While Bruce and Michelle Rakoczy liked being “centrally located and close to Whyte Avenue,” every year the mid-century bungalow in Bonnie Doon that they bought in 2000 required another renovation,. They updated the exterior and, as their young son grew, they renovated the basement to eke out more space for him. “Eventually we knew we would run out of room,” Bruce says. Faced with the question to love it or list it, “We knew we didn’t want to spend any more time and money on that home.”
Their hunt for a new address focused on Edmonton’s south side where Michelle’s brother and dad both lived. “I grew up in Ontario in a really family-oriented household with family members always near by,” Bruce says. While his childhood home was far away, he was excited to have Michelle’s family close. Their search brought them to Summerside in 2007, south of Ellerslie Road and west of 66 Street, where access to a freshwater lake would become a major bonus for their family that had grown to include two boys. When his children entered school in the neighbouring community of MacEwan, Bruce realized that increasingly they were shuttling the kids by car back and forth to friends and activities in MacEwan. It was not how he had grown up, Bruce remembers. “I had memories of taking my skateboard and bike and could just bomb around.”
So in 2015 they moved to a 10-year-old house in MacEwan where they remain close to extended family yet where the boys can bike to their school and friends’ houses. With their home backing Ellerslie road and Anthony Henday very close, the Rakoczys easily commute to work in the southeast and anywhere in the city, except downtown
“Barring any major change in our life, I don’t see ourselves moving away,” says Bruce reflectively. “I love spending time with family and friends and moving to the south allowed us to have more quality time with everyone.”
Joel and Amanda Kleine live in Starling, one of Edmonton’s newest communities in the northwest where the street names echo the call of birds migrating in and out from the neighbouring Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. Their two-storey home was custom-built five years ago and, because it is equipped with an elevator, Joel can access every part of the house in his wheelchair including the basement. The back of the house overlooks a pond where goslings learn to fly, muskrats swim and moose wade in the morning mist.
The natural setting is very different from the place where Joel and Amanda first lived together in Westwood in 2000, a central community bordered by a rail yard, the Yellowhead Highway and 97th Street. While they adjusted to the booming sound of rail cars coupling, Amanda never felt entirely safe coming home from work on transit when the streets were dark.
When Joel landed his first teaching job in 2001 they searched for a house to purchase that would not require renovations, as neither had the skills nor cash to complete them. Homes in northern Edmonton including Dovercourt, where Joel had grown up, were either too expensive or required renovations, so they expanded their search to the suburbs. The large bungalow they bought in St. Albert was on a quiet street full of mostly retirees. “The first night we slept there we whispered to each other, “There is no noise!” remembers Joel.
As their family grew by two children in a community with lots of amenities, they thought they would grow old in that house, but then Joel was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a genetic neuromuscular disease. Because it causes progressive damage to the nervous system and impacts muscle control, they knew he would need a home with an accessible garage and basement. Their search throughout Edmonton for accessible homes turned up nothing suitable, so they decided to build. Quickly they ruled out locations in more central communities because not only were they more expensive, most neighborhoods were not friendly to infill with an attached garage, which was critical for Joel. Every morning he had to traverse stairs and icy sidewalks with a cane to reach his car for the commute to his grade five classroom. It was becoming untenable.
“I called many builders and asked two questions,” says Joel, “‘Have you ever built a residential elevator? How about a home with level access?'” Only Celebration Homes had the expertise in both, and the Starling community was where they owned lots. The Kleine’s home was the first finished on the block. And while they miss being central and close to transit and grocery stores, their bank and local shops, when Joel entered the elevator for the first time in Starling, he cried happily at the freedom it offered.
Finding Peace of Mind
In 2013 Lisa Martin and Vanessa Bulmer lived in the central neighbourhood of Oliver close to their work downtown. While it was convenient to drive to work, “We really wanted a cut-off from work,” Bulmer says. “Working downtown is super busy and we wanted to find a more peaceful area where we could recharge every night.”
Martin had lived in St. Albert before and knew that the community was what they were looking for: quiet, friendly and walkable. In 2014 as they planned for their Vegas wedding, they purchased a condo with access to both the Sturgeon River and the downtown farmers’ market. From their third floor balcony they can watch the Rock’n August parade and listen to Seven Music Fest in July. “Everything is super accessible. Even our doctor’s office is within walking distance,” says Lisa. “We walk more in St. Albert than we did downtown!”
The one thing they worried about when they moved was how their commute would feel. Initially they took transit from the suburbs to downtown, but the commute was long and the service was not frequent. Since deciding to go back to driving to work, they have realized the cost of gas and parking is worth it. “We drive together and vent about our day so when we get home we’re ready to chill,” Bulmer says.
“Really, we have found everything we wanted moving here. Downtown just gets busier,” Lisa says, “We see it during work hours and everyday when we get home appreciate how peaceful our area in St. Albert is.”
Finding a Family Friendly Street
When Dave and Christie Von Bieker bought their 1955 bungalow in Parkdale in 2005, the homes along their street were still inhabited by the original owners. They loved their home. After finishing the basement where Dave could comfortably record his music, they had renovated the bathrooms and opened up the enclosed kitchen. They also loved the people they met through their involvement over the years with Arts on the Ave and St. Faith’s Anglican Church. Over time their street, directly north of the Stadium LRT station, changed as investors bought the homes from original owners anticipating future sales to multi-family building developers. The impact of the land speculation has been that properties are now rented cheaply. A search of rental listings shows many units available for less than $800 a month.
When new neighbours began selling drugs, “It began to affect us. A couple times in the middle of the night we had people banging on our door,” Christy says as she remembers resignedly directing buyers of drugs across the street to the dealers.
The Von Beikers began to look for another home. “We really wanted to stay in the core. We didn’t want to be east of 75th Street, but we weren’t finding what we wanted in the price we could pay,” says Dave.
This summer they will move into a home in Fulton Place that looks very similar to the one in Parkdale. They will gain slightly more space, but also access to Fulton Ravine with its connections to the river valley trail system, allowing Christie to continue to bike to work.
“It’s close to shops which we already visit where soon the kids can apply for jobs,” Christie says. “Plus across the street is the skate park my son visits regularly.” While they are torn by the circumstances that initiated this move, they readily anticipate the people and experiences this next phase of life with their growing teens will bring.
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This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton.