Editor’s note: the 32 Jane’s Walks planned for Edmonton can be found here.
People return to their places. It’s the thought that crossed my mind halfway through the Jane’s Walk at the University of Alberta at the beginning of May, the second of three local Jane’s Walks that I participated in.
As a general rule, the people who participated in the walks — the ones I was on, at least — were attached to that community in some way. Newton residents came out to walk around their neighbourhood, U of A alumni came back to their campus, and those living in Griesbach, those who had followed the development or who were interested in the neighbourhood’s walkability concept took a tour of the Canada Lands development.
It was surprising how long the walks were — each lasted about two hours — though they weren’t very long, distancewise, each clocking in at about two miles or so. Here’s the routes, and some comments, about the three that I went on, though keep in mind that there were 17 (“official”) walks that went on over the weekend to celebrate urbanist Jane Jacobs.
The most common question asked on this walk was, “And where do you live?” As mentioned, most people were from the community, if not a neighbouring community, and if they didn’t fall into those two categories, they had some link — their husband had grown up in Newton, they had grown up in the neighbourhood but moved to another part of the city, etc. And since 40 people walking down the street in a loosely organized group tend to attract attention, often a member of the group would call out to someone in the front yard, “We’re on a neighbourhood walk.” It was a statement I would hear often repeated again in Griesbach.
The guide, community league president and historical director Ryan Catena, talked a lot about architecture, and when we stopped in front of three houses on 54 Street, he explained that the three houses — mirrored by another three on 55 Street — didn’t quite match the style of the neighbourhood. Many of the houses in the community have been moved from other places, including one homeowner who bought six plots of land and moved his home from Beverly and/or Tofield (there were conflicting reports, but look for the weirdly divided property lines on 54 Street and you’re probably at the right spot), so it’s not a total surprise that the architecture didn’t match, but Catena didn’t know where the houses had come from. His best guess was maybe 107 Street and Jasper Avenue in the 1950s. So it was kind of cool when a lady came out from one of the houses, likely to find out what was going on, but then chatted about the house, how they had found newspapers, photographs and other pieces of history in the walls and other parts of the house when renovating.
University of Alberta
A bit of a disclaimer: I didn’t go to school at University of Alberta. I have wandered around the campus — the buildings are gorgeous — so it was neat to have someone to actually explain what each of the buildings were. Not everyone on the tour were alumni, but when guide Ellen Shoeck asked how many people had graduated from the university, it looked like anyone who hadn’t raised their hand had at least come with someone who was raising their hand.
Among other pieces of trivia, including why the Ring Houses are called such (it’s because while there are only four now, there used to be 10 of them for deans and professors, in a horseshoe-shaped “ring”), one of the best moments was when the group was stopped outside one of the original residence houses (we stopped at all three, but it might have been Assiniboia or Athabasca) and Shoeck asked if anyone one, had lived in the residences halls, and two, could remember the grace said before every meal. One older man came to the front of the group and recited it — in its original Latin.
Since this is an old Canada Lands development, the walk tied together the history of the land (including a little history about some of the buildings) and the process that went into designing the new neighbourhood. Similar to Newton, there were many residents on this walk, though unlike Newton, I would say it was about a 50/50 split: half were residents, and half were just interested in the concept of the neighbourhood.
The five coolest things I learned on this walk:
5. For a new neighbourhood, this place has some pretty mature trees. It’s because they were taken into consideration when building houses and even sidewalks, resulting in a couple of weirdly shaped (but fully functional) parking spaces on one street.
4. In addition to some of the military married quarters being refurbished and kept in the neighbourhood, there are only four or five styles of houses in Griesbach. They’re not necessarily designed in a pattern, but the variety is intended to keep it from looking too cookie-cutter.
3. You can walk around the neighbourhood and read all the history associated with the land and troops that were stationed there. At one of the pavilions overlooking the lake, there are black railings that look similar to those on the bridge that cross the lake. The ones on the bridge are replicas of how military bridges were built. The ones on the pavilion were actually pulled out of storage (possibly shipped from Winnipeg?).
2. The animal at the feet of the statue of Mrs. Griesbach is a coyote, the mascot of the 49th Battalion. The animal was gifted when the regiment was stopped in Lestock, Sask., and donated to a London zoo before the 49th Battalion went into combat. That’s why the unit’s badge has a coyote face on it.
1. The developers specifically designed it so that the setback (how far the house is from the sidewalk) varies, so that the streetscape isn’t exactly uniform from street to street.
Maybe I’d had enough sun by Sunday (when I did the Griesbach walk), but if I had to list the walks in order of favourites, it would be U of A, Newton, and then Griesbach. Next year, I’d love to see an Edmonton-specific hashtag for Jane’s Walks, as I was trying to follow the other walks on Twitter (and saw a bit of commentary about Paula Simons’ walk that she led through Valleyview, as well as photos from the Westmount walk) but it was a little difficult to follow, since #janeswalk is technically a worldwide event.