Skip to content

The Burger King Drive-Inn: A Completely Unnecessary History

Dylan Robertson (2L)

In the one-and-a-half years that I have spent as a citizen of Edmonton, there have been a few things which have stuck out to me as strange about this city.

First, despite being the vacation destination of my childhood dreams, I never visit West Edmonton Mall. In fact, I kind of hate having to go there.

Second, this city thinks that hiring Ken Hitchcock as a head coach is something to celebrate in 2018.

Lastly, I have noticed that there is a strange lack of Burger Kings in this city. If you think that is a strange observation, you’re absolutely right: I am a weird person.

For a city of well over a million people, Edmonton only has five Burger Kings. In comparison, my fair city of Saskatoon – which is four times smaller than Edmonton, mind you – has five. Given that this city is also the host of more Burger Barons than Alberta Health Services regulations allows, it certainly isn’t because this is a health-conscious city.

As I sat in my parents’ basement over Christmas vacation with nothing to do, I decided to do some digging and see if I could uncover any explanation for why the city has so few Burger Kings. To my amazement, I actually did find something which might help explain it. Even better, that explanation is also slightly legal in nature. To put it simply, the reason Edmonton has so few Homes for the Whopper may be because of an intellectual property issue.

Burger King as we know it today first expanded to Canada in 1969, but prior to this Edmonton was already home to its own Burger King franchise of restaurants. Formally known as the Burger King Drive-Inn, the company – which was founded in 1956 by Bill Jarvis and Jim Rae – was well established by the time other international fast food restaurants – such as McDonald’s – began expanding into Edmonton in the mid-70s. Because the company predated the American Burger King’s expansion into Canada, Jarvis and Rae originally owned the nationwide rights to the name until they reached an agreement in 1973: Jarvis and Rae would sell the rights to the Burger King name to the American company, but would retain exclusive usage of the name in Northern Alberta. While the rest of the country gorged themselves on questionably cheap chicken nuggets and spent an unreasonable amount of the 80s trying to find a balding man named Herb, Northern Alberta was the only major market in North America not to have an American Burger King franchise.

The licencing deal lasted all the way from the Drive-Inn’s heyday in the mid-70s, where they had over a dozen locations, to 1995 when the Edmonton-based franchise consisted of two remaining restaurants. That year, Jarvis and Rae would finally relinquish the rights to the Burger King name in exchange for a tidy sum of one million dollars. While they immediately announced plans following the sale to open some restaurants in the area, their status as a latecomer to a city already saturated with McDonald’s, Wendy’s and A&W may help explain why there are still so few Burger Kings located in this city. They have simply been unable to gain a foothold in a competitive market: in Edmontonian terms, they’re the Oilers of the fast food world.

So what was the food like at the Burger King Drive-Inn? According to the sources that I have read, it was akin to the offerings you might find at a Burger Baron today: customizable burgers drowning in mushrooms, ice cream-based milkshakes, and for a brief period before they became their own franchise, Kentucky Fried Chicken. While those types of offerings may not fit in with the current fast food scene, the Drive-Inn remains a unique and obscure piece of Edmonton history. You can still see some original locations around the city, such as the now-Burger Baron on 9501 111 Avenue (which I’m pretty sure is closed, but you can never tell with them).

As a final piece of trivia, there is one case on CanLII in which the Burger King Drive-Inn was a party. The judge that heard the case was Justice McDonald.