5420 106 St, Edmonton
Mount Pleasant Cemetery sits on one of the highest land points in the City of Edmonton and has a breath-taking view of the City’s skyline. It is thought that burials in this south side cemetery may have begun in the 1880s. In 1899 a Scottish immigrant named David Martin purchased a half-section of land, which included the area of today’s cemetery. While Mr. Martin died in 1900, his wife, Margaret, retained the land, which continued to be called the Martin Estate for many years.
Strathcona was a growing town when this cemetery began and the mortgage was paid on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the “dirty thirties” brought financial woes and by 1938, the directors of the cemetery concluded that it would be impossible to pay off the balance of the mortgage and continue to operate. Just prior to her death, however, Mrs. Martin graciously accepted $1500 as full payment regarding the property. Operating expenses continued to rise and the cemetery eventually became City owned in 1942.
When the parks department assumed responsibility for municipal cemeteries in 1947, Parks Supervisor A.C. Patterson indicated to the City the deficit for Mount Pleasant for that year would be approximately $2,000. Increases in services and the addition of perpetual care fee of $40 per grave in 1961 helped meet a portion of the business costs, although it was recognized that expansion would be necessary in the near future.
In the late 1950s, Ken Louch assumed the role of Supervisor of Cemeteries and he continued to push for expansion. It was not until 1972, however, that two additional acres were purchased and made ready for interments. Mount Pleasant’s size was still a problem, and if the City wanted to continue to serve the public of south Edmonton, further expansion would be needed.
As the 1970s came to a close, so did the available graves at Mount Pleasant and the last plot was sold on December 28, 1979. Of all the graves, only 36% had been sold with perpetual care fees. Expansion again became a priority for Supervisor Louch, with the only potential area beside the cemetery being 1.5 acres of unused land on the southwest side. As the next decade began, the Planning and Development Branch suggested that expansion into this small area would be a good short-term solution to the space problem – three years would pass before a final decision was made.
With the City’s purchase of South Haven Cemetery in 1985 and its subsequent opening in 1988, Mount Pleasant continued with interments until space was gone. After a public forum and final decision in 1983, the cemetery field staff accomplished turf reconstruction in 1984. The remainder of the 1.5acre development, which was to take place under joint cooperation with the community, has never been completed.
When Mount Pleasant Cemetery began, it was deliberately set outside the populated area; today it has been engulfed by the physical realities of the City and its inevitable growth.
Alexander Cameron Rutherford (1857-1941)
Alexander Cameron Rutherford was to the political and academic scene what John Walter was to business and industry. Born in Ontario, Rutherford obtained his law degree at 27. He served as a lawyer in his home province for 10 years, but a bronchial ailment sent him west to the Northwest Terrotories (later Alberta) where the air and atmosphere were thought to be more agreeable. Having established himself as a lawyer in these parts, he got involved in political and community affairs.
In 1902 he was elected MLA for the constituency of the Northwest Territories and three years later personally introduced the bill to make Alberta a province. In 1905 he was elected President of the Alberta Liberal Association, and it was in September of that year that the Lieutenant-Governor called on Rutherford to be the province’s first Premier.
As Premier, he was the leading force in making Edmonton the provincial capital, and linking Edmonton to Fort McMurray by rail. Probably his biggest achievement was the establishment of the University of Alberta in 1908. In 1909 he turned the sod on the University site, which was his own land dedicated for that purpose. In April of 1927, he was elected University Chancellor, having become known as its founder.
Over the course of his distinguished career, Rutherford received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from four universities but perhaps more importantly, he employed single women as secretaries in an era when clerical workers were predominantly male, and defended a native Canadian accused of murder at a time when most lawyers refused such cases.
In 1948, the Rutherford Library was constructed in his memory. His first home has been moved to Fort Edmonton Park and his second home, located on the University grounds (originally Rutherford’s property), has been preserved and serves as a public museum and historic site. An Alexander Rutherford scholarship has also been established for high school students.
Henrietta Muir Edwards (1849-1931)
Henrietta Louise (Muir) Edwards was born in Montreal. She was one of Alberta’s “Famous Five” in the Person’s case, which granted women the status of “persons”. An expert on laws relating to women and children, she had compiled and published summaries of these laws, Legal Status of Women in Alberta in 1917 and Legal Status of Women in Canada in 1924.
She had come to Alberta in 1903 when her husband, Oliver Cromwell Edwards, was posted as medical officer to the Blood Indians. She and her sister founded the “Working Girl’s Association of Canada” in 1875 to provide vocational training for women. She also helped found the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1897. She was a supporter of prison reform, equal parents’ rights, divorce equality and mothers’ allowances.
