|It was the railway that gave birth to the town of Calder and, nearly 100 years later, the railway remains its lifeblood. As they have since 1909, the sound of trains echoes around the community and, even as the city has grown around and beyond it, Calder has retained its working class roots. |
Back at the beginning Calder was known as West Edmonton Village but the name never really stuck. People didn't much like the new moniker and continued to call it Calder, as the district was known, apparently named for an early area landowner or a borough in England.
The Hudson's Bay Company also played a part in the establishment of the community. The firm, hoping to benefit from rising real estate prices in pre World War I Edmonton, delayed the sale and development of about 1,600 acres of its reserve lands. This block of empty land extended from 107th Avenue north to 122nd Avenue and from 101st Street west to 122nd Street.
With no development permitted in that zone, a number of small subdivisions were established near its boundaries and just outside the city limits. That's why the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway located its round house, repair shop and shunting yards near 127th Avenue, west of 118th Street. The facility was built on land purchased by the McRoberts Brothers in 1900 for $4.50 and sold to the railway for an undisclosed sum.
As work began on the $100,000 project, workers needed a place to sleep and food to eat. A tent city was born in late 1908 and, by late 1909, the first permanent buildings were in place. The first house was apparently constructed by J.H. Shotten.
Early pioneers included merchants A.W. Young and J.N. Beaudry who, the story goes, was living in Wainwright when he heard that Grand Trunk Pacific had decided to build in Edmonton its first divisional point west of Winnipeg. Beaudry hopped the train and began a new life.
The railway soon had its 18-stall brick roundhouse and the new facility provided employment for 200 men. The Village of West Edmonton was established in July 1910 and the first meeting of councillors W.G. McConnache, A.W. Young and J. Shotton was held the following month. A school was established in the Presbyterian Church, with Miss D.A. Dewar as teacher.
Much of the 160-acres of the village was put on the market by a firm called the Calder Land Company Limited and its principal agent, J.R. McIntosh. "A FUTURE HIVE OF INDUSTRY," trumpeted a 1911 newspaper ad. "45 DWELLINGS, 3 STORES, 3 CHURCHES, 1 SCHOOL and a modern and omplete TELEPHONE SERVICE."
The ad went on to note the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway shops adjoined the subdivision, guaranteeing a payroll of several hundred men. Roads were given names like Grace, Bertha, Notre Dame and Agnes. The main thoroughfare now known as 127th Avenue was Brandon Avenue.
The 644 lots were first offered at $175 or $224 for a corner lot. For $58 down, the balance could be paid over two years at an interest rate of seven per cent. The same lot today goes for more than $50,000.
McIntosh and the other developers were onto something lucrative. When Calder's Bronx subdivision went on the market in early 1912, 1,200 lots sold in just three days. With that kind of demand, prices were on the upswing and, by the end of the year, lots were going for more than $400.
A story in the February 22nd, 1913 edition of the Edmonton Daily Capital heralded the new development. "West Edmonton, as it is now known, has shown remarkable development during the past three years. From a village it has developed into a town of many residents and industries, the latter of which provide a $35,000 pay roll."
But what Calder didn't have was modern day conveniences like electricity, running water, a sewage system and bus service. The Edmonton Bulletin noted the dire need in a carefully worded article published in December 1915, when the village's population was 1,100.
"Civic utilities are the outstanding requirements of the entire district, and even Calderites look forward most hopefully to the time when the village may be served with electric lights, city water and city telephones."
That desire for services prompted Calder to join Edmonton in 1917 but the urban amenities were many years away. It was 1950 before the main roads were paved and 1953 before a sewage system was operational. At least the community did enjoy the benefit of proximity to the streetcar line, which ran along 124th Street and provided transport into the heart of the city.
A longtime Calder landmark is the Dover Hotel, at the corner of 127th Avenue and 120th Street. The story of how it got to be there is one of the great tales from the past.
It turns out the hotel was constructed in the autumn of 1912 some six blocks from the present location. Back at the beginning it was called the Strand. The $50,000 building was billed as completely fireproof and fitted with "the latest furnishings known to the hostelry world."
But apparently the location wasn't working and in 1927, aiming to pick up more of the railway traffic, the hotel was moved. The structure was lifted up and hauled by horse power to its current home.
Another longtime neighbourhood landmark was Orbeck's Grocery, which operated at the corner of 117th Street and 129th Avenue for nearly 45 years. William and Cassie Orbeck opened the store in May 1932 - the depths of the Great Depression - and ran it until 1977. The story goes that Calder School students often used to sneak away at recess to buy candy at Orbeck's, which had a reputation for the best selection of candy around.
While many of the early businesses are now footnotes in history, there is considerable evidence around of the community's early architecture. In particular, many of the early single family dwellings have survived.
So, too, has the unmistakable screech of steel on steel and the shunting of boxcars, still providing aural accompaniment after all these years. That's the sound of a place built on the sweat of railwaymen.
Information for this article compiled with the generous help of the staff at the City of Edmonton Archives. If you'd like to offer your thoughts, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.