WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Volunteers with the University of the Philippines Alumni Association were the food vendors at the fair. They were raising money for their scholarship fund.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
The Church Street Fair offered a variety of musicians as well of tours of Churches, including the former Immaculate Conception Church.
Friends of Church Street seeks to promote the historical significance of 96th Street in Edmonton's
McCauley neighbourhood, commonly referred to as Church Street.
Church Street has numerous houses of worship across a five-block stretch, from 106th to 110th Avenue. The inaugural Church Street Fair on July 12 gave people an opportunity to tour the churches and learn their histories.
"We have a diverse, exciting and wonderful community that is inclusive and welcoming. Our diversity is in our spirit, our culture, our nationality, and in our religion," said Colleen Chapman, the president and founder of Friends of Church Street.
The fair program included various singers performing along the sidewalks. Local artisans, face painters, a playground, and a family-friendly street dance kept everyone entertained. The Edmonton Oil Kings even brought the Memorial Cup. There was a wedding and a wedding shower at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples.
"We had a small but dedicated group of volunteers, and I'm not sure we could have handled a lot more people. We had something for everybody. We had activities for children and lots of seniors on the streets," said Chapman.
While this was the first official fair, churches opened last summer for Sunday afternoon tours, with musicians performing on the sidewalks.
"We just started putting this together March 23, and our funding finally came in two weeks ago, so it was a labour of love," said Chapman, confident that the fair will become an annual event.
Next year, she hopes for even more choirs, musicians and local artists. Any Edmonton business will be allowed to set up for free.
The Church Street neighbourhood has been recognized and identified as something special in the McCauley Revitalization Strategy and a recent heritage study. Recent interest by city council has initiated a process to look at options to revitalize and promote the street.
"Everyone is really excited about seeing Church Street designated as a historical site," said Chapman.
"One big benefit to that is for the old churches on the block, if they have structural issues that they need fixed – for instance, basements or damaged foundations – the City of Edmonton covers half the cost now."
Church Street was mentioned on Ripley's Believe It or Not as having the highest concentration of churches in the world, with a caveat that there was no way to tell if the claim was accurate.
"There is a lot of history here. With such a beautiful day, my family wanted something fun to do outdoors, and when we heard about this fair, it seemed like the thing to do," said Greg Nash, touring the Church Street sites with his wife and daughter.
Although the Nashes are not churchgoers, he said he has a keen interest in history and, having lived in Edmonton most of their lives, he and his family also enjoyed learning more about the city's rich past.
Likewise, Hank Molenaar said the fair gave him an opportunity to see inside places of worship he otherwise would never see.
"The architecture, the different interiors, the varied designs of the churches along here, it's all so interesting. I'm glad I came here to see inside the churches," said Molenaar.
The only currently active Catholic church on the street is Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. The building at 10830-96 St., previously the home of Queen of Martyrs (Vietnamese) Parish and Immaculate Conception (francophone) Parish, is currently vacant.
"I loved having Sacred Heart as 'church central' because it's their 100th year, so it was historically significant," said Chapman.
"Quite frankly, it's the most vibrant church on a day-to-day basis on the street. The most active priest on the street is Father Jim Holland, the treasurer for Friends of Church Street."