100 Years of Calder

It was the railway that gave birth to the town of Calder and, more than 100 years later, the railway remains its lifeblood. The goods brought by rail since the first Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR) trains arrived in 1909 have helped grow the city around it from just a few thousand people to more than one million. Through it all, Calder has nourished and proudly retains its working class prominence.

Calder’s story began in the early years of the 20th century when GTPR decided to locate its roundhouse, repair shop and shunting yards beside today’s 127th Avenue west of 118th Street. As work began on the $100,000 project in September 1908, workers were housed in a tent city, which was erected beside the new rails.

In its early days of operation, GTPR’s 18-stall brick roundhouse and adjacent maintenance facilities provided employment for 200 men. The first house was built in 1909 and early pioneers included retail merchants J.N. Beaudry and A.W. Young.

The village of West Edmonton was established in July 1910 and the first meeting of councillors W.G. McConnache, A.W. Young and J. Shotton was held the following month. A school was established in the Presbyterian Church, with Miss D.A. Dewar as teacher.

Hugh Alfred Calder was one of those who played a prominent role in the early development of the community. Born in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia in 1873, Calder  moved to Labrador as a young man, where he started its first lumber company. He arrived in Edmonton in 1902 and went to work scouting suitable timber for ties for the GTPR.

Calder founded the Calder Land Company in 1907, and in 1910 he and agent J.R. McIntosh began marketing some of the 160 acres of the village of West Edmonton. “A FUTURE HIVE OF INDUSTRY,” trumpeted a 1911 newspaper ad, in all-capitals text. “45 DWELLINGS, 3 STORES, 3 CHURCHES, 1 SCHOOL and a modern and complete TELEPHONE SERVICE.”

The ad went on to note the GTPR shops adjoined the subdivision, guaranteeing a payroll of several hundred men. Roads were given names including Grace, Bertha, Notre Dame, Park and Agnes. The main thoroughfare that is now 127th Avenue was called Brandon Avenue.

Calder Land Company offered 644 lots at $175 ($224 for a corner) and for $58 down, the balance could be paid over two years at an interest rate of seven percent. Sales were brisk and within a few months, the new village was home to more than 500 residents.

Edmonton was booming and when Calder’s Bronx subdivision went on the market in early 1912, 1,200 lots sold in just three days. With that kind of demand, prices quickly surged and by the end of the year, parcels were going for more than $400. The community may have been registered as the Village of West Edmonton, but locals started calling it “Calder,” and the name stuck.

Besides his real estate ventures, Mr. Calder also worked as an alderman, first for Strathcona and then Edmonton, from 1908 to 1916. He served overseas as major with the Alberta Dragoons and was commanding officer of the Canadian Forestry Battalion stationed in Scotland. Upon his return from the war, he retired to his farm in South Edmonton.

A story in the February 22nd, 1913 edition of the Edmonton Daily Capital heralded the new development. “West Edmonton, as it is now known, has shown remarkable development during the past three years. From a village it has developed into a town of many residents and industries, the latter of which provide a $35,000 pay roll.”

But what Calder didn’t have was modern-day conveniences like electricity, running water, a sewage system and bus service. The Edmonton Bulletin noted the dire need in a December 1915 article, when the village’s population was 1,100. “Civic utilities are the outstanding requirements of the entire district, and even Calderites look forward most hopefully to the time when the village may be served with electric lights, city water and city telephones.”

That desire for services prompted Calder to begin negotiations to join Edmonton in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1917 that the deal was done. Even so, urban amenities were many years away; main roads were finally paved in 1950 and the sewage system became fully operational in 1953.

When GTPR ran into financial difficulties in 1919, the federal government folded it into the new Canadian National Railways (CNR). By January 1923, all the operations of the GTPR were absorbed into the CNR.

The present day Calder neighbourhood includes the former village of West Edmonton (west of 120 Street) and Elm Park (east of 120 Street). The Elm Park subdivision was established in 1907 and became part of the city of Edmonton in 1913.

Most of the area south of 130th Avenue between 116th and 125th streets was subdivided in 1905, 1909 and 1910, when a grid pattern was used. The northern and eastern portions of the neighbourhood were subdivided last, in the 1950s, as reflected in the use of crescents and small amenity parks, which were popular design features of the time.

A long-time Calder landmark is the Dover Hotel, at the corner of 127th Avenue and 120th Street. But it wasn’t always there. The hotel was constructed as The Strand in the autumn of 1912 at the corner of 122nd Street and 129th Avenue. It was a $50,000 building, billed as completely fireproof and its 40 rooms were fitted with “the latest furnishings known to the hostelry world.”

But apparently the location wasn’t working and in 1927, aiming to pick up more of traffic from the adjacent railyards, the hotel was lifted up and hauled to 12704 120th Street. The Strand was renamed the Dover in 1951.

Other early business ventures included a livery, situated at 12020 128th Street, and which operated for more than 40 years. The Calder Public School, started in the 1920s and overseen by principal Olive I. Srigley, was located at 12920 116th Street.

