New Hawrelak Park art garden celebrates community in six sculptures


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There’s a new public art playground in Edmonton, and it’s built on a human scale, meant to be climbed all over — and very Instagrammable by design. What’s more, it’s an easy-to-fathom symbolic celebration of one of Edmonton’s greatest assets: community engagement.

The multi-station artwork was designed and fabricated by Alberta’s Heavy Industries and is part of a larger newly-designed public space on the south side of the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park, commissioned by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL), in advance of Canada’s first community league program — ours — turning 100 next year.

The space includes a smartly designed plaza with covered semicircle roofs around a cylindrical stone fireplace, a nice echo of the historic Canada Packers Smoke Stack on Fort Road.

EFCL’s business development director Nora Begoray walks me through the beautiful section of park along the manmade stream, happily climbing all over it, noting the plaza and artwork were built for a few reasons, including as a landmark-scaled thank-you to 100 years of community volunteers.


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“Also,” she notes, “as a gift — a place to enjoy our beautiful Edmonton river valley park space, and to learn about how unique community leagues are and what a great movement we’ve created here in Edmonton. A place to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment.”

Along with the artworks are historical signs highlighting the city’s history from a very D.I.Y., engaged-citizen’s perspective — echoed in the very fact of the plaza and art walk itself, which came out of the EFCL, as opposed to being a per cent for art project mandated by the city.

Begoray hopes the message of participation resonates: “All the art pieces were designed to be engaging and to tell a story.”

Like the Edmonton Arts Council’s (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ sculpture garden in Old Strathcona, the new art park has a sense of once you’ve seen one work, you want to see them all. I took my 3.5-year-old friend Levon Wolf along to see how and if he honestly enjoyed the art.

Moving from northeast to southwest, the first piece we encountered is a triple-paned interactive cutout showing athletes playing sports. Kids of just the right height can slip into the action poses of soccer, basketball and hockey like those wooden puzzles of farm animals. Without prompting, Levon went straight for the hockey player, reaching up for the stick.

Levon Wolf, 3 1/2, reaches for future glory in EFCL’s Sports sculpture in Hawrelak Park.
Levon Wolf, 3 1/2, reaches for future glory in EFCL’s Sports sculpture in Hawrelak Park. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

Just south of this is a monument to the idea of play and playgrounds of yore, a giant truck tire is frozen in mid swing. “The idea was to take the idea of a tire swing and freeze it in a moment in time,” explains Connor Hayduk, Heavy Industries’ design and development lead on the project. “It’s really about an Instagram moment.” Anyone hoping for a functioning swing can probably find one in the hundreds of playgrounds around the city — but this piece is designed to in effect honour an older sort of playground that’s somewhat fallen out of fashion, recycling discarded industrial equipment. Either way, my little friend was happy to be boosted up on this one, dropping down through the hole with a mad cackle.


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The third stop to the northwest is my favourite, meant to honour citizens’ voices and are councils in the form of giant cedar megaphone. While your voice certainly carries if you’re sitting in the back of the cone, what I think is really wonderful about this one is how it actually functions as an amplifying receiver, turning up the volume of the surrounding area when you sit at the back. Whispers from 20 feet away are turned way up, and the Canada geese on the pond down the path honk right in your ears. Philosophically, it encourages the idea of listening as much as making your own noise. But, tell a three-year-old that, right? Hayduk says it wasn’t intentionally designed as a listening device but adds, “It’s great when you find those little Easter eggs — happy accidents.”

As we move west down the path, we come to a soapbox racer, asking us to think about “city-wide events.” Once again, if you’re a little one, hop in, and Levon does right away — this one’s his favourite. The best details here are the tracks leading the vehicle in — now permanently stopped and on display.

Nora Begoray of Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues with one of the six new public art sculptures beside the Community League Plaza in Hawrelak Park.
Nora Begoray of Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues with one of the six new public art sculptures beside the Community League Plaza in Hawrelak Park. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Next up, right at the Community League Plaza, a red curtain made of metal to represent the performing arts, extra useful during the pandemic, actually, as it’s right out in the open, and its prop microphone is fantastic — I’m imagining a few photo shoots here. David Lynch well understands the universality of the red curtain as a symbol of the unreal, and this strange, hard echo of one is weirdly awesome.


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Finally, last stop, a giant, partially buried frame by the water and its ubiquitous geese representing volunteers, signalling both adoration of the living subjects standing inside the frame — that would be you — and a certain ancient timelessness via its partially unearthed state that speaks to legacy and history unearthed and on display, which brings us back to the whole concept of the plaza.

Like the plaza, which also has a spot for different transitory art beneath its time capsule, the art was funded Hertitage Legacy Fund and Edmonton Heritage Council, the artworks additionally paid for by various sponsors and city community organizations.

Thinking about it all, Begoray concludes, “It’s a little about hope, too.”

“An outside group creating an installation like this to gift to the city in a city park space is unusual, but it is what community leagues do in every neighbourhood.

“We need community leagues now more than ever and we don’t want them to struggle to keep rinks opened and in good repair, or struggle to provide community gathering space, amenities, programs and services. These non-profits need the support, voice, talents, contributions and participation of every citizen in order to continue to be sustainable, grow and thrive.

“We want people to participate and engage,” she smiles. “Get engaged!”

Meanwhile, as someone who engaged with the art, Levon gives his own review with a big smile — “Oh I love it!” — then wanders off into the nearby crunchy-leafy creek bed, continuing a tiny lifetime of curiosity and exploration.



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