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.

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Club 70, a first in Alberta’s LGBT history

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.

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You may know it now as the seedy Milla Pub. But behind these doors in 1969, a queer person would nervously descend down the stairs into the very beginnings of Edmonton’s very first official gay club, Club 70.

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.

One-room Schoolhouses in Alberta: where early public education began

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.

Edmonton 1881 School (Erin Hoar).

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Law & Order in Coleman: The Alberta Provincial Police Building

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

A New Roof for St. Ambrose Church

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.

St. Ambrose Church from the northwest in 1914, with inset showing the original narrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and rows of slightly offset shingles (inset) to create shadow lines and decorative horizontal bands across the roof. Glenbow Archives photograph NA -2701-5.

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“IT THREW A MUSHROOM CLOUD JUST LIKE AN ATOMIC BOMB”: THE LEDUC No.1 OIL DISCOVERY – 70 YEARS AGO

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.

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“It flared hundreds of feet” is how tool push Vern Hunter described the lighting of the flare as the Leduc No. 1 oil well was brought in on February 13, 1947. Source, Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1342

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