She was a gifted miniature portraitist and china painter and in 1893, at the request of the Canadian Government, she had painted a set of dishes for inclusion in the Canadian Exhibit at the Chicago World Fair.
As an activist and reformer, she helped Lady Aberdeen found the National Council of Women in 1893 and she worked tirelessly to expand women’s rights in the political and legal spheres. Henrietta Edwards was 80 years old when the “persons” case was won in 1929 and she died of pneumonia two years later at Fort Macleod.
John Walter (1849-1920)
Born in the Orkneys in 1849 John Walter at 21 enlisted in the Hudson’s Bay Company, sailing to Canada and finally Fort Edmonton on December 24, 1870. John was a boat builder by trade, and he built York boats at the Fort in the winter, and Athabasca Landing in the summer. The wage was $50 a year plus room and board (such as it was in those days.)
John remained with the HBC for five years, long enough to pay off initial debts and gain some savings. Then, in 1874, he struck out on his own working on the river flats on the south side, now known as “Walterdale”.
He established the first ferry across the river in 1881, bringing a half-ton cable (strung across three red river carts) from Winnipeg, to get it running. The same year he also brought the first coal stove to Edmonton from Winnipeg. He continued to build boats privately in Fort Edmonton and Athabasca, all this before the Calgary to Edmonton railroad was finished in 1891.
With new opportunities arriving with the “steel”, John Walter built the first sawmill in Edmonton in 1891 which produced lumber marketed well into Saskatchewan. Then he opened a coal mine on the property in the back portion of Walterdale. He became an owner of considerable property in Strathcona and erected a number of dwellings and business buildings. As the area expanded, he increased the lumbering operations and built a second sawmill on the north side of the river. He also took a large part in prospecting for oil in the province.
John Walter was on the first Edmonton School Board and City Council and he dedicated one block of land to the City to build a hospital. One of his boats, “The City of Edmonton”, was used to hold dances and parties.
Walter became a fairly rich man in those early years, but unfortunately it didn’t last. In 1907, his coal mine collapsed killing several workers. In 1912, the “boom times” in Edmonton ended, and Walter, like many, suffered financially. In 1915 a flood on the Saskatchewan River took away a huge pile of lumber and destroyed one of his mills. He died on Christmas Day, 1920.
John’s wife Annie Elizabeth (1860-1942) was a remarkable woman, assisting her husband especially on the riverboat excursions. She and John had two sons. Their home has been preserved by the City and stands on the Walterdale flats near the river.
The Gainer Family
A few feet to the west of the Princess Theatre on Whyte Avenue, there is a building that was dedicated in 1902 to John Gainer (1858-1919). Gainer was born in St. Mary’s in Ontario, and his parents both died when he was very young, leaving him under an uncle’s care. He married in his twenties and came with his wife and young family to Edmonton in 1891, where he opened a retail meat market on Whyte Avenue, using his total savings of $250. In order to save money, the Gainers lived and worked out of the same building. Mrs. Amy Gainer (1858-1919) baked bread and cakes to sell as part of a more complete food store.
As the years progressed Gainer expanded his business, proving to be a businessman of foresight. He built a slaughterhouse with facilities for curing and smoking and then bought property near Mill Creek where his packing house was eventually built. The company was incorporated in 1911 as “Gainer’s Limited”, and John was its president until he died in 1938.
A number of packing plants were established in Edmonton over the years, but Gainer’s stood the test of time. Despite the depression and John’s death in the 1930s, the company survived and grew quickly in the war years. John Gainer’s sons Arthur (1884-1936) and Clifford (1890-1957) succeeded him as general manager, and Arthur’s son Harold (1908-1967) later followed his father. The business expanded to Vancouver in 1945, and then Victoria and Calgary. Arthur and Clifford’s brother Chester (1886-1980) broke away to establish his own plant on the northern edge of Edmonton.
John Gainer’s daughter Lois Gainer Young (1910-1979) spent her life in professional and community organizations, and proved to be a liberated woman for her time – she drove a new convertible to the coast in 1930, an almost unbelievable accomplishment for the time. She served as executive secretary of Gainers’ business, as well as president of the Edmonton and Alberta associations of Business and Community Women. She was educated at Brandon College in Manitoba. In 1943 she married John Arthur Young (1905-1988) who became president of Gainers.
Robert Ritchie (1848-1932)
Robert Ritchie came west to Strathcona from Ontario in 1891 to help his brother establish the Ritchie Flour Mill, later known as the Edmonton Milling Company and the North West Mill and Feed Company. It was located on Saskatchewan Drive and 103 Street, adjacent to where the Calgary to Edmonton railway ended. Robert’s brother John had built the mill in 1891. Their firm won government contracts to supply flour to Indian reserves, and it was often freighted on rafts (built by John Walter) along the North Saskatchewan, Athabasca and Peace Rivers.
