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Allan Merrick Jeffers

Alberta Legislature Construction

Allan Merrick Jeffers was not born in Alberta, nor did he live in the province for a particularly long time (no more than sixteen years), but his involvement in Alberta's architectural development in the early 20th Century produced some of its most distinguished buildings, including the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton.

Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Jeffers was schooled in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, and later worked at the Rhode Island State Legislature. Around this time, Jeffers entered and won a number of architectural design competitions, garnering widespread prestige for the young architect. Soon, Jeffers' work attracted the attention of Alberta's first premier, Alexander Rutherford, who hired him to design the province's Legislature Building. Jeffers moved to Alberta in 1907, marking the beginning of a five-year, four million dollar construction project undertaken almost entirely by hand, that used close to two thousand tonnes of marble imported from Quebec, Belgium, Pennsylvania, and Italy. As an homage to the province's cultural heritage, the site chosen for the building's construction was the former site of Fort Edmonton - one of the major fur-trading outposts of Western Canada dating back to the 18th Century.

Calgary Normal School

Despite this colossal undertaking, Jeffers was not hard-pressed for inspiration regarding the Legislature's design layout. Premier Rutherford and his Public Works Minister, W.H. Cushing, allegedly told Jeffers that he should design a building very similar to Minnesota's state legislative building in St. Paul, which the two had just recently visited. Other sources speculate that the Alberta government building's design was also influenced by the Rhode Island State Legislature in Jeffers' own hometown. Given the prevalence of the French Beaux-Arts style influencing the design of North American government buildings at the time, it is no surprise that many shared certain neo-classical features, such as a grand portico supported by massive pillars. The Alberta Legislature was finally opened in 1912, at the hand of the Duke of Connaught, Canada's Governor General at the time, and continues to stand in the same spot today after several renovations.

That same year, Allan Merrick Jeffers was named City Architect, and had started or already completed work on a number of other municipal and provincial projects, including the Wetaskiwin Provincial Courthouse (1907), Athabasca Hall at the University of Alberta (1911), Calgary Normal School (1908), Edmonton's Civic Block and Courthouse (1912-1914, since demolished), and the city's first telephone exchange centers.

Jeffers continued to work in Edmonton until 1923, when, abruptly, he departed the city for Prince Rupert, BC, and then moved to California. Some speculate that Jeffers left Alberta due to a lack of contracts for large public buildings following the postwar recession. Others, perhaps more sensationally, believe that Jeffers was drawn to California by the promise of fame and fortune as a set designer in Hollywood. Whatever the reasons, Jeffers' absence was an acute loss to Alberta's early architectural community, but one that will not be forgotten in the minds of Albertans, due to the memorable and still-standing contributions he made to our province. Not long after his arrival in California, Allan Merrick Jeffers died in 1927.

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