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Feature Article


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

A J. Davidson Sold Beverly

Edmonton expanded at a tremendous rate prior to World War I, stoking the engine of economic growth and driving up real estate values. Many of the newcomers arrived with very little, and for those of meager means, property in the rapidly growing city was too expensive. So they looked to the outlying areas.

Beverly was one of those places, even though real estate promoters had other more grandiose plans. A story in the Daily Capitol published June 13th, 1912 announced that the first lots in Beverly Heights " "a high-class subdivision fronting on the Saskatchewan river, presenting an admirable view of the stream" " had been placed on the market.

"Within a few months, it will be within a few minutes walk of a street car line affording easy and quick access to the city." the story promised. It went on to assure readers that water, sewer, electric light and other conveniences would also be installed within a few months. "According to the terms of all agreements, a certain class of residences must be erected thus guaranteeing that there will be no unsuitable or unsightly dwellings."

Several land companies began offering lots for sale in Beverly; among them, the Robertson-Davidson Real Estate Company. This firm, established by Adam James Davidson and his brother-in-law George Robertson, was headquartered at 10012 Jasper Avenue in Edmonton.

Davidson, known as A.J., was born in Galt (now Cambridge) Ontario in 1864. He lived there until in 1910, when, at age 46, he decided to find out whether all the adventurous stories of "the last best west" were true.

On the advice of his brother who had preceded him west, A.J. and his 16-year-old son Louis claimed a homestead near Hanna, Alberta. Isabella and their other four children soon followed and the family split its time between Hanna and Calgary so the children could obtain a good education.

The family joined A.J. in Edmonton in 1913 and they rented the Frank Oliver house on 103rd Street near 100th Avenue. The family then purchased a property at 10011 113 Street.

A.J. and Robertson purchased a huge tract of land and its mineral rights " what was then known as River Lots 36, 38 and 40 and today runs from 34th Street to 50th Street and the North Saskatchewan River to 118th Avenue. They divided part of what came to be known as Beverly Heights into lots and began selling these parcels in 1912.

To make their properties more appealing, they negotiated with the City of Edmonton to extend the streetcar tracks further east from The Highlands subdivision. A cancelled cheque shows that Robertson-Davidson Limited paid the City of Edmonton $25,000 to build the streetcar line. On the cheque is written: "For the construction of an extension of the Street Railway from the end of the Highlands line to Beverly Heights Annex."

The real estate, coal and investment brokers were bullish on the new venture, but boom went bust in 1913 and the line was never built. The City of Edmonton chose instead to provide a chartered bus service.

As land prices collapsed, Robertson-Davidson lost most of their remaining Beverly property to taxes, save some along the river. Robertson wanted out and so Davidson bought his share of the company and George Robertson and family moved to Los Angeles, California.

In true pioneering spirit and entrepreneurial zeal, Davidson merely picked himself up, dusted off and went onto other ventures. He was determined to make his family's pursuit of golden opportunity come true, just like the early 20th century newspaper advertisements had promised it would.

Using the mineral rights the partners had acquired with the land, Davidson started the Beverly Coal and Gravel Company in 1917. To be closer to the business operations off 36th Street and 104th Avenue, A.J. and Isabella rented a house from William Magrath at 5650 Ada Boulevard.

The house was one of the most lavish erected during Magrath Holgate Company's 1912 push to develop The Highlands and it still stands in its original location. The Davidson family called it "The Big House." In 1924, A.J. bought the house from Ada Magrath, then a widow, for $10,000 and some shares in Western Foundry. The family was to own the house until 1982. As natural gas began to gain in popularity, A.J. may well have foreseen a softening in the market for coal or perhaps, with advancing age, he decided to get out of the coal business and leave it to younger men. He leased the mine to Bush Mine Company in 1928 and diversified into dairy farming " a love it seems he had never lost from days growing up as a boy on a dairy farm in Ontario.

The barn that had been built for horses working the mine property became home to a herd of purebred Holstein Friesian cattle and, after expansion, it accommodated 30 head of milking cows and another 30 head of young stock, dry stock and bulls. A.J. opened up 180-acres as pastureland and the superb facility and careful breeding produced many awards at exhibitions in Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary and Saskatoon.

As A.J. reached his seventies and began to slow down, his son Gord took over operation of the dairy farm, with its distinctive red-roofed, white painted buildings. By 1944, milk production topped 1,400 pounds per day.

When A.J. died on July 15, 1945 at the age of 81, his prize-winning purebred herd numbered 69. His obituary noted he was known for his public spirit and interest in civic affairs, his presidency of the Provincial Holstein Friesian Breeders" Association and his instrumental role in the development of Beverly.

Tom Hays, an Alberta cattle breeder who had worked on the Davidson dairy farm, eventually purchased the herd and flew the cattle to Argentina to improve breeding stock there. Isabella passed away April 28, 1949 at the age of 84 and daughter Cora and her husband Glen moved into "The Big House," where they stayed until 1982. Today, houses sit where the mine and farm used to be and A.J.'s cow pastures are part of Rundle Park.

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