The First Steps

Strathcona took its first steps over 117 years ago when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company completed its line from the Canadian Pacific Railway line in Calgary to a terminus south of the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Despite pressure to cross the river and end the line at Edmonton, the company wanted to monopolize the benefits of future land sales and so created a new settlement they called South Edmonton. With it they developed a new commercial centre - one that would soon overtake Edmonton.

The First Steps of Strathcona

Whyte Avenue Looking East, c.1900; City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-269
Whyte Avenue Looking East, c.1900; City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-269

Property was purchased from landowners, rails were laid and the first train arrived in August 1891. The new link to the outside world brought prosperity with the arrival of thousands of new settlers who were looking for the promise of a great future. The first buildings were erected by C & E Railway Company and included the railway station, section house, engine house and a hotel, called Edmonton House (now the Strathcona Hotel). All buildings were built along what is now 103rd Street.

The railway also brought risk takers, individuals who were able to identify a need in this new community and to do what it took to fulfill the need. These entrepreneurs started businesses and built buildings that proudly bore their names: Ross, Douglas, Gainer, Tipton, Richards. A century or more later, these buildings are the backbone of Old Strathcona's historic district.

As a result of the railway, Strathcona grew and prospered at the turn of the century.  When the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railways steamed onto Edmonton side, the Canadian Pacific Railway quickly built the High Level Bridge to bring their own railway to Edmonton.  Development then shifted to the north side of the river. With continuing demands on infrastructure and services, the citizens of the City of Strathcona voted to join Edmonton in 1912.

Strathcona continued as the local hub for the University and south side neighbourhoods but over the decades, its fortunes declined. In the 1970s, during a boom time, the Edmonton downtown was demolished and rebuilt, while Strathcona was left alone. It was this dismissal of the area that saved its heritage buildings and gave Old Strathcona a foundation for its phenomenal revitalization.

Today, Old Strathcona sits as a model for neighbourhood and downtown renewal. The 19th century buildings have been adapted for new uses and the area is a thriving small business and arts area.

Photos provided by City of Edmonton Archives, Provincial Archives of Alberta, and the Glenbow Museum

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