Neighbourhood Spotlight: Beverly offers living history lesson
Orginal Content by The Edmonton Journal, April 2016.
Cradled by the North Saskatchewan River, the historic neighbourhood of Beverly Heights looks over the grassy southern exposure of Rundle Park and the tree-lined Ada Boulevard. The pulse of this neighbourhood beats calmly, as residents move through their day among mature landscaping that frames the streets of clapboard and stucco historical homes, punctuated by modern architecture, suggesting these avenues have a story to tell; a story that goes deeper — much deeper — than the grass and pavement.
Back in the Day
According to various historians and city archive records, the first residents of the Beverly area began settling on River Lots 36, 38, 40 and 42 in 1882. European settlers from England, Germany, Holland, Scotland and the Ukraine were originally lured to the area because of the rich soil. It wasn’t long before another Alberta treasure was unearthed — coal.
In 1904, members of the growing population decided the name Beverly should represent their new community. Sources for the name remain split, according to historians. Its origin lies in the either the Beverly Township in Wentworth County, Ontario or the town of Beverly in Yorkshire, England. In any event, extended family members and friends joined the area’s original settlers as both farming and the new era of coal mining promised prosperity.
However, coal mining was a risky undertaking, as many of the smaller ventures had neither the knowledge nor experience for safe excavation. Agricultural properties were riddled with unstable land that would collapse unexpectedly, proving hazardous for cattle.
By 1905 the smaller ventures gave way to larger companies such as Bush, Humberstone, Cloverbar, and the Beverly Limited mines. With the success these mines were experiencing, it was decided that a bridge crossing the North Saskatchewan River would be a prudent undertaking to transport the coal. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR) originally wanted to utilize the High Level Bridge owned by CP. However, the partnership did not transpire and an alternate bridge site was selected at the next-narrowest crossing of the river. By 1908 the Clover Bar Rail Bridge was completed and the GTPR became the largest shipper of coal in Alberta.
Beverly was an economically independent community. Mining was the town’s commercial backbone but it was considered a seasonal business, with the majority of mining occurring in the late fall and winter, when coal was needed to heat homes and businesses. However, with the rich soil, the agricultural opportunities maintained steady employment during the spring and summer seasons.
Beverly was gaining momentum as its population continued to grow steadily. Beverly was incorporated as a village on March 22, 1913, and just over a year later, on July 10, 1914 with a population of 1,000, it was designated a town. With its new town status, it was decided that a Beverly town hall should be built, rather than continuing to meet in the Methodist Church tent. Allen Merrick Jeffers, the designer and architect of the Alberta Legislature, was called upon to create Beverly’s first official building.
The two-storey brick town hall was erected at the site of 38 Avenue and 118 Street. This multi- functional structure not only housed town hall but also the police station, the courts, and a fire station on the main floor, while the upper level was used as an elementary school during the day and a dance hall in the evening. The town jail and a corral that housed stray horses and cattle were built on the same site.
The Great Depression of the 1930s took its toll on the prairies, and Beverly was no exception. In 1931 the town’s secretary-treasurer, Percy J. Rowe, along with grocer Alex Lastiwka and laundry operator W.T. Walker, started the Beverly Coal Company. It was their intension to not only provide jobs (and therefore steady income) for the town’s people, it was hoped that this undertaking would also provide royalties from coal sales. After purchasing the coal rights, the company began to sell 500 shares at $100 each. The plan was to share the wealth as the mine prospered. Th plan appealed to many residents who were eager to realize their fortunes.
Work commenced, but without any operational money to start with, crew members were paid in shares. Progress was slow as the men shovelled shafts deep into the ground. With no money available for materials, wooden sidewalks in the town were dismantled and used for cribbing. Battling flooding tunnels, the coal miners successfully located and moved the coal out. Although the coal from this mine had steady demand, the company was not a sound business and filed for bankruptcy in 1933, putting 120 men out of work, resulting in lost wages and valueless stock. Over the next few years, control of the company was taken over by E.I. Clarke, and then H. Davidson.
