|Photo supplied by City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-490|
The Highlands contains some of Edmonton’s best-preserved historic homes and streetscapes. Originally, its boundaries were 55 Street, 64 Street, 118 Avenue and the North Saskatchewan River. Conceived during the boom years before WWI, The Highlands was the brainchild of William Magrath and Bidwell Holgate.
In August 1910 the Magrath-Holgate real estate company announced plans for Edmonton’s newest “high class” neighbourhood on land east of the city limits. The original owner and homesteader of the parcel of land was James Ingram Gullion who was an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He lived on the land for at least thirty years. John Alexander McDougall acquired the land in 1888. He filed the first subdivision plan, in June 1911, and it became part of Edmonton that December.
To publicize the venture, Magrath and Holgate launched an ad campaign in the Edmonton Bulletin newspaper. Half, full and two page ads pronounced the superiority of the empty acreage. Fifty dollars in gold was offered as a prize for the best name. The contest ran through September 1910 and, after two days of discussion, “The Highlands” was chosen as the best submission.
The contest was followed up with excursions to The Highlands. The healthful, beautiful setting, the ample size of the lots, and the $2,500 minimum cost per house (to ensure the quality of the neighbourhood) were major selling points. In addition, connections with the city’s street railway, electricity, water and sewer systems were soon to be made.
Edmonton’s economy boomed in The Highlands’ first years. Its population rose from 24,000 to 76,972 between 1909 and 1914, and demand for real estate was intense. Over $35,000 of Highlands lots were sold the first day they went on the market. Magrath and Holgate spent over $10,000 on improvements before 1912, but by October 1912, The Highlands still had few houses.
Magrath and Holgate made large personal investments in The Highlands. Their mansions became symbols of The Highlands, but by the time they were finished, the boom economy had gone bust. A world-wide recession in 1913 took its toll on Edmonton, and WWI made things worse. As people left to seek better fortune elsewhere, the real estate market disintegrated.
It would take many years to fill the many empty lots with new homes. Because of this, the Highlands is unique in that its architecture spans every era from 1912 until the present. Today, the once-bare acreage has mature trees and a mature community that, while looking to the future, still values its past.
This year the Highlands celebrates its centennial.