Around the Core (Fall 2020)

Though we continue to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 on our daily lives, many organizations in Edmonton are taking steps to ensure we still have events this fall. Some are virtual and others are physically-distanced, but all provide ways to safely connect with your community and engage with your neighbours. Here we share a variety of events planned in the core this fall, from online festivals to causes that might ignite a passion. While we’re all ready for COVID-19 measures to come to an end, it’s important to continue to stay connected safely.

CAUSES + PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

Join the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition for their annual fundraiser: Night on the North Saskatchewan. What’s usual will be passionate speakers on relevant river valley topics and the opportunity to make donations to fund conservation efforts. What’s unusual this year is that the Night on the North Saskatchewan will be hosted virtually.

If you’re interested in becoming involved in river valley conservation, then this might be the perfect introduction for you. Clear your calendar on Saturday, September 19 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and learn how you can be part of protecting one of our city’s best features. You can get more info from the Night on the North Saskatchewan Facebook page or by following Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition on Facebook.

Canadian Walk for Vets will be hosting its third “shoulder to shoulder” Canadian Walk for Veterans on September 26 and 27. While the goal was to host a walk in every province across Canada, this year will meet and exceed that with a virtual walk, enabling the event to reach anyone with an internet signal. This year’s focus will be on thanking active and veteran military personnel as well as front-line medical workers, first responders, and all those who have provided essential services during the pandemic. Included in the $20 registration fee, each participant will receive a commemorative coin dedicated “to those who rise to the challenge of service before self.” Proceeds from this event will go to Courageous Companions who provide service dogs to military veterans and first responders. If you are interested in participating, you can either walk, run, bike, or exercise by yourself, or you can organize a group to do a physically distanced display of physical activity. Just make sure to register on canadianwalkforveterans.com before the end of the event on September 27.

The final installment of the five-part How To: webinar series, How To: make Edmonton’s winter sidewalks safe + accessible to all is organized by Paths for People and features students from the University of Alberta School of Urban and Regional Planning. This free event will be a venue to discuss the City of Edmonton’s current strategies for clearing winter precipitation from sidewalks and brainstorm alternative approaches. Some solutions might include community efforts, bylaw enforcement, and even more advanced options, including autonomous equipment. Sign up on Zoom to join the public talk on Tuesday, September 22 from 7 to 8 p.m. You can register and add the event to your calendar on eventbrite.ca.

FUN AND GAMES

What do you get when you mix the board game Clue, Pokémon Go, and Harry Potter? Witchcraft and Wizardry Edmonton by CluedUpp games, that’s what. On Saturday, September 26, grab some friends, dress up in cloaks and pointy hats, and get ready to solve a mystery. The event is self-guided, and start times are staggered between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., so you won’t have to worry about social distancing and can just focus on having a good time. The ultimate prize is having fun, of course, but there will also be awards for best dressed, quickest time to find out whodunit, most creative team name, and more. Go to cluedupp.com to register.

Check out downtown’s newest outdoor market, Al Fresco on 4th. Located on 104 Street between Jasper and 102 Avenue, this market runs Saturdays from 11 to 4 p.m., with the last market of the season on September 19. With extended patios, food trucks, and more, this market makes a great weekend excursion.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Are you an entrepreneur who is stressed about your business, not to mention life in general? Or are you interested in entrepreneurship as a career path? Check out The Hustle YEG, an entrepreneur collective led by two local entrepreneurs. Jay Downtown is President of Oodle Noodle and co-owner of the River Valley Company, among other things. April Prescott is a meditation and mindfulness coach, yoga teacher, and co-founder of Shady Ape, among other things. Join their free webinar, Entrepreneurial Well Being Today and Everyday, put on by NAIT’s Mawji Centre for New Venture and Student Entrepreneurship. This webinar is on Monday, October 19 from 12 to 1 p.m. and will focus on how mindfulness can help you as an entrepreneur and end with a Q&A. You can also subscribe to their podcast, YEG Hustle, from wherever you get your podcasts.

