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Historic blacksmith shop in Old Strathcona could be lost to wrecking ball

The A. Minchau Blacksmith shop, south of Whyte Avenue on 101st Street, is boarded up, the painted letters above the door faded into a ghost sign. The current owner, Cejay Ventures, is asking the city for a permit to demolish the structure.

'There is a foundation to this city and we can’t keep wiping that out,' historian says

This building on 81st Avenue and 101st Street was home to one Edmonton's first blacksmith shops. (CBC)

The A. Minchau Blacksmith shop just south of Whyte Avenue on 101st Street is boarded up, the painted letters above the door faded into a ghost sign.

The Minchau family, immigrants from Germany, put up the building in 1925 and were part of a larger community that helped shape Old Strathcona, said Shirley Lowe, the city's former historian laureate.

Lowe said blacksmiths were integral in developing the area and settling Edmonton.

"All of the stories that come with that building are an important part of that heritage," Lowe said Tuesday. "We need to save those stories."

But the blacksmith shop may be lost to a new development.

The building's current owner, Cejay Ventures, is asking the city for a permit to demolish the structure. Lowe and many others are opposed to the building being torn down.

It's about how a building tells a story of who we are as a city.- Alex Abboud, chair of Edmonton Heritage Council

Robert Geldart, the city's senior heritage planner, said the city had been negotiating with the owner for three years to try to incorporate the building into a new development.

"One of my staff members has been working very closely with the owner to potentially preserve this building," Geldart told CBC News.

He said the owner submitted the request for demolition March 23.

Geldart said the city offered a "generous financial package" — up to 50 per cent of the cost of restoring the building and to have it designated a municipal historic resource.

He said the city offered the owner between $300,000 and $500,000 for the project. 
Advocates are hoping to save a historical blacksmith building in Old Strathcona from demolition. 1:00

"Usually we negotiate a figure in terms of what the restoration costs would be, then whatever that figure might be, we then take it to council."

The owner, Eden Montgomery of Cejay Ventures Ltd., did not respond to CBC's request for comment on Tuesday.

The Edmonton Heritage Council is encouraging people to voice their opposition to the demolition in letters to their city councillors, MLAs and MPs.

Alex Abboud, the council's chair, believes the building can be repurposed similar to others in Old Strathcona.

"They form a tapestry. They tell a story of Edmonton and how we've developed as a city in its settlement era," Abboud said. 

He noted that the farmers market used to be a bus garage and the Keg steakhouse south of Whyte Avenue was a mechanics' garage.

"You could do something, as the owner, that would really be a part of Old Strathcona and Edmonton for at least another 80 to 90 years."

The Minchau blacksmith shop remained a family business until about 1980, Abboud said.

"It's not just about the building itself — and you know, the kind of the bones of it — it's about how a building tells a story of who we are as a city."

Alberta heritage laws

If the city steps in to salvage the 93-year-old building, it could cost a lot.

The Alberta Historic Resources Act requires a municipality to compensate building owners for economic losses.

"That can be very costly," Geldart said. "It's very challenging for the city to designate against the owner's wishes."

Chris Wiebe, manager of heritage policy and government relations with the non-profit National Trust of Canada, said Alberta's legislation makes it difficult for municipalities to step in.

"That's not the case in most other provinces in Canada. That really ties the city's hands in terms of making interventions on significant buildings."

Lowe wants the legislation changed to give municipalities more authority. 
The side of the A. Minchau blacksmith shop, put up in 1925 by German immigrants. (CBC)

"We didn't appear here just yesterday, there is a foundation to this city and we can't keep wiping that out."

Before the city approves a demolition permit, the planning branch has to inform council by memorandum; the owner has to submit an architectural inventory, including floor plans and photographs, for the city's record.

If there's no objection, "we'll probably issue a demolition permit," Geldart said.

That will take at least a couple of weeks, he said.

The lot is zoned for residential-commercial development, up to 12 storeys.

The Edmonton Heritage Council has nominated the A. Minchau Blacksmith shop to the National Trust of Canada's top 10 list of endangered buildings.

@natashariebe 
The back of the blacksmith shop off 101st Street and 81st Avenue. (CBC)

About the Author

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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