What to do in Edmonton while waiting…

A small group of us have been here in Edmonton since last Thursday – getting ready for the15th Biennial IASC international conference.  It’s been a long few days of meetings for the Executive Council, held before all the delegates join us in Edmonton, Alberta. A lot of time has been taken up reviewing the proposals for the next few regional conferences (Rome in November, Berne, and then Alaska) and exploring options for developing the Association.

Downtown Edmonton - racing in the street
Downtown Edmonton – racing in the street


We have also had some time to explore the town a little. On the architecture side Edmonton does not really win any prizes, with the standard set of concrete buildings and high rise office blocks you could be almost anywhere and, as the Edmonton Journal last Friday noted, “the unremarkable-to-hideous nature of Edmonton’s 1950-90 building era…resulted in a bad reputation and a lot of complaining”.


But, it’s not the built environment that makes a city – it’s the communities created by those living there – it’s how they work collectively to create and share a living space. Pleasing architecture and a well ordered urban landscape help – but what really makes a place interesting is the people – and the relationships they develop to the place where they live.

Attempts to create a ‘sense of place’ in an area that was settled only reltively recently by European migrants can be seen in the memorials and sculpture that dot the city.  In the park below the Provincial Legislature building there is a statue titled

Donald Alexander Smith, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company and Founding Member of the Canadian Pacific Railway
Donald Alexander Smith, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Founding Member of the Canadian Pacific Railway

‘Perseverance’ dedicated to the merchants who created the agricultural wealth and built the railroads, there’s an everlasting flame dedicated to policemen who have died in service, the WW1 and WW2 memorials with their long lists of names, and a sculpture to Ukrainian migrants that came over to make a living off the land, to name just a few.

Alberta has just elected a new premiere, Rachel Notley, who’s manifesto includes a commitment to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2018 (from it’s current level of $10.20/hour), and there was a massive impromptu festival in front of the Legislature building on Sunday to mark the end of 44 yrs of Progressive Conservative party rule, with promises to make the government more accountable and clean-up political cronyism.


Leticia Merino, Past President of IASC and Kate Ashbrook (Open Spaces society) at the Black Dog
Leticia Merino, Past President of IASC and Kate Ashbrook (Open Spaces society) at the Black Dog

There’s a definite dynamic to the city, and although the town centre is a ‘dead zone’ there are plenty of activities going on elsewhere. Whyte Avenue, for example, in the south part of town is alive and busy, full of small craft shops, bars and cafes. We whiled away a pleasant couple of hours on the rooftop patio of the Black Dog pub, planning the development of the IASC short courses on commons. A local craft brewer has linked the price of its ‘flagship’ beer to the price of crude oil – the beer costs 10% of the price of a barrel of crude – which means the beer price has gone down – not great for the local energy-based economy but good news for beer lovers. And, we’ve explored eating establishments, winding up one evening at the Sugar Bowl on 88th street, a lively eatery with good food and an impressive range of beers. On Saturday Kate Ashbrook (Open spaces Society) joined in with a demonstration on GMOs, and there’s a fight to preserve an open spaces for farmer’s market and other community activities.

In short, scratch below the surface, and you soon find that there’s plenty to do in Edmonton, while waiting for the conference delegates to arrive…