John Walter had a strong sense of community participation from the time he first arrived in Edmonton. His participation, often understated and quiet, was in keeping with his generous yet humble nature.
As a successful businessman, John would have been expected to
enter public office in a developing community. However, his time in
office was brief, as he probably found politics to not be to his liking.
His first act was in 1892. Along with Matt McCauley and Alexander Rutherford, Walter initiated the development of the first South Edmonton School Board and also became a chairman. Their efforts helped to establish School District #216 and the construction of a new school. This school was a one room building for which the board raised $800 to build and Walter donated lumber to. Classes started in January 1893.
Walter also served as an Alderman on the first Strathcona Town Council in 1899. He was elected to his seat through 700 voters choosing between 16 men. Walter served for 1 year, and then stepped down from public office.
Out of the Public, But for the Public
Though he stepped down from public office, Walter did stay
involved in the growing Strathcona community. He sat on the Hospital
Board and also the Strathcona Rink Association, formed in 1904 to raise
money to build a covered rink to compete against Edmonton’s Thistle
Rink. Walter was also a member of the Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1654
founded in 1894. It is likely that he contributed the lumber to the
building of the Lodge.
Walter was a strong advocate for the interests of the Walterdale community. Up above the river banks, Strathcona developed quite rapidly. Walterdale was somewhat physically removed from the main part of Strathcona and the community was often neglected in terms of receiving the same amenities as the rest of the city. Walter went to Strathcona council several times to represent the community’s needs and tried to ensure that the residents of Walterdale were well looked after. The fact that in 1907 the community’s residents chose the name Walterdale speaks to Walter’s character and participation.
In 1910-12, the big topic of conversation was whether the cities of Edmonton and Strathcona should amalgamate. Those in favour of amalgamation formed the Strathcona Ratepayer Association. John Walter was part of the committee of prominent Strathconians - such as Mayor Arthur Davies, John Joseph Duggan, Alexander Rutherford, William H. Sheppard – that helped negotiate the details of the amalgamation agreement. The two cities became one on February 1, 1912.
The Quiet Side
Though an active businessman and community volunteer,
Walter’s character truly shines in the smaller offerings that he
constantly made. While working as a carpenter at Fort Edmonton, John
also found time to whipsaw the lumber for the ceiling of the McDougall
Church. His work can still be seen today as McDougall Church, the oldest
building still standing in Edmonton, is on display at Fort Edmonton
Walter gave free ferry service to anyone going to any religious service on Sundays. He was also known to give free lumber to community organizations such as churches and schools. He opened his homes to travellers in need and during the 1915 flood he risked his own losses to help his neighbours.
His sense of community continued on through the generations of the Walter family. Walter family members continued their involvement in the Edmonton community by donating photographs and objects to the City Museum and Archives and participating at the John Walter Museum.