The Sweetness & The Stress

Scott McKeen reflects on his time as Ward 6 councillor

I was up on stage under hot lights, giving out awards, for what seemed like two hours. I began to sweat. Feel a bit dizzy. Then I thought: I might pass out, right here.

We rushed to my car after my duties concluded. My able assistant Rebecca took the wheel, while I nauseated in the passenger seat.

A few kilometres down the road is when it happened. Somehow, Rebecca got the car stopped, my seatbelt unbuckled and reached across to my door—at some risk to her ensemble—as I held my hands over my mouth in a futile attempt to … you know.


We laugh about it now. We laughed about a lot of things in the Ward 6 office. Just as we grieved and raged and panicked and planned.

Constituents come in all shapes and personalities. The vast majority are kind, even under the stress of a waterline break or a late bus. But any group 80,000 or so will have its outliers.

The Ward 6 office staff took the brunt of it. The boss, Roxanne Piper, was with me from the start. Rebecca Visscher does communications and policy work. Sydney Gross worked with us part-time and we enjoyed her expertise in planning. Rachael Putt, now working in housing policy, taught me so much about the tragedies and travesties causing people to end up on the street. Amy McBain, now working in the private sector, was my first policy advisor and my campaign manager in the 2017 election. She ended up romantically partnered with the campaign manager from my 2013 campaign. They have a boy, ahem, they did NOT name Scott. Francis is a delight, nonetheless. Also joining us for a time were Kalie Stieda and Melissa Bui, who both went on to support Edmonton’s social service sector during the pandemic.

The two things I will always remember about being a city councillor are the stress and too-often brief human connections with humble people who imbue Edmonton with its sweetness and passion.

I was privileged to attend hundreds of events large and small. But it was often the small ones by community leagues, multicultural groups or social service organizations that swelled my heart.

So I felt a tremendous burden of responsibility and then struggled afterwards with doubts about my votes.

Yet I leave with pride over several things. The Ward 6 office and council made huge strides on homelessness, though the work is far from complete. We were able to get council’s near-unanimous support for a motion demanding action from Ottawa and the Kenney government on the overdose crisis. We also did a ton of stressful, strategic work in the background to ensure Downtown Edmonton will have a major park opening in about 2024.

I met so many talented artists and musicians. Sadly, we are brainwashed from birth to think culture created elsewhere and backed by corporate America must be better. It is not.

As for the stress of the job, I felt like I was always fighting my personality. I am a large-part shy. I am definitely sensitive. I’m prone to anxiety. Yet City Council is tasked with making huge decisions. An infill development in a mature neighbourhood seems as threatening to the community as running LRT from southeast Edmonton, through downtown, to the far west end.


But I’m worried about boasting, humble-bragging or taking credit for work mostly done by the amazing civil service. I worry that might make you nauseated.


What you need to know about the upcoming municipal election

In the upcoming municipal election, we’ll be voting for a new city councillor for Edmonton’s core and a new mayor. Our city is growing not just in population size, but also in respect for the Indigenous communities who have made their homes here for thousands of years. Along with a new councillor, our ward has the new name of O-day’min.

Lorisia MacLeod, a member of the James Smith Cree Nation, librarian at The Alberta Library, and resident of Ward 6, said she believes that giving Indigenous names in place of ward numbers was an important and necessary change to show how Edmonton is growing.

“I also honestly feel like numbers don’t represent Edmonton or Edmontonians well but these names are connected to stories and histories—now that’s Edmonton,” MacLeod said. “We aren’t numbers; we are bold vibrant stories with deep roots and bright futures.”

MacLeod said she will be on the lookout for a candidate who puts their best foot forward when it comes to Indigenous issues and peoples.

“I am going to be looking for councillors who are in support of these names and are going out of their way to use and say them—even if they stumble a little at first,” MacLeod said. “I want to know that they are willing to put the time and effort into things that matter.”

Voting is necessary to the well-being of the city. The decisions city councillors make have a huge impact on our quality of life and on a wide range of locally controlled services and initiatives, such as drinking water, policing, emergency services, and property and business taxes.

