In 1950 Jean Wallbridge and Mary Imrie became the first Canadian women, and among the first women in North America, to establish an architectural partnership.

Wallbridge & Imrie (1950-1979)

Jean Wallbridge and Mary Imrie likely met at the University of Alberta while they were both enrolled in the Bachelors of Applied Science in Architecture program under the tutelage of Dr. Cecil Burgess. Born in 1912, Wallbridge was six years Imrie’s senior and had studied in private schools in Victoria, Switzerland and England before returning to her birthplace and graduating from Victoria High School in Edmonton. One of only four women to graduate from the U of A program, Wallbridge was awarded the fourth place medal in the Class A section by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada upon her graduation in 1939.

Imrie moved to Edmonton with her family from Toronto in 1921. Her father, John Imrie, became a Pulitzer Prize winner in his work as the publisher of the Edmonton Journal. Mary Imrie showed her architectural prowess early, designing her family’s lake cottage when she was just 16. Imrie was only two years into the Architectural program at the U of A when Dr. Cecil Burgess resigned in 1940 and the department discontinued. She completed her degree at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1944. Peter Rule had been their classmate at the U of A and both Wallbridge and Imrie ended up working for Rule, Wynn, and Rule for a time in the early 1940s. Both also joined the Association of Alberta Architects, Wallbridge in 1941 and Imrie in 1944, becoming the third and fifth women to do so.

Initially, the young architects found experience elsewhere, Wallbridge working with the town planners in Saint John, New Brunswick during the war, and Imrie gaining experience in Vancouver and Toronto, but the women were reunited as drafters under Maxwell Dewer in Edmonton’s Office of the City Architect between the years 1946 and 1949. Wallbridge became the technical assistant in Town Planning during this time. In 1947 both architects were granted a three month leave from their City jobs. They were the only two Canadians selected by Columbia University to take part in an impactful architectural tour of Europe to study post-war reconstruction, rehabilitation, and urban planning. Upon their return the Edmonton Bulletin interviewed the women. Imrie said that unlike the reality in post-war Europe “Canada had not yet reached the stage where people realize the importance of planning in country-wide units”, but she felt “confident that that time will come”. The women later spent a year touring South America (1949-1950), and travelled to Afghanistan, Northern India, and the Middle East (1957-1958) documenting their experiences for architectural journals.

Their friendship and partnership was secured when they moved into their purpose built home and office they called “Six Acres” overlooking the North Saskatchewan River across from where Terwilligar Recreation Area is today. Wallbridge & Imrie specialized in apartments, residential plans, seniors’ residences, and housing projects, using what the Edmonton Journal deemed were “light, open concepts that were novel in Edmonton”. Their specialization, however, was not solely their choosing. Many lucrative commercial projects bypassed the women and landed in the laps of their male counterparts. This, even after their impressive work for Maxwell Dewar at the City, who countered the bias at the time and recommended the women’s wages be increased to correspond with the male architects. In 1957 Wallbridge & Imrie was awarded the Canadian Housing Design Council Award.

Upon the death of Jean Wallbridge in 1979, Imrie retired their practise and enjoyed a quiet outdoors life in their home and on the trails of some of the vast land that she acquired over the course of her life. When she died in 1988, Imrie left the bulk of her estate to the Province of Alberta for conservation purposes. This included around 260 acres of largely undeveloped land in an around Edmonton, and $2 million to the U of A mostly earmarked for the care, maintenance, and advancement of the Devonian Botanical Garden. “Six Acres” has been renamed Imrie House and became home to the Land Stewardship Centre in 1996.

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