Edmonton

How the Henday expansion gobbled up a country greenhouse in Edmonton's northeast

The Root Seller Greenhouse was once in open country northeast of Edmonton, but now it's a farm in the city surrounded by homes on nearly all sides.

'We were a little house on the prairie, now we're a little house in the city'

The Root Seller Greenhouse in northeast Edmonton was once in the middle of open agricultural fields, but it's now bordered by houses on three sides after urban expansion boomed in the 2000s following Anthony Henday construction plans. (Genevieve Tardif/CBC)

In 1996, Peter Oudijn had visions of a sprawling greenhouse and plant shop over four acres of land at the intersection of Manning Drive and 167th Avenue.

"Everywhere around was farmlands and agricultural lands," said Oudijn, co-owner of the Root Seller Greenhouse.

The Root Seller Greenhouse was once in open country northeast of Edmonton, but now it's a farm in the city surrounded by homes on nearly all sides.

Oudijn describes the early days of the business as sitting in vast open countryside, surrounded by wheat and canola fields.

He and his business partner, Mike Collier, settled on the location because of its distance, and relatively close proximity, to the rapidly sprawling city of Edmonton.

"We thought sooner or later the city would gobble us up. I thought maybe that would happen in 35 or 40 years," said Oudijn. "But as soon as the Anthony Henday started being built around us, that was the end of how we were thinking."

From their front doors along 167th Avenue, the proprietors of the Root Seller could see the city expand, and eventually envelop them on almost all sides.

167th Avenue once ran along the south border of the Root Seller Greenhouse. The road was closed and relocated in the Cy Becker neighbourhood when the northeast leg of the Anthony Henday was developed. (Mike Collier)

"When Anthony Henday was happening, 167th Avenue was closed and [relocated]. That was our main access," said Oudijn. "We had no access to our own property at one point."

"This used to be a little house in the prairie, and now it's a little house in the city."

Restricted access

Oudijn's business sat conveniently on what was once called "greenhouse alley," a stretch along 167th Avenue connecting a handful of greenhouses and plant nurseries in northeast Edmonton during the '90s.

Oudijn says when the portion of 167th Avenue in front of their business was closed and moved a few blocks south in the Cy Becker neighbourhood to accommodate the Henday expansion, business suffered.

"That first year we went down 25 per cent," said Oudijn, adding it took another three years to stabilize the business. "There was no access and people started to forget where we were."

Peter Oudijn, co-owner of the Root Seller Greenhouse, waters flowers at his flower farm with suburban homes visible in the background. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

With a clear vantage point over Manning Drive, proprietors of the Root Seller used their expanse of greenhouse walls to advertise and give directions.

Oudijn said while Google Maps was difficult in the beginning, customers are now finding their way.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more curious gardeners into the store, and he's hopeful they'll remember how to find their way back to the greenhouse for another visit.

"We still don't know how this is all going to play out," he said. "We're a little island in the city, and it's not all negative."

About the Author

Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

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