A windswept Manitoba maple stands in the spot where the Garneau neighbourhood was founded in 1874.
“We thought the plaque was a good idea because we had visions of some enthusiastic gardener cutting the tree down,” jokes Cruden,a retired government employee who’s lived in the area since 1972.
But this living testament to Garneau’s age is also a reminder of change. In the 1960s, the University of Alberta expropriated a northwest chunk of Garneau, leaving it looking like a puzzle piece on the city map between University Avenue and Saskatchewan Drive. It now sees low-rise and high-rise apartments, with students and faculty sharing blocks with families and retirees in 1920s Arts and Crafts houses and 1950s bungalows. It’s a balance, says Cruden, maintained by dedicated community members lobbying to ensure that heritage remains in the landscape.
The core group came together in the ’70s, according to Cruden, after developers built the first highrises in the area. In 1973, the group formed the Garneau Community League Planning Committee, while lobbying for a development plan, which came about in 1983. The plan details the type of housing that can be built and their locations so that they best fit the community aesthetic. “It’s a question of working with developers to get something reasonable,” she says. “Not every old house can be saved.”
But one thing remains the same over the past century: Garneau is still a highly sought-after neighbourhood, with a charm succinctly immortalized in Todd Babiak’s award-winning novel, The Garneau Block.
Having lived in both England and France, Cruden says Garneau provides a sense of community like none she’s experienced. The expropriation strained relations between the U of A and some residents, since the community was largely against the appropriation of land and the destruction of some heritage homes in the area.
Now, university-hired historians now help determine the value of homes. Cruden works with fraternities, ensuring they realize the area is home to more than just students. She says, “People do well when they talk to their neighbours. You can achieve a lot with food, drink and adversity.”
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