City of Champions – The Edmonton Tornado of 1987

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.

Of Red Cars and Rabbits

I was watching “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” recently and was always impressed on how the film makers were able to capture a fairly authentic 1940’s Los Angeles feel. Older sections of Los Angeles proper still retain its original early 1900’s character, yet as time marches on they are slowly disappearing.

L.A.’s history of ever-changing landscapes is also a permeating theme in this movie, as an integral part of the Roger Rabbit plot revolved around the villain Judge Doom orchestrating the complete dismantling of the trolley lines through a buyout by a freeway construction company. Toontown would have been the next community to bulldoze through in the wake of the incoming freeway network looming on Los Angeles’ horizon.

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Pacific Electric Rail lines (in red, naturally) around downtown Los Angeles and vicinity, compared to the current freeway network.

The “GM Conspiracy”, as it is popularly known, involves General Motors, Firestone and several other automobile related companies conspiring to supply buses to public transit systems while at the same time buying out their lines under another company (also controlled by GM).

Sounds familiar, right?

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Red Cars at the Toluca Substation Tunnel, ca. 1900

Well, what really happened isn’t as exciting as pop culture makes it out to be. While trolley and train transit had persisted well into the 1950’s, transit companies like Pacific Electric were operating at losses annually since their inception in the late 1890’s. By the 1940’s, the increase in automobile traffic which the trolley shared on surface streets caused rail service to slow down to a crawl, and eventually made the average rider turn towards the automobile as the preferred form of transit. The last passenger line from Los Angeles to Long Beach ceased operations on April 9th, 1961.

Having lived in both Los Angeles and Orange counties for a number of years, I’ve been able to witness the ever-evolving urban landscape slowly erase sections little pieces of history. However, if you look closely enough, you can still find an imprint here and there. Remnants of the once extensive network still remain, whether through roads using the former right-of-way, stations and buildings fenced away to be reclaimed by nature, or resurrected by being re-commissioned as a new modern line.

Here are a few interesting points on the Pacific Electric map featured in the film, with Streetview links!

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Valiant & Valiant Detective Agency. As of the Streetview 2017 imagery, this building still stands even though most of its neighbors have since been razed.
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RED Studios, a.k.a. Maroon Cartoons. Although the film implies that the studio is on Sunset Blvd where the Red Car operated, its actual location is two blocks south at 846 N Cahuenga Blvd. 
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The Tunnel to Toontown, in Griffith Park on Mt. Hollywood Dr.
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The Hyperion Bridge carries Glendale Blvd over the Los Angeles River and what is now “The 5”
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W 12th St & S Hope St, just a block away from Eddie’s office building