My love letter to one of Edmonton’s best neighbourhoods

This is a love letter.

By the time you read it, I’ll have moved to the west end of the city. It didn’t seem right to leave without saying goodbye to the community my family has called home for nearly 25 years.

If I discovered nothing else during the lockdown, it’s that I do not wish to spend up to seven hours a week commuting, so I am moving closer to my workplace. If, due to the pandemic, we never return to in-person work, the joke will be entirely on me. Because I love Alberta Ave, Delton, Parkdale, and Eastwood and most of the people in it. And I will miss it all dearly.

When we first moved here in 1994, the area was affordable and family friendly. We lived across the street from St. Patrick’s School, and the community league had robust sports programming for my kids. The area is still well-served by public transit.

Accessibility and affordability aside, the tree-lined boulevards, unique homes, and long-time residents with delightful stories about the area’s history contrasted with the crime and disorder that went with it.

Even then, there was talk of revitalizing the neighbourhood. The closure of several banks and vacant storefronts led to the launch of The Alberta Avenue Revitalization in 1992. Without significant government support, this and subsequent efforts struggled.

In 2001, the Alberta Avenue Business Association declared a stretch of 118 Avenue the Avenue of Champions, adding murals of sport teams, decorative benches, and a 14-metre-tall baseball bat. The results of that effort were negligible, although the bat, inexplicably, remains.

By the early 2000s, many artists and young professionals seeking affordable housing had moved into the area. Slowly but surely, there were fewer dilapidated homes and a growing feeling that new residents didn’t want to just fix up their own house; they wanted to help fix what had been, for a long time, a broken community.

Streetscape improvements and changes to zoning rules attracted new business and investment, with newcomers to Canada more willing to take the risk than others. There was a six-month period in 2006 where eight of the 12 new stores opened were owned by members of Edmonton’s Somali community. The number of women-led businesses grew and remains impressive.

Community action groups formed and helped see dozens of drug houses shut down, with more houses condemned. Streetscaping improved walkability and security. Grants and incentives were offered to businesses to improve their storefronts. Programming that brought people to those streets was experimented with. Some became massive successes; others, not so much. But the missteps were just as important as the wins.

Because even losses bring people closer together in community.

In 2007, the City released a survey ranking the quality of life of its 213 neighbourhoods and Alberta Avenue ranked dead last. It almost felt, at that point, that the community decided to collectively respond, “Oh ya? Just watch us!”

Through the efforts of volunteers at local community leagues and organizations like Arts on the Ave and the Community Response to Urban Disorder (CRUD), along with significant funding from all levels of government, decades of persistence paid off. While it remains the community full of character homes and tree-lined streets that attracted me 26 years ago and has drawn me back repeatedly, it has a more positive vibe now than it ever has; at least it did before COVID-19 changed everything. 

Alberta Avenue is a lot like the people who live in it. Adaptable.

This area still has its challenges, many of which arise from society’s failure to adequately address issues around poverty, mental health, and addictions. However, this is not exclusive to the communities around 118 Avenue.

Happily, it appears that most of the wonderful, eclectic eateries in the area managed to survive the pandemic response and I look forward to visiting with friends and eating and shopping and playing. If I’m lucky, the Rat Creek editors will allow me to drop a line or two in this paper.

And, so, it’s not “goodbye” but “see ya’ later!” and, also, thank you. Thank you for giving us a place to call home. We’ll be forever grateful.

Featured Image: Mimi Williams, pictured, lived in the areas of Alberta Ave, Delton, Parkdale, and Eastwood for over 25 years. | Supplied