Edmonton’s Pedway: The Growth Years

This is the second part in a series of posts looking at the past, present, and future of Edmonton’s pedway network.

The pedway system we know today was largely built in the 1980s. According to the Edmonton Journal in 1990, projects with an estimated value of $679 million were completed between 1983 and 1989 downtown, including $20 million on Jasper Avenue, Rice Howard Way, and the pedway system.

One of the biggest projects was the extension of the LRT line, with construction on Bay and Corona stations beginning in 1980. Subterranean downtown Edmonton must have seemed like paradise in those days, because the LRT construction had an extremely large impact on downtown. Jasper Avenue was under construction for years, and that harmed businesses as much if not more than West Edmonton Mall (which first opened in 1981).

LRT Construction 1980s
Downtown construction, photo by ETS

It wasn’t just the LRT being built though. Of the roughly 40 buildings downtown connected to the pedway, half were built between 1974 and 1984. More buildings were constructed in Edmonton during the 70s than any other decade. It’s no surprise then that the pedway grew significantly during the latter part of this period and in the years immediately following it (as pedway construction tended to lag building construction).

Following the completion of Edmonton Centre in 1974, a series of office towers followed. TD Tower opened in 1976, with the Sutton Place Hotel (Four Seasons Hotel) and 101 Street Tower (Oxford Tower) following in 1978. All three had connections to the pedway built. The Citadel Theatre and Sun Life Place also opened in 1978, and the Stanley Milner Library, constructed in 1967, was first added to the pedway network that year. Canadian Western Bank Place, HSBC Place, and the Standard Life Building all opened in 1980. ATCO Centre and Enbridge Place opened in 1981, followed by Bell Tower and Scotia Place in 1982. Manulife Place and the Shaw Conference Centre opened in 1983. Canada Place capped off a busy period of construction in 1986.

Pedway connections were often added years after a building was first completed. Scotia Place was connected via an above-ground bridge in 1990 when Commerce Place (Olympia & York) opened (though it already had an below-ground connection). The Royal Bank Building, built in 1965, didn’t get a pedway connection until April 1993, one month after an above-ground pedway was built connecting Manulife Place and Edmonton City Centre (Eaton’s Centre). Construction of these connections did not always go smoothly. The bridge connecting City Centre and Manulife was delayed for a variety of reasons, but one was that the hallway from City Centre did not line up with existing “knock-out” panels that Manulife Place had for future pedway construction. That meant blasting through a wall that was not designed to be opened. Still, the bridge came in at a relatively inexpensive $200,000 (the typical above-ground bridge could cost up to $500,000 at the time).

Downtown Pedway c. 1980
Existing & Approved pedway connections, ~1980

Downtown wasn’t the only place pedway-like connections were being built. A $64 million renovation of the Alberta Legislature grounds took place from 1978 to 1982, and one of the key features was an extensive underground pedway system. In the spring of 1985, the Business Building opened on the University of Alberta campus with an above-ground connection to Tory and HUB Mall. It would eventually be connected to the larger system in August 1992 when the University LRT Station opened featuring a below-ground connection to the Dental-Pharmacy Centre and above-ground bridge to HUB Mall.

Though connections continue to be added today, many Edmontonians considered the pedway “complete” in 1990 after two key projects. The first was the extension of the LRT to Grandin Station in 1989, finally linking the downtown pedway network with the Legislature pedway network. The second was much more controversial.

The pedway linking Edmonton Centre and Churchill LRT Station was often called “the final link” in the pedway network. When the City first put the project out for tender, no bid came in at the budgeted amount of $4.9 million. The lowest bid was 14% higher, bringing the cost to $6.2 million. The original design called for a glass wall and an amphitheatre under Churchill Square, in addition to the removal of 16 elm trees. Council requested that the design be tweaked and re-tendered. That delayed the project, but the plan worked. The pedway we know today was designed by MB Engineering Ltd. and constructed by Chandros Construction Ltd., right on the original $4.9 million budget.

Edmonton Centre contributed $600,000 of the budget, and insisted on the skylights and planter boxes. Jim Charuk, Edmonton VP of Oxford Development Group, said at the time that anything less would have become a “people sewer.” The pedway connection first opened for Christmas shoppers on December 14, 1990. It closed during January 1991 so that finishing touches could be put on the project. The pedway officially opened to the public on February 18, 1991.

With the addition of City Hall in 1992, the Winspear Centre in 1997, and the Art Gallery of Alberta in 2010, the downtown pedway network has continued to grow. But today’s network was largely built in the 80s, and it shows.