The cheerful sound of soprano saxophone greets me as I step off the elevator into the City Room of City Hall. Orderly rows of tables hold flowers, produce, jewelry, crafts, and baked goods from samosas to scones. Shoppers of all ages peruse the stalls. All commerce ceases and cameras come out as musicians with baroque instruments climb the wide staircase and perform on the landing.
The Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays through the winter is just one of the many events held in this civic space that is open to all.
I received my Masters’ degree in this room. I’ve read poetry here numerous times. I’ve lined up for stew and bannock at a winter festival and watched bands performing on the landing while children played obliviously on the steps. I’ve seen aerial artists hanging from the high ceiling. I’ve welcomed winning athletes back from international competitions, turned in my pledges and collected my t-shirt for numerous fundraising walks.
The many times I’ve attended events in the City Room I’ve been impressed by how wonderful it is to be able to access that space and by the diversity of events it holds and the people it attracts. It is also incredibly beautiful. Its artistic combination of travertine and terrazzo stone, laser-cut maple and vast expanse of glass that floods the room with light fills me with a sense of pride in our city.
“Wow!” is the usual reaction when visitors enter the space, according to Jill Wright, City Hall Client Services Manager. “It’s an inspiring building.” Her office is tucked behind the Information Desk and she feels lucky to work in such awe-inspiring surroundings.
“Function followed form,” Jill says. The building grew from the vision of architect Gene Dub. “When he sat in council meetings as an alderman he had a dream of what city hall could be.” That vision is now reality. “It is totally thrilling that Edmontonians have taken control of their City Hall,” Jill says. The policy that any non-profit group can use the space free of charge has been taken to heart. The City Room has held smudgings and interfaith celebrations of more than a dozen faith groups. It’s held everything from formal events like Police and Fire Rescue Graduations to swing dances and walkerathons.
Musicians love it for its great acoustics. Violinist Guillaume Tardif practiced here for two days prior to his performance at Carnegie Hall, Jill says, and it often hosts musical events. A piano in the room is open to anyone who wants to play it (for a limit of 15 minutes) and is well-used.
The City Room was transformed into a hockey rink complete with boards for the arena announcement and a castle for Daughter’s Day. It was Mission Control for the media during the Tour of Alberta which started and finished at City Hall. It is also used by students with City Hall School. “Up to 800 children every month learn about municipal government and 24 classes a year make City Hall their classroom,” Jill notes.
In a place of prominence on the first landing of the grand staircase is a framed covenant acknowledging that City Hall is built on Treaty Six land. The Treaty 6 flag is the only flag inside City Room.
Around six private events are held in the City Room during the year when it is closed to the public. Otherwise it is open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm on weekdays, and from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and 11:00 am to 5:00 pm on Sundays. “Homeless folks make themselves at home here,” Jill says. “We’ve found them to be very respectful and helpful.” It is also a popular place for wedding and graduation photos, she says.
The City Room is also the rain-out location for the Street Performers Festival.
“Except for the flaming jugglers” Jill quickly points out. “There’s a limit!”