Gateway to the North
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  Posted October 22nd, 2016 by Zdenko  in Edmonton | No comments yet.

Edmonton history

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.

First pioneers arriving in Alberta on horse wagons

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!

Along the Great Divide near Banff in the Canadian Rockies on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, 1937.

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 these days

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 – winter 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!


1700’s The name “Edmonton” was used to honour the home of HBC governor James Winter Lake who was from Edmonton, England.

1795 Edmonton began as a fur trading post built by the North West Company (NWC). The same year the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a competing post nearby – a walled fort on the banks of the North Saskatchewan river.

1830 The HBC had absorbed the NWC by 1823. Fort Edmonton was moved to its final location, near the present day Alberta Legislature Building.

1840’s Methodist and Catholic missionaries brought their religious services to the natives and the HBC staff. Reverend Robert Rundle became the first missionary to reside in Edmonton. City landmarks, buildings, parks and roads are named after these early missionaries.

1846 On December 29, Paul Kane, the artist, celebrated Christmas at Fort Edmonton. He left not only sketches and paintings of Fort Edmonton, but a vivid description of life in Edmonton during this period, (“Wanderings of an Artist”). Dinner menu included-Buffalo Tail Soup, Hardtack Biscuits, Beaver Tail, Roast Buffalo Hump, Buffalo Tongue, Roast Goose, Whitefish, Moose Nose, Mashed Turnips, Boiled Potatoes.

1861 Father Albert Lacombe establishes St. Albert (north of Edmonton).

1870’s Throughout the 1870’s, schools were built, businesses opened, agriculture became a profitable industry and settlers staked out their lots along the North Saskatchewan River.

1874 The North West Mounted Police arrived in Edmonton.

1880 Edmonton’s first newspaper the ‘Edmonton Bulletin’ starts publication.

1881 Edmonton’s first public school opens.

1885 The first telephone call was made to St. Albert on January 3, 1885 by Alex Taylor after he ordered the phones directly from the manufacturer in England.

1886 The coldest day ever recorded in Edmonton was -49°C on January 19, 1886.

1891 The C & E (Calgary and Edmonton) Railway reaches Strathcona, south of the North Saskatchewan River. French colonists arrived from Quebec. German and Ukrainian immigrants also began arriving.

1892 Edmonton was incorporated as a town with a population of 700.

1896 The Edmonton Golf & Country Club was founded.

1897 Klondike Gold Rush- thousands of eager prospectors stopped in Edmonton for supplies on their way to the Yukon via the “All Canadian Route”. The city absorbed many prospectors who made Edmonton their permanent home, boosting the local population six-fold.

1899 South Edmonton incorporated as a town and renamed Strathcona.


1902 Low Level Bridge opens; Edmonton gets rail connection to Strathcona and beyond.

1904 Edmonton is incorporated as a city with a population of 8,350.

1905 Inauguration of the Province of Alberta.

1905 The first transcontinental train reached Edmonton on November 24, 1905. VIA Rail’s transcontinental now serves Edmonton 3 times a week.

1906 Edmonton officially becomes Alberta’s capital city.

1906 Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton, was established as Canada’s first federal wildlife sanctuary for large mammals. More than 44 species of mammals and 230 kinds of birds inhabit the 195 sq km park.

1908 University of Alberta opens with eight professors and 45 students.

1912 Annie Jackson became the first female police officer in Canada. She served with the Edmonton Police Department until 1918.

1913 The Alberta Legislature Building and the High Level Bridge open.

1915 The Hotel Macdonald opens. This 4 star/4 diamond property is now operated by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

1915 The original Fort Edmonton is dismantled.

1916 Emily Murphy was appointed the first woman police magistrate in the British Empire.

1916 Women were given the right to vote in municipal and provincial elections.


1900’s Following the turn of the century, Edmonton endures a flood in the river valley, mobilization for the First World War, and an influenza epidemic.

1926 Edmonton’s Blatchford Field (now City Centre Airport) was the first public licensed airfield in Canada, setting a North American record on September 23, 1943 when 860 planes passed through Blatchford Field.

1929 Emily Murphy (the first woman police magistrate in the British Empire) and 4 other women were victorious in having Canadian women declared “persons” under the law.

1937 The hottest day in Edmonton was 37.2°C (98.9°F) on June 29.

1942 During the Second World War, construction of the Alaska Highway was completed making Edmonton a major transportation and supply centre and solidifying Edmonton as “The Gateway to the North”.

