10159 103 Street, Edmonton
The first Empire Theatre opened in 1906 at the corner of 100 Street and 101A Avenue. It was abandoned three years later, and the theatre moved to 10159 – 103 Steet where it put on vaudeville acts for Edmonton citizens.
Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers and the Marx Brothers are just a few of the names that graced the marquee until the company again moved in 1920 to the site of the current Manulife Place building.
The theatre was also a community gathering place. And in 1905 it played a small role in the enfranchisement of the Michel Band.
In September 1878 Chief Michel Callihoo signed an adhesion to Treaty 6. About 25,600 acres was set aside on the Sturgeon River northwest of Edmonton and became Indian Reserve #132.
However, in order to get the agricultural tools they required, some band members agreed to sell some of their land. Pressure from their neighbours forced them to later sell more land.
One of those pressuring the Michel Band to release their land was Frank Oliver. Oliver was Minister of the Interior and Superintendent General of Indian Affairs in Alberta from 1905-1911 under the Wilfred Laurier government.
Oliver and his associates profited from treaty land sales. In 1906 over 8,200 acres of Michel Band land was sold for less than $9.00/acre –half the appraised value – in a 14-hour sale at the Empire Theatre. Most of that land went to Oliver’s political allies. By 1914, Oliver owned 26 quarter sections of Cree land around Edmonton.
Much of the Michel Band land was never paid for. The sales should have been reversed immediately, but the government did not cancel them until 1927.
The Michel Band continued to face pressure from the outside. Members slowly chose enfranchisement over the hardships they faced on a reserve with few resources and dwindling land. In 1958 the Government of Canada forcibly enfranchised the band and sold their land. The enfranchisement decision was repealed by Parliament in 1959.
It took until 1985 and Bill C-31 for 750 band members to regain their legal status.
More Information and Resources
The Empire Theatre, Lost Edmonton Blog
Information on Michel Band history, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples
Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples (1996)
"The Stages that built Edmonton theatre", yegishome.ca.
Michel First Nation: Our Story
Edmonton in Our Own Words by Linda Goyette and Carolina Roemmich, University of Alberta Press, 2004.
Edmonton Public Library Aboriginal History Documents (Papaschase)
Michel First Nation: Fort Carlton Treaty #6 Commemoration
Era: Urban Growth
Themes: Sports, Leisure & Entertainment
Cultural Groups: Indigenous
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