• Lawrence Herzog

The early days of Jasper Place

Originally published August 29th, 2002

Edmonton Mayor Kenneth Newman, who came to Jasper Place in 1946, remembers it for having the “worst damned mud in the country.” In a 1964 Edmonton Journal article, Newman was quoted as saying: “It was so bad in the spring that children actually got stuck in it -- actually to the point where somebody had to go and pull them out.”

Mud was a curse that plagued Jasper Place from its very beginnings some 125 years ago. It was 1876 that a man named Henry Goodridge settled on land a few miles west of old Fort Edmonton to become the area’s first recorded permanent white settler.

As demand for land grew in boomtime Edmonton, developers began to see the area as a place newcomers could settle. Among the early speculators were the McEachern brothers, who in 1910 advertised 50-foot by 150-foot lots in North Jasper Place for $100 to $150. Terms were $10 down and $10 a month.

By 1912, Jasper Place was two separate areas -- one just across the city's western boundary at 142nd Street and another, known as West Jasper Place, which was a cluster of buildings straddling Jasper Avenue (now Stony Plain Road) between 149th and 156th Streets.

In 1913, Edmonton moved its boundary west to 149th Street and West Jasper Place became a part of the Municipality of Stony Plain. Among the earliest merchants was a general store owned by C.W. Brett and which operated from 1909 to around 1914. It was situated at what is now Stony Plain Road and 151st Street.

J. R. Brett, son of C.W., recalled the Jasper Place of his boyhood in a 1964 newspaper interview. "It was just coyotes running around there -- and muskeg. The old Stony Plain Trail was generally four feet deep in mud.”

That muskeg became the stuff of legend and, when Richard “Dick” Rice opened his CFRN Television at the far western fringes of the community in 1954, old-timers spoke of how fires had been burning in the nearby muskeg nearby for decades. It seemed natural to use the name Muskeg for the moose mascot for the station’s after school program Popcorn Playhouse. “If you build it, it will sink,” became a common Jasper Place refrain. Because of the high water table and soil stability issues, many houses constructed in the area prior to 1948 did not have full basements – only crawlspaces.

By the 1940s, Edmonton’s city limits stretched to 149th Street and that’s where the streetcar line ended. Jasper Place residents taking the trolley home were on their own from there, which usually meant walking the rest of the way.

Looking northeast at the intersection of Stony Plain Road and 149 Street, 1948. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-10-166.

Most houses of the day didn’t have running water and some didn’t even have electricity. The toilet was out back and water was hauled in by the barrel by truckers including Roy Davis, who charged householders “two-bits” a barrel, $1.25 for 500 gallons or $2.50 for 1,000 gallons.

Hundreds of Edmontonians moved out to Jasper Place in the 1930s to escape the high taxes of the big city. But Jasper Place’s days as a sleepy unincorporated settlement were soon to come to an end.

Stony Plain Road looking east towards 154 Street, 1951. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-275-1862.

Fueled by the 1947 discovery of oil near Leduc, hundreds of new homes sprang up in Jasper Place. Incorporation as a hamlet came in 1948 under the name West Jasper Place. The first mayor was James Stone and R.D. Butler and T.W. Nordon were councillors and the new community proudly called itself “the largest hamlet in Alberta,” with a population of 4,000.

New residents just kept on coming and, the following year, some leading citizens decided it was time to incorporate as a village. But not everyone agreed with the higher taxes that would result and, at a meeting called to discuss the matter, there were heated arguments and fisticuffs.

After considering several names, including Oil City, Opportunity, Boomtown, Dogpatch and Westmonton, the civic leaders decided on the less imaginative Jasper Place. At time of incorporation in 1949, the population was reported as 8,900 and Jasper Place was then billed as “the largest village in Alberta.”

Large billboard welcoming arrivals from Edmonton at Stony Plain Road and 149 Street, 1960. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-275-323.

Two years later, the census counted 9,500 heads and Jasper Place was a town – naturally, “the largest in Alberta.” Whatever it was called, residents endearingly and not so endearingly referred to their home as “Mud City.”

The problem was exacerbated by the lack of sidewalks in the area. Jasper Place town council refused to supply sidewalks until sewer and water lines could be installed and that finally began in 1953.

Phone service finally arrived in 1950 when Alberta Government Telephones installed 225 rural phones on 15 party lines. It was a big day in 1953 when individual line service arrived for 1,000 initial subscribers.

