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Wetaskiwin Court House

Wetaskiwin

Other Names:
County Courthouse (Old)
Courthouse (Old)
Old County Courthouse
Old Courthouse
Old Wetaskiwin Courthouse
Wetaskiwin Courthouse (Old)

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Wetaskiwin Court House is a three-storey red brick building situated on a block of land east of the city's downtown. The building is circled by a galvanized iron cornice, frieze, and architrave and its main entrance features a projecting pediment supported by Ionic columns. Set in relief on the pediment and entablature are the year "1907", Alberta's armorial bearings, and the words "COURT HOUSE."

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Wetaskiwin Court House lies in its representation of the Classical Revival style of architecture and its association with the establishment of legal institutions in Alberta shortly after the creation of the province in 1905.

Construction on the Wetaskiwin Court House began in 1907, the first trial was held here in 1908, and the structure was completed in 1909. The building was the first of its kind designed by A.M. Jeffers, the newly appointed Provincial Architect and draftsman for many of Alberta's early governmental constructions, including the Legislature. The courthouse embodies the Classical Revival architectural style, a design commonly used for western Canadian courthouses between 1906 and 1920. This style is expressed in the courthouse's projecting pediment, carved Ionic columns, arched brick entryway, and symmetrical massing. The solidity, strength, and balance of the design reflect the ideals of the justice system.

The construction of the courthouse in Wetaskiwin just after Alberta became a province reflects the growing importance of the community as a regional commercial and administrative centre just after the turn of the century. In 1904, Wetaskiwin became a junction point between the Canadian Pacific Railway's (C.P.R.) transcontinental railway line and its branch north to Edmonton. Connected to the region's main transportation network, Wetaskiwin grew rapidly and became a major distribution point. Its size and regional importance were recognized in the creation of the Wetaskiwin Judicial District to serve the surrounding area of central Alberta. The courthouse was built as the centre of this district. The Wetaskiwin Court House was one of seven new courthouses built in the province between 1906 and 1912, a period in which the fledgling provincial government endeavoured to establish legal and governmental infrastructure throughout Alberta. The cannons placed in front of the courthouse add another layer of historical texture to the site: the two pieces of artillery are German field cannons captured by the Allies during World War One and gifted by the Dominion Government to the city of Wetaskiwin in gratitude for the community's support of the war effort.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: 0139)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the cultural landscape of the Wetaskiwin Court House include such features as:
- mature trees, landscaping, and boundary-defining hedges;
- two cannons in front of building.

The exterior character-defining elements of the Wetaskiwin Court House include such features as:
- mass, form, and style;
- galvanized iron cornice, frieze, and architrave, pediment supported by sandstone Ionic columns;
- semi-circular arched doorway with sandstone keystone, double front doors below fanlight, and decorative broken pediment above;
- provincial armorial bearings, the words "COURT HOUSE", and year "1907" set in relief on pediment and entablature;
- fenestration pattern and style, including sandstone sills, double hung and hinged sash windows.

The character-defining elements of the interior of the Wetaskiwin Court House include such features as:
- floor plan;
- plaster ornamentation for ceiling, cornices, beam brackets, and wall corner protectors;
- plaster Ionic boxed half-columns, beam cornices, and panelled ceilings;
- birch wainscoting, court rails, and prisoner's box;
- cast iron radiators;
- decorative stair stringers, hardwood risers , treads and balustrades;
- stained birch doors with polished brass handles;
- patterned decorative glass elements and bevelled glass mirrors with stained oak frames;
- original room signage;
- steel vault doors with combination locks and heavy duty iron bars on pivot pins for jail cells;
- all original furnishings and artifacts.


