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Administration Building (1931)

Edmonton

Other Names:
Administration Building
Bowker Building
Natural Resources Building

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Administration Building (1931) is a government office block located in Edmonton within the Alberta Legislature precinct, along with several other government office buildings arranged around a plaza. The main entrance of the Administration Building faces west towards 109 Street. The building is a five-storey steel frame building clad in Tyndall limestone that originally had a C-shaped plan, with the wings extending eastwards from the main block, which is oriented north-south. In 1980, a new entrance was added to the centre of the east façade, and one-and-one-half storeys, clad in metal and not visible from the ground, were added to the roof. The designation is limited to the exterior elements and west interior vestibule details, which are the only parts of the structure that retain sufficient integrity to communicate heritage value.

Heritage Value
The Administration Building is significant as an excellent late example of classical revival architecture and as an excellent example of the work and design philosophy of prominent Alberta architectural educator and commentator, Cecil Scott Burgess. It is further significant for its association with Alberta’s assumption of control over land and natural resources from the federal government – a landmark event in the province’s political and economic history.

The architectural significance of the Administration Building rests on its classical revival design, which harmonizes with and complements the adjacent Beaux-Arts style Alberta Legislature Building. Classical revival styles, inspired by ancient Greek or Roman prototypes, implied permanence, stability and sophistication, making them the most popular choices for government and bank buildings in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Alberta. The Administration Building is a late example of this style, which reflects the particular influence of prominent Alberta architect Cecil Scott Burgess who served as consulting architect on the project. The building is significant as an expression of Burgess’s design philosophy, which emphasized utility, context, social function and aesthetic impact, and, in particular, reflected his conviction that modern construction methods did not necessitate the abandonment of classical architectural precedents. Elements such as Corinthian columns, pediments, cornices and carved relief sculptures of Alberta-themed subjects, as well as the ashlar cladding—all executed in Tyndall limestone—reflect Burgess’s classical design influences and combine to make the Administration Building a distinguished and striking addition to the Alberta Legislature precinct.

The building draws additional heritage value from its association with provincial administration of land and resources. This was an issue of significant symbolic weight for many Albertans who resented federal land and resource control as clear evidence of the province’s subordinate position within Confederation. The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) made this a significant election issue in 1926, running successfully on a platform that prioritized the transfer of land and resources to provincial control. Two years later, the UFA government proceeded with plans to build a new five-storey administration building near the legislature to house the future Department of Lands and Mines. Premier John Brownlee successfully negotiated the transfer agreement with the federal government in 1929 to great public acclaim and celebration, and Alberta assumed control over land and resources in 1930. The new Administration Building opened to much fanfare in March 1931 and housed (among other government agencies) the new Department of Lands and Mines, the Fisheries Branch, the Forestry Branch and the Edmonton Land Agency. The building continued to house departments related to administration of land and resources until 1980 when it was renovated to house the Department of the Attorney General and renamed the Bowker Building in honour of Wilber F. Bowker, long-serving head of the Law Department of the University of Alberta. The building’s five-decades long association with land and resource administration contributes greatly to the building’s overall heritage value, given the significance of land and natural resources control in Alberta’s political history.

Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des 2300)


Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Administration Building (1931) include its exterior elements and west interior vestibule details, such as:

- Five-storey form and massing;
- classical revival style design and detailing, giant engaged Corinthian columns rising from the third through fifth floors at the main entrance and terminal pavilions, pediments, dentillated cornice, parapet with carved laurel wreaths and balusters circling the top of the building;
- ashlar Tyndall limestone exterior cladding;
- symmetrical arrangement of windows and decorative elements to either side of the central entrance;
- segmental arch with prominent keystone above the main entrance;
- grand oak front doors;
- bronze lamp standards, one at either side at the base of the stairs to the main entrance, with four pendant lamps;
- stained glass windows, including a letter “A” above the main entry;
- two-storey bow window above the main entrance;
- double-hung wood frame one-over-one windows;
- arched window openings on the second floor;
- embellished lintels and sills on the fourth floor windows; and
- carved stone elements, including a provincial coat of arms located in the central broken base pediment, a head of an Indigenous man wearing a war bonnet in the keystone of the Palladian window below the pediment, and two bison heads flanking the main entrance.


Location



Street Address: 9833 - 109 Street NW
Community: Edmonton
Boundaries: Area "A" on Survey Plan 1822268 within Lot 2, Block G, Plan 1720026
Contributing Resources: Building

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
1720026
G
2


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.5366917 -113.5079722

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2019/03/07

Historical Information

Built: 1931 to 1931
Significant Date(s) 1931 to 1931
Theme(s) Governing Canada : Government and Institutions
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: When Alberta was made a province in 1905, the Dominion government decided to retain control of Crown land and natural resources within its borders, as it did with Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Peace River Block of British Columbia. The stated reason was the relatively small population spread over a large area and the absence of sufficient resources to administer land and natural resource programs. However, by 1926, Alberta's population had grown to 608,000, and, in the 1926 provincial election, the new UFA premier, John Brownlee, vowed to make the patriation of Crown land and, especially, natural resources a major objective.

