Hull Block, Edmonton

With the turn of the 20th century, Edmonton was beginning a period of rapid development, initiated mainly by its position as the commercial gateway to northwestern CanadaIn 1904, Edmonton became a city, and, in 1905, two other events occurred which would solidify its position as a metropolis. First, the city was named the capital of the new province of Alberta, and, second, just as the first Legislative Assembly was convening in September, the tracks of the Canadian Northern Railway were being laid, giving the city a direct line to Winnipeg and the markets of eastern Canada.  Four years later, the Canadian Northern was joined by the Grand Trunk Pacific, with a line through the city’s north end and a spur to the city center.

The arrival of these railways brought dramatic change to the city center where, to the west end, a large warehouse district evolved.  The north side also saw extensive development as many large industries chose to locate plants and warehouses near the tracks.  The railways and the industries they spawned brought masses of working class immigrants to Edmonton, most of who chose to live in neighborhoods near their centers of employment, such as McCauley, Norwood, Riverdale and Bellevue.  As a result, small community commercial areas sprang up to provide easy shopping for residents, and facilitate local businesses.

Being close to the city center, the McCauley district had little need for a separate shopping district, and yet there remained an inclination for many small businesses to locate as close to the people as possible.  As a result, Namayo Avenue (97th Street) was soon developed into a commercial artery, extending from Jasper Avenue all the way to 111th Avenue, with sections of the street also holding small dwellings.  North of the tracks, the street soon assumed the appearance of a small community shopping district, with grocery stores, drug stores, hardware stores, restaurants, barber shops, laundries and convenience stores. The shops were mostly modest two story structures, and often the proprietors would live in the same buildings.

In June 1914, when the commercial boom in Edmonton had actually just passed its apex, a headline in the Edmonton Bulletin read “New $35,000 Block for Namayo Avenue.”  The owner of the property on the corner of Namayo Avenue and Sutherland Street (9664-106th Avenue) was the Calgary business tycoon, William Roper Hull, who apparently saw the need for an office complex in the area.  As designed by E.C. Hopkins and opened the following year, the building was no doubt expected to facilitate small retail businesses and apartment dwellers, as well as office space.  The concept of the combined facility was not unlike the Beuna Vista Apartments and the Gibbard Block recently erected among small commercial buildings in other areas of the city that were surrounded by extensive urban development.

Among the first tenants in what became known as the Hull Block was Herb E. Thomson Drugs, which would occupy the premises until 1940.  Countless other tenants also came to occupy the building, which today appears to be serving the same purpose for which it was built 87 years ago.  Its historical significance lies in its representation of the tremendous commercial growth of downtown Edmonton during the early part of the 20th century.  It is also representative of the kind of commercial structure intended to evoke the ethos of a large office complex, but, due to its location near an urban population, was also made to facilitate small retail businesses and apartment dwellers.  It is also a significant landmark in the McCauley district of Edmonton.  In July 2003, it was designated a Provincial Historic Resource.

Written by: David Leonard, Historian

Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Hull Block. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Hull Block.

2 comments

  1. It is interesting to learn this history about Hull Block, but I would like to see the story link more specifically to the present: how is the building used now? what are its socio-economic contributions to the present day? how does current use of the building inform customers and others about the past of the building? is there a sense of pride and appreciation now that the building was preserved? what are some of the indicators?

    With continuing thanks for the frequent reports about specific historical sites in Alberta.

    1. Hi Jane, Thank you again for your very thoughtful comment. You raise many interesting questions.
      The Hull Block blog post resulted in many visits to our site – our followers seemed very interested to learn about the building’s history. I wonder if any of our readers, who perhaps walk by/shop in this building on a regular basis, have any thoughts on your comment?
      READERS: How does the building contribute to the current neighbourhood vibe? Before reading this blog post, were you aware that it was a protected historic resource? How did you know? In a contemporary context, how/why do you value its presence as part of the streetscape?

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