Edmonton City Dairy milkman and his horse and milk wagon, circa 1946. Photo courtesy City of Edmonton Archives, EA-275-1580.|
First by horses, then by “horseless carriage,” and later by truck, the halcyon days of door-to-door delivery lasted nearly the first 70 years of the 20th century in Edmonton. Coal, milk, bread, ice, groceries, laundry, and a whole lot more were delivered right to the houses of citizens. In these days before drive-throughs and suburban malls, many folks didn’t own vehicles, and the convenience of having goods delivered right to your door was hard to beat.
Well before the arrival of Edmonton’s first automobile in 1904, coal was being expedited by horse and wagon. Natural gas wasn’t yet available, and so most people heated their homes using coal or wood. Between 1874 and 1970, 13 million tonnes of coal was pulled from more than 100 mines in the Edmonton area, most of them from shafts dug into the river valley.
They included the Humberstone Mine, which started in 1899 near what is now 30th Street north of 111th Avenue, and the Davidson Bush Mine, west of 36th Street and south of 104th Avenue. It shipped coal between 1917 and 1944. Many east end residents also bought their coal from the Beverly Mine, which operated from 1931 to 1951.
Some of the significant early mines near downtown included the Dawson Coal Mine, founded by H.S. Dawson around 1907 just east of today's Dawson Bridge and the Chinook Coal Mine, which started in Riverdale in 1918. The Twin City Mine operated in Mill Creek Ravine; the Strathcona Mine extracted coal from the south bank of the river valley, just east of the High Level Bridge.
Milk was delivered by horse and buggy right from Edmonton’s formative years. One of the first dairies to operate commercially in Edmonton was the West End Dairy, which was located by 1899 at what is now at 110th Street and 99th Avenue.
In 1911, Warren Huff started a commercial dairy from his farm at 112th Avenue and 127th Street, and, by the 1920s the venture was called Jasper Dairy. The business shifted from the farm to 10406 119th Street in 1946 and continued to operate until 1966, when it moved to Jasper Place and was sold to the Safeway Corporation.
Edmonton City Dairy & Barns (E.C.D. Co. Ltd.) was started by Warren Prevey around 1926 and operated from 10175 109th Street. The building was distinguished by a 50-foot-high eight-ton steel plate milk bottle that was built on special order in New York City, assembled in Edmonton, and hoisted into place on the roof.
It served not only as a local landmark but also as the condensers for the dairy’s refrigeration system. The venture later became known as Silverwood Western Dairies but the earlier name could still be seen on the bottle, which remained on the roof until 1977, when the building was readied for demolition.
The bottle was removed by Jenkins and Fleenor Enterprises and transported to the company’s salvage and demolition business on 66th Street. The old dairy building made way for the Madison development, and the big bottle finally made its way to the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds as part of its Bonanza Park.
Continuing a tradition that stretched back to its very beginnings, Silverwood's continued to deliver milk by horse and wagon well into the 1950s. Milk chutes were popular design features of homes right into the 1960s, typically located right next to back doors.
In the days before in-home washers and dryers, many citizens got their clothes cleaned by laundries which offered pick-up and delivery services. One of the first and most successful was New Method Laundry and Fabric Care, which operated from 11060 Jasper Avenue.
The business was started in 1927 by John Burton Thompson. It was a state-of-the-art operation that washed, dry cleaned and pressed for hundreds of commercial and individual customers, served by a fleet of modern trucks.
Business grew rapidly in the late 1940s, and with expansion and the acquisition of two other laundries, the company became known as Fabric Care and launched its enormously successful "Little Pink Trucks" slogan and jingle. The jingle went: "Call the little pink trucks from the big pink fleet, makes your clothes so clean, they'll be Fabric Care neat."
From the early days of the 20th century right through to the end of World War II in 1945, perishable foods were most often stored in iceboxes – insulated cubicles kept cool by a block of natural frozen ice. These blocks of ice were provided by several companies including the Edmonton Ice Company, established in 1899, and the Arctic Ice Company, set up in 1900.
Workers for the companies would cut big 50 to 100 pound chunks of ice out of the frozen North Saskatchewan River and then take them to their plants, where they were stored and shipped out to customers on wagons pulled by horses. James Gillett, who started working as an iceman for the Arctic Ice Company in 1909, remembered the teams used to be able to haul three tons of ice per trip.
“People used a lot of ice in those days,” he was quoted as saying in an August 16, 1967 Edmonton Journal article. “I remember one route I worked on had 62 customers in two blocks. The kids used to follow along for shavings of ice to suck and sometimes if I took too long on a call, the kids would get in the back of the wagon and chip their own ice slivers."
The days of horse drawn ice wagons came to an end in 1949, when the company bought a fleet of trucks. Ice was harvested off the river every winter until 1950, when the Arctic Ice Company opened its new $150,000 manufacturing plant with a production capacity of 72 tons a day. But by then, refrigerators were catching on, and the age of the residential icebox and home deliveries of ice were soon to be over.