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Alexander Cameron Rutherford

Alexander C. Rutherford.

Alexander Cameron Rutherford, an Ontario-born lawyer and Alberta's first premier, made important contributions to Alberta's real estate industry through property investments and the development of two significant landmarks - the University of Alberta and Rutherford House.

Rutherford arrived in Strathcona, south of Edmonton, in 1895. He was one of the first lawyers in the area. Rutherford was active in the community of Strathcona. He helped Strathcona be incorporated as a town, and served as the town's secretary-treasurer and legal advisor. Rutherford was also an active real estate investor in the town. As soon as he arrived in Strathcona, he began buying farms and town lots, improving them, and reselling them. His first house was built on four lots on east side of Main Street. As his reputation in the community grew, so did his house, enlarged with a second storey in 1899, and additional rooms in 1905. He also erected a two-storey office building along Whyte Avenue and Main Street, called the Rutherford Block. Even while he was premier, Rutherford continued investing in Real Estate, buying and selling commercial lots in Strathcona and expanding Rutherford Block. He also gave the city several acres of his farm in the Mill Creek area to be used as a park. In 1908, Rutherford erected a summer cottage in Banff that was used by the faculty of the University of Alberta; it still stands at 525 Buffalo Street in Banff.

Rutherford House

Rutherford was a reluctant politician. Elected to the legislature of the Northwest Territories in 1902, he became active in seeking provincehood for the western territories. Three years later, he found himself premier of the new province of Alberta. As premier of Alberta and Minister of Education between 1905 and 1910, Rutherford established the province's public school system, the public libraries, the Historical Society of Alberta, and the first public telephone system. He also spurred new railway developments in the north. One of his greatest accomplishments was founding the University of Alberta. Rutherford chose Stratchona rather than Calgary as the site of the university, a move that earned him many political enemies. He negotiated for 258 acres of land on the Simpson estate in the burgeoning Garneau neighborhood for the university. He personally introduced the university bill in 1906, and pushed it through despite much opposition. In 1910, Rutherford resigned from cabinet due to a controversy over railway bonding.

In his final years as premier, Rutherford commissioned an architectural marvel to be built as his new residence. He named it Achnacarry, after a Scottish castle, but it was best known to the public as Rutherford House. Rutherford built his house on 1.3 acres beside the University of Alberta, at what is now 11153 Saskatchewan Drive. Completed in 1911, the three-storey house had 4,500 square feet of living space and cost $25,000 to build. Local architects Arthur G. Wilson and David E. Herrald designed the Jacobean style house of red brick and sandstone trim, with large bay windows and chimneys, columned porches and steep gables. The interior was ultramodern, with central hot water heating, electric lighting, running water, flush toilets, a built-in closet, skylights of coloured glass, and a telephone - all unusual features for a 1911 house. The mansion had both a breakfast room and a dining room, a maid's quarters, a large kitchen, guest quarters, a drawing room for entertaining, and, the pride of Rutherford house, an extensive library filled with Rutherford's extensive collection of books, kept dry and dust-free with an electric heater tucked inside the fireplace. In 1940, Rutherford, then a Chancellor of the university, sold his house to the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Rutherford House still stands today, but it was slated for demolition in 1961 so that the University could expand eastward and build a Humanities Centre in its place. Due to a public outcry and the efforts of Stanley McCuaig, Lila Fahlman and the Society for Preservation of Historic Homes, and the University Women's Club, the Alberta government agreed to lease Rutherford House and preserve it as a Provincial Historic site, in July of 1979. Rutherford now operates as a museum, interpretive centre, and tea room.

Shortly after selling his house, Rutherford died of a heart attack on June 11, 1941. He was 84.


Babcock. A Gentleman of Strathcona: Alexander Cameron Rutherford. University of Calgary Press and Friends of Rutherford House, 1989.

Herzog, Lawrence. The chronicle of significant Alberta architecture. Real Estate Weekly, 24(35), August 31, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2008

Herzog, Lawrence. The Garneau Story. Real Estate Weekly, 20(47), November 21, 2002. Retrieved July 7, 2008

Herzog, Lawrence. The Home of Alberta's First Premier. Real Estate Weekly, 20(49), December 5, 2002. Retrieved July 7, 2008

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