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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article


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

Herbert Alton Magoon and George Heath MacDonald were partners in an architectural firm that operated during the first four decades of the 20th century, designing some of Edmontons most familiar buildings. Together they devised such landmarks as Robertson Church, the Gem Theatre, Buena Vista Building, Wesley United Church, McDougall & Secord Store, H.V. Shaw Building, Salvation Army Citadel, Concordia Colleges Schwermann Hall and the McKenny Building.

Their partnership, Magoon and MacDonald, Architects, became synonymous with good design and attention to detail and, even in frontier times, they made sophisticated use of stylistic influences from eastern Canada, American and Europe. MacDonalds second son, Ian Charles, who I interviewed in 1998, remembered his fathers passion for the craft of design.

He loved his work and he loved creating. He was a man who got things done; he was very passionate about accomplishment and contributing to the city.

It was a passion that had been cultivated from Maritime roots and Presbyterian parents, William and Mercy C. (Bears) MacDonald. George Heath was born at Murray Harbour, North, Prince Edward Island in 1883.

Magoon had been born 20 years earlier, in Warwick, Quebec and studied architecture in Chicago. In 1896, Magoon went to Oelwin, Iowa and opened an office and practised architecture there for four years.

MacDonald, meantime, left home in the Maritimes to begin his career in architecture and started out as a draftsman in Montreal in the late 1890s. He worked first in the offices of Percy Erskine Nobbs and then with W.S. and Edward Maxwell.

At the turn of the century, he was hired as a draftsman by the Dominion Iron and Steel Company in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Magoon had been hired by Dominion as chief architect of their new manufacturing plant and thats where the two men met.

With the imminent creation of the Province of Alberta in 1905, Magoon knew design work would be plentiful and so in 1904 he headed west. He brought MacDonald along as his assistant.

They set up a practise and quickly obtained major contracts to design warehouses, office blocks and private residences.

Magoon also made time for professional involvement was a founding member of the Alberta Association of Architects, formed in 1906. During the early years, MacDonald continued working as a draftsman, but also completed his public school education. In 1907, he travelled to Montreal and enrolled in McGill Universitys School of Architecture.

While MacDonald was in school, Magoon continued to design buildings at a breakneck pace. In just three years beginning in 1909, he worked on the Tegler Building, McDougall Methodist Church, the King Edward Hotel, the H.V. Shaw Residence and St. Stephens College at the University of Alberta. MacDonald continued to work for Magoon in the summers and when he graduated in 1911 with an honours degree in architecture, he returned to Edmonton and soon became a junior partner in the firm.

Magoon married Maude Beatrice Folliott in 1906, while MacDonald married Dorothea Enid Huestis in 1913. As a wedding present to her, he designed and built a white colonial house in Glenora at 10360 Connaught Drive. The house survives and is on the citys Register of Historic Resources.

The couple had six children between 1914 and 1928: William, Ian, Alan, Joan, Stephanie and Eric. Alberta Past and Present, published in 1924, called MacDonald a broad-minded, public-spirited man of high professional attainments. The publication said his labours have constituted a most important factor in the upbuilding and improvement of the city.

Ian says he has great memories of growing up in Glenora. The river valley was our playground, he recalled. It was a wonderful life.

During World War I, MacDonald was engaged by the federal government to supervise the supply of munitions. In the Second World War, he designed municipal airport hangers and other aviation buildings on the northwest staging route to the Yukon.

After Magoons death in 1941, MacDonald carried on the practice, drawing blueprints for such landmarks as St. Josephs Auxiliary Hospital (now converted to the Garneau condominiums), the Federal Public Building and Memorial Hall of the Robertson Wesley Church. In all, he was a practising architect for more than 50 years.

Ian says his father originated the idea for reconstructing Fort Edmonton in log form but hes never been given credit for the work. The federal government put him in charge of the project in 1949. MacDonalds interest and research on the subject led to two books -- Fort Augustus-Edmonton, published in 1954 and Fort-House-Factory in 1959. MacDonald died in 1961 at the age of 83 years.

Today just a handful of Magoon and MacDonalds nearly five dozen Edmonton commercial building designs survive. In the downtown area, they include the Star (Gem) Theatre, built in 1913 at 9680 Jasper Avenue, the H.V. Shaw Building, built in 1914 at 10229 105 Street, the McKenney Building, which was constructed in 1912 at 10187 104th Street and the Howard and McBride Funeral Parlour, built in 1929 at 10045 109 Street.

Further east, near Capilano Drive, the Schwermann Hall, at Concordia University College, was built in 1926 at 7128 Ada Boulevard. West in Glenora, the Buena Vista Building at 10133-39 124th Street, dates from 1913. Theyre all great examples of Magoon and MacDonalds good design and excellence to detail.

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, please see my website at www.lawrenceherzog.com

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