FESTIVALS

Watch over 150 of the world’s best films created in the last 18 months at the Edmonton International Film Festival (edmontonfilmfest.com). This Oscars-qualifying festival has been taking place in our great city for more than 30 years. EIFF is the place for high-quality, diverse cinema in genres ranging from comedy to documentary and everything in between.

In addition to film showings, the festival includes Q&A sessions, filmmaker chats, gala screenings, local filmmaker spotlights, and more. Everyone’s welcome, whether you’re a film connoisseur yourself or just interested in expanding your cinematic horizons. The festival takes place from October 1 to 10, and you can purchase tickets on their website. Depending on restrictions at the time, the festival will either be virtual or held at its perennial location, Landmark Cinemas Edmonton City Centre.

With winter just around the corner, that means no more physically-distanced BBQs, fewer walks with friends, and still no concerts, sporting events, or indoor mass gatherings. The good news? We’ve got LitFest, Alberta’s nonfiction festival (litfestalberta.org). Get acquainted with a new book, series, author, or even a new-to-you genre. LitFest is going online this year from October 15 to 25. You can still expect the regular masterclasses, panel discussions, live readings, and author Q&As, but there will be some live elements as well, which will aim to get people off their screens, promoting an immersive reading experience, and partnering with local businesses as appropriate. Also, for the first time, LitFest includes podcasts. In partnership with the Alberta Podcast Network and the Edmonton Community Foundation, LitFest will start off with a mini-podcast festival from October 1 to 3. There will be masterclasses, workshops, panels, and interaction with the best podcasters from Alberta and around the world.

Gingerbread Treasure

There is only one like it left in the core—a Queen Anne style home. “You can describe it as your typical gingerbread house,” says Dane Ryksen, a heritage building enthusiast who shares the city’s history on his Instagram account @_citizen_dane.

The uncommon style of architecture, named after the 18th-century queen, was popular during the 1870-1890s, Edmonton’s first development boom, Ryksen says. The style blended medieval and newer tropes, borrowing heavily from 15th- and 16th-century architecture. Some traits are three-story asymmetrical layouts, turrets, red brick, wrap-around verandahs, and ornate spindlework.

The only remaining Queen Anne style home in the core is the Stocks Residence (9907 103 Street). The Stocks Residence was built in 1906 by John Stocks, Alberta’s first deputy minister of public works. It is currently an unprotected private residence. The other Queen Anne style home constructed in the core was Secord House. It was built by Richard Secord, a Conservative politician and founder of McDougall & Secord, but was demolished in 1968.

Explore the Core

Of all the seasons, Edmonton is known for its summers: festivals, the intense heat, and sunny days. Autumn in our city is often overlooked. During fall, the river valley explodes with warm colours as the sun provides the final days of warm weather. This season can be quite short, smothered by a winter that crashes down overnight. Here are some walking trails in the core to help you enjoy autumn while it’s here.

ALBERTA LEGISLATURE

The Alberta Legislature is the first pick for this list, despite it not technically being a trail. The government building is surrounded by 23 hectares of paths, monuments, manicured fields, fountains, and trees. Come equipped with a big sweater, hot chocolate, and a camera.

VICTORIA PARK

No list of walking trails in the core would be complete without mentioning Victoria Park. This trail is beautiful but has some elevation change into and out of the river valley. The multi-use trail starts at around 100 Avenue and 116 Street. Walk west along Victoria Park Road, which curves onto the Groat Road Bridge, but be sure to turn left onto River Valley Road before crossing the river. Take your next left again at the other end of Victoria Park, and you will return to where you started. This path is about three kilometres.

Another option is the network of paths within Victoria Park. For those who are walking to Victoria Park, the best way to access this network is to walk down the staircase and 100 Avenue and 120 Street.

97TH AVENUE TO IRENE PARLBY PARK

So you’ve spent some time at the Alberta Legislature grounds, but are hungry for more autumn air. Starting at the Alberta Legislature, head east. You’ll know you’re going the right way if you’re on a paved multi-use path, not a road. This six-block walk runs parallel to 97th Avenue. It’s a short walk that straddles Rossdale and downtown, providing sights of both valley and city. At the end of the trail, Irene Parlby Park is only a couple blocks further down 97th Avenue.

