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John Walter – One of the Makers of Edmonton

John Walter was a pioneer and one of Edmonton’s first millionaires. Born in the Orkney Isles in 1849, as a young man he was hired by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) to build York boats at Fort Edmonton. Upon the completion of his contract, Walter struck out on his own, choosing to make his livelihood along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Undertaking many successful business ventures, his commercial empire grew to include: lumber, carpentry, coal, real estate and transportation. Known for his enterprising spirit and generous ways, John Walter spent a lifetime devoted to both the economic and civic growth of Edmonton, laying the foundations of today’s modern city.

John Walter, 1907. Photographed by C.M. Tait. Image courtesy of City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-1682.

At the age of 21, Walter entered the service of the HBC, committing to a five-year term as a York boat builder. Sailing from Stromness, Orkney in June 1870, it took eight weeks to reach York Factory. He continued his westward journey, by York (more…)

“Erin go Bragh” in Alberta

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 17th, 2015. We are once again approaching St. Patrick’s Day and we wanted to highlight this great post that talks about the history of the holiday in Alberta. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy.

“What is the matter with the Calgary Irishmen?” asked a frustrated correspondent to the Calgary Herald in March 1916. The writer, who identified themself as ‘F. Fitzsimmons,’ was complaining about the city’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day, with no public events planned to celebrate the day. Fitzsimmons conceded that people were likely distracted by the war effort, but lamented that Calgary’s leading Irish citizens had gotten “cold feet” and failed to plan any celebrations. “If all Irishmen were like the Calgary bunch” closed the writer, then “‘God Save Ireland.’”

The language used by Fitzsimmons in this letter is highly suggestive. By stating that Calgary’s Irish leaders had gotten ‘cold feet,’ he/she was implying that they lacked the courage to publicly celebrate their ethnic heritage. Further, ‘God Save Ireland’ was an explicitly nationalist slogan, associated with the last words of three Irish revolutionaries executed by the British in 1867. In short, Fitzsimmons was calling for an open celebration of Irish identity that did not shy away from nationalist politics. What Fitzsimmons saw as a simple issue, however, was much more complex for the majority of Irish people in Calgary and across Alberta. The often turbulent politics of the Irish homeland, and the campaign for Irish autonomy from (more…)

What Happened to Old Fort Edmonton?

The afternoon of October 11th, 1915 saw removal operations commence. At the time, the buildings associated with Fort Edmonton V (the last incarnation of the fur-trading fort) were seen as an eye-sore next to the newly completed Legislature building and grounds. Newspapers of the day reported that the fort was taken down quickly as some citizens were outraged at its demolition. To quell the panic, the government assured the people that the old fort was being dismantled and would be moved to new quarters, repurposing the buildings as a museum. That never happened and the timbers associated with dismantled Fort Edmonton seemingly disappeared from the public eye. So, what really happened to the old fort? Stories about what happened to the timbers spread like local urban legends, most of them with no apparent basis in fact. There were rumours: that the timbers were reused in the construction of various structures and buildings in and around the Edmonton area; that the timbers sat for years in several piles both outside the Legislature and on the south side of the river; that beams were stored in the basement of the Legislature, before being used as firewood by an uninformed custodian; or that at least some of the historic timbers met their end in a nine-metre high Boy Scout bonfire lit May 12, 1937 to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. While some of these stories have some factual basis, others have not been fully confirmed or discounted.

Demolition of Fort Edmonton (1915), City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-79.

Demolition of Fort Edmonton (1915), City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-79.

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Historic Archaeology at Edmonton’s Mill Creek Ravine – Volunteers Welcome!

Attention Edmontonians!

Have you ever wondered about archaeology in your own city? Have you ever wanted to be an archaeologist? This summer an archaeologist from the University of Chicago is leading an archaeological investigation in the Mill Creek Ravine! Haeden Stewart is looking for remains from historic settlements to learn more about daily life in the early 20th century, as the city was industrializing. In the early 1900’s, the Mill Creek Ravine was home to several mills, meat packing plants, a railway line, and homes of the ravine’s workers.

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Early industrial Edmonton – View of the C.N.R. crossing Mill Creek, 1900-1925. Library and Archives Canada MIKAN 3335022

Haeden will be excavating two locations this summer. The first is a shanty town located at the north end of the Mill Creek Ravine. This town was one of many that settlers built in the first few decades of the 20th century. Some shanty towns were more temporary, but some, like the Ross Acreage in Mill Creek, were more substantial and housed settlers for many years. Haeden’s team has already been working at the shanty town for several weeks, where they have unearthed some great finds, including animal bones, glass bottles, and the remains of two chickens buried in a pit!

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Glass bottles excavated at a historic shanty town in Mill Creek, Edmonton. Photo credit: Haeden Stewart

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Toy saucer from a historic shanty town in the Mill Creek Ravine, Edmonton. Photo Credit: Haeden Stewart.

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Chicken bones buried in a pit in a Shanty Town in Mill Creek Ravine, Edmonton. Photo credit: Haeden Stewart

Next, Haeden plans to excavate at Vogel’s meatpacking plant in the south end of the ravine. Vogel’s was one of three large meatpacking plants built by 1910 in the Mill Creek Ravine.

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Vogel’s meatpacking plant in 1902. Image credit: Edmonton – A City Called Home EA-10-1134 http://www2.epl.ca/edmontonacitycalledhome/EPLEdmontonCityCalledPhotosSingle.cfm?id=51

Haeden will be excavating every day of the week, from approximately 830am-530pm, except for Tuesday.  If anyone is interested in volunteering to help out with the excavation please contact Haeden at haedenstewart@uchicago.edu, or call\text him at 773-827-4004 to make arrangements.

