobby is a welcoming public space with free wifi and collaborative seating which makes it a great gathering place. The rotating exhibit space features local artists, complementing the massive permanent sculpture of a Grizzly bear feeding on salmon, by Edmonton born artist Dean Drever. Over the lunch hour there are sometimes musicians. The lobby boasts the country’s only Bösendorfer Oscar Peterson Signature Edition Piano, one of twelve in the world. (10423 101 St NW, EPCOR Lobby)

– Christopher Sikkenga

Best Day Trip

WINNER: The University of Alberta Botanic Garden
Although closed for the season, from Dec. 6-8 the Garden hosts the Luminaria, lighting the paths with thousands of candles. And the events calendar of the former Devonian Garden highlights upcoming date nights, operas, tea ceremonies, festivals and more. Come spring, beauty and magic await. Explore the first Indigenous Garden in Canada and wander through the five-acre Alpine Garden. Find serenity in the Kurimoto Japanese Garden and meditate in the breathtaking new Aga Khan Garden. (51227 AB-60, 780.492.3050, University of Alberta Botanic Garden)

RUNNER UP: Bruce Hotel Steak Dinner
For more than 20 years the hamlet of Bruce has been the answer to the age old question “Where’s the beef?” Make a reservation for you and your arteries chop-chop! (104 Main St Bruce, AB, 780.688.3922, Bruce Hotel)

RUNNER UP: Blindman Brewing
With wheat and barley surrounding Lacombe, there’s no better place to have a local, craft beer. The taproom is all about savouring local flavours and sampling their award- winning ales. (3413 53 Ave, Lacombe, AB, 403.786.2337, Blindman Brewing)

– Christopher Sikkenga

Best Indoor Oasis

WINNER: The Citadel
When the weather outside is chilly and unwelcoming you can take refuge in the forest of the Citadel. Get closer to the sun seated near the second floor pond or sink into the cozy solitude of the flora below. The lush environment is a wonderful escape from the day’s task list. Grab a coffee in the cafe or contemplate the sculptures populating the space. (9828 101A Ave, 780.425.1820, The Citadel Theatre)

RUNNER UP: City Hall
The striking architecture and pale stonework provide a glowing space for quiet reflection. Plus, there are numerous displays on local history and pieces from the City of Edmonton Public Art Collection. (1 Sir Winston Churchill Square, 780.442.5311, City Hall)

Food can be a comfort for many and is what makes this spot a sanctuary. Wind down in Epcor Building lobby that houses Buco Pizzeria and the enticing sandwiches of MilkCrate. (10423 101 St, Epcor Tower)

— Christopher Sikkenga

Best Date Night

Tzin Wine and Tapas

WINNER: Tzin Wine and Tapas
This wine bar keeps things intimate with room for only 24. With its renowned wine list, there’s a pairing for any of the delectable small plates. If you can’t decide on what to share, Executive chef Corey McGuire makes things easy with his carefully selected “feed me” option of multiple tapas, complete with dessert and wine pairings. Reservations recommended. (10115 104 St, 780.428.8946, Tzin)

RUNNER UP: Partake
This warm, French-inspired restaurant is known for its welcoming atmosphere where guests can take their time enjoying rustic small plates, a rotating wine and vermouth list, and specialty cocktails–one of which is purple. (12431 102 Ave, 780.760.8253, Partake)

RUNNER UP: The Lobby Bar
Inside the JW Marriot, the newly opened, living-room style bar has signature–and stiff– cocktails, a daily happy hour and daily drink specials to go with small-plate creations. (10344 102 St., 780.784.8580, Braven)

– Miranda Herchen

Best Grab-n-Go

Farrow, 10240 – 124 Street (Photo: Maxwell Poulter)

WINNER: Farrow 124 Street
Best known for their creative rotation of sandwich options, you’ll find lots to love here (including a vegan choice), like the Grick Middle, complete with a fried egg from Four Whistle Farms, bacon, smoked cheddar, rosemary aioli and greens. Factor in fresh baked goods such as cronuts, muffins, brownies, and puff tarts plus coffee made from premium beans and you have the perfect lunch to go. (10240 124 St Suite 6, 780.249.0085, Farrow Sandwiches)

