Strathcona garage designated a Provincial Historic Resource

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

A well-known anchor building in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area has recently been designated as a Provincial Historic resource.  And it’s also now listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Front (north-facing) façade of the Strathcona Garage showing some of the building’s character-defining elements, notably the crenellated parapet roofline, escutcheons and the contrasting ornamental highlights (lintels, sills, name and date stones), 2019. Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women.

The Strathcona Garage is located in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood on the corner of lot at 81 Avenue and 105 Street. Its heritage significance rests in its association with the early automobile industry in Alberta. It is a significant and rare remaining example of a building from the early twentieth century designed and built specifically for the era’s fledgling, but rapidly growing automobile sector.   

The Strathcona Garage, ca. 1912 showing the automobiles on display behind the plate glass windows. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1328-558.

The Strathcona Garage, ca. 1912 showing the automobiles on display behind the plate glass windows. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1328-1354.

The Strathcona Garage was built in 1912 by Otto Edinger and was used as a automotive dealership and service centre from its opening until the 1970s. Over this period, automobiles went from being a luxury item to a mass-produced product affordable by many more people. The building was initially designed to showcase automobiles for sales. Edinger and his partners sold Abbot-Detroits, a short-lived luxury car brand. In 1913, the building was taken over by T. L. Evans, who used it as a Cadillac dealership, and in 1915 by Nat Bell and William Sugarman, who sold Cadillac and Dodge vehicles. Following 1915, the building appears to have functioned primarily as a garage, rather than a dealership.

Even during its years as a dealership, the rear of the building was used for the repair and servicing of automobiles, an integration of sales and servicing that came to become the norm for the automotive sector. In the eight years when the Stratchcona Garage was built (1912) and opened (1920), automobile ownership grew dramatically from about 2,500 to just over 38,000. As automobile use grew, the clientele of the Strathcona Garage evolved from a rather select group of people to a wider base as more people had vehicles requiring servicing.

East-facing and facade of the Strathcona Garage showing the continuation of the classically inspired detailing along the side of the building, but their absence on the rear side of the building. Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women. 2018.

The Strathcona Garage was constructed of brick in a style fairly common to commercial and light industrial buildings of the period. This style is communicated through the crenelated parapet roofline and other classical inspired details, notably the contrasting date and names stones and lintels. The crenelated parapet also evokes a castle or fortress-like appearance, which was probably an intentional choice to evoke a perception of strength and stability as well as an aristocratic mentality perhaps thought to be welcoming to the commercial, professional and social elites that were the building’s original customers. While the front, north-facing façade had a more upscale appearance, with ornamental highlights and large display windows for showcasing new automobiles, the rear of the building, where the automotive servicing functions were located, had a much more functional appearance. The second floor of the garage contained residential apartment units, an unusual feature for this type of structure.

Ghost signage on the east side of the Strathcona Garage reading “AUTOMATIC” and “TRANSMISSION”. These and other ghost signs still extant on the building are indicative of its past use as an automotive service garage. Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women. 2018.

Although the Strathcona Garage is located a block south of Whyte Avenue, the heart of the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area, the garage is an anchor elements for the historic area and its date of construction, period of use as a garage and architectural style and design complement the historic values of the Provincial Historic Area. The City of Edmonton has also designated the building as a Municipal Historic Resource.    

Many Edmontonians and other people familiar with Old Strathcona likely best remember the Strathcona garage as the former home of a Keg Steakhouse. Recently, the garage was purchased by Beljan Developments, which is working with Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women’s Heritage Conservation staff and the City of Edmonton’s heritage planners to restore the building for mixed commercial-residential use by restoring the second floor residential units with the retail shops at street level.

Provincial Historic Resources embody the diversity of our province’s history and include medicine wheels, tipi rings, fur trading and mounted police posts, coal mines, farmsteads, ranches, railway stations, grain elevators, churches, schools, government offices, commercial blocks and private residences. There are currently over 390 places in Alberta designated as Provincial Historic Resources, 54 of which are located in Edmonton, including 13 in the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area. Along with helping to provide economic, social and cultural benefits, designation of provincial historic resources helps to ensure that local landmarks will continue to help connect Albertans with their rich heritage.

For more information on the Provincial Historic Resource Designation program, please visit alberta.ca.

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