The original Founders’ Walk opened in 1988 and followed a combination of two traditional paths from downtown St. Albert to the Mission Hill. One was a walking trail straight up from the downtown chapel, past the Little White School, to the top of the hill. A well-worn path, once covered in a boardwalk, this path traced its roots to the earliest days of the Mission. The other was a portion of the former Memorial Drive, a tree-lined motor way to the Mission that curved gracefully from the chapel east to Madonna Drive and then along St. Vital Avenue. Originally opened in 1929 when Mission Park was created, Memorial Avenue was closed in the 1960’s when Madonna Drive was opened to traffic through to St. Vital Avenue.
The original Walk was proposed by Mayor Richard Fowler and received the enthusiastic support of the St. Albert Historical Society. The City constructed the Walk and planted spruce trees along the route to honour the first pioneer families – much like the builders of Memorial Drive had planted poplars to honour the veterans of the St. Albert Mounted Rifles and the WWI – and the trail was covered in shale. The Historical Society contacted descendants of pioneer families asking for their approval and support. Each family who accepted the invitation was memorialized by a bronze plaque placed at the base of one of the spruce trees. Thus, a revitalized pedestrian way to the Mission was born.
A wonderful initiative; however, the shale surface proved to be less than ideal. It promoted water erosion and attracted weeds, creating a maintenance nightmare and eventually becoming an eyesore rather than an attraction.
In 2005 the Historical Society made a presentation to Council suggesting that a refurbishment of Founders’ Walk, with a possible extension into downtown, would make an ideal 150th anniversary legacy project for the community. Accepting the premise, Council directed City administration to investigate the proposal. The result was five years of extensive planning and construction leading to an official opening of the new Founders’ Walk in July, 2011.
Founders’ Walk now extends from the clock tower to the Mission. Storyboards along the route describe the community’s history. The Walk includes Founders’ Court downtown, a pedestrian promenade (pictured above) in Mission Park and a replica of the archway (pictured above) which once marked the entrance to Memorial Drive. The Walk is fully paved and is universally accessible.
The St. Albert Historical Society was an integral part of the planning and financing of Founder’s Walk. From the earliest brainstorming sessions to the detailed planning stages, the Historical Society was present and involved. In addition, the Historical Society was successful in obtaining a federal Legacy Grant in the maximum amount of $500,000, thus contributing nearly one half of the total $1.2 million cost of the project.
The St. Albert Historical Society is proud to have been associated with the construction of Founders’ Walk.