RUNNER UP: Culina 2 Go
Fresh food made from locally sourced ingredients, available in individual sizes for lunch and family style sizes for dinner. Don’t forget about breakfast to go on the weekends! (12019 A 102 Ave, Oliver Exchange Building, 780.250.7044, Culina Family)

RUNNER UP: La Mision Burritos
The food you love but faster: the popular restaurant Rostizado holds a burrito pop-up on their patio daily between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (10359 104 St, 780.761.0911, La Misión Burritos)

Build your own plate with one, two or three items, plus rice or noodles. Choose family style or a signature dish, and throw in some made-to-order samosas for good measure. (10404 Jasper Ave, 780.424.4829, Tiffin | India’s Fresh Kitchen)

– Sydnee Bryant

Best Reason to Leave the Core

Italian Centre Shop

WINNER: Italian Centre Shop
For 60 years, the late Frank Spinelli’s business has been the city’s primary one-stop shop for specialty food items from Italy, Europe and around the world. It’s much more than pasta and gelato. The store features a deli with a selection of more than 200 cheeses and 100 meats for all your charcuterie needs. With three locations, including the landmark shop in Little Italy, a good cannoli is never far away. (10878 95 St, Italian Centre Shop)

The wonderland of affordable furniture and household accessories is worth the visit, even if you don’t buy anything. Stock up on essentials under $10 and dig into a plate of Swedish meatballs. (1311 102 St, IKEA)

RUNNER UP: Jollibee
This is a must-try-at-least-once restaurant where sweet-style, loaded spaghetti meets crispy chicken and a Big Yum. The pineapple juice is an essential accompaniment for the Filipino fast-food chain’s favourite features. (3803 Calgary Trail, 587.405.1333, Jollibee Canada)

– Miranda Herchen

Best Ways to Volunteer

WINNER: Oliver and Downtown Edmonton Community Leagues make important contributions to the vitality of the core. Like to gather with your neighbours? Can play a role supporting your league to host events bringing neighbours to get together? Are you an urban planning wonk? Lend your skills to your league’s efforts to bring the voices of residents to the planning and development table. Start with a membership if you haven’t joined already and benefit from perks like free access to the downtown Y or the Rogers community rink once a week, membership in the community tool library, and discounts on admission to city community rec facilities. (Oliver Community League | Downtown Edmonton Community League)

RUNNER UP: NEXTGEN calls on those ages 18-40 to take the city’s future into our own hands by creating a city that attracts and gives voice to the next generation by connecting people, places, communities, and ideas. Volunteer for working groups or events like Pecha Kucha Night, bank hours, and get tickets to Sonic Field Day events. (Edmonton’s Next Gen)

Best Public Service

WINNER: 24-Hour Mental Health Service at Royal Alex
In June a new 24/7 mental health service launched out of the Royal Alex, The program offers support to those struggling to navigate the sometimes complicated variety of mental health and harm reduction services on their own. A team of healthcare professionals offers a centralized point of contact for service access. Seek out services by phone at 780.424.2424 or visit Anderson Hall at any time. (10240 Kingsway, 780.735.4723, Royal Alexandra: Addiction & Mental Health Access 24/7)

RUNNER UP: Business Link
Do you have a business idea? Business Link can help turn your business dreams into reality. This non-profit team supports entrepreneurs to start and run their small businesses. They have specialized units for Indigenous and newcomer entrepreneurs and can provide advice on everything from creating a business plan, to legal and accounting matters. (#500 10150-100 Street NW, 780.422.7722, Business Link)

– Jodine Chase

Best Event Spaces

WINNER: Foundry Room
Occupying much of the second floor of the Oliver Exchange, this space is perfect for a medium-sized get-together. Friendly staff help event organizers. There are no problems getting liquor licences. Odd Company local beer is on tap and if there’s anything missing for your gathering it could well be available from the retailers on the main floor. (12021 102 Ave, 780.905.9380, Foundry Room)

Foundry Room

The entry space of the Art Gallery of Alberta has become the go-to venue for all manner of events, from political announcements (Stephen Mandel announced his Alberta Party run here) to a myriad of weddings. The adjacent Zinc restaurant is ready to cater and has a tradition of hiring supérieure sommeliers ready to assist in drink selections. (2 Sir Winston Churchill Square, Art Gallery of Alberta)

