Boyle Street revitalization needs political will from next provincial government, says executive director

Two weeks before election day, Boyle Street Community Services has launched a letter-writing campaign calling on the next provincial government to invest in the renovation of their downtown building.

Agency launches letter-writing campaign to secure political support for $18-million makeover

The reimagined Boyle Street design is informed by Indigenous culture with a courtyard, rooftop patio and solar panels. (Boyle Street Community Services)

Every winter in her wheelchair, Gayle Holyk carefully climbs the slippery metal ramp stretching along the side of the building at Boyle Street Community Services.

It's the most convenient place to access occupational therapy but entering the run down, dark 70-year-old building, once used as a warehouse to ripen bananas, is definitely not.

Outside the front of the building, it's hard not to notice the contrast between Boyle and the shiny arena just a block away, and the gleaming new office towers and condos that stretch up into the sky.

"It's very imperative that buildings that are in proximity get refurbished," said Holyk. 

Gayle Holyk has to make her way up a slippery ramp in her wheelchair in the winter to enter the building. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Limited access for people with mobility challenges is one of many reasons Boyle is in need of an $18-million dollar makeover, say staff and clients. With up to 3,000 visits daily and far from enough seating this winter, clients were forced to stand and sit in the corridors.

The agency launched a new campaign on Wednesday asking voters to go to www.building4boyle.ca to write to political candidates and express support for the project Boyle staff have been advocating for since 2015 .

"We feel that the needs of homeless folk and folk who are vulnerable and living on the margins are really important and shouldn't be forgotten," said Julian Daly, executive director. "We're hoping to get government investment from whichever government we have on the 16th of April."

Julian Daly with the Boyle Street Community Services says the centre is in desperate need of refurbishment. 0:51

The cost to the province would be $7.2-million which would then be matched by the federal government's social infrastructure fund, said Daly. Fundraising would raise the rest of the needed money.

All levels of government have expressed verbal support but it has yet to translate into actual dollars, he said. Looking over at the arena, he notes the considerable public investment made there.

"Which is a good thing for Edmonton, we celebrate that. But we'd also like to see investment in some of our poorer citizens as well," said Daly. "We want to be a part of the downtown, not apart from it."

The Indigenous influenced design by local architect Cynthia Dovell honours the agency's largely Indigenous clientele, topped off with solar panels and a rooftop garden.

The renovation would double the size of the space and flood the building with light.

The redesign of the existing structure, which adds an additional two storeys, would allow clients to conveniently access multiple services. For instance, the mental wellness space would be placed next to the consumption site, while housing services would be right beside income support.

A backyard courtyard would offer an oasis for the dozens of clients who currently hang around in front of the building.

Whitford Skani envisions a new building where he can sell his dreamcatchers, barbecue, and do sweats. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"So that will be safer for the people we serve but also, I think, will help other citizens going past to feel a bit more comfortable in this area," said Daly, standing steps away from where a 49-year-old client was repeatedly stabbed last Thursday.

A 38-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder in that case, as well as first-degree murder in the death of another community member, Rose Knife, who was fatally stabbed earlier that day, a few blocks away.

Volunteer Whitford Skani, who makes dream catchers and offers art classes at Boyle, envisions a spot to sell his crafts, with a sweat, benches and barbecues out back.

"We could have a whole bunch of stuff back there, we don't have to hang over on the street," said Skani. "People don't like to see that on the street."

Skani and Daly recalled being at a meeting to talk about Boyle's revitalization, attended by a freshly elected provincial politician, four years ago.

"I would like to see this come about sooner, not later," Skani said. "They invested all that money for the new hockey arena, for the new buildings that are coming up. Sure it's good … it's good for the people who want to see something new and different. Well, why not see Boyle street, same thing?"



About the Author

Andrea Huncar


Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, youth at-risk and the justice system. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca


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