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Feature Article


Written By: Lawrence Herzog
Published By: Real Estate Weekly
Article © Copyright Lawrence Herzog

Roland W. Lines

He worked in Edmonton as an architect for barely a decade early in the 20th century, but a lifetime later, Roland W. Lines mark on our city remains indelible. The roster of his designs is impressive enough. But that they were all conceived between 1906 and 1915 is truly a remarkable achievement.

His work includes the Strathcona Collegiate Institute (constructed between 1907 and 1909), schools named for Alex Taylor (1908) and Norwood (1909), the Union Bank Inn and the Canada Permanent Building (both 1910). Lines treasures lost to time include the Royal Alexandra Hospital (1911) and the Exhibition Stock Pavilion, better known as the Edmonton Gardens (1914). In all, he designed more than 20 public and private structures in the city -- and the Lac La Biche Inn.

Those who talk about his work praise his fine sense of rhythm and proportion and his ability to combine different influences with harmonious results. The Strathcona Collegiate Institute, now known as Old Scona High School, provides abundant evidence of his mastery.

Lines personally supervised construction of the school which, because of its outstanding materials and precise craftsmanship, cost $100,000. Exterior decorative elements were Kootenay marble and interior wood trim was B.C. fir and cedar. When it opened in 1909, the Strathcona Plaindealer reported Premier Rutherford called it the finest school building in the province.

From 1909 to 1911, the top floor was home to the University of Alberta. Recently, the school has been the subject of a glorious rejuvenation, as has the facade of the Union Bank building, another Lines original.

The diminutive structure at 10053 Jasper Avenue now serves as the Union Bank Inn. The adaptive reuse has melded the old and the new, retaining the structures rich Renaissance Revival features including its six classical Ionic columns and Baroque influenced windows. While Roland Lines designs have endured amazingly well, the story of the man himself has been largely lost to time. We do know that he was born in Great Britain in 1877 and educated there. He arrived in Edmonton in 1906 at the age of 29 and found work quickly. That year, he designed Alex Taylor School with Harry Johnson, who was to become a business partner.

Information sourced at the City of Edmonton Archives indicates Lines applied to become a member of the Alberta Association of Architects on February 17, 1906, the groups first general meeting. He was accepted on July 20th, 1906 on the basis of his membership in the Society of Architects of London, England.

A report compiled by the City of Edmonton Planning and Development Branch states that Lines was one of the most active designers in the city of his time. He employed several architects, including William Blakey when Blakey was still a neophyte designer. Lines was a versatile architect, able to work in a variety of styles, but much of his work displayed strong classical influences.

His commercial work exhibited strength and character and, all these years later, remains rousing and exquisite. But my favourite Lines design is not a commercial structure at all - its a house designed for a legendary Albertan.

The 10,000 square foot home sits atop Groat Ravine and was designed for Colonel James Kennedy Cornwall -- the man folks called Peace River Jim. From the grand entrance hall -- with its sweeping oak staircase and rich panelling - to a rustic library space where Colonel Cornwall used to meet with Indians to trade, the mansion pulses with rustic grace and charm.

Cornwall Jim instructed Lines to build a country mansion for his family, and Lines delivered a Tudor-style structure that was, at once, elegant and modern. The house, completed in 1914, even boasted a built-in vacuum system.

Lines enlisted in the army in 1914 and served in France with the First Field Company, Canadian Engineers. He died in action in 1916 at the age of 39, bringing to a sudden end the all too brief career of one of Edmontons most accomplished and significant architects of the early 20th century.

In 1997, the Edmonton Historical Board paid tribute to Lines with a Recognition Award. Lines great-nephew Hugh Lynes travelled from Great Britain to accept the award on behalf of his great-uncle. Im sorry, but I dont know much about the man, he told the gathering.

One newspaper clipping says all we really need to know. In mentioning our leading architects, we will award Mr. Roland Lines a very high place and absolutely on his merits ... there is no more successful or honourable architect in Edmonton.

His buildings are the legacy.

If you'd like to offer your thoughts, please drop me an email at lawrenceherzog@hotmail.com.

For information on reprints of previously published articles, check out my website at www.lawrenceherzog.com.

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