Naming of Roads in Blackburne Creek
Perhaps residents of Blackburne sometimes wonder why the roads in the neighbourhood are spelled differently (with no “e”). One of the jobs of the City’s “Naming Committee” is to name roads for noted Edmontonians. In Blackburne most of them are named after John Hiram Blackburn, my father. e.g. Blackburn Road West (and East), Blackburn Close, Blackburn Place. When I was called in 1989 by a chairperson of the Committee to inform me of their decision to honour my father in this way, I was grateful but expressed concern that it might be confusing to have the two spellings of Blackburn(e). She assured me the “e” would no doubt soon be dropped, but obviously that hasn’t happened.
I thought you might like to know a bit about the man your roads are named after. John Blackburn had a varied and interesting life, accomplishing much in his 76 years before he died in 1972.
He was born in Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1895. When he was16 he immigrated with his family to Alberta to settle on a farm near Tofield. In 1917 he married a Norwegian neighbour girl, Palma Olson, and together they bought a farm east of Lavoy, Alberta. They had four children, but very sadly a 4-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter died just five years apart, one in 1929, the other in 1934. Farming in the1930s was a constant struggle and they carried considerable debt. To augment their income and pay off some debts John started selling small life insurance policies to his neighbours.
When World War 2 ended he was discharged from the Air Force and John returned home, sold the farm, moved his family to Edmonton, and focussed on his career in insurance. He became an estate planner and occasionally lectured at the University of Alberta. His successes led him to being elected Chairman of the Canadian Life Underwriters’ Association. To honour his memory, in 1972, the Edmonton Life Underwriters Association established the John H Blackburn Award which was awarded each year to an outstanding agent.
When 15, on his way with his uncle to a fair in Dayton Ohio, he was bitten by the “flying bug”. His great luck was to watch Orville, one of the Wright brothers, rev up the motor of a small open-air biplane, taxi at about 35 miles an hour on a flat piece of farm pasture and take off. John never recovered from the thrill of seeing it become airborne. After John was married, he took a few flying lessons in Edmonton. He never lost his passion for flying and was greatly disappointed that he wasn’t trained as a pilot when he served in the Air Force in both the First and Second World Wars. However, in1945 he entered a flying competition and won the Webster Trophy for the “best amateur pilot in Canada”, quite an achievement!
As an author, John wrote two books, typing with two fingers on an Underwood, non-electric typewriter. He self-published “The Blackburn Story”. His second, “Land of Promise”, was published by Macmillan of Canada. In the latter, he wrote about the trials and tribulations and sometimes joys of life on the farm. Dr. Walter Johns, then president of the University of Alberta, critiqued it as a “great contribution to the history of farm life in Alberta”.
John was an active member of the Edmonton community as exemplified by his work as a member and president of the Lions Club, and a dedicated member of Knox United Church. He was always willing to help a neighbour or people in need. For his clients he often supplied a hospital bed or special lifts required and was a frequent visitor to the homebound. He was a mentor to many, young and old.
My dad was a family man, proud of his children and especially his grandchildren. Friends enjoyed his hospitality. He had a unique sense of humour, wrote wonderful letters and enjoyed reading and travelling. He was competitive, loved playing games and was a great fan of the Edmonton Eskimos, never missing a home game.
In the last paragraph of Land of Promise John wrote:
“Customs and conditions have changed greatly over time but the eternal verities of honour, fair dealing and love for others remain constant, beacons to light our path to universal peace.”
-Respectfully submitted by Betty Blackburn Mullen