OG EDMONTONIANS DESERVE PROPS

On this sunny day, we aren’t going to write an article about ice hockey. Instead we are going to talk a bit about one of our city’s founders and his legacy which is in imminent danger. File this under the “Edmonton” part of “Edmonton Oilers Hockey Blog” if you will.

As an Edmontonian – and in particular as an Oilers fan – we often witness the cloud of inferiority that hangs over too many of our fellow citizens. Being one of the greatest dynasties in sports, only to turn into a small market team that acted as a feeder squad for larger markets in the NHL for 20 years will do that to a City.

Particularly if that hockey team is the main calling card for your home on the National stage, The City’s self image tends to trend in parallel to the fortunes of the hockey team.

In the absence of a juggernaut company being started in a tiny office downtown and later going public, or the next Prime Minister attending Edmonton schools his/her entire life and sweeping E-Town into the highest office in the land, or a band coming from Castledowns to win 11 Grammys – the Oilers are what we collectively get behind.

For now. And that’s great.

E-TOWN IS SWEET

We personally think Edmonton is the bees knees. Say what you want about “the big mall out in the West” “the potholes” or whatever axe you choose to grind, we are all fortunate to be sitting here in 2011, in a City of 1.1 million of (mostly) employed individuals.

We spend the bulk of our time working and staying warm and complaining about the lack of a forward who can win faceoffs, but in many instances we don’t consider how fortunate we are to live here. And we rarely ever wonder who put Edmonton on the map way back in the day and are responsible for where we are today.

Ask people in El Centro, California with an official unemployment rate of 27.0% if they would like to commute to a gainfully paying job in sub zero temperatures. Or go ask a resident of Fort Meyers, Florida – property prices have declined 59.1% since 2008 – if they would like our relatively stable real estate market. A great many folks would love to be here, cold weather and all. 

Yet it’s no secret that Edmonton is at a crossroads. The one path before us leads towards a slow decline towards obscurity, as a second tier City in Canada. The other path leads to becoming a City that can attract and retain the best and the brightest who will help Edmonton continue to thrive and expand and kick the hell out of some other hockey teams if the moons align.

We need to start by collectively holding our heads higher and that starts with showing respect to the OG Edmontonians who have put everything they had on the line – to build the foundation of the City that we enjoy today.

THIS GUY IS A CHAMP

This fellow right here is HME Evans – a founding Edmontonian who carried the City when it was needed the most. Unless you were around in the 1910s you probably don’t remember his tenure as the Mayor of Edmonton between 1917 and 1921. Robin Brownlee probably remembers the day he was elected and probably referred to him as a ‘whipper-snapper’ under his breath as he road down Jasper Avenue in his buggy.

Anyways, Evans was asked to run for Mayor by the business community in 1917. Described as ‘Edmonton’s only honest businessman’ they felt that the City was in such dire straits that only a man with Evans skills could turn things around. He had invested heavily in Northern Alberta’s fledgling coal industry only to see his British investors pull their funds in the 11th hour.

Instead of giving up and watching a large part of the Edmonton economy dry up, he found alternate funds and forged ahead keeping many employed and building a successful business in the process. And as our Mayor he straightened out the books and prevented the City from going bust.

And his house Sylvancroft was the center of it all. A focal point for business and politics of early Edmonton, they used to raise so much money for the British Red Cross here during WWI that they got a letter from the Royals commending them for their efforts. During the Great Depression it was an operating farm and food went to the food bank. Great people once lived here and did a great many things for the City of Edmonton that we take for granted 100 years later.

A century after it was constructed, the property is about to be knocked to the ground. The family owned company put the thing on the market several months back in the hope that someone would step forward and save it, restoring the house that once meant so much to efforts to improve our City.

No one stepped up and now it is on the block to be knocked down. You can read an excellent article about it in the Journal here. 

SO WHO CARES RIGHT?

We can hear you now: “But Wanye, what do I care if some old pile of bricks is going to get knocked down? Our goalie is in jail, I have bigger problems and so should you!”

Our concern isn’t that Edmonton would allow an old house to be knocked down. Instead we are more concerned with the fact that a grand residence like this could fall into disrepair and then be knocked to the ground without so much as an offer from the rich folks that parade around this City with their noses in the air. Think that cool old houses like this get knocked down in Vancouver, Calgary or Toronto? No way Ray.

Where is the next generation of great Edmontonians watching over the City to ensure we honor the past and hurtle towards a sweet future? Why isn’t anyone willing to pick up where HME Evans left off in this grand old joint? Either they straight up don’t care, they have left for warmer climates, or they are living out on 1st street and 1st avenue in a remote acreage, detached from the City and our fellow residents.

And as a result the last remaining legacy of a dude who put it all on the line several times for our City is forgotten to the mists of time.