EZIO FARAONE LOOP

This trail is another short expedition, no longer than two kilometres. It starts at Constable Ezio Faraone Park, providing great views of the fall colours of the river valley, North Saskatchewan, and the High Level Bridge. Starting at the top of the staircase, the trail runs northwest. Be prepared for a decline. When you reach the intersection at the edge of Victoria Park, turn left. At the next intersection, turn left again onto River Valley Road, and complete the loop by following the path parallel to 109 Street.

Eerie Edmonton

The Yards explores some of the core’s spookiest spots

There’s a chill in the air this time of year and the night is quickly descending. As you walk down a darkened street you feel a tingle up your spine. Is it the wind, or is there an eerier explanation?

Downtown Edmonton has its share of old haunts, so if you thought you were safe from the paranormal in Edmonton’s core, think again. With Halloween fast approaching, The Yards explores some of the core’s spookiest spots.

Hotel MacDonald and the Horseless Hoofbeats

The historic Fairmont Hotel Macdonald (10065 100 Street) is a longtime fixture of the core, opening its doors to visitors for the first time on July 5, 1915. But one of the hotel’s longest-running residents doesn’t voluntarily walk the halls in search of the spa; it gallops. One of the hotel’s most famous spooky stories is the legend of hoofbeats galloping around the eighth floor, the otherworldly racket of a workhorse that allegedly died when the foundation was being laid in 1914.

For those who aren’t scared by the concept of ghastly animals, the hotel reportedly has its fair share of human ghosts, too. Like the ‘boatman,’ the ghost of a 1913 sailor who sailed the North Saskatchewan River as part of the fur trade.

He appears as a man smoking while seated in a beautiful wingback chair. The sixth floor in particular seems to be a paranormal hotspot; hotel staff have told stories of calls from rooms that are vacant and doors that are mysteriously locked from the inside.

Whether or not these specters are good-hearted is up for debate, but stories like radios tuning into nonexistent 1950s era music stations certainly make it seem like the ghosts are looking for a good time. After all, the Hotel Macdonald was one of the first establishments to acquire a liquor license after prohibition in Alberta ended in 1924, making it the wingding hotspot in a then-relatively small town of 63,160.

McKay Avenue School and the Haunting of Rob Hlady

The Historic McKay Avenue School Archives & Museum (10425 99 Avenue), originally built in 1904, is popular with paranormal investigators and amateur thrillseekers alike. The old schoolhouse, which was also the site of the inaugural legislative assembly in 1906, is reportedly home to many spirits, and visitors report being spooked by feelings of being watched, strange noises, and water taps found running. A well-known recurrence is the blinds moving on their own accompanied by eerie laughter of students past.

One famous ghost that haunts the halls is a construction worker named Peter, who allegedly died in 1912 during renovations to the building. There is no archival evidence of anyone named Peter dying in 1912, but it has not deterred those who seek out McKay Avenue’s otherworldly population.

Be careful when contacting the dead. In the late 1980s, technician Ron Hlady, who was working at McKay at the time, began to notice strange events. Doors unlocking, furniture moving in other rooms, light switches going on and off, phone lines lighting up with no call to answer, and motion detectors picking up invisible movement. During a session in which Hlady successfully contacted Peter with a Ouija Board, he accidentally called upon another spirit that followed him home and terrorized his family.

Hopefully this doesn’t scare off visitors entirely. The beautiful building now serves as the Edmonton Public School Archives and is a fascinating museum that contains 1950s and 1880s era schoolhouses, and plenty of other resources about the history of education in Edmonton.

Alberta Block and the Lobotomized Caretaker

It’s a late-night walking home on Jasper Avenue. It’s nearing Halloween when the nights get longer and the leaves rustle in the wind. When passing the Alberta Block Building (10526 Jasper Avenue)—the old CKUA building—if the scent of cigar smoke is in the air with no smoker in sight, don’t be afraid. It’s only the smoke of the undead.

