Reimagine Magazine | Issue 8
Project Profile

For youth who’ve given up on schooling and taken to the streets, Edmonton’s Inner City High School offers hope for a future with purpose.

The school meets marginalized youth where they’re at, reeling in 300 a year with music, sports, art, food and wrap-around support – and enticing many to delve deeper into learning. Most who come are Indigenous and many have no real home, or have bounced from home to home, school to school. “They see this school as the last chance to change their lives,” says Joe Cloutier, cofounder and member of the administration team.

But given personal and family traumas (including residential schooling), the very word “school” can stop a troubled youth at the door. Especially if what’s inside looks conventional. So it was a godsend, in 2010, when the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation raised money to purchase and renovate a truly unconventional building just north of downtown to serve as the high school’s homebase. As a bonus, some students had good memories of visiting this space during years when it served as a Native Friendship Centre.

Designed in 1976 by the late great architect Peter Hemingway as Peoples Church, the building’s boxlike Brutalist facade opens to an airy gymnasium set at a 45-degree angle to the exterior. This offset “box within a box” creates intriguing triangular spaces on the first and second floors. Despite appearing largely windowless, the building is flooded with natural light thanks to banks of skylights, both up top and angled into the basement.

The building’s purchase came at a critical time for the school. Begun in the late 1980s as outreach through drama, it morphed into an accredited school at the request of its young actors. For 17 years the school enjoyed free space in exchange for operating and maintaining the downtown Boyle Street Community League.

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