May 26th, 2024

Century-old courthouse celebrated

By COLLIN GALLANT on June 3, 2022.

Provincial Court Chief Justice Derek Redman (foreground R to L), Justice Minister Kayce Madu and former Justice Minister Jim Horsman, discuss the centennial of the Medicine Hat Courthouse at an event in September 2020. A twice-delayed gala banquet to commemorate the occasion was held Thursday night in the city.--News File Photo

While the Mounties always get their man, the determination of the local legal community has brought about a long-planned celebration of Medicine Hat’s century-old courthouse on Thursday.

That comes 101.75 years after the facility opened in the fall of 1920, but delays due to the COVID pandemic caused several postponements of a gala evening to toast the history of the stately building on First Street in the city’s centre.

That dinner was held Thursday with 130 members of the local legal community, officials and honoured guests at Medalta Potteries banquet space.

It was complete with reminiscences of the work done within the building which remains the oldest functioning courthouse of its kind in the province.

“There certainly isn’t a judge who’s sat in Courtroom No. 1 without considering it an honour,” said Bill Cocks, a retired lawyer and alderman who chaired the banquet’s organizing committee.

The prominence and grandeur is a focal point of the city centre and the valuable preservation.

Those sentiments were endorsed by Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau in late 2020 when the actual 100th anniversary was observed by dignitaries on the courthouse lawn.

“There are some that are newer and more modern, but there would be little debate about which, considering its setting here on the river, is most beautiful,” she told the gathering of local judges, preservation advocates, city and police officials, then justice minister Kayce Madu and former area MLA and justice minister Jim Horsman.

The Legal Archives Society of Alberta has also lent its support to the festivities.

That the stately building on First Street still stands is a testament to persistence.

It was saved from discussions of demolition and replacement in the early 1960s by a ground-level preservation campaign led by local lawyers.

Decades later in the 1980s, then Attorney General Horsman stepped in when a planned expansion proposed an incongruent mix of modern construction on the back of the original building.

Eventually, local architect Jim Needham was engaged, and his plan for the addition provided a near seamless style front to back.

“The river side had been basically a flat brick wall, and to match it to the street side was a real architectural marvel in my opinion,” said Horsman this week, recalling that a glass facade had been initially suggested. “The courtrooms were left as is (in the original building)” while the incoming provincial court annex provided a more functional facility and more courtrooms.

The work also filled in the “L” shape of the original building – a notable departure from the popular rectangle layout in early 20th century public buildings.

It was provided a statement historic significance from the province noting its importance as the judicial centre of the region, and its architectural style as a best and oldest example in the province.

The Beaux-Arts Classicism style building opened in the autumn of 1920, built at a cost of $131,000, with cells and enough space to accommodate sheriffs (who previously rented space in the News Block) as well as the RCMP and provincial government workers.

The banquet featured an entertaining address by Supreme Court of Canada Justice Russell Brown. He was scheduled to provide the address discussing a number of both important and unusual cases that wound up before Canada’s top court.

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