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Feature Article


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

1913 boomtime buildings, lost in time

On May 12, 1912, the Hudson’s Bay Company placed a good chunk of its considerable Edmonton land holdings on the market. The flood of more than 1,500 lots of prime real estate stoked a building frenzy and, over the next year, more than 500 building permits were issued in the rapidly growing city.

Alas, the good times were not to last. By the middle of 1913, money markets were collapsing and, as boom went bust, the city was pulled into a recession that lasted through the First World War and into the 1920s.

Among the surviving buildings that went up during 1913 were the Gibson Block, Sacred Heart Church, the A. Macdonald Building and the Edmonton Drill Hall (Prince of Wales Armouries). Others, like the city’s Civic Block, a mansion built for a cigar tycoon and rock solid garden for exhibitions and sports have fallen to the so-called march of progress. Here’s a glimpse at this trio of the vanished.

Civic Block

In Edmonton’s formative years, the function of government was carried out at various locations, including a diminutive town hall at 98th Street and 101 A Avenue which also served as the fire hall. As the community grew, the need for space grew along with it, and by 1912, city departments were, as a feature in a local paper noted, ’scattered to the four winds."

Council decided the city needed to build a civic block facing Market Square right where the Winspear Centre for Music now stands. The city architect, Allan Merrick Jeffers, was commissioned to come up with a six-storey building that would bring all the departments under one roof.

Its "thoroughly fireproof" construction included two fireproof vaults are each floor, designed "for the storage of documents and other valuable, perishable articles." Interior trim was of quarter-cut white oak, except for sheet metal trim around stair openings and tile wainscotting in the bathrooms. The exterior was clad in brick and terra cotta tile.

The total cost of design and construction was $225,000 and, when the building opened in the spring of 1913, it was hailed for its common sense and modern features including electric elevators, "toilet rooms on all floors ... electric lighting and telephones."

The Council Chamber was a diminutive affair, measuring just 33 feet by 40 feet. This solid and architecturally unremarkable brick building was the seat of municipal government for the city for the next 44 years until the new City Hall was opened in the spring of 1957 on the northern side of the square.

The Civic Block then became home to several social service agencies until 1961, when work began converting the building for use as a new headquarters for the Edmonton Police Service. To make the exterior appear more contemporary, a veneer of brown and buff aluminum cladding was installed.

The Edmonton Police Service moved out in 1982 and the old building fell largely silent. In June 1989, city council voted after some lengthy arguments to replace the Civic Block with the new concert hall. It was demolished in 1995, save for a few baubles that are displayed on the site.

Shaw Mansion

Built in 1913 for cigar baron Harry V. Shaw, the $35,000 mansion at 11716 100th Avenue was one of the most elegant homes on fashionable Victoria Avenue. It was designed by renowned local architects Herbert Alton Magoon and George Heath MacDonald.

With elaborate and expensive features like fine oak panelling, marble fireplaces, stained glass windows ornately designed plaster ceilings, handpainted wallpaper and floral patterns, cut glass door knobs and massive chandeliers, the house was a showpiece. The house featured elements of Queen Anne, Tudor and Greek Doric architecture, including a wrap around verandah supported by white columns.

Unfortunately, Shaw overextended himself by constructing his block and residence at the same time just as the market was shifting to cigarettes and the economy crashed. He was forced to close his 105th Street cigar factory in 1919 and the building was subsequently acquired by his creditors, McDougall and Secord, on July 21st.

The mansion was seized by the City of Edmonton for unpaid taxes in the early 1920s and was used for some time as a rooming house. In 1938 it was purchased by Mr. & Mrs. Ernest Poole, founder of Poole Construction (which became PCL) for $3,500 " exactly what was owing in back taxes. The Pooles removed the verandah but kept most other features intact.

In 1943, the house was purchased by John V. Rule, a principal with Rule, Wynn and Rule, Edmonton architects. Twenty-three years later, in 1966, it was sold to Mr. & Mrs. Abe Coyne. Harry Shaw died in Edmonton in 1959 at age 83. The grand mansion he constructed was razed in the late 1970s to make way for new development.

Edmonton Gardens

Built in 1913 as a stock pavilion, the Edmonton Gardens became the city’s venue for hockey when the city’s Thistle Rink burned to the ground. In its early days, it was home for the hockey-playing Edmonton Eskimos, who had played and lost in the Stanley Cup finals in 1908 and 1910.

It then became the home rink for Alberta senior champion Edmonton Flyers, the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Edmonton Oilers from 1972 to 1974, when they played in the World Hockey Association. Citizens referred to it affectionately as "the cow barn."

In its early days, there was no artificial ice making capability, and crews used to open the doors to let the cold in so the ice would freeze. An ice-making plant was added in the late 1930s.

The benches in the dressing rooms were renowned for their slivers, water dripped from the girders onto the ice and it would freeze into mounds until the crews would have to come out with scrappers and grind them down. Doug Lane, who played defence on the 1948 championship team, recalled being so cold playing in the gardens that players cut the tops off stockings and pulled them over their heads.

"It was a frenzy during our games there, and some people would even climb out on the girders, and hang there for a better view," he remembers. "It was scary, thinking they might fall."

The Edmonton Gardens was demolished in 1974 after the Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) opened, although the old building didn"t go willingly. It took the demolition crew hundreds of whacks with the wrecking ball and even a few strategically-placed sticks of dynamite to bring the old cow barn down. The site is now home to the Edmonton Agricom.

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