Storied Streets

// Meaghan Baxter
// Meaghan Baxter

Edmonton’s street signs tell a story of its past

Edmonton’s past is all around us. It’s wrapped up in the city’s historic buildings and sites, as well as in its old neighbourhoods and homes.

You can feel it in Old Strathcona, in the Garneau Theatre and when you’re crossing the High Level Bridge. And you invoke it every time you give or receive directions, referencing people, events and places of the past. But who do these names refer to? Who’s Ada? Who’s Whyte? When did Alberta Avenue get it’s name? And who had the honour of naming these streets?

During Edmonton’s early years—when there was a system of numbered streets and named avenues—avenue names were often chosen by the developer. This system changed in 1914, two years after Edmonton and Strathcona amalgamated. At that time, the city realized developers’ haphazard naming of streets was becoming confusing and repetitive.

“They were having trouble with ad hoc names,” says Elizabeth Walker, an archivist with the City of Edmonton Archives. So the city turned to an all-numbered approach. Named streets returned after the city moved away from the grid system, welcoming innovative subdivision designs.

In 1956, the city formed the District Names Advisory Committee, today known as the Naming Committee. The committee, in its current form, approves names for municipal facilities, new neighbourhoods, parks and roads.

“The intent was to have meaningful names picked, so people who have contributed to Edmonton or historical figures, things like that, and to try to eliminate some of the duplication,” Walker explains.

Ada Boulevard, located on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River in the city’s east end, was named long before the city formed its naming committee.

“It was named after the developer’s wife,” Walker says, referring to Ada Thirsee Magrath, whose husband William J Magrath was a pioneer real-estate developer. On the boulevard still sits the Magrath mansion. The 14-room, three-storey house, which boasts a billiards room, ballroom and swimming pool, is now a historic site.

Ada, born in 1863 and raised in Tamworth, ON, was on Edmonton’s first board of directors of the YWCA and was active in numerous churches. She and her husband made the move to Edmonton in 1905, taking the first Canadian Northern Railway train west of Battleford. Although the name Ada Boulevard has been in use since the Magraths built their home in 1911, it wasn’t formally put into use until 1949.

Whyte Avenue got its name in 1891 when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway surveyed and named the roadways in Strathcona. The street was named in honour of Sir William Whyte, a railway executive who emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1863. Whyte’s first job with the Grand Trunk Railway was as a brakeman. Later he became a freight and station agent, and then the superintendent of the Ontario division for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1902, he became the assistant to the president and by 1904, he was the second vice-president. The name Whyte Avenue was made official by the city in 1961, 50 years after Whyte’s retirement from the railway.

Alberta Avenue was named in 1904. It’s believed the name was chosen after the provisional district of Alberta, which was named after HRH Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the wife of the Marquess of Lorne, Canada’s governor general from 1878 to 1883.

The name Alberta Avenue only lasted 10 years before it was changed to 118 Avenue when the city made the change to a numbered system. It wasn’t until 1994—80 years after 118 Avenue was named—that the city’s Naming Committee changed the name to 118 Avenue (Alberta Avenue).
The neighbourhood of Alberta Avenue, developed during the First World War era, was first named in the ’20s. Before that time, the area between Norwood Boulevard and 118 Avenue was called Norwood and the area from 118 Avenue to 121 Avenue was West Delton.

Calgary Trail was originally a trail from Fort Edmonton to the mission at Morley, 80 kilometres west of Calgary. The trail was cleared in 1873 by Rev John McDougall and his brother, David. When Fort Calgary was established two years later, the remaining 80 kilometres were cleared by the North West Mounted Police. The trail became a busy supply route after the 1883 arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary. Its use declined after the completion of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway in 1891, but it picked up again after the advent of the automobile.

The trail was formerly broken up into northbound and southbound, but in 2000 the names changed, with the southbound route becoming Calgary Trail and the northbound route becoming Gateway Boulevard.

Allard Way was named after Charles Alexander Allard, who was born and raised in Edmonton. Allard graduated from medicine at the University of Alberta in 1943. In 1947, he constructed a clinic that housed his own practice. He later became a surgeon, then chief surgeon, at the Edmonton General Hospital. As well as medicine, Allard was involved in real estate, aviation, sports and media. Allard lived until he was 71. The naming committee approved the naming of Allard Way shortly before his death in 1991.

Tommy Banks Way was named in honour of Edmonton jazz musician Tommy Banks in 1999. Banks is a pianist, conductor, composer, TV personality, producer and former senator born in 1936. His music career began at the age of 14 when he played in the band of jazz saxophonist Don Thompson. Later he led his own groups, including a jazz quintet at Expo 67, and won Juno and Gemini awards. In 1991 he was made an officer in the Order of Canada and between 2000 and 2011, he was a senator for Alberta. Banks continues to live in Edmonton.

Fox Drive was named in 1968 in honour of Thomas and Clara Fox. The naming committee originally proposed the name Foxdale Drive, but the recommendation was denied by city council. Thomas and Clara Fox were honoured after the couple donated a piece of land in the Whitemud area to the city.

Thomas was a pilot in the Second World War and moved to Edmonton from British Columbia in 1941. He was also a champion horseman, race-car driver and community leader, working with the Edmonton Community Chest and the YMCA. In 1983, he was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Wayne Gretzky Drive was named in 1999 after No. 99’s retirement from hockey. Gretzky had played with the Edmonton Oilers from 1979 – 1988, helping the team win four Stanley Cups.

“The Great One” played out the rest of his career with three other teams: the Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues and New York Rangers. In his 21 years in the National Hockey League, Gretzky won 10 Art Ross Trophies for most points scored in a season, and (among others) he also received the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy five times for sportsmanship and performance. He also left the league with 40 regular-season records and 15 playoff records.

Formerly, Wayne Gretzky Drive had three different names. In 1995 it was known as Capilano Drive. In 1967 it was Capilano Road and before that it was Capilano Freeway.

If you’re interested in the history of your own street name, pick up a copy of Naming Edmonton: From Ada to Zoie, or visit the City of Edmonton’s online archives at and type your street name in the search box on the left hand side.

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