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By: Terence Harding, Sarah O’Donnell
Why we moved to Edmonton and why we’ll stay.
Nearly 82,000 more people called Edmonton home in 2011 than in 2006, Statistics Canada says. Journal reporter Sarah O’Donnell and Metro reporter Terence Harding chatted with a few of those new arrivals about why they made the move and why they have stayed.
My 37th year of living in Edmonton is fast approaching. Moving here in 1989 was quite a shock to my system. I arrived in February from Vancouver to start a job with Syncrude. I knew Edmonton was very far north, but didn’t realize what living in a winter city actually meant. I heard people talking about things I had no clue about. I didn’t know what ice fog, black ice and ground grips were. Day after day of -30 C soon taught me about ice fog. I learned about black ice the hard way. And I finally figured out that ground grips were snow tires.
One of the things that really confused me was people talking about having to go to the vendor’s. Eventually I asked what was vended at the vendor’s and learned that it was what I had learned to call the LCBO in Toronto. It also took me a while to understand that when people were talking about something on 5th street, they meant 105th street. In 1975, there was no 5th street.
Over time, I learned not to order a western sandwich but to ask for a Denver instead. I also learned that if I wanted to have an espresso, I was going to have to make the trip to Little Italy. Having a coffee in those days usually meant drinking a tasteless, hot, brown liquid. If it weren’t for the Italian Centre, it would have been years before I was able to make myself a café latte.
I was also unprepared for moving to a much smaller city than what I was used to. I could easily walk the entire downtown area. One of the first things I noticed when I was doing that was how many mentally ill people there were on the streets. Every time I stopped for a red light, people would try to talk to me. Based on my experience growing up in Toronto, this meant that in a very short while they were going to start telling me about how the tinfoil they were wearing in their hats was protecting them from the messages aliens were trying to send into their brains. But after a while, I realized that people were just trying to be friendly.
It was a strange concept that took some time to get used to. It was also one of the reasons I decided to stay here.
Mark and Bernadette Olsson
This outdoorsy couple moved from Peterborough, Ont., to the Mill Creek area in August 2006. They came for the jobs, hearing about the plethora of opportunities from Mark’s cousin, who already lived here. A network of friends and the city’s river valley gives them more reasons to stay. Mark, 37, is completing his fourth year apprenticeship as a commercial electrician. Bernadette, 31, is sales co-ordinator at the Hotel MacDonald.
On the move to Alberta: “I had never lived outside my hometown before. It was a very big decision,” Bernadette said. “Not me,” Mark said. “I already had my tail lights on the road.”
On Edmonton: “It’s a big city with a small town feel. People are down to earth and friendly compared to other cities,” Mark said. “The wilderness is great. The rivers you can go for days and days and days. We have the best of everything. We live near Whyte Avenue. Our landlord is fantastic … Everything has been rose-colored for us.”
In their spare time: You’ll find them canoeing on the North Saskatchewan River, which they paddle at least once a week in the summer, or exploring other wilderness adventures in the area. “I love that river,” Mark said.
On their future: “It’s been a really positive experience,” Bernadette said. “It’s not like we’ve hit our peak here. There’s still more things to happen.”
Halfway through work on her undergraduate degree in Lahore, Pakistan, Parvez decided she wanted to complete her education in Canada. Along with her brother, she moved to Edmonton in August 2007 and enrolled at the University of Alberta. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in economics and political science in 2009. Her husband, a chemical engineer, joined her a year ago. Today, the 27-year-old Mill Woods resident helps other newcomers to Canada through her work as a project and program coordinator at the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association. Her focus: working to eliminate and raise awareness of harmful cultural practices.
On the draw of Edmonton: “What brought me to the U of A was when I would check universities or look at provinces with a lot of activity going on, people would recommend Edmonton.”
On moving to Canada: Parvez said she headed to Canada at her father’s urging. “You need the opportunity,” Parvez recalled him saying. “When I came, I saw a whole new world.”
On Edmonton’s growing immigrant community: “I did not know it was this big and it has grown in front of me. Every year I see there are so many more people.”
On her future: Currently here on a work permit, Parvez has applied for Canadian citizenship. “I’m starting to see Edmonton as home,” she said. “I’m working in a field I’m passionate about. I’m not scared for my safety. I have a sense of security.”
Eddy Kent and Terri Tomsky
As academics pursuing their education and careers, Kent and Tomsky have called several places home, including Vancouver, B.C., and New Jersey. They moved to Edmonton in July 2009 with their son Felix, now 3, for a new chapter at the University of Alberta. Kent, originally from St. John’s, Nfld., is an assistant professor in the university’s department of English and film studies. Tomsky, originally from London, England, is a post-doctoral fellow in the same department. She is currently on maternity leave with their two-month-old daughter, Zara.
On first impressions: Tomsky recalled an early trip exploring the city with Felix when she realized she’d arrived for a snack at a coffee shop without her wallet or cellphone. “This random guy lent me his phone and offered to pay for our coffee,” Terri said. “That kind of friendliness was a pleasant surprise.”
“I’ve been really impressed with the people of Edmonton,” Ed said. “They’ve got solid heads on their shoulders.”
On enticing others to Edmonton: The couple are helping organize an interdisciplinary conference in October and there’s been a lot of interest. “It’s not hard to sell Edmonton,” Ed said. “We’ve got people coming from all across Europe, the United States and Canada.”
In their spare time: You might find them out for a walk or enjoying a trip on the LRT, a favourite outing for Felix. From their Parkallen neighbourhood, they find the city quite walkable.
On their future: “We would be very happy to stay here. It’s very family friendly. There’s a lot of potential still,” Terri said. “There’s still this excitement about Alberta that we’re building things,” added Ed.
I grew up in Red Deer, which is located smack dab in between Edmonton and Calgary. When you grow up in Red Deer, you are either an Edmonton fan or a Calgary fan. I was raised an Edmonton fan. (My mom’s family is from Edmonton… several generations of proud Edmontonians!)
When I completed my first couple years at Red Deer College and it was time to move onto a university to complete my education, there was no question where I wanted to go Edmonton. I moved to Edmonton in 1996 and have since built my career and my life here. I am a very proud Edmontonian.
To me, Edmonton has soul. It isn’t too “shiny” (like other cities I know). It is naturally beautiful. It has real people making a real difference. A thriving arts community and great sporting events, nobody can complain about “nothing to do”.
I didn’t grow up wanting to live here – growing up, I was just excited to visit Edmonton. But now, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love our distinct seasons, our traffic circles, our beautiful city hall (which, thanks to my job, I get to visit often) and all of the Edmonton action.
I love how subtle Edmonton is – we’re not TRYING to be anything but what we are. As one former mayor coined, Edmonton is the “greatest city in the greatest province in the greatest country” and I have no desire to live anywhere else. (Although, I will admit, tropical beaches ARE a lovely place to visit.)
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