RUNNER UP: Yellowhead Brewery
This down home space fits the bill for all manner of gatherings with a casual feel that can be dressed up for a formal Saturday night. It can be a challenge finding one of those Saturdays due its popularity as a wedding venue. (10229 105 St NW, Yellowhead Brewery)

The restored Alberta Hotel building has a fabulous roof-top terrace with sweeping views of the river valley. The building also includes the versatile main floor two-storey performance event space complete with a green room and catering kitchen that can handle 140 seated and 180 standing. (9804 Jasper Ave, CKUA Radio)

– Rob McLauchlin

Best Instagramable

WINNER: Oliver Exchange Building
Formerly the West End Telephone Exchange, the Oliver Exchange Building houses a variety of cool businesses, including Brio Bakery, Culina To Go, Iconoclast Coffee Roasters, and The White Gallery. Snap black and white shots of your cronut and café au lait, or take advantage of the exposed brick walls for an artistic selfie worthy of being reposted. Bonus: the outside of the building is just as beautiful and photo worthy as the inside. (12021 102 Ave)

Oliver Exchange

RUNNER UP: Victoria Promenade
Lined with benches and trees, this stunning promenade promises a picturesque view of the river valley. With wide paths for biking, jogging, or strolling, it’s ideal for taking workout selfies. (11701 100 Ave)

RUNNER UP: Warehouse Area brick walls (behind Birks Building/ Armstrong Block)
Love a solid brick wall background for your Instagram videos and photos? You’re in luck – this historic area has plenty of heritage buildings with red brick facades. (10125 104 St)

RUNNER UP: Legislature Ground #ableg
A favourite spot for summer selfies in front of the fountain, or fall selfies with changing leaves twirling around from the many trees on the grounds. (9820 107 St 780.427.7362, Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre)

– Sydnee Bryant

Best place to E-Scoot

WINNER: Railtown Multi-Use Trail
This north-south route features an urban ride adjacent to 109 Avenue that morphs from a pleasant parky feel with shops and groceries, trees and strollers–down a gentle slope past The Ledge and on to the caged confines of the High Level Bridge. Lots of variety!

RUNNER UP: Oliver Exchange
Located on the east-west “Oliverbahn” bicycle thoroughfare this former telephone exchange building makes a great stopover and destination. Its businesses are sweet and savoury and its leafy location makes you forget you’re on the prairie.

RUNNER UP: Legislature
Although Edmonton’s rental scooters are put away for winter, The Alberta Legislature Grounds feature acres of concrete highlighted by fountains in summer. “The Ledge” is ideal for your Bird scooter, or custom ride. (A caveat: some scooters are slowed down on the grounds)

– Rob McLauchlin

Best Child-Friendly

Love Pizza

WINNER: Love Pizza
Sunday dinner out with the kids is sure to be a hit when you tell them where they’re going, because who doesn’t Love Pizza? Kids eat free when the adults buy a regular pizza, and they can choose their own toppings. They’ll also love the Wilki Stix that come with the meal.

RUNNER UP: McKay Avenue Playground
This school playing field has always been a fun place to poke around with its gazebo and old schoolhouse, but the new playground works for kids of all ages with its slides, spongy soft play surface, rope-climbing structure and mesh-bottomed saucer swing.

RUNNER UP: Playgroups!
You don’t need to leave the core to find places for you and your little one to play indoors this winter. Urban Kids Playgroup runs Fridays from 9:30-11 a.m. at 10042 103 Street. Robertson Wesley Church runs a Moms and Dads group for parents with babies and toddlers every second Thursday from 10-11 a.m. The downtown public library has three different drop-in classes for babies, toddlers and preschoolers as well as family film screenings.

