Bringing old stories to new audiences
Tucked away in a quiet residential neighbourhood near Edmonton’s downtown core is the Prince of Wales Armouries, a fortress-like brick building dating back more than a century. Over the years, it has served as a training base for military operations, the home of non-profit organizations like the Edmonton Food Bank, numerous Cadets groups and even a community league or two.
Fittingly, the historical building now acts as a dedicated heritage centre, home of the City of Edmonton Archives, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum, and the Edmonton Heritage Council, among others. For many of these historically focused tenants, the Armouries are a chance to bridge old with new, and to help Edmontonians connect with the people, places and objects that have shaped their city.
“What I love about this location, is not only that it’s central, but that it offers us this amazing perspective of the city as it’s growing. In the last few years, as there’s been a lot of development with the Royal Alex and the emerging health complex there, and of course Rogers Place and the extension of downtown… we’ve had front-row seats for all of it,” says David Ridley, executive director of the Edmonton Heritage Council. “It’s really an exciting confluence of so many things.”
As the executive director of a relatively young organization, Ridley is no stranger to transformative growth. He’s been on staff with the EHC since it was founded in 2009, incubated within the Edmonton Arts Council. This close relationship with the Arts Council was of huge benefit for EHC’s foundational years, as it allowed the young EHC a chance to tap into EAC’s already well-established knowledge as it formed its own organizational structure.
But it wasn’t long after Ridley took on the role of executive director in 2012 that he began looking for a new, separate space for the organization. With EHC’s foundation now set, he was ready to build its capacity. When he learned of recently renovated space available in the Prince of Wales Armouries, he knew it would be the perfect home.
“We didn’t look elsewhere. We knew this is where we wanted to be,” he laughs. The recent renovations meant that mechanical systems and drawings were up to date and easily accessible. It also meant that few structural changes would be needed to make the space their own.
“I’d say we exist to help convene conversation. So whether that’s in the form of a board or committee meeting, or discussions with the community, we wanted to find a space that could allow us to have more of these conversations,” he says. “So, sitting down with the architects and planning out this new office, we had the chance to create the spaces that we needed to do what I believe is the core of the work.”
Although the office required few major renovations, the project would still require a significant budget, which would be a challenge for the young organization. It was a catch-22: EHC needed the space to continue to grow, but financing the project’s construction up front would be a challenge.
Fortunately, thanks to EHC’s close relationship with the Edmonton Arts Council and other local non-profits, Ridley was well aware of SEF. After pricing out a plan for the project, he approached SEF. The resulting relationship proved to be invaluable.
“Even if we could have gone to a traditional bank for financing, it wouldn’t have been the same. I can confidently say this whole project would’ve had an entirely different feeling,” he says. “The relationship with SEF means we have a very manageable agreement, and we have a partner who is very understanding of our model. They understand what it means to build and grow and connect people in a city.”
Today the EHC office, located on the second floor of the Armouries, is a bright, modern space with plenty of natural light. The site offers plenty of free parking, as well as convenient access to a nearby LRT stop. It’s a curious mix of old and new, and the ideal location for community conversations and connections.