A 116-year-old building that was the first Catholic school on Edmonton’s south side is on the market for $6.6 million.
The St. Anthony Building at the corner of 84th Avenue and 104th Street in Old Strathcona was first built in 1906. In recent decades, Edmonton Catholic schools have used it as a meeting center, warehouse and archives.
The district is now selling the property as it consolidates six administrative buildings and plans to move staff to the new Lumen Christi Catholic Education Center on 50th Street this summer.
“We admit it was not an easy decision to list St. Anthony for sale, but given our fiscal reality, the costs associated with operating and maintaining a 100+ year old building , it doesn’t justify keeping it,” spokeswoman Christine Meadows said.
A first south side
According to school district records, Father Albert Lacombe named the parish, citing an old church tradition that “a parish named after St. Anthony will never lack money.”
As the population grew more space was needed and a school was built, the first floor and basement being completed in 1906. When it opened it became the first school Catholic in what was then Strathcona.
Helen Scarlett, Edmonton Catholic Schools Archives Coordinator, said the building received a series of additions over the years before closing to students due to low enrollment in 1973.
Scarlett, who has worked there since 2003, knows every nook and cranny of the building, from the original air vents and separate entrances for boys and girls to the inscriptions carved into the bricks outside.
A town plaque acknowledges its history, but the building has no historic designation.
The additions partially obscure the original school, so passers-by might not notice its age.
“Because of that, they don’t really realize the rich history of the school, how long it’s been there and how essential it was to Strathcona,” Scarlett said.
Scarlett collects stories about the building from residents and plans to commemorate its history in some way.
Interest from developers
Jandip Deol of commercial real estate firm Avison Young said a wide range of developers and builders have expressed interest in the St. Anthony site and the company is in talks with a few parties.
He said parking on the property could accommodate something more urban, like a mixed-use development.
Deol said the developers and builders understand the building’s cultural and historical significance.
“I think everyone in the neighborhood would like this building to stay and that has been expressed to all interested parties,” he said.
Look back and forward
Anita Jenkins, who worked at the school as a Grade 4 teacher for two years in her early 20s, said even in the 1960s the building looked dated.
“It was a very creaky old place,” she recalls.
She said teachers addressed each other formally, without using their colleagues’ first names, and the student population was diverse, with children coming from neighboring apartments and the homes of politicians and provincial scholars.
Jenkins said she was interested in preserving history, but did not feel attached to the St. Anthony building.
“Some things have an expiration date,” she said.
Lech Leszczak, who volunteers with a recovery program in the basement of the nearby Strathcona Baptist Church, said the neighborhood could use a homeless shelter.
“Another shelter would be a good idea to take some of the burden off the churches,” he said.
Scarlett said she hopes the building will be preserved somehow.
“Having a connection to an important part of the community’s history is important and well worth preserving,” she said.