• Lawrence Herzog

The Stovel Block

Originally published February 18, 2010

Built between 1910 and 1912 on the southeast corner of what is now 97th Street and 103rd Avenue, the Stovel Block was constructed by James A. Stovel, who started an Edmonton hardware business sometime before 1904. Records show Stovel operated a hardware store on the corner of Queens Avenue and Jasper Avenue (today's 99th Street and Jasper).

Stovel Block, 1914, Glenbow Archives NA-3774-90

A 1904 newspaper advertisement boasted that it carried “all kinds of Tinware and Pipe Fitting” along with “Shot Guns, Rifles and a general line of Sporting Goods, Cook Ranges and Stoves.” The following year, his business was listed as “Hardware Stoves and Tinware.”

Research by City of Edmonton Archives reference archivist Sherry Bell reveals that Stovel came from Rockwood, Ontario, where his father was a farmer. He was listed in the 1891 Edmonton census as a tinsmith, but the exact date of his arrival in the west is uncertain.

In the 1909 Henderson’s City Directory, James and his sister Mary A. Stovel were listed as living at 425 Namayo Avenue, which was to be the site of their building, at what today is 10333 97th Street. Time has not been particularly kind to the building, which has survived nearly 100 years, and which is enters its second century facing an uncertain future. It is significant for several reasons.

A report compiled in 2002 by heritage consultant Ken Tingley notes that several contractors worked on the Stovel Block during its prolonged construction. “These men were typical of the real estate and building boom which defined Edmonton in the years preceding the Great War of 1914–1918,” the report says. “Many of the commercial blocks which formed the core of this construction were built by family concerns using the services of an energetic class of workmen who often were doing that work as a sideline to their other entrepreneurial tasks.”

One of the earliest contractors on the project was a gentleman named William Slyman.

Others with involvement included Colin Vannerman Beals, James O. Van Buskirk and Oswald Van Buskirk.

The Stovels, James and Mary, applied for several building permits for the site, starting October 2, 1909 and stretching through 1911. There is no architect of record for the Stovel Block.

Like many other commercial blocks of the time, it contained space for retail merchants on the main floor and residential rental accommodation above. It shows influences of classic revival architecture, which often found its way into commercial blocks of the period.

Right from the beginning, the Stovel Block’s location, near the intersection of Namayo Avenue (97th Street) and Boyle Street (103rd A Avenue), put it at the centre of the action. “This formed a busy commercial district dedicated to supplying the needs of a burgeoning town in the middle of a real estate and building boom,” Tingley’s report observes.

Namayo Avenue was then one of the main commercial concourses in Edmonton. It stretched north from Jasper Avenue to the Canadian National Railway tracks “through a bustling centre of businesses, cafés, rooming houses, Chinese establishments and hotels,” Tingley writes.

Around the Stovel Block, other small businesses included A. Livingstone’s general store, John Smith barber, Gootlieb Zink boot and shoe repair, William Gentleman’s meat market, and S.J. Shaw jeweler. Across Boyle Street was the G.S. Armstrong Drug Store, J.S. Agar hardware dealer, the Namayo Meat Market and the Merchants Bank, among others.

Early commercial tenants included the Royal Bank of Canada and Albert E. Aitken tailor, which opened shop on the main floor. The bank opened at the location on April 9, 1912, and was closed on March 31, 1916.

Subsequent main floor merchants included Stinson’s Bakery, Star Cash Grocery, Harry Tait’s grocery, Economy Grocery and Armstrong Drugs, which moved from across 103rd A Avenue. Some stayed for just a few years, while others lasted for decades.

There were 24 suites on the two upper floors, and right from the beginning, they appealed to working class renters such as store clerks. “Tenancy changed over the years, and indicates the transition of the Boyle Street district from a vibrant commercial entrepot to more marginalized section of the city,” Tingley writes. “Its tenants always were largely working-class people, and the ethnic and racial diversity of tenants reflect the multicultural nature of the historical Edmonton workforce.”

The Stovel Block has survived the relentless march of a century but many of its original architectural features have been obliterated. The parapet that once graced its front elevation is gone, along with early fire escapes and wooden windows.

However, almost all of the original brickwork is still intact, along with some of the two original front doorways. The rear elevation is adorned with a large painted “Army & Navy” department store sign, likely added sometime after the 1950s, along with a long wooden balcony structure.

Besides operating in the hardware and tinsmithing trades, Stovel was also an inventor and has two patents to his name. The first was for a cinder sifter, which was likely used for sifting out the big chunks of coal from the ash in the bottom of the coal stove so they could be used again. The second, issued in June 1929, was for a clothesline and wire tightening device designed to stop clotheslines from drooping.

James Stovel married Margaret Graham, and there is no record of the couple having children. He died in October 1929.

© 2019 Lawrence Herzog. Article may be reproduced with permission of the author.

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