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Feature Article


Written By: Lawrence Herzog
Published By: Real Estate Weekly
Article © Copyright Lawrence Herzog

How Edmonton grew in the early 1960s

In 1956, a Royal Commission on Metropolitan Development recommended that Edmonton, Beverly, Jasper Place and portions of three other municipalities amalgamate. The mayors of these surrounding towns, beset by the strain of massive population growth brought by the oil boom, tended to agree.

John Sehn, who was Beverly"s mayor, recalled that the need for amalgamation became more evident as the strain on the town"s resources continued to escalate. "With no industry to offset the expenditures, the school board constantly requisitioning for more funds and ever increasing costs of infrastructure, we had no alternative."

Right from the beginning, Beverly and Jasper Place seemed destined to become part of Edmonton. The city actually studied the feasibility of annexing the two towns early in the 20th century, but decided it would be too costly. Regardless of that, residents of both towns -- one on Edmonton"s eastern flank and the other on the west -- were fiercely independent and reluctant to become part of the metropolitan area looking over their shoulders.

At the end of the Second World War, a formal request was made to Edmonton by Beverly administrator Nicholas Rushton that the big city consider a proposal to incorporate Beverly within its limits. The City responded to the request saying amalgamation could not be considered at that time, but encouraged the delegation to bring up the suggestion at a later date.

And so the issue continued to simmer on the backburner. If you wanted to get a good argument going, the subject of amalgamation was always a good way.

At a March 1951 meeting, the Edmonton Bulletin reported that Beverly ratepayers were at "hammer and tongs" as they discussed the pros and cons of amalgamation. The session ended with a 69 to18 vote in favour of joining the City , but not before the original chairman Charles Floden had resigned. "Mr. Floden stepped down amidst considerable heckling and interference with speakers and the chair was taken by Robert Wright, a candidate for town council in the forthcoming election," the paper said.

The issue was finally put to a referendum in 1961 and Beverly citizens voted 62 per cent in favour of joining Edmonton. The amalgamation approved by the Public Utilities Board and was made effective December 30, 1961.

But that wasn't the end of the story. An investigation, sparked by a petition signed by 589 Beverly voters demanding more open governance, was completed in November 1961 by the Alberta Municipal Affairs Department. But the department opted not to release it to the press because Beverly as an entity was about to vanish and certain individuals apparently felt the matter was no longer of public interest.

However Councillor John Charuk saw it differently and released the report to the media himself, saying "the residents of Beverly have a right to know the full results of the probe." The report found that while the procedures followed by Beverly town council in administered town affairs were "not always business-like they are, nevertheless, not in error so far as the Town and Village Act is concerned."

For his action, Charuk was censured in a 5-2 vote by his council colleagues. The local media came to Charuk"s defence, with the Journal noting in a December 21, 1961 editorial that, "It is most unfortunate that the final meeting of the council before amalgamation was marred by this totally unjustified vote of censure against a man who was doing his duty."

There was no fanfare like signing on the dotted lines or shaking of hands by town and city officials to "close the deal" on the effective date at the end of 1961. Instead, an order proclaiming the merger of the two centres, signed by R.D. Henderson, chairman of the Public Utilities Board, was issued and published in the December 30, 1961 issue of the Alberta Gazette, the official publication of the provincial government.

Edmonton agreed to absorb the 30 permanent Beverly employees into its workforce and provide utilities at the same cost Edmonton residents were paying. The city also absorbed Beverly"s debt of $4.163 million on an assessed value of $8.57 million. The Edmonton Transit System (ETS) began bus service in Beverly at 7 am, News Year"s Day, absorbing Beverly Bus Lines Company"s seven drivers. ETS announced plans to buy the company"s nine buses -- five of which were more modern coaches.

At the "handing over" ceremony January 5th, 1962 at the Edmonton Petroleum Club, Mayor Sehn presented Edmonton Mayor Elmer Roper the "key to the town," the minutes of the Village of Beverly"s first meeting in 1913 and of the town council"s final session in 1961. At the ceremony, Mayor Sehn talked of Beverly"s economic woes, which he said had become part of the town itself. "Instead of the thriving metropolis promised by the real estate promoters, one recession after another set in," he noted.

Beverly"s reputation as Edmonton"s poor cousin was so entrenched that the then municipal affairs minister, A.J. Hooke, asked that the city"s newest community not be referred to as the Beverly district. "Let"s not look upon it as a poor cousin we had to bail out," Hooke said in a January 1962 Journal article.

But as Mayor Sehn said, there was no getting around the truth. While there were some hard feelings over the move to join Edmonton, history shows that amalgamation was good and bad for Beverly and also for Jasper Place, which amalgamated with Edmonton August 17th, 1964.

On the positive side, residential taxes decreased by about a third, property values increased, infrastructure improvements cost less and schools were usually better equipped. However business taxes increased dramatically and the two communities still didn't get all the services they desired. Repeated citizen requests for services like a health care clinic, a library branch, recreational facilities and a social services office went unheeded.

Hard feelings over Jasper Place"s amalgamation weren't easily overcome and are still evident in at least one unexpected place. Jasper Place High School"s inter-scholastic athletic teams are named the "Rebels" because students of the day wanted it known they did not agree with the amalgamation. And so borrowing from the American Civil War, Jasper Place teams took the nickname "Rebels."

Information for this article compiled from information at the City of Edmonton Archives and with the assistance of the Beverly History Committee. Excerpts from "Built on Coal: A History of Beverly, Edmonton"s Working Class Town," written by Lawrence Herzog and published by the Beverly Community Development Society.

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