The Pulse: May 22, 2024

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  • 12°C: A mix of sun and cloud. 60% chance of showers in the afternoon. Wind becoming northeast 20 km/h near noon. High 12. UV index 5 or moderate.(forecast)
  • Blue/Yellow: The High Level Bridge will be lit blue and yellow for International MPS Awareness Day. (details)

An excavator digs through the remnants of a building that has burned down

Hangar 11 loss called a crucial moment for Edmonton architecture

By Stephanie Swensrude and Tim Querengesser

Dan Rose swore as he watched the flames destroy Hangar 11 on April 22. "I was like, 'For Christ's sakes, we just can't catch a break,'" he told Taproot.

Hangar 11, built at the former city airport in 1942, is likely not top-of-mind for most of Edmonton, and that's Rose's central point about it. It bothers him that a building so integral to the city's modern origin story — from its role during the Second World War to its post-war air links to the Northwest Territories — could be forgotten. "You could pull a thread on each of those (narratives) and I think you'd end up at the same place with like, 'Wow, this was a pretty significant place in terms of social, cultural, (and) economic development of Edmonton as a region,'" Rose said.

That made the successful push to save the utilitarian but storied building from being flattened even more important. Rose, who once chaired the Edmonton Historical Board, had fought for years to save it, bugging councillors and shrewdly pushing the hangar onto the National Trust for Canada's annual list of the top 10 endangered buildings in 2017. Then, in 2018, he and others convinced city council not to demolish the asbestos-laden building and to sell the land to NAIT, as administration had proposed. Rose said it was the heritage community's first "big win" after decades of losses (from the Tegler Building in the 1980s to the Kelly Ramsey fire in 2009 to the loss of the Leamington Mansions in 2015).

Hangar 11's saviour was an idea from artist, author, and architect Tim Antoniuk of Architure, who bought the property from the city for $1.5 million in 2021, or less than half its assessed value. The proposal, estimated to cost up to $83 million, was to preserve but re-imagine the hangar as more than 200 student apartments mixed with commercial bays for shops. "We've got an opportunity here to introduce globally a new type of winter city design," Antoniuk said of the idea in 2021. "We've got this incredible hangar, you know, you don't really build something like this today."

From that point hence, Rose said, he and others intended to use Hangar 11 as the hopeful story about a new era for Edmonton. But the pandemic slowed the redevelopment project and made finding investment hard. And then came the fire.

The meaning of the fire, Rose said, is hard to accept. It erases more of Edmonton's built history, he said, but it could also accelerate losses in the future by accelerating indifference and disconnection. Meanwhile, the city's own tools to preserve buildings are simultaneously becoming antiquated, underfunded, and confusing for advocates or investors to engage with, he said.

"Every time we lose one of these generational components of our urban fabric, it just exacerbates the problem we had that got us there in the first place, which is (that) we actually have no fucking idea who we are as a city," Rose said. "To talk about history on that scale, we don't have a lot of just nice, big, architectural buildings of heritage quality to begin with, but especially ones with nationally historical significance."

Without changes and a re-awakening of Edmonton's history advocacy, big buildings "will continue to just be knocked down because there aren't sufficient tools or a regulatory framework to do anything with them," he said.

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Headlines: May 22, 2024

By Mariam Ibrahim

A newspaper clipping of pictures of a woman diving headfirst into a pool and a young man jumping in to the water, under the headline "Chill Winds Fail To Deter Edmonton Swimmers As Pools Open"

A moment in history: May 22, 1950

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1950, Edmontonians weren't letting the cold keep them from the city's outdoor pools.

Chilly winds weren't enough to keep swimmers away from the opening weekend at three pools, according to the Edmonton Journal. That's not surprising, given how fanatical Edmontonians can be about squeezing everything they can out of short summers. And outdoor swimming has long been one of those collective passions.

In the early 1900s, there weren't many options for people who just wanted to take a dip. The North Saskatchewan River is fast-flowing and deep, making it largely unsuitable for swimming, and few other options existed. So, in 1917, a sort of proto-pool was created by building a temporary dam across Mill Creek, making for a safer place to swim.

The city's first real outdoor pool opened in August of 1922 in Riverside Park (now Queen Elizabeth Park). It was called the South Side Pool at the time, but over the course of the next century, it would be moved three times and get one name change to its current "Queen Elizabeth Pool." The pool's design was considered quite innovative at the time, including reinforced concrete that was designed to withstand damage from frozen ground.

The new pool proved to be extremely popular. Two more outdoor pools would open just a couple of years later, one in Borden and another in Oliver (or as they were called, the West End and East End pools, which highlights the size of the city at the time).

Unfortunately, not everyone was allowed to enjoy these pools to the same degree. The year before, city officials created an order that barred Black people from using city pools, a universal practice across Canada at the time. When Oliver Pool opened, two Black swimmers entered the facility — in response, all of the white people left in protest.

That came a month after another racist incident at Borden Pool, where a young Black boy was prohibited from swimming with a group of his friends. The boy's mother and a group of other Black citizens petitioned the city council to change the law, which they said invoked the spirit of "hateful Ku Kluxism." Eventually, aldermen rescinded the order and affirmed that all citizens would have access to the city's public pools, in what appears to be a first for Canada. There would still be some pushback from pool operators themselves, however.

It wouldn't be the last time Edmonton's outdoor pools became a diving board for social change. Up until the late 1930s, all pool-goers needed to wear a full top-to-bottom swimsuit. In 1932, three men were arrested for going to the pool wearing only swimming trunks. In 1937, the South Side Pool became the first place in the country to let men swim bare-chested.

A mere 85 years later, the city extended that freedom to all pool users, regardless of gender identity.

The Queen Elizabeth Pool celebrated a century in 2022, which included the creation of a mural highlighting its history. Both Wîhkwêntôwin Pool (formerly Oliver) and Borden Pool mark the same anniversary this year. More than a hundred years after some dry denizens of Edmonton dammed up Mill Creek, the city's passion for swimming season hasn't diminished. Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to open for the summer on May 18, though it was closed on May 21 due to inclement weather. Other outdoor pools set to open in May and June.

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

A title card that reads Taproot Edmonton Calendar:

Happenings: May 22, 2024

By Debbi Serafinchon

Here are some events happening today in the Edmonton area.

And here are some upcoming events to keep in mind:

Visit the beta version of the Taproot Edmonton Calendar for many more events in the Edmonton region.