But be damned certain were it not for people like HME Evans, there wouldn’t be an Edmonton on the same scale it is today. There wouldn’t be nearly the industry up here, nor nearly as many residents. Guaranteed we wouldn’t have a NHL hockey team and we wouldn’t be sitting around with our twitters and interwebs discussing whether or not to allow 100 million to be thrown at a new arena in the downtown core.

Were it not for the HME Evanses of the world, Edmonton would be much smaller and crappier today than it is and odds are most of the folks reading this would live somewhere else.

When the City was at it’s lowest, a great man came to our collective rescue and 100 years later we continue to reap the rewards. His last remaining legacy should not be knocked down.

  • There is no demolition permit for this property. Instead, there is a Edmontonian businessman willing to save this building and has filed an application to subdivide the property, not demolish it. It’s not 100% it will be saved at this point, but the building is not at its 11th hour at all.

    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Rare+artifact+Edmonton+past+could+lost/5189906/story.html

    Beljan, 36, has filed an application with the city to subdivide the 0.8 hectare site into eight to 10 lots, designed for low-rise, high-end, single-family condominium units.

    He plans to tear down the carriage house, which was converted into a single-family home years ago, as well as another small house built in the 1950s. He wants to save the original Sylvancroft mansion and resell it, either as a single-family home, or perhaps divided into a couple of elegant flats.

    “I think it would be kind of neat to have this 100-year-old house as part of the development. This city has such little history to begin with,” he says. “Sylvancroft is one of those little hidden jewels in the city, that people don’t even know is there.”

  • Wanye-

    Good read, but I always find it hard to develop any real emotional attachment to a building simply because someone special lived there. It’s just a building.

    I agree that we should honor folks like HME, but why not just have a bronze statue made with a plaque telling his story. Put it downtown close to Grant Mac and Rexall 2 or somewhere down around the UofA and Whyte. Then people will have a chance to learn about someone who was a true leader.

    I have never taken my kids on a tour of historically significant houses in Edmonton. However, I have stopped at the bronze statues around town with my kids to talk about 99, Ezio Farone and the bravery of our firefighters.

    • D-Man

      That’s why Wanye wrote this article to begin with… Kudos to you for sharing some of our history with your kids – especially about Ezio Farone, but we need to have more people develop that emotional attachment you’re lacking..

      I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a variety of countries in Europe and where we tear down and rebuild – they enhance from within while leaving the old facade intact. We have a tendency as North Americans to think newer is better, forgetting about the history that got us here in the first place..

      If you ever have the ability, go for a bus tour in London, England… There are a ton of buildings that still have flak marks from the Battle of Britian. Go to Dresden, Germany – where they rebuilt 13th century castles (to the exact design) within a 3 kilometer radius that were destroyed by the Allies in WWII. You’ll gain a true appreciation for buildings of historic value.

      I hope someone with alot of $$ can step up and save this house.

  • D-Man

    Thanks for the great tribute Wayne….it was very well researched. HME was also an all round great guy to grow up with. His hockey skates are in the Royal Alberta Museum.

  • D-Man

    I see how many people want to keep the house standing in terms of it’s historical significance. But I also see how someone would say there are better ways to honour our forefathers than to associate theirs lives and contributions to what is essentially ‘just a building’.

    There has been some talk recently around the idea of Edmonton naming it’s streets. This is something I would support as a way to build a sense of community and belonging in the streets of our city. And Evans avenue has a particularly nice ring to it doesn’t it?

  • erixon

    Mayor Mandel has done more for this city during his tenure than the previous 10 mayors combined. It’s called beautifying your city.
    You know, so that more than just rig pigs want to live here. Like maybe doctors, lawyers, who are interested in more than having the snow cleared and potholes filled?
    Too many “progressive” people want to tear everything down and build parking lots for their huge trucks with the balls on the back.
    Real cities keep their culture.

  • Myq Wilson

    Really well done, Wanye. I feel like a nitpicking nit for offering this, but there are two bits of history that could be ammended.

    Civic elections in the early days were an annual event, so HME’s term expired in 1918. It was a hectic year, with the Armistice and influenza pandemic. The business community could not persuade Evans to seek reelection; he was replaced by the labourist candidate, Joe Clarke (of stadium fame.)

    The work organizing bond drives was mainly during WWII, for which Evans received the Order of the British Empire. During this period, Sylvancroft was used as a refugee home for British children sent away to escape the Blitz.

    Key question: would Evans have voted yay or nay on supporting a downtown arena? I think he would have been in favour, based on his participation in the group that revived the Eskimos in 1949. Sylvancroft traditionally had a skating rink, complete with rink boards, which in my younger years I helped flood. My brother participated in a fierce boot hockey game against Dave Bidini, after a Rheotastics concert, on Sylvancroft ice in the late 1990s.

    Evansburg and Evansdale School were named in recognition of HME Evans.