John Walter is best remembered as founding the first real estate empire in the city of Edmonton. A boatbuilder born in Scotland's Orkney Islands in 1849, Walter plied his trade with the Hudson's Bay Company, after arriving in Fort Edmonton at the age of 21. Seeing business opportunities outside of the Company, Walter saved up money to buy river lot nine along the southern bank of the North Saskatchewan River.
On this very lot, John Walter began building his empire. In 1875, he built a log house, the first house established south of the river bank. Initially his house operated as a telegraph office, a stopping house for travelers, and a small general store. John Walter House, as it is now called, endures as the oldest house in Edmonton. In 1885, Walter began building another house next to his first one. The following year, he met and married Annie Elizabeth Newby. They eventually had two children, John William and Stanley. In 1898, John Walter decided to build a third house for him and his family. The next house he built differed largely from the other log cabins. Known as the "greenhouse" for its bright green colour, Walter's third home was a Victorian mansion and one of the largest houses in the city. By this time, John Walter ventured into commercial real estate. He soon owned two sawmills and a coal mine, generating a large income. The community of Walter's Flats grew around his property and in 1907, the community was officially recognized as Walterdale.
John Walter was not merely known for the property he owned. Walter also built and sold boats and wagons, and operated a ferry to move people and freight between Edmonton and Strathcona. He built his cable ferry in 1882, named The Belle of Edmonton, which replaced the oar-propelled scow that had originally been used to cross the river. Later, he built a sternwheeler, The City of Edmonton, and a side wheeler, The City of Strathcona. His ferry business, once a bustling enterprise, became obsolete by 1913 when the High Level Bridge opened. The next year, the 105th Street Bridge was built eventually bearing the name of Walterdale Bridge.
Unfortunately, Walter's empire came to sudden and destructive end in June of 1915 when the North Saskatchewan River began to drastically rise. This was the beginning of the worst flood in Edmonton's history sweeping through the communities of Walterdale, Rossdale, Cloverdale, and Riverdale. Walter's properties were destroyed, leaving him in financial ruin. In addition, his bookkeeper fled with $50,000 of his money. Walter died a few years later on Christmas day in 1920, at the age of 71.
John Walter's legacy lives on at the John Walter Museum, located at 10633 93 Avenue. On display at the museum are John Walter's three original homes. Museum interpreters reflect on Walter's legacy and shed light on life as a pioneer during the 19th century.References
Byfield, Virginia. In ‘Old Edmonton’ the New Century Brings a Ray of Hope at Last. Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.1: The Great West Before 1900. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.
City of Edmonton. John Walter’s Museum. Retrieved July 10, 2008
City of Edmonton. Naming Edmonton: From Ada to Zoie. Edmonton, AB, CAN: University of Alberta Press, 2004.
Goyette, Linda and Carolina Jakeway Roemmich. Edmonton In Our Own Words. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2004.
Herzog, Lawrence. Edmonton’s First Millionaire. 22(22), June 3, 2004. Retrieved July 10, 2008