The Pulse: Feb. 15, 2023

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  • -6°C: Mainly cloudy. 30% chance of flurries early in the morning. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 6. Wind chill minus 16 in the morning and minus 8 in the afternoon. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • Blue: The High Level Bridge will be lit blue for International Angelman Day. (details)
  • 5,000+: City workers have filled more than 5,000 potholes so far in 2023, which is more than triple the amount filled by this time in 2022. (details)
  • 7:30pm: The Edmonton Oilers (30-19-5) play the Detroit Red Wings (24-20-8) at Rogers Place. (details)

A map of Edmonton with hundreds of orange dots scattered over it, indicating the locations of city-maintained sandboxes

City seeks input on sandbox program for ice control

By Karen Unland

The City of Edmonton wants to know whether it should scale back, maintain, or beef up its community sandbox program, which is the largest of its kind in Canada.

Edmonton spends $900,000 per year to maintain more than 700 sandboxes around the city, offering communities and residents free sand to make icy sidewalks more passable. A scan of other Canadian municipalities revealed that most have fewer large bins in central locations rather than small boxes distributed throughout neighbourhoods. Edmonton's program, which has been in place for about 30 years, has grown from about 150 boxes five years ago to 769 at last count.

Four options are under consideration, each offering a different way to balance the cost to taxpayers, the capacity of crews to keep the sandboxes full, and the distance people have to travel to pick up sand:

  • Option 1 would phase out small community sandboxes and replace them with up to eight large bins at eco stations and roadway maintenance yards. The city says this would save $900,000 per year, which would be put toward other snow and ice control services.
  • Option 2 would reduce and redistribute the sandboxes, putting 30 to 100 large bins at central locations such as transit centres, recreation centres, and recycling depots within a 10-minute drive for most residents. This would save about $800,000, which would go into other snow and ice control.
  • Option 3 would maintain the status quo, keeping about 700 boxes around the city but redistributing them more evenly, so they would be within a five-minute drive for most residents. The cost would remain around $900,000.
  • Option 4 would increase the number of boxes to about 900, giving newer neighbourhoods at least one box. This would add $235,000 to the budget, bringing the total to more than $1.1 million per year.

An online engagement tool allowing you to rank the options will be available until March 7. You can also share your ideas online or at a series of pop-up events:

  • Feb. 15, 5pm to 8pm: Kinsmen Sports Centre
  • Feb. 22, 2pm to 7pm: Orange Hub
  • Feb. 23, 5pm to 8pm: Clareview Community Recreation Centre
  • Feb. 28, 5pm to 8pm: Mill Woods Edmonton Public Library

City crews refill the boxes after other snow clearing has been completed, with a goal to do so within 13 days of a snowfall.

Image: A screenshot of the map of sandbox locations maintained by the city from the open data portal.