– Jodine Chase

Best Sports for less than $100

WINNER: Edmonton Oil Kings
Just like the grown-up Oilers except these young guys have a recent winning history. Last year the Oil Kings went 42-18-4-4, and finished first in the Central Division. The cheapest tickets are around 20 bucks–$23.50 with fees and taxes. Beware if you’re on a budget though, Rogers Place still charges NHL prices for food and drink. Fill up the fam before and afterward. There’s fast food nearby at City Centre Mall, but be careful, the hours are shorter than other malls–closing at 6 p.m. most days, 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

RUNNER UP: FC Edmonton
This professional soccer squad plays out of the rather antiseptic Clarke Stadium but the fans warm up the atmosphere as Commonwealth Stadium looms to the north. The Canadian Premier League team finished last season out of the playoffs but with a much better record and attitude at season’s end. This is a micro-local team that saw as many as seven Edmonton-area players on the pitch. You might recognize some of them from community soccer!

RUNNER UP: Edmonton Prospects
These boys of summer would be on top, if it was summer. Unfortunately, the Best of the Core is frozen to the core at this time of year, so the Prospects hibernate at the bottom of this list. Come summer though, picturesque ReMax Field in Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley will reverberate to the crack of the bat and adult snouts will be immersed in cool foam. It might not be the Prospects, though. The lease is still up in the air. Pro tip: Don’t park next to the ballpark–stay a block away. That “rock star parking” you snagged could earn you a cracked windshield or a major dent, courtesy of a foul ball.

– Rob McLauchlin

Dwayne’s Home

Perched on the edge of the river valley, surrounded by historic century-old and mid-century buildings, a tired mid-century era motel turned backpacker’s hostel and now shelter for those on the edge of homelessness, is about to undergo another transformation.

Known as Dwayne’s House, the unconventional shelter, founded by Dave Martyshuk in 2013 and run as a for-profit entity, has been controversial. It has drawn criticism not for its concept but for the reality of its tenure in the old motel. It receives people discharged from hospitals or released from prison on referral, and provides room and board. It claims to serve three meals a day and has access to some classic 12-step style addictions-support services. While these folks may otherwise have been on the street, neighbouring residents and businesses have been concerned about the quality of housing and care and a lack of actual supportive services for the tenants.

There have been a series of fires, disorder, deaths and the unsolved disappearance of tenant Amber Wilson two years ago. Wilson was 31 when she vanished. She needed medications to deal with seizures and has not filled her prescriptions. And there was a suspicious death in late October of a 54- year-old resident. Homicide detectives were investigating.

Started by Martyshuk, Dwayne’s Home had been operated by Brad Kamal and has since been taken over by Homeward Trust, a not-for-profit outfit that targets homelessness. CEO Susan McGee said her main aim is to ensure residents are taken care of. She said Homeward Trust will work with existing staff to transition residents out of the facility. Kamal says Homeward Trust has been amazing to work with as they’re prioritizing the tenants above all else.

After news of the possible sale broke in the summer, downtown Councillor Scott McKeen reiterated concerns about the conditions for residents but also worried that the sudden transition for the 150 residents would turn into a housing crisis. It’s not clear what will become of the facility once the building is sold.

And although neighbours say the tenants need a place to live, many will not be sorry to see an end to the mayhem that has surrounded the facility.

Hidden art treasure

The Royal Alberta Museum

Carefully unfurling the edges of Blood Tears, the iconic canvas she was reframing, conservator Cyndie Lack was delighted by what she found. Hidden beneath the original wood strainer was a line of text–the missing conclusion of a lengthy inscription.

It reads: “God bless the survivor who spoke to live.”

Painted by revered Indian Group of Seven artist Alex Janvier (age 86), Blood Tears is a visual diary of the artist’s ten years at the Blue Quills Indian Residential School, near St. Paul. The reverse of the canvas features a handwritten list of the losses experienced by residential school students–loss of language, loss of culture, loss of family–which, until Lack’s discovery, ended on a bleak note.

Now it speaks of outspoken survival. An expert with 30 years experience, Lack was hired to stretch the double-sided canvas that serves as the centerpiece of the Royal Alberta Museum’s new residential school exhibit.

While the conservator expected to uncover several hidden design elements (the original frame was too small for the artwork), she certainly hadn’t expected to add a new layer of meaning to this already significant canvas.

A statement of loss–and of resiliency–Blood Tears was featured on the cover of early Truth and Reconciliation reports. It became emblematic of the trauma caused by residential schools. The missing line underscores the importance of sharing this story, and its discovery came at a time when the RAM was changing the way it approached Indigenous content.