Elm Park Greenhouses, run by Frederick S. Jones, operated from 131st Avenue and 115th Street. Jones, who was a builder, a stonemason and a bricklayer, used his skills to build a clinker brick-clad Craftsman-style bungalow at 13067 115th Street. The 1926 house is now a Municipal Historic Resource.

Another long-time neighbourhood landmark was Orbeck’s Grocery, which operated at the corner of 117th Street and 129th Avenue for nearly 45 years. William and Cassie Orbeck opened the store in May 1932, the depths of the Great Depression, and ran it until 1977. The story goes that Calder School students often used to sneak away at recess to buy candy at Orbeck’s, which had a reputation for the best selection of candy around.

Hugh Alfred Calder lived to be 91 years old and died in 1964 in Vancouver. He outlived his wife Gertrude Adelade by 21 years; she died in 1945 at the age of 64. They were survived by three daughters and one son.

While many of the early businesses are now footnotes in history, many of the early single-family dwellings have survived. So too has the unmistakable screech of steel on steel and the shunting of boxcars. That’s the sound of a place built on the sweat and toil of railway workers over the course of a century.

© Lawrence Herzog 2014, All Rights Reserved



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  • david

    I very much enjoyed your Article. I grew up in Calder and have many great memories of the 40,s and 50,s.I watched from my bedroom window when they changed the hotel name from Strand to Dover hotel. Loved the Steam Engines in winter. In the Summer would enjoy a walk through the round house, it was cool inside and smelt wonderful.Im sure glad we didn’t have Tv etc in those days or probably wouldn’t have all the great memories that I have to dwell on today.

  • G. Crowell

    Enjoyed reading the article. I grew up in Calder two blocks east of the Dover and a half block north of the tracks in the 50’s and 60’s. Used to play in the Calder train yards (hump yards we called them then) but inevitably were told to leave as we might get hurt. Orbeck’s was a half block away from home. Old Bill would spy at us over the top of his paper while we shopped. We could buy 30 small jawbreakers for a dime then and take them home in a small paper bag. One minor correction though; Calder School was built in 1926 on 118th street. Thanks for the great history lesson.

    • Doug

      G. Crowell, I think you are referring to present day Calder School, which was built in 1926 (Officially opened in the spring of 1927) & is located on 118th street & 129 Ave. I believe the story above is referring to earlier versions of Calder School, one of which was located directly North of the “Shop – Easy” corner store on 116 st. The building still stands in the same spot & is a residence located at 12920 116th St. Some more info here. http://calder.epsb.ca/aboutourschool/schoolprofile/

    • Pat Stephenson

      Hi G Crowell, my younger brother….I did love the candies Old Bill sold…..and I believe you were the boy in the story who charged the candies 🙂

  • Pat Stephenson

    I lived on 117th street between 127 and 129 avenue. I lived there from age 4 to 15 and the family that I played with the most still lives and owns 4 of the lots, some turned into large two lot homes. They attended St. Edmonds and I attended Calder and then Rossyln Junior High. 1958 until 1969. Our family shopped at Orbeck’s (We had a charge account and my younger brother once charged candies with our cousin who lived across the street. lol). My mom and dad were involved with community league (Dad was president for a while) and I was Calder Queen at 13 years of age, and became that by selling lots of tickets for a draw at the event where I was crowned. I was a brownie, and took baton and tap lessons at the Calder community league building, across from the Dover Hotel. My girlfriends mother catered many of the events at Calder Hall, and her daughter’s wedding reception was held there. She cooked all the food for the reception, traditional Ukrainian food. I helped sell cigarettes and gum and snacks at the bingos my father called at the hall. My brothers were cubs and scouts ( my eldest brother became an Eagle Scout), Mom was a scout leader trainer. We played in the park which had a cement wading pool and park counsellor who planned events, which included a summer parade. Lots of great memories. Onion Hill was where we tobogganed in the winter time. Calder skating rink was where my brothers played hockey. Calder school was just around the corner. We also shopped at “Shop Easy” where my girlfriend’s mother worked for a time. We learned to take the Calder city bus to the downtown library. At night when we slept, we could hear the screeching and banging at the hump yards….my girlfriend’s dad worked there for many years. Our family home was quite old with shakes on the sides and a dormer….and a half cement, half dirt basement. I had a sloped ceiling in my bedroom, and a long closet at the end. I shared the room with every new baby born, until my sister was born, and we shared the large bed. My four brothers shared the larger room that had two army bunk beds. Dad did renovations on the main floor, with beautiful knotty pine walls in the living room, a large kitchen with blue Lino, and a new main floor bathroom. Our parents room had the dormer. When Dad cut a hole in the main floor kitchen wall for our clothes dryer, there were logs in the wall…it must have been one of the older homes. It has been lifted and a new basement poured underneath and the front porch has been enclosed. So many great memories of that home, called the big pink house. 12770 117 street. Great memories. Thank you for the history of Calder.