September 1, 2022, marks the first formal celebration of Alberta Day: a chance to reflect on what makes us Albertan and to show pride in what we’ve achieved as Albertans since the establishment of our province on September 1, 1905.
Located in the heart of Treaty Six territory and the traditional homelands of the Métis, the City of Edmonton continues towards building a healthy, urban and climate-resilient city of two million people. Here’s a look back at just how far we’ve come in 117 years.
Prior to the 1795 establishment of Fort Edmonton, known as amiskwaciwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ), which is Cree for Beaver Hill House, Indigenous peoples shared an intimate and ongoing relationship with one another and these lands. The ancestors of the Cree, Dené, Anishnaabe (Saulteaux), Nakota Sioux, and Blackfoot peoples, and later the Métis, all marked this territory long before the first settlers of Fort Edmonton. The relationships built between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples laid the groundwork for the development and prosperity our city and province enjoy.
In 1876, Treaty Six was signed between Crown representatives and Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwe leaders in Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan, marking lands in what would become central Saskatchewan and Alberta. Adhesion to Treaty Six was signed at Fort Edmonton on August 21, 1877. Edmonton continues to make efforts to respect the Treaty relationship as well as the relationship with the Métis Nation through our memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreements.
Edmonton was incorporated as a town in 1892 and later as a city in 1904. Some of the earliest homesteads were the river lots of the Métis people. Many of the Métis were pushed off of their river lots through pressures from settlement and the issuance of scrip.
By 1905, when Alberta was officially formed, Edmonton’s population was about 9,000 people, with the central downtown area defined by 94 Street on the east, 106 Street on the west and stretching from the top of the riverbank on the south to 103 Avenue on the north.
Today, Edmonton has Canada’s fifth largest economy and one of the fastest growing regions. Over one million people call the city home, including one of the largest communities of Inuit south of the 60th parallel. The City of Edmonton anticipates there will be two million Edmontonians by the year 2065, but, as a result of new approaches to land use and housing, the boundary of the city will not change.
The Battle of Alberta
Edmonton was named the temporary capital of Alberta by the federal government in September 1905. This decision didn’t go unchallenged in the south. Calgary was an equally populous and developed city.
The following year featured furious capital campaigning by Calgary and several other Alberta settlements, including Banff, Vegreville, Cochrane, Lacombe, Red Deer, Wetaskiwin and Athabasca Landing. Edmonton was confirmed the capital of Alberta over Calgary in 1906 after a 16-8 vote in the newly established Alberta Legislature.
Today, the provincial rivals form the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor, which is one of the fastest growing and wealthiest regions in Canada. While always friends at the end of the day, the cities compete in business and politics and sports. In the latest chapter of the pro hockey’s Battle of Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers eliminated the Calgary Flames in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The University of Alberta
The new Alberta Legislature soon awarded the University of Alberta to the city of Strathcona, Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River neighbour to the south. In 1912, the two cities merged, and Edmonton became the provincial and academic capital.
When the University of Alberta offered its first classes in the fall of 1908, founding president Henry Marshall Tory said that “the uplifting of the whole people” would be the university’s goal. That first fall, 45 students were enrolled in arts and sciences classes at Queen Alexandra School.
Land along the river bank was set aside to accommodate future students, and campus construction began. Some would say construction has been continuing ever since.
In the fall of 2022, seven post-secondary institutions in the city will welcome more than 100,000 students in programs ranging from astronomy and alternative energy technology to women’s studies and zoology.
The Gateway to the North
In the mid-1920s, Edmonton City Council purchased a farmer’s plot of land to begin building Canada’s first licenced airfield, Blatchford Field, and Edmonton’s reputation as a transportation hub and “Gateway to the North.”
The airstrip, later renamed the Edmonton Municipal Airport and then Edmonton City Centre Airport, served as home base for many legendary aviators, a military air base during the Second World War, and was a key connector to Western Canada’s booming oil fields and industry. When the larger Edmonton International Airport opened south of the city in 1960, the future of the downtown airstrip became uncertain.
In 2013, Edmonton’s City Centre Airport closed and its buildings and runways were deconstructed and recycled the following year.
Today, the retired airfield is Blatchford, an energy efficient, high-density urban community designed to be a great neighbourhood for families, a catalyst for transformational land development and a path towards a more resilient future. Upon full buildout, Blatchford will be home to as many as 30,000 Edmontonians living, working and learning in a carbon-neutral community.
Canada’s Festival City
Edmonton continued its growth as a proudly multicultural and inclusive city into the latter half of the twentieth century.
In the summer of 1978, Edmonton hosted the XI Commonwealth Games in its newly built Commonwealth Stadium, bringing in nearly 1,500 athletes from 46 nations competing in 128 events. The Games’ opening ceremony, a celebration of diversity across cultures, was viewed by over 42,000 spectators in the stands and an estimated 500 million viewers across the globe on television.
In the years that followed, Edmonton staged an array of new festivals and gatherings, including the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in 1980 and the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival in 1982. Both would become the largest of their kinds in North America, helping establish Edmonton as “Canada’s Festival City.”
Today, Edmonton continues to host hundreds of arts, sports and cultural events year round. Edmontonians and visitors gather to experience and learn from shared and diverse backgrounds, while building stronger communities and a stronger Edmonton.
A Transforming Edmonton
Edmonton has transformed since its beginnings and it will continue to transform as it welcomes the next generations of Edmontonians and Albertans in the coming years.
All are invited to continue learning about the story of this place and its people during Edmonton’s Alberta Day celebration. The free, family-friendly event, which features activities and entertainment for people of all ages, happens Saturday, September 3, in Sir Winston Churchill Square and the City Hall Plaza.
As well, you are invited to explore the past and its influence on the present at the Royal Alberta Museum, Rutherford House, the Provincial Archives of Alberta, and the City of Edmonton Archives.
Editor’s Note: Many photographs included in this post come from the collections of the City of Edmonton Archives. The picture at the top of the post is a souvenir photograph of Edmonton from Alberta’s inauguration ceremony, September 1, 1905, courtesy of the City Archives. EA-65-23.