“There’s a sincere effort by this museum to make sure that they tell the right story; tell the truth,” says Tanya Harnett, professor of art and native studies at the University of Alberta and a member of the Carry-The-Kettle First Nation. Harnett serves on the museum’s Indigenous content advisory panel and was guest curator for the residential school exhibit.

Formed in 2014, the 24-person panel helped develop storylines and exhibits, as well as choose objects for display within the new human history gallery.

This level of engagement with Indigenous peoples has been a long time coming.

In 1988, an exhibition of First Nations artwork at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, called Spirit Sings, sparked controversy across the globe. What made Spirit Sings particularly contentious was the sponsorship of Shell Canada Ltd.

The Lubicon Lake Nation said the sponsorship gave the false impression that Shell supported Indigenous rights, when it had in fact been drilling on disputed lands for years.

Initially intended to support the Lubicon land claim, the boycott expanded into a critique of the power relations and representational practices of Western museums and resulted in the creation of a task force on museums and First Peoples.

“There’s a sincere effort by this museum to make sure that they tell the right story; tell the truth,”

Tanya Harnett, professor of art and native studies at the University of Alberta and a member of the Carry-The-Kettle First Nation

Jointly sponsored by the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian Museums Association, this national body put forward guidelines for establishing lasting partnerships between these two parties.

One of the recommendations in the task force’s 1992 report was to ensure Indigenous peoples were involved in the planning, research and implementation of exhibits and programs that include Indigenous cultures.

Blood Tears
Painted by revered Indian Group of Seven artist Alex Janvier (age 86), Blood Tears is a visual diary of the artist’s ten years at the Blue Quills Indian Residential School, near St. Paul.

“The Spirit Sings was a flashpoint,” Harnett says. “Everyone around the world changed their philosophy: [museums] had to be including first peoples globally.”

The task force report went further than consultation. It dealt with issues of repatriation, addressed the need for diverse hiring practices and challenged the representation of Indigenous cultures as dying populations on the verge of extinction due to their inability to adapt. It’s taken more than 25 years, but when visitors walk through the doors of the RAM’s human history gallery, they won’t see dioramas or mannequins that treat Indigenous people like exhibits. Instead, archeological sites and ancient ways of living from building pithouse shelters to hunting pronghorn–are brought to life through illustration, maquettes and animated videos.

Indigenous stories are woven throughout the gallery, not clumped together or relegated to a pre-history space. And contemporary stories and traditional knowledge alike are told through a first-person narrative.

“The museum tried very hard to have people speaking behind the objects,” says Peggi Ferguson-Pell, president for the board of the Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society when the group purchased Blood Tears for the museum.

“The Spirit Sings was a flashpoint. Everyone around the world changed their philosophy: [museums] had to be including first peoples globally,”

Tanya Harnett

From the sinister outline of a priest to the disembodied leg, splayed across the centre of the canvas, the painting relays the experience of residential schools in a way that no other object could. “It’s pain personified,” she says.

The What Makes Us Strong exhibit examines how Alberta’s Indigenous communities share knowledge and values, passing them down through generations.

Earlier exhibits were criticized for presenting a culture in decline, instead of a vibrant, living one. “They seemed to be talking about us,” Harnett says. “Not to us. And not with us.”

The gallery may no longer treat Indigenous people as a “civilization from long ago,” but it’s far from perfect, says Miranda Jimmy. A member of Thunderchild First Nation, Jimmy is the co-founder of RISE, a group of citizens in the Edmonton region committed to reconciliation. “I feel like they took one step forward on a path where they could have taken a hundred steps easily,” she says.

Her biggest concern is the museum’s repatriation practices. While the museum’s website indicates it is working on building new relationships, current regulations only apply to Blackfoot items.

The Royal Alberta Museum declined to provide comment for this story.

In the absence of new repatriation agreements, Jimmy would like to see the question of acquisition addressed. While many objects in the museum were bought or donated, others were obtained in more questionable ways.

Jimmy would know better than most about these questionable methods. In 2016, she spent two months reviewing audio tapes and textual materials of John Hellson for the provincial archives.