Robert Ritchie’s mill was fitted with the latest equipment and though the business consumed much of his time, he was also involved in the community. He built the Chapman Bros building on Whyte Avenue, served a term as Strathcona’s mayor, was on the Public School Board in 1899 and 1906-07, and was Justice of the Peace in 1905. He and his wife Sarah Louisa (1845-1927) were charter members of Strathcona Baptist Church and had seven children. Today their original house still stands at 10910-84 Avenue.
Ritchie School, named after Robert Ritchie
Chapman Bros. Building, built by Robert Ritchie
Holgate (1878-1928) and Magrath (1870-1920)
William J. Magrath and Bidwell A. Holgate opened their real estate business in 1906. The two men developed a number of City districts with Highlands being perhaps the most famous.
William Magrath was active in municipal affairs and was an avid sportsman, acting as president of the first Edmonton baseball club. In 1894, he married Ada Lake (1863-1941), who was active in Highlands community affairs and the Y.W.C.A., and was one of the founders of McDougall Church.
Bidwell Holgate had come to Edmonton from Ontario four years after the Magraths and, though he had a slightly lower profile than his partner, was nonetheless a giant in Edmonton’s real-estate development.
Both of their homes were, and still are, located on Ada Boulevard, which was named after Mrs. Magrath. The Magrath mansion was built in 1912 and cost $50,000, featuring 3 storeys and 14 rooms – one of the most elaborate homes in Edmonton. The Holgate house was built in 1913 at a cost of $35,000. Built in Edwardian, Tudor style, it occupied five acres and was 5,500 square feet in size.
Thomas Swan (1891-1990)
Perhaps not a well-known Edmontonian, Thomas Swan has an interesting story of great luck. Swan was a young 21-year old Scot who was set to come to New York on the Titanic, but a scheduling mix-up resulted in his being left behind. He sailed safely across the Atlantic two weeks later, and went on to live until the age of 99. Swan worked at The Edmonton Journal for 39 years (until the age of 71) in the printing department.
Jimmy Bell (1888-1967)
James (Jimmy) A. Bell was born in Yorkshire, England and educated at Leeds University. He made his contribution to Edmonton on the local aviation scene. Attracted to the boom time in Edmonton, he joined the city engineer’s department in 1913 but, soon after, enlisted in the army and went overseas with the 63 Battalion. He went to London to see about transferring to the Royal Engineers, with the idea of putting his engineering experience to use and soon became a pilot, taking part in the all-important bombing attacks on German industrial works. Despite those First World War adventures, he often said his most exciting times were when he helped ferry U.S. fighter planes through Edmonton during the Second World War.
In 1930 Captain Bell was appointed as manager of the municipal airport which had been licensed as the first civilian field in Canada four years previously. In 1947, Jimmy Bell was honored by the United States Air Force and awarded the Medal of Freedom for “unstinting co-operation rendered American forces landing in Edmonton.”
Bell was active from 1928 in the Edmonton and Northern Alberta Aero Club and was one of the first directors of the Edmonton Flying Club at its formation in 1944. He reached retirement age in 1954, but was re-hired by the city on an annual basis until 1962 when he finally did retire.
Ella May Walker (1892-1960)
Recognized for her versatility in artistic pursuits, Ella May Walker made significant contributions to Edmonton’s arts community as a musician, author and artist.
She was born in the United States, and moved to Western Canada as a child. She attended the University of Saskatoon and the Chicago Art Institute and studied music at Northwestern University and McGill University. Ella May Walker moved to Edmonton with her husband in 1920 and one of her first activities in the city was playing the organ for silent movies at the Allen Theatre (later called the Capital Theatre). Mrs. Walker became involved with numerous community groups, including the Alberta Music Teachers’ Association, Edmonton Little Theatre Association and the University of Alberta Faculty Women’s Club.
As a writer, she was a regular columnist for the Edmonton Journal, as well as a member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club and the Canadian Author’s Association. Immensely interested in local history, she served on the City of Edmonton Archives Landmarks Committee. Her novel, Fortress North, was inspired by the history of early settlement in Edmonton.
As a painter, she exhibited with the Edmonton Art Club and was an active member of the Alberta Society of Artists. Ella May Walker was also involved with art education, teaching sculpture for the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta.
Ella May Walker’s work is represented in private and public collections, including the Government of Alberta, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, University of Alberta, and the City of Edmonton Archives.