104th Street History
Around 15 years ago, it was decided that a promenade would be developed moving north from Heritage Trail through Edmonton’s renowned loft district. It would serve not only as a landmark of the city’s rich history, but also to reinvent the street from a commercial centre to a cosmopolitan, pedestrian-friendly centre that would attract Edmontonians to settle in the lofts and rejuvenate the area. 104 Street and Railtown were the first areas of the city to be revitalized, sparking an interest in the downtown area that continues to this day.
It’s interesting that the street’s name has always been Fourth Street, because with such a unique history, there are many other names it could go by. It was, for example, the hub of Edmonton’s fur industry—with all fur lofts being serviced by a single spur between 103 and 104 streets—once the railway reached the city in 1905. Some of the most prominent buildings on the street, including the Revillon Building, still had their railway loading doors well into the 70s and 80s.
Howard Kennedy landed in Canada from London in 1905 and travelled throughout the west, attending the Alberta provincial celebrations in Edmonton in the same year. The result of his visit was an enormously popular book, New Canada and the New Canadians, which he published after he returned to England and which encouraged its readership to call Western Canada home with its glowing account of the country’s potential for growth and prosperity. Lord Strathcona wrote the book’s preface, and the Chamber of Commerce went on to use excerpts in the city’s publicity materials for a number of years.
Kennedy was most taken by Edmonton’s appearance, despite it being a small community with less than 15,000 citizens (including Strathcona) at the time. In New Canada and New Canadians, he describes the city’s vibrant energy, likening the illuminations of the provincial celebrations to the Aurora Borealis.
He was equally impressed by the Edmonton’s prosperity, referring to it as the Million Dollar City because of the size of its fur trade. This title proved more than accurate: by 1910, just five years after his visit, the fur trade was worth two million dollars. It continued to prosper throughout the next decade, aided by Revillon’s ability to promote fur as a fashion necessity rather than a material reserved solely for high quality hats, which had become a mainstay of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Based on such success, perhaps the Fourth Street Promenade ought to be called the Million Dollar Mile!
Regardless of its name, 104 Street represents where much of Edmonton began: it runs from the former railroad tracks to the North Saskatchewan River, where the original Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus shared a riverbank in 1802. For anyone travelling from the river to the downtown loft district, the 104 Street route marks a 200-year journey through Edmonton’s history—one that shall continue to develop and thrive for many years to come.