Rumour has it that the specter of Sam, a 1950s caretaker who was lobotomized after making threats against Premier Ernest Manning, played a part in CKUA’s choice to leave the building. On the CKUA website, an article about the move calls the Alberta Block “probably haunted.”

Sam’s cigar smoke has shown up in places like a women’s bathroom at night, accompanied by running faucets. Several employees of decades past have reported feelings of someone watching them, or even seeing an apparition of Sam, who apparently enjoys singing—fitting for the building’s history.

Sam is not alone in his singing: in 2009, a group of paranormal researchers recorded an unknown girl’s voice singing “go back, all the way back.” Seems like the building’s spirits have some amateur singing aspirations. CKUA began to broadcast out of the building in 1955 and left in 2012. The building is now owned by RedBrick real estate, and houses multiple businesses. Interestingly, the paranormal research and rumours slowed once CKUA left the building. Maybe Sam decided to tag along to their new location at the Alberta Hotel.

Edmonton General and the Sinister ‘B’ Wing

The Edmonton General Continuing Care Center (11111 Jasper Avenue), formerly known as the Edmonton General Hospital was built in 1895, making it 125 years old. This hospital has seen two World Wars, two pandemics, a Great Depression, and countless other smaller tragedies. No wonder it’s haunted.

The most common legend is that of the B Wing, a reportedly closed wing that is rife with hauntings. The distinct smell of sick humans lingers in the wing, despite it supposedly housing no patients. The 8th floor formerly housed the pediatric area and in this area, the sounds of children running around and crying can be heard, along with the sobbing distraught spirit of a mother seeking her lost child who disappears when seen.

There are also stories of a nameless construction worker who perished while working on the basement, whose phantom still roams the halls.

But there are more than a few mysteries surrounding the B wing of the hospital, some of them unrelated to ghosts. A spokesperson for Covenant Health denies the existence of an empty wing. A report for 2014 by the Alberta Health Services lists a B Wing that is still fully functional, which was built in 1959. The largest mystery about the Edmonton General Hospital is where these rumours come from: how can there be a haunted abandoned wing if there is no abandoned wing? The confusion and creepiness surrounding the Edmonton General Hospital and this supposedly cursed wing remain unresolved.

The Yards spoke to Dr. Rodney Schmaltz, an Associate Professor of Psychology at MacEwan University, whose research focus includes pseudoscience and why humans believe in the supernatural, to find out why humans are attracted to the supernatural. The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

Why are humans so fascinated with the haunted?

Rodney Schmaltz: There is curiosity about the unknown. People are interested in the afterlife. But you can go broader. There are people who aren’t spiritual but are interested in things like haunted houses. You can draw an analogy with horror movies. When you watch a horror movie, neurotransmitters release endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin. You get this natural high.

The interest, especially in regards to exploring haunted houses, is similar. When going into a haunted house, you’re relatively certain you’re safe: you can always run out. It’s a safe way of activating neurotransmitters that are associated with positive emotions. I look at commercial haunted houses like Deadmonton and how popular they’ve become. Even though it’s counterintuitive because it’s frightening, if you look at the footage of people going through haunted houses, it’s a scream followed by a laugh. It’s a way to elicit these positive emotions.

Can you talk about the phenomena of hauntings?

Rodney Schmaltz: What’s fascinating is why we experience a haunting. Plenty of people report that they’ve been in a haunted house or had an unusual experience in one. A lot of what drives the experience of a ghost or being in a haunted place is the expectation.

Researchers sent people into the Hampton Court Palace in the U.K., supposedly the most haunted place in Britain. People that expected to see or believed in ghosts reported unusual experiences. People that didn’t believe or didn’t expect ghosts didn’t experience anything. Everybody went to the same place, but that expectation was the factor towards what was experienced.

What could cause people to think they have a supernatural experience?

