During the inter-war years, Edmonton experienced periods of decline that were followed by periods of new growth. The completion of new buildings, and new architectural styles, followed these cycles with many more buildings being constructed during the late 1920s and 1930s. By the end of the Second World War, another boom would greatly change the skyline and alter the map of Edmonton. If the war years represented slow, conservative growth, the post-war Modern era would usher in rapid expansion and change.
Effects on Architecture
Even with the effects of the global credit crunch, residential construction continued fairly steadily into the 1930s, though perhaps not as much as before the First World War. Although the population had shrunk, many people were still without homes, so that house building in Edmonton continued apace. Due to wartime shortages existing houses were converted into apartments during the 1940s. For new residential construction, the Foursquare style lessened in popularity as people began to favour the smaller, more efficient Arts and Crafts style bungalow. This style often used Clinker bricks, which rarely were seen outside of Edmonton.
There was still some public construction occurring during this period. The federal government planned and paid for immigration halls to provide free short-term accommodation for agricultural settlers. Built near main railway stations to accommodate the influx of new immigrants, Edmonton’s Immigration Hall was built solidly of brick and reinforced concrete, and began operation in 1931. Although Edmonton was slow to adapt to influences from abroad, architectural styles such as Art Deco, Byzantine and International did begin to creep in near the end of this period.
The start of 1914 brought a sudden credit freeze and serious unemployment that halted almost all commercial construction. In August, the major European powers including Britain, found themselves at war. As it was still legally a British colony, Canada was also at war. Many Canadians responded enthusiastically to the call to arms, and Edmontonians were no exception. Almost 18,000 people, an amazing 24per cent of the population, left the city between 1914 and 1916 as thousands joined the fight or searched for greener pastures elsewhere. Edmonton’s population continued to fluctuate during the next few decades, and by the 1940s much of the city, including many residential areas, had changed considerably.
On June 28, 1915, another major event occurred, which would forever change Edmonton. The North Saskatchewan River rose twelve meters above its normal level, turning streets into rivers and submerging neighborhoods under nearly a meter of water. Almost 800 families lost their homes and many businesses were destroyed. The water was so high and moving so fast that a Canadian National Railways coal train was parked on the Low Level Bridge to keep it from being carried away. When the waters receded there was little incentive and hardly any available credit to rebuild. Almost a generation later, all the land in the river valley reverted to the city for non-payment of taxes. The flooded lands eventually become an important part of modern Edmonton, namely, the river valley park system.
Edmonton moved quietly into the 1920s, with many soldiers and their families returning home, and a decade of slow, restrained growth followed. Few noteworthy buildings were constructed in this period. Throughout the 1930s, the population of Edmonton grew slowly reaching 90,000 by 1939. The city did not fare as badly as many places during the Great Depression but the global economic upheaval meant that many families lived on meager budgets.
An upturn in the economy came in the early 1940s with the effects of the Second World War. Wartime activities, including flight training and the construction of the Alaska Highway and the Canol pipeline, brought thousands of Allied servicemen and civilian contractors into Edmonton. The best estimate is that for much of the war, Americans made up about ten per cent of the population of Edmonton. Housing was in desperately short supply, even after the crown corporation, Wartime Housing Incorporated, began to build several hundred infill houses.
In 1929, a new cash-and-carry grocery chain from the western United States arrived in Edmonton, bringing with it this Spanish Revival storefront.
This early Moderne building was originally a fire hall before an extensive renovation in the 1930s.
With its curved front facade and location on a busy downtown corner, the Birks Building is a prominent example of early Modern classicism.
The Bowker Building was the last Edmonton office buildings fashioned in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture.
C.N.R. architect John Schofield situated this prominent railway station to be admired from Jasper Avenue, four blocks away.
The Capitol Theatre was Edmonton's first dedicated movie house.
This Tudor Revival home was built in 1914 and was the home of Dr. Eardley Allin.
This Classical Revival building featured prominently in the downtown skyline until its demolition in 1968.
The El Mirador Apartments give a unique touch of Spanish Revival architecture to Edmonton's downtown.
Designed in 1939 but not built until the 1950s, the Federal Building is the newest example of Art Deco influenced architecture in Edmonton.
This log house was built in 1934 on a quiet street in the Highlands neighbourhood.
This clinker brick bungalow was built by expert mason Frederick Jones, who was also responsible for the clinker brick masterpiece Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
Loved by generations of Edmontonians, this Moderne theatre was designated and restored to its original glory in 2009.
Glenora School was built in 1940 using the Tudor style in an effort to have it blend in to its residential surroundings.
The 1914 H.V. Shaw Building is one of the few examples of Chicago style in Edmonton.
The Hecla Block is representative of Edmonton's first generation of apartment buildings built specifically for the works class.
Highlands School was designed by Edmonton Public School Board architect George E. Turner in the Collegiate Gothic style.
The 1926 Highlands United Church was designed by well-known Edmonton architect W. G. Blakey.
Arguably Edmonton's most iconic building, the Hotel Macdonald has been a fixture on the city’s skyline since it was completed in 1915.
Built in 1914, this two and half storey Foursquare house is located in the Cromdale neighbourhood.
Art Deco influenced buildings are not common in Edmonton, through there are some noteworthy examples.
The Arts and Crafts style valued natural materials and truth in form. It was typically very ornate and employed a lot of details.
Elegant Beaux Arts buildings were constructed between 1885 and 1930 especially by those wanting to portray an image of prosperity.
Byzantine architecture is an important reminder of the Eastern European settlers who arrived in Edmonton beginning in the 1890s.
A school of architecture grew out of Chicago in the early 1900s and made its presence known across North America, including a few examples in Edmonton.
Classical Revival architecture is a romantic style that makes use of elements found in Greek and Roman buildings from antiquity.
Clinker bricks were valued for their unique appearance and used extensively in Edmonton, unlike most other places where they were considered garbage.
The Craftsman style was similar to Arts and Crafts but less detailed. The value of natural materials and truth in form are still very evident.
The Edwardian style was popular in Edmonton in the first decades of the 20th century and was most commonly seen in commercial buildings.
Foursquare homes were very popular in Edmonton in the 1910s. There are many surviving examples that provide wonderful character to some of the city’s older neighbourhoods.
The Gothic Revival style in Edmonton is most commonly seen in churches, such as St. Joachim’s or Robertson-Wesley.
Log buildings were among the first constructed in the Edmonton area. Although seemingly rudimentary, they required considerable skill to build well.
Edmonton has a rich and varied Modern architectural legacy, with many subsets and some world class examples.
Moderne architecture was popular in Edmonton in the 1930s and 1940s and was an adaptation of the Art Deco style.
Edmonton has only a few examples of Prairie style homes, identified by their low roofs, banks of windows and horizontal emphasis.
The Scottish Baronial style can be seen in some of Edmonton’s most iconic structures, such as the Hotel Macdonald or the Provincial Legislature.
The Spanish Revival style served to romanticize not only theatres and commercial structures, but residential buildings as well.
Tudor Revival architecture was popular in Edmonton in the 1930s, and can evoke responses for its storybook qualities.