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.
In the tumultuous year of 1969, Canadian queers suddenly found themselves in a new legal landscape. The bill that decriminalized homosexuality passed the parliamentary vote in May – in August, that bill was voted into law. No one was quite sure what it would mean as far as day-to-day life for gays and lesbians, but some forward-thinking folks in Edmonton decided that with this new legal reality, it was time to create Edmonton’s first official queer gathering place.
They chose the name Club 70, even though it was autumn of 1969. Not only was 1969 almost over, but a few of them felt that naming it Club 69 was just a bit too cheeky. And so they heralded the approaching decade by naming the bar with an eye to a new future.
The location was on 101 street and 106 avenue, in the basement of a building that still stands today. Back then, a Greek restaurant occupied the main floor. Even though the Milla Pub is still open, the building is grubby and the yellowing plaster shows neglect. But if you look at the north end of the building, there is a brightly painted door that leads to the basement. It was behind that door that a queer person would nervously descend down the stairs into the very beginnings of Edmonton’s very first official gay club.
There had always been places where the Friends of Dorothy could discretely congregate – generally in one corner of the taverns that occupied the main floor of the large, grand hotels that dominated downtown: The Mayfair, The Corona, The Royal George, and the King Edward (or King Eddie). But these gay hangouts were never official – they just sprung up out of necessity in cities across Canada. It was in these early unofficial gathering places that ‘the community’ began to recognize each other in the smoky half-light, and began to connect and communicate. Even as recently as the early 80s, a gay man could stroll into one of these smoky taverns, and once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could find a group of men like him, taking over one corner or certain tables in the room.
None of these hotels stand today – they’ve been replaced by downtown malls, or newer high-rises. Only the Corona LRT station keeps one of those names alive. But somehow the early gay club scene’s first legal footprint has escaped the wrecking ball of progress.
Through those nondescript doors, one descended down a flight of stairs into a space no bigger than a large living room. Everyone had to sign in, although pseudonyms were the norm – people were still very afraid to be ‘outed’ and the last thing one would want was to be identified by logging into a register of a gay bar. There was hired security – a straight man who kept a scowling presence at the bottom of the stairs.
Small stage for burgeoning drag scene
The club had no liquor license, and so bringing your own bottle was essential, as the concession only sold pop and chips. There was a small dance floor, and even a tiny stage populated by the pioneers of Edmonton’s burgeoning drag scene: Grindl performed on that stage, as did Trixie, and Millie – names that, within a few years, would become legend on the stages of the underground. Few Queens were as legendary as Millie, who in 1976 would become Edmonton’s first crowned head of state, the unofficial Godmother to all Queens who followed: Empress I of Edmonton, establishing the Imperial House of Millicent, the first in a long chapter of royal houses that still rules Edmonton through the auspices of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose; she was simultaneously crowned Mz. Flashback I. Millie has the distinction of being the only drag queen in Edmonton’s history who wore both crowns at the same time.
The tiny club could only hold about 50 people, and was only open on Friday and Saturday nights. The ambiance was more like a house party than a nightclub. But it was the first queer space. That meant safety. It meant being able to freely recognize and acknowledge people like yourself, to dance with whoever you wanted to dance with, or to freely cheer on a drag show.
That freedom was fiercely protected, however. Club 70 had a strict gay-only membership policy, for the safety and discretion of its members. Violating this policy by bringing a straight person to the bar would get you a 30-day suspension.
Club 70 bears the distinction of being the first official, registered-on-paper-with-city-hall, gay society in Alberta
However, it got off to a very rocky start. The location was short-lived, even though Club 70 was not. After a month of weekends of business, the owner of the building finally realized what sort of business had taken root in his basement, and when staff and members arrived for the weekend party, they found he had nailed the doors shut, seized the liquor, and whatever there was in the way of a sound system. The fledgling gay club was suddenly in a legal battle with a landlord. However, they won that battle, as their lease had been broken illegally, and were able to not only get their stuff back, but the owner of the building was forced to pay for their relocation costs.
Club 70 closed for a month, eventually finding a new home on 106 street; that building remained queer for the next 42 years. When Club 70 had run its course, it transformed into The Cha Cha Palace for a short period in 1978, then Boots & Saddles for decades, and lastly The Junction Bar & Grill. Once the 106 street location opened, that spot in Edmonton was a safe queer space from 1970-2012.
In 1969, the first step towards building a new sense of community was building a home; a meeting place or a town square, where LGBTQI people could gather, and for the first time, discover who they were in this brave but unknown new world.
Written by: Darrin Hagen, legendary playwright, actor, sound designer, composer, performer, director and TV host based in Edmonton.
The image of the one-room schoolhouse is recognizable to many communities across Alberta. Fortunately, there are a few of these structures still existing that help to illustrate the origins of public education in Alberta. In this article, we will look at the development and decline of the one-room schoolhouse and the building features that make this structure such a unique example of built heritage. The schoolhouses that will be discussed here are the Shilo School, Verdun School and Chailey School. These particular buildings have been restored, indicating the public interest and historical significance of these structures to their community.
A typical one-room schoolhouse was where one teacher would instruct boys and girls of all ages and grades. Attendance to the school could range from just a few to almost one hundred. This type of early public education was common across Canada from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. In Alberta, the first one-room schoolhouse was built in Edmonton in 1881. Many more schoolhouses were erected throughout the province in the years that followed, the majority of which consisted of one room. By 1910, Alberta had 1,501 school districts operating 1,195 schools, the majority of which were located in rural areas.