At one time the Curator of Ethnology at the Provincial Museum and Archives of Alberta, Hellson developed a reputation as both a respected anthropologist, and a thief. (In 1981, he pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property from the University of California’s Lowie Museum of Anthropology. “While working for the Government of Alberta, he was paid a finder’s fee for items that were acquired, sometimes by any means necessary,” Jimmy says.

Earlier exhibits were criticized for presenting a culture in decline, instead of a vibrant, living one.

“Let’s start telling the truth about museums,” Jimmy says. “Let’s talk about how [to find] these arrowheads, someone decided to rip up a bunch of land that was a ceremonial space and took everything they could.”

“[Let’s] say 50 or 100 years ago, that’s the way we did things, and we try to do things differently now.”

Harnett acknowledges there are gaps and flaws in the new museum. For example, she doesn’t believe the annihilation of the buffalo–an event responsible for ending the traditional way of life for many Prairie nations is adequately covered. “The loss of the buffalo was everything to culture,” Harnett says.

Still, she is proud of what the advisory panel has achieved.

On a Sunday afternoon in November–a little over a year after the museum opened downtown–a woman listens intently to a recording of Janvier in the residential school exhibit. Her daughter watches also, as the artist recalls being “thrown into the back of a truck” and taken to residential school.

“A lot of people went to their graves without telling their story,” he says, his gravelly voice suddenly cracking with emotion. “That’s why I painted Blood Tears. It’s the story of Canada.”

It’s hard to tell if the girl understands–if she grasps the pain in Janvier’s voice or the trauma depicted in his painting.

But at least it’s there–for her and for the other 400,000 people who visited the new museum in the past year.

“That’s what I love about the last line,” says Ferguson-Pell of the Friends of the RAM. “We are speaking about it; we’re not covering it up. We’re having those conversations, as painful and as difficult as they are.”

YEG Cheap Eats

Green Onion Cakes, $2
Pub 1905
Every afternoon at 3 pm Pub 1905 puts an appie on sale. The best deal is on Thursdays with green onion cakes, regularly $4.50, on for $2.00. Other deals: Mondays bring John Ducey hotdogs for $3. Tuesdays is $3 for two, count ‘em two sausage sliders, on Fridays it’s 50 cent wings, and Saturday you can get a half- order of Nachos for $5. 10525 Jasper Ave

Meat Patty, $2.50
7-11, Downton and Oliver
When 7-11 introduced Jamaican meat patties to the masses it kicked off a whole new category of cheap eats. OK, so it’s not a gourmet pot pie from Meat Street Pies but then their food truck isn’t always parked on a nearby corner. There are three 7-11s in the core offering 310 spicy calories for less than a penny a piece.

Plant-Based Breakie Sandwich With Beyond Meat Sausage, $7
Pêche Café
Pêche Café straddles the border between the Downtown Edmonton and Boyle Street Community leagues and it’s already built up a reputation for being a reasonable- priced, convenient sandwich and coffee shop with great food. It’s open at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. on weekends. You can get a fresh-baked brioche loaded with plant-based egg, kaju chedda, and beyond sausage for only $7. Toss in a single-origin locally-roasted 8 oz coffee for $2.50 and that’s an upscale downtown breakfast at Boyle Street prices. Pêche is brought to you by the team at Die Pie. 10255 97 Street

Pretzels, $3
Beer Revolution
$6 truffle fries; $12 nachos and two-for-one pizza after 9 p.m. The tasty pretzels are the cheapest item; the fries the most filling. 11736 104 Avenue. Mon-Sat. 3-6 p.m

Miso Soup, $1
Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya
Looking across Jasper Avenue at the Commodore from a table at Let’s Grill sampling half price snacks is one of Edmonton’s more satisfying experiences. Not that the Commodore doesn’t have its place, it’s just that more, say, sophisticated tastes can be found across the street–for less money–if you go between 2 and 5 p.m. A stomach-filling meal for two of half-price snacks and two bargain cups of miso soup, cost before tip but with tax $11.39. The piping hot and tasty chicken karaage with Japanese mustard sauce is just the ticket for a winter afternoon in Edmonton. And the Tako Yaki balls with octopus inside tastes of a hot summer day at a street fair in Japan.