Andy Gunn, an instructor of public administration who teaches local government at the University of Alberta, said that the role of city councillors is significant in providing policy direction to municipal administration—approximately 10,000 full-time staff in Edmonton—on these matters or “steering the ship,” while municipal administration is seen to be doing the detailed implementation work of “rowing the ship”.

“Causes that are unique to the city, particularly related to the quality of life, social agendas, wellness and community health, are most effectively addressed at the local level,” Gunn said. “This often works that receives little public recognition.”

There are limits to municipal power. While federal elections are administered by Elections Canada and the provincial elections are administered by Elections Alberta, local elections (which also includes school boards) occur through the provincial Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA).

Gunn said that municipalities are highly influential because approximately 81 percent of Canadians live in urban municipalities like Edmonton. Municipalities generate most of Canada’s GDP and are viewed as the source of many innovations. As city councillors do not align themselves with political parties’ platforms, they represent only the citizens’ interests.

Gunn added that Edmonton is a very ethnically diverse community and a worthwhile city councillor would be “increasingly aware of public support for dealing with community issues, supporting open opportunity to services by removing systemic biases, supporting new Canadians, and honouring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations in addition to the provision of the local services.”


Join the Downtown Edmonton and Oliver Community Leagues for an opportunity to meet and hear from the municipal candidates running for City Council in Ward O-day’min.

Wednesday, September 29th | 5PM-7PM
Matrix Hotel (10640 100 Ave NW)

For more information:

urban reserves


What would an urban reserve look like in the middle of Edmonton?

Indigenous populations in Canada are growing, especially in urban areas. According to the 2016 census, half of the population of First Nations people live in the western provinces. From 2006 to 2016, the number of Indigenous people living in a metropolitan area of 30,000 or more increased by 59.7 percent.

In the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, established in 1991, Chief Georges Erasmus and Justice Renée Dussault called Canada, “A test case for a grand notion” where people with different cultures and perspectives shared resources and power. They write, “The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.”

Urban reserves are one such way in which to try this out. They have been around in one form or another for a few hundred years. There are currently around 120 urban reserves in existence right now in Canada. One of the first modern urban reserves was created in Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan about 30 years ago.

There are two ways they have traditionally developed. The first is a reserve based near or within a city. This type of urban reserve dates back to the 1800s. The second, also called a new urban reserve, is a sort of satellite holding by a First Nation band. One example of this would be Yellow Quill First Nation owning a small street in Saskatoon, which includes a First Nations bank.


Urban reserves are a modern way of envisioning postcolonial Indigenous spaces for commerce, community and recreation.

“A lot of the current research challenges that these reserves are still very much governed by colonial norms,” said Zane Davey, a graduate student from McGill University in the School of Urban Planning. Davey would like to see more when it comes to the development of urban reserves and was personally motivated to research these areas because he sees the possibility for creating new Indigenous spaces with urban reserves.

“Right now they are at the beginning stages of establishing indigeneity and decolonization within the urban space.”

Historically, a lot of the development on urban reserves was focused on commercial or industrial growth: things that are important to a community’s success. They have not had as much of a focus on housing for community members.

But the social aspect of an urban reserve is an important consideration. “I believe that it could become a space in which culture is celebrated, where there is Indigenous housing, [such as] social housing provided to members of the nation,” Davey said.


CHIEF BILLY MORIN, the youngest chief in Enoch Cree Nation history, declined to be interviewed for this piece as he is not currently speaking about urban reserves. However, Chief Morin did an Ask Me Anything in June on this topic in conjunction with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.

“It takes time, it takes effort, it takes teamwork,” Morin said in his recorded presentation about the creation of urban reserves. “Earlier this spring my awesome City Councillor Sarah Hamilton made a motion that the city will develop an urban reserve strategy.

“First Nations have their own rights and rules, but they live under the auspices of the federal government,” Morin continued as he explained about the sovereignty of Indigenous people and why urban reserves are important.

The key ideas regarding urban reserves and why they benefit First Nations people include social aspects, cultural aspects, and urban planning.

