History of the Koermann Block – Artists Quarters
*Picture is the replicated version at Fort Edmonton Park
The site of the future Artists Quarters project sits on the oldest remnant of Edmonton’s first commercial district. The early 1900s were great economically, and it was evident when the banks, livery stables, saloons, hotels, office buildings, Chinese restaurants, and laundries started to appear to the east of what is now Canada Place and the Shaw Conference center on was then called Kinistino Avenue. It is currently known as 96th street. Kinistino is an anglicized spelling of the Cree word Kinsitinâw, meaning ‘us three.’
As this commercial area grew, more residential homes started to appear to the east of this area, and soon a community was born with churches, schools, and other necessary buildings. One of the commercial building in the area was the Koermann Block. Located on Kinistino Avenue, the building was initially built in 1911 by Gustave Koermann. It housed a German-language newspaper, commercial tenants, and had residential units on the second floor. The paper, the Alberta Herold, did quite well with a large number of German-speaking immigrants in the area. As with many of the businesses started by the German-Albertans, the newspaper was successful up till WW1 broke out and like other immigrants, Koermann, was classified as an enemy alien and all his assets seized.
The building housed the Ukrainian Bookstore from 1919 to 1925 and helped many of the community’s Ukrainian immigrants adapt to their new lives in Canada. It was a place to meet friends, enjoy conversation, and catch up on the latest gossip of the day. The Ukrainian Bookstore would later relocate to 97 Street.
Unfortunately, the eastern part of the city’s downtown core was not as eagerly sought after once the Hudson Bay Company released land to the west of 97th street. Business owner’s deemed this newer area more desirable in which to step up their companies. After the Ukrainian Bookstore moved locations in 1925, the building held a large variety of businesses in between vast amounts of time it sat vacantly.
The years following the First World War resulted in an extended period of economic recession, and the local economy grew sluggish until the 1950s when there was a discovery of oil. But, as once before, the growth that resulted from this happened to the west of this area. There was an attempt to revitalize the area in early 2000 by the Downtown Development Corporation in hopes of restoring the area and preserving some of the buildings in their original context.
The building is currently empty, and Arts Habitat is excited to own the property as we prepare to move forward on the Artists Quarters project. The exterior of the building from the 1950s is incorporated into the facade of Artist Quarters. You can experience the structure when it was Ukrainian Bookstore in the 1900s by visiting Fort Edmonton Park.