From fallow farmland to the heart of Calgary’s best community, the community of Parkdale has seen its share of change over its more than 100 years of history. From catastrophic floods to stratospheric development, Parkdale’s resident historian, Marcel Hebert walks us through the community’s early days.
When just north of the Bow was the Wild West
This ad ran in the Calgary Daily Herald on April 6, 1912. To put this into perspective, $3000 is the equivalent of $73, 170.73 in today’s dollars. It was a bargain indeed for those brave souls willing to believe Calgary was set to expand into the prairie farmland west of the downtown core.
Let’s step back for a moment to see what brought Parkdale to this moment in history. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s several crucial events took place, opening up the West to future development.
In July 1886, the first Canadian Pacific Railway train ran through Calgary, winding its way along the Bow River beside what will become the future community of Parkdale.
In 1872, the government of Canada had introduced the Canadian Homestead Act which was in use until 1918. They hoped to encourage settlement by European and American pioneers, and settlers from Eastern Canada. The Act gave 160 acres (a quarter section) for free to any man who agreed to farm at least 40 acres and build a permanent house within three years. The only cost to the farmer was a $10 administration fee. This condition of building a homestead was created to prevent unscrupulous speculators from gaining control of the land. The Act also allowed farmers to buy up the neighboring 160 acres for an additional $10.00.
From homesteading to homeowning
Several farmers began homesteading in the Parkdale area during the early 1900’s. The house next door (740 35th street NW) to our community garden’s guardian angel Dave is the location of one of the original farm houses of this era. This is one of Parkdale’s earliest houses, dating from the first half of the 1910s. The first aerial photo from 1924 shows the location.
In 1911, Alfred McKay and his developer friends bought up 4 quarter sections, including 37 St. and prime lots on Memorial Drive. At that time, the desirable lots were along the tram line from Bowness to Calgary. The lots near the river were considered too far away for convenience. McKay and his friends attempted to sell the lots for $325 each with an 8% interest rate mortgage. Sales were slow. Alfred’s homestead home is located at what is now the end of first Avenue east of 37 Street. The five majestic brick houses on 37 St. (of which only 4 remain), were also built in 1911.
By 1912, the year of the advertisement in the Herald, there were approximately 12 houses/farms located in Parkdale. An inventory of all historical homes in Parkdale can be found at Parkdale’s Heritage Inventory on the City of Calgary’s Website.
By 1924, although there were a smattering of houses throughout Parkdale, development remained slow.
From ruin to boom
On Tuesday, June 4, 1929 Calgary experienced a major flood, not unlike the flood of 2013. Headlines in the papers of the day described the devastation both throughout Calgary and in the High River area. One could almost be reading headlines describing last year’s June 2013 flood.
The Depression (1929 to 1939) and World War II (1939 – 1945) kept a lid on development until after the war. Once the war ended, the economy began growing again, and interest in developing Parkdale revived.
On September 27 local historian, Marcel Hebert, offered a fascinating stroll through the history of Parkdale with a richly illustrated talk about how our neighborhood came through its stages of development to the present day. The audience enjoyed pizza from Pizza Bob’s Classic Pie and Avatara Pizza while scanning maps and photos to locate their lot and block. Several audience members offered stories and filled in details of our local history, adding to the richness of information.
Check out Marcel’s presentation by clicking here.
People attending and those not able to attend have requested more Parkdale History Nights, so the Garden group are planning a History Night II in February or March!
Article by Sandi Loschnig, with files from Marcel Hebert