Edmonton's first purpose-built veterinary clinic up for historic designation

A two-storey building at 97th Street and 111th Avenue was the longtime home of Edmonton's first purpose-built veterinary services clinic for small pets. Now the Blue Cross Animal Hospital It is up for designation as a municipal historic resource.

Built in 1948, Blue Cross Animal Hospital may get named a municipal historic resource

A notice of intent to designate the original Blue Cross Animal Hospital in MacAuley a municipal historic resource goes to city council Tuesday. (Blue Cross Animal Hospital)

When the Littlejohns sold their 70-year-old original Blue Cross Animal Hospital building earlier this year, they couldn't know for sure exactly what would become of it. 

Kelly Littlejohn, who manages the practice of her husband, veterinarian David Littlejohn, said they were thrilled to hear the new owners of the building value it just as much as they do. 

The two-storey, flat-roofed stucco building on the southeast corner of 97th Street and 111th Avenue was the longtime home of Edmonton's first purpose-built veterinary services clinic for small pets.

It is up for designation as a municipal historic resource. A notice of intent goes to city council Tuesday. 

"There were a few people who wanted to buy the place. One of them wanted to tear it down," Littlejohn said. "We were actually very thrilled to see that it's going to stand." 

'The forerunner' of vet clinics

The Littlejohns, who purchased the business in 1999, are only the fourth owners of the Blue Cross Animal Hospital. 

They succeeded Dr. Richard Hertling, who followed Dr. Hedley Barlow, who had taken over from the founder, Dr. Alex Rattray. 

According to a heritage planner's statement, Rattray built the clinic in 1948 after recognizing an increase in the number of small animals people were keeping as pets in Edmonton. While it mostly saw dogs and cats, there were facilities for some exotic pets as well. 
Veterinarian David Littlejohn, and his wife Kelly Littlejohn, the practice manager, are pictured in the reception area of the original building. (Blue Cross Animal Hospital)

It included an operating room and X-ray equipment as well as kennels — even isolation wards. 

"It was the forerunner of all the other veterinarian clinics that have sprung up in the city," Littlejohn said. 

Family atmosphere 

Littlejohn said the decision to sell the aging building was based on the fact that it could no longer be renovated to suit the practice's needs.

The Littlejohns built a new clinic six blocks away at 91st Street and 111th Avenue. 

"Our clients are here and we totally wanted to be as close as we could," she said. 

Littlejohn said some clients have been frequenting the clinic for decades. 

"We have owners who have come in with their pets who came to the Blue Cross as children," she said. "To them, it's very significant." 

Littlejohn said there's an intimate atmosphere at the clinic. She and her husband value the bonds they've formed with clients over the years.

"To us, it's about family. These clients who come to us, many of them are our friends now. We just consider them friends. These little pets, we know, are their family and that's how they want to treat them."

$58G restoration grant

The original building, with its grey stucco exterior and bold, bright blue accents, is a landmark. 

Littlejohn said its being turned into a law firm.

CBC couldn't reach the new owner of the building for comment.

If city council votes to designate it a municipal historic resource, any future renovation will be required to meet standards and guidelines that govern the conservation of historic places in Canada.

A description of city-funded work that council will consider says restoration work would cost $116,000. The city would pay for half through a $58,000 grant and the owner would be responsible for the rest.

The city estimates "additional non-heritage work" on the building would cost the owner more than $190,000.

Much of the roof needs replacing, as do several windows. The exterior needs refinishing and painting.

The Blue Cross Animal Hospital sign will not be replaced, according to a diagram detailing the restoration, but a large, bright blue cross will be installed on the front of the building above the law firm's sign.

Littlejohn said the new owner has been able to find a way to retrofit the building to suit the needs of a law firm. 

"I've taken a look inside and it's going to be just beautiful," she said.