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Key Number: HS 21216
Site Name: Gainer Block
Other Names:
Site Type: 0400 - Mercantile/Commercial: General and Mixed Use Commercial


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
52 24 4

Address: 10341-43 - 82 Avenue
Number: 41-43
Street: 103
Avenue: 82
Town: Edmonton
Near Town:


Type Number Date View


Style: Romanesque Revival
Plan Shape: Rectangular
Storeys: Storeys: 2
Foundation: Basement/Foundation Wall Material: Concrete
Superstructure: Brick
Superstructure Cover:
Roof Structure: Medium Gable
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes: Number of Bays - Facade: Second Floor, 4 Bays
Boomtown or False Front
Window - Structural Opening Shape: Semi-Circular
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Material: Wood
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Material: Brick
Exterior: The Gainer Block is a rectangular red brick box with a decorated facade. The upper storey is divided into four bays by evenly spaced windows. Each window is topped by a semi-circular brick arch that dominates the window beneath it. Small semi-circular wood frame panels fill the arch and served to lighten the overpowering presence of the brick arches. The arch of the window is echoed by the parapet detail where a larger brick arch filled with honeycomb brickwork perches.
This parapet detail gives the building an impression of height it does not have and adds a decorative element to the facade.
Single stack exterior brick chimney on each side elaborate arched windows on second floor.
Interior: The ground floor was devoted to retail space while the upper floor was leased as office space.
Environment: Neigbourhood: CPR West The Gainer Block is located in the very heart of the Old Stathcona Heritage District and is flanked by the Princess Theatre and the Hub Cigar Store on the south side of Whyte Avenue. It is an integral part of the historic streetscape. Old Strathcona preservation area.
Condition: Good
Alterations: N/A


