| They came from near and far to help grow the new settlement at the northern end of the Calgary & Edmonton Railway. The entrepreneurs who arrived in the last decade of the 19th century and the early years of the 1900s gave birth to the early businesses in what was first known as South Edmonton. In 1899 it was incorporated as a town called Strathcona, after Lord Strathcona, a pioneer fur trader and clerk whose real name was Donald A. Smith. |
Many of the earliest settlers saw opportunity and opened businesses and helped Strathcona grow and prosper. The boom times lasted through the first dozen years of the new century, until Strathcona amalgamated with Edmonton and development shifted to the north side of the river. That's one of the reasons today's Strathcona boasts such an amazing stock of vintage buildings - a virtual time capsule of the community's early, vibrant years.
Among those who helped build the town in its formative years were the Douglas brothers, James and Robert, who erected the Douglas Block in 1912. The building, at 10442 Whyte Avenue, was designed by the architectural firm of Wilson and Herrald, who also designed the Princess Theatre and the Strathcona Public Library.
The original design provided main floor space for one or two retail outlets and the upper floors were apartments. Although called the Douglas Block, it never housed their very successful general store, which for many years was located at the southeast corner of Whyte Avenue and 104th Street.
The Douglas family came west in 1878 and, led by father James Sr., settled at Strathcona in 1894. In 1904/05, James Jr. was a member of town council and Robert served on the school board for some ten years.
Their business was so successful that it was enlarged several times and eventually covered more than 5,000 square feet. Their original store was destroyed by fire October 26th, 1913. But the Douglas Block endures and was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1982.
The Chapman Brothers Building at 10423 Whyte Avenue was built in 1901 and originally occupied by the Great West Saddlery Company. It is one of few wood frame buildings remaining on Whyte Avenue; it was constructed the year before the town council passed an ordinance requiring all new commercial blocks to be built of non combustible materials.
Archibald Benjamin Chapman was the manager of the location and in 1912, he purchased the firm, renamed it A.B. Chapman and Company, and continued making and selling harnesses. After his death in 1918 Archie Chapman's sons changed the company name again, this time to Chapman Brothers Limited.
As the motor car and the tractor gained in popularity, the Chapman harness-making business fell on hard times. The brothers diversified and began selling western wear and sometimes half of the premises was let to other businesses. The Chapman family owned the building well into the 1990s.
The exterior in essentially in its original condition and the store is one of the least altered of the remaining wood frame commercial buildings on Whyte Avenue. With its boomtown front, multi-paned windows, bracketed parapet and pressed tin siding, moulded to imitate brick, it offers a glimpse back at a popular exterior style around the turn of the 20th century. The Chapman Brothers Building was designated a Registered Historic Resource in 1976.
The Richards Block, at 10422 Whyte Avenue, was constructed for the then considerable sum of $30,000 and boasted foundation walls two feet thick and a superstructure reinforced by steel. The facade is embellished with classical details, lending it a distinguished appearance.
It was built by the Richards family, whose members came to Strathcona in 1893 and were among the community's earliest merchants. A.H. Richards served as a town councillor in 1906 and his son Thomas was for many years one of Strathcona's busiest contractors.
The ground level was originally covered with rusticated sandstone with decorative urns at each end. The upper floors were finished in brick, laid to imitate coursed stone. The style is called Edwardian Commercial and was very popular in our part of the world in the early 20th century.
The official opening of the A.H. Richards and Company general store on March 12, 1910 was a notable affair. An orchestra played for much of the day and special discounts were offered on all items. The ground floor store sold a wide range of goods, including clothing, household items and groceries.
In its early days, the upper floors were offices and meeting rooms. In 1925 they were converted to apartments. The Richards Block was designated a Registered Historic Resource in 1976.
All these years later, the tradition of owner-operated commerce endures. Now, as then, Old Strathcona is a place where 90 per cent of the small businesses are run by local people often families. Its a big part of what gives Old Strathcona its distinctive flavour, explains Shirley Lowe, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association. Its a tradition that endures.
Information for this article compiled with the assistance of the Old Strathcona Foundation, the Old Strathcona Business Association and the staff at the City of Edmonton Archives.