Sean Moir, president with the Edmonton District Historical Society, can attest to the interest generated by the Historic Festival & Doors Open Edmonton because he’s seen it himself. The annual festival features tours, lectures and community events relating to the city and area’s history, and runs this year from July 2 to 8.
Last year, Moir says he saw nearly 100 people come to the Strathcona County Library to discuss historic and current trails in and around the Sherwood Park area; a large group also turned out to tour St. Joseph’s Basilica on Jasper Avenue; and many learned about the history of Leduc’s grain elevator, which is the last wood-frame style elevator built in the province. And these are just a few examples from 65 different events that took place.
“I think, in the bigger picture, it inevitably stimulates people to think more about the history of our community and understand a bit of where we are now. It’s critical to know a bit more about how this place came to be and continues to evolve,” says Moir.
In 1995, the Edmonton & District Historical Society decided it wanted to create another event for the public. Traditionally, it had run spring, fall and winter programs, but wanted to create another event in the summer – it’s now become the organization’s single biggest event for the year. It went from a modest 15 partnering groups, 40 activities and about 65,000 visitors to 138,000 visitors last year. The festival’s tours, film screenings, lectures, and community events relate to a general theme; this year, the focus will be on food.
Heritage Nearly Lost
Edmonton has already lost many of its historic buildings, so the more people interested in their preservation, the better, says Jason Gardner, associate with Avison Young Commercial Real Estate. He attributes the maintenance of buildings like LeMarchand Mansion to people who understand their importance and are willing to put time and resources into their preservation.
LeMarchand Mansion was built in 1911 as a residential building, housing some of the most prominent professionals in the area at the time. Now it’s an office building and, while the inner mechanics are now modern, the outer appearance is mostly the same as it was over a century ago right down to the original fireplaces, stained glass in the lobby, mouldings and the hardwood.
If the turn out at Magrath Mansion’s tour last year for Doors Open Edmonton is any indication, interest in historic buildings is alive and well in the city. Around 1,200 people lined up down Ada Boulevard to check out the 14-room 1912 home once owned by real-estate developer William Magrath, who had a hand in developing the whole Highlands neighbourhood.
Highlands was one of the most luxurious residential projects developed, outfitted with concrete sidewalks, streetcar service, street lighting and sewer and water mains, luxuries at the time. Magrath Mansion itself demonstrates the elaborate aesthetic employed by the rich at the time – it was outfitted with modern technologies including an alarm system, an indoor pool and an electrical switch that controlled all the lighting.