Kevin Wong and Steven Townsend have been pillars of the Parkdale-Cromdale community since they moved to Parkdale in 2014.
Becoming involved with the league happened almost by chance. “One year, Kevin and I really, really decked out our house in Christmas stuff,” says Townsend. “We ended up on the news.”
“I had always grown up in townhouses or apartments and you couldn’t really do that kind of thing,” continues Townsend. “My favourite Christmas movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, so I dreamed that one day I would have that [wildly decorated] house.”
Townsend and Wong ended up winning the Christmas light contest in Parkdale-Cromdale, and they received a note in their mailbox inviting them to the Parkdale-Cromdale Christmas celebration, where they could also pick up the prize for winning the contest.
“That’s the first time I stepped into this hall,” says Wong, and the couple have been involved at the league ever since.
Townsend and Wong have served in almost all of the positions on the league board over the years. And in all their roles, they’ve found ways to champion community and start new initiatives in many different ways.
For Wong, his goal while on the board was to champion collectivity. “It’s a collective effort on making decisions. It’s about identifying [issues and opportunities] together,” says Wong. “I believe the league’s position should always be a platform to enable people to do things they want to do, so I think that [was] my only goal: to make sure the league is accessible, [and that] the resource is accessible to people that want to do things.”
Townsend’s goal while on the board was to bring people together, “making sure that the community had an inclusive place to gather, somewhere that everyone felt welcome no matter where [they] came from.”
The couple have organized and led countless league initiatives and events. Some of those projects include the art installation for missing and murdered Indigenous people, installing solar panels on the league roof, creating the chain link fence mural, and designing the Great Edmonton North Challenge cards to help residents get to know the north Edmonton area safely during COVID-19.
Other projects included upgrading the league’s security system and financial system, moving the bookkeeping system online, creating two permanent positions at the league, and introducing a summer internship position.
Wong and Townsend also raised the Pride flag and the Treaty 6 flag at the league.
“Representation does matter,” says Wong. “I think more… local organizations should [raise the Pride and Treaty 6 flags].” Wong says that the provincial government raised the Pride flag for one week at the Legislature grounds, and then they took it down. “We decided to leave it [up].”
“It was meaningful not only to me, [but] to a lot of diverse community… members in our neighbourhood,” says Wong.
Townsend says there are always fantastic events and initiatives happening at the league, but creating the community garden was by far his favourite project. Realizing that the league didn’t have a community garden really convinced Townsend, an avid gardener, to become involved there in the first place so that he could champion the project.
The garden was a place to bring people together. “It wasn’t about gardening, it was about building friendships, meeting new people, getting new people involved,” says Townsend.
With the produce from the community garden, the league could celebrate Harvest Fest together. “People have a connection to where their food comes from,” adds Townsend.
For a while, youth shelters and group homes in the neighbourhood took up a few plots at the community garden to learn where their food comes from, and to build connections in the community, says Townsend.
Townsend was also involved with getting the rink operational again and with organizing Drag Queen Storytime. “Drag Queen Storytime [was] some of my favourite of [the events],” says Townsend, “just bringing that to the community and allowing people to see stuff… outside of what they might normally see.”
Wong found it difficult to pick just one favourite event, but a few that stood out were the missing and murdered Indigenous people installation, where Wong learned so much, delivering gingerbread houses to community members at Christmas during the pandemic, and the parties throughout the year, including the high tea party for the gardening group and a Hygge night, which is the Danish idea of coziness in the winter.
Another memorable event was the horse-drawn carriage that went between Parkdale and Cromdale. Wong recounts wryly that the horse got spooked and refused to cross the tracks, trapping the carriage in Cromdale for the longest time.
Both Townsend and Wong have been ceaselessly involved with the league, and they always found the motivation to take on new projects.
“When I first started here, I ran a business with four locations,” says Townsend. “I was super busy outside of here, but I still found the time. Honestly, when people go to me and [ask], ‘Where do you find the time?’ I’d be like, ‘Well, I just don’t watch TV shows.’”
“I use that time to better my community and hopefully enrich the lives of other people,” continues Townsend. “I’m not expecting everybody to do that, but I do hope that more people consider how much more fulfilling it is to be involved in the community and do these types of initiatives and projects as opposed to just watching a TV show.”
“Whatever [we]… do helps to bring people together. I think that’s key, getting neighbours to know each other, making them feel welcome and… hoping they will reciprocate to some other neighbours,” says Wong. “That’s how you build community. It’s through little things, through the local things.”
“The league wouldn’t be as successful had it not been [for] all the involvement from all the people, and I merely [am] the face of the league and the talking head,” says Wong. “It’s the people that step up, whether it’s five minutes or organizing events, or even just having conversations or stepping in to listen to a board meeting and thinking of getting involved. All those neat people, I think they need to be given credit for their involvement. And it’s those little things that add up to the bigger picture.”
The league means more to Wong than people know.
“This is one of the places that we poured our heart and soul into,” says Wong, “and hopefully it shows.”