|Photo by Dave Robb|
Sherbrooke Community Centre
When the northwest Edmonton community of Sherbrooke was devised in the early 1950s under the direction of Edmontons first town planner Noel Dant, it was unlike anything the city or most of the country had ever seen. Dant, who came to Canada from England, used a neighbourhood concept as the basis of his plan, with curvilinear street patterns leading to school and community league sites at the heart of the neighbourhood.
A 1990 fact sheet from the city planning department notes that although such features seem commonplace today, Sherbrooke was cited by the American Society of Planning Officials as a model of good subdivision design. Dants inspired design kept through-traffic away from the heart of the community, making the streets safer for pedestrians and reducing noise and air pollution.
At the same time, the street and laneway pattern was a more efficient use of land than the traditional grid pattern, but the design wasnt so convoluted that you would get lost looking for an address. The design encouraged walking and social interaction, and it worked masterfully.
The neighbourhood had as its boundaries arterial roadways: 118th Avenue to the south, 125th Avenue to the north, 127th Street to the east and St. Albert Trail to the west. That made travelling to and from the neighbourhood easy and convenient.
Its hard to believe that its more than a half century since Dants vision became reality.
I lived in Sherbrooke in the 1960s and 70s and I remember the sense of community. It seemed we knew just about all our neighbours and there was an easy friendliness and a strong community spirit. People really did leave their houses unlocked.
My father Wilfred coached minor hockey and we kids were always raising funds for some community venture or other. I can remember selling almonds door-to-door, washing cars in the community league parking lot, freezing my toes at the rink and bouncing rubber balls off the brick wall of the school gymnasium.
Dants design made the streets a safe place to play road hockey because cars were few, and we would play for hours on end. A big pastime for neighbourhood kids was Knock a Door Ginger and a big tournament win would get our hockey team dinner at Buffalo Bills on Kingsway. There was always some gathering or other, including pot luck dinners and hot dogs grilled in the community hall.
Now, as urban designers grapple with ways to keep traffic out of neighbourhoods, get people out of their cars and devise ways to connect communities and the people that call them home, they are turning to places like Sherbrooke for inspiration. It stands as an inspired and brilliant example of superb urban design.
A lot of years have come and gone, the housing stock has aged and the trees grown bigger, but the old neighbourhood hasnt changed all that much.
Nearly 60 years after its incorporation, Sherbrooke still boasts an abundance of single family dwellings. While the city-wide average for single family dwellings is 50 per cent, fully three-quarters of the homes in Sherbrooke are SFDs. Row houses and low rise apartments make up the other quarter of Sherbrookes residential mix.
Alice Brebrich, a resident who ferreted out historical tidbits for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1998, found that while Sherbrooke the community was founded in 1948, formalized settlement in the area reaches back to the Camp 550 Community League. Camp 550 was established in the early 1940s as an American military engineers staging ground for construction of the Alaska Highway.
The neighbourhood was first subdivided in 1906, using a grid street pattern and then annexed to Edmonton in 1913. In the early years, it was squatters shacks and farmland and, in the 1920s, farmer Walter Sporles cow pasture, where St. Albert Trail now runs, was used as a landing field.
One of the fragments from those early settlement days can be found at 11949 128th Street. Its the house that was the heart of the Sherbrooke Farm early in the 20th century. The house, a typical homestead style gable-fronted dwelling, was built sometime between 1900 and 1919.
It wasnt until the oil boom of the 1950s that Sherbrooke kicked into gear. In 1954, construction commenced on the community hall and St. Pius X Church and expansion was underway at St. Vitals Separate School (changed to St. Pius X in 1961).
Sherbrooke School opened in September 1954. Demand was so robust that additions to the public school were completed just one year later and again in 1963. As the neighbourhood came of age, enrolment declined and, in 1984, the Edmonton Public School Board decided to close its doors.
The school building now serves several functions, including a home for the Shumka Dancers and the Awasis Program for First Nations students. Sherbrooke has one of the highest concentrations of First Nations families in the city: in the 2001 census, more than 17 per cent of households identified themselves as aboriginal in origin.
The last few years, young families are moving back into Sherbrooke, drawn by the solid bungalows, mature landscaping, leafy boulevards and its enviable sense of community. The 2001 census tallied the neighbourhoods population at 2,600, comprised mostly of married couples (77 per cent) and with children in 55 per cent of the homes.
Our 1953 bungalow fell to the march of progress in 1980 as the Yellowhead interchange consumed its victims. But the street is still there and I pause at the spot where my 13-year-old cat, chasing an invading feline, was mowed down by a big Buick. I can still see the front yard where I jumped over the maple trees as an nine-year-old and which, before the house fell, had grown to tower above it.
Great memories of growing up in a nifty neighbourhood, a place ahead of its time. We didnt know then just how fortunate we were.