From Skates to Soap Boxes: Fun on Edmonton’s River Valley Slopes

On March 9 & 10 Edmonton is host to the Red Bull Crashed Ice season finale. Skaters will race on a track starting on Jasper Valley and winding down the River Valley through Louise McKinney Riverfront Park.

Many sporting events have taken advantage of the steep River Valley hills and my favorite by far has to be the Soap Box Derby.

EA-160-1588 Soap Box Derby 1937

EA-160-1588 Soap Box Derby 1937

The earliest reference I found in the City of Edmonton Archives was a 1936 newspaper clipping announcing the first annual Soap Box Derby down Scona Hill, sponsored by the Edmonton Journal. It was the brainchild of Boston Bruin Roger Jenkins who donated a handsome trophy. I’m not sure why Jenkins was involved but according to the Hockey Hall of Fame he did play for the Edmonton Imperials for the 1929-30 season before starting in the NHL so perhaps he still called Edmonton home in the offseason in 1936.

The second race in 1937 was moved to the steeper and more challenging McDougall Hill beneath the Macdonald Hotel. At some point it moved to Victoria Park Road where it seems to have been an annual event until the late 1970s.

EA-160-1578 Soap Box Derby 1937

EA-160-1578 Soap Box Derby 1937

EA-160-1580 Soap Box Derby on McDougall Hill 1937 I think the dog seems concerned but the boy looks to be ok.

EA-160-1580 Soap Box Derby on McDougall Hill 1937 I think the dog seems concerned but the boy looks to be ok.

 

There were rules, for example contestants (10-15 year olds) had to pledge that they would do at least 3/4 of the work themselves and that they would not spend more than $10 to build the car (quite a sum in the Depression). Parents had to sign a permission form and some semblance of brakes and steering capabilities were necessary. The cars, also known as bugs, were submitted for inspection and weighing prior to the race. There was a wide variety of cars from the slapdash to the sleek; there are more images of them in the Archives online database. At first only boys could compete but this was opened up at some point and Elizabeth Semeniuk was the junior champion in 1977.

MS-491 Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues fonds, Series 4.1, File 55 Plans for a “super soap box”

MS-491 Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues fonds, Series 4.1, File 55 Plans for a “super soap box”

Later sponsors of the event include the Active Club and the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL). The EFCL revived the race for Edmonton’s 2004 centennial celebrations. Kits to build the cars were provided but custom cars also participated. There were 85 racers and the cars were clocked between 20 and 42 kilometres per hour. There was another race in 2010 and again in 2011.

EA-600-4961a Soap Box Derby winner Victor Zern smiles after fifth annual Edmonton soap box derby staged on McDougall Hill. September 4, 1950

EA-600-4961a Soap Box Derby winner Victor Zern smiles after fifth annual Edmonton soap box derby staged on McDougall Hill. September 4, 1950

 

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About the Author
Elizabeth Walker
Elizabeth has a Masters of Archival Studies from UBC and she’s been the City’s digital archivist since September 2010. She’s passionate about outreach and increasing engagement between the Archives and the community.
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