Yellowhead Highway Pt. 3 – Ring Around the Heart

My throat and my heart!
Pictured: The ring around the heart.

Highway 16 was routed along city streets running through the heart of downtown. In 1963, the Metropolitan Edmonton Transportation Study (METS) identified the need for an expanded freeway system to handle the growing urban population. The study was published in 1969 and featured an overall transit plan in store for the provincial capital, the most infamous part being the downtown freeway loop – a tight, roughly 8 km loop of freeways that would encircle downtown and connect to a multitude of radial freeways to each corner of the city. Sounds like a Robert Moses pipe dream, yet with the automobile becoming the most dominant form of transportation, this was fairly standard for urban planners at the time.

During the 70’s era of freeway development, a growing backlash from the public was beginning to bubble over the surface. Known as the Freeway Revolts, many major cities in North America (including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, etc.) became wary of unchecked freeway development throughout the heart of their downtown cores. Many planned freeways suddenly became unfashionable, as these routes would effectively bulldoze through sections of town where many of its poorest residents live, cited as ‘run-down’ or ‘blighted’. Learning the lessons from previous freeway construction through downtowns, the cost was far beyond financial. Historic neighbourhoods, many of which included areas where minorities had formed thriving communities, had been razed. The displacement of so many residents caused great alarm, especially with federal and state contractors buying up properties for right-of-ways, or otherwise using eminent domain to claim such properties. Grassroots movements from residents who were potentially affected by these acquisitions successfully stopped these planned freeways. Fortunately for Edmonton, the downtown loop was deemed unfeasible and the METS plan was scrapped in favour of a Light Rail Transit system.

Though these freeway proposals were eventually rescinded, there are vestiges of the METS plan that exist today. If you drive around the area south of downtown near the interchange at 98 Ave and Connors Rd, you’ll notice a tangled mess of flyover ramps and exits. This was part of the planned downtown freeway stretching east and west down River Valley Rd, with a connection to Groat Rd. East of Downtown on 101 Ave/Baseline Rd, the carriageway going through Refinery Row seems much wider than an arterial needs to be. This would have been the eastern section of the freeway connecting to what is now Anthony Henday Drive. On the west side through what was Jasper Place, the freeway’s western section would have been where Stony Plain Rd and 100 Ave make their one-way couplet.

Map of a part of the METS plan freeway network in Downtown Edmonton.

Had the METS plan been approved and built, Edmonton would be a very different city today, especially considering the multitude of historically registered buildings in where these freeways would have gone. Development of the downtown core would have been much more difficult compared with the current state it is in. With the opening of the Edmonton International Airport in Leduc and the decommissioning of the downtown airport, I’d think that there would have been some freeway removals to facilitate the current growth of Edmonton’s downtown. With the continual cycle of construction and maintenance, imagine having to remove old freeways to that as well!

High River – Flood of Memories

Though I am a relative newcomer to Alberta, I’m no stranger to floods. Having grown up in the Portland area, there have been significant flood events I’ve lived through. Recalling the 1996 flood of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, I remember visiting the sandbagged banks lining along the riverfront and watching everyone pitch in to help keep the downtown core from flooding, as it has in the city’s history. Now that I’m living in Edmonton, I haven’t too much to worry about when it comes to flooding of the North Saskatchewan. However, Edmonton is not the only river city in the province. Nestled near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, residents of High River in Southern Alberta have seen their fair share of floods, much more catastrophic than what I’ve experienced.

View of the Highwood River from Alberta Highway 40

High River gets its name from the Highwood River (and not named after an event as I originally thought). Unusually heavy rains during June of 2013 caused the, Bow, Little Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Sheep, and South Saskatchewan Rivers to inundate the cities and communities along their banks. Remaining snowpack from the Rockies further saturated the rivers and tributaries affected. Situated in the floodplain at the confluence of the Highwood River and the Little Bow River, the entire town of 13,000 residents was evacuated and left uninhabited for nearly one week. One neighbourhood – Beechwood Estates – was completely washed away, and following the aftermath any remaining homes were purchased by the province and demolished to restore the natural state of the floodplain.

In total, the estimated damage caused by such severe flooding amounted to over $5 billion. Over thirty states of emergency were declared in the areas of Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat. Once flood waters receded and residents returned to their homes, residents of High River were advised not to return until another week later due to the presence of E. Coli in the standing water. Though Southern Alberta recovered from the 2013 floods, survivors of the year’s floods in High River has left an indelible mark on both the town and its residents.

Here on the floodplain map, I first generated a river channel network based on elevation point data provided by the Government of Alberta. The point files were interpolated into a complete raster with 10m resolution. The channel network was then used to calculate the difference between the channel network base and the vertical elevation of each point. The new raster generated by this process now shows the vertical difference between the elevation and the base height of the channel network, which I then clipped out 1m, 2m, and 3m heights. You can see that even 1 meter above the channel base can spread out over a good swath of High River’s area. At 3m difference, over half of the town has the potential to be inundated by flood waters.

While flood events have the potential to be catastrophic, the ways in which people adapt and live in flood-prone areas show how communities can band together and help one another. The use of social media throughout the flood event showed how much support came from both volunteers and officials, both local and provincial, to help out those displaced by the floods.

Edmonton’s Old Towns and Villages

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.


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.

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?

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!

Valiant & Valiant Detective Agency. As of the Streetview 2017 imagery, this building still stands even though most of its neighbors have since been razed.

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. 

The Tunnel to Toontown, in Griffith Park on Mt. Hollywood Dr.

The Hyperion Bridge carries Glendale Blvd over the Los Angeles River and what is now “The 5”

W 12th St & S Hope St, just a block away from Eddie’s office building