Restoration of the Taber Courthouse

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in other restoration projects by the government’s Heritage Conservation Advisers, read about the conservation of Circle L Ranch.

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser

Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2013, the Taber Courthouse presides over a quiet park just off Taber’s main street. The building’s stately arched entryway speaks to its historic importance as one of Alberta’s first “sub-jurisdiction” courthouses, a system of provincial justice administration introduced at the time.

Built in 1918, Assistant Provincial Architect J.B. Allan developed the courthouse design and noted Provincial Architect Richard P. Blakey subsequently revised it. Blakey’s eclectic mix of Edwardian, Classical Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival elements eventually became an architectural prototype for other courthouses of the period. Examples of Blakey’s work that are still intact include the Blairmore Courthouse in the Crowsnest Pass and the Medicine Hat Courthouse. Both of these buildings are Provincial Historic Resources.

A rare 1919 view south along 53 Street provides an important early record of the Taber Courthouse, at far right, as built to its ultimate design by Provincial Architect William Blakey.
A rare 1919 view south along 53 Street provides an important early record of the Taber Courthouse, at far right, as built to its ultimate design by Provincial Architect William Blakey. The courthouse is an eclectic mix of signature elements of Blakey’s architectural work, which combines a stately Classical Revival canopy with a stucco exterior and details inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The architectural character underpins the building’s provincial heritage value as a prototype for early provincial courthouses and an example of Blakey’s work. Original blueprints exist but such documents may not reflect last-minute changes during construction. Later photographs from the 1950s and 60s show the building after additions for the Town Office. As-built records are key resources for conservation projects that may involve the restoration of missing features and removal of later elements unrelated to the heritage value. Source: Glenbow Archives photograph NA-3774-166.

Taber’s courthouse was unusual in that it was also was also a gathering space for town council and community organizations. The Town of Taber acquired the building in 1953 and the courthouse served as the town hall for many years, and council meetings held in the former courtroom. Municipal administration eventually outgrew the building and moved elsewhere. The courthouse was used occasionally by various community organizations until local developer Sid Tams purchased the building in 2017 with a passion for its history and a vision to restore its architectural character.

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The courthouse in 2017 shows the building after extensive conservation work by the previous owner, the Town of Taber, to conserve the canopied front entrance and rebuild the deteriorated front steps to code. In front of the steps, the prominent white stucco enclosure added in 1954 to keep rain and snow out of the original exterior basement stairway detracts from the symmetrical original exterior. Removing the enclosure was key to a restoration of the 1918 exterior. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Building on previous work by the Town of Taber to conserve the front entrance and remove a brick addition on the building’s north end, Mr. Tams undertook an ambitious two-year exterior and interior conservation program. Work included:

