Boyle McCauley News

Since 1979 • January 2021 • Circulation 5000

My Life in Boyle Street

The experiences of a longtime resident.

Cecily Mills accepting the Polovnikoff-Mokry Lifetime Service Award from Project Ploughshares Edmonton in 2015 for her decades of contributions to peace. Paula E. Kirman

When Anita Jenkins suggested I write an article for the Boyle McCauley News, I hesitated. After all, although I have lived on Jasper Avenue, on the very edge of the Boyle Street, for the last 21 years, my contacts have been mostly limited to walks through the area.

But all this free time with COVID-19 took me back to 1982 when I joined the teaching staff of Caritas High School, a private high school founded by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Toronto. The first year Caritas received only grade 10 students. In 1983, we received both grade 10 and 11 students. For these first two years, we rented space at St. Alphonsus School on 82 Street and 116 Avenue. We were welcomed by the community and participated in many of the events in the community. Some of our students did their weekly volunteer work in the area, and we held memorials, family days, and celebrations at Sacred Heart Church. In 1984, we leased a larger vacant school from the Separate School Board to have lab space, gym and auditorium. Nevertheless, our connections continued with the Boyle Street and McCauley neighbourhoods well after the Caritas school closed in 1990.

In 1990, I left Edmonton to do volunteer work in a women’s shelter in Seattle, leaving most of my belongings in John and Val Philips’ basement. John was a colleague at Caritas. I returned to Canada after 18 months and again enjoyed their hospitality. I admired their commitment to their neighbourhood: the evening walks to discourage johns, the maintenance of the rink and ball park, the picking up of litter, the window signs to direct children to safety and John and Val’s friends. I appreciated their hospitality yet again; it enabled me to have a home away from home while I spent four months at language school in Guatemala, and finally three years in Nicaragua with Witness for Peace.

When I returned to Edmonton in September of 1995, I rented an apartment on 81 Street near Jasper Avenue. It was a busy year as I made plans to go to Guatemala with the Volunteer Missionary Movement. I left on September 20, 1996 and returned on December 20, 1998. I rented an apartment at the same place but with a new owner. I resumed volunteer work in Edmonton, mainly teaching English as a second language. One of my students was a young Korean woman with two children, whose husband and four other Korean tech experts had been hired by IBM to figure out how to avoid a meltdown when the year 2000 chimed in. In early June, they were invited to lunch at the Hotel Macdonald, congratulated for their excellent work, and told they were done! My student’s husband had meagre English. He put me through to his employment insurance contact to whom I explained the situation. He was able to get employment insurance as the other four had. Now, I had a new ESL student and someone who could install my first computer, and later, assemble my new furniture.

Because my first apartment owner had bought a condo in the neighbourhood, every time I met her she would encourage me to do the same. One Saturday morning, the Edmonton Journal listed a condo in her building. I was lucky. The real estate agent was bound and determined to get me the best price, but she also wanted me to be sure that I had seen other condos. The two we visited were full of sublets and not well maintained. I refused to see the third one.

I can’t believe I have been in this condo 21 years! Well, I did spend a year away. My companion in Guatemala had returned to Guatemala to become Volunteer Missionary Movement’s volunteer coordinator. A couple to whom she introduced Chahal, the isolated village where we had spent two years, said they couldn’t live in a place full of spiders and scorpions. A replacement was needed. I was ready to go. That year, John Philips came to the condo once a week, emptied my mailbox, and paid the bills. I had a great year in Guatemala. Since 2001, I have often been asked to accompany delegations to Central America to provide translation as well as translating for guests invited to Canada. The best of these “reverse” delegations was accompanying two women from Nicaragua’s “sweatshops” to three regions of the United Church Women. These were three intense and memorable weeks.

In 2002, when I had settled back in Edmonton, I was elected to the board of Change for Children whose office was situated at St. Peter’s Catholic School. We were advised that we would meet right away after the AGM, where we were informed the organization was bankrupt. I chose to stay. I worked as a volunteer every day in our tiny office and loved the contact with the staff and students. You will note a memorial to the school that was demolished to make way for St. Teresa of Calcutta school. There is also a bench honouring Hank and Tillie Zyp, who founded Change for Children, whose office was at the school for around 20 years. When St. Peter’s school was demolished, CFC operated out of Sacred Heart School for a long time before moving to its present location at 10808 – 124 Street. I did not run again for the board, but after 20 years I am still a volunteer at Change for Children.

Cecily lives in Boyle Street.

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