Edmonton on Foot: Doors Open Edmonton and Chinatown Summer Market

One of my favourite things about living Downtown is its proximity to other neighbourhoods we can easily reach on foot. This was illustrated on Saturday, when Mack and I enjoyed some of what Central Edmonton had to offer that day.

I think the Historic Festival and Doors Open Edmonton should make a bigger splash than it does. It flies under the radar, given it takes place over the same duration as the much higher profile Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, but the opportunity to see some of the participating landmarks firsthand only comes around once a year.

Mack and I had already joined a horse-drawn historical tour in Beverly earlier in the week, but what I was really looking forward to was something closer to home – a guided tour of the Westminster Apartments, at 9955-114 Street. We’ve walked by the heritage building numerous times, but I’ve always wondered (a fire stoked by the accessibility of real estate reality shows) what the units inside look like.

Westminster Apartments

Tour of the Westminster

Lucky for us, this was the first year some residents of the Westminster wanted to open their doors up to the public. About forty people signed up in advance – the organizers were a little surprised at the interest in their homes!

The Westminster was built in 1912 as a speculative investment of eastern Canadian capital. It was designed to accommodate people who were transitioning from rooming houses to higher-end apartments. As such, the basement was originally set up as a kitchen, where food was prepared and sent upstairs to residents who re-heated meals in their smaller-than average warming kitchens. In 2004, the building was converted to 24 condo units. Famous occupants of the Westminster include George Bulyea, Alberta’s first Lieutenant Governor.

Westminster Apartments

Clawfoot bathtub

We explored four units, which highlighted each of their individuality. Given the age of the building, some residents had chosen to modernize their spaces, which ranged from opening up the kitchen to installing ensuite laundry and skylights. Most units retained some of the historical features, like clawfoot bathtubs and plate and picture rails.

Westminster Apartments

Picture rails

Coincidentally, we knew the couple who lived in one of the units. Over the last ten years, Mike and Yvonne have extensively renovated their top-floor unit, incorporating many Asian-influenced designs and furniture. It is a beautiful home.

Westminster Apartments

Modernized unit

Hopefully the residents at the Westminster decide to participate in Doors Open Edmonton next year – it is a gem that should continue to be admired and appreciated for years to come.

On a related note, we did try to tour Immigration Hall later that afternoon, but it seemed that the information was contained in error, as Hope Mission staff didn’t seem to know anything about it. As it goes into its twentieth year, one would hope that festival details in its guide are accurate!

After the historical tour, we walked over to Chinatown for their annual Summer Market. It is their rebranded East Meets West Festival, and when I saw that the organizers were promoting the event on social media, I was hoping that the Chinatown BRZ had changed things up this year.

It’s an event that has so much potential, and given the costs of closing down a street, I’m always optimistic that organizers will make better use of the space.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Chinatown Summer Market

They did have a more diverse line-up of entertainment, broadening the cultural lens to include South Asian performers. As well, the vendor tent did seem to house more businesses this year.  But otherwise, it was a similar template to previous events, and unlike last year, had even less street-level engagement.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Vendor tent

The massive stage was placed at the north end of 97 Street at 106 Avenue, blocking the view of the busy grocery store behind it. And while some of the larger performing groups can fill the stage, for the solo dancers or smaller teams, it seems unnecessary and actually serves to distance the audience from the action.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Xiao Hai Ou Dance Group

The food element was also missing. While food trucks don’t always have to be the answer, in lieu of them, it was disappointing that the businesses along 97 Street didn’t set up tables outside to hawk their products. It would have been the perfect opportunity to engage passerby so they might be encouraged to step inside.

We watched a few performances, then headed to Lee House for lunch. In some ways, I was retracing the steps made at the Chinatown Food Crawl back in May – it was a chance to use some of the coupons I’d received then!

One coupon entitled us to a complimentary kimchi pancake at Lee House, which went well with additional dishes of japchae and rice cakes.

Lee House

Lee House eats

To cool off on our walk home, we picked up some refreshing bubble tea from Tea Bar Cafe (also at a discount thanks to the Food Crawl).

Tea Bar Cafe

Strawberry and mango fruit slushes from Tea Bar Cafe

We were ready for a nap after spending so much time in the sun, but it was great to take advantage of what Edmonton has to offer, and (lucky for us) all within a twenty minute radius of our home on foot.

Doors Open Alberta

I had been looking forward to Doors Open Alberta, a summer event that celebrates the province’s architectural heritage. Edmonton’s events took place this last weekend, and Mack and I participated in two of them.

The first was a 104th Street Walking Tour, led by Jon Hall, Manager of Marketing and Communications for the Realtors Association of Edmonton (husband of Gail Hall of Seasoned Solutions). Jon provided a bit of history of Cobogo Lofts during the Market Fresh Cooking Class I attended last year, so I already knew he would make a great tour guide.

I heart the City Centre Market that spans a portion of 104th Street, so the buildings he referred to were familiar to me, but the features and detailing on the buildings were not. He provided an introduction to the area, and pointed things out that I likely would not have noticed without his enlightenment (such as – the small set of stairs just behind the front doors of the former warehouses made it more fluid height-wise to pack cargo away in freight cars or horse-drawn carriages). Even with the boon of condo conversions and construction in the area, laws passed have helped preserve the “integrity” of the street. After five stories, towers on top have to be built at least ten meters back, allowing sunlight to stream down to street level, and to ensure that the design of newly-constructed buildings are congruent with the heritage buildings in the area.

Not historic, but I learned that the penthouse suite of the Icon Tower is still available…for $1.6 million dollars

If you missed the tour, but are interested in the history of the area, this document would allow for a self-guided tour.

Second, after some dawdling at the City Centre Market, we boarded a bus at the Art Gallery of Alberta for the Capital Modern Tour.

Led by Manasc Issac architect Shafraaz Kaba, the bus tour focused on buildings in Edmonton designed in the modern-style of architecture. Born out of a reaction against the adornment of neo-classicism, modern buildings were clean and simple, or in my opinion, plain.

You can recreate the route with this PDF document, but much like the walking tour, I was able to see things in a new light under the tutelage of a knowledgeable guide. From the CN Tower, Royal Alberta Museum, Ross Sheppard High School, HUB Mall and the Paramount Theatre, I appreciated details I had previously never noticed. My favourite stops were Peter Hemingway Fitness and Leisure Centre(formerly Coronation Pool) and the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium. I had never before been to Coronation, and driving past, really had no idea that it housed a pool. The interior structure of complex cables holding up the sloped roof were really quite amazing.

Peter Hemingway Fitness Centre

Inside the pool

The Planetarium, sadly neglected with visible stacks of boxes inside, is one of a few modern buildings on the “A” list of historic resources for the City, and yet, continues to suffer from ill-attention. The paths are apparently constructed to scale with the solar system (with the planetarium standing in for the sun), and at appropriate spaces in the footpaths, one can notice the relative distance of planets from the sun – who knew such a cool resource existed in Edmonton?

In front of the Planetarium

The tour was a great way to learn more about Edmonton – the seemingly handful of architects that impacted the modern landscape of the city, some of the architectural achievements and international recognition attained by local architects, and really, drawing my attention to structures that I wouldn’t have cast a second glance at.