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Strathcona Public Library


Other Names:
Strathcona Library

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Strathcona Public Library is a two-storey brick structure in a simplified Classical Revival style, located on three city lots in the historic community of Old Strathcona.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Strathcona Public Library lies in its use as a cultural facility in the community of Old Strathcona since its completion in 1913. It is the oldest surviving public library in Edmonton and one of the oldest in the province. It is also an excellent example of one of the classical revival styles that characterized Alberta's public buildings in the era of rapid economic growth before World War One.

By the time of Strathcona's incorporation as a city in 1907, the bulk of rail and industrial activity had shifted across the North Saskatchewan River to Edmonton. Strathcona became a primarily residential district, home to a new provincial university (1909). In 1910 the new Strathcona Library Board entered into negotiations with the Carnegie Foundation for funds to construct a public library. The Foundation, the project of American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, funded the construction of university buildings and libraries across North America, including the first public library in Edmonton.

However, the Foundation's proffered grant totaled only $15,000 with the expectation of a small building on a standardized plan. The Strathcona Library Board - caught up in the optimistic "booster" spirit of the pre-World War One years - felt that the city's rapid growth merited a larger library and turned down the grant. Instead, the Strathcona Public Library was built and paid for by the newly amalgamated city of Edmonton-Strathcona in 1913 at a cost of $27,000. The building thus represents an important period in the evolution of Edmonton as an urban centre.

The exterior of the Strathcona Public Library retains a high degree of integrity and is a good example of early twentieth-century educational buildings in western Canada. The classical elements were intended to give the building a sense of gravity and dignity suitable to a place of learning. The interior included space for an auditorium and meeting rooms as well as books, and in 1948 the basement was converted to a children's library, making it a valuable centre for community life. It is a rare example of a library building of such size dating from Alberta's early years as a province.

The Strathcona Public Library is an important contributing element, in style and function, to one of Alberta's significant historic urban districts.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 204).

Character-Defining Elements
The heritage value of the Strathcona Public Library lies in such character-defining elements as:
- form, scale and massing, including recessed front entryway;
- classical revival details;
- facade of orange brick, and brick exterior staircase on front (west) elevation, with sandstone detailing in the six string courses and sill courses, wide cornice, sills and lintels;
- classical door surround, including engaged stone Ionic columns, curved pediment, and stone lintel with carved inscription "Public Library";
- fenestration pattern including oculus on west elevation;
- parapet gable roof with stone parapets;
- chimneys north and south;
- adjoining park space;
- four interior arches on the first floor;
- interior staircase;
- interior beam brackets;
- extant authentic trim;
- two first floor fireplace openings.


Street Address: 8331 - 104 Street NW
Community: Edmonton
Boundaries: Lots 22 to 24, Block 79, Plan I
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

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

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

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.519787 -113.497019 Secondary Source NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2006/02/16

Historical Information

Built: 1913 to 1913
Period of Significance:
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Education and Social Well-Being
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Historic Function(s): Leisure : Library
Current Function(s): Leisure : Library

When the Calgary and Edmonton (C and E) Railway arrived at the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River in 1891, the C and E immediately subdivided a townsite which it named South Edmonton. Being at the end of steel, the community steadily grew throughout the decade until, in 1899, it was incorporated as the Town of Strathcona with a population exceeding 1,000. As with Edmonton to the north, Strathcona grew rapidly in the wake of the Klondike gold rush, and, in 1907, it was incorporated as a city with an estimated population of 3,500. Edmonton, however, was destined to grow at an even greater pace when the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railways arrived there in 1905 and 1908 respectively, giving this city a direct rail link to eastern Canada.

With most major industries concentrating their operations in Edmonton, Strathcona became more of a residential district, a phenomenon encouraged by the decision of the provincial government to locate the new provincial university at the west end of this city. From this point on, Strathcona was self-billed as the University City. Towards the central core of the city, and especially towards the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, some of the wealthiest people in the district chose to build new homes. To serve the people, certain residents began to lobby the new City Council as early as 1907 for a high quality public library, similar to the one on MacDonald Drive in Edmonton, which was built with the help of the Carnegie Foundation. Council decided to concentrate on establishing a city mall and market square first of all, but, in 1910, negotiations with the Carnegie Foundation were begun by E.L. Hill, the local school inspector. At the same time, the City purchased two blocks on the east side of Main Street south of Lumsden Avenue for library use.

