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Edmonton’s Unpopular Histories

Edmonton’s official history goes back 1892, but if you joined us for our third walking tour of the summer then you might have learned things about our beloved city that you don’t typically hear elsewhere.  

Tour guide Dan Rose walked our group through downtown Edmonton’s unpopular histories, which included stories of both resilience from communities, as well as some less positive aspects of history. 

For instance, you might have heard of Edmonton’s brewery district and the ice district, but did you know that Edmonton used to have a brothel district? Located in the area of what is know 97th street was one of the only main streets in Edmonton in the 1900’s. The city was populated with many single, young men who spent their spare time and money on booze and prostitution. There were many hotels along 97th street and nearly every hotel had either a saloon or watering hole. In 1914 one brothel owner estimated there to be about 500 working girls in Edmonton and according to historian James Gray there were nearly 100 houses of prostitution discovered. Of course, there was some opposition to this culture, but most police officers turned a blind eye to the goings on. 

Due to all the alcohol being consumed, Edmonton quickly became a hot spot for brewing and malting. Located in the river valley by the North Saskatchewan River sits the small brick building that was Edmonton’s original beer empire. The brewery was built between 1904-1905 and was the home of Edmonton Brewing and Malting. It was opened by the future mayor of Strathcona William Shephard. 

Shephard was not only involved in brewing and politics, he was also one of the few people to encourage the construction of Edmonton’s first incline elevator. If you’ve ever driven down McDougall Hill then you’ve probably seen Edmonton’s funicular that opened in 2017, however, the first ever funicular opened in 1908. The idea was proposed by business man Joseph Hostyn for the purpose of hauling beer up the hill for Edmonton’s booming brewery district, but the elevator hauled everything from people to horses when it opened in 1908. The incline elevator was not meant to be, however, as it closed operations after five years due to fire hazards, break downs, bent gears, and wear and tear. 

Another historic fact that you may or may not have known is that the Ku Klux Klan had a large presence in Alberta during the 19020’s. You may have seen or even stayed at the Westin Hotel in downtown, but in 1907 the land was occupied by a building built by the Imperial Bank of Canada. In the building was a space leased out for an upstart newspaper. The newspaper that took ownership of the space was called The Liberator, which was owned by the Ku Klux Klan. It was no secret that the Klan had a presence in Alberta and their membership peaked at 5,000 to 7,000 people around the 1920’s and 1930’s. Even more surprising is the influence that the KKK had on political offices and matters. In 1931, the Klan’s Alberta Grand Wizard, J.J. Maloney, campaigned for Edmonton mayoral candidate Daniel Knott. When Knott won the election, the Klan burned a cross on Connor’s Hill in celebration. 

Did you miss out on this walking tour of the summer, but wish you could have gone? Become a FRAMS member today and be the first to know about events like this and member-only events.