  • removing1954 addition
  • refurbishing all the original wood windows
  • removing paint, repairing and repointing of the brick masonry exterior
  • removing of decades of interior renovations
  • restoring the interior plaster walls, ceilings, hardwood floors and historic woodwork
Unpainted masonry is exposed after the demolition of a large addition, previously used for the Town’s emergency services, connected to the historic building’s northwest corner. Areas like this are important evidence of earlier (and sometimes original) stucco colour and mortar joint profiles. Both the stucco and brick masonry exterior were painted. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
Unpainted masonry is exposed after the demolition of a large addition, previously used for the Town’s emergency services, connected to the historic building’s northwest corner. Areas like this are important evidence of earlier (and sometimes original) stucco colour and mortar joint profiles. Both the stucco and brick masonry exterior were painted. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The sash and sill of an original window shows typical extensive paint failure, weathered wood, and glazing putty that was cracked, missing or repaired with caulking. The multi-pane windows were nearly all intact and are an important architectural feature and character-defining element. As is often the case in windy southern Alberta, the wood was dried and weathered with deep cracks or “checks” but showed little actual decay. Well-constructed windows of clear grain, old-growth fir are durable and resilient even after years without maintenance. With the right materials, repair skills and elbow grease, such windows can be restored to near-new condition. This retains an important historic element, conserves integrity, and keeps perfectly serviceable materials out of municipal landfills. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The sash and sill of an original window shows typical extensive paint failure, weathered wood, and glazing putty that was cracked, missing or repaired with caulking. The multi-pane windows were nearly all intact and are an important architectural feature and character-defining element. As is often the case in windy southern Alberta, the wood was dried and weathered with deep cracks or “checks” but showed little actual decay. Well-constructed windows of clear grain, old-growth fir are durable and resilient even after years without maintenance. With the right materials, repair skills and elbow grease, such windows can be restored to near-new condition. This retains an important historic element, conserves integrity, and keeps perfectly serviceable materials out of municipal landfills. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The former courtroom retains the original painted plaster walls after the removal of 1950s plywood wainscot from the main floor. The wainscot represents the building’s later history as a municipal office. The wainscot was removed to restore the plaster interior from the period associated with the 1918 courthouse. Plywood on the ceiling covered plaster damage from roof leaks and supported mid-century acoustic tiles that have just been removed in this image. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The former courtroom retains the original painted plaster walls after the removal of 1950s plywood wainscot from the main floor. The wainscot represents the building’s later history as a municipal office. The wainscot was removed to restore the plaster interior from the period associated with the 1918 courthouse. Plywood on the ceiling covered plaster damage from roof leaks and supported mid-century acoustic tiles that have just been removed in this image. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
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Original varnished maple floors were mostly intact beneath later flooring of linoleum on plywood and recent laminate. The southeast office retains the “ghost” of a municipal office counter with gate at the far wall (upper left). Plywood infill identifies original stairs to the basement. Code requirements prevented reconstruction of the original stairs and new stairs were instead accommodated in a former washroom. To restore the main floor, later flooring was removed, damaged areas repaired with new maple closely matching the historic material, and floors were stained and varnished. A stain darker than the original finish blends new and old materials and hides extensive stains from leaking radiator pipes, while leaving the original stair footprint visible on very close inspection. Source: Henk de Vlieger.
The courthouse after restoration of all exterior windows and the brick masonry. The stucco southeast stair enclosure was removed and the damaged original masonry pony wall rebuilt using physical evidence of the feature and original blueprints. The pony wall was rebuilt with salvaged original brick as a veneer over concrete block infill to make up for unsalvageable original brick. A precast concrete coping and steel railing were added to meet code. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The courthouse after restoration of all exterior windows and the brick masonry. The stucco southeast stair enclosure was removed and the damaged original masonry pony wall rebuilt using physical evidence of the feature and original blueprints. The pony wall was rebuilt with salvaged original brick as a veneer over concrete block infill to make up for unsalvageable original brick. A precast concrete coping and steel railing were added to meet code. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
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The distinctive brick and stucco exterior features an early-extruded brick possibly manufactured by the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile company. The paint was removed to reveal the original material, allow the masonry to breathe as originally intended, and to eliminate ongoing costs to maintain paint that is not historic. A chemical paint stripper and low-pressure washing were used after testing of the removal methods and monitoring to ensure the brick was undamaged by the cleaning process. Joint profiles replicate the original tooling – no easy task where excess mortar readily shows up against the textured brick. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
Conservation of the windows involved the removal of deteriorated old paint, reconditioning of the wood with repeated applications of heated raw linseed oil, re-glazing with traditional linseed putty and original glass, and painting with traditional linseed oil paint. The varnished interior millwork practically glows and all upper and lower sashes have been restored to fully operable condition, making the double-hung windows especially effective for summer ventilation. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
Conservation of the windows involved the removal of deteriorated old paint, reconditioning of the wood with repeated applications of heated raw linseed oil, re-glazing with traditional linseed putty and original glass, and painting with traditional linseed oil paint. The varnished interior millwork practically glows and all upper and lower sashes have been restored to fully operable condition, making the double-hung windows especially effective for summer ventilation. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The main floor interior is currently an office after restoration of the damaged plaster walls and ceilings and conservation of the floors, windows and interior millwork. New pendant lights sourced by the owner feature “schoolhouse” globes that replicate the single historic fixture found in the original safe, at left. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The main floor interior is currently an office after restoration of the damaged plaster walls and ceilings and conservation of the floors, windows and interior millwork. New pendant lights sourced by the owner feature “schoolhouse” globes that replicate the single historic fixture found in the original safe, at left. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

The historic courthouse reached a new milestone in summer 2019 when its new occupants moved in. The owner’s commitment and resourcefulness along with the expertise of contractors and consultants were instrumental in realizing the vision to recapture the building’s architectural character and ensure its ongoing use for decades to come.

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