Negotiations appear to have become bogged down with the Foundation, just when they were picking up with the City of Edmonton for a possible amalgamation of the two cities. Amalgamation may have been a stumbling block with the Foundation, as the Foundation had already contributed to the Edmonton Public Library, and it may not have wanted to help establish what would, in effect, become a second Edmonton Public Library. As reported in the Strathcona Plaindealer, there would have to be unacceptable restrictions put on the new facility if it accepted the Foundation's conditions, and, in the end, the Carnegie offer of 15,000 dollars was turned down. Instead, the City issued debentures to raise 25,000 dollars to build the facility it wanted, which included space for meeting rooms and an auditorium. The debentures were never issued, as the construction of the library by the newly amalgamated city was soon agreed to by Edmonton.

In 1912, the architectural firm of Wilson and Herrald was contracted to design, and the construction firm of William Dietz contracted to build, the desired library. Wilson and Herrald had already designed Rutherford House, the Knox Presbyterian Church, and the Douglas Block. The library was to be in English Renaissance style, with ample adjoining room for a small park. The upper floor was designed to facilitate an auditorium, while room in the basement was set aside to accommodate meetings and a men's reading room. The overall cost turned out to be 27,000 dollars. Six months after it opened in the fall of 1913, 53,000 books were put into circulation.

With amalgamation occurring during 1912-13, management the Strathcona Public Library was taken over by the Edmonton Public Library Board, with the Board taking title to the property in 1916. The Library continued to be run as a separate facility until 1922, when it became a branch of the Edmonton Public Library. As such, it continued to serve the people of south Edmonton, with major renovations occurring in 1948, when the basement was converted into a children's library. The post-war years, however, did not see much expansion in what would become known as Old Strathcona, and, gradually, the district began to wear down. Use of the library began to fall off, especially after the completion of an expanded central library in the downtown core of Edmonton in the late 1960's.

In 1970, the Director of the Edmonton Public Library tried to close the Strathcona Branch, but public opposition curtailed this. Part of the problem was the increasing deterioration of the structure, and the inability to store books on the second floor due to inadequate floor strength. With an expressed need to economize, the collection of books was reduced and the hours of operation cut back. The early 1970's, however, saw a growing appreciation for the historic structures in Old Strathcona, and, in 1976, the Strathcona Public Library was declared a Registered Historic Resource by the provincial Minister of Culture. As a centerpiece of Old Strathcona, the facility was earmarked for restoration by the Old Strathcona Foundation, and, during 1984-85, this was undertaken by R.R. Roberts Architects, with help from the Foundation as well as a special trust fund set aside when the old Edmonton Public Library building was demolished in 1968.


The historical significance of the Strathcona Public Library lies primarily in its use as a major cultural facility in the district known as Old Strathcona from its completion in 1913 until the 1950's. As such, it served as an auditorium and a meeting hall as well as a library during this time. It is also very important as a major landmark in Old Strathcona, being very visible because of the open space surrounding it, and architecturally complementing other historic features in the district. The structure is also important in being the oldest public library in Edmonton (not considering university or school libraries), and its service as the main library facility on the south side of Edmonton from its completion in 1913 until the late 1960's.


Negotiations for the construction of the Strathcona Library were carried out coincidentally with the amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona. After turning down a Carnegie Foundation Grant of 15,000 dollars the library was built and paid for by the amalgamated city in 1913 at a total cost of 27,000 dollars. The grandiose structure with its English Renaissance architectural features was designed by Wilson and Herrald and constructed by W. Dietz, both Edmonton firms. This imposing structure has been a focal point to the Strathcona area throughout the past six decades.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0678
Designation File: DES 0204
Related Listing(s): 4664-0136
Heritage Survey File: HS 14380
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. 204)
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