May 21, 2012

EDMONTON – The city's 96th Street is notorious for its churches. In fact, it's called Church Street because, from Jasper Avenue north to 111th Avenue, it features a remarkable collection of 13 churches built between the start of the 20th century and the early 1970s.

This church collection features all types of architectural styles, ranging from the Byzantine and French Gothic to the modern.

In 2010, the Edmonton Historical Board honoured Church Street with a plaque that tells the history of the area. Now the city may use the historic importance of this street to help revitalize the area, which means buildings designated historic might be eligible for grants to spruce up their exteriors.

Church Street's oldest building is the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, built in 1903 at a cost of $10,000.

Boasting a striking brick exterior set on a brick foundation with corner buttresses, tower cornices and a high spire, Immaculate Conception ministered to French speaking parishioners until 2001. Now it is the home of the Vietnamese Catholic community.

Sacred Heart Church was built in 1913 and St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Cathedral was completed in 1939.

"We are looking at Church Street as a historical area," said Robert Geldart of the city's planning department. "We are looking at how we can improve on what we have but we are in the very early stages (of this process)."


Geldart said the city is encouraging church organizations to maintain their buildings and "if they are not viable (as houses of worship), we can keep them for a different use."

Tim Marriott, chair of the Edmonton Historic Board, is happy to hear of the city's interest in perking up Church Street.

"I think these close-in neighbourhoods have been neglected," he said. "96th Street is a good place for people to come and live, and we should not let it rot away."

Talk that 96th Street has the largest number of churches in the smallest area in North America is probably just a tale that many people have accepted as true after Ripley's Believe it or Not reported it as fact decades ago, Marriott said.

However, there is an easier explanation as to how and why so many churches ended up on 96th Street.

As different waves of immigration swept through the city, people started building their homes in the Boyle-McCauley area partially because the land was cheaper. As Marriott put it, "it follows that they built their churches there too."