Running in Edmonton: past and present

We love to run in Edmonton. At any time of year, though especially in the summer, you’re bound to find your fellow citizens outside running to stay fit, enjoy nature, and have fun. With an ever increasing slate of organized runs all year long, from 5km fun runs to the 42km Edmonton Marathon and everything in between, you might be surprised to know that running is nothing new in this City. A trip to the City of Edmonton Archives can shed more light on the subject.

The first marathon in Alberta was profiled in the May 30, 1908 edition of the Saturday News, published in Edmonton. The race began at the Alberta Hotel and ended at the race course in Fort Saskatchewan. The winner, Art Burn of Calgary, was given the honour of competing in the Olympic Games held in London, England in that year. (Avid runners will be interested to know that it was in these games that the marathon was lengthened from 25 miles to just over 26 miles, in order to begin beneath the windows of the Royal Nursery at Windsor Castle, and to end at the Royal Box.)

May 30, 1908 Saturday News

The May 30, 1908 edition of Saturday News featured coverage of the first marathon.

Edmonton was also home to well-known runner Alex Wuttunee Decoteau. Born on the Red Pheasant Reserve in 1887, Alex won nearly every track event in Alberta between 1909 and 1916, and was the only Albertan on the Canadian team competing in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Other notable runners in Edmonton included Leroy Haliburton, Jesse Jones, Frank Richard, and Ross Sheppard (namesake of Ross Sheppard High School). All are inductees in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

EA-302-65 “Track and Field Meet” July 1915. This image shows some of Edmonton’s brightest stars, including Alex Decoteau (third from left), Ross Sheppard (third from right), and Jesse Jones (far right).

EA-302-65 “Track and Field Meet” July 1915. This image shows some of Edmonton’s brightest stars, including Alex Decoteau (third from left), Ross Sheppard (third from right), and Jesse Jones (far right).

Although athletic clubs and track and field competitions continued, the Archives’ records become fairly sparse when it comes to running until the 1970s, when organized road races started becoming more common and running became more popular with the general public. This popularity can only have been bolstered by the races that were part of the XI Commonwealth Games held in Edmonton in 1978.

RG-78 Class 4 File 5. Event program for the Canadian Marathon Championships held in Edmonton June 5, 1977.

RG-78 Class 4 File 5. Event program for the Canadian Marathon Championships held in Edmonton June 5, 1977. Click here to see the route map

 

Click to see the route map of the 1977 Marathon.

The love of running continued. A marathon was part of Edmonton’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 1980, and was also part of the 1983 Universiade Games. By 1984 running was popular enough that a specialty store for runners opened in an old house on 112 Street just south of Jasper Avenue. Perhaps you’ve heard of The Running Room? It now has over 110 locations throughout Canada and the United States.

RG-7, Series 8, Sub-series 8.2, File 460. Edmonton Anniversary Marathon poster.

RG-7, Series 8, Sub-series 8.2, File 460. Edmonton Anniversary Marathon poster.

Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope occurred in 1980, and though he never came through Edmonton, it was certainly big news. This was followed up a few years later by Steve Fonyo, an 18 year old cancer survivor who recreated Terry Fox’s run on what he called the “Journey of Lives”. Fonyo arrived in Edmonton on April 13, 1985, and finished his run across Canada in May of that year.

RG-7 Series 2, Sub-series 2.1 File 1. Steve (white shirt) ran in Edmonton accompanied by members of the Police Jogging Club and 5000 Edmontonians.

RG-7 Series 2, Sub-series 2.1 File 1. Steve (white shirt) ran in Edmonton accompanied by members of the Police Jogging Club and 5000 Edmontonians.

Today running in Edmonton is mainstream. A quick search on runguides.com for 2018 races in Edmonton yields nearly 100 results. There are numerous running clubs open to everyone and covering a range of fitness levels. Wearable technology and specialized gear is the norm, and thousands will turn out to run or cheer at the Edmonton Marathon. This is all just the latest chapter of a running tradition in Edmonton that is almost as old as the city itself.

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About the Author
Tim O'Grady
Tim began with the City in 2010 as the Graduate Heritage Planner in the Heritage Conservation Unit of Planning and Development. He now works as an archivist at the City of Edmonton Archives, where he spends his days helping to provide access to the millions (literally!) of historic records maintained at the old Prince of Wales Armouries.
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