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George M. Hall

Thanks to a transplanted American, an early 20th-century social movement in Rochester, New York spawned the creation in 1917 of Canada’s first community league in Edmonton.

George M. Hall, a former Rhode Islander, moved to Edmonton in 1912 after a short career as a newspaperman and student of industrial development and publicity in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In August 1912, Hall took on the position of Industrial Commissioner of Edmonton.

Hall had observed the City Club movement’s Social Center program from its origins in Rochester, and noted how quickly it spread throughout the eastern United States. As Ron Kuban writes in his history of Edmonton community leagues, Edmonton’s Urban Villages: the Community League Movement, "The City Clubs were a forum for public education and community-focused dialogue. … Although some of the clubs operated as a social club, many also operated as watchdogs over their community activities or as clearinghouse for discussion on local issues."

These functions attracted Hall, and it was the Social Center concept that prompted him to introduce the movement to Edmonton. The first community league was born in Hall’s neighbourhood—the 142nd Street Community League, now known as the Crestwood Community League—on 3 March 1917. In May of that year, he returned to the U.S. to further study the Social Center movement to apply its principles and practices to Edmonton.

Hall would remain president for the community league’s first three years, until he stepped aside in 1920 to encourage other participation. He left Edmonton later that year.

Hall’s idea, however, would remain. Within a year of his leaving, nine community leagues were established, building on the success of the 142nd Street League. As Christine Peake Bremner wrote in the Edmonton Journal, Hall conceived the league as "non-sectarian and non-political (meaning non-partisan), ‘open to both sexes on equal conditions,’ with the aim to better the community through social and recreational opportunities." In 2005, Edmonton is host to 147 leagues.

In May 2004, Hall was named one of 100 Edmontonians of the Century for his community league work and his prescient environmentalism as Industrial Commissioner. As the Edmonton Journal reported on the day the centennial list was announced, Hall "gradually transferred existing industries along the river front to eliminate smoke, thus preserving the river valley."

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