Gateway to the North
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  Posted February 6th, 2014 by Zdenko  in Edmonton | 5 comments

Edmonton heritage

Source: Edmonton History

A Salute to Edmonton’s History
What makes Edmonton special to me is city’s history. This history lets me discover and know where we’ve been and has indeed paved the way to what we’ve become!

Because many committed Edmontonians and various government departments have strived to keep the city’s history alive for residents and visitors, I can visit Fort Edmonton Park or the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre. Old Strathcona showcases many heritage buildings as does the downtown core. A tour the charming neighborhoods of Highlands or Glenora captures a sense of early Edmonton. Our High Level Bridge was opened in 1913 and continues to stand proudly as the North Saskatchewan River flows by.

Photographs and documents at the City of Edmonton Archives allow me to research Edmonton’s history. Have you ever taken a stroll along MacDonald Drive downtown to read the history panels? All you have to do is look over our beautiful river valley from that vista and know that Edmonton is one beautiful city!

The fur trade
5.000 years before European explorers and fur traders arrived in the Edmonton area, the land was populated by the Cree and Blackfoot nations. In 1795, the Hudson’s Bay Company established its first trading post near the present site of Fort Saskatchewan in order to trade fur with First Nations. The fort was moved several times, to be settled permanently in 1830 on land that is today known as Alberta Legislature Grounds.

The fur trade boomed for many decades. In 1870, the Canadian government bought the land from the Hudson’s Bay Company to open it for settlement. In 1892, Edmonton was incorporated as a town. At this time about 700 people called Edmonton their home. In 1898, the Gold Rush Edmonton became the outfitting center for many prospectors heading for the Yukon.

Edmonton – 101 St. looking north

North Saskatchewan River – Route of The Fur Trade
The Saskatchewan River watershed is approximately 1,223 km long and is the major eastward flowing river of the western Canadian prairies and was the major transportation route for the beaver fur trade, which through Europeans fashion calling for felt hats made from compressed beaver fur, brought European culture to western Canada. The main waterway is the North Saskatchewan River, which flows from its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies to Lake Winnipeg, covering all of Alberta and Saskatchewan and western parts of Manitoba. These waters eventually flow into Hudson’s Bay, the huge body of water that is western Canada’s ocean connection to the Atlantic Ocean.

Fur trade happens these days only in Fort Edmonton

Fur trade in Fort Edmonton

Whether traveling the river by canoe or boat, or using the highway system, travelers and historical trekkers can easily follow the North Saskatchewan River. Along the river and its tributaries can be discoverd the history of the western Canadian aboriginal culture and the two competing fur trade companies that opened up the west during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Hudson’s Bay Company operated from York Factory, near Churchill, MB and using large, sturdy york boats, moved the furs collected at western posts to the Bay. Canada’s best known department store chain, The Bay and HBC, is still the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Hudson’s Bay Traditional Point Blanket
The break off competitor was the Northwest Company, who operated with traditional birch bark canoes, from Montreal. Their route, to the west took them via the Great Lakes, portage routes (where canoes and gear are carried) and rivers to Lake Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan Rivers. They also, traded and explored, over the mountains, in what is now British Columbia. Their best known explorer/trader was David Thompson.

The Hudson’s Bay Company York boat

The following are the Hudson’s Bay and Northwest Company posts and forts and Aboriginal heritage sites that can be visited along western Canada’s fur trade river. Many of the posts had multiple locations and most don’t exist anymore, or have become towns, or cities, along the way. Some of the forts served a multi-purpose, first as a fur trade and then as a base for the Northwest Mounted Police (eg. Ft. Edmonton).

Fort Carlton Provincial Historic Park is rich in western Canadian history. The Fort was built in 1810 as a fur-trading post on a spot well-used for crossing the North Saskatchewan River.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park Heritage Park under the leadership and guidance of First Nations people that contributes to increasing public awareness, understanding and appreciation of the cultural legacy of the Northern Plains First Nations people. 5 kms north of Saskatoon on Highway #11, follow the Bison signs.

At North Battleford, Saskatchewan, you can also visit a Northwest Mounted Police fort, that was very important during the 1885 Northwest Rebellion

As the supply of beaver pelts were devoured by the hunger for beaver felt hats, by the summer of 1792 the westward expansion of the fur trade reached what is now Alberta and there we find the site of the two trading depots of Fort George (NWC) and Buckingham House (HBC). Though little remains of the structures, the Province of Alberta a very informative museum and interpretive trail between the two posts. For more information about this site go to the website.

There were a series of locations for Ft. Edmonton, but eventually it was located at ford near where the Alberta Legislature is, east of Edmonton’s High Level Bridge. Many famous people of 18th century western Canada, would have passed through Ft. Edmonton, including the cartographer David Thompson and the painter Paul Kane.

