When the Calgary & Edmonton Railway arrived at the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River in 1891, the C & E immediately subdivided a townsite which it named South Edmonton. Being at the end of steel, the community steadily grew throughout the decade until, in 1899, it was incorporated as the Town of Strathcona with a population exceeding 1,000. As with Edmonton to the north, Strathcona grew rapidly in the wake of the Klondike gold rush, and, in 1907, it was incorporated as a city with an estimated population of 3,500. Edmonton, however, was destined to grow at an even greater pace when the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railways arrived there in 1905 and 1908 respectively, giving this city a direct rail link to eastern Canada. With most major industries concentrating their operations in Edmonton, Strathcona became more of a residential district, a phenomenon encouraged by the decision of the provincial government, in 1908, to locate a provincial university just to the west of this city. From this point on, Strathcona would be billed as the University City.
In the spring of 1908, the buildings of the new University of Alberta had yet to be designed let alone constructed. There were, however, a growing number of high school graduates who wanted to attend university right away. As a result, the University’s Board of Governors approached the Strathcona Public School Board for the use of a portion of a new high school which was then nearing completion on Lumsden (84th) Avenue and Duggan (105th) Street. The new 125’ x 77’ school had been designed by the architectural firm of Johnson & Lines to become the largest and most sophisticated high school in Alberta. It was being built by the firm of Thomas Richards at what would turn out to be a cost of about $100,000. This was on the site of the earlier Duggan Street School, with additional land acquired by the School Board to the west to accommodate the larger facility.
The cornerstone of the new facility had been laid by Premier Rutherford himself on 18 October, 1907. Rutherford, from Strathcona, was also the Minister of Education for Alberta. When it was officially opened by Lieutenant-Governor Bulyea on 17 February 1909, at a ceremony attended by about 600 people, the institution was officially designated the Strathcona Collegiate Institute, in recognition of its initial post-secondary role. The main floor was to house 71 high school students in four classrooms, while the 2nd floor was taken over by the University. This included four classrooms to accommodate 47 undergraduate students, the office of President Henry M. Tory, and the University Library. The third floor was made over into an auditorium with a stage, while the basement provided room for both a boys and a girls gymnasium.
The first convocation of the University of Alberta took place in the Strathcona Collegiate Institute in the fall of 1909, when an honorary doctorate of laws degree was conferred on Lord Strathcona. The Institute continued to serve as a high school and a university until the fall of 1911, when the University of Alberta moved over to its new campus. The facility was then re-named the Strathcona High School. With more room in the building, kindergarten was conducted in the basement from 1912 to 1921, and, during World War I, part of the basement also served as a rifle range for Company 199. The high school population continued to grow however, and, in 1927, it was found necessary to set up an annex of the school in the old Garneau School on 84th Avenue and 112 Street, the new Garneau School just having been opened on 88th Ave. and 109 Street.
In 1953, with Edmonton experiencing another population boom, a new Strathcona Composite High School was opened. Shortly thereafter, to avoid confusion, the old Strathcona High School was re-named Old Scona. Partly because of its proximity to the University, it began to encourage students who were determined to go on to university after graduation. In 1976, a Baccalaureate Program was begun for such students under the direction of Principal Leif Stolee. Three years later, in recognition of this, the school was re-named Old Scona Academic High School. With its dedication to academic excellence, the school has been ranked by the Fraser Institute as the best high school in Alberta for the past six years.
The historical significance of the Strathcona Collegiate Institute lies primarily in its service as the first location of the University of Alberta. It is also important as one of the best high schools in Alberta and is an excellent example of collegiate architecture. In 2008, it was designated a Provincial Historic Resource.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Strathcona Collegiate Institute in Edmonton. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Strathcona Collegiate Institute.