‘We wish it wasn’t closing down’: Edmonton food kitchen closure forces clients to search elsewhere for a meal, friendship

A soup kitchen in Edmonton is being forced to close forcing hundreds of people to find another place to get a warm breakfast and lunch.

The Gathering Place on Fort Road, also known as Mawachihitowin Otah, has been operating out of a closed downtown hotel since Nov. 2017.

The operators had a restaurant license, but the Fort Road Business and Community Association appealed their permit saying it wasn’t a restaurant.

Carola Cunningham is the CEO of Niginan Housing Service who operated the Gathering Place.

She said she feels for those who relied on their services.

“We had 80 people lined up and six of them were children, ready for breakfast. So very disheartening for us to have to turn people away,” she said.

(Carola Cunningham is the CEO of Niginan Housing Service says the kitchen was an essential part of the community.” Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN)

People like James Phaneuf, and Amanda Veinot say the kitchen did a lot for the neighbourhood.

”We wish it wasn’t closing down, trust me. They did a lot of help for us feeding us everyday. Making us feel at home,” said Phaneuf.

Veinot says it wasn’t just a place to get a meal.

“It’s just a good place for people who didn’t have anywhere to go. And just to communicate, which is a big thing too. So now the communication is gone,” says Vienot.

“It’s sad.”

(James Phaneuf, and Amanda Veinot say they are disappointed the kitchen is being forced to close. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN)

The Fort Road Business and Community Association says the problem is not having the right permit.

Robert Noce, the lawyer for the association, says the area is zoned for commercial businesses.

“We conceded the good work they were doing and we know the people they are reaching out to need help, we get that,” says Noce.

“The problem of course is the planning documents that the city of Edmonton has adopted for this area did not support this kind of activity.”

Cunningham says having this space, which also offers internet access helped the community.

“I don’t know how many of the business owners actually live in the area but it would be interesting for them to talk to the active community members and find out,” she said.

“You know that services like ours are almost essential. It will reduce crime. It will keep the people housed. And it will keep people from desperation.”

Cunningham says she’s hoping a local business can offer a new location for the kitchen to reopen.


Video Journalist / Edmonton

Chris Stewart has been in the media for 20 years. He has worked at CBC, Global and CTV as a news camera operator and editor. Chris joined APTN in 2012 in the Saskatoon Bureau and moved to APTN Edmonton bureau in 2015 as a Videojournalist.

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