Location



Street Address: 4705 - 50 Avenue
Community: Wetaskiwin
Boundaries: Block A, Plan M10B
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
24
46
14
9 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
M-10-B
A
N/A


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.968426 -113.366747 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1977/03/15

Historical Information

Built: 1906/01/01 To 1906/01/01
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Governing Canada : Security and Law
Historic Function(s): Government : Courthouse and/or Registry Office
Current Function(s):
Architect: A.J. Jeffer
Builder: D.J. McLaughlin
Context: HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

A major task facing the new Alberta Government following the transition from territorial to provincial administration in 1905 was the establishment of judicial districts and construction of new courthouses. Between 1906 and 1912, the Provincial Department of Public Works was engaged in the designing and construction of seven such buildings, along with a wide variety of other public structures including a new parliament building, schools, registry offices and telephone exchanges. With the exception of two buildings begun late 1906, all those erected during this period were designed under the direction of A.J. Jeffers, Provincial Architect, between 1907 and 1912. The Wetaskiwin Courthouse has the distinction of being Jeffers' first courthouse design, and the second such building to be undertaken by the provincial government.

The decision to erect a courthouse in Wetaskiwin followed the community's rapid rise in importance after 1904. In that year, it became the junction point between the Canadian Pacific Railway's transcontinental line and a new branch extending north to Edmonton. Wetaskiwin subsequently emerged as a major distributing point, and by 1906 had become an incorporated city boasting six grain elevators, a government creamery, and a growing number of secondary industries. On October 1 of the same year, the city was officially designated as the centre of the newly established Wetaskiwin Judicial district, and temporary court facilities were rented in the local Merchant's Bank Building. The Wetaskiwin Post noted on the occasion of the official sod turning ceremony in late October that the contract for excavations had been awarded to Mr. Elmer Campbell, while D.J. McLaughlin, builder of the Merchant's Bank building, had received the contract for construction. The eventual cost of the courthouse was estimated to be around $80,000. Contemporary Alberta directories indicate that McLauglin was an Edmonton-based builder.

The appointment of American-born and trained A.M. Jeffers as provincial architect had a major impact on the subsequent early development of institutional architecture in the province. Beginning with the Wetaskiwin Courthouse, all large institutional buildings erected during the 1907-1912 period in the province were designed in the Classical Revival Mode, the only exception in courthouses occurring at Fort Saskatchewan where small size and economy evidently dictated a simpler style. In the case of the courthouses at Wetaskiwin, Lethbridge and Edmonton, sophisticated interior spacial arrangements revealed the architect's familiarity with contemporary American trends in courthouse design. Externally, the Wetaskiwin building was perhaps the most austere of Jeffer's major institutional designs.

This austerity may have been due to the high expenditure being incurred on public works during 1907 and 1908. It is interesting to note, however, that Jeffers employed plans identical to those prepared for Wetaskiwin for a courthouse at Lethbridge begun in 1908. In the later building (now demolished), changes consisted of the use of more exterior ornamentation, suggesting that he was not entirely satisfied with the final appearance of the Wetaskiwin design.

ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

The Wetaskiwin Courthouse was constructed of solid red brick over a concrete and rubble foundation sheathed with Calgary sandstone. Exterior trim on the upper walls was also of sandstone. The visual focal point of the building is a projecting pedimented entrance incorporating a pair of carved Ionic columns. Cornice work was constructed of galvanized metal painted to match the sandstone trim. The structure is essentially cruciform in shape, the central three-storey section measuring 40 by 84 feet; projecting two storey wings on each side measuring 24 by 40 feet.

The basement contained a caretaker's apartment, furnace room vault, prisoner's cells and storage area. The interior was finished in white plaster with wood trim, fir being employed in the caretaker's apartment and in the attic area, red birch in other areas. The courtroom features a plastered beam ceiling supported by plaster pilasters with ornamental Ionic capitols. Red birch wainscotting was applied to the walls up to a height of five feet. Fire protection was provided by means of a reservoir located on the roof fed by pipes from a well located on the property. The building was subsequently hooked up to the city's water system in 1911.

The Wetaskiwin Courthouse is considered to be among the best preserved and least altered examples dating from the province's phase of initial courthouse construction. It may also be regarded as a representative example of the rather austere, scaled-down classical courthouse design which found favor throughout the prairie provinces during the 1906-1920 period.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0205
Designation File: DES 0139
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 15058
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 139)
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