Lemarchand Mansion. File Photo
Still one of the most impressive buildings in Edmonton, the Lemarchand Mansion sits perched on the top of the river valley at 11523 100 Avenue, offering its occupants a spectacular view much as it did in 1912 when it housed Edmontons elite. It was Rene Lemarchands ambition, when construction began, to build the most luxurious apartment in Canada. He hired renowned local architect, Alfred Merigon Calderon, to design a lavish European style building in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.
Built to attract upper income families and singles alike, the Lemarchand offered its occupants a choice of several two to seven room suites -- no two floor plans were alike. All of the 43 suites came with one or two fireplaces and the H-shaped design guaranteed that every suite had an exterior window.
No expense was spared to offer the latest conveniences. The building boasted one of Edmontons first elevators, electric dumbwaiters to carry parcels and packages to upper levels, a mail chute, iron balconies and a coal degasifier that produced natural gas for cooking and heating. Safety was ensured by concrete floors and thick brick walls deafened with two inches or mortar to insulate tenants from noise and fires. Rents were $40 to $100 a month.
Exterior walls were two feet thick, constructed of brick and adorned with iron balconies, contrasting keystones, pillars and an ornate cornice enhanced the building. The French classical revival Beaux-Arts Style grand entrance, complete with columns and horizontal bands of contrasting stone and brick, led to a foyer with marble flooring, oak panelled walls, bevelled and stained glass and a brass hooded fireplace. Outstanding even by current standards, the building immediately established the neighbourhood as an upscale and desirable place to live.
Rene Lemarchand was in his 50s when he landed in Edmonton in 1905 with his wife and three daughters to join his brother, Alphonse, who was a priest at St. Joachims parish. A retired butler, Rene was said to have inherited a large number of straight razors from an eccentric Parisian nobleman who used a new razor every day. In an era where straight razors were both expensive and durable, this was a sizeable legacy.
One of Rene Lemarchand's first investments in Edmonton was a store selling fruits and an assortment of dry goods. He sold the store in 1906 to become a real estate speculator and, supplemented by investment funds from the waiters'union in Paris, L'Union des Garcons de Cafe, Rene Lemarchand began construction of his apartment building in 1909.
The building permit was issued May 29th, 1909 and the completion was scheduled for 1910 at an estimated cost of $140,000. Calderon was listed as the architect and Charles May, a former mayor and one of the city's leading builders, was listed as contractor. A series of builders' strikes and some other circumstances delayed its opening until 1912 and pushed the final construction cost to nearly $200,000.
Early tenants included actress Jane Russell, who lived in the building as a child, and Mr. And Mrs. J. Percy Page, who moved into the building shortly after their marriage and years before he became lieutenant-governor of Alberta. We were anxious to get into the building because it was the only place that had gas in the kitchens, Mrs. Page is quoted as saying in a 1974 Edmonton Journal article. For 25 or 30 cents the janitor would bring up enough wood to keep the fireplace burning for an evening.
Like other buildings of its era, the Lemarchand Mansion has suffered the vagaries of wars, a depressed economy, and changing housing styles. After World War II, the lower suites were converted to offices. The biggest threat, however, was during the frenzy of high rise development in the 1970s. Block after block of historic homes and buildings were razed for new development until the Lemarchand Mansion, too, was threatened.
Compromise and designation as a Provincial Historical Resource in 1977 gave it the protection it so richly deserves. A $4.5 million renovation changed the entire building into offices and shops. The exterior was preserved, unmarred, except for the incongruent modern windows. A recognizable landmark of the Edmonton skyline, the graceful Lemarchand Mansion sits as a jewel amongst its very newer neighbours.
Rene Lemarchand sold his beloved mansion in 1916 and returned to France, despite warnings from his friends of the danger of a wartime voyage. But they at least made his last days in Edmonton memorable.
Mae Laycock, longtime resident of the Mansion, recalls that the friends held a bon voyage banquet at the Macdonald Hotel. LeMarchand agreed to attend, provided the function ended by 10:30 so he could catch his 11 oclock train.
After the dinner, there were speeches aplenty about what a splendid fellow Rene was - what a good citizen, what a good friend, how much he done for his adopted city, how much they would miss him. They talked on and on and LeMarchand, too polite to interrupt, listened and listened until he missed his train and boat to France -- just what his friends had hoped.
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