Southern Alberta courthouse made famous in Brokeback Mountain for sale

A historic courthouse is for sale in Fort Macleod, Alta., for a steal — but it's the ultimate fixer-upper.

Built in 1902, southern Alberta landmark was featured in Brokeback Mountain and Fargo

The Fort Macleod courthouse, which was occupied for many years by the municipal government, is listed for sale for $230,000. (Town of Fort Macleod)

Someone get Property Brothers on the phone!

A small piece of Hollywood — and Alberta — history is for sale. 

It's cheap and charming, but badly in need of a pricey reno.

The courthouse in Fort Macleod, built at the turn of the 20th century, and featured in both the Oscar-winning film Brokeback Mountain and Emmy Award-winning TV series Fargo, is available to the prospective buyer for the cut-rate price of $230,000.

Not only will the successful buyer purchase a durable brick heritage building, with a little Hollywood stardust sprinkled around it, but the town's chief administrative officer says they'll throw in three jail cells that take up part of the basement.

"The [cell] doors aren't there anymore, but when you go in you're like whoa! These are small," Sue Keenan said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"You wouldn't want to be spending a night there." 

Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo in Fargo. The TV series was shot in southern Alberta, including Fort Macleod. The town's historic courthouse had a cameo on the show. (Matthias Clamer/FX/Associated Press)

Pre-dates Alberta

The courthouse actually pre-dates the creation of the province of Alberta, said Keenan.

"It's an old territorial courthouse, built in about 1902 by architect David Ewart from Ottawa — who also designed the Canadian Mint. It remained a territorial courthouse for a number of years. The Town of Fort Macleod set up its office operations there in the '70s," she said.

Unfortunately, the building upkeep has grown progressively more costly, and it's too small for the town's staff, she said. The town partnered with the Livingston Range School Division and moved into a new home in August, leaving the iconic courthouse searching for a new role.

Adding to the challenge of reinventing the building for the 21st century is the fact that anyone who buys it will have to adhere to specifications surrounding maintaining and renovating heritage buildings.

"It's actually registered as a Canadian historic site and so between feds and provincial government there are definitely certain restrictions on that building in terms of renovations to try to maintain the existing structure the way it is," Keenan said.

"With that, though, comes a price tag that is three or four times more than what it would be to renovate an existing regular building because you have to do it to certain standards."

In fact, the renovations are so pricey that when the town made the province an offer they couldn't refuse, they refused.

"We tried to give the building back [to the province] — but there were no takers," Keenan said.

"At the end of the day, when you have historic buildings that you have to maintain, there's a lot of money and work that goes into it. The Town of Fort Macleod is not in a position to continue to maintain these heritage buildings to the level that they're required — so we're looking for outside investors to do that."

Law firm, pot shop among interested buyers

Despite the prospect of daunting renovation costs, Keenan says there have been a number of interested parties kicking the tires on the courthouse, including a law firm (which Keenan says backed off when it saw the reno budget) — and a company interested in setting up a cannabis shop.

Sue Keenan, Chief Administrative Officer of the town tells us why the historic courthouse is for sale. 4:48

"It was very ironic. We had a lot of laughs about that, for sure," she said.

There are now two interested parties, "very knowledgeable businessmen and engineers," she said.

"Either one of them would be a good sell for the Town of Fort Macleod," she said.



About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca