Pilot program will see alcohol consumption allowed in select Edmonton parks

The city will allow alcohol consumption from May 28 to Oct. 11 at 47 picnic sites in seven parks along the North Saskatchewan River valley. Focus/Toomas Tuul/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Edmontonians will be allowed to enjoy an alcoholic beverage in some parks this season, after city council approved a pilot project on Monday morning.

The pilot program will allow public alcohol consumption in select river valley parks from May 28 to Oct. 11, 2021.

“Realistically, this is already happening a fair bit in COVID, and I think putting some rules around it and having some measurement around it, adding some accountability and some public communications around it and some monitoring, I think will be a good thing without kicking the doors wide open saying you can do this anywhere,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

“It will be curated, it will be specific to certain sites. Now it will really give us a sense to: is this as straightforward as people think it is in Europe? Or will the worst fears that we’ve heard come to pass? And I suspect the answer will be somewhere in between.”

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The pilot comes after the city conducted an online survey earlier this year, which showed 71 per cent of the more than 15,000 respondents strongly or somewhat supported the idea.

“Through public engagement, a majority of citizens told us they support responsible alcohol consumption at designated picnic sites,” said David Aitken, branch manager for Community Standards and Neighbourhoods.

“The picnic sites chosen meet our guiding principles around safety, accessibility, visitor experience, honouring existing park users and inclusivity.”

The river valley parks system was chosen for the pilot because enforcement is already present. The city said this will ensure efficient oversight of the pilot with minimized additional costs.

Alcohol consumption will be allowed at 47 picnic sites at seven parks, accounting for about 25 per cent of total picnic sites in the parks. The parks are Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, William Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle.

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The city said people can either book a spot or walk up to one of the first come, first served sites. Alcohol consumption will be allowed from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at picnic sites marked with signage.

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Any COVID-19 public health restrictions, such as group gathering limits, distancing and masking will apply at these sites.

The city said its online survey received a total of 15,554 responses. Reasons for supporting the idea included 85 per cent who said it completes an enjoyable food experience, 82 per cent said it regulates an activity that’s already happening and 79 per cent said it increases the opportunity for social interaction with family and friends.

Opposition to the idea was largely focused on public safety, with the top reasons for opposition being an increase in disorderly behaviour and the potential for drinking and driving.

Once the pilot wraps up, administration will analyze data, including usage and complaints. A report on the findings will be presented to city council at the end of 2021 for future consideration.

Council voted 8-3 in favour of the pilot program Monday morning. Councillors Tim Cartmell, Tony Caterina and Bev Esslinger voted against the idea.

Previously, alcohol consumption was not permitted in any park without a festival and event licence.

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