Even before Alberta became a province, communities were in need of a local police force. The Crowsnest Pass in particular saw an increase in crime as the area began to develop as a coal mining community in the early 1900s. With the introduction of new settlers to the area, it wasn’t long before Coleman requested a police presence from the Canadian Government. A North West Mounted Police office building was constructed in 1904 and shortly after, an officer arrived to the area to establish law and order. This blog post will look at the introduction of a formal police presence into the Coleman area and highlight the importance of the still existing Alberta Provincial Police Building that was built for their use. Read more →
Located on a quiet residential street in Redcliff, Alberta, St. Ambrose Anglican Church is distinguished by its buttressed brick masonry exterior, steeply-pitched gable roof and pointed arch windows. These characteristics strongly identify the 1914 church with the Gothic Revival style popular in the Victorian era for ecclesiastical architecture in England, a style also eagerly adopted by Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches across Canada. Unlike many churches, though, St. Ambrose was modelled on small Anglican parish churches in England and is a variant of the Gothic Revival style seldom found in Alberta.
St. Ambrose’s architecture hearkens back to England but the building’s local roots are evident in the “clinker brick” masonry exterior, an overfired brick with distinctive irregular or lumpy shapes and striking colour variations. Clinker brick resulted from high firing temperatures in the kiln which caused the clay to partly vitrify or melt, sometimes to the point where clumps of bricks would fuse together and had to be broken apart. This lack of uniformity was appreciated for its decorative qualities and the clinker brick at St. Ambrose was produced at the Redcliff Brick and Coal Company just blocks away. The combination of far-reaching colonial stylistic influences and distinctive local materials contributed to the church’s designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 2008.
On a bitterly cold afternoon, at 3:55pm, Nathan E. Tanner, Minister of Lands and Mines turned a valve at the Leduc No. 1 oil well as a rig hand held out a burning rag, setting alight a massive column of smoke and flame that roared hundreds of feet skyward. That event took place on February 13, 1947, seventy years ago today and it heralded in a new era for Alberta. An era of rapid development and prosperity fed by the now discovered reserves of oil deep under the province.
In February 2016, the City of Medicine Hat designated the Elizabeth Street School as a Municipal Historic Resource. In September, a plaque about the school’s history and designation was unveiled. The school is the most recent of Medicine Hat’s historic resources to be listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.
The history of Old St. Stephen’s College spans over a century and while the building itself is unique, it is the people have who have lived and worked here that bring out its uniqueness. In its time as an educational facility, the college produced a large number of graduates who went on to become ministers, employed renowned educators and housed thousands of students. Residents participated in the traditions and customs of campus life and the building became eminent for the pranks that were carried out there. This post will look at the people of Old St. Stephen’s when it functioned as a theological college and some of the stories that illustrate the student’s social lives.
Students were the majority of the building’s inhabitants: up to 150 youths were housed in the college at once and they didn’t spend all their free time studying. After the First World War, the college installed steel spiraled slides, to be used as fire escapes, at the end of each wing. During this time, the college had become a convalescent home for injured soldiers and the fires escapes were meant to evacuate patients as quickly as possible in an emergency. The fire escapes were never used for their intended purpose, but the students made use of them for their own enjoyment. Freshmen were initiated by their fellow classmates, who would dump the unlucky first years down the slides and then chase them with buckets of ice water. This custom continued into the 1970s, up until the fire escapes were removed during the renovations and replaced with ladders. In addition to the pranks and hazing that took place, there were water fights with neighboring residences that highlight the enjoyment of student life on campus. The students had a great deal of playful fun here.
Another tale is from when the Rutherford Library was being constructed in 1948. On the evening of the cornerstone-laying ceremony, the cornerstone mysteriously disappeared, only to turn up behind the college’s west wing fire escape. The stone weighed 700 pounds, and everyone presumed that engineering students were the culprits. However, in 2008, the secret was revealed in New Trail, the University of Alberta’s Alumni magazine. The escapade was actually the work of a group of agriculture students living at St. Stephen’s College. Turns out, the students borrowed a milk cart from the St. Stephen’s kitchen and attempted to haul the stone as far as 109 Street. Being heavier than anticipated, they only made it as far as St. Stephen’s College. To the student’s dismay, the stone was discovered just hours before the cornerstone-laying and the ceremony proceeded as planned.
Faculty members would also fall victim to the student’s pranks. The day after Halloween one year, John Henry Riddell, the College’s first principal, saw that his buggy was balanced unsteadily on one the building’s towers. Once again, the engineering students from the University of Alberta were thought to have assisted with this feat. Although no details could be found on who was responsible, it likely would have been worthwhile for the students to see the look on their administrator’s face. Pranks such as these were seemingly all in good fun, and as one former student states, they “built character and helped form fast friendships.”
In addition to pranks, there were Glee clubs, Students’ Council and various intramural activities for students to participate in. Physical recreation played a large role in student life at the college. Friendly sports rivalries were encouraged and the students had access to the tennis courts, a gym for basketball games and even skating parties were organized. Once the college’s ban on dances was lifted in the 1940s, students were able to attend university dances, including the well-known Sadie Hawkins Dance. Dormitory life helped to foster a communal atmosphere spirit among students and many residents have fond memories of their time spent at the college. Even the brochure for the St. Stephen’s Ladies’ College noted that “the social life [was] just delightful.”
When the building was home for the students of St. Stephen’s College, it was a place where friendships were formed, bonds between students and instructors were strengthened and fun was had. The building has seen thousands of staff and students pass through its hallways and numerous tales have been accumulated. These stories help to illustrate the liveliness of the former college and show us that it is the people who make history come alive.
What can you tell us about your time spent at Old St. Stephen’s College? Let us know your stories!
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.
 A note on naming: the institution was initially known as Alberta College South. ACS and Robertson College were amalgamated in 1925 and renamed the United Theological College. The name St. Stephen’s College was chosen in 1927. It became known as Old St. Stephen’s College in 1952 when a new St. Stephen’s was built directly south of the existing college.