A moment in history: Dec. 9, 1980

A moment in history: Dec. 9, 1980

· The Pulse

On this day in 1980, people living in the Dominion Apartments were facing eviction after the historic building was condemned following health and fire code violations.

"We bought it ... and became instant slumlords," the general manager of the Old Strathcona Foundation told the Edmonton Journal. The foundation had bought the building a month before, intending to restore the structure. It claimed that it knew the building was in rough shape but was unaware of the extent of the damage, including holes in the walls, leaking pipes, and broken windows.

It was a rotten situation for the occupants, and a sad fate for the ornate building, one of the first hotels in Strathcona when Robert McKernan built it in 1903. The fairly standard three-storey structure was adorned with wooden balconies and a Victorian-inspired cupola, giving it an instantly recognizable shape among the other buildings along Whyte Avenue. (Creating Whyte Ave. landmarks was a bit of a family business for the McKernan clan — son John would later design and build the Princess Theatre.)

The upper floors housed guests visiting Strathcona, while the ground floor contained dining and a popular beer parlour. That tavern was seemingly a big part of the Dominion's success; Prohibition came into effect in Alberta in 1916, and the Dominion ceased operating as a hotel shortly afterwards. The upper floors were converted into apartments, while the lower floor housed retail stores.

The Dominion, along with much of Whyte Avenue, survived the "knock-it-down" approach that laid waste to many of the city's older buildings during the post-WWII boom years. But while it still stood, decades of neglect and lack of maintenance had taken their toll. By 1980, it was little more than the "frail old hotel" described in that Journal article.

However, that was not the end for the Dominion. The Old Strathcona Foundation went ahead with the extensive renovations it had planned. Much of the building was completely rebuilt, with much of the original brick façade and wooden balconies saved.

The building has undergone another transformation in recent years. The interior was updated for modern office and retail space, and a solar panel skylight was added. The façade remains the same, harkening back to a time of elegance and prosperity — a contrast to now as many retail stores along the strip seek support during a slow post-pandemic recovery.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.