Rescue Mission at the Brighton Block

  • The exterior of the Brighton Block. Supplied by PRIMAVERA

  • Construction at the Brighton Block. Supplied by PRIMAVERA

Two historic buildings on Jasper Avenue east of 97 Street were covered in white “shrink wrap” for well over a year. One of them, the Brighton Block at 9666 Jasper Avenue, was unwrapped in early 2018 and a rescue mission of the almost derelict structure undertaken. Progress has been good: there is now a sign on the front of the site advertising future commercial rental opportunities.

In 2017, the Primavera Development Group bought the building, a 1912 landmark also known as the Ernest Brown building (see sidebar). It is a three-storey brick and stone structure that has municipal protected heritage status. However, neglect and a broken roof had left the interior rotted away, so that only the exterior walls were still intact.

The Primavera website states, “While the interior of the structure is currently in a state of disrepair, [we are] planning to restore the building to its original state of prominence as a vibrant mixed use retail and office development.” The plan is to keep the historic façade and add three new levels of brick and glass office space above and behind it.

When asked why he does this, Primavera President Ken Cantor laughs and says, “I don’t know. As I told Paula Simons (Edmonton Journal columnist, now a senator), I am a glutton for punishment.”

Still, it is clear that Cantor has a passion for Edmonton and its heritage buildings. “We don’t value them early enough and often enough,” he says. “Sometimes there is an opportunity to tilt the balance. It is more than just financial; there are social and personal returns as well.” The Alberta Association of Architects has recognized Cantor’s commitment to the artistic side of construction, designating him an honorary member three years ago.

Cantor notes that people can be unfairly critical of developers. “Every single one of our heritage buildings was created by developers,” he says. “The problem is our interim actions. We talk about the value of the Brighton Block now because it is 106 years old, but we didn’t do that during its first 80 years.”

Ernest Brown History

Ernest Brown, who built the Brighton Block, was an early Edmonton photographer, artist and historian. The building housed his studio and historic photographic collections. Lettering on the exterior, still partially visible, states, “Everything Photographic. Ernest Brown Block 1912.”

The business collapsed in 1914 when one of Edmonton’s “boom” periods ended. Brown was forced to vacate the premises in 1920. He and his assistant Gladys Reeves produced thousands of images that now make a significant contribution to the city’s (and province’s) archives.

Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.

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