Edmonton’s Gibbard Block building to get new lease on life

Kendra Slugoski - Global Edmonton

| Feb. 7th, 2018

Watch Edmonton's Gibbard Block building to get new lease on life Video Online, on GlobalNews.ca

Northeast edmonton restaurant to close soon

Diego Romero- CTV Edmonton

| Jan. 30th, 2018

La Boheme restaurant at Gibbard Block to close in March

A long-standing restaurant in northeast Edmonton is closing its doors in March.

La Boheme Restaurant Bed & Breakfast opened in 1982 in the now 106-year-old Gibbard Block.

“Wayne Gretzky and a lot of the boys on the bus came here,” owner Mike Comeau told CTV News. “They’d come in the back door and just come down the stairs so they didn’t have to see any of the public.”

The Gibbard Block was sold to a developer and it will be renovated in April.

Mike and his wife Connie sold the building to Sparrow Capital, and the developer will restore the façade and front entrance, replace the electrical system, and add insulation and a new elevator.

“Any building that’s 100 years old is going to need love in a bunch of different categories,” Sparrow Capital founder Antoine Palmer said.

The main floor will accommodate two restaurants and a retail store, the second flood will be office space, and the top floor will have eight micro suites.

The restaurant will close in mid-March and construction is expected to begin in April. Sparrow Capital hopes to reopen the Gibbard Block by the end of the year.

As for the Comeaus, they’ve had a good run, and they are looking forward to spending more time with their family outside of the restaurant.

“There’s a point when even the greatest of the greats have to retire at some point in time, and for us it's been coming on our 38th year.”


Two new local restaurants coming to Highlands' Gibbard Block

LIANE FAULDER - Edmonton Journal

| Jan. 30th, 2018

Two new local restaurants coming to Highlands' Gibbard Block

Watch for two new restaurants to open in Highlands, now that the historic Gibbard Block has been purchased by new owners.

Home since 1982 to the La Boheme restaurant and bed and breakfast, the Gibbard Block (6427 112 Ave.) was purchased by Connie Comeau and her husband, Mike Comeau, in 2005. After shepherding the building through the process of municipal historic designation last year, Connie Comeau felt the time was right to move on. While retaining a piece of the business, Comeau sold the Gibbard Block to local developers, Sparrow Capital, who have big plans for the space.

Antoine Palmer of Sparrow Capital says the building will undergo an extensive renovation after the deal closes March 31, and he hopes to be open for business in early 2019. The first floor of the 1913 building (which features the original Edwardian pressed tin ceiling) will be turned into two separate restaurants and a boutique wine shop, all with local operators. The second floor will contain office space. The third floor will be reserved for residential/hotel rooms.

Palmer says the company spent $1.6 million to buy the building and will spend another $2.4 million on the renovations, including a grant of $430,000 from the City of Edmonton.

“We’re really excited about Gibbard because that building is a cornerstone on the main street of Highlands,” said Palmer, who also owns the Brighton Block on Jasper Ave. “It’s one of the few mature neighbours in Edmonton that has managed to retain a main street. That building is the crown jewel of that strip and if we can bring it back to the status of what it was meant to be for that neighbourhood—we’ll consider that a success.”

Comeau said the pressures of running a restaurant, combined with a desire to spend more time with family, lead to the sale. The restaurant trade is notoriously hard on owners.

“I want to spend Mother’s Day with my mother-in-law and go camping with the grandkids,” said Comeau, who owned the south-east area restaurant, La Petite France, for years, and was also the general manager at Von’s before purchasing La Boheme.

Comeau has been working for a year on the deal with Sparrow Capital.

“We wanted someone who was going to restore the building, and put it back to its glory days,” said Comeau. “They’re great for the Highlands community and it all worked.” 

Palmer says the building fits into the mandate of Sparrow Capital. 

“We want to combine culturally relevant spaces and great local operators in activated neighbourhoods, where you can create spaces that enhance the cultural fabric of the neighbourhood,” he said.

The Highlands Historical Society and Sparrow Capital will host a pre-construction open house on March 31 at 2 p.m. 


Edmonton's historic Gibbard Block to get makeover

Lydia Neufeld - CBC

| Jan. 30th, 2018

La Boheme Restaurant Bed & Breakfast will close its doors in March after 37 years

With the historic Gibbard Block set for major renovations, La Boheme Restaurant Bed & Breakfast will close its doors in March after 37 years.

Connie Comeau and her husband, Mike, bought the building in 2006. She said the decision to sell was prompted by "too many losses in the family" after four of her relatives died over the last two years.

"When that happened, it changed me," she said. "I thought, while I'm still healthy and able I want to spend time with my grandkids. Maybe try camping, go on a holiday."

The restaurant and the bed and breakfast were time consuming, she said.

"We really have shared many people's lives at this place," Comeau said. "People got married here, even myself and my husband got married here.

