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Thomson Brothers Block


Other Names:
Thomson Block
Thomson Bros.
Thomson Bros. Block

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Thomson Brothers Block is a late nineteenth century, three-storey building situated on two full lots and portions of two additional lots along Calgary's historic Stephen Avenue Mall. Embodying a vernacular architectural style, its exterior facade includes a mixture of dressed and rock-faced sandstone, flattened segmental arches on the second storey, voussoirs on the third storey, and a rounded parapet that features the building's name and date of construction set in relief.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Thomson Brothers Block lies in its embodiment of an early, highly decorative style of vernacular architecture in Calgary.

The Thomson Brothers Block was erected in 1893 to house the Thompson Brothers stationary and periodicals shop. The building represents a kind of transitional structure between the simple wood frame constructions of Calgary's frontier period and later, more sophisticated buildings built according to historical precedents and architectural conventions. Built by local craftsmen, the Thomson Brothers Block eschews traditional styles in favour of a lively, vernacular design. With its juxtaposition of rock-faced and dressed sandstone, its lack of unifying lines, and its liberal use of exterior embellishments, the building is one of the best remaining examples of the decorative indulgences of vernacular architecture in Calgary during the pre-World War One building boom. One of the buildings that helped establish Calgary's reputation as the "Sandstone City," the Thomson Brothers Block adds a spontaneity and charm to the streetscape along Calgary's historic Stephen Avenue Mall.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 235)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Thomson Brothers Block include such features as:
- mass, form, and style;
- mixture of rough-faced and dressed sandstone on facade;
- decorative sandstone elements;
- flat-roof;
- ground floor pilasters and capitals;
- large windows on second storey under flattened segmental arches;
- simple dressed stones with incised ornaments between second storey segmental arches;
- third storey voussoirs crowning round arch windows;
- checkerboard pattern of recessing and projecting elements on third storey;
- rounded parapet including numbers "18" and "93" on alternate sides of a central, elevated structure that includes decorative features (including dentils) and "THOMSON BROS BLOCK" set in relief;
- fenestration pattern and style;
- original interior elements, including staircases (with balustrades and newel posts), mouldings, trims, around windows..


Street Address: 112 - 8 Avenue SE
Community: Calgary
Boundaries: Portion of Lot 42, Block 51, Plan 0212818
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
11 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
37 (ptn.)
34 (ptn.)
42 (ptn.)

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.045728 -114.062380 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1981/01/30

Historical Information

Built: 1893 to 1893
Significant Date(s)
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Current Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Shop or Wholesale Establishment

The Thomson Brothers (James Arthur and Melville Patrick) began their careers as stationers and booksellers in Portage La Prairie in 1881. They moved west and are listed in Henderson's Directory of 1884 in both Calgary and Portage La Prairie. In 1884, their location in Calgary was on Stephen Avenue, in a small frame building adjacent to the Post Office. They opened another store in Moose Jaw in the late 1880s. By 1893, their Calgary business has expanded sufficiently to warrant the construction of their own sandstone building. The Block was built in 1893 for a cost of 15,000 dollars. Although the Thomson brothers vacated the building in 1900, it has continued to serve as a retail outlet to the present day.


The Thomson Building is one of the best surviving examples of the decorative extreme to which vernacular architecture was carried in Calgary. Still working in a manner primarily determined by local social and weather conditions, and not caught up in importing historical styles from other centres, the builders of this structure juxtaposed a profusion of rough decorative elements to create a busy, disordered effect. Few unifying lines can be traced in the facade to create a coherent whole, and standard architectural conventions are ignored. It is this disregard for rules of architecture which gives the building its air of spontaneity and charm. The Thomson Building was one of the last major Calgary buildings to which the label vernacular architecture could be applied, for it was followed by structures built according to historical precedent and architectural convention.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0556
Designation File: DES 0235
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 27234
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. 235)
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