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This is a tale of two different cities. Unlike the novel by the legendary Charles Dickens, this tale has a pleasant ending.
Strathcona is one of the oldest and most prestigious neighbourhoods in Edmonton. It encompasses the southern banks of the North Saskatchewan River. In fact, the famous Saskatchewan Drive is at the northern border of this neighbourhood. To the west is 107 Street while the scenic Mill Creek Ravine is located in the east of this area. The southern boundary of the neighbourhood is Whyte Avenue, but there are a few other landmarks and notable places in between.
These days, Strathcona is widely recognized as a center of arts, culture, and entertainment and thought of as a second area of downtown Edmonton. Visitors from different parts of the globe flock to this area annually to enjoy the festivals and the performances that abound here. However, the history of this place would have been radically different if not for a significant development back in 1910.
The growth and the development of the great Canadian West is connected to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP). This railway line attracted settlers to the west of Canada, but it was not the only rail system in existence back then. Other rail companies like the Calgary and Edmonton Railway (C&E) played a vital role in linking Alberta to the northern territories of Canada.
Meanwhile, the discovery of gold in Yukon brought a large wave of travelers and adventurers to some parts of modern-day Canada. As soon as the new spread that Yukon had substantial gold deposits, many people moved to the Yukon area to get some of the gold there. The Calgary-Edmonton trail was a popular route in those days because it was the major link between Calgary and the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. Meanwhile, the C&E did not construct a bridge across the span of the water. Instead, the company decided to end its railway tracks and create another community close to the river. This place became known as “South Edmonton.” It was promoted as a center of commerce, and it aimed to rival the city of Edmonton located north of the river.
The anticipated rivalry between north and south Edmonton did not happen immediately due to a number of reasons. In the year 1891, C&E got some land to build a town but in the spring of 1898, the name ‘South Edmonton’ was dropped and a new name, Strathcona was adopted. In 1899 Strathcona became a town in 1899 and received city status in 1907. In 1910, three years after three years of Strathcona became a considered a city; CP started constructing the famous High Level Bridge. At this time, Strathcona abandoned the lofty dream of becoming a rival to Edmonton. By 1912, Strathcona became amalgamated to Edmonton, and the rest is history. In the meantime, Strathcona had managed to create amazing Edwardian architecture and most of these great buildings are still in existence today.
Strathcona has a legitimate connection to Scotland. This is because the city was named after Sir Donald Alexander Smith who was the first baron of Strathcona in Scotland. Sir Donald Smith came to Canada to serve as an apprentice with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). With time, he became a great political personality and an advocate for the Canadian Pacific Railways. This is why many people in present-day Strathcona have a soft spot for Scotland and the Scottish Strathcona in particular.
The Strathcona Hotel is easily the oldest building in the area. This three-story building was constructed in 1891 and has sturdy wooden frames. It is located close to the railway station, and it welcomes visitors to the city as they disembark from the train station. In the pre-Prohibition era, this hotel made most of its revenue from alcohol sales. However, the hotel ran into serious liquidity problems during the prohibition years. As a result, the Presbyterian Church bought the hotel in 1821. The church converted the hotel to hostels for the Westminster Ladies College. The hotel bounced back with the abolition of prohibition and continued its business activities as a hotel with a popular tavern.
In the early years of its existence, streets in Strathcona were named after illustrious individuals and executives of CP. For instance, Whyte Avenue was named after Sir William Whyte who served as Vice-President of the railway company. Before 1902, most of the buildings in Strathcona were wooden structures. However, a law was passed in 1902 making it mandatory that all buildings be constructed of brick. This law aimed to prevent fires from spreading throughout the city.
Other prominent historical buildings in Strathcona at the height of its prestige and prosperity were the Orange Hall, the Old Scona School, and the CP station. The south side post office, the library, and the Connaught Armoury were also famous landmarks at the time.
Today, Strathcona is a popular and vibrant tourist attraction hub. This city attracts millions of musicians artists and entrepreneurs. Whyte Avenue is of the most popular places in the area, and this is not surprising because most of the shops, pubs, restaurants, and boutiques are located here. Visitors to this city will enjoy the live music, festivals, dance and theatrical productions. In fact, Strathcona is the home of the popular International Fringe festival.
Strathcona offers many activities for all categories of visitors. You can walk your dog, go shopping and participate in many other activities. Biking, cycling, and walking are popular activities here. For motorists, the city is well-planned, so there is never a shortage of parking space.
For people who consider themselves “night crawlers’, there are many bars, restaurants, and clubs here. In nearby Garneau, the University of Alberta has a campus so you can meet many young and vibrant people here.
In Strathcona, many people live in apartments and condominiums. However, there is still a strong sense of community here. The tourists may come and go but the locals are here to stay, and they are proud of the city.
You cannot discuss Strathcona without talking about the places that host Blues and Jazz events. The Yardbird Suite and the Blues on Whyte are just two examples of some of the favorite venues for people who love this particular genre of music.
Out And About
As stated already, Whyte Avenue is one of the most important places in the city. It is a commercial area, but it is also a vital connecting route to other parts of the city. This makes it the perfect route for travelers, cyclists, and motorists.
For cyclists, Strathcona is simply a paradise. You can get your bike and hit the north-south LRT tracks, or follow many nearby trails to other areas of town including the West End. You can even park your bike and stroll to the parks and river valley areas in the neighbourhood.
Did You Know?
- There are nine independent theatre companies operating in Strathcona and its surrounding areas.
- There are over 100 family-owned restaurants in Strathcona.
- Old Strathcona became Alberta’s second Provincial Historic Area in the year 2007.
- The Edmonton International Festival is of the most international festivals in North America.
- Whyte Avenue was also called 82 Avenue in the early years of Strathcona, but the name was not formally adopted until 1961.
- The Princess Theatre still operates and puts out regular shows.
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