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Medicine Hat Courthouse

Medicine Hat

Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Medicine Hat Courthouse is an ornate two-storey brick and stone building located on four landscaped lots directly adjacent to the South Saskatchewan River. Constructed between 1919 and 1920, the courthouse is distinguished by its Beaux-Arts Classicist elements, including a symmetrical facade, coupled columns, and an ornate projecting entrance featuring a rounded pediment enclosing the shield of the arms of Alberta and the year "1919."

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Medicine Hat Courthouse lies in its unique architectural design and layout and its association with Medicine Hat's significant heritage of law and justice.

The Medicine Hat Courthouse represents the earliest, most ornate, and best example of a particular style of Alberta courthouse design. The building was designed by R.P. Blakey, Department of Public Works architect, and embodies a marked departure from previous territorial and provincial constructions in its original L-shaped layout and extensive use of Beaux-Arts Classicist elements. Previous courthouses constructed in Alberta had employed simple rectangular or square layouts, a design that allowed for court rooms to be centrally situated, insulated from external walls and the noise and disturbances of the outside world. Blakey's layout incorporated a main courtroom with exterior walls and large windows at the rear of the building on the second floor. The other major innovation manifest in the courthouse's design is Blakey's use of Beaux-Arts Classicist elements. While earlier Alberta courthouses had embodied a Neo-Classical emphasis in some of their exterior features, they lacked the exuberance and ornate decoration of the Medicine Hat Courthouse. The diachromatic rhythms, extensive recessing and projecting of elements, broken-base pediments, arched windows, and partially balustraded parapet all reflect a lively, dynamic aesthetic. The Medicine Hat Courthouse's innovative architecture would serve as a prototype for subsequent courthouses constructed in Red Deer and Vegreville. In 1986 an addition was added to the courthouse, infilling the 'L' to create a more rectangular form.

Medicine Hat has long been a significant centre of judicial administration in the province and the city's historic courthouse reflects that tradition. In the early 1880s, with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway's (C.P.R.) transcontinental line, Medicine Hat developed into an important shipping point for the ranching industry in the surrounding area. The community's early importance was recognized by the founding of a North West Mounted Police (N.W.M.P.) Post in Medicine Hat in 1883 and the establishment of Medicine Hat as the judicial seat for the territorial District of Assiniboia. Medicine Hat's justice system was initially served by a combination police barracks and courthouse and later by a territorial courthouse, constructed in 1899. Just prior to the turn of the twentieth century, the construction of the Crow's Nest Pass railway line bolstered Medicine Hat's regional importance and helped spur a population boom. The swelling population and the switch from territorial to provincial judicial systems necessitated the building of a new courthouse to serve Medicine Hat's burgeoning community. The property for the Medicine Hat Courthouse was acquired in 1909, but cutbacks to expenditures delayed the project until the late 1910s, when new plans for the building were drawn up and construction began.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 179)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Medicine Hat Courthouse include such features as:
- form, mass, and style;
- hip roof;
- entablature with plain frieze and simple block modillions supporting the cornice, and central parapet with balustraded sections;
- diachromatic brick and stone facades featuring regular recessing and projecting of elements and quoining;
- decorative courses of brick and stone work and double columns differentiating the central section of the front facade;
- projecting front entrance featuring double columns on each side, decorative stone mouldings, and ornate entablature with a rounded pediment enclosing the shield of the arms of Alberta and the year "1919";
- double front doors featuring windows and three transom lights with geometric framing designs and multiple panes;
- arcaded treatment of around second storey windows, including keystones;
- use of stone quoins, broken-base pediments, and decorative stone elements around first storey windows;
- fenestration pattern and style, including rounded windows on second storey and six over one windows on first storey;
- original interior elements, including marble flooring and wainscoting, doors (some featuring transoms), staircases and decorative handrails, mouldings, cornices, modillions, fittings, and furnishings.



Location



Street Address: 460 - 1 Street SE
Community: Medicine Hat
Boundaries: Lots 7 to 10, Block B, Plan 47748
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
5
12
31
11 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
47748
47748
47748
47748
B
B
B
B
9
8
7
10





Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
50.040978 -110.680060 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: 1978/09/15

Historical Information

Built: 1919 To 1919
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: R.P. Blakey
Builder:
Context: HERITAGE SIGNFICANCE

The main heritage significance of this building lies in its architecture, which showed a departure from previous courthouse design, and resulted in the building being a prototype for later courthouses. It is the oldest, most ornate and best example of its style in Alberta. It is also part of a judicial tradition dating back to the territorial government.


HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

This building is among the oldest courthouses in the Province in continuous use as such since construction. Although it was not the first courthouse in Medicine Hat, it is now the oldest standing one. It is a reminder of one of the oldest judicial traditions in Alberta, which goes back to 1892, when Medicine Hat was established as the seat of the judicial district of Assiniboia under the old territorial government.


ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

The construction of this courthouse heralded the introduction of a distinctly new form of courthouse design in Alberta. The ornate exterior treatment followed a Beaux-Arts Classicism style popular in the U.S. at the turn of the century, and the L-shaped plan was also a departure from traditional design. This building was the prototype for at least two later courthouses in Alberta, but remains the oldest, most ornate and the best example of its style.

(Site Information Summary)


The Medicine Hat court House has been designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it was announced by Horst A. Schmid, Minister of Culture.

When constructed in 1919-1920, the two-story, brick-faced building was a departure from traditional courthouse design in Alberta. Its ornate exterior follows a Beaux-Arts Classicism style, popular in the United States at the turn of the century. This building was the prototype for at least two subsequent provincial courthouses and is the oldest, most ornate, and best example of its style.

It is the only courthouse in Medicine Hat and a reminder of one of the oldest judicial traditions in Alberta dating from 1892, when the town was established as the seat of the judicial district of Assiniboia, under the territorial government. It was preceded by an earlier courthouse built in 1899.

The property for the courthouse was purchased in 1909 and the plans drawn up that same year. Due to financial cutbacks, these had to be shelved, the construction postponed, and the plans revised in 1918.

Originally the building held all the Provincial government offices for the area, as well as RCMP offices and cells, and the court facilities.

The building is still in use today as the Provincial court for the town of Medicine Hat.

(Draft Press Release)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0396
Designation File: DES 0179
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 30880
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. 179)
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