Edmonton – 101 St. looking south past Jasper Avenue

Gateway to the North
By 1904, Edmonton had a population of 8,350. Soon after, when Alberta joined the Confederation, Edmonton was selected as provincial capital. In 1908, the University of Alberta opened its doors. Edmonton entered a frantic boom period when Strathcona amalgamated with Edmonton in 1912, combining their population to over 40,000. In the 1930s Edmonton became the “Gateway to the North” flying medical supplies, food and mail to remote northern communities.

Edmonton’s face changed forever when oil was discovered in Leduc in 1947. Overnight Edmonton became the Oil Capital of Canada and Edmonton’s population doubled within a decade. Still today, the oil and gas industry remains the city’s economic cornerstone.

The 1960s brought the Edmonton International Airport, the Citadel Theatre, the 27-story CN Tower and the Provincial Museum of Alberta. The 1970s brought a further boost to development of Edmonton and the Northlands Coliseum (today Skyreach Centre) opened its doors to mark the NHL’s best ice surface. In 1978, Edmonton became the first city with a population smaller than 1 million to have a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system.

With the opening of West Edmonton Mall in 1981, Edmonton entered the Guinness Book of Records with the world’s largest shopping and entertainment complex. In 1995, Edmonton celebrated its 200th year.

Edmonton – Jasper Avenue looking east past 103 Street

Edmonton – Churchill Square

Edmonton – Jasper Avenue looking east of 102 Street

History of the Edmonton River Valley
Early inhabitants may have gathered in the Edmonton area as early as the end of the last ice age, possibly as early as 10,000BC when as the ice receded woodlands, water and wildlife became available in the region.

Saskatchewan River going through Edmonton

Saskatchewan River in Edmonton

Saskatchewan River is frozen during the winter

In 1754, Anthony Henday, an explorer working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, may have been the first European to enter the Edmonton area. His trip was part of HBC’s interest in establishing direct contact with the Native population of the interior rather than depending on Native middlemen to bring furs to posts located on Hudson Bay. In 1794, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North-West Fur Company founded Old Fort Edmonton and Old Fort Augustus at the mouth of the Sturgeon River (present day St. Albert). By 1807, both Fort Augustus and Old Fort Edmonton had been destroyed by Blood Indians.

In 1808, New Fort Edmonton and New Fort Augustus were rebuilt on the present site of the City of Edmonton. With the amalgamation of the two companies in 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company post was retained, as was the name Fort Edmonton. It become the distribution centre for the whole north-west and a major supply stage on the Hudson’s Bay Company trans-Canada route. In the late nineteenth century, settlers were attracted to the area by the fertile farmland in the region, and this helped to further establish Edmonton as a major regional commercial and agricultural centre. Throuhout this entire period the North Saskatchewan River served as the only major “Highway” in the region.

The area became part of the new Dominion of Canada in 1870 and modern Edmonton can be said to have begun in 1871 when it was incorporated as a village. At about this time legislation finally made it possible for private individuals to claim ownership of land. Prior to this all the land rights resided in the Hudson’s Bay Company. In the late nineteenth century, settlers were attracted to the area by the fertile farmland in the region, and this helped to further establish Edmonton as a major regional commercial and agricultural centre. Edmonton was also a stopping point for people hoping to cash in on the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. Incorporated as a city in 1905 Edmonton became the capital of Alberta a year later on September 1, 1905. 

First public school in Edmonton

Proud to be Edmontonian
Unique past stories of Edmonton can be found at the Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum downtown. Our city also has some wonderful historic churches and cultural museums. At such venues, I can learn about Edmonton’s fur trading, aviation, transportation, arts and “people” history. In late July and early August, the 2009 Edmonton & Northern Alberta Historic Festival will take place with events, tours and activities showcasing history … this annual festival is amazing.

Alberta Legislature building in Edmonton

Modern Edmonton – panoramic view

Edmonton downtown

Edmonton heritage building – The Gibson block

Having lived here for more than 20 years now, I’m proud to be a part of Edmonton’s history. I’m grateful that I chose Edmonton!

A salute to your history, Edmonton!

Read more about Edmonton history here.

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5 comments to “Gateway to the North”

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  4. Comment by Jamie:

    hi i just want to ask…
    i was a Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduated (BSN). i had experience for 9 years in hospital and at present im here i Ireland working as Health Care Assitant for 9 going to 10 years.

    just want to ask if there is opportunity to work in Saskatchewan as HCA. Same as with my husband he was a Xray Technician for 4 years, 9 years as Health Care assistant and at present 10 years working experience as Health Care Assistant here in Ireland.
    Pls..help us thanx

  5. Comment by Paul:

    Good article overall, but I see some corrections are needed:

    The “Glimpses of Old Edmonton” book shown at the top is a glimpse of the REALLY old Edmonton- the original one now encompassed by North London, England.

    The mouth of the Sturgeon River is not in St. Albert. It is downstream of Ft. Saskatchewan. A few kilometres upstream of that mouth is a small community called Lamoureux (across the North Saskatchewan River from Ft. Saskatchewan), which is where the Fort Augustus/Fort Edmonton historical marker is found.

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