Edmonton’s historic Iron Works building seen as a ‘catalyst’ for redevelopment of The Quarters
113 years of Edmonton iron factory building is undergoing a $21 million renovation with the goal of being a new downtown by 2024.
The historic industrial building was built in 1909 on 96th Street, north of 104th Avenue.
« This place was primarily an iron and steel maker; they also specialized in brass here, » said David Johnston, senior heritage planner with the City of Edmonton.
Iron, steel, and brass were all necessary building materials for a construction boom. Edmonton’s population grew by leaps and bounds in the early years of the 20th century: from 2,200 in 1899 to 23,000 in 1909 — and 60,000 in 1919.
Surrounded by scaffolding — and construction workers from Clark Builders — on the foundry floor, Johnston said the Iron Works Building is incredible and an important part of the city’s history.
The story goes that two brothers, entrepreneurs James and Thomas Cornwall, founded Edmonton Iron Works in 1903, not far from where the Alberta Legislature now stands.
“James was known as ‘Peace River Jim’, a pretty famous local figure who was really instrumental in opening up northern Alberta to development,” Johnston said.
But the pair soon realized they needed a bigger facility to cope with the increased demand.
In 1909, the brothers began construction of a two-story brick Edwardian structure on a downtown property, close to the Grand Trunk Railway.
Other industrial buildings of the time were strictly functional and considered disposable, Johnston said, but the Cornwall brothers’ Iron Works building was an exception.
“They made the decision to make a masonry building, a beautiful building, they wanted it to be permanent and part of the community,” Johnston said.
You can catch more of the Iron Works building on this week’s Our Edmonton show Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV and CBC Gem.
The Cornwalls sold the building in 1927. Over the years it changed hands several times and was used to make things like agricultural plows and boilers.
Over the past few decades, the building had been largely unoccupied and had fallen into a slow decline.
The city acquired the property in 2016 for the sake of historic preservation.
Architect Jason Pare never had the chance to get his hands on a 1909 building.
Pare, a partner at GEC Architecture, calls the project a « rare and once-in-a-lifetime » opportunity to restore a piece of history to its former glory.
Plans include open spaces and glass showing off the original steel and brick that he hopes will be part of the bigger picture of redevelopment of The Quarters Downtown.
“The vision for this building is that it ultimately ties into the larger historic character of the Quarters site and acts as a catalyst,” Pare said.
Michael Schneider, the city’s project manager, said the renderings reveal an « awesome space. »
Currently, almost the entire roof has been removed. Two walls have fallen. Schneider focuses on eliminating hazardous materials that are typical of industrial restoration projects.
« We found small amounts of asbestos, that sort of thing, throughout the building, contaminated soil under the slabs, » he said.
The plan is to fence off the perimeter, heat the area and then work on the main rehabilitation with new mechanical, electrical and plumbing.
“Once this is complete, we have a tenant proposed to the Edmonton Arts Council,” Schneider said. There would also be room for other tenants.
He expects the building to be completed in 2023 and occupied in 2024.