The Pulse: Oct. 11, 2023

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  • 16°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Clearing late in the afternoon. Wind becoming east 20 km/h near noon. High 16. UV index 2 or low. (forecast)
  • Blue/White: The High Level Bridge will be lit blue and white in support for Israel. (details)
  • 8pm: The Edmonton Oilers play the Vancouver Canucks in their season opener at the Rogers Arena. (details)

New multi-family buildings line a sidewalk on a spring day, with leafless trees along the boulevard

EFCL supports zoning bylaw renewal with climate caveats

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues is in favour of proposed changes to the city's zoning bylaw, though it wants to see amendments to support climate-change mitigation measures.

"It really sits with the values that I think EFCL has around trying to move forward with vibrant communities, more livable communities, better mobility options for people," EFCL executive director Laura Cunningham-Shpeley told Episode 236 of Speaking Municipally. "Those are the things that the EFCL stands on, and so that's why we really felt that this was in alignment with that."

A public hearing on the proposed new zoning bylaw will take place from Oct. 16 to 18. City council will then vote on whether to accept the changes.

Although the EFCL supports the overall vision of the proposed renewal, workshops and conversations with leagues around the city made it clear that they would like to see a framework for climate change actions such as solar readiness, electric-vehicle support, and tree preservation added, Cunningham-Shpeley said.

"We want to make sure we get it as close to right to begin with because we know that sometimes those amendments can be difficult to get done later, and so our ask is for it to get done before," she said.

Opponents of the proposed zoning changes have cited a lack of public engagement as cause for concern, but Cunningham-Shpeley said efforts to engage the public have been going on for a long time. She encouraged people to look at the vote as the "beginning of a new bylaw," rather than the end of the discussion.

"I am not convinced that longer engagement is going to produce anything different," she said.

The EFCL supports Edmonton's 162 independent community leagues by coordinating engagement and acting as a unified, representative voice, but it's unusual for it to take such an explicit, public stance. Cunningham-Shpeley said this issue is beyond some leagues' capacity to address, and the federation wanted to provide a point of reference for those groups.

"It gives them something to stand on if they don't have the capacity or interest, frankly, to take a position on their own," she said. "This is a pretty divisive project for a lot of leagues, and so a lot of them have just decided to be conveners for conversations as opposed to taking positions at this point."

Hear more from the EFCL on the Oct. 6 episode of Speaking Municipally, which also touches on potential compensation for businesses affected by the construction of the Valley Line West LRT.


Headlines: Oct. 11, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

A newspaper clipping with the headline "Traveling Library Opened by Mayor"

A moment in history: Oct. 11, 1941

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1941, Canada's first library streetcar hit the rails in Edmonton.

The tram library was an innovative attempt to deal with the demands of a growing city. Edmonton's population stagnated in the early 1930s but was on the rise again. New homes were being built further away from the city's core. At the time, Edmonton only had two library branches — one downtown and the other in Old Strathcona — which meant the system was out of reach for many. But what Edmonton did have was an extensive streetcar system that reached most parts of the expanding city.

So the library board and the radial railroad partnered to refit a retired streetcar as a mobile library. The 32-year-old car was retrofitted with shelving for thousands of books, a desk, and a heating system. When the streetcar was opened, then-mayor John Fry hoped it would help people find solace in the written word "through the troubled times through which we are passing." The idea was met with fascination from Edmontonians, with almost 1,500 people coming to inspect the vehicle in a single night before it actually went into service.

Once it got moving, the library streetcar would make stops as far north as Calder twice a week. It was loaded up with around 2,000 books at a time and a real live librarian. In addition to what was on the shelves, the streetcar also carried a list of what was housed in the library's collection so people could request specific books for the next trip.

The people behind the library streetcar weren't quite ready for how popular the idea would be. Initially, the plan was for the streetcar to stop at its destination for about six hours before heading back downtown. But they soon had to extend those hours to handle the book-hungry patrons. They also had to split kids up by grade and schedule specific times for them, or else the streetcar would be mobbed by children. In the first couple of months of streetcar services, officials said, library memberships jumped by 1,500 people.

The streetcar drew international attention, appearing in newspapers and magazines. It even caught the eye of Paramount Pictures, which sent a film crew to the city to shoot a newsreel about the program that would play in movie theatres around the world.

The library expanded its fleet of vehicles in 1947 when it purchased two bookmobiles that could reach people in other areas of the city. The library streetcar was retired (along with the two original bookmobiles) in 1956. The city continued running other bookmobiles until 1974 when it switched to larger book trailers. Those lasted until the early 1980s when they were replaced with smaller vehicles. EPL now runs Literacy Vans, which offer a number of services to schools, community centres, and other locations.

The library streetcar was a first in Canada (and perhaps even the world), but it was only one of the many innovations EPL has pioneered. It was the first library system to computerize its circulation system and was one of the first to provide online access to its catalogue. EPL continues to expand on what a library should offer a modern city, offering everything from cooking classes to makerspaces. Earlier this summer, the institution shut down its free seed-sharing program because of overwhelming demand. And in August, the library announced Mallory Chipman as its first-ever musician-in-residence.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.