1943 Edmonton’s population exceeds 100,000


1947 Leduc #1 oil discovery well strikes oil turning Edmonton into the Oil Capital of Canada virtually overnight.

1948 The first refinery (Imperial Oil) was established.

1954 Edmonton Eskimos win first Grey Cup football championship.

1955 Sherwood Park was established.

1960 Edmonton International Airport begins operations.

1960 The Queen Elizabeth Planetarium opened-first municipal planetarium in Canada.

1965 The Citadel Theatre opens as Edmonton’s first professional live theatre.

1966 The city’s first skyscraper was built-the 27 storey CN Tower.

1967 The Provincial Museum of Alberta opened-Alberta’s centennial project to commemorate Canada’s 100th birthday.

1973 Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) opened and was touted as the best ice surface in the NHL.

1978 Light Rail Transit (LRT) service commenced. Edmonton was the first city with a population of under 1 million to build a subway.

1978 Edmonton hosts the 11th Commonwealth Games, attracting athletes from 46 countries and leaving a legacy of sports facilities including Kinsmen Sports and Aquatic Centre and Commonwealth Stadium.

1979 Edmonton Oilers join the National Hockey League.

1980 The Great Divide Waterfall on the High Level Bridge was created to commemorate Alberta’s 75th anniversary. This man-made waterfall is 7.3 metres (24 feet) higher than Niagara Falls.

1980 Edmonton’s population exceeds 500,000

1981 The first phase of West Edmonton Mall opens

1983 Completion of Phase II of West Edmonton Mall

1983 Edmonton is host city for the 12th World University Games (Universiade)

1983 Opening of the Edmonton Convention Centre (later renamed Shaw Conference Centre)

1984 Completion of Northlands Agricom

1984 Edmonton Oilers win the first of five NHL Stanley Cup Championships

1984 Pope John Paul II visited Edmonton and celebrated mass at a temporary altar in a farmer’s field in Namao which was attended by over 150, 000 people. The Peace Dove from over the altar is now located adjacent to the Muttart Conservatory.

1985 Phase III of West Edmonton Mall opens, making it the largest shopping centre in the World.

1990 Edmonton’s population tops the 600,000 mark

1990 Edmonton Oilers win fifth Stanley Cup

1993 Edmonton’s new City Hall opens

1994 Edmonton is designated the 1994 Forestry Capital of Canada

1995 Edmonton’s Bicentennial Celebration-200 Years of Building Together

1995 The Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League (Triple ‘A’ Baseball) played their

1995 season in the new 10,000 seat baseball stadium, Telus Field, built on the site of John Ducey Park.

1996 Edmonton Trappers win their first PCL Championship

1996 Edmonton is host city for the World Figure Skating Championships

1997 Opening of the Francis Winspear Centre for Music

1997 Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture opened at the Provincial Museum of Alberta

1998 New VIA Rail station opened at 12360-121 Street, located just north of the city centre


2001 Edmonton is host city for the 8th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

2001 Edmonton hosts the ITU Triathlon World Championships

2002 Fort Edmonton Park opens a reproduction of the 1922 Selkirk Hotel

2003 Edmonton hosts the Heritage Classic, first National Hockey League outdoor game

2004 The city of Edmonton celebrates its 100th Birthday

2005 The Province of Alberta celebrates its 100th Birthday

2005 Edmonton is host city for the World Masters Games and the IAAF Half Marathon World Championship

2005 On May 24, 2005 during her visit to Alberta, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II designated The Provincial Museum of Alberta as the Royal Alberta Museum. In addition, the 260 km stretch (Highway 2) from Edmonton to Calgary is designated as the Queen Elizabeth II Highway.

2005 Over 200,000 fans packed Finning International Speedway for the inaugural West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix of Edmonton, held July 15-17.

2006 Fort Edmonton Park unveils 1920’s midway and exhibition

2006 International Children’s Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary

2006 Edmonton’s major summer exhibition Klondike Days is revamped and renamed as Capital EX

2006 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary

2006 Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary

2006 Elk Island National Park celebrates its 100th anniversary with centennial celebrations

Revised November 9, 2006

A salute to your history, Edmonton!

Some interesting web sites about Edmonton:

Large photo of Riverdale neighbourhood

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