“Can an urban reserve lend itself in a plot to the city that provides services to Indigenous people in a different way than the great service providers that already exist?” Morin asked regarding the question of whether urban reserves can also address homelessness in Edmonton.

Urban reserves would likely be able to bring in additional resources through the federal government that the province or the municipality would not be able to, to help battle issues such as homelessness and addiction.


Both Davey and Morin are working to address the stigma of urban reserves based on many people not understanding how they work.

“As soon as someone mentions a reserve being built in the city, settler conditioning definitely makes people think of stereotypes, rural and neglected areas,” Davey said. “People think you’re going to have reserve dogs running around.”

The business owners on an urban reserve also face stigma when people mistakenly believe that there aren’t any taxes paid on the land. This may cause people to resent the new business owners, but it is based on a misunderstanding of how fees are paid.

“TAXES [ARE] A BIG WORD for all Edmontonians and it is a big word for First Nations too,” Morin said. He was referring to the misconception many people have that First Nations people don’t pay taxes. In fact, Indigenous people do still pay income tax. But they may not pay property tax if they live on a reservation.

According to the City of Edmonton’s website, municipalities are involved in providing services to the urban reserve lands through a municipal fee- for-service agreement and may also play roles in community notification and in bylaw and land-use planning harmonization as the urban reserve is developed.

Davey said when it comes to educating the public, the city should be responsible for informing them about the economic benefit for the municipality through shared revenue. They should also be mindful of their bylaws and planning restrictions to avoid further imposing colonial notions of living spaces on the urban reserve. Davey argues that it is important to take the opportunity for urban reserves to have their own sovereignty in how they control the land they have acquired.

The fee-for-service that is paid by the First Nation in lieu of municipal taxes would pay for the costs of policing, fire, drainage, bylaw enforcement and all of the other services a city provides.

At the same time, Davey said it is important to take the opportunity for urban reserves to have their own sovereignty in how they control the land they have acquired.


In Winnipeg, Treaty One Territory, there is a project on the former Kapyong Barracks site in west Winnipeg, which is now Canada’s largest urban reserve. The Kapyong Master Plan speaks to the highest ideals of Indigenous city-building. They plan to use the designs from Indigenous artists and landscape architects and to promote Indigenous design.

As a part of creating their master plan, Treaty One Nation, Canada Lands Company and the City of Winnipeg worked together on a community engagement process that included neighbouring residents and businesses. They hosted a powwow at the site and gathered feedback on preliminary design and planning concepts. From that input they created a community that focused on holistic elements in urban design. There are cultural camps and education integrated with community spaces, residential areas and even stormwater management facilities.

As Edmonton partners with Enoch Cree First Nation to develop urban spaces for Indigenous people, it is a good time to imagine how the city can also help to showcase Indigenous architecture, public art, and even memorial spaces. This is a unique chance to develop Indigenous-municipal relations and showcase First Nations culture as it exists in 21st Century Canada.

An urban reserve in Edmonton is an opportunity for all of us to live together in peace and harmony.

trash talk

YEG garbage cans


Upon moving to Western Canada, I was impressed by how clean the cities are. I theorized that our closeness to nature compelled Canadians to care more for the environment. However, upon closer inspection of Edmonton it would appear that nature is one of the worst litterers.

In the core my closest neighbour is the magpie. They often swoop past my head to greet me as I walk my dog. Like me, the magpie does not seem to be a fan of musicals. Instead, they would rather chatter endlessly as I walk to the Peace Park or the 124 Street Grand Market. While the magpies are not friendly with my dog, she loves the fruits of their labour, such as a discarded chicken bone. See, our community garbage cans are not actually for waste disposal, but are fine dining restaurants for the magpies.

After a hard day of keeping pigeons and seagulls out of the city and shouting at people to stay off the lawn, the unofficial mascot of Edmonton needs some carbs and there is no better place than the trash cans of our city, but what containers are the best in the core?

