The Pulse: May 9, 2023

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  • 17°C: Mainly cloudy with 60% chance of showers. Risk of a thunderstorm in the afternoon. High 17. UV index 4 or moderate. (forecast)
  • Blue: The High Level Bridge will be lit blue for Goodwill Week, which is celebrated annually by Goodwill Industries of Alberta. (details)
  • 1-5: The Edmonton Oilers (5-4) lost to the Vegas Golden Knights (6-2) during Game 3 of their second round playoff series on May 8. (details)

Two men standing in front of a business with open signs

New owners of Van Loc hope to breathe new life into Chinatown

By Sharon Yeo

The new owners of Van Loc are hoping to reinvigorate not only the long-standing banh mi restaurant but also the area where it has been in business for years.

"We just want Edmonton to recognize Chinatown as a destination," said Wilson Wong, who bought Van Loc with his best friend William Chen. "Chinatown is a diamond in the rough, but there is a lot of beauty."

Chen, 35, and Wong, 33, are the sons of parents who arrived in Edmonton in the 1980s as Chinese-Vietnamese refugees. They grew up eating banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich consisting of a baguette with savoury fillings such as meat, pickled carrots, and mayo. They spent a significant amount of time in Chinatown in their youth, and have seen the area's decline firsthand.

Wong's dad owned a restaurant in the now-levelled Mirama complex, which stood at Jasper Avenue and 94 Street. Chen's family ran a noodle shop in Chinatown (his sister is Winnie Chen, the head chef at Fu's Repair Shop). Chen also volunteered extensively for the Fukienese Association, one of the clan groups that provide a way for immigrants with similar cultural or language backgrounds to connect with one another.

Chen and Wong met at MacEwan University 15 years ago. While working their day jobs in pensions and sales, respectively, they experimented with several business ventures over the years, including selling T-shirts, BB gun pellets, and batteries.

"It's fun for us," laughed Wong. "Some people drink, we start businesses together."

The duo had hoped to open a coffee shop, but the pandemic halted their progress. They decided to see about acquiring an existing brand and learned the owners of Van Loc, who were also Chen's family friends, were looking to retire after 25 years in business.

"Our emotional ties to Chinatown and our conviction for the community and the math worked out," said Wong. "I wanted to take my sales experience and really push the narrative in Chinatown for a more youth-oriented way."

It also presented an opportunity to "show what we can do to revitalize Chinatown without getting involved in anyone's politics," Chen added.

