Sunday, December 30, 2012


I lived in Montreal for over 30 years, but I still remember the adjustment to the local (anglo) dialect when I moved there. I heard terms that had been borrowed from French like “depanneur”, and terms that had been partially translated like “javel water” (from eau de javel or “bleach”), and terms that had been literally translated like “file” (dossier). A twelve-pack became a “case of 12”, and a two-four a “case of 24”. I'm still not sure what a six-pack is. Adjusting culturally wasn't just a matter of mastering the two-cheek kiss, it also involved learning a new dialect, Montreal English.

Now, I have the same challenge. Coming to Edmonton, I knew I would no longer find any depanneurs, even if there is a convenience store on every other corner. Store names, even of familiar chains, are different. Here Couche Tard is Mac's, Pharmaprix is Shopper's Drug Mart, and Dix Mille Villages is Ten Thousand Villages. And the Metro is the LRT (though outside of downtown it's a surface rail system, not a subway).

We've encountered some unfamiliar geographical features such as hoodoos and badlands and coulees and buffalo jumps. And we're becoming accustomed to hearing (and one day doubtless will be saying) some unfamiliar terms. Here are a few:

Lodge – a residence for autonomous or semi-autonomous elderly people in which each individual or couple maintains a private residence but benefits from some communal activities and services such as meal service, though not generally nursing care; not to be confused with a nursing home.

Patio – an outdoor section of a restaurant enjoyed during summer; a sidewalk cafe; what is referred to in Montreal as a terrasse.

Lounge – a drinking establishment where one might also eat a snack or a meal; not really a bar, although there will be a bar in the lounge; similar to, but perhaps quieter and perhaps more posh (or pretentious) than a pub.

Suite – an individual dwelling in an apartment or condominium building.

Parkade – no, not a cool drink enjoyed in a park – a structure for indoor parking which may be one or more levels at, under or above ground level; could be a whole building or part of a building which has other purposes on other levels.

Stall – a space for parking a vehicle, either in a parking lot or in a parkade; (perhaps a re-purposing of the same term for a space for parking a horse?) We have a stall in the parkade of our condo building.

Blading – scraping snow on the street using heavy equipment such as a grader; the goal is not to remove the snow, but rather to scrape the frozen snow-pack to remove ruts and leave a smooth surface, which may be several centimetres above the street surface, and may also be much smoother than the street surface below.

Acreage – a sizable plot of land outside the city on which (usually) a sizable house is built.

Pedway – an indoor pedestrian walkway which may take the form of an underground tunnel or above-ground bridge between buildings, or a thoroughfare through a building, LRT station or parkade; there is a whole pedway network through downtown Edmonton, similar to Montreal's underground city except that parts of the pedway are at or above ground level.

A Pedway
I'm sure my lexicon of the Alberta dialect will expand over time. As it does I'll try to add other interesting terms.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Previously I have written about navigation in Edmonton, and how easy it is to find nearly any given address using the street grid. But there's a funny quirk about the grid.

In cities in Central Canada, such as Toronto or Montreal, there is a dividing line running down the centre of the city which neatly divides it into east and west, or perhaps into north and south. In Toronto, the line is Yonge Street; in Montreal it's St Laurent Blvd. So an address on Bloor Street East in Toronto, for example, is on that part of Bloor Street which is to the east of Yonge Street. Similarly, an address on Ste Catherine Street West in Montreal is to the west of St Laurent Blvd.

Not so in Edmonton. My office address is on 103 Street NW. But that doesn't mean that it's on that portion of 103 Street which is to the north-west of some dividing line. Rather, in Edmonton, the NW refers to the quadrant of the city rather than the direction from a specific line. There are in effect two meridians in Edmonton dividing the city into four quadrants. But the east-west meridian was placed far to the south of the city and the north-south meridian far to the east. So, with a few exceptions such as a rail yard in the North-East quadrant, until recent growth of the city beyond the meridians virtually the whole city of Edmonton was (and still is) in the North-West quadrant. So in fact, for many addresses, it's irrelevant that the address is in the North-West, even if NW is technically part of the address.

As I mentioned before, Streets in Edmonton run North-South and Avenues are East-West in direction. They are numbered sequentially (more or less) from the meridians, which would be street or avenue number zero (where there is in fact a road on the meridian). Streets and avenues in the same quadrant of the city are both labelled NW (or NE, SE or SW). So where in other cities you might have a corner of X Street W and Y Street N, in Edmonton you have the corner of, say, 103 Street NW and Jasper Avenue NW. Sometimes there are gaps in streets or avenues. For example, it's not possible to drive in a straight line along 101 Street from end to end. Instead there are several 101 Streets, or several pieces of 101 Street, depending on how you look at it. But if there's a street along that part of the grid, it's called 101 Street. And the street address will give a quick guide to which piece of the street you're looking for, whether the bit between 48 Avenue and 45 Avenue, or the next bit south between 42 Avenue and 39 Avenue (NW that is). (An address on the first section would be between 4500 and 4800, whilst an address on the second bit would be between 3900 and 4200.)

Some streets, obviously, cross the meridians, so for example 111 Street SW is the southern continuation of 111 Street NW. And 167 Avenue NE is the eastern continuation of 167 Avenue NW. But here's where things get confusing. There is a 17 Street NW and also a 17 Street NE. But these are not continuations of the same street across a meridian. These are two very separate streets 34 blocks apart and parallel to each other. That's where the quadrant reference becomes essential to finding an address. Because without it, you wouldn't necessarily just be at the wrong end of a street, you could be on the wrong street entirely, many blocks from the correct street.

There are some natural barriers to the growth of the city to the east (the city of Sherwood Park) and the south (the airport), but as long as numbered streets remain in vogue in the newer parts of the city in quadrants other than NW, the quadrant reference will become increasingly important as the city of Edmonton grows.