A 109-year-old brick building on Whyte Avenue that once housed a dance hall and a general store is now designated as a provincial historic resource.

The Richards Block building, just west of Gateway Boulevard, is a three-storey structure that opened in 1910 as the A.H. Richards and Company general store.

Over the years, the top-floor dance hall has been transformed into residential suites.

The A.H. Richards and Company general store was a community hub in the Old Strathcona area. (CBC/John Shypitka)

“The Richard and Co. company brought a lot of people together. It was a huge part of the socioeconomic building of the area,” said Leela Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women.

The provincial designation means the entire footprint of the building is now protected.

The Richards Block is now owned by Beljan Development, which purchased the building in 2017. Beljan can now apply for grants to maintain the building’s historic character.

“It’s buildings like this that provide a warmth to the street. It always makes you wonder what was here and how this all came to be. And I think it’s an important part of any street to have a bit of that story,” said owner Ivan Beljan.

Plans for the future include the construction of tenant spaces that open onto the alleys surrounding the building, and refreshing the residential suites on the top floors.

Plans for the Richards Block include creating tenant spaces that open onto the alleys that surround the building. (Supplied/Beljan Development)

Construction crews never know exactly what they’ll find when they start work in a century-old space.

“With buildings like this, there are always surprises,” said architect Ian Evans, who is working on the project. “And some of those surprises are great. Some things we’ve uncovered in doing historical renovations, we say, ‘Wow, we didn’t expect that to be there, we should really celebrate this,'” he said. 

“In other cases, it’s having to take a different approach.”

Work to start on Strathcona Hotel

Beljan Development is actively involved in other historic building renovations around Edmonton, including the Strathcona Hotel. The historic Edmonton landmark was constructed in 1891 and is one of Alberta’s last 19th century wood-framed hotels.

The Strathcona Hotel was damaged in march after fire broke out during renovation work.

Beljan said work will continue on renovating the structure soon.

“It took us a little bit to take a step back and figure out what it meant to our whole program there,” he said. “I think we’ve been able to overcome the issues with the fire and put a plan together to really start work there. There was a few for us to get through but I think that whole program will get underway fairly soon.”

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