Walking through Chinatown’s artsy side

I’m a Calgary girl who fell in love with Edmonton after one summer, and finally made my way back. Now officially an Edmonton transplant, this blog series is meant to explain some of the things I learned (maybe the hard way) over a couple of summers living briefly in the capital city, while other posts are designed to talk about areas of the city I’m just learning about (and fascinated by). You can read the full explanation here.

Going for walks gives me the chance to figure out which road connects where, and what’s on the other side of that field. It also gives me the opportunity to more closely examine the historical plaque on the building I always drive by and stumble upon pedestrian-only destinations. What I usually can’t do, however, (by myself) is access most of the buildings I pass by. So of course it’s even better when the nondescript building I would have never given a second look to turns out to be something amazing, as it happened on the recent Chinatown walk I participated in.

Due to an Edmonton International Fringe Festival commitment, I was only able to catch the tail end of the 97 Street Night Market, hosted by Our Chinatown, a group, according to their website, “working to explore and reclaim Edmonton’s Chinatown heritage, embrace its present, and imagine its future.” With my limited schedule, my goal was to attend one of the walking tours, though I hope they organize the event again, so that I can check out the rest of the market too.

Again, due to Fringe commitments, I knew the only tour I’d be able to attend was the last one, which explored the artistic side of south Chinatown. Apparently there is a lot of studio space available in the area that artists are moving into, shifting the dynamic. It wasn’t my first choice, and despite the tour being cut short for time constraints (we didn’t make it to ISBE Domain or the Artery), it was still quite interesting.

Chinatown walking tour route
Photo: GoogleMaps screen capture

The tour left from the night market, in the parking lot south of the Pacific Rim Mall (105 Avenue and 97 Street), and we headed east, across 97 Street, via the living bridge. Inspired by New York City’s High Line project, the bridge has been on my list of places to check out since it was planted with vegetables and flowers in June. Formerly a CN overpass, there is still talk about the bridge being removed, but for now, it provides a great pedestrian thoroughfare, easily accessible from the west via the large parking lot south of the Pacific Rim Mall, or the walking trail from the east. And, at the end of June, some of the furniture from the MADE Edmonton competition during the Works festival was donated to the bridge, adding to the unique feel of the garden.

97 Street living bridge
Photo: Catherine Szabo
Edmonton free wall, legal graffiti site
Photo: Catherine Szabo

Leaving from the living bridge, we continued to walk east, behind the old Edmonton Remand Centre and along the LRT line. The point of interest we were headed towards is Edmonton’s free wall, where the colourful graffiti creates a canvas that is constantly changing. It creates an opportunity for better graffiti too, our guide pointed out — if it’s not good artwork, it’ll likely be covered up quite quickly. Plans are in the works for three other legal graffiti sites in Edmonton to be created this fall.

The walking path comes out on 95 Street, where we walked south for a couple of blocks (after a brief mention of Church Street, which I hope to explore soon) before stopping between one very nondescript, worn-down building, and construction. I’ve driven past that building a handful of times and noticed it because of the Bottle Depot direction sign on it, but never thought any more of it. Except now we were being welcomed into the building — up two flights of stairs, and into a darkened room, that looked like this:

the Clubhouse, an artistic hangout
Photo: Catherine Szabo

It’s called the Creative Clubhouse, a not-for-profit arts organization that provides a space for the practice of many different art forms. It sounds like they’ll be a part of this year’s Alberta Culture Days again, but it was just such a shock to walk into what looked like an empty warehouse and then see all of this artwork. I love to admire old buildings, but this was a twist on even that.

You Will Be Okay, from the Quarters art project
Photo: Catherine Szabo

From the Creative Clubhouse we continued down 95 Street, where two pieces of last year’s art project in the Quarters, “Dirt City, Dream City,” are still on display. One I think is accidentally still intact: it’s a flat piece of coloured rocks that read “You Will Be Okay,” but I find it quite surprising that other than weeds growing through the rocks and the faded colours, the piece is largely undisturbed. The second piece was relocated from along Jasper Avenue, called “Ripped Off and Red,” by artist Nickelas Johnson. We see things differently when we’re always in our cars, and one man proved my point perfectly when he kept asking about the original location of “Ripped Off and Red,” because “I drive that route every day and I never saw this last summer.”

Our last stop was a community garden, similar to the raised beds on the living brigde, but has been there for longer. If I was listening correctly at this point, this area will be part of the planned Quarters redevelopment. Before that happens, and as that happens, however, I strongly suggest taking a stroll through Chinatown.