Headlines: Feb. 15, 2023

By Kevin Holowack

  • City administration told council's audit committee that intergovernmental affairs is among the biggest challenges facing the city. An annual corporate risk report listed intergovernmental affairs as "medium" risk, behind the only "high" risk item of inflation-related cost increases, and one administrator suggested polarization has worsened since before the pandemic. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is expected to discuss housing, addictions, and mental health - which all fall under provincial jurisdiction - during his first meeting with Premier Danielle Smith on March 7. Dr. Chaldeans Mensah with MacEwan University's Department of Anthropology, Economics, and Political Science suggested Calgary, meanwhile, is being "courted strongly by the UCP government."
  • The city is considering charging citizens and contractors a fee to offload snow at any of the four municipal snow storage facilities after the idea was presented by the city auditor as a way for Parks and Road Services to generate revenue. According to city reports, it costs Edmonton around $3.2 million a year to manage the sites, but 80-90% of snow dumped at them is from private services, contractors, and other municipalities.
  • The Zebra Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, which supports victims of child abuse in the Edmonton region, served 4,272 children and youth in 2022, which is 11% higher than 2021 and 50% higher than 2019. CEO Emmy Stuebing said the numbers reflect the fact that more abuse is being reported. She added there has been a rise in complex cases, which can be attributed to rising internet use among younger children, and encouraged caregivers to talk to children, including younger children, about online safety.
  • The province announced that its 2023 capital budget plans include $4 million to help fund a renewal project at the Citadel Theatre. The project includes replacing elevators and fixtures, renovating washrooms, and adding stairlifts to improve accessibility. The provincial budget is set to be released Feb. 28.
  • The city's Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy includes plans to make Whyte Avenue more pedestrian friendly by widening sidewalks, removing on-street parking, and adding dedicated bus lanes. A survey in August 2022 found only one in five people get to Whyte Avenue by driving, while 65% walk and 50% cycle or use transit. The strategy also includes plans to turn the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market parking lot into a park or plaza. Edmontonians can provide feedback on design proposals until March 5.
  • Fitness: Trans Formed, the city's first fitness training program designed specifically for transgender people, had more than 30 registrations within weeks of its January launch. The pay-what-you-can program focuses on creating a less stressful gym environment and is offered at Action Potential Fitness, an inclusive facility in west Edmonton, which is also looking for donations to offer more sessions later this year.
  • Crown prosecutor Matthew Griener argued Matthew McKnight, a former event promoter who is serving an eight-year sentence for sexually assaulting five women between 2010 and 2016, should receive an additional 15 years because his attacks were premeditated. McKnight, who worked at various bars and clubs, offered the women free alcohol before he assaulted them. The court will issue a written decision at a later date.
  • CBC News published an opinion piece by Chris McBain, a sociology student at Athabasca University who was once addicted to crystal meth, arguing that recovery and harm reduction are "both essential" to treating addictions. It is the latest instalment of The Way Out: Addiction in Alberta, a series documenting a "fundamental shift" in addictions treatment in the province.
A newspaper clipping with the headline "Popularity of Rat Farms Is Not Yet Sure: No Licenses Issued, Though 500 Applications Received"

A moment in history: Feb. 15, 1928

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1928, hundreds of Albertans were angling to find their fortunes in the province's burgeoning muskrat industry.

The provincial government at the time revealed that around 500 people had applied for permission to raise muskrats for their fur. The requests came a year after changes to the province's Game Act, which set standards and required licences for fur farms in Alberta.

Of course, Edmonton's history cannot be separated from the fur trade. Fort Edmonton was established as a significant outpost as part of the Hudson Bay Company's fur trading network in western Canada. The industry brought the first wave of settlers to the area, and trading in furs was one of the major points of interaction between them and the Indigenous people who had lived in the region for thousands of years.

The fur trade began to decline in the mid-1800s due to dropping demand in Europe. As the new century approached, trapping and hunting for wild furs was being replaced by other industries, such as agriculture and coal mining. At the same time, fur-bearing animals like beavers were becoming harder to find due to over-trapping and habitat destruction.

Edmonton grew from a fort to a town to a city. The 1910s and '20s saw another much smaller fur boom, with a growing middle class in Europe and the United States hungry for luxury goods. Fur farms began to spring up in both Edmonton and the rest of Alberta. Many farmers experimented with "beaver ranching" (often just fencing off existing dams) to limited success, and others tried their hand at lynx, raccoons, or chinchilla rabbits.

Despite the hundreds of people applying for permits, Alberta did not become a muskrat farming powerhouse. But at least 20 muskrat farms were in operation in Alberta by 1929. Many Edmontonians would also raise mink in their backyard. Some of these operations would then grow into full-fledged mink farms, many of them moving to the eastern outskirts of the city.

But it was fox fur that fascinated the wealthy in the United States and Europe, spurring high demand and higher prices. By 1929, there were two hundred fox farms in the province, with many in and around the city. In an echo of its early fur trading history, the city served as a hub for distributing both live fox and fur across the country and into the US, with some shipments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at the time.

The financial collapse in the 1930s saw a sharp decline in demand for luxury goods, and the fur farming industry entered a sharp decline. While Alberta's fur farms would not disappear completely, they would not see a boom of the same size again.

Concerns over the conditions of fur farms in Canada, as well as changing attitudes toward the morality of fur, mean we're not likely to see another surge of backyard mink farms. Still, the tradition of urban agriculture continues in Edmonton, especially of the more edible variety, with growing interest in backyard hens and initiatives like the Edmonton Urban Farm and the MacKinnon Food Forest.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.