The River Valley region is the city’s most scenic, and its story is the story of Edmonton’s earliest years.
The River’s Green Gem
Out of Edmonton’s three historic river valley neighbourhoods, Cloverdale stands as one of the smallest but most beautiful communities today. Cloverdale is located just south of the North Saskatchewan River, bounded by Connors Road and the Low Level Bridge to the southwest and Strathearn Drive to the southeast.
Though located just across from the downtown core, Cloverdale itself is a relatively quiet community with an astonishing amount of plant life. Many trees, green spaces, and a community garden add to the neighbourhood’s wide-open feel, making it a good spot for nature lovers—or anyone who just wants to soak in a little peace.
The Early Days
Though small compared to many other city neighbourhoods, Cloverdale holds some of the city’s most prominent history.
Before Cloverdale was Cloverdale, that particular stretch along the North Saskatchewan River was called Gallagher Flats, named for one of Edmonton’s earliest entrepreneurs. Cornelius Gallagher came to Edmonton from New Brunswick in 1891, buying a river lot and setting up a meat packing business.
After establishing himself, Gallagher became Edmonton’s third mayor in 1896, where he earned the dubious distinction of an extremely short term in office—he lasted just 48 days until a new election was called, where he chose to run as an alderman.
Edmonton maintained steady development along the River Valley until June 1915, when the North Saskatchewan River flooded and swept away homes and businesses along the riverbanks. Cornelius Gallagher had been retired for over three years at this point, but the community he had given his name was gone.
The city’s efforts at recovery and rebuilding took many years, but Gallagher’s Flats, now renamed Cloverdale, found a new spirit as a place where nature can thrive within the city.
Cloverdale’s most prominent feature is also the most immediately recognizable part of the Edmonton skyline: the Muttart Conservatory. Its four glass pyramids, designed by architect Peter Hemingway, are home to climate-controlled nature displays with plant specimens from desert, tropical, and temperate climates.
The Conservatory itself was built as a memorial to Gladys and Merrill Muttart, married Edmonton businesspeople known for their philanthropy. The Muttart Foundation, which carries on their work, operates in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as nationally. Its focus was and remains on improving early childcare and strengthening the charitable sector overall.
(Tip: Don’t breathe too deeply if you happen to visit the Conservatory while the corpse flower is blooming.)
Cloverdale’s Gallagher Park, the neighbourhood’s largest open green space, is the chosen venue for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Founded in 1980 by Don Whalen, the Festival was initially hosted at a different location. However, a lack of funding forced the Festival’s producers to seek out other potential homes, and Cloverdale welcomed the Folk Music Festival with open arms.
Since 1981, many famous musicians have headlined at the Festival, including Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, Loreena McKennitt, Shakey Graves, and The Decemberists. Gallagher Park’s natural slope makes for great natural acoustics, and magical nights of music for four days every summer.
The Bennett Environmental Education Centre of Edmonton was originally Bennett School, built in 1912. The school closed in 1973 but reopened in 1981 as a public resource for public schools looking for a field trip destination. The Bennett Centre is also open to day retreats and rentals, as well as weddings and overnight accommodations.
The Centre’s most notable extracurricular option for children is the Young Writers’ Camp, which is carried out in partnership with YouthWrite. This organization, founded by author and teacher Gail Sidonie Sobat, is focused on giving young writers a chance to meet others like them and to learn techniques from experienced authors in an environment where creativity can flourish without restriction.
The Young Writers’ Camp has an age range of Grades 4 to 9 and typically runs in February or March of every year.
Cloverdale is continuing to develop itself into a sustainable community. Central to this effort is the Abundant Community initiative, which has the goal of building stronger social connections between neighbours and facilitating access to community resources.
At the time of writing, Cloverdale has also just upgraded its community league to be more environmentally friendly with help from the Eco-Solar Home Tour, a volunteer organization that assesses homes and businesses to make recommendations on improving energy efficiency and sustainable building practices.
The Cloverdale Community League hall now has a new lease on life, and the League’s administrators hope that other communities will follow its example and adopt a newer, more environmentally friendly approach to community-building.
The Final Word
Cloverdale is a place in Edmonton where nature thrives. It is a quiet place in the beating heart of the city, filled with history and natural beauty. Whether you enjoy nature and use it as a creative muse or just want a quiet place to come home to at the end of your day, Cloverdale is the home you need.