River Valley Walterdale

The community of Walterdale is inextricably tied to the man John Walter who signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1870.

John Walter was employed as a boat builder at Fort Edmonton, but also helped construct many early buildings in the fort. He resigned from the HBC after the terms of his contract were completed in 1875, choosing to settle on the river flats directly across from Fort Edmonton and began his own boat building business and ferry service across the North Saskatchewan River. He joined a small handful of others, mostly First Nations and Métis, who had taken up more permanent residence along both sides of the river near Fort Edmonton. When dominion land surveyors arrived in 1882, John Walter’s 155 acre claim officially became River Lot 9. It spanned the area just east of where the High Level Bridge is today and south up the river bank to about where University Avenue runs.

Over the next two decades, these river flats were an industrial hub for both towns of Edmonton and Strathcona. Walter was an incredibly successful businessman, operating a freighting business, general store, blacksmith and carriage shop, then finally a coal mine and sawmill. These industries were joined by other local businesses, notably John and Frank Pollard’s brickyard and Firmin Bedard’s tannery to the west. Walter’s ferry service ended with the construction of the High Level Bridge in 1913 and completion of the 105th Street Bridge (now the Walterdale Bridge) in 1914.

Walter eventually built three houses on his property, the final one a home for his wife Annie Elizabeth Newby and their two sons. Their homes were the inception of a community that held about sixty residences at its peak and who, in 1907, chose to name their community Walterdale after its founding member and strongest advocate. The small neighbourhood also had a grocery store, butcher shop, sash and door plant, and a Church of Christ which turned over it's building early on in order to house a one-room public school. The school was replaced by a new brick schoolhouse in 1923 but finally closed due to dwindling enrolment in 1947.

Most notably Walterdale and its residents suffered in 1915 as a result of the highest floodwaters the North Saskatchewan has ever seen. The historic flood destroyed Walter’s sawmill, the Pollard Brickyard, and Bedard tannery, washed away homes and property, and covered the houses that remained with a slimy, muddy silt. With the combined efforts of thousands, including the fire department who hosed away much of the silt and pumped out basements, Walterdale residents soon recovered and the school reopened after three years. Local industry, however, never returned and John Walter and his family were left destitute from their losses.

In 1953 the Kinsmen Club took over most of the area. They tore down homes and transformed the community into playing fields, playgrounds, a fitness facility, and a pitch and putt golf course. The only homes that remain belonged to Walter’s family; they have been preserved as a museum and tribute to the man and the small community that he fostered.

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