Rodney Schmaltz: Something that leads people to have these feelings of unease is infrasound. Infrasound is a sound below 20Hz. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it. If you’ve ever been to a loud concert and you get that vibrating feeling in your chest, it’s similar.

Infrasound is created by many natural things, like low rumbling pipes, thunder, or even high amounts of traffic. Haunted houses are usually quite old, and the haunting is usually centered in the basement. These are places where there’s a good chance that there are some low rumbling pipes in there.

About 30 per cent of Canadians believe in ghosts. You walk into a haunted house, and it’s cold, creepy, and all of sudden the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you feel a bit strange. Most people don’t know what infrasound is, so it’s not unreasonable that someone would think it’s a ghost. It’s not that people are irrational; it’s that they don’t know the other explanation. We’re bombarded with stories, TV shows, and movies about ghosts. Especially around Halloween, when it’s on people’s minds, if you go to a haunted place and have this experience, people then understandably attribute it to a ghost.

On the Front Lines

Edmonton charities grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations and clients

The shutdown of office towers, pubs and restaurants in the core during the COVID-19 pandemic created an eerie feeling for the residents of Downtown and Oliver. The streets resembled a post-rapture dystopia during work hours. Small groups of people lounged in parks or on cement benches by Jasper. Otherwise, things were silent.

The first presumptive positive COVID-19 case in Alberta was reported by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer for the province, on March 5. In the early days of lockdown, fears ran high. While many people were staying home and stocking up on cleaning supplies, toilet paper, flour, and yeast, service providers in the core were working to ensure they could continue to offer a place to go for those who didn’t have the resources to stockpile or a home to go to.

During the initial lockdown, conversion of the Edmonton Expo Centre and the Kinsmen Sports Centre into homeless shelters allowed vulnerable people to safely get a meal, take a shower, or access medical or housing support while physically distancing. The city reported that an average of 675 people visited the Expo Centre on a daily basis, and as of July there has only been one case of COVID-19 in the homeless population. But in July, both temporary shelters closed and organizations and those that depend on them are having to adapt once again.

That includes Boyle Street Community Services, one of Edmonton’s largest charities supporting people experiencing homelessness and poverty, which operates numerous sites and services including the Boyle Street Community Centre.

“I think if you had told me that we got to July and we have only one case [in the homeless population] I would have been surprised. But then you think about the risk factors, like travel, and the fact that the contact between snowbirds and our clients is pretty minimal,” says Elliott Tanti, who works in communications at Boyle Street.

Months after lockdown, in July, there is a long line up along the side of the bright blue and white building that is the Boyle Street Community Centre. People are waiting to cash their cheques. This inner-city bank is a unique service for people who often lack access to financial services.

There’s a blue pup tent and a large blue patio umbrella and people are set up to wait. They sit close together and there isn’t much social distancing. In that way it is no different than when you are walking down Jasper Avenue and watching people sitting on patios.

“So the line up is here and then on cheque-day, which is now the first of every month, the city shuts down the street and we put guard rails down,” explains Tanti.

Services have changed since COVID-19, he says. “This used to be a free flow, kind of in-and-out [service]. Now we have all our doors locked and security is in charge of control. You get some questions when you come in—how are you feeling, do you have any symptoms, that kind of thing.” The maximum occupation for the building has been reduced to 50 people. They still offer lunch but encourage people to take it with them outside so that others can enter the building.

“Our goal is to provide as many services as we can, but in the safest way for our community and our staff,” says Tanti. “When this first started, we as a leadership group tried to remind our staff that this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Tanti stops to joke around with a man who has long dark hair by the hand-washing station. “I’m going to whoop you,” the man, named Robert, says jokingly.

“Not today—we have to enforce social distancing so we can’t be whooping each other,” replies Tanti.

Inside, the bank is a small space with pale yellow walls. There are three clients inside, two seated in front of glass screens talking to the bank tellers. The glass partitions are the sort that are now standard on any counter where the public comes to interact. “And you can see because of the way our buildings are set up it’s a pretty tight space. This has been the biggest impact on the bank. It is still pretty busy though. People still need to access their money,” says Tanti.

