The Pulse: Dec. 20, 2023

This is the final edition of The Pulse for 2023. Taproot will resume publishing on Jan. 4. Happy holidays!

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  • 2°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Fog patches dissipating in the morning. Wind up to 15 km/h. High plus 2. Wind chill minus 7 in the morning. (forecast)
  • 1-3: The Edmonton Oilers (13-15-1) lost to the New York Islanders (15-8-8) on Dec. 19. (details)
  • 5:30pm, Dec. 21: The Oilers (13-15-1) play the New Jersey Devils (16-12-1) at Prudential Center. (details)
  • 5:30pm, Dec. 22: The Oilers (13-15-1) play the New York Rangers (21-7-1) at Madison Square Garden. (details)

Shelves containing canned food and a sign that reads "Tomato sauce".

University students fall through cracks as costs multiply

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

Alberta has played host to Canada's highest year-over-year increases to rents in 2023, and this mixed with inflation and inadequate support has pushed many post-secondary students further into poverty, student leaders say.

"What's happening with students is that not only are they living in poverty, but they're continuing to put themselves in poverty in order to access education," Rachelle Preston, vice-president external for the University of Lethbridge Students' Union, told the Ignite Change Global Convention in early December.

Student union leaders at MacEwan University and University of Alberta echo Preston's concerns, and are advocating for governments to put more support in place for students rather than less.

"We're just seeing a lot of cuts everywhere, and I worry that if this pattern continues … I don't know how much more students can take," Gabriel Ambutong, president of the Students' Association of MacEwan University, told Taproot. "At this point in time we've had surveys and students have already stated that they can't afford any more increases in their cost of education."

Student unions look to food banks to gauge how learners are coping. The 2023 survey at the U of A's campus food bank found 20% of users "cannot access the food they need beyond the supplementary groceries we provide," and one-third use off-campus food banks at least once a month. Meanwhile, MacEwan's Breakfast Club and pantry have seen numbers spike, too.

Ambutong said the food bank program has observed a "huge jump" in users since September, with 61% of users being new to the program.

Inflation has driven up the cost of food and rent. Meanwhile, in 2020, the United Conservative Party government eliminated the freeze on tuition fees. Since 2020, MacEwan has increased tuition fees by close to 21%, and the U of A has increased them by 26.5%.

While tuition costs increased, the province cut $220 million in the U of A's funding, said Chris Beasley, vice-president external of the University of Alberta Student's Union.

"The number of professors we have has declined, the number of staff we have has declined and the educational outcomes that we receive — in my opinion, it is not the university that it was in 2019, prior to these cuts," Beasley said. "And this is part of a greater strategy to push the onus of funding a university experience from the provincial government onto the universities."

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Headlines: Dec. 20, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

Newspaper clipping showing a rendering of two skyscrapers beside a headline reading "AGT Tower Leaves Coliseum To Go: Plans for New Complex Show 'No Limit to City's Growth'" plus a view of Edmonton's proposed skyline.

A moment in history: Dec. 20, 1966

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1966, Edmonton discussed proposals for two new skyscrapers in the heart of the city.

The 1960s were a boom period filled by big plans and breathless announcements. The oil industry was motoring ahead and Edmonton's population surged in response. Cranes dotted the city's downtown skyline as new construction and redevelopment tried to keep pace.

But even compared to the era's most ambitious plans, the proposed new headquarters for Alberta Government Telephones was big. The original idea was to build two towers on Jasper Avenue separated by a plaza, across from the Hotel Macdonald. One would be a 30- to 35-storey building to house AGT, while a private developer would build a second, 18- to 20-storey tower.

The project, which gave Edmonton what's currently known as ATB Place, was at the time seen as an anchor to reshape the city's downtown. When announcing the project, then-Mayor Vincent Dantzer said the towers would be one point in a triangle that would form Edmonton's civic centre, the other two being the CN Tower and a proposed downtown arena that was "not as far away as some people think," according to Dantzer.

The city approved the skyscraper proposals, which included demolishing the central library (also known as the Carnegie Library, because of the organization that funded its creation), which had stood on the spot for nearly 50 years.

Both towers ended up taller than first proposed. The smaller of the two, ATB Tower, was completed in 1969 and topped out at 26 storeys. Aside from holding offices for ATB, the building hosted retail space on its lower floors as well as a connection to the city's LRT system.

Two years later, when the taller AGT Tower was finished, it stood as the tallest building in the city, at 34 storeys (a record it would hold for a decade until Manulife Place was built.) The public was able to enjoy the views the new tower offered by visiting Vista 33, a telecommunication museum and observation deck that was built on the penultimate floor.

A third, two-storey structure was later be added to the plaza between the two towers.

In 1987, artist Slavo Cech pitched a festive idea — a light display featuring giant Christmas trees along the river-facing sides of AGT Tower. It was a difficult engineering endeavour, but soon hundreds of lights were permanently installed on the skyscraper. The display, with its multiple multi-coloured Christmas trees, was first lit up for the holiday season in 1988. It has since become an annual tradition, with the colourful display brightening up the city's skyline every December.

The building complex went through a few name changes in the 1990s when AGT was privatized into TELUS Communications. The plaza became TELUS Plaza before being renamed to the current ATB Place Plaza. And what was once the AGT building is now TELUS House, which holds the company's Alberta headquarters.

Half a century after construction, ATB Place remains a stalwart of Edmonton's skyline. And the colourful Christmas trees adorning the side of TELUS House are lit once again, adding to the many decorations brightening downtown. That includes a Christmas tree, which was unveiled to the public on Dec. 12.

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