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Edmonton History


History of Edmonton


The first inhabitants settled in the area that is now Edmonton around 3,000 BC and perhaps as early as 12,000 BC, when an ice-free corridor opened up as the last ice age ended and timber, water, and wildlife became available in the region.

In 1754, Anthony Henday, an explorer working for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), may have been the first European to enter the Edmonton area. His expeditions across the Canadian Prairies were mainly to seek contact with the aboriginal population for the purpose of establishing the fur trade, as competition was fierce between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. By 1795, Fort Edmonton was established on the north bank of the river, as a major trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The name of the new fort was suggested by John Peter Pruden after Edmonton, London, the home town of both the HBC deputy governor Sir James Winter Lake, and Pruden.

The coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to southern Alberta in 1885 helped the Edmonton economy, and the 1891 building of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway resulted in the emergence of a railway townsite (South Edmonton/Strathcona) on the south side of the river, across from Edmonton. The arrival of the CPR and the Calgary & Edmonton Railway facilitated the arrival of settlers and entrepreneurs from eastern Canada, Britain and continental Europe, U.S. and other parts of the world. The fertile soil and cheap land in the Edmonton area helped attract settlers, further establishing Edmonton as a major regional commercial and agricultural centre. Some people participating in the Klondike Gold Rush passed through South Edmonton/Strathcona in 1897. Strathcona was the northernmost railway point in North America, but travel to the Klondike was still very difficult for the “Klondikers,” and a majority of them took a steamship north to the Yukon from Vancouver.

Incorporated as a town in 1892 with a population of 700 and then as a city in 1904 with a population of 8,350, Edmonton became the capital of Alberta when the province was formed a year later, on September 1, 1905. In November 1905, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) arrived in Edmonton, accelerating growth.

During the early 1900s, Edmonton grew very rapidly, causing speculation in real estate. In 1912, Edmonton amalgamated with the City of Strathcona, south of the North Saskatchewan River; as a result, the city extended south of the North Saskatchewan River for the first time.

Just prior to World War I, the boom ended, and the city’s population declined sharply from more than 72,000 in 1914 to less than 54,000 only two years later. Many impoverished families moved to subsistence farms outside the city and others fled to greener pastures in other provinces. Recruitment to the Canadian army during the war also contributed to the drop in population. Afterwards, the city slowly recovered in population and economy during the 1920s and 1930s and took off again during and after World War II.

Many Canadian bi-plane pilots who survived the war became bush pilots.[citation needed] Edmonton, in its role as Gateway to the North established one of the earliest airfields in Canada. It became the first licensed airfield in Canada, Blatchford Field (now Edmonton City Centre (Blatchford Field) Airport), in 1929. Pioneering aviators such as Wilfrid R. “Wop” May and Max Ward used Blatchford Field as a major base for the distribution of mail, food, and medicine to Northern Canada; hence Edmonton’s role as the “Gateway to the North” was strengthened. World War II saw Edmonton becoming a major base for the construction of the Alaska Highway and the Northwest Staging Route.