Virtual Exhibit

The Kanngiesser Building

Through the Years

It might surprise you to know the building now known to Lacombe residents as the Kanngiesser Building originally had a different name.

It used to be known as the Urquhart Block, after Andrew Urquart who built it in 1907. It is located on the Flatiron Block in Lacombe’s historic downtown. Due to the placement of the Calgary & Edmonton Trail and the railway, the Flatiron Block is triangular in shape. This led to some unique construction opportunities. During the commercial boom in the 1880s and 1890s, numerous merchant businesses moved onto Flatiron Block. All the buildings were small, single- or two-story wooden storefronts or hotels, with the exception of the Corner Business Block (1903) and the Flatiron Building (1904) . On September 8th, 1906, a massive fire broke out, destroying nine merchant businesses on the block. The Flatiron Building (the Merchant’s Bank of Canada) was the only building to survive. This fire opened up prime real estate in Lacombe’s downtown commercial core.

Born of Fire & Ash

In early 1907, Andrew Urquhart purchased three lots on the Flatiron Block to build his department store. After the Flatiron Block fire, Lacombe town council passed a new bylaw: all new construction had to be brick to limit the spread of fire. With this in mind, Mr. Urquhart used locally cast tan cement brick and red mortar to construct his building. To take advantage of the unique triangular shape of the Flatiron Block, the building was built with two identical store fronts: one along Barnett Avenue (50th Avenue) and another along Railway Street (Highway 2A). In line with the popular prairie boom-town architecture, both store fronts featured inset doorways centered between large display windows with transoms above. Decorative corbels adorned the top of the front facades, flanking the monumental pediment which proudly proclaimed the building’s date of construction.

Like all other businesses in Lacombe, fire was a frequent danger to the Urquhart Block. On January 1, 1911 another large fire broke out in the Victoria Hotel, which was located on the corner of 50th Avenue and 50th Street where CIBC is located today. The Urquhart Block’s north façade was scorched by the flames and the plate glass windows were broken. On October 12 of that same year the windows on the south façade were blown out when the train station exploded. Additionally, the Urquhart Block sustained smoke and water damages when the Corner Business Block burnt down again on September 27, 1918.

Updates & Upgrades?

Over the years, the Urquhart Block underwent several renovations, both inside and outside. In March 1920, a new boiler was installed in the basement to keep the building toasty warm. In the 1950s, under the ownership of Jack Lawrence, stucco and vinyl siding was added on the first floor of the north facade.

From 1987 to 1994 the Town of Lacombe was one of five communities in Alberta to participate in revitalization pilot projects with the Alberta Main Street Programme. Grants from municipal, provincial, and federal groups gave Lacombe over $1.2 million to do restorative work on 31 buildings, 35 signs, and 7 awnings downtown. General beautification of the streets was also part of the project. Originally meant to be a three-year project, the success of Lacombe’s revitalization led to the extension of the project for another four years.

Question: [Y]ou worked with the Main Street Project in the 1990s, how did you like that?
Jack: Good, really good. That changed the whole downtown. Before they started that Main Street Programme, the downtown was really starting to slide. With that Main Street Programme, it got a lot of people working together and taking a little more pride in their buildings, little more pride in their business. . . . It was an extremely good project. Something had to be done and it had a lot of history back on the record. we learned a bit more about the buildings, who owned what before.

Jack Kanngiesser Jr. during an interview with Lacombe & District Historical Society

Main Street Project

As part of the Main Street Project, the Urquhart Block, under the ownership of Jack Kanngiesser, underwent careful restorations in 1991 to return it to its original 1907 beauty. The vinyl signage was removed to uncover the transom windows above the door, stucco was removed from the front columns and the brick underneath was repointed and repaired. The wooden front windows were repaired and repainted as were the decorative elements such as the monumental pediments (the decorative corbels at the top of the front facades had been removed in earlier renovations) and the painted brick signage. A new sign for Jack Kanngiesser LTD. was also installed.

The building underwent some interior renovations in 2010 when Elite Bridal moved in. Further changes were made in 2017 and 2018 when the basement and second floor were renovated to house different departments of the Elite Bridal & Fashion Boutique. At that same time the woodwork on the exterior was refreshed with a new coat of paint.

