117-year old building demolished on Whyte Avenue

A building that once sold dry goods in 1898 is now nothing but a pile of dried dirt heaped on the side of one of Edmonton’s most well travelled and historic streets, Whyte Avenue.

Time to take the old out of Old Strathcona, says one business owner

The Etzio or Shragg building then (1898) and when it was a clothing store for women (2014) (Mark Wilson)

A building that once sold dry goods in 1898 is now nothing but a pile of dried dirt, heaped on the side of one of Edmonton's most well travelled and historic streets, Whyte Avenue.

The Etzio or the Shragg building was formerly a place to buy a tin of sugar, a bag of flour.

Its most recent incarnation was as a women's clothing store.

Last Thursday, the 117-year old building was demolished, taking with it a piece of Old Strathcona's history.

"We were running out of old buildings in Old Strathcona," said Mark Wilson, a Whyte Avenue business owner. "And pretty soon we're going to get to the stage where we have to take the old out of Old Strathcona, because it won't be." 

The building was torn down to make way for a new three-storey commercial structure, a move that both the province and the city opposed.

In September 2014 officials with Alberta Culture said the government wanted to work with the new owners to preserve the building.

"We looked at all the options.... we even had the province of Alberta involved in allocating it a provincial historic area," said Robert Geldart from the city's department of sustainable development.

In the end, the owners opted to demolish and start fresh.

Unlike some other buildings in the area, the Etzio had no formal historic designation - a formality that ultimately allowed its demolition.

"I think it's really unnecessary and it's taking away from the heritage feel of Whyte Avenue," said Brittany Reinich, who was out shopping on Whyte on Wednesday afternoon.  "Not everything needs to be brand new."

The Etzio, formerly called the Shragg building, was constructed back when Old Strathcona was still a separate community and Edmonton was across the river. The building itself was erected just a year before Strathcona was incorporated as a town named after Lord Strathcona and would have been built alongside log shacks. Back then, the mayor of the day was William Edmiston. In 1898, 170 people voted for him. 

With the demolition of the building, just two buildings remain on Whyte  from the 19th century. The Strathcona Hotel was built in 1891 and the Ross Building in 1894.

"I think we have been able to preserve as much as we can in the city," said Geldart. "We are recognizing that we are losing something and not saving everything, however we are trying to save more."

Geldart said the city has worked with the new owners of the property to come up with a design that will fit into the historic feel of Whyte Avenue.

"Hopefully it will leave a new legacy for the future," he said.

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