Edmonton, Alberta

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Wee Book Inn, 10310 Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona

In 1985, the architectural rejuvenation of Edmonton’s historic south side district began with the Old Strathcona Building Front Improvement Work Program. It was a federal program in Canada that was intended to offer incentives for the hiring of unemployed workers affected by the downturn of the economy in the 1980s. Old Strathcona is the repository of a substantial inventory of recognized historic buildings, dating from the pre-WW1 period, centered around the southside main street, Whyte Avenue. I was appointed the architect for the program and over the course of 4 years, we completed numerous historic façade restorations and rejuvenations along Whyte Avenue and adjacent streets.

One of our many projects was a commercial building, the Wee Book Inn used book store, next to the historic 1891 Strathcona Hotel. It was, actually, two buildings – a 7.3m wide brick building and a narrow 2.2m wide annex, which had been an undeveloped lot in the early 20th C., later filled with, first, a one-storey building and later with a second story.

“Darwin Luxford opened the first Wee Book Inn location on Whyte Avenue in 1971, setting up in a building not much more than two metres wide. The narrow structure would inspire the “Wee” in Wee Book Inn.”
Edmonton Journal September 23, 2021


Darwin and his wife Leola started their bookstore in the tiny 2.2m wide lot in 1971. Within 2 years they also leased the adjacent building to expand their operations. They purchased both properties in 1979. It was then that they dedicated the narrow lot building to be the Comic Book Annex.

The Wee Book Inn was one of the first buildings in the Building Front Improvement Work Program. With the cooperation of the Wee Book Inn owners, we decided to restore the original brick façade, hidden behind the stucco. But if we were to uncover the brick building, what were we going to do with the infill building in the original vacant lot? This was the comic bookstore, so my proposal was to construct a comic book façade for a comic book store. It was ironic moment in my career since I was professionally dedicated to the study and authentic restoration of historic buildings, not constructing false history, so I was amused by the permission I was given to bring a light-hearted idea to the serious business of conservation.

The design of the façade paid amusing tribute to the early wood-framed pre-WW1 facades of Old Strathcona. I would typically never deliberately reconstruct a replica façade in a recognized historic area, but the Comics store deserved some special treatment that paid tribute to the authentic historicism of the area without pretending to be anything but a cheerful and amusing take on the comic book business.

Unfortunately, the life of this building was all too short. There was a fire in the neighbouring Antiquarian Book Store building in 1990, four years after the completion of the new facade, with a partial collapse into the roof of the Wee Book Inn. The damage was so severe that the Wee Book Inn was reconstructed and the comic book façade was demolished, never to be reconstructed.

The Comics store ended up being temporary architecture. Perhaps the Comics store in Old Strathcona could never could have been considered a permanent feature of the streetscape because it was so specific to the comic business. In fact, the current owner, Carey Luxford, told me that his parents were contemplating reconstruction of the store before the fire, perhaps because the old building structures were no longer viable. Commercial businesses come and go over time. If the fire had not destroyed the Comic store, perhaps progress would have also brought about its demise. It is interesting to me that this building façade is a fantasy in its own right, a little unbelievable. The Comics store facade owes it inspiration to the fantasies that are embedded in comic books, which often depict both super optimism and the superhuman – the heroic.

Chris Zdeb, Edmonton Journal article – July 30, 2015


The Team
David Murray Architect
Project Manager: Bill Griffith, Rivendell Management Ltd.
Sponsor: The Old Strathcona Foundation