Also available for half price, rice or miso soup for a dollar, seaweed salad, edamame or tako wasabi for $2.25, agedashi tofu for $3, five chicken wings or tako yaki for $3.75, and chicken karaage for $5. 10709 Jasper Avenue

Last Manors Standing

On Oliver’s busy 100 Avenue, at 112 Street, stand three homes on a larger lot. There are signs prohibiting parking, and usually a half-dozen parked vehicles. Each of the houses has several entrances, and one has an old sandwich board tossed out back: “Roosevelt Manor – Rooms for Rent.” Across the street, at the General Hospital, is a statue of Jesus, his arms raised in intercession – his back to the houses. The three large homes were recently acquired by Westrich Corp., and a plot of ground pending sale by the city.

They’ve been there since 1912 and it shows. That’s when the Hudson’s Bay Company sold off the last of its reserve land to individual Edmontonians. Work started immediately on the construction of large, narrow, foursquare-style homes that these three remaining buildings exemplify, all of which were completed in 1912. Then came the Great War. Then the Dirty Thirties. By the 1940s, most of the houses were subdivided and used for boarding. The people who lived there were ordinary folk.

That remains the case today. Now, they are slated for demolition. The house in the middle of the block, 11218, looks shabby, and the other two are in various states of disrepair as well. Until recently, they have all been occupied – lodgers living in 11218 and 10012 and a business renting office space in 11230. In their place will (likely) be erected high-rises – nothing terrible in and of themselves. However, it’s not what’s on the land that matters so much as what will be missing. Dan Rose of the Edmonton Heritage Council calls it “texture.” “When these houses go, we will lose two things: one, our connection to history … and two, affordability.” While Rose laments the loss of the physical history, what he will miss the most is how these manors function in community formation by adding to the cultural, ethnic, and economic landscape of Oliver.

Oliver has slowly evolved from being what the Edmonton Historical Board calls the city’s “original West End” to the most densely populated community in Edmonton. Many fashionable homes built decades ago have been replaced, first by walk-up apartments and then by highrises, with many of the few that are left split into flats or renovated to become retail or office space.

Even as these three homes give way to highrises, just down the block sit three other historic homes owned by the City of Edmonton. The John Lang Apartment, the Dame Eliza Chenier Residence and Lester N. Allyn House were acquired by the city in the 1960s in order to be torn down in order to twin the High Level Bridge. That plan fell through but the homes were then slated to be replaced by a highrise. They were saved in 2003 through the efforts of the Oliver Historical Committee. Last winter, the City of Edmonton stated it is “committed to maintaining” the homes, which lie on the west side of 112 Street, between 99th and 100th Avenue. Two are currently behind fencing, with Rose confirming stabilization work has been done. He expects the City will soon release more details on the future of these structures. Let’s hope the City finds a way to preserve these precious vestiges of an earlier Edmonton.

Foraging for food in the concrete jungle

Greens, eggs and ham in #yegdt

For the 12,000 people living in the downtown core, a quick trip to the grocery store for fresh tomatoes, eggs or bacon for breakfast can be a challenge. We’re all looking forward to the 2020 opening of the new Loblaws CityMarket, under construction now at 103 Avenue and 103 Street. Until then, let’s explore some of the options core-dwellers have to replenish their pantries this winter.

Farmers and produce markets

The Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market’s new indoor location on 97 Street and 103 Avenue brings everything from fresh eggs, local produce, vegan cheese, keto meals, and ocean seafood. It’s a great weekend option.

Winter access tip – The market is half a block from the Royal Alberta Museum LRT/ pedway exit.

On Wednesday afternoons from 2-4 p.m., All Saints Cathedral, 10035 103 St, runs a fresh produce market at wholesale prices. Vicar Quinn Strikwerda describes the downtown grocery situation as a “food swamp”–a term describing areas where groceries are of questionable nutritional value. He says, “having enough fresh fruit to eat is not a privilege, it’s a human right.” The market is open to everyone.

