Events in 2018

Save the date for these 2018 upcoming events:

  • March 31st: Gibbard Block Open House (Members free, Public $5)
  • April TBA Speaker #1: Aviation History (Members free, Guests $5)
  • June TBA Speaker #2: Coal History (Members free, Guests $5)
  • July TBA: Historic Edmonton Open Doors Festival:
  • Walking Tours: (members free, Public $5) Bus Tours (Members free, Public $10)
  • July TBA: Open House Fundraiser
  • October TBA: 30th Anniversary Celebration/James Bond Steele Book Launch
  • November 24th: AGM (Public)

The Gibbard Block / HHS Open House

Gibbard Block

The Gibbard Block – soon to be restored to its former glory!

Most of us love looking at Before and After pictures of renovations – after all, an entire tv channel, HGTV, is based on this premise. So when you get a chance to see the “before” of one of Edmonton’s iconic heritage buildings, you take advantage of the opportunity.

The building originally featured nine suites, between one and five rooms each, on the second and third levels and two storefronts at street level. Each suite had electric lighting, their own telephone and intercom, and hot water in bathrooms, each lighted from a central skylight well. An acetylene central gas plant provided fuel for cooking. With terrazzo flooring in the foyer and a pressed tin ornamental ceiling on the main floor, this apartment was built to draw a refined class to the newly developed Highlands district. The exterior is finished in Redcliff brick from southern Alberta and displays Classical Revival features such as brick pilasters, large scrolling wooden brackets, a wood and metal cornice, contrasting lintels and large keystones above the windows.

Well-known Edmonton architect Ernest W. Moorehouse designed the apartment block to included what a 1913 newspaper trumpeted as “the latest idea in architecture, comfort, modern equipment and convenience.” It was the vision of Highlands promoters William Magrath and Bidwell Holgate who purchased the property originally. They soon turned William Thomas Gibbard of Nipanee, Ontario for one-third of the $90,000 needed to construct this building. Gibbard likely never lived in Edmonton, but he visited his daughter and her husband here. In fact, part of 57th Street between 112th and 118th Avenue was named Gibbard Street for a short time.” (excerpt from “Edmonton’s Architectural History.”

The Gibbard Block has been sold and the new owners intend to restore the building to its former glory. Come and see it – before the restoration begins.

Here are the details:

Date: Saturday, March 31st 2-5 p.m.
Location: Gibbard Block (site of former LaBoheme) 6427-112 Avenue
Hosts: Highlands Historical Society, in collaboration with Sparrow CapitalNot, the new owners of the Gibbard Block.
Details: Doors will be open to the public for pre-construction viewing of the interior of the Gibbard Block, including main, second and third floors. See the interior of this iconic building before it is restored and renovated. View original woodwork throughout, stained glass features, and full interiors of suites on the second and third floors. Meet members of Sparrow Capital and view their plans for the restoration and renovation.
Cost: Free for members of the Highlands Historical Society. $5.00 for non-members (funds raised will support future activities of Highlands Historical Society).



William Magrath & the Development of the Highlands

MacGrath MansionOne of the most interesting things about William Magrath, one of the two developers of the Highlands community, is that he challenged a prevalent theory of the day (early 1900’s), in which classy neighbourhoods were supposedly built in the west end of cities. He cited many other cities that had built prestige neighbourhoods to the east: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Oakland, Spokane and many others. To this day, the Highlands is known for its beautiful historic homes,  tree – lined streets,  and proximity to the river valley, a testament to the vision of one man.

So who was this man? William J. Magrath was well known in Edmonton at the turn of the 20th century. He was senior partner in the real estate firm of Magrath-Holgate & Co. Ltd., brought industry to Edmonton, owned a baseball franchise, and had political aspirations.


Picture of William Magrath, City of Edmonton Archives

Born in Ontario in 1870, Magrath married his wife Ada there in 1894, but like many, he was drawn to the West and moved to Edmonton with Ada and son Adrian in 1904. With his partner, Bidwell Holgate, he purchased 23 lots from land owner, John McDougall in order to build this new exclusive area east of the city (although this was only one of his projects in the burgeoning town of Edmonton).

The partners’ new subdivision was not controlled by legal restrictions as was the case in the west part of Edmonton. Instead Magrath controlled the building that took place in this elite neighbourhood by only selling lots to those whose homes would cost $3000 and more to construct.

Magrath built his mansion, a three-storey, 14-room red brick estate in 1912.  Complete with a ballroom, billiards chamber and indoor swimming pool, an invitation to 6249 Ada Blvd. was coveted by the city’s elite.

Although Magrath was successful in his real estate ventures, he was less successful in his bids to become a politician. He died in 1920 at the age of 51. His home is Highland’s crowning jewel to this very day.

He eventually made his fortune and built the magnificent home that you see in the above picture.