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C.S. Burgess

Birks Building

Widely recognized as one of the most important figures in Alberta's architectural history, Cecil Scott Burgess was a professor, historian, critic and designer whose work made an indelible impact on many communities throughout the province. His life, however, began far from Edmonton, which was where he would spend most of his time and where his work would have the most profound effects.

Burgess was born in Bombay, India in 1870, where his father, a Scottish archaeologist, was in the process of undertaking an archaeological survey of the country. Burgess went to school in Scotland, where he studied architecture, and where he cultivated a friendship with fellow architect, Percy Nobbs. In 1903, he and Nobbs moved to Montreal, where Nobbs was offered a teaching job at McGill University, and Burgess was to work as an associate architect with Nobbs's own private firm. Soon after their arrival in Canada, the two men received joint invitations from Henry Marshall Tory at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, for Nobbs to design the campus's architectural layout, and for Burgess to be the institution's resident architect. Tory also suggested that Burgess may soon have a teaching job of his own - a claim that was soon substantiated.

Arts Building

By the 1920s, Cecil Scott Burgess was the founder and only full-time staff member of the University of Alberta's Architecture School, which continually struggled with budget dilemmas and insufficient funding. Despite the School's financial difficulties, its alumni at this time included a number of prominent names in Alberta's architectural heritage, such as John and Peter Rule and Gordon Wynn, who would go on to design such landmark Edmonton buildings as the Varscona Theatre. As Trevor Boddy points out, Burgess's students leaned towards the modernist shift in architectural style that was new to Alberta at the time, even though Burgess himself was partial to more classical, decorative styles.

Burgess's training in the French Beaux-Arts style is evident from his design contributions to the University of Alberta campus. Both Pembina Hall (which he designed) and the Arts Building (for which he was supervising architect) exhibit the symmetry and grandiosity characteristic of this style. A good example of Burgess's more modern work is visible on Edmonton's historic 104th Street, where he aided his long-time friend, Percy Nobbs, and his associate, George Hyde, design the Birks Building in 1929. Commissioned by the Birks family from Montreal, the building was to be a site for their burgeoning jewellery business. The design combined classical details with a more modern, streamlined look, and over 5000 people attended the building's opening.

Garneau Theatre

Cecil Burgess died in 1971, at the staggering age of 101. For the last 28 years of his life, he lived in Edmonton in a house on 109th Street - a property which has since been designated a Municipal Historic Resource. As well as being an Edmonton historical landmark at almost one hundred years old, the house is also an important reminder of one of Alberta's most influential architects, whose full life was further enriched by the work he undertook for the benefit of others.

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