A century-old precursor to Tinder, an escape liquor to circumvent prohibition and a brutal cherry stoner are just some of the artifacts unearthed during an Edmonton restoration project that shed light on life in the early 20th century .
The collection of objects will soon have a new home after being cataloged and preserved by Edmonton architect David Murray.
Murray said the earliest known photo of the Pendennis building is from 1898, when it was called the California Rooming House. Logs show the building was purchased in 1904. It was remodeled to become the Pendennis Hotel and Nathan Bell was hired as manager. Shortly after, he bought the building and became the owner of the hotel. He then doubled the size of the hotel by acquiring its neighboring property and incorporated the early 1890s building into a facade that spanned both lots.
“We discovered this in 2006 while working on the Jasper East Village Main Street project,” Murray said. “She was there behind the facade, like she was in the 1890s. We had a complete 1890s building incorporated into the 1910 building.”
Murray found the structure years later when the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta (UCAMA) hired him and Next Architecture to help construct a museum space for the building.
“During the demolition, we found all these artifacts dating back to 1889,” Murray said. “They were found in walls, floors, attics, closets. We started to collect them and keep them, and they were put into storage.
The project collapsed after UCAMA disbanded and Murray inquired about the fate of the artifacts.
“Nobody wanted them, so I took my car to their museum in December 2020. I collected them in my car, drove them to my office,” Murray said. “I spent the next few months cataloging these objects – literally hundreds of individual artifacts.”
Among the items discovered were various documents, including accounting records from the owner of Liberty Dairy, an agricultural company headquartered in San Francisco. What he was doing in Edmonton remains a mystery, but Murray suspects it could be linked to many Californians heading north during the gold rush.
The team also found numerous bottles of alcohol, including numerous bottles of Jamaica Ginger.
Murray explained that it was a popular drug during Prohibition with a high alcohol content. The generic name was unprotected, so it was produced by many different companies. According to the National Library of Medicine, it was used to circumvent prohibition laws in effect from 1916 to 1923.
“There are so many little stories about downtown Edmonton businesses like this,” Murray said. “That was what people did. There was more of this particular artifact than any other.
Another artifact found was a one-page application form for a dating service dating from around 1916 for gentlemen and ladies.
“I think it was mostly about finding suitable marriages,” Murray said. “One can imagine that there were a lot of immigrants coming to Canada, so it would be a service for them to be able to find a suitable candidate for a wholesale bride, but also women would have subscribed as well.”
The dating club cost five dollars to subscribe and if a marriage resulted, the dating club owner received $25. The service involved an extensive interview process that included questions about finances, future inheritance, and marriage eligibility.
Murray’s research found articles about legal cases against the dating provider, one of which involved a woman who accused the service of revealing embarrassing details about her.
One of the most curious artifacts Murray researched was a mechanical device used to pit cherries.
“I had no idea what it was, but I found it on the internet,” Murray said. “It was designed by the Goodall Company in New Hampshire.”
The camera paints images in Murray’s mind of cherries picked from orchards in the Okanagan, loaded onto trains and transported along the CPR to Calgary. In just a few days, they would have traveled to Edmonton where they might have found themselves in the stoner, then in a cherry pie for hotel guests.
“You could make a story out of almost any of these things,” Murray said.
Soon the items will go home. Murray said the building’s new owners plan to incorporate them into some kind of exhibit.
According to Pendennis Developments, the company that now owns the fully renovated building, the space will be used as a modern, open-concept workplace that retains many of its historic elements.