A downtown growth spurt and a little serendipity brought Edmonton’s Pride Parade to a new home last year. It went so well that what was initially meant as a temporary measure is now likely to be permanent.
When the Edmonton Pride Festival moved its signature event from downtown to Old Strathcona last June to dodge construction projects that would clog its perennial 102nd Avenue parade route – as well as opening festivities for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup – the southside community welcomed it with rainbow crosswalks, pride flags in store windows and a record number of enthusiastic supporters – estimated between 40,000 and 45,000.
“It was super exciting. It was awesome. And it had a really good vibe,” says Edmonton Pride Festival executive director Angela Bennett.
“We worked really closely with the Old Strathcona Business Association (OSBA) all the way through and they were fabulous to deal with.”
The festival has hired a permanent volunteer co-ordinator in anticipation of another big year.Bennett says the parade will stay put for the foreseeable future, which is music to Murray Davison’s ears. The OSBA executive director says it had a profound impact on area businesses in 2015.
“I think the support was pretty overwhelming,” Davison says, adding he had expected crowds closer to 35,000.
“To be honest, we were all shocked.”
He says coffee shops and restaurants were “over the moon” with the extra business the parade brought in. Retail shops saw less action due to obstructed storefronts, but an economic analysis showed those stores benefited indirectly as attendees returned throughout the year.
Bennett says the support from the OSBA was unlike anything the festival has seen before. Downtown Business Association (DBA) executive director Jim Taylor says he has not officially reached out to Bennett since the move, but he hopes the parade will return north of the river at some point.
“It was a fun event. It brought diversity downtown. We’d love to have them back,” he says.
Taylor says several local festivals may have to leave downtown this year and next due to a surge of construction but, once everything is cleared, there will be several new spots in addition to Churchill Square to accommodate them.
“In several years, we’re going to have a downtown that has far, far more people in it and is far more vibrant than it has ever been,” Taylor says.
“This is going to be a very desirable place for them to be.”
The 36th annual Pride Parade takes place on June 4, starting at 108th Street and Whyte Avenue and ending at End of Steel Park.