It has been a time of enormous upheaval, and not just because of the pandemic. While most people were sheltered at home, the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. led thousands of people to come out to the Alberta Legislature on June 5 in support of Black Lives Matter. It also reinvigorated a conversation about defunding the police, or appropriately funding social services where the responsibility of these gaps have fallen to police officers.

The calls to better fund social services instead of relying on police services have been underway in Edmonton since 2015 with the 24/7 crisis diversion program, an integrated community response team that responds to people in distress through 211.

REACH Edmonton, an organization whose core funding is provided by the City of Edmonton, coordinates the service on behalf of various social services organizations, including Boyle Street, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), and Hope Mission. The goal is to divert calls from police, particularly calls that are better handled through social services.

“There was a real understanding that people in non-emergency crises don’t need to engage with emergency services. So how can we support people during those times and leave the space for the police to do what they need to do?” says Madeleine Smith, Co-Director, Community Initiatives at REACH.

As a part of the Edmonton Council for Safe Communities, the only council of its kind in Canada, REACH also attempts to look at the root causes of why people feel unsafe in the community and to consider the underlying factors of crime. “At very early times in their lives when the roots of crime and disorder start long before there’s any engagement with the police,” says Smith.

During the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the partners did a mixture of triaging services through 211 and engaging with people in the streets to build relationships, provide food and clothing, or rides to the Edmonton EXPO Centre that was converted to a day-use shelter and used for COVID testing.

The first 211 call about COVID-19 was on January 31, and since then, 20 to 30 percent of calls to 211 have been about COVID-19.

The first call into the CMHA distress line was on February 2. The number one reason for calls to the distress line have been for mental health, but there is a rising concern at both Boyle Street and CMHA about an uptick in domestic violence.

Before the pandemic, many calls into the hotline about domestic violence would typically come in during the workday or late at night when the abuser was sleeping, which may not be an option with many working from home. Tanti says there is a similar issue in identifying child abuse as reports would often have come through teachers at school.

“That’s definitely something we have been watching for really closely,” says Emma Potter, Director, Crisis and Navigation Support Services at CMHA. “And we have only in [July] started to see our numbers go up around issues related to domestic violence.”

Katherine O’Neill, chief executive officer for YWCA Edmonton, says that even identifying the issue of domestic violence in a pandemic has been tricky. “Normally, a crisis comes and goes quite quickly, but we are going to be in a crisis situation for a year or longer. This is extraordinary for a non-profit to keep on top of,” she says. “Since this crisis has happened we have been absolutely overwhelmed with requests for support.”

The YWCA offers counselling, and specializes in domestic violence cases, on a sliding scale depending on income and what a person is able to pay. The current estimated waitlist would be a year long.

O’Neill says the increase in domestic violence “comes down to the fact that there is a lot of stress in the home economically and having the children in the home more […] When you put all that together in an unhealthy relationship, it can lead to violence.”

She adds that not all violence is physical either—there can be financial abuse and people withholding funds.

“We really need to make sure that as a community we recognize that this can happen in any household and abuse can happen in many forms,” she says.

Despite the challenges, a move to online counselling has given some opportunities for the YWCA to expand their reach. They have been able to assist with counselling services as far as Iqaluit.

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

There are still many unknowns for social services in the core during COVID-19. Information from health officials and requirements, such as mandatory masking, are changing swiftly.

Both Tanti and Smith have talked about the struggle to keep up with information, and the flexibility to address the gaps that they see. “People are really struggling to deal with a changing environment, changing practices, [and] changing expectations,” says Tanti.

As this article goes to press, the Edmonton municipal government is passing a requirement for mandatory masking on transit and in all indoor public spaces.

The uncertainty extends to funding availability and financial implications as well. In May, the Alberta government announced $30 million in emergency funding to charities and non-profits to support them during the pandemic, but organizations like Boyle Street are also donor-funded. “I have been taken aback at how generous Edmontonians have been. We have seen smaller donor donations, but a lot more of them,” says Tanti.

