Town of Fort Macleod

In Search of Historic Colours: The Empress Theatre Marquee

The historic downtown of Fort Macleod, one of two Provincial Historic Areas in the province, is well known for its impressive commercial buildings of brick and sandstone masonry. Collectively, these Classical Revival buildings exemplify an Edwardian commercial streetscape just prior to the First World War.

One of the main street’s crown jewels is the Empress Theatre, an elegant brick building with decorative sandstone details built in 1912. Historically a hub of the town’s social life, the theatre hosted plays, vaudeville acts and performers from Alberta, across North America and even overseas, as graffiti preserved in the original basement dressing rooms attests to this day. The original façade was theatrical in its own right and featured a grand arched entrance and recessed box office. As tastes changed and motion pictures grew in popularity, the original entry was enclosed to provide a lobby and concession, the auditorium was renovated with plush upholstered seats in the Art Deco style and neon tulips mounted on the ceiling, and a bold new neon sign and marquee replaced the original blade sign on the front facade. These 1930s and 1950s renovations added layers of architectural history and significance to the building and contributed to its designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1982.

empress2

The Empress Theatre in April 2016 (top). Bottom from left: View west along 24 Street in 1953, Glenbow Archives photograph NA-5600-6653 (cropped slightly from original); detail of 1953 streetscape showing the Empress marquee in essentially its present form; historic colours exposed on a blade sign letter; a plywood mock-up to evaluate proposed blade sign colours.

The Town of Fort Macleod owns the theatre and has embarked on an extensive rehabilitation project that includes rehabilitation of the historic neon marquee. The marquee was refurbished in the late 1980s by Fort Macleod’s Main Street Project but a generation of exposure to the elements has taken its toll on the galvanized sheet metal, paint, and fragile neon tubing. Removal of the signs for other façade repairs was an ideal opportunity to re-examine and document the marquee’s colour history. (more…)

Queen’s Hotel, Fort Macleod

Mid-way through last year, the Queen’s Hotel in Fort Macleod was added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. The Queen’s Hotel was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource on May 22, 2012. The building was deemed to possess heritage significance as it is an excellent example of the type of substantial hotels built in Alberta’s urban centres during boom periods of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The hotel also contributes to the heritage character of the Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area.

The Queen’s Hotel, Fort Macleod, 2007. DSC_8336, Historic Resources Management Branch

The Queen’s Hotel, Fort Macleod, 2007. DSC_8336, Historic Resources Management Branch

Fort Macleod was one of Alberta’s earliest and most important urban centres during the settlement period. As a thriving commercial hub and service centre for the surrounding ranching and farming communities, a number of buildings were constructed in the town’s downtown area. Locally-quarried sandstone became the building material of choice, largely due to its fire-proofing properties and the sense of stability and permanence it lent to the business and town.

The Queen’s Hotel was one of the first buildings in Fort Macleod to be built of sandstone. It was built in 1903 to replace an earlier, smaller, wood-frame hotel of the same name. The hotel is a three-storey, flat-roofed building with a U-shaped footprint. It is a prominent building in downtown Fort Macleod, being located on the northeast corner of 24th Street and Second Avenue in the town’s main commercial district. It is constructed of rough-faced sandstone blocks and is crowned by a substantial, pressed metal cornice. On completion, the Queen’s Hotel was touted as Fort Macleod’s finest lodgings and it was the most expensive accommodations in town. The Queen’s Hotel quickly became the hotel of choice for travelling business people, politicians and government officials and other well-heeled visitors to the area.

The Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area (Queen’s Hotel at left), 2010. DSC_1150, Historic Resources Management Branch

The Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area (Queen’s Hotel at left), 2010. DSC_1150, Historic Resources Management Branch

Like most small-town hotels, the Queen’s fortunes declined following the Second World War. As tastes in travel accommodations changed, the hotel became known more as a downtown tavern with low-cost rental apartments. The hotel has also undergone a number of alterations over the years, a substantial one-storey addition has been added to the rear of the building and, as is often the case in buildings of this nature, the layout of the main floor has been dramatically altered. However, the hotel’s sandstone construction and overall style and design continue to communicate its historical significance as an early, business-class hotel and it continues to serve as an impressive visual anchor to Fort Macleod’s historic commercial district.

More information on the Queen’s Hotel can be found on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator

Welcome to the Family!

R.T. Barker Building, Fort Macleod

Union Bank Building, Fort Macleod
 
Alberta’s Historic Places Research and Designation Program is pleased to announce two new members of the Provincial Historic Resource family – the Union Bank Building and the R.T. Barker Building, both in Fort Macleod. These two buildings are vital contributors to the heritage character of the Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area. This area includes a wealth of pre-World War One brick and sandstone buildings that embody the architecture of early twentieth century Alberta towns. This distinctive identity has established Fort Macleod as a tourist attraction and a shooting locale for major motion pictures. Learn more about the Union Bank Building and the R.T. Barker Building on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. For more information on Fort Macleod, click here

Written by: Matthew Wangler, Manager of Alberta’s Historic Places Research and Designation Program

Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area