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Northlands Park - Memories Worth Keeping
community events

Beginnings (1879-1899)

The roots of Northlands Park took hold when various individuals assembled themselves to create an organization through which the town of Edmonton and its surrounding communities could make their agricultural and horticultural capabilities visible to the public.

Founding members were the first group of volunteers who began Northlands Park's tradition of unpaid dedication to community service. United by its initial purpose, to enthusiastically host an agricultural show, the group named themselves the Edmonton Agricultural Society (EAS). A variety of citizens that included farmers, doctors, ranchers, and police officers, became active volunteer members.

W.D. JarvisHeaded by first president of the organization, Inspector W. D. Jarvis of the Royal North West Mounted Police, the society organized itself to reflect the Agricultural Societies Act. In general terms, the act required the participation of at least 50 people, half of whom should be directly involved in agriculture. Members were required to pay a minimal membership fee and elected a board of directors from amongst their peers. As intended by the EAS, and as required by the act, the organization’s function was to encourage the improvement of agricultural practices within the community.

Edmonton Agricultural Society's summer fairDrawing a curious and energetic crowd of 275 people, the EAS' first event was considered a successful debut. The one-day exhibition was held 15 October 1879 at Richard Hardisty's Big House (Hardisty was Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company) located inside Fort Edmonton. Livestock was on display at the stockade while grain, vegetables, and handcrafted items were presented inside. Although revenue was not produced the first year, prize money for the event totalled $173 CDN.

H.A. Finch livery stableBeyond mere entertainment, the fair was motivated by social and economic situations. To sustain development, immigration to the region was necessary, and rumours about the harsh northern conditions caused apprehension for those considering homesteading in Alberta. At a time when the insecurity of prospering from newly settled land was rampant, a representative display of the many locally cultivated products used and consumed by people of the township served as a testament to the viability of commercial agriculture in North-central Alberta.

An additional outcome of the exhibition was that it provided more information for individuals to keep successfully experimenting with crops and livestock. This diversified the crops grown and animals bred while reducing the risk of testing based on pure speculation.

Featured Audio: Chief Factor Rowand, one of Northlands founders.

The ascension of Chief Factor Rowand, one of Northlands Park's founders, within the Hudson's Bay Ranks is shared. Listen Now

Edmonton was merely a burgeoning town during the late 19th century. As such, the existence of the Edmonton Agricultural Society attracted attention, encouraging immigration to a region often regarded as hostile, frozen, and unsuitable for farming activity. Recognition brought by the society's activities became important for the promotion of not only agriculture industries, but also Edmonton in general. This is validated by the fact that in the years that the organization was unable to host the exhibition, the South Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, or Hardisty's Big HouseSt. Albert agricultural societies kept the event going. Furthermore, before the presence of a municipal government, town meetings were discussed through society meeting places, allowing the volunteer-run organization to expand its breadth of civic involvement. Indeed, the EAS served a socio-political function at a time when Edmonton’s local leadership was beginning to be formalized.

Population increases, as well as speculative land buying flourished as the railroad was developed in the area. The EAS took on a pivotal role as a community member with legal status. As requests for a local political structure were directed to the Northwest Territories, a municipality emerged, with Matt McCauley, vice-president of the EAS becoming the city's first mayor. This proved to be the start of a long and mutually supportive partnership between the City of Edmonton and Northlands Park.

Klondikers heading for the gold fieldsNearing the end of the 19th century, Edmonton experienced the effects of other prospects. Over two short years, 1897 to 1899, main streets were filled with people hoping to find their fortune in gold. On the way to the Klondike through an overland route, many prospectors stopped to buy the necessary wares for survival in harsher conditions. Those that did not make money finding gold soon found they could make a living through the hotels, shops, and various services catering to adventurers.

By the 20th century, the Edmonton Agricultural Society had survived its first couple of decades. The organization had sustained a few difficult years, but was on its way to becoming an integral part of Edmonton and its neighbouring communities.

Featured Audio: Myers discusses early efforts to attract homesteaders

Historian Pat Myers discusses early efforts to attract homesteaders to Alberta. Listen Now

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Wars and Interwar

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