Going back almost 100 years
EFCL was born out of the need for a unified voice
Thomas P. Malone, a successful Whyte Avenue businessman, became the first EFCL president when it formed in 1921. He also served as an alderman on the Edmonton Town Council at the same time and was involved with his own South Side Community League board.
During the early 1900s, Edmonton was riding a wave of power and wealth, thanks to aggressive entrepreneurs who saw many opportunities in the young city. The successes of these savvy, yet community-minded, entrepreneurs attracted an influx of immigrants that would continue for years, putting increased pressure for land and infrastructure on the city.
In 1912, the population of Edmonton grew from 31,000 to 50,000. Nearly 12,700 people were camped in tents along the riverbanks and the outskirts of the city, so great was the need for housing. By 1914, Edmonton’s population peaked at just over 72,500. With the realization that the city could not afford them, nor could they afford the city, people began to leave. Along came the Spanish flu and World War 1, and population numbers dropped even more.
The reduced population did nothing to alleviate the city’s financial burden. The city took a severe hit with the Great Flood of 1915, plus there had been no growth in industry since prior to the war. However, with the returning solders, there was also a returning sense of optimism despite the incredible need and expectation of the city’s populace.
It was time for a new approach, a new “get ‘er done” attitude and a united “voice” that could compete with those who had the ear of the city – the developers and trade boards. The new approach came from city’s industrial commissioner and U.S. immigrant, George M. Hall.
During the early 1900s, several cities across the U.S. had associations known as City Clubs. These predominately male social clubs met over lunch to discuss local issues and community activities. Hall saw the basic concept of these clubs as a solution to solving many of the problems that plagued new neighbourhoods in terms of lack of community infrastructure and organization. He introduced it to his own new neighbourhood – Jasper Place, which at the time, was located just outside of Edmonton. Based on this ideal, in 1917, Hall would help integrate two groups - Jasper Place Rate Payers and the local horticultural society - to form Edmonton's first community league. We know it today as Crestwood Community league. He would become its first president.
Development of sport programs has always been part of the EFCL mandate. Above, the Jasper Place Community League hockey team (1926).
Original guidelines remain today
The guidelines of the league were to ensure it was inclusive, regardless of class or ethnicity, open to both men and women (well ahead of its time), and did not have any affiliation with any political party or religious order. Its mandate would be on providing civic advocacy on behalf of its community, plus develop social and recreational opportunities and infrastructure. These guidelines and the mandate have never changed and are adopted by each new community league.
By 1920, along with Crestwood, there were nine leagues: Bonnie Doon (1918), South Side (1918, reformed as Scona Centre in 1926), Westmount (1919), Riverdale (1920), West Edmonton (now Calder, formed in 1920), Forest Heights (1920), Calgary Trail (now Allendale, formed in 1920), and Bennett School (now Cloverdale, formed in 1920).
Just as it is today, each community league had its own unique needs and the leagues of the 1920s realized that rather than each trying to reach the ear of the city government, they would do better by being united. In early 1921, the nine leagues met and agreed that a centralized organization, which represented them all, would have a much stronger voice with City Council and other orders of government. Thus, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) was founded on January 24, 1921, with representation from each league on its board.
The executive was made up of Thomas P. Malone as the first EFCL president, Harold Percy Brown, the secretary-treasurer and Canon C.F.A. Clough, the first vice-president. The three were responsible for drafting the bylaws and guiding the EFCL’s objectives of ensuring information was shared among the league members, provide a united civic voice in common interest matters that affected both leagues and the city, promoting educational and recreational programs, plus provide support to the individual leagues when asked or when it was needed. These same objectives guide the EFCL Board today.
It took a bit, but by perseverance and by the leagues continuing to work together, the EFCL established its place with the city as the voice of the people on matters of civic and recreational matters.
When it came to community winter carnivals, you could be sure a Carnival Queen contest and skating were part of the mix. Members of the McKernan community and the newly crowned Carnival Queen, with her attendants, pose for a shot during a carnival in the 1940s.
Conflict brings growth and increased pressure
Life was looking good for both the city and the EFCL, but then came the Great Depression followed by World War II less than a decade later. The EFCL worked with other agencies to help the city in its relief efforts during the depression, and while many parts of Canada struggled through the war years, Edmonton prospered thanks to its geography and became the central hub for allied military training, aircraft maintenance and repair, and the staging area for the Alaskan Highway build.
Community leagues were and are quick to help their neighbours and during WWII, the sense of social consciousness of both the EFCL and the leagues saw them supporting the war efforts on many levels. With the financial help of the EFCL and its members, the city was able to install air raid sirens and intensify safety measures during the war years; the leagues - as a federation and individually - raised funds in support of, among other things, the Red Cross and providing welcome to those fleeing the war, including the evacuee children from England.
The "intentioned" prosperity also brought more people into the area, and combined with the returning veterans, city expansion was in overdrive. With each new neighbourhood being built, a new community league was formed. Advocacy continued, but this time instead of roads and electricity, the EFCL and the leagues went to work to improve policing, firefighting resources and more infrastructure-development, especially with regards to health and educational needs.
During the post-war years, the leagues continued to expand sport, recreational and educational programming, along with social and cultural activities for their community members. As with everything about community leagues, these programs were all run by volunteers. The goal was to provide their communities with programs that cost little to no money for their members to participate, thereby excluding no one.
The EFCL and its league members built the Boysdale Camp, a summer camp for Edmonton's disadvantaged youth in 1949. The camp, located northeast of Edmonton, continued to operate right through to 2003.
While leagues were building better communities through neighbourliness, the EFCL began a project that would focus on a much overlooked part of the populace - the youth of the city, especially the boys. The city’s probation officer at the time, Constable “Doc” McNaughton believed that, “without supervision, some of the boys risked getting into mischief.” McNaughton joined the EFCL and championed the building of the Boysdale Camp, which opened in 1949 and served Edmonton’s youth until 2003.
