Based on an article originally written in 1985. The Prince George Chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women have published the book, pictured here, and updated it to recognize Prince George's centennial. The book is available at the Prince George Public Library and at local bookstores.
The location of downtown Prince George was established following a rivalry between the frontier communities of South Fort George and Central Fort George. Each vied to be the location where the station and town site would be constructed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR). The developers of these two communities, anticipating the arrival of the GTPR, had street plans surveyed in the fall of 1909 and lots were available for purchase the following year.
However, the railway was not prepared to have other developers profit from the arrival of the railway. Even though the flat gravel beds underlying Central Fort would have been the best building location, the GTPR maneuvered to obtain its own site. In May, 1912, the railway purchased 1366 acres comprising the Fort George Indian Reserve for $125,000. This area is now downtown Prince George.
The GTPR commissioned the Boston architectural firm of Brett, Hall & Co. to design a town plan based upon a topographic map and a brief visit to the site by the architects in September, 1912.
The town plan was created in Boston that fall and transposed onto the site in the spring of 1913 by Fred Burden, a local surveyor. The site was then cleared, lots were sold, and buildings began to be erected in early 1914. By the end of that summer, Prince George had become a recognizable town although it wasn't chartered and named until March, 1915.
The Brett & Hall plans for Prince George display design elements that were inspired by the "City Beautiful" planning movement that was popular in the United States around the turn of the century.
The principles were first displayed in the layout of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. City Beautiful design showed a strong geometric aspect thought to derive from the boulevards of Paris which were created about 1850. Vistas along broad, straight avenues were often terminated by major civic buildings, or by circular roads and traffic circles which enclosed decorative parks and gardens.
In Prince George, the gridiron of downtown streets was set off true north/south in order to align it with the railroad tracks. George Street was planned as the main commercial thoroughfare, terminated at the north end by a small park defined by short diagonal streets, the railway station and a major hotel. Octagon-shaped Princess Square containing city hall terminated the south end. Brett & Hall considered George Street to be a "splendid axis" for the city.
Another element of the plan was a parkway, Patricia Boulevard, which gently curved past Connaught Park. Parkways were a favourite feature of plans by F.L. Olmsted who used them in his design for Central Park in New York and in Boston.
Leading westward at a right angle to George Street, was Seventh Avenue, another major thoroughfare. Seventh Avenue terminated in Duchess Park at the centre of the "crescents." The crescents were four concentric, semi-circular streets which symmetrically surrounded Duchess Park on the west and neatly terminated the vistas along the straight portions of Third to Eleventh Avenues. The crescents were intended to form a prestigious neighbourhood in which the streets curved along natural topographic benches, adding views and variety to the residences.
Thus, the plan for Prince George was a contrast to the usual gridiron of streets common at the turn of the century. It had curved and diagonal roads, a traffic circle, parks and parkways, and a distinctive pattern that stands out even today on a map of the downtown. Despite the British flavour of the street names, Prince George emerged in the Canadian frontier from the imagination of American designers. They sought to create a manifestation of the City Beautiful movement and the result is indeed a beautiful city.