When the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company completed a rail line between the province’s two largest cities, it decided to end it south of the North Saskatchewan River and establish a townsite there, rather than build a bridge and end the line in Edmonton.
The town was named Strathcona, and it grew to a population of 7,500 before merging with Edmonton in 1912. Because of an early fire-prevention bylaw, buildings were built of brick. Today many still remain, looking much as they did at the turn of the 20th century.
Old Strathcona is Edmonton’s best-preserved historical district. In addition to the historical buildings, the area has been refurbished with brick sidewalks and replica lampposts.
The best way to get to Old Strathcona from downtown is aboard the High Level Street Car (780/437-7721), which runs from the west side of the Alberta Legislature Building to the 104th Street and 85th Avenue intersection on Old Strathcona. It departs downtown mid-May to August 15 at 45 minutes past the hour Sunday–Friday 11 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m.–4 p.m. in summer only, $4 one-way. From the station, wander south to bustling Whyte Avenue.
The commercial core of Old Strathcona is centered along Whyte (82nd) Avenue west of the rail line. More than 75 residential houses built before 1926 are scattered to the north and west of Whyte Avenue. Across from the rail line is the Strathcona Hotel (corner of 103rd St. and Whyte Ave.), one of the few wood-framed buildings surviving from the pre-1900 period. Before Strathcona had permanent churches, congregations worshiped in the hotel, and during Prohibition it was used as a women’s college.
The two blocks east of the hotel are lined with cafés and restaurants, used bookstores, and many interesting shops. In a converted bus garage one block north is the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market (10310 83rd Ave., 780/439-1844, Sat. 8 a.m.–3 p.m. year-round), with plenty of fresh produce, crafts, and homemade goodies for sale. Within walking distance of Whyte Avenue are several small museums
Many of the historic buildings have plaques at street level, but the brochures A Walk Through Old Strathcona and Historical Walking and Driving Tour: Strathcona make a stroll much more interesting. For more information on the district, contact the Old Strathcona Foundation (780/433-5866, www.oldstrathconafoundation.ca.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition