Bright, Bold & with an Entrepreneurial Spirit.  That’s the perfect definition of Edmonton’s popular urban centric Westmount neighbourhood.   Located off Groat Road and minutes from the university and downtown, it includes the popular 124th Street area shops and restaurants with a mix of character homes that blends history with modern charm.

A community that consistently places in the top 5 neighbourhoods to live in the city, it’s where Ryan Lister calls home, and where he crafts specialty soaps on the side.  Ryan launched Westmount Soap Company a few years back and cleverly names each one after Edmonton neighbourhoods, like Oliver, Glenora and Summerside. His most popular bar of course happens to be the neighbourhood he lives in – Westmount – and features litsea, orange and grapefruit scents. Ryan picked the up lifting notes and bold description to reflect the community he loves. “Where,” he says “people like to make a difference, participate in local events and do incredibly inspiring things.” Just like Ryan.

Today in his kitchen, it’s a welcome pop of citrus fragrance, as the city finally escapes the blanket of winter. “I like the whole part of this process. When weighing out the individual essential oils, they smell so pure, awesome -- natural.”  The process comes easy to Ryan who has a background in chemical engineering and is making a small business out of a hobby. He is gearing up for spring farmers’ markets, just around the corner. “On average, I make about 100 lbs of soap every 3 months.  I normally make soap at night, 6 to 10 batches at a time which can take 2 to 3 hours.”

Ryan headquarters his business out of his charming renovated 1940’s 1 ½ story home and has lived in Westmount for the past 4 years.  He and his wife chose the neighbourhood for proximity to work downtown, an excellent day care for their children, and they loved frequenting the area.  Now they are within walking distance to their kids’ school and amazing restaurants and cafes along 124th Street like the famous Duchess Bakery and Tiramisu  Bistro and shops like Studio Bloom and Parcel + Prose who carry his soap products.

“All our soap is 100 % natural, vegan vegetable based and is ethically sourced,” Ryan passionately explains.  He has expanded his line to include shaving bars and even soap for dogs. He is working on adding shampoo bars, liquid soap and one day essential oil blends for diffusing or adding to sprays or mist “so your home can smell like your neighbourhood!”

Ain’t it Grand in the Spring

Each year Ryan loads up his supplies and family and heads over to the weekly local 124 Grand Market to sell his items.  “It’s a really friendly market, and quite busy especially when the weather is good.  I love to get feedback at the markets when people tell me a story about my product, how they picked it up, tried it and liked it.”  He adds, “We know so many people in the neighbourhood and it’s great when they stop in to say hello.”

“We get about 1,300 – 1,500 people on the Thursday evening” says Kirsta Franke, 124 Grand Market Director and owner of nearby Wild Heart Collective.  A few years back she launched the innovative idea with the support of the local business association to draw people to the maturing neighbourhood and drive new shoppers to the area. The 124 Grand Market now boasts over 55 vendors including local producers, prepared foods, food trucks, a variety of artisans and free children’s programming.   This spring it is set to open May 9th on 124 Street & 108 Ave, with another on Sundays located at 102 Ave as well.  “The 124 Grand Market is a weekly block party – you get to see neighbours, stop for lunch at the food trucks, grab groceries from a vendor and then hit the shops nearby.”  It’s a community that truly supports each other – 60% of the demo is from the Westmount Neighbourhood, and 21% from immediate surrounding areas like Glenora and Inglewood.  “People have joked it’s the Whyte Ave for adults – but it’s a neighbourhood-centric shopping area for Westmount and pulls as an anchor destination people are drawn to come to.”

Kirsta describes the friendly, tight knit community as one growing with families and unique independent business owners with exceptional passion and drive to succeed. Lots of shop owners have chosen not only to work in the area but to live in it as well. The century old Westmount neighbourhood is also known for its eclectic mix of historic stately homes, mid-century housing and apartments, and new modern infill builds for a look that’s as diverse as its special residents.  With construction developments and neighbourhood revitalization projects “the optics are that it’s a lot safer with the beautification of the streets, where families can bike and walk.”

Going, Going, Green

Like many Westmount residents, Julia Todorova enjoys strolling through the neighbourhood to the market, and take in the natural sights along the way. “I always look at how to make the yards look better, that’s my thing,” she laughs. “One time the neighbours were planting perennials in the wrong place – I told them to move them and they did.  They are now blooming nicely and I helped them not to waste their time and money.” And Julia should know. She has a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture and is an award winning designer who’s managed many residential and commercial projects throughout the city. Through her business Julia’s Alpine Garden, she’s also worked with clients in her own neighbourhood, and shared her skills designing the community league garden.

Originally from Bulgaria, Julia and her family have lived in Westmount for the past sixteen years.  She loves living and working in the neighbourhood, and the support and rewards of owning her own business. Julia was drawn to the area because of the majesty of the trees, and it reminded her of home.  “Every house here has big trees – when I look outside it feels like a small forest in Europe.” She enjoys working with them as well– “I find that trees have architectural shapes – it’s not just art, you can go in any direction with them, wild, formal, modern, and introduce colours.”

Right now in her own yard, she’s happy to see the green of the crocuses peeking through the ground. “It’s exciting when you see the first spring flower!” she says.  This is the time when she starts preparing her lawn, cleaning the leaves of her perennials and pruning the trees (rather than in the fall) so they have energy to start growing again.  

Julia notes many gardens in Westmount reflect the heritage of the original residents of the neighbourhood who moved here decades ago.  English gardens with roses, lilacs, peonies and hydrangeas are likely remnants of past cultures, found mostly in west end neighbourhoods.  Also common to the area – a variety of fruit shrubs and trees – blueberries, raspberries, plums, pears, cherries and even apricots. She attributes this to vast mature Westmount trees.  “Atmosphere is very important. Big trees provide a different microclimate and increase the temperature. Unlike in the new neighbourhoods, here we get a bit of a wind break from the large trees; they give more shade, and keep it warm.  We can push the growing zone here to one more like from B.C.”

Warm enough for oranges? Maybe not, but that’s great news for entrepreneurs like Ryan, who’s always looking to expand on his fragrant soap products.  A man of many hobbies, Ryan is also a hydroponic gardener, and dabbles in growing lettuce, spinach and peppers in the basement of his house. He hopes to one day grow his own vegetation to use in production at his Westmount Soap Company and make his own essential oil from the neighbourhood trees.  However, that’s down the line. For now, Ryan and his family are enjoying life as it is, with plans to eventually renovate their landscaping and cedar plant area and further remodel their living space. “I love our house and property and neighbours in Westmount. We have totally no interest in going anywhere else.  But I’m always thinking of how to improve our home, do more unique things to it to make it more ‘Us’.”

From gorgeous refurbished historic houses, to sleek modern infills and new condo developments, this lovely core community has a place fit for you too.  We invite you this spring to come visit the shops, the 124 Grand Farmer’s Market and to stroll through the neighbourhood, feel the spirit, and admire the greenery and finely crafted houses.  Come take in all the sights, sounds and slightly sweet citrus smells of the bright and friendly Westmount neighbourhood, where Holland & Associates can help you find your ultimate dream home!

Posted by Kerri-lyn Holland on
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