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Old Town Hall / Fire Hall


Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
Located at 1014 – 2nd Avenue, the Old Town Hall is a neo classical two storey brick building built in 1929. It is located near the centre of town one half block east of the Memorial Clock Tower and one block north of the rail line. An addition to the east side of the Old Town Hall built in 1976 is not included in the designation.

Heritage Value
The significance of the Old Town Hall lies primarily in its status as a historic multi-function municipal government building. It is also valued for its Classical architectural elements and style, and for its significance as an important cultural landmark in Wainwright.

Rebuilt in 1929 after it was mostly destroyed by the Great Fire, the Old Town Hall is a good example of multi function municipal government buildings popular in Alberta during the period. Services housed in the Old Town Hall included a fire station, police department, jail cell, municipal offices, and council chambers.

The Old Town Hall has great cultural value to the community as it is associated with many prominent families who helped to settle the town. A example is M.L Forster who was the Mayor when the Old Town Hall was built and who was also a significant businessman in Wainwright and owner of the Wainwright Hotel. His daughter, the first baby born in Wainwright, was named Wainwright to commemorate the event. Designed by local Edmonton architects G.H. Macdonald and H.A. Magoon, the Old Town Hall aesthetically embodies many aspects of the architectural Classicism popular in civic buildings during the early twentieth century and is representative of the firm's work. Prominent features of this style evident on the exterior of the Old Town Hall include its symmetrical façade, decorated cornice with dentil detailing, and decorative lintels above the window and door openings.

Character-Defining Elements
Site features as typified by:
- original location within downtown Wainwright;
- close proximity and external visual relationship between the building and the Memorial Clock Tower.
The character-defining elements of the property include its:
- two-storey, rectangular, symmetrical, flat-roof form;
- masonry construction with wraparound facades clad in over-fired red bricks; low, flat, brick parapet;
- sandstone detail comprising the entrance casing (inscribed `TOWN HALL`), lintels, panels sills,foundation, string courses, window casing and an inscribed commemorative tablet featuring acarved buffalo in relief;
- classical, wooden, roofline cornice with dentil molding;
- fenestration; multi-pane, wooden-sash windows (double-hung) and transom lights; round, multipane window;
- large, front and rear fire hall doorway openings; rear fire hall doors comprising battened, wood, double doors with upper multi-pane lights and iron hardware;
- central, roof-top flagpole;
- louvered rooftop ventilator (for fire hose);
- rear iron fire escape;
- interior features comprising a side-hall plan; open staircase with wooden balustrades of squared balusters and newels; interior window-wall; second-storey vault with steel door; and
- central, downtown situation adjacent to the main street; setback from the street.


Street Address: 1018 - 2 Avenue
Community: Wainwright
Boundaries: Lots 39 and 40, Block 8, Plan 6445V
Contributing Resources:

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
6445 V

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.83316 -110.85976 GPS

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2008/12/16

Historical Information

Built: 1929-1929
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Governing Canada : Government and Institutions
Historic Function(s): Government : Town or City Hall
Current Function(s): Government : Town or City Hall
Architect: G.H. Macdonald and H.A. Magoon
Context: Prior to the arrival of white settlements, the Blackfoot and Cree Indians roamed the area in search of their primary source for food, the plains bison (commonly known as buffalo). By the early 1890s the buffalo had all but disappeared from the prairies and settlers were starting to homestead in their place.

This was followed by a period of great development and settlement in the West. From 1901 to 1911 the population of the Prairie Provinces tripled. By 1913, when things began to slow down, 2,500,000 new Canadians had arrived. Half of the new increase on the prairies had moved in from Eastern Canada.

Dominion government used to draw settlers from Britain and Europe that falsely portrayed the Canadian West as prosperous agricultural land. It was not long after settlement began that farmers realized they could not grow fruits or vegetables on most of the prairies. The growing season was too short and water too scarce. This meant that cash crops such as wheat for outside markets would be the foundation of western agriculture.

The railway formed the basis for business, industry, the grain trade and social life in Western Canada. The very route chosen by a railway could determine the face of the West. Small towns such as Selkirk and Winnipeg tried to outbid each other to attract the railway. In cities like Regina and Calgary, decisions taken by the railway in boardrooms far to the east made and broke fortunes in real estate speculation and changed the urban geography of the West. Towns and cities grew where stations, division points and repair shops were built. The route chosen by a railway usually determined which western towns would thrive and Wainwright was no different.

