When I think of Jasper Avenue, I think of a busy street filled with nothing more interesting than office towers and traffic jams.
But when I decided to intentionally explore Jasper Ave, I discovered that historic buildings and great views of the river valley add life and character to one of Edmonton’s oldest and busiest roads.
As the book Naming Edmonton: from Ada to Zoie reveals, Jasper Avenue has a long history as a busy street. Named for Jasper Hawes, a manager of a Northwest Company trading post in the 1800s, Jasper Ave was soon home to many businesses. By 1899, important institutions such as the Alberta Hotel, the Sherriff’s office, the Bulletin Block, the CPR Land Office, the Ross Brother’s Hardware Store, and Lauder’s Bakery had all taken up residence on Jasper Avenue. The large number of businesses caused traffic problems in the early twentieth century. In 1907, the city created a bylaw that stated motor vehicles and horse-drawn buggies had to stay to the right of the road while travelling. In addition, an official had to direct traffic at 101st street. In 1933, the Jasper Avenue/101st street intersection had the distinction of receiving Edmonton’s first traffic light. Needless to say, traffic control is still considered necessary at this busy intersection.
Although Jasper Ave continues to support many businesses, it lost its role as the city’s main shopping district in the latter part of the twentieth century, according to the City of Edmonton’s webpage titled “Jasper Avenue New Vision.” However, there has been a returning interest in building commercial, retail, and residential spaces on Jasper Avenue. The City of Edmonton is pleased with this renewed interest in Jasper Ave, and has plans to increasingly revitalize the avenue, and the downtown core more generally, by making Jasper Avenue a destination for retail and cultural activities.
Newer businesses and buildings have taken the place of older ones on Jasper Ave; however, some historic buildings remain.
The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, which opened in 1915, still sits on Jasper Ave, as does the Edmonton General Hospital, Edmonton’s first hospital, which the Sisters of Charity, or Grey Nuns, opened in 1895.
Jasper Ave has been, and continues to be, a bustling street, but part the Avenue offers a more peaceful perspective of the city: the eastern stretch of Jasper Avenue offers some great views of the river valley, uninterrupted by skyscrapers.
Rich and diverse in its character, Jasper Avenue remains an important and interesting space in Edmonton’s core, and its story will continue to unfold.