William Magrath & the Development of the Highlands

MacGrath MansionOne of the most interesting things about William Magrath, one of the two developers of the Highlands community, is that he challenged a prevalent theory of the day (early 1900’s), in which classy neighbourhoods were supposedly built in the west end of cities. He cited many other cities that had built prestige neighbourhoods to the east: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Oakland, Spokane and many others. To this day, the Highlands is known for its beautiful historic homes,  tree – lined streets,  and proximity to the river valley, a testament to the vision of one man.

So who was this man? William J. Magrath was well known in Edmonton at the turn of the 20th century. He was senior partner in the real estate firm of Magrath-Holgate & Co. Ltd., brought industry to Edmonton, owned a baseball franchise, and had political aspirations.


Picture of William Magrath, City of Edmonton Archives

Born in Ontario in 1870, Magrath married his wife Ada there in 1894, but like many, he was drawn to the West and moved to Edmonton with Ada and son Adrian in 1904. With his partner, Bidwell Holgate, he purchased 23 lots from land owner, John McDougall in order to build this new exclusive area east of the city (although this was only one of his projects in the burgeoning town of Edmonton).

The partners’ new subdivision was not controlled by legal restrictions as was the case in the west part of Edmonton. Instead Magrath controlled the building that took place in this elite neighbourhood by only selling lots to those whose homes would cost $3000 and more to construct.

Magrath built his mansion, a three-storey, 14-room red brick estate in 1912.  Complete with a ballroom, billiards chamber and indoor swimming pool, an invitation to 6249 Ada Blvd. was coveted by the city’s elite.

Although Magrath was successful in his real estate ventures, he was less successful in his bids to become a politician. He died in 1920 at the age of 51. His home is Highland’s crowning jewel to this very day.

He eventually made his fortune and built the magnificent home that you see in the above picture.

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