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The Early History

During the 1800’s, the area that you now know as Mill Woods was inhabited by the Papachase Indian reserve. When the reserve was abandoned, the area became known as Brudefeld, which was an agricultural settlement. Most of the settlers came mostly from Germany and Russia. They arrived in the 1800’s to start a new life in the Mills Wood area. While living there, they ran a communal farm. Many of the settlers had ties to the Moravian and the Bruederheim Chruch.

A Budding New Neighborhood

In 1969, the City of Edmonton was trying to meet the growing need for affordable housing. It was then that it began its annexation of lands throughout the Bruederfeld area. In 1970, the city joined forces with the Alberta Housing Corp. The two created a development plan and began purchasing close to nine square miles of land which equaled to over 4,425 acres from private owners in Southeast Edmonton to create Mill Woods. It got the name from Mill Creek which drained the area.

Cheap Houses and Fast Growth

In 1971, 50-foot unserviced lots in Mill Woods were being sold for $2,200. This price was much lower than in other areas that were in development south of downtown at the time. The cost of lands in Dickinsfield was between $3,800 and $4,500. Land in Thorncliff cost between $5,000 and $5,5000. The same size piece of land in Duggan cost around $6,000. About 1,000 people applied for the right to buy one of the 194 lots available. To decide who would be eligible, the city drew names. The city intended to get the income from the land that they bought and then to buy more land elsewhere, however, the city never bought any extra land. This was because there was no guarantee that the city could annex any outlying area. Land banking became obsolete. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation collaborated with the Alberta Housing Corporation so that they could subsidize interest rates for low-income home buyers.

In the early years, there were several challenges with the infrastructure such as public transit, the sewage system, roads, and the lack of mail delivery. There were also issues with the schools and recreation facilities. The development of Mill Woods went much faster than most people expected. There was only a ten year supply of land remaining when they anticipated 20 years. This was when the city started revising the servicing standards by reducing the number of sidewalks on both sides of the street, curbs, etc.

Starting in 1973, housing coops were being built in the area. In 1976, the Keegano Housing Coop was developed with residents from every age group and from every walk of life. Also in 1976, the Salvador Housing Coop was built. It was made up of mostly Chilean refugees. By 1978, 70 percent of the population of Mill Woods were people under the age of 30. This was high considering that the average in other cities was about 26 percent. Like other neighborhoods where the demographic was younger than the average demographic, there were concerns. People worried about juvenile vandalism and amenities for young people. These worries began to arise when the population of Mill Woods reached 30,000.

In 1981, the oil boom ended abruptly. This was due to the significant decrease in oil prices on the international market. It was also due to the introduction of the National Energy Program. In 1986, the collapse of world oil prices and massive government cutbacks prevented the city from making a full economic recovery. It remained this way until the late 1990’s.
In the early 1980’s, the growth was slow due to a downturn in the economy, and it accelerated again in the late 1980’s. By early 1987, 65,000 residents were living in the community. By 2003, that number exceeded 86,000! The running joke in Mill Woods is that if it separated from Edmonton, it would have become Alberta’s 3rd largest city.

Cultural Diversity

Early on, Mill Woods lots were being sold mostly to young families from Edmonton. They were also being sold to migrant workers from Eastern Canada who moved to Edmonton for work. In the 1970’s, Edmonton’s economy was booming. The population grew from 429,750 to 521,000. The neighborhood’s cultural diversity developed due to changes in Canada’s changes in their immigration policy and specific events in distant areas of the world.

In 1967, Canada adopted a merit-based system for determining immigration that led to more and more immigrants from various countries being able to come to Canada. They began to take advantage of the economic opportunities many came to escape events that were occurring in other countries that dictated where these immigrants originated from. This included the 1972 expulsion of Ugandans of Indian origin, The 1973 coup in Chili, the emigration of Sikhs from Punjab, and other South Asians from Pakistan which occurred in the early 70’s. Finally, between 1979 and 1980, the ethnic Chinese “boat people” arrived from Vietnam. Each of these events shaped the neighborhood. Many of these people ended up in Mill Woods because the housing was affordable. Others followed their friends and countrymen.

By 1989, 30 percent of the population was made up of people who were visible minorities. It was then referred to as the “global village” and a “cultural rainbow.” If Mill Woods were a city, the population would make it the 3rd largest city in Alberta.

Impact

As Mill Woods grew, Edmonton benefited greatly. Revenues from the Mill Wood development were invested in the Mill Woods Reserve Fund. This provided $118 million to finance a variety of city-wide projects and initiatives. This fund even loaned the city the money to purchase Chancery Hall, Century Place, and the New City Hall.

Read more about the great city of Edmonton in our posts about Strathcona and the West End.

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