Malcolm Groat, 1904. EA-10-669.88. Photos courtesy City of Edmonton Archives
Every day thousands of people drive over the road and bridge named for him, yet few likely know the story of Malcolm Groat. It's a remarkable tale of a life of adventure, pioneering and community involvement. Groat was directly involved in Edmonton's first steps as a settlement and owned the land where Groat Road now runs.
Like many of the men that the Hudson's Bay Company recruited for the fur trade, Malcolm Groat was born and raised in Scotland. His family farmed at Halkirk in Caithness where Malcolm was born in 1836. He attended common school until the age of 14 and then apprenticed as a carriage maker.
When he turned 18, Groat joined the local militia and served in the Crimean War. After his service, he returned to Scotland and joined his family's farming operation, but the frontier beckoned and, when he was 25, he signed up with the Hudson's Bay Company, offering his skills in carriage building and farming.
Groat was posted to Fort Edmonton. The year was 1861 and just getting here was much more prolonged and difficult than we can imagine today. He sailed from Scotland to Canada and then through the Hudson's Bay to York Factory.
From there, his party travelled up the Nelson River to Lake Winnipeg and on to Fort Garry. Then, already weeks away from home, he began a three-month overland trip with the Red River Carts that took supplies to Fort Edmonton across what is now half of Manitoba, all of Saskatchewan and a good chunk of Alberta.
William J. Christie, the Chief Factor at Edmonton, put Groat to work as steward in charge of the farming operations and the packhorses. Groat later served as post master.
As part of an 1869 agreement with the government of the Dominion of Canada, the Hudson's Bay Company surrendered Rupert's Land, but was allowed to keep all land within three miles of each of its forts. The company chose to keep Edmonton land on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River, stretching northward to what is now 118th Avenue and from 101st Street to 121st Street.
That opened up the surrounding area for claim and homesteading and in 1870 Malcolm Groat claimed land on the western edge of the Hudson's Bay Reserve. Groat's claim, River Lot No. 2, included more than 900 acres west to 149th Street and from the river valley to what is now 111th Avenue.
That same year Groat married William Christie's daughter, Marguerite, in an impressive ceremony at the fort. Malcolm insisted that a Presbyterian minister perform the marriage and the minister travelled on Red River Cart from Fort Garry -- another three month journey.
The Groats settled in at the fort, beginning their family of nine children. They were to stay there until 1878 when Malcolm retired from the Hudson's Bay Company to homestead his claim.
In the early days, Groat farmed only a small portion on the north west edge of his lot. Here he cleared the land for crops and built a small shack for his family, situated near present day Stony Plain Road and 132nd Street.
The farming proved profitable and the enterprise grew over the years, helped along by the ready hands of so many children. The family adapted well to the wilderness and they were all capable hunters, producing and butchering their own food supply. They also raised prize winning horses.
The family built a larger clapboard house near present day 102nd Avenue and 125th Street. Malcolm always made time for civic affairs and he was a popular man in the Edmonton settlement. In 1881, he was chosen as one of the first public school trustees and he kept up his contacts with fellow pioneers by becoming a charter member of the Old Timers.
The Groat Estate, as it came to be known, became a favoured picnic spot for many Edmontonians and the Groats were generous in allowing the use of their land. Big tents were often erected near the lip of the river valley for church picnics which sometimes drew several hundred people to enjoy the beauty of the river valley.
It wasn't to last. At the turn of the century, Malcolm Groat was 61 years old. The settlement had grown into a town and more people, lured by the federal government's promise of land and opportunity, were quickly arriving to settle in the territories.
Groat knew that, as Edmonton expanded its western boundaries, his land would soon command a premium. In 1903, he began selling off his holdings and the first purchase for the purpose of subdivision was made by William Trethewey. He approached Malcolm Groat and a deal was signed on April 23, 1903, transferring most of the original homestead, save 20 acres, for the princely sum of $100 per acre.
Now a rich man, Groat spent the next few years dabbling in real estate and finance. In 1907, he and Marguerite built a beautiful new brick house to replace their second home. That house, at 10131 Clifton Place, is still standing.
Groat stayed active right until the day he died. After a hectic day conducting business downtown, he returned home. But later that evening he felt unwell and died suddenly. It was May 17, 1912.
As word spread, the entire community went into mourning. The funeral service at the Presbyterian church and was the largest to that date. The procession to the Edmonton Cemetery comprised 45 carriages.
Marguerite passed away three years after her husband. The Groat children carried on the family tradition of pioneering, reaching ever deeper into the unexplored Canadian north and west. A roadway was pushed through the belly of Groat's Ravine and the bridge bearing his name opened in 1955.
This article is based on the research of Shirley Lowe, who has written on the Oliver neighbourhood and 124th Street. Additional information sourced with the assistance of the staff at the City of Edmonton Archives.