Wainwright started with neither fuss, nor ceremony, in 1908. An engineer of the Grand Trunk Pacific Town and Development Company decided on this spot for a town site. Wainwright was a divisional point on the Grand Truck Pacific Railway, named to honor a vice-president of the company. Plans for the town called for it to be a centre of activity and act as the hub for many branch lines running to major centres in Western Canada.

The choice of this location came as bitter blow to the hardy and optimistic group, including Mr. J.H. Dawson, who had built a village called Denwood the year before about two and one half miles east. This thriving community was located on excellent land and boasted a hotel, lumber yard, two stores, and a post office as well as having two doctors in residence.

Since the railroad would not come to them, Denwood packed up bag, baggage and buildings and resettled in Wainwright (including the original Wainwright Hotel). The rails arrived in July 1908, and on March 25th, 1909 Wainwright was incorporated as a village by Alberta Government Order-In-Council No. 186/09 and three councilors elected. There are still many families in the community whose relatives were the first to settle one hundred years ago.

During this boom, Wainwright took second place to no one and in 1910 the community was granted town status. The first buffalo for Buffalo National Park had arrived in June, 1909. There were two hotels, two banks, three churches, stores and shops of every kind, two brick yards, and a band. Recreational activities included 5 fraternal groups, hockey, baseball, an opera house, gun club, tennis, bowling and even a hunt club. The population was nearing 1000.

By 1912 the big brick school was open, fire hall completed, the covered rink was in operation, and everyone and everything was really moving. This was the year of the first big fire. It took out half of one of the business blocks, but was prevented from spreading further by the fire brigade.

More men from this town and district enlisted during World War One than from any area of comparable size. In 1925 the Memorial Clock Tower was built to commemorate those lost in the first Great War. It was during this period too that phones and electric power were installed. Natural gas was installed in 1927 and a hospital built in 1928.

Perhaps the most significant year of all was in 1929, for on July 21st, the entire business section of Wainwright as well as many residences were virtually wiped out by fire. The Great Fire of 1929 was one of the worst fires in the history of Alberta towns. This, coupled with the depression of the thirties, almost finished off the town for good. Likely all that saved the town was the fact that since this was a CNR divisional point, and thus had a fair number of railway employees, and also the government employees of the Buffalo National Park, there was some money circulating in the district. It is doubtful any business could have survived the fire and depression, had not these few regular pay-rolls been spent locally.

With the help of insurance and a whole lot of work and willpower, the business district was rebuilt from fall 1929 through to 1931. Of the 51 buildings in our designated historic downtown area, twenty eight heritage buildings date back to that period. Seven others were built between 1932 and 1950. A further ten heritage buildings fall outside of the designated area but are still in the main street - downtown district. The Memorial Clock Tower built in 1925 withstood the fire and the CN Train Station (1929), Wainwright Hotel (1930), Wainwright Pharmacy (1929), Old Town Hall (1929) and a number of other businesses still exist in the same form today.

It is a strange but tragic fact that the Second Great War brought Wainwright back to life. In 1939 all the animals (except the experimental Cattalo at the Park Farm) in Buffalo National Park were slaughtered. In nearly 30 years, over 40,000 buffalo had been handled. It is interesting to note that from the time of opening, to closing of Buffalo National Park, no visitor had been hurt or injured. By 1942, the area, today known as Canadian Forces Base, Area Support Unit Wainwright, was a training ground for thousands of young Canadian soldiers. Business boomed and jobs were plentiful. The horror of war actually benefited Wainwright economically.

Aside from a brief period in 1945-46, when German Prisoners of War were held there, CFB/ASU Wainwright has continued to be a big factor in town growth. In 1950 the Cattalo that remained were shipped to Manyberries, Alberta.

Since the war, despite the removal of the oil refinery, and the steady decrease in resident Railway employees, growth has been slow but steady. It appears, in fact, that we may yet attain the growth and status our pioneer settlers expected of us, when they arrived in the area one hundred years ago.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0283
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link: www.wainwright.ca
Data Source: Town of Wainwright, 1018-2 Avenue, Wainwright, AB, T9W 1R1 Roll # 21100
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