Alcohol in Edmonton parks allowed on permanent basis

Cracking a beer, cooler or bottle of wine will be allowed in designated Edmonton parks on a permanent basis after two years of a pilot project showed a majority of residents support the activity.  

Survey last summer shows 80 per cent of respondents support alcohol in parks

City of Edmonton allowed alcohol to be consumed at 18 of its parks in 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Cracking a beer, cooler or bottle of wine will be allowed in designated Edmonton parks on a permanent basis after two years of a pilot project showed a majority of residents support the activity. 

City councillors voted in favour of the move Monday during a community and public services committee meeting after they reviewed the results of last year's pilot project. 

In the coming weeks, crews will put up signs in designated areas in time for the spring picnic season, administration said. 

The city tested the idea last spring and summer at 18 parks around Edmonton, following the first pilot from May to October 2021 when it designated alcohol-permitted sites at seven parks. 

The council report noted "park maintenance and enforcement teams did not report any significant incidents as a result of the 2022 pilot."

A telephone survey of 409 people over three weeks last summer showed 80 per cent of respondents supported the freedom to drink in parks.

Coun. Aaron Paquette said the public support for the activity is in line with other places.

"I'm happy that we're aligning with the best practices of other jurisdictions around the world, who've been doing the same thing or who've done it for centuries, for millennia," Paquette said at the meeting. "This is not a new idea, just new here."

Coun. Andrew Knack, who told the committee he doesn't drink, said he was expecting to hear concerns during the pilot. 

"It just never materialized in any of the spaces. I never had one complaint come in," said Knack, who supported allowing drinking in parks. 

Of the people surveyed who support drinking in parks, 67 per cent said it allows the city to better regulate an activity that was already happening. 

Of that same group, 65 per cent said allowing alcohol makes picnics more enjoyable. 

The city also collected feedback from people in parks and on the city's website for a total of 6,098 responses. 

The results show those who support park drinking were more likely to include 2SLGBTQ+ Edmontonians, and those who disapprove were more like to include BIPOC, women and immigrants. 

Ryan Barkway, branch manager of research, engagement and communications, told the committee that respondents indicated they thought the number of parks and picnic sites in the pilot was adequate and there "was a sizeable group that feels the program could be expanded further."

Safety concerns

Coun. Karen Principe said she's heard some people aren't comfortable with the program. 

"People want to feel safe and if they perceive they're not safe, then that is their reality. I'm not saying this would cause social disorder but there is a potential for it." 

Principe and Coun. Jennifer Rice voted against the move to sanction the consumption of alcohol in parks. 

"For drink, we already have existing spaces," Rice said, referring to restaurants and bars. 

"The parks are only the one unique place for people who don't drink."

The city's survey feedback also shows 17 per cent of respondents said they were concerned about the potential for irresponsible or disruptive behaviour, safety and security, and influencing or exposing children to alcohol.

Parks with bookable and walk-up designated sites in 2021 included Whitemud Park, Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park, William Hawrelak Park, Government House Park, Victoria Park and Rundle Park.

Last year, the city added 11 more, including Capilano Park, Hermitage Park and Emily Murphy Park. 

The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act permits park owners — in this case the city — to designate picnic areas for alcohol consumption by placing signs that include the hours liquor may be consumed.

The rule doesn't extend to cannabis. 

Paquette said neither the pilot nor the surveys included the use of cannabis. 

"But if council wanted to entertain that possibility we would hope to see supporting information and engagement on that debate," he said.


Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.