A. Urquhart & Co. LTD Department Store, 1907-1920

Andrew Urquhart was born in Drumnadrochit, Glen Urquhart, Scotland, in 1863. He immigrated to Canada and was homesteading in the Chigwell District with his wife, son William, and daughter Chrissie in 1898. He purchased the Co-Operative Store in Lacombe in 1902 before building and operating his department store in the Flatiron Block in 1907. Like many other businessmen in Lacombe, Urquhart was a member of several organizations in town, including the hospital board, the school board, and town council. He even had a hand in bringing the Federal Research Station to Lacombe. As well as owning the A. Urquhart & Co. Limited Department Store, Urquhart was also a partial owner of the Lacombe Creamery from 1915-1918. After selling his department store in 1920 to Calder & Lundie, Urquhart moved to Richmond, B.C. He died in 1936 at the age of 73.

The A. Urquhart & Company Limited Department Store officially opened on November 1, 1907. As was popular at the time, the store was divided into different departments and sold everything from groceries, to clothing and shoes, to gardening tools, to toys. Locally produced items were also sold at the store, such as Sunset Golden Pancake Flour from the Bentley flour mill, fresh potatoes from local farmers, and dairy products from the Lacombe Creamery. The store frequently hosted sales with special stock during holiday seasons and even took advantage of the train schedules to bring in extra business. According to an advertisement in the Western Globe, there were special sales on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for the benefit of passengers on the Lacombe-Moose Jaw branch of the railway.

Staff members played on hockey teams during special store vs. store charity matches. A game in 1910 was played by the employees of A. M. Campbell’s Leading Store vs. A. Urquhart & F. E. McLeod’s. Staff members also enlisted to fight during the Great War, including Mr. McDougall who enlisted with the 82nd Infantry Unit in 1914 and Jack Lundie who enlisted with the Edmonton Kilties in 1916.

There was considerable excitement in town on Friday, caused by a series of runaways. A pony ridden by J. Johnston was scared by dogs on Nanton street and started madly down that street. The pony scared a team belonging to Thompson Bros., standing untied near the Atlas Lumber Yard, and this team started on a race down the street. On the way they picked up Anderson’s milk wagon, which was also standing with the team untied. When the runaways arrived at Barnett Ave. Corner, the milk wagon turned west, while Thompson’s team headed straight for Urquhart’s store, and plunged through the large plate glass show windows. Fortunately no one was hurt, the team also escaping with very slight injuries.

Western Globe, March 18th, 1914. 

The A. Urquhart & Company Limited Department Store was eventually sold in 1920 to Alfred Lundie and David Calder, the managers of the store who had been working there since 1914.

Calder & Lundie, General Merchants, 1920-1928

David “Davie” Calder was born in Hamilton, Scotland in 1872. He immigrated to Canada with his wife and daughter in 1914, and settled in the Lacombe area. A son and another daughter were born in Lacombe. Calder was a prominent businessman and was part of several local organizations including town council, the agricultural society, and the hospital board. He was also the president of the Lacombe Football Association, the Exalted Ruler of the Elks Club, and the president of the Win-The-War Society. He was also a chief solicitor for the Lacombe Creamery and would drive several miles to collect cream and convince local dairy farmers to contribute to the creamery. Calder was an avid curler and frequented Barnett Lake to play even after the curling arena was built. In 1928, Calder purchased a jewelry store in Edson and moved there. He died in Edson on June 2, 1953 at the age of 82.

Alfred Lundie was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1874. He arrived in Lacombe in 1914 with his wife Jean and son John. He was a member of the Lacombe Legion, an active supporter of the Lest We Forget Club, and a primary surveyor of the Lacombe Golf and Country Club. In October 1928, Lundie and his wife moved to Red Deer, where Mr. Lundie had purchased a new business. He passed away on March 16, 1937 in Red Deer at the age of 63.

Calder and Lundie both began working for the A. Urquhart & Company Limited Department Store in 1914. They were the managers there for six years before Andrew Urquhart sold them the business. After purchasing the store, they continued to run the business in a similar fashion to A. Urquhart & Co., maintaining the merchandise, helpful atmosphere, and sales dates. The store was as successful as it was under Urquhart, and Calder & Lundie felt no need to change anything but the name. Around this time, a millinery shop was also located in the building. It was on the east side of the second floor where the natural light from the windows was best. When new business opportunities cropped up for both Calder and Lundie, the pair decided to sell the department store to Norman Campbell in 1928.

Norman Campbell, LTD., 1928-1938

Information currently available about Norman Campbell is slim. Like many others, Norman Campbell appears to have taken an active role in community organizations, such as when he helped get the Rotary Club going in 1928. He also had a prize-winning Jersey Cow that he entered in a competition in 1928 as well as some Langshan chickens who won prizes in 1932.

