Touch the Water Promenade project reimagines riverfront of future as destination for all

When you see or hear the phrase “Touch the Water,” it means a portion of Edmonton’s river valley near the Rossdale neighbourhood could go from looking something like this ↓

to something like this ↓

Touch the Water means Victoria Oval could go from this ↓

to this ↓

Touch the Water means the hill near the High Level Bridge that now looks like so ↓

could look like so ↓

Touch the Water means this ↓

could be transformed into this ↓

And Touch the Water means Government House Park, which now looks like this ↓

could, with a daylighted Groat Creek brought back into the picture, look like this ↓

Visionary project

Touch the Water is all of this, and more. 

Touch the Water is a vision to improve spaces near Rossdale, the Legislature, the High Level Bridge, Victoria Park, the Groat Bridge and Government House Park. 

The nearly four kilometre stretch of reimagined space would become a signature public outdoor space with multiple gathering areas to be enjoyed by everyone. 

It would be accessible to all ages and abilities.

These spaces could see improved shared pathways, more seating and gathering spaces, public washrooms and improved wildlife habitat and corridors. 

The Groat Creek and river’s edge could also be restored with native plants and natural materials to support the bank and prevent erosion. 

Touch the Water means more ways to connect with and enjoy the river valley—including more ways to get closer to the water.

Concept design

Right now, Touch the Water is a concept design. 

Touch the Water isn’t being built now. It does not yet have a construction budget. It does not have a construction timeline. 

But today is the time to imagine tomorrow. Just like the Edmontonians of yesterday imagined the river valley of today.

“Continuing to plan for the city we want tomorrow, will better position Edmonton for future generations and what may lie ahead,” said Suzanne Young, Director, Open Space Planning & Design at the City of Edmonton. 

Promenades feature prominently in the Touch the Water vision.

Connecting communities, promenades

Touch the Water is being designed for two distinct but connected project areas: the Touch the Water Promenade and the North Shore Promenade. 

The Touch the Water Promenade area is adjacent to the Rossdale neighbourhood near 94 Avenue, moving west to the Walterdale Bridge. 

The location of Touch the Water Promenade (orange) and North Shore Promenade (yellow).

The North Shore Promenade continues three kilometres upstream west of the Walterdale Bridge along River Valley Road to Government House Park.

“We want to create a vibrant public space, one that makes communities and nature more accessible to everyone,” said Young.

Learning from pandemic

Shorter travel horizons and the need to find space to spread out meant going outdoors for a growing number of Edmontonians during the pandemic.

“The river valley and the ravine system and the many open spaces in Edmonton were where people went and safely gathered,” said Young. 

Sections of river valley trail, like this one just west of Groat Bridge, have been popular spots during the pandemic.

Consider: 

The shared pathway on River Valley Road saw almost 200,000 users from June to September of 2020, compared to 91,000 during the same time in 2019.  The Rossdale Trail saw nearly 118,000 users from June to September of 2020, compared to just over 60,000 during the period in 2019. 

“We are continuing to plan for the future because we want Edmonton’s parks and open spaces to be as relevant and valuable to Edmontonians after the pandemic as they are now,” said Young.  

“Continuing to plan for the city we want tomorrow, will better position Edmonton for future generations and what may lie ahead.”

In-person engagement session from Touch the Water, Kinsmen Sports Centre,  2019.

Engagement

The City of Edmonton acknowledges the project area has deep historical and cultural connections to many Indigenous Nations and Communities. Engagement on Touch the Water has and will continue to reflect that fact.

21: number of Indigenous Nations and Communities that took part in site visits in October 2019

29: number of Nations and Communities invited to review draft project

16: number of Nations and Communities that completed remote engagement

The Touch the Water concept design was developed based on substantial feedback from two phases of engagement with these regional Indigenous Nations and Communities, as well as the general public and a wide range of organizations with a stake in the future of the river valley.

Touch the Water engagement session, Fall 2019. Twenty-nine regional Indigenous Nations and Communities were invited to begin engagement on the project.

“A project of this scale is likely to be phased and developed over time and over many years and budget cycles,” said Young.

“But it’s still important to undertake that planning and design at this time so that we have a shared vision for what the area could look like when funding for construction becomes available.”

Rossdale engagement

A third engagement period runs from July 19 to August 2, 2021. In this phase of engagement, the project team is looking for feedback on the Rossdale portion of the project only.

The public space would support and encourage the future re-use of the powerplant and pump houses. There are separate projects that are currently looking at new ways for the public to use the powerplant and pump houses.

The concept design proposes connection with other upcoming and possible projects in the area, including the proposed Prairie Sky Gondola project, the Power Plant rehabilitation and EPCOR’s Water Plant Flood Protection Work.

The Traditional Burial Grounds is acknowledged in the concept design.  To enhance peaceful visits, more perimeter trees would be added to the area. 

River valley love

Edmonton’s river valley is the gift of each generation to the next. 

Touch the Water is a unique opportunity to get involved and learn more about a project that will preserve and enhance that gift. 

“We know that Edmontonians love the river valley and that it holds a special place in the hearts of so many,” said Young. 

“We want to build on that love for this area and ensure we enhance the space so it can be enjoyed by all Edmontonians. Our project team is working hard to preserve and restore this beautiful space, but, at the same time, build upon that beauty and provide greater access to all.”

Editor’s note: the artist’s rendering at the top of the post shows a section of the Touch the Water Promenade near the Rossdale neighbourhood. For the most up to date information on the project, visit the Touch the Water project website. The What We Heard report is also a good resource.

City Manager Andre Corbould, left, next to Suzanne Young and members of the Touch the Water Project Team on site tour, June, 2021.