The Post War Years: 1946-1970

The discovery of oil in Alberta changed Edmonton forever. Rapid growth, new technologies and changing lifestyles and world views dramatically altered Edmonton’s built landscape.

As Edmonton’s population expanded in a relatively short period of time, the city needed many institutional structures to maintain civic services. New multi-storey buildings changed the face of downtown as many historic buildings were either replaced with larger, modern structures or renovated for new uses. There were multiple influences on styles as the city attempted to find its own architectural identity. The post-war Modern years left many iconic buildings that encapsulate the ideologies and feelings of the times, primarily modern styles such as Brutalist, International and Expressionist. These buildings emphasized craftsmanship and simplicity of line, but were often misunderstood as boring or ugly. They are representative of a significant era in Edmonton’s history, and one that greatly transformed the city.


Post-war Edmonton was booming. Houses were being built at a rate not seen since 1929, but supply was unable to keep up with demand. The first federal housing crown corporation, Wartime Housing Limited (WHL), built and managed rental units for war workers and veterans. In 1946, the federal government initiated a post-war program promoting home ownership, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which offered easy, low cost mortgages. 

The city spread into the suburbs as veterans started families in affordable, suburban houses. Downtown became less of a focal point as services decentralized and distances between services decreased due to the increased use of cars for travel. Auto-culture also led to houses being built with attached garages, a common sight in post-war subdivisions, though less typical in Edmonton’s older neighborhoods.

Historical Context

Returning veterans had access to a wide variety of assistance, including education and housing programs. Helped by a booming economy because of the nearby discovery of oil, Edmonton's extraordinary growth in this period was also due to the healthy state of agriculture and to the expansion of the University of Alberta. New subdivisions were being built quickly, filled with Victory Houses for thousands of veterans and their families. The City hired its first professional planner in 1949 to help manage Edmonton's phenomenal growth. Between 1947 and 1970 the city grew from 40.8 to 87.8 square kilometres in size.

During the 1950s, the city increased in population from 149,000 to 269,000 people. In 1955, Edmonton was home to one of the first shopping centers in Canada when Westmount Mall opened its doors. The University of Alberta expanded, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology opened in 1960 to meet the growing need for skilled technical workers. The $25 million Edmonton International Airport opened for commercial flights, also in 1960. Arts organizations, such as the Edmonton Civic Opera and the Edmonton Symphony, found new homes in the Jubilee Auditorium (1957) and the Citadel Theatre (1964). The first skyscraper in Edmonton, the 27-storey CN tower, was built in 1966. One year later another world class attraction, the Provincial Museum of Alberta, opened during the celebration of Canada’s centennial.

Edmonton prospered throughout the 1960s and 1970s as the northern oil boom brought thousands of jobs and newcomers. Suburban growth flourished as Edmonton became a metropolitan area growing on all sides when Beverly in the east and Jasper Place in the west were annexed in the early 1960s.

Subscribe to our newsletter