On May 9, Wesley Andreas, the history project director at Spruce Avenue Community League, hosted its eighth Jane’s Walk, leading participants in a guided walk themed “Spruce Avenue Through Time.”
Jane’s Walks celebrate author and urban activist Jane Jacobs, who advocated for community-based city building where citizens have input into how their neighbourhoods look and grow. Jacobs was born in the U.S. and lived in Toronto later in her life.
Today, Jane’s Walks are organized in over 100 countries, with thousands of walks taking place during the first weekend in May in celebration of Jacobs’ birthday. In Edmonton, there are usually 20 to 30 Jane’s Walks all over the city.
This year, over the May 6 to 8 weekend, there were Jane’s Walks downtown, in Highlands, and in Cromdale, just to name a few. There were also specific walks about the passenger rail history, black history, and LGBTQ+ history.
“The premise [of Jane’s Walks] is to encourage people that have passionate stories to tell about their communities… to gather with like-minded people and have a walking conversation,” says Ian Hosler, who organizes the city’s Jane’s Walks and leads a Jane’s Walk in Westmount. Another goal of the walks is to encourage people to learn more about their city and neighbourhoods.
“On the one hand, I think it’s quite powerful,” says Hosler. “On the other hand, it’s pretty straightforward.”
Andreas attended several Jane’s Walks while living in Calgary, and when he moved to Spruce Avenue in 2012, it was the perfect opportunity to start hosting his own walk.
“I noticed that there were lots of Polish cultural features in the neighbourhood: the church, there was the school program, there were businesses, and I couldn’t find any information about it,” says Andreas. “I wondered why… there wasn’t a Polish district and why that wasn’t part of Edmonton’s story.”
Andreas’ research into Edmonton’s Polish history also led to many interesting discoveries about the history of Spruce Avenue. “There were some interesting things that I found that no one seemed to know who lived in the neighbourhood,” says Andreas.
The first two Jane’s Walks in Spruce Avenue were focused on Polish history before Andreas transitioned to more general Spruce Avenue history.
Every year, Andreas adds new information that he’s learned about the neighbourhood to the walk. At this year’s walk, Andreas showed participants the “Modernette” houses on 101 Street and 114 Avenue. Andreas stumbled across an Edmonton Journal article from 1935 about the Modernettes, which were stylish and modern bungalows that made their debut in Spruce Ave.
Leigh Born, a Riverdale resident, attended the walk on May 9. “I like learning about the history of different neighbourhoods in Edmonton,” says Born.
Born attended a Spruce Avenue walk about five years ago and says the eighth walk is quite different from the last one she attended, keeping it interesting.
Kim Olson attended the walk because she saw a documentary about Jacobs called Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. Olson lives in Inglewood and has attended several other Jane’s Walks.
“I find that if you don’t know anything about your neighbourhoods, you can’t invest in them. If people don’t know anything about [the neighbourhoods], then the houses don’t get cared for,” says Olson. “If you don’t know your past, you can’t see your future. You can’t see where you came from.”
Visit janewalksyeg.wordpress.com/ for more information about Jane’s Walks or sites.google.com/view/spruceavejaneswalk/ for more on Spruce Ave’s history.