'We still crave connections': Community leagues strive to engage neighbours

When Shelby Corley was looking for a new home in Edmonton, she specifically searched for a neighbourhood with an active community league. She found it in Griesbach.

Leagues have been connecting people, advocating for residents for over a century

Residents of Bonnie Doon, in south Edmonton, gather for a meal organized by the Bonnie Doon Community League. (Bonnie Doon Community League)

When Shelby Corley was looking for a new home in Edmonton, she specifically searched for a neighbourhood with an active community league.

She found one in Griesbach.

"The Griesbach community league had this big board. They were active," said Corley.

"They had a good online presence and I could see that they were really involved in the community."

The league in Griesbach was established in 2011, when residents got together to build a playground for the neighbourhood on Edmonton's north side.

Membership has steadily grown since then, said Corley, who is now president of the league.

"People like to know their neighbours," she said.

"We still crave connection, even though our kids aren't running around on front yards as much as they used to. I think we still like to know who's around us and what they're doing."

Children play at a neighbourhood party organized by the Griesbach Community League on Edmonton's north side. (Cheryl Flaig/ Griesbach Community League)

On the south side of Edmonton, the Bonnie Doon Community League is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The league's longevity is a testament to the work put in by volunteers over the last century, said president Duane Gingras.

"It's through all their hard work and effort that we're still here," Gingras said.

"Being able to engage your community and know your neighbours, I think that has always been important."

The city is a patchwork of 159 community leagues, said Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues executive director Laura Cunningham-Shpeley.  

Few cities can boast such a well-established network of leagues, she said.

"We are unique," said Cunningham-Shpeley. "Real citizen engagement at the neighbourhood level does not exist everywhere else in the country."

Leagues are typically run by volunteers, and funded through grants from the City of Edmonton and their own fundraising efforts.

From digital to physical

Most leagues keep their members informed of activities through newsletters, and are active on social media.

Digital platforms are a tool to achieve the personal interactions that people crave, said Corley.

"We do a lot of digital communication, but it's still nice to see faces and talk to people."

Bonnie Doon residents celebrate the launch of Memories of Bonnie Doon, a book that traces the history of the neighbourhood. (Bonnie Doon Community League)

Meeting neighbours through community events facilitates even more interactions, said Gingras.

"You get comfortable with your neighbours, and that makes your community a little bit more enjoyable," he said.

In turn, residents become more comfortable asking for help, and receiving support from others, said Cunningham-Shpeley.

League members are quick to respond when a neighbour is struggling, she said.

"We recognize that online social support is not the same as someone being able to reach out and touch your hand when you're feeling upset," she said.

'Collective voice'

Beyond fostering connections, community leagues also advocate for residents at the municipal level, said Cunningham-Shpeley.

"It's the collective voice of the neighbourhood," she said. "Just hearing from folks and really moving that forward on the agenda of cities."

In Bonnie Doon, where infill construction is the new normal, the league acts as a go-between when new developments are being proposed.

"One of our primary roles is to be able to provide that information flow between the city and the citizens, and from the citizens back to the city," Gingras said.

In Edmonton's Griesbach neighbourhood, the community league works with the developer to ensure that desirable features, like green spaces, are included in the design of new areas. (Sam Martin/ CBC)

In Griesbach, where sections of the neighbourhood are still being built, the community league advocates for certain features to be included, such as a skating rink and spaces to gather outside.

The developer, Canada Lands Company, takes the feedback into consideration, said Corley.   

"They'll ask us about what features are people currently using. What do they like? What do they not like? What do they want to see more of?"

She encourages residents from other newly built areas of Edmonton to band together and reach out to developers.

"It's a huge value for new neighborhoods to organize early and advocate for what it is they want to see around them."


Josee St-Onge


Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan.