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William Blakey

According to Alberta architectural scholar, Trevor Boddy, "the most important issues facing contemporary architects have to do not with style, but with the integration of a building into its social, historical, environmental, and cultural setting" (120-121). Perhaps the best example of an architect who adhered to this adaptive, regionalistic approach is William Blakey, who began his career in Alberta in 1907 with his arrival in Edmonton.

Blakey was born in the County of Durham in England in 1885, which was where he received his formal architectural training and gained early work experience. Upon his emigration to Canada with his brother, Richard, Blakey soon formed strong working relationships with some of Alberta's most prominent architects at the time, including Alan Merrick Jeffers and Roland W. Lines (both of whom he worked for). Lines and Blakey left Canada to fight in World War I, and although Lines was killed in the line of duty, Blakey returned to Edmonton in 1919 and began his own architectural firm with his brother. Over the next two decades, Blakey designed a series of landmark buildings in the Edmonton area, a number of which (e.g. the old Edmonton Journal building, the Varscona Theatre) have since been demolished.

Those that remain standing, however, are a testament to Blakey's ingenuity and striking versatility as an architect, and showcase his ability to integrate a building into what Boddy calls its "social, historical, environmental, and cultural setting."

The Garneau Theatre on Edmonton's historic 109th Street is one of Blakey's most esteemed constructions, and serves today as a veritable time capsule of the Modernist architectural movement in Alberta during the early part of the 20th Century. Opened for the first time in 1940, the Garneau was one of the most glamorous theatres of its kind in the city, boasting a 780 seat house, blue leather chairs with mohair backs, an elevated terrace behind the main auditorium, and elaborate color-schemes. Although it almost met its demise in the late 1980s due to bankruptcy, the Garneau was saved by imbursements from two Canadian theatre companies (Magic Lantern Theatres and Independent Theatre Supply), and still stands today as an exponent of a neo-Modernist cultural aesthetic, featuring mainly independent and small-budget art house films to the public.

Blakey's ability to adapt his craftsmanship towards a variety of different projects ensured that his work eluded any stylistic parameters. His design for Christ Church in Edmonton, for instance, built nineteen years before Blakey began the Garneau Theatre, was allegedly inspired by the famous 12th Century Tintern Abbey in Britain. Blakey downscaled and domesticated this ancient model, and ended with a structure that, according to Lawrence Herzog, "could have been more at home in a quaint English village than at the edge of the frontier in 1920s Edmonton." Similarly diverse in their architectural styles, Edmonton's Masonic Temple, designed by Blakey in 1931 during the Depression, took its inspiration from Gothic and Medieval structures, while the Bruin Inn in St. Albert (a popular Edmonton Oilers hotspot until its demolition in 1999) imitates the Santa Fe style of early California Missions with its arched windows, roof parapets, and stucco walls.

William Blakey died in 1975 at the age of 90, and was survived by his two sons and his wife Carrie, who lived to be 102. Although many of his works have since been demolished, Blakey's remaining work stands as a silent tribute to one of the most versatile and skilled craftsman in Alberta's architectural history.

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