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Edmonton History

Long before West Edmonton Mall arrived on the scene, Edmonton was a popular “shopping” destination and trading post dating back for millennia. The First Nations people hunted wild game and sought shelter along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and later used it as a meeting place to barter and trade with European settlers. In the 18th century it became an essential stopping point for members of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the North West Company who traveled the North Saskatchewan River to gather beaver pelts and furs. When the two companies joined forces in 1821, Fort Edmonton (now an Edmonton historic site) was created and it became a major supply centre on HBC’s trans-Canada route. Between 1870 and 1900, developments continued outside of the fort. Jasper Avenue on the north side of the river became Edmonton’s Main Street and in 1904 Edmonton officially became a city. Shortly after, Old Strathcona was annexed and the city continued to grow on either side of the river. The population exploded between 1901 and 1914, with the arrival of close to 70,000 immigrant workers finding employment constructing the Alaska Highway or in conjunction with the work created by the Northwest Staging Route. In 1947 oil was discovered nearby, and the city continued to prosper off and on until the 1970s, when Edmonton experienced a massive oil boom and many of the historic buildings were torn down and replaced with modern structures. The 1980s were not so kind. The city felt the bust of tough economic times—a reality that became apparent as the once-vibrant downtown faded into a somewhat vacant and dilapidated state. Edmonton remained this way until another oil boom brought back much-needed prosperity to the city almost 20 years later. Edmonton’s regional population reached 750,000 in 2008, and exceeded one million in the same year—making it the northernmost North American city with a metropolitan population over one million.

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