Last Manors Standing

On Oliver’s busy 100 Avenue, at 112 Street, stand three homes on a larger lot. There are signs prohibiting parking, and usually a half-dozen parked vehicles. Each of the houses has several entrances, and one has an old sandwich board tossed out back: “Roosevelt Manor – Rooms for Rent.” Across the street, at the General Hospital, is a statue of Jesus, his arms raised in intercession – his back to the houses. The three large homes were recently acquired by Westrich Corp., and a plot of ground pending sale by the city.

They’ve been there since 1912 and it shows. That’s when the Hudson’s Bay Company sold off the last of its reserve land to individual Edmontonians. Work started immediately on the construction of large, narrow, foursquare-style homes that these three remaining buildings exemplify, all of which were completed in 1912. Then came the Great War. Then the Dirty Thirties. By the 1940s, most of the houses were subdivided and used for boarding. The people who lived there were ordinary folk.

That remains the case today. Now, they are slated for demolition. The house in the middle of the block, 11218, looks shabby, and the other two are in various states of disrepair as well. Until recently, they have all been occupied – lodgers living in 11218 and 10012 and a business renting office space in 11230. In their place will (likely) be erected high-rises – nothing terrible in and of themselves. However, it’s not what’s on the land that matters so much as what will be missing. Dan Rose of the Edmonton Heritage Council calls it “texture.” “When these houses go, we will lose two things: one, our connection to history … and two, affordability.” While Rose laments the loss of the physical history, what he will miss the most is how these manors function in community formation by adding to the cultural, ethnic, and economic landscape of Oliver.

Oliver has slowly evolved from being what the Edmonton Historical Board calls the city’s “original West End” to the most densely populated community in Edmonton. Many fashionable homes built decades ago have been replaced, first by walk-up apartments and then by highrises, with many of the few that are left split into flats or renovated to become retail or office space.

Even as these three homes give way to highrises, just down the block sit three other historic homes owned by the City of Edmonton. The John Lang Apartment, the Dame Eliza Chenier Residence and Lester N. Allyn House were acquired by the city in the 1960s in order to be torn down in order to twin the High Level Bridge. That plan fell through but the homes were then slated to be replaced by a highrise. They were saved in 2003 through the efforts of the Oliver Historical Committee. Last winter, the City of Edmonton stated it is “committed to maintaining” the homes, which lie on the west side of 112 Street, between 99th and 100th Avenue. Two are currently behind fencing, with Rose confirming stabilization work has been done. He expects the City will soon release more details on the future of these structures. Let’s hope the City finds a way to preserve these precious vestiges of an earlier Edmonton.