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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Medicine Hat Courthouse is an ornate two-storey brick and stone building located on four landscaped lots directly adjacent to the South Saskatchewan River. Constructed between 1919 and 1920, the courthouse is distinguished by its Beaux-Arts Classicist elements, including a symmetrical facade, coupled columns, and an ornate projecting entrance featuring a rounded pediment enclosing the shield of the arms of Alberta and the year "1919."
The heritage value of the Medicine Hat Courthouse lies in its unique architectural design and layout and its association with Medicine Hat's significant heritage of law and justice.
The Medicine Hat Courthouse represents the earliest, most ornate, and best example of a particular style of Alberta courthouse design. The building was designed by R.P. Blakey, Department of Public Works architect, and embodies a marked departure from previous territorial and provincial constructions in its original L-shaped layout and extensive use of Beaux-Arts Classicist elements. Previous courthouses constructed in Alberta had employed simple rectangular or square layouts, a design that allowed for court rooms to be centrally situated, insulated from external walls and the noise and disturbances of the outside world. Blakey's layout incorporated a main courtroom with exterior walls and large windows at the rear of the building on the second floor. The other major innovation manifest in the courthouse's design is Blakey's use of Beaux-Arts Classicist elements. While earlier Alberta courthouses had embodied a Neo-Classical emphasis in some of their exterior features, they lacked the exuberance and ornate decoration of the Medicine Hat Courthouse. The diachromatic rhythms, extensive recessing and projecting of elements, broken-base pediments, arched windows, and partially balustraded parapet all reflect a lively, dynamic aesthetic. The Medicine Hat Courthouse's innovative architecture would serve as a prototype for subsequent courthouses constructed in Red Deer and Vegreville. In 1986 an addition was added to the courthouse, infilling the 'L' to create a more rectangular form.
Medicine Hat has long been a significant centre of judicial administration in the province and the city's historic courthouse reflects that tradition. In the early 1880s, with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway's (C.P.R.) transcontinental line, Medicine Hat developed into an important shipping point for the ranching industry in the surrounding area. The community's early importance was recognized by the founding of a North West Mounted Police (N.W.M.P.) Post in Medicine Hat in 1883 and the establishment of Medicine Hat as the judicial seat for the territorial District of Assiniboia. Medicine Hat's justice system was initially served by a combination police barracks and courthouse and later by a territorial courthouse, constructed in 1899. Just prior to the turn of the twentieth century, the construction of the Crow's Nest Pass railway line bolstered Medicine Hat's regional importance and helped spur a population boom. The swelling population and the switch from territorial to provincial judicial systems necessitated the building of a new courthouse to serve Medicine Hat's burgeoning community. The property for the Medicine Hat Courthouse was acquired in 1909, but cutbacks to expenditures delayed the project until the late 1910s, when new plans for the building were drawn up and construction began.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 179)
The character-defining elements of the Medicine Hat Courthouse include such features as:
- form, mass, and style;
- hip roof;
- entablature with plain frieze and simple block modillions supporting the cornice, and central parapet with balustraded sections;
- diachromatic brick and stone facades featuring regular recessing and projecting of elements and quoining;
- decorative courses of brick and stone work and double columns differentiating the central section of the front facade;
- projecting front entrance featuring double columns on each side, decorative stone mouldings, and ornate entablature with a rounded pediment enclosing the shield of the arms of Alberta and the year "1919";
- double front doors featuring windows and three transom lights with geometric framing designs and multiple panes;
- arcaded treatment of around second storey windows, including keystones;
- use of stone quoins, broken-base pediments, and decorative stone elements around first storey windows;
- fenestration pattern and style, including rounded windows on second storey and six over one windows on first storey;
- original interior elements, including marble flooring and wainscoting, doors (some featuring transoms), staircases and decorative handrails, mouldings, cornices, modillions, fittings, and furnishings.
Province of Alberta
Historical Resources Act
Provincial Historic Resource
Theme - Category and Type
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Architecture and Design
- Governing Canada
- Security and Law
Function - Category and Type
- Courthouse and/or Registry Office
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 179)
Cross-Reference to Collection