The night the south side tried to steal Edmonton

Edmonton Bulletin, May 9, 1892,

On a Saturday afternoon, June 20, 1892 a hired wagon pulled up to the Dominion Land rented offices in Edmonton. The land agent, Thomas Anderson and the teamsters started to load boxes of files into the wagon. Soon the wagon was surrounded by angry men, some of them armed. The men removed the horses from the wagon as well as the nuts that hold the wheels on the axle, the wagon wasn’t going anywhere. More wagons appeared, they were also deprived of their horses and advised to go home.

Edmonton had been waiting for a train ever since the Canadian Government announced they would build a railroad to the Pacific through the Yellowhead Pass. Instead, it was the Canadian Pacific, a private company that had built the promised railroad, and the route they used to get over the mountains was 300 kilometers south of Edmonton, through what was then unpopulated dry grass prairie, bypassing the chain of communities to the north that had grown around the Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts along the Saskatchewan river. Edmonton’s business community watched in helpless fury as upstart towns the likes of Regina, Medicine Hat, and Calgary, desolate prairie prior to 1870, enjoy the benefit of rail transportation and real estate riches, while Edmonton remained a week’s journey by stage coach from the nearest train station.

Edmonton had legally incorporated as a town, complete with mayor and aldermen in January 1892. The southern boundary of the town was the river. A rail line from Calgary was built to the southern bank of the North Saskatchewan river in 1891. There was no bridge yet, nor would there be until 1900. There was a ferry, and the river might be forded unless the water was too high fast or filled with broken ice. The train station in unincorporated south Edmonton threatened to upset the grand plans of Edmonton’s boosters.

The railroad had already shown that its main business was not transportation but sale of real estate and controlling the benefits of location. As the Canadian Pacific had made its way west it had chosen where towns would be, if there were too many speculators squatting in the intended town site, the Railway would adjust the location to unoccupied land. A train station would become the center of the newly created town’s business doings, and the difference between dollar an acre farm land and thousands of dollar prime business real estate. The railway had no intention to share.

The Dominion Land Office was arguably the most valuable of Edmonton’s residents. Its agent was the sole representative of the Canadian Government for all matters pertaining to distributing land and timber rights on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Anyone wanting to homestead or buy land in the Edmonton area and points north would have to come here. Land Agent Thomas Anderson wanted to relocate the Land Office to South Edmonton, specifically to an empty box car sitting on a siding owned by the railway. The Edmonton Bulletin cried foul, as well as accusing Anderson of colluding with the railway and others to corner the market on property he owned around the train station. If Anderson was going to move the Land Office, it would have to be through several hundred determined Edmontonians.

Following an all night stand off, telegrams were sent to friends in high places, and Anderson was told to stay where he was. A new land office, fully owned by Her Majesty et al was soon built overlooking the Saskatchewan river, on the north bank. Those wishing to do business with the Land Office would have to find a way to get across the river. Edmonton would eventually get the boom promised by its boosters, but it would have to wait for the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, now known as the Canadian National Railway.

It would not end well. Next