Advertisements for his store often emphasize the clothing, hats, and shoes that the Norman Campbell Department Store sold, but the store also carried dry goods, furnishings, and groceries. Shortly after taking over the store, Campbell turned the second floor of the building into a department devoted to women’s and children’s clothes.

Campbell has recently had the second floor of his new store fitted up and devoted to women’s and children’s ready-to-wear, comprising ladies coats, dresses, corsets and silk underwear; children’s coats, dresses and hats. The interior has been redecorated in French grey and white ceilings, with rose side curtains. Two spacious fitting rooms are conveniently situated, so that customers can enjoy the air of privacy, and garments can been seen and tried on at their leisure. The new department comprises 1200 feet of floor space, and is one of the finest to be found in Northern Alberta outside of the larger cities.

Western Globe, April 4th, 1929.

While the building did not suffer damage from fires during Norman Campbell’s time as the owner, the store was robbed during August of 1929. Constable Tyler spotted to men leaving with sacks full of goods, which the thieves dropped and ran. The constable pursued the men to the C.P.R. yards and fired shots, but the suspects escaped. The sacks that they were carrying were mostly full of men’s clothing.

At present, research indicates that after selling the Urquhart Block and store to Jacob Lawrence in 1945, Campbell may have moved to Blackfalds. It appears that he was the keeper of the Imperial Hotel there and was also the mayor in 1955 for a short while.

Can you tell us more about Norman Campbell and his store? Let the Lacombe & District Historical Society know!

Lawrence Department Store, 1938-1954

Jacob “Jack” Lawrence was born in Russia on October 15, 1893. Around the turn of the century his family arrived in Camrose and Jacob opened his first department store, J. Lawrence & Co., there in 1930. In 1935, Lawrence moved to Red Deer, where he opened the Lawrence Department Store on Ross Street. That store in Red Deer operated until 1955. In 1938, Lawrence decided to expand his business north to Lacombe. He purchased the Urquhart Block from Campbell and opened a second Lawrence Department Store. During Lawrence’s ownership, stucco was applied to the lower half of the exterior of the building. As well as being a business owner, Lawrence was also president of the Red Deer Rotary Club (1948-49) and Red Deer Cancer Society (1949). He retired in 1961 and moved to Vancouver with his wife Jean. He passed away on November 25, 1971 in Vancouver, BC at the age of 78.

The Lawrence Department Store officially opened in Lacombe on June 30, 1938. The store held an eight-day sale, promising to maintain the community-minded business model of its predecessors. The opening-day advertisement boasted “Standard Merchandise at Moderate Prices” and the best Canadian-made products. As with his other stores, Lawrence sold ladies and men’s wear almost exclusively. His first store in Camrose also sold some groceries but it appears that line of merchandise was phased out when he moved to Red Deer.

Jack Kanngiesser’s LTD., 1954-2010

John “Jack” Richard Kanngiesser Sr. was born in 1921 in Red Deer where his mother owned a boarding house. Mr. Kanngieser Sr. owned a general merchandise store in Hanna, Alberta called Jack’s Cash Store, and the GM Dealership in Innisfail before purchasing the department store business in Lacombe from Jacob Lawrence in 1954. Mr. Lawrence retained the ownership of the building until 1958 when Mr. Kanngieser Sr. purchased it. Under Mr. Kanngieser Sr., the store sold clothing, western wear, and work clothes. Toys were also sold there for a while before Mr. Kanngiesser Sr. purchased a Variety Store in Lacombe. He had two sons, Jack and Dale, and upon his retirement he gave the department store business to Jack. For his retirement, Mr. Kangiesser Sr. moved to Victoria. He passed away on July 20, 2005 in Red Deer at the age of 83.

[W]hen we came, the floor was oil floors. I remember that we used to have to, at five to six, cover all the ladies’ dresses and everything like that with sheets, then we’d get the dust bane and put it all on the floor like this and then we’d sweep the floor. . . . They were planks like this and then we put this dust bane on it and then we’d sweep it. And they would be a little dusty if it got rainy or anything like that, the floors would be a little worse. But we couldn’t get any dust on the dresses, that was money. So, I remember that.

Jack Kanngiesser Jr. during an interview with Lacombe & District Historical Society

Jack Kanngiesser, Jr.

Jack Kanngieser Jr. was raised helping with the family business and then went to work for his father after finishing high school. He took over the business from his father. The store closed in 2010, but Jack Kanngiesser Jr. retains ownership of the building.