Construction: Construction Date:
Purchased the land.
Usage: Usage Date:
Butcher shop and offices
Owner: Owner Date:
John Gainer
229326 Alberta Limited
Architect: N/A
Builder: N/A
Craftsman: N/A
History: HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: John Gainer arrived in Strathcona in 1891 and established his butcher's business shortly after that. He purchased property on Whyte Avenue in 1893 and built a wood frame store on the present site of the Gainer Block. By 1902 Gainer meats had become an exceedingly prosperous business and he could afford to build the red brick building that now stands. At the time of the Gainer Block's construction, the firm established a slaughter house/packing plant on Mill Creek. The company has operated that facility until the present.
The Gainer family ceased to operate retail outlets in 1911 and sold the block in 1943, selling the rest of the operation in the early 1970s.
John Gainer was founder of Gainers Meat Company.
Gainer started first butcher shops in Strathcona. Shown on 1913 insurance map, meat market occupies west side. # 10343.
Present Owner - Knowlton Realty Ltd.
New owner is to be Old Strathcona Foundation.
1893 December 9 Owner: John Gainer.
1973 October 11 Owner: Elms Investment Limited (present owner).
* * *
When John Gainer arrived in Strathcona with his family in 1891 on one of the first Calgary and Edmonton Railway trains, he knew almost nothing about the butchering trade. Having spotted an opening in the market, however, he proceeded to set up shop in a single storey wood frame building he constructed on Whyte Avenue in 1892. Business went well, and by 1902 it was necessary to replace this structure with the brick Gainer Block. 'John Gainer and Company, Butchers and Pork Packers', founded in that same year, continued to prosper, and has become one of Western Canada's largest meat packing companies.
The pattern of development illustrated by the Gainer property is typical of early Strathcona. Before 1902 buildings were predominantly of wood; after this date brick was the rule, since the town council passed a fire prevention bylaw in 1902 which specified that buildings be constructed in brick along Whyte Avenue. The classical elements used in this building - arches, cornices and decorative infill resembling coffering - were very popular in late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings in Western Canada. They could be combined in a myriad of ways to produce a wide range of effects which implied stability, permanence, and prestige. In common with many frontier buildings, a false front, or boomtown front, was added to give the building a larger, more regular and distinguished appearance. In 1982 the Gainer Block was designated a Provincial Historic Resource.
* * *
THE GAINER BLOCK (1902) Second Home of Meat Packing Empire
Sandwiched between the Princess Theatre and the Hub Cigar Store stands the Gainer Block, built by meat packing magnate John Gainer.
Hanratty's trendy eatery is now esconced in the 5,000-square-foot brick and stone building featuring multi-paned front windows and four semi-circular brick arched second-storey windows. A honey-combed brick parapet adds height and decoration to the facade.
The block was built as the second store for John Gainer's butcher shop as his business ballooned with the growth of the Town of Strathcona.
Despite its small size and the simplicity of its design, Alberta Culture gave it the highest level of historic designation because it typifies the old business core of Whyte Avenue, and because of its association with a well-known Strathcona and Edmonton business.
The philanthropic Devonian Foundation assisted the Old Strathcona Foundation in purchasing the building for $125,000 in 1978. The OSF was responsible for the subsequent renovations.
The facade and upper west wall were water blasted to remove cream and green paint. New mortar was installed and the bricks repointed. The interior was completely gutted save for the first and second floors.
The main floor was raised two feet, wooden window frames installed, and new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems put in place. On the upper floor, the original hardwood was refinished.
The Gainer Block was originally owned by John Gainer and his family, who came here via the Calgary and Edmonton Railway in 1891. Gainer was born in Perth, Ontario, in 1858, and spent time in North Dakota and Manitoba before moving to Strathcona.
At the age of 36, Gainer started John Gainer and Company in his home behind the Strathcona Hotel, killing and dressing his own meat in the back, while his wife Amy supplemented their income by selling baked goods.
He also took his wagon on the road, slaughtering animals on clients' property. Business prospered and he built a slaughter house near the Canadian Pacific Railway before constructing the Gainer Block.
Gainer purchased the site for $200 in 1893 from Calgary and Edmonton Railway brokers Augustus Nanton and John Munson. He resold the site for the same sum a month later, to grain merchant Henry William Nash.
Nash transferred it to his wife's name two years later.
In 1899, the lot came back to Gainer for $550. Thirty-seven years later John Gainer transferred the title to his wife, Eulalia. The Gainer Block was owned by his family until 1943, when it sold for $6,000 to barber Nils Christenson.
In 1911, John Gainer closed the retail shop to concentrate on his abattoir and packing house, near Mill Creek Ravine.
* * *
ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Basically, th Gainer Block is a rectangular red brick box with a decorated front facade. The ground floor was devoted to retail space while the upper floor was leased office space. The upper storey is divided into four bays by evenly spaced windows. Each window is topped by a simi-circular brick arch that dominates the window beneath it. Small semi-circular wood frame panels fill the arch and served to lighten the overpowering presence of the brick arches. The arch of the window is echoed by the parapet detail where a larger brick arch filled with honeycomb brick work perches. This parapet detail gives the building an impression of height it does not have and adds a decorative element to the facade.
BUILDING/SITE DESCRIPTION: The Gainer Block is a two storey, rectangular red brick building located on Whyte Avenue between the Princess Theatre and the Hub Store, two important elements of historic Strathcona. Constructed in 1902 by John Gainer, founder of Gainer Meats, the building is typical of turn-of-the-century commerical structures. It has served the retail needs of the inhabitants of Strathcona since its construction and is currently being renovated by its owners, the Old Strathcona Foundation.
* * *
The Old Strathcona Foundation has announced plans to restore a second building, as well as a storefront improvement program.
The foundation will begin restoration of the Gainer Block at 10341-43 Whyte Avenue July 15.
The building, located between The Princess Theatre and Hub News, is named after its original occupant John Gainer, founder of John Gainer and Co. Butchers and Pork Packers in 1902.
When work is completed the two-storey building will provide 5,940 square feet of retail and office space. The restoration project will cost about $230,000.
This is the second building to be restored under the foundation's mandate 'to rejuvenate the erstwhile Town of Strathcona as it existed prior to amalgamation with the City of Edmonton in 1912.'
The mandate is spelled out in an agreement reached in 1975 between the city, the foundation and Heritage Canada.
