The Mustard Seed Church
Welcome to The Mustard Seed’s Downtown Social Justice Walk. We are glad that you have chosen to spend time with us today, walking through the streets of downtown Edmonton and experiencing the city through a different lens. The purpose of this walk is threefold.
First, we will learn about the rich history of Edmonton’s oldest neighbourhoods. Second, we will explore some of the issues that impact the lives of our most vulnerable neighbours. Finally, we will shine a light on the beauty in our community – the people who live here, and a few of the organizations that work to ensure each person in our community not only survives, but are recognized for their unique gifts, strengths, and contributions to our community.
Our route is 3.8km, and will take around 75-90mins; perhaps a little longer if you choose to stop and enjoy the views or chat with someone along the way. The safest time to walk downtown is during the day, and while it is safe to walk alone downtown during the day, we suggest walking with a group if you feel a bit nervous. The stories in each location are best experienced there in full before moving on, so do take the time to take in and really feel your surroundings and the stories that made them what they are today.
Our walk will also offer many opportunities for reflection, which we hope will lead to rich conversation. So, with that, we invite you to open your eyes, your ears, and your heart as we walk together.
You are standing in front of the red and yellow brick Mustard Seed Church, on 96th St.
Built in 1912 as Central Baptist Church, this was in the heart of the burgeoning community of McCauley, named after Edmonton’s first mayor. The neighbourhood was vibrant, culturally diverse, and family oriented. 96th Street is commonly known as Church Street because of the number of churches within just a few blocks, as was honoured by the Edmonton Historical Board in 2010.
Today, however, this stretch of 96th Street is commonly known as “the inner city” – culturally segregated, impoverished, and even a dangerous place. In the 1950’s many residents, in search of quieter and larger backyards, relocated to the newly built suburbs, and when they left, they took with them opportunities and resources.
The geographical separation between the rich and the poor started to grow. Central Baptist sold the church building and moved across the river. Over the next twenty-five years the church assumed several different colourful identities, most notably Danny Hooper’s Bar and Saloon.
In the mid 1980’s Central Baptist and First Baptist Churches partnered to buy back the church together, and in 1988 it became the Mustard Seed Church drop-in center. Prior to Covid, 300-400 people would gather each night for a drop in supper and evening activities that included karaoke, art night, documentary movies, and Hockey Night in Canada.
Presently the church is the headquarters for our Dinner 2 Door Program, which provides 1,200 meals each week to Edmontonians in need and is an Edmonton Food Bank depot.
Looking south and west across the street, you will see the Boyle McCauley Health Center.
Our community members often face multiple barriers to accessing health services – some of these include ethnicity, poverty, homelessness, addictions, mental illness, social isolation, and no Alberta Health Care coverage. The Boyle McCauley Health Center was the first community-based health center in Alberta; founded in 1979 by a group of Medical Mission Sisters, who recognized that the inner city was, because of its uniqueness and complexities, under-serviced in health care.
Today the team is comprised of physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, licensed practical nurses, health advocates, outreach workers, and other community specialists who look at the whole person and work with that person in making decisions about their health care. Appointments range from 20 minutes to an hour, drop-in appointments are common, and no ID is required.
At our next stop, we are going to dive more deeply into some of Edmonton’s Housing First initiatives, aimed at addressing and reducing the on-going impacts of colonization on our Indigenous neighbours. Continue walking south on 96th Street, and turn right on 106th Ave, so that you are walking westbound toward our next stop, Ambrose Place, which will be on your left on the south side of the street part way between 96th and 97th St.