Restoration of Pendennis building in downtown Edmonton unearths relics from the past

When renovations began under a previous owner back in 2007, artifacts were found hidden in the walls and tucked away in old closets.

122 artifacts were found tucked away during the renovation

Some of the artifacts found include a spelling book, ledgers and guides for settlers. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

A major restoration project in downtown Edmonton has unearthed some long-lost treasures that may soon be on display to the public. 

When construction began on the historic Pendennis building on Jasper Avenue, it quickly became apparent that some things had been left behind.

"We found these treasures. We found these artifacts in the building in 2007 when we were demolishing the interior," said David Murray one of the original architects working on the project.

The three-storey building at 9660 Jasper Ave. was built in 1911 but elements of it can be traced back to at least 1898.

It served as a hotel and boarding house, and the artifacts offer a rare glimpse of the people who stayed and spent their time in its halls and rooms.

In total, 122 artifacts were found tucked away inside the walls and closets.

But for a decade those items sat in a box, until the building was purchased by Pendennis Developments in 2019.

Murray said he accidentally became the caretaker for all the artifacts, but that led to a passion project he never expected.

He has been painstakingly researching each object, as far back as he can go.

"I've worked on many buildings and we restore them and what we have is the building itself to tell the story," Murray said.

"In this case, not only do we have the building, but we have memories and reflections on times that go way back. You know, our earliest artifact dates back to 1889."

The Pendennis Hotel in the early 1900s. (Provincial Archives of Alberta)

The items cover everyday essentials like lipsticks, shaving cream, tobacco pouches, books, beer bottles and meal tickets.

But there were some unique discoveries.

A matchmaking application from Edmonton's first matchmaking company, ads for hypnotism,  and an unopened can of calcium chloride for vehicle headlights, Jamaica ginger concentrate — sold as a medicine but consumed during Prohibition —  and a cherry pitter.

"We found a 1903 map of Western Canada before Alberta was a province, and it was a map to help the settlers orient themselves in Canada," Murray said.

"And it shows every single station on the Canadian Pacific Railroad line from the East Coast to the West Coast."

Building owner Lorraine Bodnarek got a call from Murray shortly after purchasing the Pendennis building and was shocked to hear about all the treasures.

"Just gives you an inside look at the people that came in and out of the doors of the hotel," Bodnarek said.

"I think it also told us that people from 100 years ago, are still quite forgetful, and they leave things behind in hotel rooms."

PHOTO GALLERY | Check out these treasures from the Pendennis building:

One of Murray's personal favourites is an account book and business card for a man named William G. Loewe.

Dated 1902, the account book was used by Loewe to track spending for his business, Liberty Dairy out of San Francisco.

Murray said he found several connections to California. Edmonton hosted fortune seekers from the United States on their way to the Yukon to cash in on the Klondike Gold Rush.

"I think the excitement comes from the research on all the items and then just discovering what was the background. We found all kinds of things that are still perplexing," Murray said.

"But with further research, I think we'll be able to start to pin things down a little bit more."

As for Bodnarek, the pamphlet for a matchmaking service that promises a life partner for the small fee of $5 is her personal favourite. 

The pair is hoping to connect the past with the future by displaying the artifacts inside the newly renovated Pendennis building.