In 1979, the foundation spent $400,000 to restore the Tipton Block at 10355 Whyte Avenue.
Meanwhile, the storefront improvement program will cover buildings fronting on Whyte between 103rd and 105th Streets.
The foundation will provide grants to cover 50 per cent of professional fees to a maximum of $1,000 and 20 per cent of contractual costs to a maximum of $5,000 per storefront.
A total of $200,000 has been allocated for this project.
* * *
The recently renovated Gainer Block on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton's Old Strathcona District has been designated a Provincial Historic Resource, the Honourable Mary J. LeMessurier, Minister of Culture, announced today.
The Block was constructed in 1902 for John Gainer, founder of Gainer Meats, to serve as a major retail outlet and as a statement of its owner's hard-won prosperity. Although the Gainer family moved out of the retail trade early in the century, the Block remained in their hands as late as 1943. Gainer Meats continued as one of Strathcona's signal successes until the early 1970s when the packing plant located on Mill Creek was sold. In 1981, the Gainer Block was renovated by the Old Strathcona Foundation and currently houses a tea and pastry shop.
* * *
GAINER BLOCK The Gainer Block was constructed in 1902, by John Gainer, founder of Gainer's Meats. It served as a major retail outlet until 1911 and actually remained in family hands until 1943. In 1977, the Devonian Foundation donated the building, for revitalization, to the Old Strathcona Foundation. After extensive renovations, it reopened in 1981.
The Gainer Block was designated a Provincial Historic Resource by the Honourable Mary J. LeMessurier, Minister of Culture, on April 15, 1982.
Erected by the Province of Alberta.
* * *
Born in St. Mary's, Ontario, in 1858, John Gainer was orphaned as a youth and left in the care of an uncle, a situation that he fled when he was only nine years old. He travelled first to North Dakota then up to Pilot Mound, Manitoba, where he met and later married Miss Crawford in the late 1870s. In 1891 he joined the ranks of young entrepreneurs who were heading west and moved his family to Strathcona. Upon his arrival there John Gainer had only a small reserve of cash. Although without training, Gainer decided to become a butcher, as there was not yet one in the whole of Strathcona.
Gainer and his family arrived on the first train that rolled into Stathcona from Calgary in 1891, to find a small town, with wide muddy streets and a number of new wooden commercial buildings. For the next four dacades, John Gainer was to be part of many changes in what is now part of south Edmonton. Initially, Gainer operated his shop out of his house on Railway (103rd) Street. The store occupied the front of the structure while the family lived behind and there were pens in the yard to keep the animals before slaughter. Gainer's wife ran a small bakery in the corner of the butcher shop in order to augment the family income.
In the early years of the business, before he had established a name for himself, Gainer could not have survived by relying solely on customers who brought their animals for slaughter and his 'J. Gainer Meats' wagon soon became a familiar sight in the region. As an itinerant butcher Gainer would slaughter quality livestock on the spot, taking it back to the shop to be dressed or, during winter, slaughter it and leave it to freeze to be retrieved later. In the afternoons, Gainer would make his deliveries, sometimes receiving cash for his goods but often receiving payment in kind.
In 1902, Gainer opened a new slaughter house about one mile south of the CPR station. The Gainer name had become so widely known that he was no longer forced to travel the countryside in search of animals.
At about the same time, he opened his first store on Whyte Avenue, on the same lot where the Gainer Block now stands. It was a one storey wood frame structure, typical of stores built along Whyte Avenue in the 1890s before the extensive use of brick took over.
In 1902, the Gainer business was doing sufficiently well to warrant the construction of a more elaborate building, the Gainer Block, a two storey red brick, rectangular building with a decorated front facade.
It is typical of business blocks built throughout the west at the turn of the century because of its simple massing and the use of added details to provide most of its character.
The first storey featured large glass windows for the easy display of merchandise. The second storey had four evenly spaced windows, topped by four rhythmical brick arches. A semi-circular brick pediment with honey-comb brick work tops the building and gives the impression of height that the building does not have. The Gainer Block's simplicity of design and execution help it fit into the Whyte Avenue streetscape as easily in 1981 as upon its completion in 1902.
It was during the ten years after Gainer's arrival that Whyte Anenue lost much of its pioneer rawness as more two and three storey brick buildings were constructed. It was the town's widest street and the only one in Stathcona to be graded regularly. The first brick building to be built here was the Ross Block (1894) which was followed by a spate of building after the construction of the Gainer Block.
The Dominion Hotel was built in 1903, the Bank of Commerce in 1906, and the Tipton, Richards, and Douglas Blocks in 1912.
It was in 1902, that John Gainer acquired land beside Mill Creek at 79th Avenue, in an effort to move his centre of operations for the third and final time. The old frame store was taken from Whyte Avenue, to make way for the construction of a new brick Gainer Block.
He converted the store to an office, and built pens, corrals, a slaughterhouse-packing plant, and barns. Seven years later Gainer gave up his retail business to concentrate on the wholesale and packing business. This proved a wise decision and by 1911 Gainer was employing thirty men at his plant and had four teams delivering to retail business on a full time basis.
'Gainer's' was an 'integrated' plant. It had the facilities to proces meat from hoof to the market. When they had moved to Mill Creek in 1902 the early employees knew every aspect of the busines, contributing heavily to efficient management.
There are many reasons for Gainer's success but one of the most important is the fact that his was a local, family run business whose members were all concerned with both the developing community of South Edmonton and the firm. All of Gainer's three sons, Arthur, Clifford, and Chester worked for the firm for over forty years and eventually acquired managerial positions with the firm. The fact that Gainer's sons worked their way up in the business meant that they were aware of problems associated with all the steps in the hierarchy and could ensure that these were solved or alleviated for future workers. Their sense of corporate responsibility has been rewarded and 'Gainer's' has a reputation for being a fair and just employer.
Although Gainer ceased to sell his goods through a direct retail outlet in 1911, he maintained a presence in Strathcona because the building continued to bear his name and his was one of the industries that has provided large scale employment in South Edmonton.


Status: Status Date:
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Municipal B List
Provincial Historic Resource

Register: B29
Record Information: Record Information Date:
K. Williams 1989/06/14


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-0505
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