The House that John Built

Edmonton Community Foundation is pleased to participate in Historic Festival & Doors Open Edmonton 2020.

Look Up, Look Way Up…

High above the river valley on 103 Street between 99 and 100 Avenues is the ECF office. Most would not know that the brick, two-storey building is there unless it was pointed out, but Hilltop House, as it is known, holds a lot of history.

Last year ECF took part in the Historic Festival & Doors Open Edmonton as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.  The festival, hosted by Edmonton and District Historical Society, allowed us to show off the home of John C. McDougall and his wife Sophie. Approximately 130 visitors were met by staff portraying John and Sophie and learned that the home is still largely as it was in 1915.

This year we are pleased to present a virtual tour with a few very special guests. In preparation for the event we did our homework (pun intended) and hired former City of Edmonton historian laureate Shirley Lowe to help us find out more about the house. Lowe was able to connect us with living relatives of the McDougalls, providing a multitude of stories of real life at Hilltop House.

The House That John Built

Hilltop House was built in 1913 for John C. and Sophie, but before that, there had been a home on the land where John C. was raised.  When John C.’s father John A. McDougall, former Edmonton mayor, MLA, and well-known business owner, decided to build a new home, he gifted the land to his son. The land was originally purchased (or possibly traded) from the Hudson’s Bay company in 1880.

 McDougall and Secord

John C. worked in his father’s business, McDougall and Secord, general merchants, who bought and sold furs, land, and supplies.  The second partner in the business was Richard Secord, the grand nephew of Laura Secord, the Canadian heroine of the War of 1812.  Secord was the first public-school teacher in Edmonton, but left to work with John A.

Life and Activity in Hilltop House

John C. and Sophie had two children, Eleanor and Jack. Hilltop was a popular gathering place for Edmonton gentry for teas, parties, dinners, and social activities. John C. regularly hosted the “Keg of the Month Club” in the den.

Edmonton Transforms

This was a time of great transformation for Edmonton that included the construction of the High Level Bridge, which was completed in 1913, connecting land on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River. Two years later the worst flood in Edmonton’s recorded history displaced 2,000 people. Hotel MacDonald opened its doors that year, and reshaped the skyline with its grandeur. Edmonton’s population took a hit with men off fighting in the First World War, and by a global influenza pandemic.

Hilltop is symbolic of the foundation of Edmonton, standing strong, overlooking the river valley, as Edmonton grew up around it. We invite you to join us for Doors Open Edmonton in the future and see this hidden gem for yourself.