William Short, Edmonton mayor 1902 to 1904. Photo supplied by City of Edmonton Archives, EA-10-1661
In the first decade of the 20th century, six men served time in the mayor’s chair. These pioneer politicians ranged from businessmen to lawyers, a school principal, a builder and even a military commander.
When Kenneth W. MacKenzie was acclaimed as mayor for the 1900-1901 term, Edmonton was a town of barely 2,000 residents, not one bridge crossed the North Saskatchewan River and the railway had yet to arrive. MacKenzie had been born on a farm near Lucknow, Ontario in 1862, and received his education degree from the University of Toronto.
Like many other young men of his generation, he headed west in search of opportunity, and landed a job as principal in Lethbridge in 1893. He was appointed principal of College Avenue High School in Edmonton in 1895.
With the Klondike Gold Rush in full frenzy, and Edmonton booming, he resigned as principal in 1898 to pursue a career in business and civic affairs. He ran for alderman in 1899, and was acclaimed. He then ran for mayor in 1900, and was acclaimed and served until 1902.
Edmonton was proclaimed a city on November 7, 1904, and Kenneth MacKenzie put his name forward again, and was elected again. That made him the new city’s first elected mayor.
MacKenzie then became a Dominion Lands Agent until 1913 and returned to teaching at Victoria High School. He died in 1929 at the age of 67.
The mayor at the moment of Edmonton’s incorporation as a city was William Short, a lawyer who had first been elected to the big chair in 1902. Short was mayor when the inaugural Edmonton Yukon and Pacific Railway (EY&PR) train steamed across the Low Level Bridge and onto the Rossdale flats October 20th, 1902.
A Canadian Northern locomotive No. 26 pulled a coach, box car and two flat cars, making it the first to arrive on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River. Such was the jubilation in the city that Mayor Short proclaimed a civic holiday.
Short was born near Elora, Ontario in 1866, and achieved a law degree before coming to Alberta in 1889. He articled to Senator Lougheed in Calgary between 1891 and 1894, and was admitted to the provincial bar in 1894.
He practiced law as a member of Short, Cross & Biggar, as well as Short, Cross, McLean & McBride. Short was the author of the city charter, and chairman of the Edmonton Board of Trade.
An enthusiastic motorist, Short had one of the first automobiles in the city. He married Henrietta McMaster in 1900 and they had two children. He died in 1926 at the age of 70.
Charles May was one of Edmonton’s prominent builders and contractors of the early 20th century. May was born in Wellington County, Ontario in 1858, and came to Edmonton in 1902.
Elected alderman in 1904-1905 and mayor in 1906, May’s company built the piers for the Clover Bar (CNR) rail bridge, the downtown post office, the first station for the Canadian Northern Railway, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Commerce, and Hudson’s Bay Company’s store. He also built the residences of Frank Oliver, publisher of Edmonton’s first newspaper, and Dr. Edward Braithwaite, Edmonton's first medical officer.
May’s company went bankrupt during the construction of Rene Lemarchand’s mansion and he moved to a cottage on Cooking Lake until the debts were settled. He married Anna Galbreath, who died suddenly in 1897, leaving him with two children.
May remarried in 1901, and fathered four more children with Marguerite Henderson. He died in 1932, predeceased by a son who was killed at age 27 while working on construction of the Grand Trunk Railroad.
William Griesbach was elected alderman in 1905-1906 and mayor in 1907, but that is only one part of the story of his remarkable life. Born in 1878, Griesbach was just 28 years old when he began his term, and the newspapers called him “Edmonton’s boy mayor.” He still ranks as the youngest mayor the city has ever elected.
Griesbach was also elected one term as a Conservative Member of Parliament in 1917, beating Liberal Frank Oliver, and was appointed to the Canadian Senate, where he served 24 years. But his greatest achievements came with military service.
He enlisted with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in 1900 and served in the South African war. In 1914, when hostilities were breaking out in Europe, Griesbach was named as an officer to command the 49th Battalion.
The 49th, or "the Edmonton Regiment," as it came to be known, was called to various engagements overseas, including the attack on Vimy Ridge, the defence of Arras and operations at Passchendaele and Mons. Griesbach was promoted to Brigadier-General in 1917, when he was just 39 years old. After WWI, he became Inspector-General of the Canadian Army for western Canada.
Griesbach married Janet Scott McDonald Lauder in 1906. He died in Edmonton on January 21, 1945.
Businessman John Alexander McDougall followed Griesbach in the mayor’s chair in 1908. It was his second term as mayor, following an earlier stint in 1897.
Another businessman, Robert E. Lee was elected mayor in 1909 and 1910, following a two-term as alderman beginning in 1907. Born in Lanark County, Ontario in 1862, he arrived in Edmonton in 1898, and started a grain trading, insurance and loan business under the name of Ross & Lee, with partner John Ross.
In 1902, he formed a new partnership with W.I. Crafts and diversified into real estate and coal mining under the name of Crafts & Lee. Three years later, the partnership expanded and became to Crafts, Lee & Gallinger Realtors.
That same year, Lee constructed the Lee Block on the corner of Jasper Avenue and Second Street (102 Street). The building was home for Reed's Bazaar until it was destroyed by fire in 1913. A reconstructed version now stands at Fort Edmonton Park.
Lee married Annette E. Wilson in 1897 and they had three children. He died in 1925.
Next week: Edmonton Mayors 1910 to 1920.