James Gibbons (1837-1933) was one of the earliest pioneers in Edmonton, Alberta. He is described as one of Edmonton’s “more colourful individuals”.2 No wonder. Gibbons was a prospector, hunter, fur trader, and farmer.1
Gibbons was born in Holly Hill, Donegal Ireland on Christmas day 1837. He immigrated to America in 1856 and to Edmonton in the mid-1860s following reports of gold discoveries in the area and the North Saskatchewan River. For the first nine years of his immigration to North America, he took part in gold rushes in California, British Columbia, Idaho and Montana. Together with his partners, he invented a sluice box that would separate river sand and gravel from gold particles.
From his arrival in Edmonton through to his retirement from the position of Indian Agent at Stony Plain in 1908, Gibbons played a variety of roles in the economic and administrative life of Edmonton.
He started farming in Edmonton in 1878 and became a prominent landowner. In fact, some of the land he owned included what has today become Laurier Park and the Edmonton Valley Zoo. After 1891, he conducted business in a more stable manner with less travel, activities in a less itinerant manner. He operated a wholesale liquor store until he was appointed Indian Agent at Stony Plain in 1896. Following his retirement in 1908, he purchased the property for the construction of his house that was completed in 1911.
The Gibbons Residence is modelled after Georgian Revival residential designs that were popular across Canada and the United States from the 1880s through to 1915. Characteristics of this classically derived style in the brick Gibbons house include its symmetry, its hipped roof, the broad overhand with brackets under the eaves, a central doorway and a veranda supported by twin box columns.
Gibbons’ career and his retirement home thus reflect the transition of Edmonton from a fur trade outpost under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) to an emerging urban centre in the new province of Alberta. Today, there is a town and public school named after Gibbons.
1- Edmonton Maps Heritage: http://www.edmontonmapsheritage.ca/location/gibbons-residence/
2- James Gibbons School: http://jamesgibbons.epsb.ca/aboutourschool/schoolphilosophy/
3- Heritage Resources Management Information System (HeRMIS): https://hermis.alberta.ca/ARHP/Details.aspx?DeptID=1&ObjectID=4665-0692
1- James Gibbons School: http://jamesgibbons.epsb.ca/aboutourschool/schoolphilosophy/
2- Edmonton Maps Heritage: http://www.edmontonmapsheritage.ca/location/gibbons-residence/