Hidden in plain sight: The story of Edmonton’s Bowker Building

Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)

Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen unless otherwise noted.

Symbology of all kinds litters the facades of Edmonton’s Bowker Building. Up, down, left, right, there’s something to be found. The Chief and arms. The Wild Rose, symbolizing Alberta itself. The heads of bison, symbolizing power, strength and durability. The Queen’s Crown on each door handle, symbolizing the monarchy. Even its long-time name, ‘The Natural Resources Building,’ a symbol of Alberta’s bountiful wealth.

For being in the throes of the Great Depression, all its bangles, wingdings and baubles may have seemed like another instance of government waste. But for the United Farmers of Alberta it came with good reason. When they commissioned the building it was seen as righting a fifteen-year-old wrong.

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Innocuous Modern: Edmonton’s hidden urban design

Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)

Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen.

There are minuses to living in a largely post-war city like Edmonton. Ask any urban planner and they’ll point to the era as the antithesis to good urban design.

New suburbs were built around the private automobile, not a streetcar or trolleybus. Roads became wide and winding; lots large, density low. More and more, basic needs became further and further out of reach for anyone who didn’t drive. Malls replaced traditional shopping corridors. Downtown struggled, stagnated and effectively died. The inner core rotted. There’s no denying that the post-war push saw a shift in lifestyle that most North American cities have yet to recover from.

7918 144 Avenue

But perhaps one minuscule caveat to the era exists: the architecture that dots these car-centric subdivisions. It’s a style one could almost dub “Innocuous Modern” — pieces of Modernism that sit largely ignored or unnoticed, passed by thousands each day without a second thought. They’re often restrained, but still unique, examples of a mid-century era styling that are perfectly inoffensive and never draw the eye with any semblance of gaudiness.

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