Elmwood Park Community League welcomed neighbours and community members to their grand reopening on Saturday, August 19. The event aimed to set the community off on an invigorated path forward, following years of losses and bad luck.
Originally developed in the 1940s and 1950s as a community for returning World War II veterans, the area is now full of families, seniors, and everyone in between.
“This (neighbourhood) was really meant as a welcoming place for veterans, and now it’s a welcoming place for everybody. You’re not going to get a neighborhood like Elmwood Park anywhere else,” said community league president Morgan Wolf.
The loss of their hall to arson in 1993 was a huge blow to the vibrant community, said Wolf. While residents rallied to make the best of their other neighbourhood amenities, a lack of volunteers and funding eventually led to the loss of Elmwood Park’s Olympic-sized skating rink as well.
“At that point, we were just two buildings with some grass,” she said. Community league operations and events moved into the skate shake for the now-demolished rink, and residents once again began looking forward.
In an attempt to beautify the grounds surrounding the skate shack, a community garden was started, along with raised beds built by volunteers.
“That was step one, and then the Yellowhead (conversion) project came along,” laughed Wolf.
“Once we kind of got on our feet, they took the rug out from under us a little bit, and took away a good chunk of our leased land.”
With the help of casino funds, the community league was able to reposition the garden, and a massive landscaping project was undertaken in the green space behind the skate shack, complete with a gazebo and fire pit, new trees and shrubs, and ample space for outdoor events.
Finally, Elmwood Park is moving full steam ahead in its revitalization.
“Now even without infrastructure, even without a hall, this puts us on our feet,” said Wolf.
“Now we can start asking for money for garden plots for rentals, that’s some income. If you want to rent out the hall at Elmwood Park, well now you have a beautiful green space to go with it. We’ve got an outdoor kitchen, you can have grills now. You can have wedding photos here, you can have family reunions here.”
“We’re focusing on what we do have and we’re going to keep building on it,” said Wolf.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin was on hand at the August 19 event, along with City of Edmonton Metis Ward Councillor Ashley Salvador. Both remarked on the beauty of the space, and the efforts of community members to transform it.
“I do know that you had a number of obstacles to overcome to get here, and I think that really speaks to the resilience and the determination that you have, and the care and compassion you have for building a better community,” said Salvador.
“I said to Morgan (Wolf) as soon as I walked in, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this space has been fully transformed’, and it looks gorgeous,” said Irwin.
“You’ve really made the space just super, super precious and something that will be loved for many generations to come.”
Wolf also expressed her gratitude for the community league board and the volunteers who gave their time at casino events and in the community in order to pull off the green space revitalization.
“We all work casinos and we don’t know why. And now here, we can see it. You can put your hands on it. This is what your nine hour shift at the casino did right here and you can use it anytime.”
While the tiny community sandwiched between Yellowhead Trail, Fort Road, 122nd Avenue and 82nd Street has dealt with more than its share of hardship over the past years, the future looks bright to Wolf.
“There is magic in this little pocket park,” she said.
“(Today is) like the first step into the future, the great unknown future.”