For residents of Edmonton throughout the 1980’s, the “City of Champions” slogan represented the many sports championships won by the city’s football and hockey teams – from the Oilers bringing home the Stanley Cup for the third time to the Edmonton Eskimos Grey Cup win – all in 1987. Though the slogan had been around since 1984, it would gain a new meaning in the way that the residents and community were brought together in response to one of the most devastating tornadoes to touch down in Edmonton.
On a stormy July 31st, 1987, a Category 4 tornado touched down on the eastern edge of Edmonton. Though only Category 1 at first sighting, weather conditions were just right for the funnel cloud to gain power and head northwards. Carving out a path of destruction that killed 27 people, injured hundreds of others, and caused over 300 million dollars in damage, the tornado lasted for approximately one hour and finally dissipated a few kilometres northeast of the city just after 4 PM.
Despite the lack of an alert system, local emergency response and help from the Canadian Forces was dispatched immediately following the tornado’s dissipation. Setup and mobilization of Red Cross stations was swift with more than 1300 registered volunteers helping out those in need. By the next day, all of the survivors of the tornado were registered and accounted for, and on August 3rd a Victim Assistance Centre was established to provide long term help for survivors affected by the tornado. Laurence Decore, the mayor at the time, cited the response by the community and emergency services as evidence that Edmonton was a ‘City of Champions.’
As a result of the tornado, the Emergency Public Warning System was developed to inform residents on both radio and TV communication of any imminent emergency events. This was later succeeded by the Alberta Emergency Alert, though the EPWS is still in use by the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. Though the stormy afternoon known as Black Friday was etched into the minds of an entire generation of Edmontonians, it is the sheer perseverance, determination, and sense of community that personifies Edmonton as the City of Champions.
From its humble beginnings as a fort along the North Saskatchewan River to becoming the northernmost metropolitan area on the continent with over one million residents, Edmonton has the rare distinction of being a large city without forgetting its small town roots. With the past oil booms from the 1940’s and the 1970’s Alberta, Edmonton has seen a period of unprecedented growth and development that has changed the way the city has looked even thirty years ago. Throughout the 1900’s, several smaller towns and cities in the area have been absorbed by Edmonton as its boundaries continued to grow, though these areas still retain the character of their past.
Here are a few of the former towns and cities that were distinct from Edmonton, and still survive today as neighbourhoods.
Dating back to the 1870’s, Strathcona was a settlement directly across the river from the old Fort Edmonton, when it was still located where downtown is today. The early settlement mainly housed Native, Metis and British settlers working the fur trade, pioneers from out east, and prospectors looking to make a living in the west. The Calgary and Edmonton Railway line eventually reached the small urban hamlet in 1891, where businesses started to grow and the population began to increase. In 1899, the hamlet was officially incorporated as the Town of Strathcona.
As the town continued to prosper, the move to incorporate into a city was made in 1907. The University of Alberta made its home in Strathcona’s west side the following year in 1908. While the main campus was being built, the university was temporarily located at the Queen Alexandra Public School on 106 St, now the Old Scona Academic High School. In 1911 a proposal was made to amalgamate Strathcona and Edmonton, as lower taxes, affordable transit and increased city services would be a great benefit to the smaller city. The city of Strathcona was officially annexed by the city of Edmonton on February 1st, 1912.Strathcona’s downtown business core still exists today as the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area, and many of the buildings built along Whyte Ave during the city’s heyday continue to serve the community while proudly exhibiting its rich architectural history.
In 1882, the first Non-Native residents of the Beverly area were the European settlers from Germany, Scotland, England, Ukraine, and Holland. Plentiful coal seams and cheaper land compared to Edmonton led more settlers to the Beverly area, and the Hamlet of Beverly was incorporated in 1906. With the continued influx of residents, Beverly was incorporated into a Village in 1913 and was incorporated into the Town of Beverly the following year with 1000 residents.
Over fifty mines operated in the Beverly area between 1900 and 1950. Of the many coal mines that operated during this period, the four major employers of the town of Beverly included the Clover Bar Mines (1897-1923), the Humberstone Mine (1900-1934), The Bush Davidson Mine (1917-1944), and the Beverly Coal Mine (1931-1951).
The Town of Beverly was officially declared a mining town in 1932. However, as the Great Depression hit the Prairie Provinces particularly hard, Beverly was in decline and deep in debt. By 1961 the town was amalgamated into Edmonton, where it exists as the neighbourhoods of Beverly Heights, Beacon Heights, Bergman, Abbotsfield, and Rundle Heights.
The Village of Calder was originally established in 1909 to house the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s workforce. The area was surveyed in 1882 as two one-quarter sections, with the eastern quarter subdivided and named Elm Park in 1904. Hugh Calder purchased the western quarter in 1907 and sold lots through the Calder Land Company in anticipation of the GTPR housing its roundhouse, repair shops and shunt yards south of the area. West Edmonton was officially incorporated as a village in 1910, but locals continued to refer it as Calder despite the name change.
Facing pressure from the growing Edmonton boundary and in need of basic civic utilities, the village was annexed by the City of Edmonton in 1917. The former village is now part of the Calder neighbourhood, which also includes the eastern quarter section originally surveyed in 1882.