Edmonton group hopes to add saunas to frozen river valley

Most Edmontonians wouldn't last five minutes wearing flip flops and a bathing suit in -20 C weather — but one group is hoping to make it possible with the addition of saunas to the river valley.

The idea was pitched to the Edmonton Project along with nine other proposals

River valley saunas are one of 10 finalists in the Edmonton Project. The winner will be chosen in March. (Emma Sanborn)

Most Edmontonians wouldn't last five minutes wearing flip-flops and a bathing suit in -20 C weather. But one group is hoping to make it possible with a new addition to the river valley.

Emma Sanborn and Ranon Soans proposed the development of river valley saunas to the Edmonton Project, which is looking to add a distinct landmark to the city.

Sanborn got the idea when she was studying climate-sensitive urban planning in Sweden, where outdoor saunas are common.

"After that experience I thought 'Oh my goodness, why do we not we have this in Edmonton?'" she told CBC's Radio Active Friday. "We've got nice, cold, dry winters and a beautiful river valley. We need this."

The saunas would be accessible during winter if chosen as the winner of the Edmonton Project.

"It's a great way to be somewhere that's -20 C and actually stay and enjoy yourself for more than five minutes before your fingers freeze," she said.

A project that reflects the story of Edmonton

The group is working out methods for keeping the space secure and clean. The saunas would likely be fenced in and have restricted hours, Soans said.

The cost, scale and exact location of the saunas also haven't been determined, but Soans said one thing is for sure — they'll be designed to blend in with the river valley environment.

"It can be designed in a very sensitive way to look and feel as a part of the river valley. It doesn't have to stand out," he said.

"We don't want people to oppose it just based on how it looks or how it feels. We want them to feel ownership of it."

Sanborn is hoping to make that happen by incorporating the story of Edmonton into the design. The design will pull from the history of the location where it's built, she said.

"We'd like to kind of YEG-ify the idea and make sure that these are saunas that are true to Edmonton and not just a copy and paste version of, you know, Finnish or Swedish saunas," she said.

"I just think that we've got such a unique story to tell in Edmonton that we should tap into. If this is to be something that we're proud of and that reflects us, it should look like us."

Edmontonians can vote on what project best reflects their desires for the city on the Edmonton Project website.

Other projects include a food truck ferris wheel, the world's largest treehouse and a gondola over the North Saskatchewan River.

The 10 contending projects will be presented to a panel of judges on March 6. The winning pitch will be selected the same day.

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons on CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM/740 AM in Edmonton. Follow the show on Twitter: @CBCRadioActive.