(Honourable Mention)
The Explore Edmonton Barrel

These containers are typically found in the trails and in some parks. They are simple barrels with a brightly coloured wrap around them and some have a yellow lid with a small opening in the middle. Now the lid can be challenging for the magpie, but there is a higher chance of finding a delicious chicken bone. These barrels are chosen by Park Services because of their large capacity. This means they do not have to be emptied as often. Barrels that have had the lid removed by entrepreneurs seeking bottle depot cash, or barrels that never had a lid to begin with are an open delicatessen for the intelligent relative of the crow, the magpie.

Jenny Hong, Director of Corporate Waste Transformation shared that one advantage of high-capacity barrels means less disruption of the turf and park lands by vehicles servicing the cans. “Receptacles with inviting openings are so much easier for picnickers and dog walkers to use.” Perhaps the magpies are just having a picnic? Hong reported, “A lid or restrictive opening is less likely to allow animals and birds to get in, but the trade-off is the human interface. Sometimes with a restrictive opening people end up disposing of their waste beside the can. Or, they find that they cannot fit everything in there from their child’s birthday party very easily.”

(Honourable Mention)
The Black Steel Bars Basket

As far as my creative corvid neighbour is concerned, a garbage can is a garbage can. Technically, these baskets are maintained by businesses and retailers and are not the responsibility of the city. Some have an ashtray on the top, others have an inner ring great for perching magpies in search of dinner. The vertical steel bars that are designed to deter graffiti allow the birds that are flightless to make their way up from the ground. Since these cans are located in high traffic areas, they attract the rougher, more fearless magpies. Plus, the cans in the retail areas have a higher percentage of uneaten convenience store hotdogs, leftover Timbits, or day-old baked goods.

Hong reminds us, “The cans reflect the buildings we’ve built or parks we’ve developed at a specific time.” For example, the recently renamed Unity Square likely has these large capacity, black steel bar baskets so that they do not have to empty them more than once a week. The recent Brewery District has cans that reflect the thinking of today where they have prioritized sorting garbage and recycling.

Blue or Black Plastic Can

The city has been using these familiar large cans on our sidewalks and LRT stations. Blue cans are maintained by Transit Services and the black by Waste Services. The large opening makes them an excellent restaurant for our feathered friends. The cans are open 24/7, always have a table, and seemingly never run out of chicken wings. However it can be a gamble for the magpie. ETS and Waste Services regularly empty these receptacles.

In the last decade, these plastic cans brought some cohesion for Waste Services. Consistency made the containers easy to recognize and the important inviting openings encouraged their use. The larger capacity meant it was less likely to overflow like the concrete artifacts they replaced. However, change is around the corner.

Runner-up! Silver Cans of Revitalized Jasper Avenue

The small footprint of these cans mean they may fill quickly, so the birds will have to make reservations for a meal before the cans are serviced. The intelligent, impish magpie that prefers to hop can also use the grooved design to climb the side. The top of the can has a smooth, wide ring for surveying the menu and enjoying appetizers.

These new cans are a departure from the familiar black and blue plastic cans. Neighbourhood revivals and other special projects like Imagine Jasper Avenue are creating beneficial, inviting public spaces. There is an effort being made to match the benches, planters, and the trash receptacles. Hong shared, “Now in the downtown we have a new streetscape manual that is emphasizing consistency, but also trying to balance it with the character of that stretch of Jasper Avenue or The Quarters.”

Our best in the core magpie lunchbox is an 80’s brutalist landmark in the city, the old aggregate concrete garbage cans. While the slender metal insert of these receptacles allow for easy and frequent servicing, they still overflow quickly. The mix of concrete and pebbles give an excellent perching option for grip and comfort as the ravenous, raven- adjacent rooster looks for that discarded french fry.

Why are we feeding the magpies?

Why is there no lid or flap to seal away the waste?

Hong put it this way: “Part of the reason the city does not have cans with lids and flaps is the yuck factor. Knowing that there is debris and gunk coating the flap, even more so during COVID, people do not want to touch the flaps.” Hong went on to explain that some may have physical limitations to push a flap open and that isn’t an inclusive design. Hong added that many inquire about the lack of bear bins in our city. Again, with the pandemic, accessibility issues, and a less-inviting opening, these receptacles are not practical. The City of Calgary has told Hong they have replaced most of their bear bins.

The city is enhancing public recycling opportunities by introducing the three stream system to places like Fort Edmonton, Churchill Square, public pools, and the City Hall fountain area.

Created with research and engagement with municipalities in Ontario and BC, Hong stated the new cans, made locally, include recycling, food scraps, and garbage. The city wants to evaluate the performance of this system and continue to improve it. Unfortunately for the magpies, the new cans have a canopy over the top to protect the contents from rain and snow.

The next time the fretful feathered foe swoops from tree to signpost stalking your morning walk, tell the magpie many of their favourite restaurants are about to close. Park Services will continue to use some barrels, but they will be wrapped in coloured designs matching the new cans and grouped in threes. Hong’s final take on our unofficial city mascot is worth repeating.

“Yes, there may be some troublesome birds that pick some bones off and throw them onto the ground, but the fact that there are these readily acceptable receptacles that keep our streets clean, that keep pet waste off yards and parks spaces. That is a great way to mitigate environmental and human and animal health risks.”

Support Live Music

There’s something about a live show. Your favourite musicians, or those you’ve recently discovered, get on stage, the lights go down, the strings get a final tuning, and the room comes alive. You’re in a smaller space, a local venue, not a multi-thousand seated behemoth (although there is certainly a time and a place). The vibe is different here.

You nod to those you’ve nodded to at other shows. You know the bar staff enough to say hello and maybe they even remember your favourite beer. You know to avoid the table in the corner with the wobbly leg. This is your place. But what if it wasn’t anymore?

“In Edmonton, venues are dropping like flies, said David Lee, Naked Café’s marketing and booking manager. There’s virtually no support for venues.”

Lee stressed that if Edmonton had more of a focus on the importance of music, there could be a vibrant area in the heart of Downtown. COVID-19 has not helped the live music scene either and it has been an incredibly tough time for venues, artists and staff involved in the live music industry, with more than a few businesses shutting down for good.

“Live music venues are a fragile ecosystem, even during the best of times. This past year has pushed them to a near breaking point. We’re thrilled to be inviting artists back on stage, and while we hope that further shutdowns won’t be needed, we acknowledge that safety should be our first priority as the province reopens,” said Olivia Street, On The Rocks’ talent coordinator.

A way for the community to show its support is to attend more live music events. Here are some venues that have reopened in Oliver and Downtown or have come up with unique ways to get their music out such as live DJ streaming. Check out their sites for more info.

9910 109 Street

10303 108 Street

11740 Jasper Avenue

10030 102 Street

10524 Jasper Avenue

Sharing a magnificent, historic structure

A call for proposals to transform McDougall United Church

Acrobats, jugglers, aerialists—not what you’d usually find inside a church. But that could change as churches across Canada adapt to handle the growing cost of maintaining older spaces and the loss of rental revenue due to COVID-19.

McDougall United Church, one of Downtown’s most beautiful historic buildings, is no exception. The church is actively seeking proposals for partnerships that could see the building become a community hub while continuing to host a sanctuary for worship.

It’s long been a dream of McDougall members to use the space for more than just Sunday services.

“Our congregation has had ideas and visions of doing something with the building since the 1970s,” said Larry Derkach, chair of the church council. “What we realized is that we have a really valuable resource in the building. It is already very well used as a concert venue, particularly for choral music, but it’s an enormous building to manage. It needs a lot of work to bring it up to code and to develop it in a way that makes it suitable.”

It’s what’s known as social purpose real estate—buildings such as churches, museums, hospitals, and schools that have enough room and resources to become a place for other community groups to gather. New tenants invigorate the space while also bringing in crucial revenue. Churches, in particular historic ones like McDougall United, require ongoing upkeep.