The 1909 Rutherford Cup – The Start of an Alberta Sporting Tradition

With the onset of spring, the attention of many Canadians turn to the perennial quest for the Stanley Cup, the storied challenge trophy, emblematic of hockey supremacy. Few realize that in Alberta one of Canada’s oldest sporting challenge trophies was established in 1909 by then Premier, Alexander C. Rutherford and is competed for until the present day. The history of the Rutherford Cup is as old as that of football’s Grey Cup and senior hockey’s Allen Cup all of which were established 106 years ago.

Alexander Cameron Rutherford, Alberta’s first Premier [1905-1910], distinguished himself not only as a legislator but also as an active participant in many aspects of Alberta’s developing society. Sporting activities featured prominently among Premier Rutherford’s many interests. He held executive positions with baseball, curling and football (what we now call soccer) clubs in Strathcona and established competitive trophies for the Strathcona Curling Club and the Strathcona Football Club. In 1909 Rutherford also established a challenge trophy to be vied for by senior high school soccer teams in central Alberta. The first competition for the cup culminated on the afternoon of Saturday October 16, 1909 at Edmonton’s Diamond Park in a match between Edmonton High School and Red Deer High School.

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Premier Alexander Cameron Rutherford with Edmonton High School team, winners of the inaugural Rutherford Cup, 1909. Source: City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-18

As reported by the Edmonton Bulletin, the first half of the inaugural championship match was fast and close with neither side scoring, but was marred by an unfortunate accident at the 15 minute mark. Red Deer full-back and team captain Carswell “came into violent collision” with an Edmonton forward while trying to prevent a shot on goal and broke his leg. The injured player was attended to by Dr. McGibbon and dispatched by ambulance to the Misericordia Hospital. Edmonton played an aggressive first half, giving the Red Deer goal keeper Hewson “plenty to do.” Half-back McLean played a strong game for Red Deer while on the forward line Krause and Slade “showed up well.” Hicks and Keffer starred for Edmonton, while Dean’s running and Hepburn’s shooting on goal were features of the game. Hepburn scored the game’s only goal for Edmonton after ten minutes of play in the second half with a very difficult shot. Red Deer was reluctant to concede defeat and pressed strongly in the last minutes of play with the final result “in doubt until the whistle blew for full time.” A reception was held that evening at Queen’s Avenue School with a short program of games, songs and recitations along with “dainty refreshments served by the girls of the school.” Brief addresses were given by Edmonton High School Principal William Rea, and Superintendent James McCaig, the trustee of the Rutherford Cup. Red Deer spokesman McLean stated that although defeated, his team was prepared to challenge for the trophy again and “contest its possession with the present holders.”

Determined to avenge its loss, Red Deer honed its skills during the spring of 1910 in preparation for a rematch with Edmonton. The Edmonton Journal announced that the Red Deer squad was coming to Edmonton to try to “lift the Rutherford Cup,” this time “much strengthened” and “confident of success”. The grudge match was played on Saturday April 23, 1910. The Red Deer squad was indeed much improved, the Journal noting that in the loose game they worked well together and back checked quickly. They appeared “to have had much more practice than the local boys,” were heavier and “knew how to use the weight.” Krause at centre was his team’s star, scoring the game’s solitary goal after only four minutes of play. Edmonton’s left winger Dean made spectacular individual rushes, bringing the ball down the field repeatedly, only to have the centre field man fail to score. Full-back Gillespie also played a “brilliant” game, working his position well and punting strongly, his quick checking preventing Red Deer from running up a much larger final score. Although attendance at the match was small. “fair co-eds were out in large numbers and cheered lustily for the Edmonton boys.”

The Edmonton press lamented the result of the match with partisan headlines: “Red Deer Grabs Rutherford Cup E.H.S. Pigskin Chasers Are Defeated by Students From the Half Way City.” The City of Red Deer celebrated that their boys had successfully journeyed to Edmonton and “annexed the handsome Rutherford cup” on the strength of Krause’s “doing the needful.” The Red Deer Advocate noted that the boys were “deserving of high praise for their clever play” and paid tribute to Edmonton’s hospitality. Following the match the competitors were royally received at a banquet hosted by Col. Robert Belcher, whose son captained the losing side.

Archbishop O’Leary High School, Winners of the Rutherford Cup, 1994. Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism.

Figure 2 Archbishop O’Leary High School, Winners of the Rutherford Cup, 1994. Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism.

Since its inception in 1909 the Rutherford Cup has been competed for almost annually, making it perhaps Alberta’s oldest athletic competition. Until 1988 senior soccer teams from the Edmonton Public and Separate (Catholic) Schools Boards challenged each other for the cup. When these two boards discontinued their joint athletics board, the competition lapsed and since then only senior schools of the Separate system have competed for the cup within the Metro Edmonton High School Athletic Association which currently includes 51 member high schools from the Edmonton and Metro Edmonton area.

To follow the annual progress of play for the Rutherford Cup check the Metro Edmonton High School Athletic Association website at: http://metroathletics.ca/index.php.

The original version of this article appeared as “1909 Rutherford Cup – The Start of an Alberta Sporting Tradition” in Alberta Past, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring, 1995.

Written By: Peter Melnycky, Historian, Historic Places Stewardship Section, Alberta Culture and Tourism.