Another notable city-wide event the EFCL created during this time was the EFCL Talent Show (1952). The talent show continued under the EFCL until 2009. Today, it is known as the Edmonton Youth Talent Show and is produced by the Terwillegar Riverbend Advisory Board with support from the EFCL. By the 1960s, there were 79 community leagues across Edmonton, providing volunteers to run Edmonton’s 52 playschools, maintaining and operating 125 ice rinks, organizing and running 150 fastball and softball teams, 250 hockey teams, plus helped roughly 2,000 children play unorganized inter-league hockey. Not to mention all the other programming leagues offered.
Community leagues had really come into their own as invaluable resources and connectors for community wellness and growth.
In 1986, EFCL president, Brian Sugiyama presented then Mayor Lawrence Decore with a symbolic cheque of what the monetary value would be if the city had to pay for all the work that community league volunteers did in a year. The amount - $1,460,000.00
Important partnerships with Edmonton schools and with the City
Community leagues and Edmonton schools had always worked very closely together through the years, but in 1969, it was the Edmonton community league movement that created the first kindergarten program in Alberta. While this was exciting, it was in 1973 that the EFCL really got a boost. Thanks to a grant from the city, the EFCL was able to hire its first full-time director. Up until that point, everything was still handled by the board, which was all volunteers nominated by the community leagues. The EFCL board also persuaded the city to increase each league’s operating grant to $600 per year.
The mid-70s also brought about a change in the leagues’ objectives in their role as the voice of their communities. No longer did they want to just advocate “after the fact” for improvements, now they wanted to be consulted in the planning of future development of their communities. By the late 70s, there were 118 community leagues in Edmonton which represented a very large portion of the population. The city wisely began involving leagues and the EFCL in a number of planning, zoning and development issues. It was clear to everyone, that through community leagues, citizen input was beginning to influence every aspect of many of Edmonton’s development and growth. This resulted in the city creating Policy C110, a resolution that recognized the EFCL and its league members as an important partner of the local government.
To impress upon adults the reason why community league memberships were so important, in 1967, a group of children put the spotlight on some of the programs they could participate in, and how the financial support helped provide a space (league-built halls) for other youth groups like Brownies.
Always coming up with new ideas
This was also a time when EFCL-led initiatives, which were run by leagues would become so popular, they would eventually become independent associations - groups like Neighbourhood Watch and Block Parents to name a couple. So, too, did the sports programs. By the early 90s, the number of organized sport programs (and participants) was beyond the capacity of league volunteers to handle effectively. It made sense that they too, would become independent with one caveat - you still needed a community league membership to play.
All this “leaving” didn’t stop the EFCL or its member leagues from coming up with new initiatives to continue bringing neighbours together, including creating a Youth Awards program, which recognized the talent and effort put forth by Edmonton’s youth in making the city a better place to live. This program would run for numerous years and honour many of the city’s young people who would later become leaders and major contributors within their own communities and the city.
By the mid-1990s, there were 143 leagues across Edmonton. The volume of members, volunteers and creative ideas on building stronger communities meant that the grass-roots movement that is the “community league way of life” would continue to flourish as community leagues moved into the final quarter of their first 100 years.
In 2004, as part of its birthday celebration, the EFCL once again hosted a soapbox derby on McDougall Hill. The first one was held in September of 1937 and was a favourite event among community leagues and the citizens of Edmonton for many years.
The positive affect of community leagues
Just how much of an impact on Edmontonians and Edmonton did community leagues and its members make in the mid-1990s? By 1996, leagues had built and were managing $64,589,000 in assets - 126 halls, 135 outdoor rinks and 280 playgrounds. Numbers for that year showed the EFCL and its leagues also spent roughly $15 million to operate their programs and services.
In 1998, it was reported that there were 1,700 volunteers serving on community league boards, and roughly 30,000 residents had volunteered their time to help out at events, lead programs and provide other services to their leagues during the operating year. Today, these numbers are even greater, with more assets, more programs and overall - more need for what leagues can provide.
The EFCL and community leagues play an important role in the growth of our city. Members work in partnership with the city on many of the planning needs of today. Some of the bigger issues include developing fair and reasonable regulations for infill development and the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay which affect many leagues; forming a stakeholder committee to guide construction best practices; providing critical input into redevelopment and creation of parks and open spaces within the city.
In 2016, a new event was created that brought community leagues and the entire city together - the 1st Annual Great Neighbour Race.
The movement continues to grow
In 2019, Edmonton Rosenthal became the 158th community league in Edmonton, and with support from the EFCL, Laurel and Big Lake will soon be joining the community league family. Community leagues are incredible; they define what grass-roots government truly is and how this type of ground-level leadership can positively affect the growth of a neighbourhood and the growth of a city.
Our city's community leagues continue to live up to the mandate that was set down by the original nine of building better, stronger communities through inclusion, social action, by-partisanship, recreational and cultural development, and by providing the united voice of their community in the development of their neighbourhoods.
From the beginning, the very nature of community leagues has provided, and continue to provide, a wonderful training ground for future leaders in a wide variety of industries, including government. Several of our current city councillors, including Mayor Don Iveson, all got their start as community league board volunteers.
What is truly amazing is leagues are all still run by volunteers. Consider learning more about the community league in your neighbourhood and ask yourself, “What can I contribute to my league that will help it to continue building the community where I live and that I am proud to call home? How can I become part of this wonderful 100-year-old tradition?”
- Resources: Edmonton Archives, EFCL Archives, Edmonton's Urban Villages (Ron Kuban), Volunteers (Vaughn Bowler, Michael Wanchuk)