The UFA had been in power in Alberta since 1921. Their election was symptomatic of a growing feeling of alienation in western Canada, especially in rural areas. Though not united, there were 65 "Progressives" returned to Parliament in 1921, ten being UFA Members from Alberta. Though their number dwindled to 24 after the 1925 federal election, they provided a strong voice for radical change, especially when they sided with Labour Members on many issues like state control of the economy, including banks. Sensitive to this was Prime Minister Mackenzie King. He had restored the Crow's Nest Pass freight rates in 1922 and gave lip service to the idea of provincial control of Crown land and natural resources on the prairies. One problem, he saw, was a possible breakdown in the orderly control of developments.

In 1928, King agreed to hold discussions with the western premiers on the subject. In December 1929, Premier Brownlee went to Ottawa to hold face-to-face talks with the Prime Minister, during which an agreement was struck, including financial compensation to Alberta for its loss of revenue during the years it had note received energy royalties. Brownlee returned to Edmonton in an atmosphere of triumph and was greeted by about 2,000 people at the Canadian National station in freezing weather.

In anticipation of gaining control of Crown land and natural resources, the Alberta government had proceeded, in the summer of 1928, with plans for a new administration building to serve these and other government programs. At a cost of $31,050, it purchased two blocks of land west of 109th Street between 98th and 99th Avenues from the City of Edmonton. The land had hitherto been used for modest housing. The west portion of the west block, which contained seven dwellings, was selected for the new building. At the same time, the head of architecture at the University of Alberta, Cecil Burgess, was contracted to work with the Architectural Branch of the provincial Public Works department under Superintendent of Buildings, D.E. MacDonald, on a design for a five story structure with basement. A six story building was contemplated, but it was decided to install a sub-basement instead.

It was also decided to build the structure principally of limestone, a decision which was objected to by the brick industry in Alberta which contacted the Minister of Public Works, O.L. McPherson, on the matter. In replying to the Minister, D.E. MacDonald referred to the "factory" appearance a brick building would have, and that the difference in cost would be only about $70,000. The Minister apparently agreed. It was then decided to use limestone from Indiana, the announcement of which brought further protest. Indeed, the Redcliffe Pressed Brick Company wrote to McPherson pointing out that the Manitoba government had been purchasing brick from Alberta for years, and that maybe Alberta should reciprocate by using limestone from Manitoba. The government apparently went along with the idea because the stone eventually chosen, at greater cost, was from Garson, Manitoba.

The new building featured a classical palladian style with Corinthian columns. The contract for construction was awarded to the H.G. MacDonald Company which submitted the low bid of $690,111 ($681,111 in Indiana stone was to be used). The H.G. Macdonald Company had just built the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building on Jasper Avenue and 101st Street, and would also build the Birks Building.

When the building was completed in early 1931, the overall cost was $950,000, which did not include many details, such as freight and passenger elevators. It was officially opened on 24 March to much fanfare and was named the Administration Building. Its main purpose was to accommodate the programs of the new Department of Lands & Mines, ministered over by R.G. Reid but run by Deputy Minister John Harvie, transferred over from the federal Department of the Interior. The Main (2nd) floor held the Workmen's Compensation Board, the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners. The third floor contained the Department of Municipal Affairs and the Irrigation Council. The fourth floor contained the Fisheries Branch, the Forestry Branch, and the Alberta Liquor Control Board. The fifth floor contained the administration office of the Department of Lands & Mines, and the Traffic Division of the Department of Railways and Telephones, and the Edmonton Land Agency. The basement and sub-basement contained equipment and supplies for the building and storage space, especially for the tons of files which were being transferred from Ottawa.

In 1952, the Administration Building was joined by a new Administration Building (later called the Haultain Building). The Administration Building was then called the Natural Resources Building. In 1949, the old Department of Lands & Mines was divided into a Department of Lands & Forests and a Department of Mines & Minerals. In 1952, the Natural Resources Building held the offices of both departments and well as Municipal Affairs and the Provincial Secretary.

In 1976, the (Brian) Woolfenden Group of architects was contracted to renovate the interior of the Natural Resources building so it could serve as a home for the provincial Department of the Attorney General. The few interior classical details of old building were retained, and the rest made over, largely in mahogany. A 6th floor, invisible from the street, was added, along with an east entrance vestibule. When the $7 million renovation project was completed in 1980, the building was re-named the Bowker Building in honour of the long-serving head of the Law Department of the University of Alberta, Wilber F. Bowker.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The historical significance of the Bowker Building lies mainly in its provision of a home for the provincial department of Lands & Mines, created in 1931. All central administrative activity from the settlement of Crown land to the control of gas and oil extraction and production (save for that monitored by the Gas & Oil Conservation Board in Calgary) was undertaken in this building. It is also significant for its accommodation of other programs of the provincial government, and, from 1980 onward, of the administration of the Department of the Attorney General, later Justice.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0026
Designation File: DES 2300
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 54255
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2300)
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