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Hey Edmonton, look what’s living under our sidewalks!

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Written by Darrel G. Babuk, MRAIC

Many of Edmonton’s buildings had sidewalk vaults.

Not sure why.  Usually, sidewalk vaults were found in cities where hilly streets got flattened out or raised – like New York City, Vancouver or Victoria. In flattening out and raising the roadway, the sidewalks were rarely raised.

To get a sidewalk in front of their building, building owners would extend the basements of their buildings out to the roadway, and the roof of the basement extending beyond the building became a public sidewalk.

Here in Edmonton, the Gibson Block and the McLeod Block still have sidewalk vaults; the roof over the portion of their basements that extend beyond the building is the public sidewalk. Other Edmonton buildings, like the Jasper Block and the Kelly Ramsey Block also had sidewalk vaults.

Back in the day, when the idea of working in an office was still a novelty, retail space commanded a much higher rent than did office space.  Many times, retail spaces would be located on the second, even third floor.

Retail space in a basement, just one flight of stairs from the sidewalk, made sense. The Gibson Block still has a stair going from the sidewalk to the basement, where the Georgia Baths used to be.

But, aren’t basements dark? To bring light into basement sidewalk vaults, glass sidewalk prisms were embedded into the sidewalks.

photo by Darrel G. Babuk

Victoria still has sidewalk prisms, the purplish glass blocks on the sidewalks on Government Street.  Seattle still has sidewalk prisms, they even offer tours of the sidewalk vaults underneath the sidewalk prisms.

Edmonton’s Jasper Block not only had sidewalk prisms, the interior hallways had glass prism floors so that natural sunlight would filter through the third and second floors down to the ground floor!

Not sure why.  Usually, sidewalk vaults were found in cities where hilly streets were regraded to be flat – like New York City, Vancouver or Victoria. In flattening out and raising the roadway; while the actual street was raised, the sidewalks weren’t. If you know, send me a note!

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Boreas Architecture & Civic Design puts to use our years of highly unique and specialized experience to identify the essentials, understand them and create a plan of action to re-image historical buildings: to maintain the dignity of their original design with a sustainable new purpose in the community. Click for more information.

This article was originally published on March 31, 2019.

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Alberta

History of Red Deer’s Second Courthouse

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Red Deer’s old courthouse sits as the centrepiece of Red Deer’s historic downtown and is celebrating its 90th birthday. Come spend some time downtown. Visit the city’s unique Ghost Collection, many of which are within a few blocks of the Old Courthouse.  For more information on leasing opportunities in this beautiful building, please email Davin Kemshead or phone 403-318-6479.  Enjoy this story by Ken Meintzer

History of Red Deer’s Second Courthouse

It has been witness to a great many events and stories in the 90 years it has stood on the corner of Ross Street and 49th Avenue in Red Deer.

The Gaetz Company building as seen in 1912. It was the courthouse for the region from 1916-1931. It is the current site of Mason Martin Homes. Canada’s first female juror served in this courthouse in 1922.  Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives photo.

As the solidly constructed anchor for both provincial and the Court of Queens Bench for 52 years, this sturdy structure has also been a sanctuary for artists, the setting for movie productions and most recently home to numerous professional offices. It also was the backdrop for the last murder trial in Alberta which saw the defendant sentenced and hanged under capital punishment in the province.

Construction of the new courthouse well underway. City of Red Deer Archives photo P2610

This readily recognizable icon celebrated the anniversary of its official opening earlier this month and is showing no signs of retiring any time soon.

View of the Lyndall Limestone columns in the Palladian Style entrance. Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

This was the second courthouse for the steadily expanding central Alberta city. The earlier one had opened in 1916 after having been converted from a coverall factory. Talk about being adaptive and creative!

Construction of the “new” courthouse was significant for many reasons. The Great Depression was in full swing so this project provided a much-needed injection of both money and jobs into the community along with a sense of pride that such a fine building would bring to the region.

Brick exterior with Lyndall Limestone detailing. Photo by Duane Rolheiser

This would be the last courthouse built in the province until the 1950s, the final version  of a series of Alberta courthouses built in the classical revival style. Both Wetaskiwin and Medicine Hat received similar structures during this era.

Testament to the quality of the design and materials used in construction of the building is the fact that it remains steadfast after more than 8 decades of use.

Constructed using hot riveted steel beams, brick and mortar, then graced with pillars shaped from the legendary Lyndall Limestone from Manitoba, this grand historical resource will stand for a great many more years to come.

Original 1912 era boiler. Converted from coal to natural gas.
Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

In the spirit of the type of practicality and resourcefulness often seen during the depression, heating for the building would be provided by a boiler built in 1912 and  repurposed from a ship!