By 1937, the drastic devaluation of town-owned mine shares left Beverly in a state of bankruptcy. During the course of the next 12 years the provincial government appointed a town administrator to oversee its municipal affairs, and coal mines continued to provide employment to the struggling town. However, by the 1950s there was a palpable shift in the economy. The post-war boom resulted in economic growth for the surrounding communities. Beverly’s inexpensive housing resulted in a population expansion, and the community soon needed a second bridge to meet traffic demand to and from the neighbouring centres of Edmonton and Strathcona County.
The landscape of 118 Avenue and the newly developing businesses associated with the Yellowhead Highway (then called Highway 16) brought diverse economic opportunities catering to the new automobile traffic, including hotels, motels, service stations and drive-through restaurants. In 1953 the Clover Bar Bridge was opened, crossing the North Saskatchewan River and connecting Edmonton to Strathcona County. Coal demands steadily declined as gas and oil became the energy source of choice, and in 1954 the Beverly Coal Mine stopped production.
Despite the decline of coal production the population of Beverly grew to 10,000, as housing was more economical than the neighbouring areas. However, infrastructure was costly to maintain as an independent municipality, and Beverly amalgamated with Edmonton on December 30, 1961. As oil and gas development continued to prosper, the original 1953 Clover Bar Bridge could not keep up with traffic demand, and a twin bridge providing additional lanes for the divided Yellowhead Highway was created in 1972. The Clover Bar Bridge handles the westbound traffic and its twin, the Beverly Bridge, handles the eastbound traffic.
Beverly’s original land now consists of five thriving neighbourhoods: Beverly Heights, Beacon Heights, Berman, Abbotsfield, and Rundle Heights. Ada Boulevard provides Beverly Heights’ southern border, while 50 Street to the west, 30 Street to the east, and the Yellowhead Highway to the north provide the remaining boundaries.
Land that was once occupied by agricultural and mining operations are now part of Edmonton’s lush parks and quaint neighbourhoods. The marriage of Edmonton and Beverly is noticeable at 50 Street. The street orientation and names lose their consistency at this point, which remains a physical reminder of the past. Lush green space of Rundle Park Golf Course now sprawls along Beverly Heights’ borders, where a landfill site once existed.
Floden Park, overlooking the North Saskatchewan River just south of 111 Avenue (10906-40 Street), is a hub of community activities, housing an active community league. With its close proximity to the river valley, the park offers access to many walking, hiking and cycling trails. Jubilee Park, the site of the original Beverly Mines (4203-120 Avenue), was part of the original town in 1955 and remains a central focus of the neighbourhood to this day.
Out and About
With two of the neighbourhood boundaries offering parkland and residential streets skimming the North Saskatchewan River, the main routes out of Beverly are the original town border of 50 Street and the Yellowhead Highway, including the Clover Bar Bridge. The Yellowhead Highway offers access to Edmonton’s west and beyond, as well as locations east of the city. Wayne Gretzky Drive, located in the neighbourhood directly west of Beverly, provides access to south Edmonton.
Did You Know
- Emily Murphy, one of the famous five, worked at the Beverly town hall as a justice of the peace.
- After a 1961 referendum, 61 per cent of Beverly residents voted in favour of being amalgamated with Edmonton.
- A neighbouring area, Abbotsfield, was named after First World War veteran Abe Abbott, a resident of Beverly and caretaker of the Beverly School.
- Neighbouring Rundle Heights and Rundle Park was named after Rev. Robert Rundle, the first Protestant missionary that served at Fort Edmonton. The park was originally a landfill for the Town of Beverly’s waste.
- Beverly was the first Alberta town to build a cenotaph in honour of the First World War’s fallen soldiers. In 1920, the site was dedicated by Lt Gov. G. Brett and Brig. Gen. Wm. Griesbach, as well as then-Edmonton mayor Joe Clarke.