The lack of diversity in Edmonton was concerning when I first moved to the city about three years ago. The opportunity to interact with a person of ethnicity was limited. When I walked past a fellow black person, my first thought was to start a conversation because another encounter with someone that looked like me was less likely to happen the next day.
A few of my friends in Eastern Ontario teased me about my decision to leave the culturally rich city of Toronto. Some asked if black hair salons and local stores that sell African and Caribbean food even existed. The impression that most people had of Edmonton at the time didn’t surprise me. I made attempts to encourage people I knew to relocate here, but the normal response was “the diversity is lacking” — and they were right.
At work, there were a limited number of ethnic groups of people, and the experience often felt culturally isolating. But the annual festival that I patiently waited to attend each summer that attracts a high number of people from different nations is the Heritage Festival. Imagine an abundance of cultures in one park all celebrating their cultures in a fun environment. I became less certain that a lack of diversity was going to be the motivating factor that would encourage me to move back to Ontario.
It took me about six months to find a good black hair salon. After contacting a few black-owned restaurants, I finally found a grocery store that sells spices and food that my taste buds were beginning to miss. In an attempt to find African restaurants to replace the delicious GTA hot spots I grew to love, it felt like a long journey.
Fast track to today, and the city of Edmonton is finally receiving the recognition it deserves. More recently, MSN ranked Edmonton the 8th most romantic city in the world. Not bad for a place that people consider to be blue collar.
The moment I was introduced to events that showcase local talent this summer, I knew that the city was moving in a different direction. I attended a recent event downtown and interviewed a Jazz, African and R&B group called MelAfrique. When asked about their experience performing here they said, “music is a huge part of our lives, and we are glad that we have such great opportunities in Edmonton to share our musical talents.”
The Rogers Place has changed the way I view Edmonton’s entertainment scene. One of the things I love about Toronto is your favorite music artist, or comedian will show up because it is a world class city. Before the Rogers Place was constructed, I was tempted to book a flight to Toronto to see some of my favorite artists perform on stage. I remember being devastated when I learned artists would skip over Edmonton and perform in Calgary. I finally saw Bruno Mars in concert in July and was overjoyed with happiness. Beyonce and Rihanna graced the stage last year, and it is the beginning of greater things to come here in Edmonton.
What do you think about Edmonton’s diversity? Is the entertainment scene improving?
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Author: Makeda Waterman