Convenience stores

There are about a dozen chain convenience stores and mo–and–pop shops downtown. Most carry canned and packaged foods with The Dollar Store in City Centre Mall offering the largest selection. Drug marts Shoppers and Rexall both have limited fresh and frozen groceries, with the two-story Shoppers in the east end of City Centre Mall carrying eggs, frozen vegetables, fruits and meals, fresh bread, and lots of packaged foods. The several 7-11s and Circle Ks downtown also carry milk, butter, eggs and bread. The chains all have competitive prices. The family-owned convenience stores have higher prices but are willing to carry what you’re willing to buy on a regular basis; most have eggs, milk and butter, and sometimes bacon.

Grocery stores near Downtown

To the east of Downtown at 95 street on 102A Avenue is United Grocers, a fabulous Asian grocery store that carries fresh western and Asian foods, many staples, and treats. Pocky anyone? On the western edge across 109 Street at 102 Avenue is the full-service Save-On Foods.

Winter access tip: Find your nearest 1, 2, or 5 bus stop – these buses will take you to either store.

Grocery stores farther for transit users

The No. 5 bus will also take you to the Italian district and Spinelli’s Italian Centre. Or take the LRT east to the 82 St. Save-On at the Stadium stop, or to Southgate’s Safeway. You can also take a bus to the Oliver Square Safeway, or the Superstore on Kingsway.

Winter tip: Acquire a fold-up grocery cart (try the luggage stores in the mall) and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it makes grocery shopping by transit.

Ready-made meals

Olly Fresco’s (107 Street and 100 Avenue, and in City Centre Mall) and Sunterra Market (Commerce Place) both have a wide selection of ready-made fresh take- home meals. 7-11 has a limited selection of ready-made salads, fruit, and sandwiches.

Winter tip: Both Olly Fresco’s and Sunterra have shops in the mall, and you can order a full meal or even Christmas dinner for pick-up from Sunterra.

Specialty foods

Evoolution sells olive oils just north of Jasper Avenue on 104 Street and a little further along, Cavern sells cheese and charcuterie. Venture north of the core to 107 Avenue or east to Chinatown you will find a vast selection of African, Halal and Asian markets.

Winter tip – Cavern will sell you a subscription cheese/charcuterie selection and they’ll even deliver!

Delivery options

Our local produce delivery service, The Organic Box, has been joined by Vancouver-based Spud and both serve the core. Save-On also delivers but it can be tricky to set up the website order – choose the “Mayfield” store with time slots from 7-9 a.m. or between 5 and 10 p.m.

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.

Best of The Yards

With five years under our belt, I felt that our annual Best in the Core issue would be a great time to explore some of the stories we have published in these pages over the last few years.

The Yards has helped instigate important conversations for Edmonton, such as our exploration of the Oliver community’s controversial namesake, Frank Oliver (Canada 150 and some tougher history for Edmonton, by Tim Querengesser), which highlighted the painful legacy of Oliver’s actions for Indigenous Edmontonians. Conversations around the proper way to confront this legacy continue, and The Yards will continue to be here to reflect the community’s voice.

Alongside discussions of the unique challenges of high-density political campaigning and service-journalism pieces on navigating condo boards, we have covered emerging controversial issues such as safe injection sites (Are Injection Sites Safe? by Mary-Helen Clark). With stories re-printed in Alberta Views and nominated as finalists for the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA) awards, we have endeavoured to shine some light on the Downtown and Oliver perspective for a broader audience.

This last year, Yards writers Bashir Mohamed and Dustin Bajer were selected as AMPA finalists–Mohamed for his important article on a woman who challenged segregation in 1920s Edmonton, and Bajer for a defence of the value of heritage plants and the ongoing Goji-treed legacy of early twentieth century Chinese market gardens that once dotted our river valley.

With bike lanes generating civic debate, Yards writer Anna Marie Sewell looked into local cycling lore (The Legend of the Lane) to sketch out the history of Edmonton’s first guerrilla bike lane, a previously untold story of Edmontonians taking a DIY approach to active transportation that pushed the City of Edmonton to follow-up with an actual official bike lane.

The common thread in many of these stories? The Yards’ hyper-local focus on our neighbourhoods, which has allowed us to dig into key local issues that are often overlooked by larger media organizations, but remain crucially important to life central Edmonton.

We will continue to be the voice of Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods, and I want to hear from you when you have stories that need to be told. This is just a sampling of the past few years, and I encourage you to check out our archives here for more of our coverage. Thank you for joining us for our first five years!