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Headlines: May 9, 2023

By Kevin Holowack and Mariam Ibrahim

  • City council's Emergency Advisory Committee held a special meeting on May 8 to review the status of wildfires across the province and discuss city support for evacuees at the Edmonton Expo Centre, where more than 2,000 people have registered so far. Although the Alberta government declared a provincial state of emergency on May 6, the committee determined Edmonton does not require a local state of emergency. Officials say the fire risk in the city can be managed by Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, which has responded to 185 brush, grass, and wildland fires this year as of April 30. In addition to supporting evacuees at the Expo Centre, the city has sent 12 crews plus equipment to contribute to response efforts in Entwistle, Yellowhead County, and Strathcona County.
  • Due to the risk of wildfires in and around the city, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and city manager Andre Corbould are urging Edmontonians to adhere to the fire ban issued May 2. Corbould further urged the public not to assume fires in the city are related to encampments. "We know for a fact many of them have been started by humans with cigarettes, and it's not encampments," said Corbould. The fire ban, which prohibits open burning, fireworks, backyard fire pits, and some barbecues, will remain in effect until further notice.
  • Officials have lifted some evacuation orders for Entwistle, Parkland County, and parts of Yellowhead County, including Edson, which saw 8,000 people flee last week due to wildfires. No structures were destroyed in Edson, but around 25 homes were destroyed elsewhere in Yellowhead County. Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara encourages residents to return slowly as grocery stores are not fully stocked and emergency departments only reopened on May 8. Residents of Wildwood and Evansburg were not yet allowed to return home as of May 8 due to a lack of critical services.
  • Around 700 firefighters are currently on the ground battling Alberta wildfires. Premier Danielle Smith said she expects up to 1,000 reinforcements to arrive next week from Yukon, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, while additional crews from Ontario and Quebec have already arrived. The premier has also contacted the federal government for help, including military support, strategic airlifts, engineering support, and water purification resources. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton, which has 300 soldiers trained in firefighting, is calling for reservists to join the effort. Manitoba said on May 8 it would send firefighters and equipment to be based in Lac La Biche.
  • The Alberta government announced a one-time emergency payment for anyone under a wildfire evacuation order for seven straight days or more. Every eligible adult will receive $1,250, along with $500 for every dependent child under the age of 18. Evacuees can apply online or by calling 310-4455 beginning May 9.
  • Around 100 Edmontonians gathered downtown on May 8 to protest the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service's decision not to charge Const. Ben Todd of the Edmonton Police Service for excessive use of force against Pacey Dumas, an Indigenous man, during a 2020 arrest. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) said in its decision that there were grounds to believe Todd committed a criminal offence. The Crown has not provided specifics on why it determined there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. The victim's lawyer, Heather Steinke-Attia, suggested Alberta should adopt British Columbia's "clear statement" rule, which requires prosecutors to explain their decision not to press charges in cases involving police. When asked about the case, neither UCP Leader Danielle Smith nor NDP Leader Rachel Notley indicated whether they would support such a policy.
  • The Edmonton Police Service has provided details about the suspect in the fatal stabbings of a mother and her child outside Crawford Plains School shortly before 5pm on May 5. Chief Dale McFee said the man was known to police, had been charged numerous times for assaulting minors, and had a "history of mental health concerns." Police also learned the man attempted to access the school prior to the stabbings. He remains in hospital after being shot by officers. McFee suggested the case reflects gaps in health and justice system supports and called the "lack of accountability" for people who commit violent offences "concerning."
  • The city launched its first Edmonton Business Census, which aims to collect data to help inform how the city supports businesses, attracts investments, and improves services. Businesses across Edmonton can participate online by completing a five-minute questionnaire. Starting May 15, some of the city's summer students will spend four months collecting information door to door in Ward O-day'min. The city will analyze and publish the results after data collection wraps up in August.
  • The city has invested an additional $1.96 million into its Change for Climate Solar Program to provide rebates to Edmontonians interested in installing solar panels on their roof. The program began accepting applications on May 8, and rebates are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The solar rebate program is slated to be replaced by Edmonton's Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP), which will transition from a pilot program to a fully funded program in 2024.
  • The Edmonton Riverboat is returning to the North Saskatchewan River for its 2023 season beginning May 14, which is Mother's Day. The kick-off cruise runs from 10:00am to 12:30pm and includes music, a photo booth, and brunch.
  • The Edmonton Elks have signed 11 players, including seven selected in the 2023 CFL Draft. New sign-ups include Canadian wide receiver Aidan Pearce, Edmonton-born defensive lineman Riley Szafranski, and American defensive lineman Darel Middleton. The Elks also signed a Global Draft pick, kicker Dean Faithfull from the United Kingdom.
Chris Buyze, wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey, holds a bouquet of pink and yellow flowers and stands beside a smiling Anand Pye

Outgoing DECL president reflects on complexity of downtown safety

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

Safety issues downtown are multidimensional and need to be addressed with more than just a greater police presence, says Chris Buyze, the outgoing president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League.

"You have houseless folks, you have people who are addicted to drugs, involved in criminal activity or gangs, occupying public spaces, and how do you solve these problems?" Buyze told Episode 219 of Speaking Municipally. "It's not as simple as saying, 'Well, you just need more policing' or something like that. You need housing supports, you need social support, you need policy changes, that kind of stuff."

Downtown had been on an upward trajectory during much of Buyze's 16 years at the helm of DECL, but social disorder grew in the wake of the pandemic, pulling the community league into "one of the most complex issues I've ever tried to understand," as Buyze described it.

"I can't say that I have all the answers," he said. "More that we are more involved in these conversations than we ever have been in the past."

While he has been replaced by Cheryl Probert as president of DECL, Buyze will continue to be involved in those conversations as a member of the Downtown Recovery Coalition, a lobby group interested in economic growth in the core.

Despite the challenges, Buyze remains optimistic about projects such as Warehouse Park, which should be completed by 2025.

"That's going to be definitely a transformational project, and hopefully encourage further residential development," he said.

Hear more from Buyze in the May 5 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast. You will also hear Taproot reporter Colin Gallant on the Edmonton International Airport's newest passenger recovery projections and a thwarted development in the Villeneuve Airport Area, as well as an update on the Summer Streets event.

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