The 111-year-old brick church takes up one-third of a parcel of land measuring 3,274 square metres. The site, located on MacDonald Drive, also includes an annex, and a large parking lot, which the church shares with MacEwan University. Before COVID, the parking lot generated a large portion of the church’s revenue, and McDougall also rented out the venue for events.

But transforming the space is about more than just bringing in additional revenue. It’s also an opportunity to engage with the community. “This whole notion of developing the church in this way fits our philosophy or value system that the church is not meant to be a standalone. We belong as a partner in the community,” said Derkach.

“The church has always been recognized for its ability to gather people. It’s a magnificent structure. People are always thrilled to get a chance to look inside,” added Paul Conway, a member of the committee.

In order to make that transformation happen smoothly, McDougall is working with Trinity Centres Foundation (TCF), a Montreal- based secular charity that aims to assist 100 churches across Canada in transitioning their property into spaces that will benefit the surrounding communities. TCF estimates that one-third of Canada’s churches will close permanently in the next 10 years.

Derkach and Conway were inspired by TCF’s pilot project with St. Jax Church in Montreal. Now referred to as St. Jax Centre, the church has partnered with more than 50 organizations, including Cirque Le Monastare. The 30,000 square foot building’s high ceilings make it ideal for indoor circus performances.

Other possibilities for the McDougall space include an indoor trampoline park, a multi-faith venue or a performance space. The congregation remains a major stakeholder in what happens to the building, as is the United Church of Canada. The committee responsible for the church’s future is open to all ideas, meaning the sky’s the limit for what the building and land could become. “Yes, there are restrictions but it’s amazing how much flexibility there is. We are hoping that the historical aspect will be preserved,” said Derkach.

McDougall is actively seeking development partners and will be reviewing proposals at the end of September. Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can contact Steven Pearson at Remax or visit the McDougall Development Opportunity Listing here.

A purposeful process

What it takes to change a name

Statues and monuments honouring men and women who were, quite bluntly, racist, have been defaced and toppled all over the country for the past couple of years. It’s easy enough to remove something tangible like a statue, but how do you remove a name?

That’s the question Oliver Community League has been seriously grappling with since 2017. The league had been discussing a name change for years and even featured the history of Frank Oliver and Papaschase in The Yards that summer. OCL president Robyn Paches said the league thought hard about how to do that and hit a lot of roadblocks because, “The idea of changing an entire community’s name is daunting, and no roadmaps to successfully accomplish it exist.”

Paches said to the best of his knowledge, changing a community’s name in a purposeful way has never been done before. There are names that have changed on a whim or for other reasons like Kitchener, ON, which changed its name from Berlin in 1916 for obvious reasons.

Part of the challenge is Edmonton doesn’t actually have a renaming process, only a naming process. The Naming Committee is a volunteer-appointed group that mainly names new parks, public assets, and greenfield developments. The committee did recently work on renaming the wards, however.

The process will not be quick, but OCL is ensuring it will be done properly. In the summer of 2020, OCL began working with City Hall devising what community engagement would look like and what work needed to be done.

“We decided about halfway through that it would be best if the community league engaged a consultant, like a private partner to do the engagement, because there was no way we were going to do it justice with a board of 15 volunteers, with a community of 20,000 and major Indigenous nations and other marginalized communities,” Paches said.

After putting out a call for proposals, the community league is close to choosing a partner to work with. Paches said
the ideal situation is to do wide-ranging town halls and surveys; take the time to develop trust and relationships with Indigenous leaders; and ensure that they’re involving marginalized communities and BIPOC.

The process could take anywhere from six months to a year. The new name will then be taken to the Naming Committee for their approval. From there it will go to City Council for a vote as all public assets will need to be renamed (Oliver Pool, Oliver Park, Oliver Arena, as well as official documents).

“OCL is taking the time to do it right and hoping to document as much as possible because we acknowledge that we’re going to be a template for a lot of other communities in the country,” Paches said.

Community engagement is key and everyone is invited to participate and give their feedback.

“The goal of the engagement is to identify values that people see in the community. What is the identity of the community we call Oliver? Then we’ll work to find names that reflect that identity,” Paches said. ■