John Donnan was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1892 and immigrated to Canada in March 1902 as a young boy with his family. In 1911, he purchased an acreage from the Honorable A.C. Rutherford—Alberta’s first premier—where he started a dairy. It started small: at first the family owned a single Holstein cow that roamed all over the land. Mrs. Donnan hadn’t the faintest notion of how a cow should be milked but she quickly learned and eventually mastered the chore. The Donnans supplied fresh milk to the townspeople of Edmonton and Strathcona. Mrs. Donnan had a beautiful singing voice: she and her husband claimed the music soothed the cows, thus giving better milk.
Eventually the dairy covered 525 acres of land, most of which was used to pasture the large dairy herd. The herd had the run of Bonnie Doon, King Edward Park, Avonmore and Idylwylde. The dairy barn, large enough for 60 cows, stood on the present site of the Shamrock Curling Club. The pasture included part of the present-day areas of King Edward Park and Idywylde, as well as the site of the Donnan Elementary Junior High School. The cows had running water, piped in from Gainer’s packing plant across the ravine. The Donnan Dairy was unique in that it had the first automatic milking machines in Western Canada. The pastureland eventually became part of the city, and the farm was sold in 1932. Their country estate is the present Donnan Park playground, which John Donnan gave to the City of Edmonton.