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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article


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

If you stand in the heart of downtown Edmontons warehouse district and close your eyes, you can almost hear the jangle of harnesses and clip-clop of horse hooves. While the architecture of Jasper Avenue has been largely lost to the march of time, its as if time has somehow mostly forgotten the great brick buildings that, early this century, comprised Edmontons light industrial heart.

When the Hudsons Bay Company moved to begin selling its reserve in the first decade of this century, developers leapt at the chance to locate near the heart of the city and the railway. Between 1909 and 1914, no fewer than two dozen warehouses were constructed north of Jasper Avenue between 102nd and 109th Streets. Railway spur lines were quickly constructed and the area became a beehive of industrial activity.

Time has marched on, the city has grown ten fold and yet many of the structures are still standing. The warehouse district survived because it missed the booms and, as the city grew and light industrial activities moved to the suburbs, the buildings were left for other uses.

With their high ceilings, great windows and open construction, those uses include lofts for artists and condos. As it becomes more fashionable to locate in a structure with character and as more people settle near the heart of the city, commercial ventures are moving back into the warehouse district.

Getting the old warehouses ready for new occupants is often called adaptive reuse, and, in Edmontons warehouse district, many have been completed in the last decade. Six years ago, the National Film Board (NFB) relocated to the International Harvester Company Building, a brick warehouse built in 1912/13 at 10357 109th Street.

The structure, also known as the Dorchester Building, was erected for storage of the companys heavy equipment, offices for its staff and a customer showroom. Construction cost was $80,000.

The new building expanded International Harvesters Edmonton operation to 125 employees - making it one of the largest employers in the city at that time. The company occupied the structure until 1956, when it moved to a new location.

The next year, it was renamed the Burgess Building, after its major tenants Burgess Building and Plumbing Supplies. The building was purchased by Dorchester Investments and renamed the Dorchester Building in 1966.

Now, as the National Film Boards Edmonton headquarters, the old warehouse has found new life. The high ceilings, heavy milled wooden beams and brick create an atmosphere that is, at once, rustic, invigorating and inviting.

Such adaptive reuses are, as Edmonton planner Duncan Fraser notes, key to the survival of this significant grouping of historic buildings. They are, for the most part, exceptionally well built and very flexible structures, he explains. It just takes some imagination on the part of developers and architects for these buildings to see renewal, and weve already seen that with several developments.

Some of the other significant buildings in Edmontons warehouse district include:

The H.V. Shaw Building, 10229 105th Street. Built by Henry Shaw in 1914, it was home to his Edmonton Cigar Factory. At its peak, 90 people were working in his factory, crafting Major Reno and La Palma cigars. I have long loved the painted signs on the south wall, and the brick and stone laid in alternating bands to form the voussoirs of the top floor.

The Canada Consolidated Rubber Building, 10249 104th Street, is the second warehouse on this location. The first, built in 1912, burned to the ground in 1913. The replacement took two months to construct and cost $110,000 - twice as much as the original! The brick and stone detailing is exceptionally well crafted for a building of this use and period.

The Revillon Building, 10221 104th Street, was constructed for the Revillon Freres Company. When it opened in 1913, it was the largest and most sophisticated warehouse in western Canada, boasting electric hoists, an electric passenger elevator and an automatic telephone exchange. But the most talked about feature must have been pneumatic tubes for sending written messages within the building.

The Great West Saddlery Warehouse, opened in 1911 at 10137 104 Street, gave the rapidly growing company much needed space for its manufacturing, warehousing and retail operations.

The five-storey warehouse, constructed for $100,000 (well over budget) was designed for fire safety using heavy slow-burning timber construction.

Further north, just across the old Canadian National Railways right of way at the corner of 105th Avenue and 103rd Street, the Alexander Macdonald Building dates from around 1913. Over the next 50 years, thousands of loads of groceries came and went from the block, which was, at various times, home for H.H. Cooper and Company, Macdonald-Cooper Ltd. and Macdonald"s Consolidated Limited. It was recently rejuvenated and converted to apartments.

Using the remarkable inventory of historic buildings as a foundation, the Fourth Street Promenade has rejuvenated 104th Street around Jasper Avenue. The street improvements include double-wide brick sidewalks, banners by local artist Wei Yew, benches, road islands and trees illuminated with white mini-lights. Designed by Ossama Elgalali of the city"s Planning and Development Branch and with the enthusiastic support of the Downtown Business Association, the $3.1 million project was completed in 1999.

It celebrates the fascinating history of the street at the heart of Edmontons warehouse district. And it is recognizes the promise that a slice of our past holds for a vibrant and exciting future.

If you'd like to offer your thoughts, please drop me an e-mail at lawrenceherzog@hotmail.com For information on reprints of previously published articles, check out my website at www.lawrenceherzog.com

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