History of the building
This gracious architectural landmark has taken on a new life hosting public activities, government and Legislature staff, and MLAs.
Address: 9820 107 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, T5K 1E7
Construction completed: 1958
Gross floor area: 33,000 sq. m.
Usable office space: 23,000 sq. m.
Site area: 1.04 hectares
Number of floors: 11
Uses over the years
Owned by the Alberta government, the Edmonton Federal Building anchors the northeast corner of downtown Edmonton’s provincial government precinct.
The building was originally built by the Government of Canada to host its main federal offices for Edmonton and much of Western Canada. It was first proposed in the 1930s as a much smaller building. However, two significant events, the Great Depression and the Second World War, contributed to its construction being delayed until 1955. And the intervening years saw a great expansion of government responsibility, resulting in the original Federal Building plan doubling in size.
First 30 years
After the war the original art deco plans were expanded and the building completed. The structure housed federal staff from 1958 until 1988, when its occupants moved to the newly-built Canada Place in downtown Edmonton.
A long-awaited renewal
Anticipating this move, the Alberta government purchased the building in 1983 for $20.5 million to house provincial government offices. However, the building stood empty for 27 years, during which the government explored different plans for its use. In 2010 it was decided the Federal Building would house offices for provincial and legislative staff, as well as recreational spaces for the public.
The building’s symbolic details can be read as a storybook about Edmonton’s history. The words FEDERAL PUBLIC BUILDING are carved into stone above the grand east entrance of the large stone building. The inscription is surmounted by a large stone depiction of Canada’s Royal Arms. Nearby on the massive façade are the carved shields of each of Canada’s 10 provinces. This decoration reflects the grand structure’s previous life as the Government of Canada’s Edmonton office for 30 years.
A chapter of Edmonton’s political story can be read by comparing the exterior cornerstone, found at the northeast corner of the building, with the dedication plaque located in building’s historic marble elevator lobby. The inscription on the cornerstone reads “This stone was laid by the Honourable George Prudham Minister of Mines and Technical Surveys on the seventh day of May 1955”. An Edmonton building contractor, Prudham was also Member of Parliament for Edmonton West until 1957.
The dedication plaque in the lobby marks the opening of the building on March 8, 1958, by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Between these dates Canada experienced a change in government in 1957 that heralded major changes in the life of post-WWII Canada. The Federal Building itself signals the changes that the second half of the 20th century brought to all aspects of life in Edmonton and Alberta.
Unique art deco elements
The Federal Building is one of Alberta’s few art deco buildings. This style reflects the 20th century preoccupation with streamlining, modernity, strong colour and industrial imagery. While maintaining traces of traditional styles, art deco is seen as an apt reflection of the progress that defined the history of the first half of the 20th century. The muted ornamentation on the building’s stone exterior, particularly the chevrons carved into the stone, lend symmetry and crispness to the façade. This solid modernity fittingly reflects the optimism and ambition of the mid-20th century.
Fur trade design motifs
The elegant main floor elevator lobby is a reflection of the exuberance seen in early art deco designs. This includes rich textures and materials, including six types of marble, and fanciful explosions of colour, as in the gilded sunburst above a chandelier. Close examination of the building detail also reveals beautiful nickel-plated doors and trim. These rich surfaces stand out all the more in contrast with the severity of the outside stone surfaces.
The subject matter in the metal trim reveals further stories: beavers, Scotch Thistle and the Coat of Arms of Canada. The Federal Building aptly stands close to where Fort Edmonton once stood, a trading post built to trade for beaver pelts and which numbered many Scots among its employees and officers.
George Heath MacDonald, architect
Architect of the Edmonton Federal Building, Macdonald was himself a Scot and designed or worked on dozens of Edmonton buildings during the first half of the 20th century. He spent his leisure hours researching the history of the historic Fort Edmonton. This work would strongly influence the reproduction of the 1840s fort later built in the river valley.
2010–2015 renewal project
After the building had stood vacant for 20 years, in 2010 the province began construction to restore this important architectural landmark. Construction was substantially completed at the end of November 2014. February 2015 saw the first of over 600 government and Legislature staff and MLAs to move into their new offices. That summer the Capital Plaza was completed, with public access to the main floor Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre opening on Canada Day 2015. Open year-round, the visitor centre hosts a gift shop, exhibition spaces and 80-seat theatre.
For the most part, the east side of the building has retained its original character. A new 2-story glass pavilion on the west side reorients the building towards the Legislature grounds and provides a visitor-friendly public interface between the grounds and building.
The rooftops of the main building, pavilion and service buildings all use green roof technology, offering a year-round display of native plants while providing benefits that include improved air quality, energy conservation and the moderation of urban heat island effect.
In addition to renewing the Federal Building, government also constructed a 650-stall underground parkade to replace existing surface parking lots. In their place a new granite plaza extends the Legislature grounds north to 99 Avenue to create a scenic approach to Capital Boulevard, helping to kick-start the revitalization of the Edmonton’s downtown.
Other outdoor design highlights include water fountains and green spaces. These have increased public space at the Legislature grounds and provide year-round recreational opportunities for visitors.
In addition to preserving the historic character of the Federal Building, the project demonstrates the government’s commitment to sustainable buildings by targeting a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating.
LEED Gold buildings consume 40 to 50% less energy than conventional buildings, produce lower greenhouse gas emissions and use 20 to 30% less water than LEED Silver buildings. They also provide a healthier work environment through improved air quality and use of natural light.
Saving an existing building provides its own benefits. It reduces production of replacement materials, which means less energy and fewer resources consumed and a massive diversion of waste from landfills. As part of the renovation the Federal Building’s envelope and mechanical and electrical systems were upgraded to improve energy efficiency.
Award-winning living wall
The building’s living wall is the focal point for visitors to its large glass atrium, and an integral part of the its HVAC system. This 3,476 square foot vertical garden, which also acts as a biofilter, won the 2016 North American Cities Alive Conference’s Interior Green Wall Award of Excellence. In addition to providing clean air for the rest of the building, the living wall biofilter contributes to the humidity levels of the atrium space.
Phone: 780-427-7362 (Visitor Centre)