When Jasper Place Joined Edmonton

Originally published October 3, 2002

“38,000 people, $8,177,000 In Debt, and ‘The Damndest Mud In the World’ Becomes Part of Edmonton,” read the headline in the August 17th, 1964 edition of the Edmonton Journal. “This is the end,” began the story, which commemorated Jasper Place’s amalgamation with Edmonton, ending its reign as the largest town in Canada.

That day Edmonton swallowed up Jasper Place ended years of wrangling over if, how and when the amalgamation would occur. The process goes back to 1913, when the land west to 149th Street was appropriated by Edmonton, leaving West Jasper Place a loosely administered ward of the Stony Plain municipality.

In its early days, it was home to just a few hundred people, who often homesteaded a meagre existence and raised a few farm animals and tended gardens. In the heady days of growth after the Second World War, Edmonton’s rapidly overflowing population spilled into the hamlet of West Jasper Place, pushing the population to 4,000 by 1948.

In those days, the community stretched from the North Saskatchewan River on the south to 118th Avenue and from 170th Street on the west and 149th Street on the east. When the hamlet became a village in early 1950, it was home to nearly 9,000 persons and growth continued at a frantic pace through the 1950s. Between 1950 and amalgamation in 1964, Jasper Place’s assessment increased from $1.65 million to $56 million.

Looking west along Stony Plain Road from 151 Street, circa 1962. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-267-25.

Business prosperity was assisted by a night shopping bylaw, passed in 1953. While stores in Edmonton were constrained by laws that prohibited them from opening at 6 pm, except on Thursdays, retailers in Jasper Place were permitted to remain open until 9 o’clock six nights a week.

Jasper Place made the national news in 1958 when Richard (Dick) Butler, councillor and publisher of the weekly Jasper Place Citizen, was shot and killed by a deranged gunman who had dug a series of trenches around his home and then barricaded himself inside. The incident began one August morning when the gunman, an elderly recluse who lived in a converted boxcar at 112th Avenue and 150th Street, pumped shots into a car and house across the street.

Two Jasper Place policemen tried to get him to surrender but without success and so more police officers and fire department backup were summoned. Streams of water from firehoses and tear gas grenades failed to flush him out.

Jasper Place Fire Chief Barney Weygood was wounded as he and his men attempted to flush the recluse from his shelter with the firehoses, strung across the trenches. “It was then that Dick Butler, armed with a police revolver, worked his way into the recluse’s property,” the Edmonton Journal reported. “But (he) was cut down by a shotgun blast after an exchange of shots.”

The recluse was eventually captured with the assistance of a bulldozer, ending the six-hour siege. He was later declared insane and committed to the Oliver Mental Institute. Butler was honoured with Butler Memorial Park.

The Jasper Theatre at 10120 156 Street, 1960. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-20-4187.

As Jasper Place continued to grow, the demands on infrastructure increased correspondingly and, in the early 1960s, the community expanded several schools and began work on a $430,000 sports centre on 163rd Street. Planning began on development of the Meadowlark Shoppers’ Park.

But Jasper Place was backing itself into a corner. With precious little industrial tax base, phenomenal growth and an ever-increasing debt load, Premier Ernest Manning saw the writing on the wall and refused to grant the town extra funds.

Through the 1950s and into the early ‘60s, amalgamation was the best way to get a good argument going with Jasper Place residents, with those for and against the idea firmly entrenched. Feeling reached a fever pitch in 1962, when the town council met and in a session that lasted barely 16 minutes, approved amalgamation.

But that wasn’t to be the end of it. A petition calling for a halt on amalgamation proceedings until Jasper Place residents voted on the issue garnered several thousand signatures. The question came to a vote in a plebiscite held along with the October 17th, 1962 civic election.

Despite the financial pressures facing the town, residents were a proud, independent bunch and many wanted to remain separate from Edmonton. The final count was 3,618 votes in favour of amalgamation and 2,811 votes against -- a plurality of just 56 per cent. Candidates in favour of joining Edmonton swept the slate, winning 57 per cent of the popular vote.

With amalgamation, the City of Edmonton assumed Jasper Place’s bonded indebtedness of $8.177 million, the town’s infrastructure and responsibility for all public services such as sewer, water and transportation. Kenneth Newman, who had been a councillor and mayor of Jasper Place since 1952, was elected to Edmonton City Council in 1964.

While Jasper Place as a separate entity has been swallowed by time, it’s still possible to glimpse what life in the town was like all those years ago. The main street, Stony Plain Road west of 149th Street, and many of the small single family bungalows still retain some of the character of the mid 20th century.

© 2019 Lawrence Herzog. Article may be reproduced with permission of the author.

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©2019 Lawrence Herzog.