Alberta has had cars sine 1901, and in 1907 construction began on the Banff Coach Road, completed in 1909, and by 1913 the first protestors tried to save the National Parks from the ravages of automobile-riding tourists.
By 1922, it was suggested that Alberta’s tar sands, near Fort MacMurray could be used to building tar or gravel-tar roads, with the first test stretch on Fort Saskatchewan Trail in Edmonton. And the first public road with that material in Bon Accord the next year, though it took until the 1950s before hard surfaced all-weather roads were the norm in Alberta.
By 1925, it was proposed that the east west road from Medicine Hat to Calgary to Banff should be called Highway Number 1, though it would be another 30 years before this was made fact.
The road to Jasper was built after two railways connecting Edmonton and points west, the Grand Trunk and the Canadian Northern, ran in to financial difficulty in 1914 and merged into Canadian National (“CN”), leaving one railroad bed unused but quite level and suitable for road building. In 1917, the surplus track was sold to the European war effort. and the road to Edmonton completed
In 1928, the Trackways Company proposed to built toll highways between Calgary and Banff, Calgary and Edmonton, and Calgary to the US border. They proposed entirely new routes, so that users could use existing government roads for free. After four years of repeated lobbying they gave up.
In 1930, all major Alberta roads got numbered form 1 to 16, with 1 given to what used to be the Calgary & Edmonton Trail, and Walsh-Calgary Banff (also known as the King’s International Highway) route became the #1, and the Medicine Hat-Lethbridge-Crowsnest Highway becomes #3.
By the mid 1930s, the Alberta Motor Association was helped by American auto clubs to begin pushing for safer all-weather paved roads. By early 1939, the province approved a plan to put hard surfacing on 1600 kilometers of Alberta roads including Calgary to Edmonton, Calgary to Banff, and Edmonton to Jasper, with work to be completed by the 1940 tourist season,
During the years of World War II, resources were conserved for the war effort, but one highway project stood out: the construction of the America-Canada-Alaska Highway in order to get military supplies up to Alaska, in case of Japanese invasion. This was discussed as early as 1940, but was not fast-tracked until the attack on Pearl Harbour. This 1700 mile (2700kilometer) road was authorized in March 1942 and opened to military traffic that November.
The road ran from existing road just west of Edmonton, through many miles of remote forest and muskeg, all the way to Delta Junction, Alaska. It was a rough and quickly-built road, often corduroy logs over muskeg, and the Alaska Highway we see it today was completed after the war.
In 1941, the Calgary Edmonton highway is reassigned Highway #2, and the main east-west highway assigned #1.
In 1947, oil was discovered at Leduc (just south of Edmonton) and created a boom in economic opportunity and in population. The resource royalties earned by the province allowed it to undertake major projects that had been deferred till now. It also began a major shift to urbanization of the province, and a boom to car ownership.
Oil was first found in the province near Waterton in 1899, but was not found in economic quantities. In 1910 oil was found around Turner Valley, and proven in the famous Dingman well in 1914, leading to major activity through the 1920s and 1930s. After the World War II, major reserves were found around Edmonton and around Lloydminster beginning a boom in Alberta that continues (up and down) to this day.
By the 1950s all new road construction had to include draining culverts, ditches and guard rails had have a standard with to 22 feet (6.7 metres), and that curves needed to account for centrifugal force on cars, passengers, and loads. Packed gravel roads, topped with and inch or so of asphalt (so called “blacktop roads”) allowed cars to travel at the speed of 60 miles and hours (over 90km/h).
Here are some history notes, organized by Itinerary Segment (from west to east):
- Trans-Canada Highway History: Lake Louise to Park Gates
- Trans-Canada Highway History: Park Gates to Calgary
- Trans-Canada Highway History: Calgary Route Details
- Trans-Canada Highway History: Calgary to Medicine Hat
More Trans-Canada Highway History
The highway between Calgary and Edmonton was originally designated the #1 in Alberta, with the east west road through Calgary designated the #2. These were swapped after the passage of federal funding for the Trans-Canada Highway, so the highway would have the same numbering across all Western provinces, from Manitoba to British Columbia.
The entire route is now a divided 4 lane expressway throughout the province, with the winning of the final 8.5 km (5.3 mi) of Highway 1 between Lake Louise and the British Columbia border completed by Parks Canada in 2014). Even Calgary’s busy 16th Ave thoroughfare can now be bypassed using the Stoney Trail #201 ring road.