It was converted from coal burning to natural gas in 1949 and has since been replaced by modern, efficient boilers yet it still remains in the building as evidence of a different era.

Every building of a certain vintage usually carries a story or two about otherworldly spirits or energies. Why not the old Courthouse? It was thought that the ghost of Robert Raymond Cook inhabited the building.

On one particular evening, the caretaker for the courthouse was heading into the boiler room to grab some tools. When he flicked on the lights, they popped briefly and went dark. Despite this, the caretaker walked alongside the boiler in the direction of his tools when suddenly he was slapped in the face by an unexpected soft force! Was it the apparition of the hanged murderer?

When he had regained his composure a time later, the caretaker investigated the boiler room once more to discover the source of the slap in the dark. A frightened pigeon had flown up in his face when startled in the boiler room!

Judge bench in the original courtroom. Photo by Duane Rolheiser

This magnificent building was the home of the judicial branch of the province for the Red Deer region from 1931 to 1983 when its replacement was constructed just down Ross Street to the east.

A law office has made good use of the original architecture. Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

The courthouse was the venue for a great many legal tales over the years but probably none more famous than the 1959 murder trial for 21 year old Robert Raymond Cook of Stettler, AB who was accused of murdering all 7 members of his family in a most violent manner.

RCMP mugshot of Robert Raymond Cook, 1959. Photo used with permission by Legal Archives Society of Alberta.

His trial began on November 30th, 1959 and Cook was found guilty and sentenced to hang for his crimes. His defense appealed the conviction and a second trial was held in Edmonton but his conviction was upheld on June 20th, 1960.

On November 14, 1960, Robert Raymond Cook was hanged. His death sentence was the last ever carried out in the province of Alberta.

the actual witness bench where Robert Raymond Cook would have sat Photos by Duane Rolheiser.

Numerous books were written about this trial as the murders captivated and horrified the population who followed the course of the investigation and trials.

Even a dramatic play was created, called “The End of the Rope”, reenacting this historic trial which was developed and was even staged in the actual courtroom where the all too real drama actually took place all those years ago.

exterior of the courthouse while it was home to the Community Arts Centre in the 1980s. Photo courtesy Red Deer Archives.

In 1983, the  building was sold to the city of Red Deer for a dollar and turned into the Old Courthouse Community Arts Centre. The grand structure housed painters and potters among numerous artistic pursuits for 18 years

An artist displaying his works during a Christmas arts fair in the courthouse, 1987. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

The old courthouse has seen real life dramas and reenactments of legal dramas including being the location for filming  scenes from the TV Movie, “While Justice Sleeps” starring Cybil Shepherd in 1994.

Even a dramatic one-man play was created by Aaron Coates called “The End of the Rope” in 2003, re-enacting this historic trial. It was developed and staged in the actual courtroom where the all too real drama actually took place all those years ago. Cook’s lawyer, David MacNaughton even answered questions from the crowd after the performance.

Promotional ad for the TV movie “While Justice Sleeps” starring Cybil Shepherd. Photo from IMDB

The old courthouse made its most recent transformation in 2001 when it was purchased by Jim Dixon and Dick McDonell.

Interior details.
Photos by Duane Rolheiser.

The new owners invested close to a quarter of a million dollars in upgrading the building including installation of new boilers, restored doors, energy efficient windows and new flooring  throughout. 1930s era lighting was sourced to replace fluorescent fixtures, giving the rejuvenated structure a proper historical feel.

Today this 90-year-old icon of downtown Red Deer proudly carries on as the home to numerous professional organizations from lawyers to architects and with its new owners and numerous upgrades, this beautiful structure should be proudly welcoming people to downtown for a great many more years to come.

Red Deer’s old courthouse sits as the centrepiece of Red Deer’s historic downtown and is celebrating its 90th birthday. Come spend some time downtown. Visit the city’s unique Ghost Collection, many of which are within a few blocks of the Old Courthouse.  For more information on leasing opportunities in this beautiful building, please email Davin Kemshead or phone 403-318-6479.  

 

How the Railroads Shaped Red Deer

 

 

 

 

 

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Angeer’s Story – Providing mental health supports for the most vulnerable

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Angeer’s Story – Providing mental health supports for the most vulnerable

When Angeer found out her eight-year-old son’s bone cancer had relapsed, she didn’t know how she would be able to get through it. Like many local families, they were also facing isolation and anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

United Way worked rapidly with our partners to identify the needs of the most vulnerable and rallied the community to provide supports such as counselling for local people who are struggling. Because supporters do local good, families like Angeer’s have the mental health supports they need to weather this storm.

Help make a difference in your community today by visiting myunitedway.ca/donate-united-way.

Mary’s Story – Helping domestic violence survivors heal and find safety

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