When you take Fort Road off Yellowhead Trail, you can’t help but notice the giant reflective building to your right, where the old Canada Packers plant once stood.
If you time it right — either late afternoon or really early morning — you’ll see a procession of shiny buses heading out of an even shinier garage for that day’s shift, like large blue ants marching one by one.
For decades the land laid barren, except for the historically designated smoke-stack, which made it brownﬁeld land — previously developed but no longer in use — that came with contamination. The City removed three metres of soil, and then just kept digging.
This site is smallish for a building this size,” says Pat Hanson, founding principal, gh3*, the architecture ﬁrm the City hired to design the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage. “This site wasn’t large enough to put acres of parking spaces at grade, like you normally would with a large service building, which is really the very worst thing to do in terms of environmental planning.” So, builders dug down to make enough room for 800 parking spaces below.
Above grade, a project this size, designed and built over 10 years, comes with changes in technology and priorities over that time. “In the initial stages, the new thing was buses were going to run on high-pressure natural gas,” says Carol Belanger, city architect at City of Edmonton. “But when you do some-thing like this, you look at other jurisdictions, and California was already going with electric buses. So we thought, let’s just leap-frog natural gas and go electric.” That meant installing overhead pantographs — the ﬁrst of their kind in North America — to charge the ﬂeet of 40 brand new electric buses (out of about 300 total) silently servicing the city streets (the second most electric buses of any city in Canada, with 20 more electrics on the way this summer).
The whole project aligns with the City’s plan to build more sustainably, with a 1.5 million- litre cistern that collects rain water and melted snow. That water is used to help give the buses their nightly scrubs, and the reﬂective stainless- steel exterior was both a functional and stylistic choice. “I thought it would make sense to have an overall cladding for the building to kind of celebrate its size, so that stainless cladding is everywhere,” Hanson says. “But where the ofﬁces are, it’s syncopated with glazing to bring light in.”
The ﬁve rooftop lanterns facing Fort Road also bring light in. They’re the public art component of the property, in conjunction with the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC), which hired Berlin-based multimedia artist Thorsten Goldberg. He titled the collection 53°30’N, based on the “globe game” of spinning a globe and placing your ﬁnger on places that lie on the same 53° latitude as Edmonton, including places as far away as Russia and China. Each lantern contains the other locations’ coordinates and a representation of their topography in a style that matches the building’s silver sheen, connecting Edmonton with some of its coordinate cousins across the world. “These places even sit on a line. If Mount Chown [in Jasper National Park] remained still while the Earth continued to rotate, then it would very quickly be in Edmonton,” Goldberg said in an interview with the EAC.
The location on Fort Road means something too, and not just because of its easy access to Yellowhead Trail and Wayne Gretzky Drive. It was once a major trading route and has a rich industrial past. But, over the years, the area, like the site itself, has been underused, if not neglected by public and private sectors alike. That’s changing — and it needs to, if we are to stay on track to becoming a city of two million people — with the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre renovation, the Stadium Yards development and now the brand new bus barns. “The middle of nowhere is somebody’s somewhere,” Belanger says, “and deserves functional buildings and beautiful art as much as anywhere else.”
Kathleen Andrews was somebody who went everywhere in Edmonton as our ﬁrst female bus operator (and dispatcher, and manager) in 1975. She wasn’t initially accepted by all her coworkers, and some passengers refused to board her bus. Today, her name is on the sign out front and her portrait hangs in the lobby. Her daughter Lisa, now an ETS instructor, said on the City website, “Not only has the building come to life, but the legacy, her accomplishments and sacriﬁces did too.”
This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Edify