Still, it is hard to predict the long-term financial implications of COVID-19. A ballooned city and provincial budget and increased deficits could have an impact on the delivery of future services. We may not see the systemic impact of COVID-19 for some time. There are financial hardships for many families through job loss or access to childcare, and family poverty could be on the rise as a result.

“As of yet I don’t think we have a clear picture of what [funding going forward] looks like and I don’t think those government bodies have had those conversations yet either. There is a fear in lots of people’s minds in our sector that the financial struggle that COVID has landed the country and province in will serve as a basis for a decrease of programs, which is the exact opposite of what we need right now,” says Tanti.

There is also concern about the closing of the emergency shelters at the Edmonton Expo Centre and Kinsmen Sports Centre. A joint letter dated August 1 and signed by nine local groups, including the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights and EndPovertyEdmonton, argues that the closure will lead to issues in vulnerable communities.

“While we recognize the temporary EXPO Centre was established to respond to COVID-19 needs, its closure on Friday, July 31 is going to have severe impacts on the city,” the letter said.

The letter called for immediate action, including a joint-proposal from the Government of Alberta and the city for a new day-use shelter and for more funding to groups that do street outreach, and for “immediate resource mobilization” to groups that are having to fill the gaps of government programs.

While over the summer there has been a sense that people are eager to return to normal, the climbing number of positive COVID-19 cases reminds us that the virus is still around, and our current environment may be with us for some time. The fears of the early days have somewhat ebbed, and the hoarding of toilet paper has stopped, but the social upheaval continues.

SUPPORT PHONE NUMBERS

  • Community and Social Services Helpline: 211
  • Edmonton Police Complaint Line: 780-423-4567
  • Alberta 24-Hour Mental Health Line: 1-877-303-2642
  • CMHA Edmonton 24-Hour Distress Line: 780-482-4357
  • Edmonton Sexual Assault Centre 24-Hour Crisis Line: 780-423-4121
  • Alberta ONE LINE for Sexual Violence: 1-866-403-8000
  • Access 24/7 Addiction & Mental Health Services: 780-424-2424
  • Kids Help Line: 1-800-668-6868
  • Child Abuse Hot Line: 1-800-387-5437
  • Teens Helping Teens: 780-428-8336
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010

EMERGENCY SHELTERS

  • Lurana Shelter | Crisis Phone: 780-424-5875
  • SAGE Seniors’ Safe House | Crisis Phone: 780-702-1520
  • WIN House | Crisis Phone: 780-479-0058

Two peas in a pie

The owners of Die Pie and Pêche Café adapt to survive a pandemic

Last spring, Die Pie, Edmonton’s first vegan pizzeria, was already facing challenges. Its once-prime location on Jasper Avenue faced an onslaught of construction that severely limited access for customers. Co-owners Neil Royale, Thomas Goodall, and Karuna Goodall were also juggling two businesses after opening Pêche Café in the Quarters the previous fall. Then, came the pandemic.

“As soon as we couldn’t operate, we started losing money because no one stopped charging us. Rent was still due every month and all the utility companies and our insurance companies were charging us,” explains Royale, who is the head chef of Die Pie.

The trio consolidated all of their businesses—they also operate a ghost kitchen called Seitan’s Disciples—into the Pêche Café space under the Die Pie name. The 97th Street and 102 Avenue location is twice the size of the Jasper Avenue space, making it easier to follow physical distancing requirements for dining in. They launched a new menu that was a fusion of the three restaurants’ offerings.

At first, customers were eager to visit. “When we first reopened in June, we were quite busy. But as the weeks went on, it slowed down,” says Royale. “I think people are still pretty weary of eating in dining rooms.”

There weren’t any vegan pizza joints in Edmonton when Royale opened the original Die Pie in August 2017 with his sister, Karuna Goodall, and her husband, Thomas Goodall. Karuna now works alongside her older brother as the sous chef at Die Pie. Three years later, the restaurant remains an anomaly in Edmonton’s meat-heavy dining scene.

But for Royale, the concept was a no- brainer. A Red Seal chef who graduated from NAIT’s culinary arts program before working at several illustrious hotels in Vancouver, Royale was raised as a vegetarian.

“I always wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant. I had an allergy to dairy as well, so I started playing with vegan cheese and really liked cooking vegan food,” says Royale. Pizza was always one of his favourite foods, and he mastered Neapolitan-style pizza while working in Jean George’s Culinary concept restaurant, Market.

The new restaurant, nicknamed Die Pie 2.0, has folded in aspects from Pêche Café, such as desserts and lattes featuring their barista oat milk. “It’s a special recipe we have. It steams really perfectly for lattes,” boasts Royale. They also make all of their vegan cheeses in-house. Rosso Pizzeria in Edmonton serves Die Pie’s vegan mozzarella, and Die Pie sells four types of vegan cheese under their brand Kaju, meaning “cashew” in French and Hindi. The most popular menu items tend to be playful takes on fast food items and bar food–mac and cheese, wings, and a Big Mack pizza similar to the beloved burger at a certain popular fast food spot.

There’s one definite upside to having only one restaurant. Before, Royale didn’t get to work with his sister very often. “We hadn’t worked together for probably a year so it’s great to be back working together,” says Royale. “That was one thing that was really sad when we were in self-isolation – we missed making pizza together.”

Waiting for the LRT

Downtown LRT construction continues to cause frustration for area businesses and residents

As Valley Line LRT construction and utility relocation continues to disrupt a large stretch of 102 Avenue, some in the area are frustrated by the impact it has had on their bottom line.

Catherine Medak, owner of children’s clothing store Alligator Pie, located in Manulife Place, estimates she has seen a 30 percent drop in business since the road was closed in January 2018. Medak’s frustration also stems from periods where construction seems to sit idle for several months at a time.

“You try to give [customers] a heads up before they’re coming and sometimes, they’re willing to venture out and find their way to you,” Medak says. “But in many instances, they hear ‘construction’ and they don’t even want to come.”

“I would say many businesses are suffering like we are in Manulife [Place],” she added.

Downtown Edmonton Community League president Chris Buyze shares some of these concerns. In addition to being bad for traffic and bad for businesses, he takes issue with how such a large stretch of 102 Avenue— from 96 to 103 Street—had to be closed all at once. He feels the impact could have been reduced if materials were brought over as needed as opposed to using parts of 102 Avenue as a laydown area for storage.

Buyze also questions the lack of wood hoarding, as he says the chain link fencing being used to fence off the area “is just not appropriate for the downtown core.”

“There are a lot of creative things that could be done around a site like this that has the potential to be there for several years,” Buyze says. “It’s such a large project to the city that it needs to look as attractive as possible […] so that businesses in the area do not suffer as a consequence of what it looks like and the amount of street area and stuff that is closed off.”

“Overall, everyone supports the LRT.” he added. “It’s just can we do it a little bit better moving forward.”

TransEd spokesman Dallas Lindskoog says while he understands how taking up such a large amount of space could appear detrimental to the neighborhood, construction would have taken longer if they had less space to work with.

“You try to give [customers] a heads up before they’re coming and sometimes, they’re willing to venture out and find their way to you. But in many instances, they hear ‘construction’ and they don’t even want to come.”

Catherine Medak, owner, Alligator Pie

“To an extent, I’m not surprised people are starting to question, ‘aren’t you done yet,’” he says. “People are getting tired and we’re doing our best to make it easy and as less impactful to the public as we can.”

City spokesman Quinn Nicholson added that the use of chain link fencing as opposed to wood hoarding helps keep the area visible for pedestrians, and that it also helps reduce crime on construction sites.

Lindskoog says that LRT construction on 102 Avenue is expected to finish sometime this year as scheduled. However, he says the area may still need to be closed to traffic beyond the end of 2020 as they need to do electrical work and testing once construction is complete.

When completed, the Valley Line LRT will run from 102 Street and 102 Avenue to Mill Woods, with an interchange at Churchill to connect to Capital and Metro lines.