Carissa Halton (left) in conversation with podcaster and Edmonton School Board Trustee Trisha Estabrooks at the launch of Little Yellow House on September 14 at the Alberta Avenue Community Hall. Naomi Pahl
Life in the inner city inspires writer Carissa Halton. Her book Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood is a collection of what she describes as “literary Polaroids: snapshots in time of either a character, or a scene, or the streets.”
Halton, who lives in Alberta Avenue with her family, says that she “wanted to capture the neighbourhood and the people who lived in it at that time and place . . . [to] explore the tension and contrasts that I realized that were there between people’s perceptions and my lived experienced of what life there would be like, which has been lots of really complex and beautiful experiences that were nuanced, but in many ways brought us real quality of life and richness.”
Each chapter in Little Yellow House stands alone as a vignette of a unique person or of challenging situations like dealing with drug houses and being surrounded by the sex trade, but also the ins and outs of raising a growing family in a mature neighbourhood.
While the book focuses on Alberta Avenue, there is also a strong McCauley connection. Halton used to work at The Mustard Seed, and one chapter is about her work there and the conflict that can happen between agencies and community residents. Another chapter focuses on the sex trade surrounding McCauley School in the 80s and the early work of McCauley resident Kate Quinn, before the establishment of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) where she is now the Executive Director.
Halton moved into Alberta Avenue in 2004 about a decade before she began writing the book, which went into a second printing after it launched in September of 2018 at the Kaleido Festival. She was not strict about the boundaries of Alberta Avenue, and believes that other communities can learn a lot from the scenarios she describes in the book.
“I was curious about the tensions and contrasts that exist in all communities. Communities like McCauley and Alberta Avenue – because they are older and have more extremes in terms of economic disparity and infrastructure being old – because of those extremes I think communities like ours have a lot to offer all communities throughout North America,” Halton explains.
“A lot of communities are wrestling with who they are going to be in 20 years, and these decisions are often left to market forces. I think Alberta Avenue and Revitalization efforts show interesting intervention that this city is trying to do, and it’s not perfect but I also wanted to explore how cities develop and grow and age in a healthy way.”
Little Yellow House is published by Gutteridge Books (an imprint of the University of Alberta Press) and is available at The Carrot Coffeehouse, Mandolin Books, Audrey’s Books, and Chapters.