“One of the funny incidents . . . the kids used to have an indoor rodeo. They had it for years, So anyways, there was a bull. He was as tame as a dog. He was unbelievable. And his name was Pilsner. Everyone had a great time with Pilsner. It did promotions for breweries and promotions for everything. So anyways, the Friday of the rodeo, the front door opens, I look, and here comes Pilsner with two kids. ‘We’re taking Pilsner to take a look at Lacombe.’ So, he came in the front door and out the back door. So, we stopped and had a little visit with Pilsner. And gee, they’re about 3,000 pounds, they’re big, and two thing I thought: Don’t go to the bathroom in the store, number one, and don’t fall through the floor, number two. So Anyways, they took Pilsner through the store.”

Jack Kanngiesser Jr. during an interview with Lacombe & District Historical Society

Elite Bridal & Fashion Boutique

Elite Bridal has existed in Lacombe since approximately 1995 and moved to various locations. In 2002, sisters Sara and Jill, who were both teachers, decided to try their hands at owning a store and purchased the business while it was located in the mall. After continuing in that location for a few years, Sara and Jill moved the business to the Flatiron Block and recruited their friend Traci as another co-owner. All three owners grew up in the Lacombe area.

Question: So how do you find being in the historic downtown of Lacombe?
Traci: [W]e love . . . the architecture and the look of the building. . . . [I]t’s like our own little sense of community here with the businesses downtown.
Jill: Yeah, cause we kind of build on each other . . . We’ll suggest they go for lunch there and they’ll suggest that you come shopping here.

Jill and Traci during an interview with Lacombe & District Historical Society

The store continued to grow as the brides-maid, grad, and mother-of-the-bride sections were enlarged. Finding that they needed more space and wanting to continue operating on Lacombe’s main-street, the owners moved into the Jack Kanngiesser Building in 2014. The initial plan was to only use the main floor of the building, but as the store continued to expand and casual wear and shoe sections were added, more space was needed. Consequently, the store was divided into departments and the grad section was moved to the basement in 2017 while the bridal section was moved upstairs in 2018. Now Elite Bridal & Fashion Boutique occupies three levels of the Kanngiesser Building.

During the course of their time in the Kanngiesser Building, Elite Bridal & Fashion Boutique has made some minor renovations that include new flooring, paint, and the addition of change rooms. Many old or even original features remain inside the building such as the pressed tin ceilings on the main floor and wainscoting in the upstairs.

Traci: “We tried to . . . keep it as the same as we could up here, like the ceiling is still the same and we tried to use the doors and the windows, and we . . . got the mirrors to match the wainscoting on the stair case.
Jill: “And it’s . . . a really cool view when you look out the windows when you’re up here and working with customers.”

Elite Bridal & Fashion Boutique owners Traci and Jill

The story continues

Jack Kanngiesser Jr., who still owns the building, continues to be involved, visiting the store every week, clearing snow off of the sidewalks, and bringing his family for tours of the store.

And I think for me, and Traci can probably attest to this too, but when we grew up here, cause we both grew up in this town, you know, this [was] Jack’s store, and we all knew Jack and everyone would come here and buy their rubber boots . . . and come and get their coats and the men’s clothing and all of that. So now, Jack moving on, it just makes me hapy when . . . Jack comes here and he just thinks this looks great and . . . he’s just so happy there’s a hustle and bustle going on in this store and that makes him happy which makes me happy too.

Jill during an interview with Lacombe & District Historical Society

Provincial & Municipal Designation

As an important representation of Lacombe’s commercial history, the Urquhart Block / Kanngiesser Building became a Designated Provincial Historic Resource on October 15, 2007. On August 22, 2016 it became a Municipal Historic Resource. The Urquhart Block / Kanngiesser Building is among fourteen buildings and monuments in Lacombe that have been deemed historic resources either by the province or the City of Lacombe. Six buildings are Designated Provincial Historic Resources. Five buildings are Registered Historic Resources.

Six buildings and one monument are Municipal Historic Resources. These classifications aid in the preservation of the building and the important history they hold.

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4 replies
  1. Pryna koberstein
    Pryna koberstein says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this well-researched article. I worked with the Town of Lacombe when the Main Street Program was in effect. It was exciting to see how the building owners were able to spruce up their buildings. I served as board secretary.

  2. Sean Kanngiesser
    Sean Kanngiesser says:

    Thank you for the wonderful insight. I learned things I didn’t know about the store and even a couple things about my grandfather. You folks are doing great work to preserve the history of Lacombe.


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