Commentary – And the capital of Alberta is. . .!

Chris Clegg

Ever wonder how Edmonton was chosen as the capital city of Alberta?
Apparently, the decision came down to one man; George H.V. Bulyea, a long-time politician.
On the advice of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Bulyea was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the new province of Alberta effective Sept. 1, 1905. The appointment was made by Earl Grey, Governor-General of Canada and the man who founded the Grey Cup.
What is interesting about the selection is the other towns and cities considered. Rumours have consistently arisen that Grouard was considered as the capital. My answer has always been the same to anyone who tells me this: “Prove it! Show me something in a book or documented in history.”
No one has come forth yet with any proof.
However, many times I have read reports that Grouard promoted itself as the “Capital of the North” which might be where confusion arises. In the early 1900s, the majority of freight to the Peace Country went through Grouard, referred to many as Alberta’s inland port. Steamships run back and forth from Sawridge from spring to fall and in winter hundreds of horse teams dragged freight across the ice.
Keep in mind Grouard never “boomed” until the time period around 1910, and flourished from 1912-14 until the railway passed it by. It made no sense such a small place would put its name in the hat to be the provincial capital.
But I could be wrong.
If anyone could provide an answer to the question, it would be David Leonard. I rate him among the top historians of Alberta. He has written many history books which I have read. Not a single reference relates to Grouard being considered for the capital. If this was true, somewhere in his extensive writings this should have cropped up.
In Leonard’s book The Electoral History of the Peace River Country of Alberta 1905-1993, he writes:
“The first session of Alberta’s Provincial Parliament was held in the Thistle Rink in Edmonton March 15, 1906. Among the first issues to face legislators was the site of the capital. The Alberta Act had stipulated that, unless the Lieutenant-Governor [Bulyea] declared otherwise, the capital would remain in Edmonton. Bills were nonetheless presented which called for Calgary and Banff to be named capital respectively. These were; however, voted down. Other applications were made but not seriously considered, including Athabasca Landing on the argument that it was at the geographic centre of the province.”
There are two key points in this paragraph.
First, Grouard is not mentioned.
Second, it does say “other applications were made but not seriously considered.” It leaves the door somewhat ajar for the possibility of Grouard tossing its name into the hat.
If true, perhaps the “not seriously considered” was because Grouard was still largely inaccessible due to no railway arriving until nine years later in 1914. Roads were horrific. Just how could the government capital do business under such isolated conditions? It makes no sense. At least we learn Grouard was not “seriously” considered.
It is always interesting who gets to chose names for new towns and countries. It is not surprising to learn politicians make the decision.
In Bulyea’s case there is no further mention I can find why he stuck with Edmonton as the capital. At the time, Calgary was bigger but Edmonton more central. It would be nice to know why.

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