Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Lethbridge Exhibition's Hidden Gem

If you look carefully around the city we have many historical and architectural gems. One of my favourite is Heritage Hall at the Exhibition. The Lethbridge Exhibition is incredibly fortunate to have this building, which is 86 years old this year.



This good fortune probably didn’t seem so lucky in the 1920s when disaster made the building a necessity. A fire in 1925 destroyed the original Exhibition Pavilion and Heritage Hall (as it would later become known) was built to replace it. Lethbridge had very few commercial/public buildings constructed in the 1920s (actually very few built between 1915 and the late 1940s). During and following the First World War and a drought/economic slump of the early 1920s, the population of Lethbridge actually shrank slightly following the 1906-1913 boom and then stagnated for a while. So a 1920s commercial building in Lethbridge is already a rare and treasured item. And then there’s the design of the building.

Heritage Hall is one of only a few (actually more likely to be the only one but more study needs to be done) commercial buildings built in the Craftsman Mission Revival Style in Lethbridge. [The mission revival style is reflected by the turrets and stucco.] 
 
In the late 19th and early 20th century, one of the dominant architectural styles (especially for homes) was Arts & Crafts (as the style was usually called in Britain and Canada) or Craftsman (as it was called in the United States). Arts & Crafts/Craftsman is a style that grew from the ideal of creating comfortable and aesthetically pleasing buildings that would improve society. Growing from the reform movement, craftsman houses and buildings were to be built on the belief of simplicity, durability, harmony with the natural environment and with the purpose of creating a building suitable to the activities to be done there. The Craftsman style was meant to honour skilled labour and hand craftsmanship. The buildings were purposely to be built of the highest quality and best possible materials – which is why anyone who has ever attempted to build a similar building today recognizes that it is economically difficult because these are buildings into which a great deal of time and effort were put.

The clean lines, symmetry and functionality of the building is obvious from its early photographs. Originally built as the pavilion, the building has changed functions over the year as newer buildings have been created on the exhibition site.

For a while known as the Youth-a-Rama building, since 1982 the building has been known as Heritage Hall. Extensive renovations were undertaken on the building that year with a new concrete floor poured as well as a new roof construction, insulation, wiring and mezzanine gallery. It was planned at that time that the hall would become the permanent home of the Whoop Up Day’s Hobby World and home to an agricultural museum.

This is a rare building that should be treasured. As an organization with a long history and as an organization that recognizes the importance of history, Lethbridge Exhibition is incredibly fortunate to have this building. Additionally, what a unique opportunity the Lethbridge Exhibition has to capitalize on having a rare and beautiful building on their site. I encourage everyone to take a closer look at the building when you’re at the Exhibition for Farmers’ Market, Whoop Up Days, or other events.

And if there are other historical or architectural gems in Lethbridge that you’re curious about, let me know.

2 comments:

  1. Great post! What is the story behind the storefront on the corner of 5st S. and 2nd Ave S.? What did it used to look like?

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  2. I'm assuming you mean the Higinbotham Block (NW corner -- now Peterson Hair Company and Lethbridge Chiropractic) and not the Lethbridge Hotel (SW corner)?
    Actually if you want a quick image of what the Higinbotham Block used to look like, picture the Club Cigar Store. These two buildings were built from the same blue-print (though the Higinbotham is slightly smaller) and people who see photographs of the two in the early days are often confused.

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