May 17, 2021


In late 2020, Explore Edmonton was honoured to answer the call from the City of Edmonton to open the doors of the Edmonton Convention Centre to Tipinawâw from October to April. Tipinawâw, translated to sheltered from the outside elements in Cree, was a safe space that provided compassionate support for vulnerable individuals who experienced homelessness. The activation was a collaboration between Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Bissel Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, Homeward Trust, The Mustard Seed Edmonton, the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Convention Centre. Tipinawâw provided guests with a warm space to sleep, three nutritious meals a day and access to cultural and essential services on their journey to access stable housing.

We have witnessed the positive impact of community collaboration within our venue walls through this activation. Caring for our community amid a pandemic meant that Tipinawâw successfully facilitated more than 90,000 check-ins for access to day services and over 35,000 check-ins for overnight access, with 150 individuals successfully achieving long-term housing.

It was a privilege to activate our resources to support our community through its time of need as we transitioned from event operations to a temporary pandemic accommodation. Our team has a longstanding history of serving Edmontonians and through our operation of Tipinawâw, we approached this experience with the same level of dedication, care and expertise that we treat all activations within our building. The space and operational resources provided by our team allowed our agency partners to access and serve individuals in need of compassionate support—all in one space and with a housing-first approach.

We’re in the business of service

As event professionals and public stewards, we are invested in our community—we are in the business of serving people. Our staff treat everyone who walks through our door with compassion and dignity, and the experience of operating Tipinawâw allowed us to redefine the essence of what it truly means to be hospitable.

Our team rose to the occasion to dedicate ourselves and our resources to enhance the quality of life for Edmontonians in need. From the time Tipinawâw was announced to the time we opened our doors, our team activated the venue for operation within a three-week timeline and we remained a safe space for 183 days. We were driven to not only provide exceptional service, but to invest in social value that creates the most meaningful impact.

Caring for our community

It was incredible to watch our network of partners and suppliers step up to support this activation in major ways. Our partners went above and beyond to ensure our fridges and pantries were well-supplied to create healthy meals for Tipinawâw guests.

The generosity we received from our community allowed us to maintain the quality of the food we served and as a result, our guests experienced the same level of culinary excellence that we are recognized for. During Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter, we prepared special meals for our guests that included traditional tourtiere and turkey dinners, surf n’ turf bison short ribs with oven-roasted prawns and truffle mashed potatoes, red berry yogurt vanilla Chantilly cream pate de fruit with citrus almond sable and pina colada mango raspberry yuzu zephyr.

Everyone deserves to eat a warm meal. Over the course of 183 days, we proudly prepared:

  • 182,880 meals
  • 45,000 snacks
  • Served 60,000 cups of juice

Maintaining a healthy environment

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for meticulous preparation and health and safety standards. Agency staff and our team prioritized protecting the health and safety of everyone who accessed our facility through a proactive, adaptive and responsive strategy.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their environment and that’s difficult for anyone during a pandemic, but especially for those who don’t have a permanent place to call home,” says Melissa Radu, COVID-19 Compliance and Safety Officer.

In addition to acting as Sustainability Manager, the temporary pandemic accommodation provided Melissa with an opportunity to expand the scope of her work to include health and safety. In her additional role, Melissa ensured the venue’s team was informed and prepared with industry-leading best practices that related to infectious disease prevention. She manages COVID-19 protocols and processes that govern everything from departmental support to response recovery.

“We see a number of visitors and we are diligent about protecting our guests and staff. Our front-line employees are essential to maintaining a healthy environment,” praises Melissa. “I never expected to take on these responsibilities, but the pandemic has required everyone to adapt to changes and rise to new challenges. When I stop to look around at our employees, I see a team that is flexible, adaptable and resilient—and that overwhelms me with pride.”

Moving Forward

The scope of the work we’ve undertaken within the last year allowed us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for our sense of community and the role we play in serving it. Operating a 24/7 temporary pandemic accommodation and refining our processes provided us with an opportunity to strengthen our team and operations during a time of uncertainty. We are now uniquely positioned to resume event operations with an even stronger sense of community and pride from the work we’ve done to support one another.

Pivoting our venue operations meant that our team had to pivot and adapt to the needs of a new mission. Our Bar Manager Michael Lacharite welcomed the opportunity to transition his role to managing our Housekeeping team. The unique opportunity to shift roles allowed Michael to broaden his knowledge of the services our team has the capacity to provide.

“It was critical to have a detailed plan of action in place to ensure every surface is correctly sanitized. Each of our standard operating procedures were re-written to align with the post-pandemic reality,” says Michael.

The housekeepers on our team expanded the scope of their work tremendously. Essential to the maintenance of a healthy environment, our housekeeping department emptied more than 50 waste receptacles up to four times a day, disinfected showers after every use and they displayed admirable adaptability to maintain a healthy workplace.

Since opening Tipinawâw, Michael reflects, “We’ve become the experts in delivering safe and healthy venue operations—our doors were open 24/7 for those in need and we didn’t have the option to close during challenging times. We refined our processes and trained ourselves to consistently identify how we could improve operational efficiencies. Our team is now uniquely skilled with the highest level of attention to detail to instill confidence in our clients and guests when we can safely facilitate the return of events.”

Experiencing a global pandemic and operating a 24/7 temporary pandemic shelter was a testament to the dedication and care that our team and partners pour into their work. Our support of Tipinawâw was an invaluable experience that provided our team with key learnings—they allowed us to redefine how we service our venue and the people within it. As we transition our operations to prepare for the safe return of events, we emerge as a stronger and even more knowledgeable team of event professionals that are prepared to navigate the needs of our community, partners, guests and clients.

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