"Getting to meet people from all over the world ... we made so many friends from England to China to Germany. That was definitely my favourite part."

Building to undergo $2.5 million renovation

La Boheme, at 6327 112th Avenue, will close its doors on March 18, she said. The sale of the building to Sparrow Capital will become official on March 31.

Antoine Palmer of Sparrow Capital said the company spent $1.5 million to buy the building and will spend another $2.5 million on the renovations. That includes a grant of $430,000 from the City of Edmonton, which he said "makes a huge difference" in terms of the company being able to take on the project.

Construction is scheduled to begin April 1.

The building was designated a historic resource by the City of Edmonton in 2017. It will keep its historic exterior cornices, interior stamped tin roof, and skylights, Palmer said.

The rest of the interior will be torn out, and the building will be insulated and an elevator added, he said.

The main floor will include three different retail outlets, Palmer said, a restaurant, a bistro and craft beer and wine boutique. The second floor will be offices, and the third floor be an eight-unit B & B, though some suites could be long-term rentals.

Designed by Ernest Morehouse and completed in 1912, the Gibbard Block was originally a luxury apartment building with retail shops on the main floor. 

The brick structure was partly financed by William Magrath and Bidwell Holgate, the developers who created Highlands and whose mansions still stand on Ada Boulevard. Ontario businessman William Gibbard also contributed to the project.

Technically just outside the Highlands boundary, the building featured such modern touches as a central gas plant to provide clean cooking fuel, and each suite had a telephone and a bath with hot water night and day, according to Alberta Heritage.

Tours offered to public

The Highlands Historical Society will host a pre-construction open house on March 31. 

People will have an opportunity to see the original woodwork, stained glass features, and full interiors of suites on the second and third floors.

There will also be an opportunity to see plans for the restoration and renovation.


Edmonton looking at historical designation for Highlands landmark

Gordon Kent - Edmonton Journal

July 9, 2017

The city wants to designate the building that houses a long-time Edmonton landmark as a municipal historic resource.

The three-storey Gibbard Block at 6427 112 Ave. has been the site since 1982 of La Boheme restaurant, which features bed-and-breakfast suites on the upper floors. The brick structure was constructed at the height of Edmonton’s pre-First World War real estate boom in 1913 to provide luxury apartments and shops for the exclusive Highlands neighbourhood, promoted as a bedroom community for Edmonton’s elite, according to a report going to city council Tuesday.

Ernst Eder previous owner of Gibbard block

Nancy Beasley - Edmonton Sun

July 9, 2017

The Importance of Being

Restauranteur ERNST EDER once traded a bottle of his most prized wine to an elderly gypsy for his walking stick. Eager, eccentric, and endearing Eder continues to turn heads.

An elderly gypsy entered his restaurant late one evening, leaning on an exquisite walking stick. Restaurateur Ernst Eder took one look at its polished silver-elephant grip and knew he must have it. But the gypsy set a high price. "I had to give him something that meant the world to me," recalls Eder, in his typical flamboyant way. " I thought for am minute and then took him to the wine cellar."

In the cellar, an integral part of La Boheme, Eder offered the man a treasured bottle of 1948 Pommard - a French burgundy bottled in Eder's birth year. he had been saving it for a special occasion.

With the flair that has marked his dance, political, and business careers, Eder completed that trade five years ago. It is his style, his was and it's almost always unorthodox. Eccentrically yours, so to say. Now 44, Eder marked two milestones this month - his popular Highlands French eatery celebrated its 10th year of culinary success and 20 years ago he arrived in Canada. He has just humped into a new venture thoroughbred horses. But switching horses in mid-stream is northing new to Ernst. "If i waited to find out all the rules and do things the way they're supposed to be done i would never have gone ahead with most of this because in theory, it couldn't be done," he laughs, his own gypsy heritage shining is his dark eyes. 

Don't be surprised to see his name on the political marquee down the road. He load as an 1989 aldermanic candidate but the known Liberal may enter the federal arena. As he ponders his past, Eder swirls cognac in a snifter, fitfully tapping his cane for effect. The eldest of six children, Eder has come a long way since he arrived by plane from France two decades ago - on Oct. 4, 1972 at 3 a.m. to be precise. He had a mere $40 in his pocket. "I was only supposed to stay for a month," explains this father of one, who had been hired to dance in Toronto. A diary excerpt in French, his only language then, written during that fateful flight, says it all: "It's a turning point. I trust what i going to happen."

That very next day he met Carole Yamada, the Japanese woman who a year later would become his wife. They opened their own dance company and toured until Eder was sidelined with a back injury. Eder was now 30 and decided to settle down. he became a dance teacher a the University of Alberta. Carole taught at Grant MacEwan Community College. They set up their own dance company . Espace Tour - nesol after his favourite plant, the Sunflower - in a Northside warehouse and started a newsletter in 1977.

The newsletter Interface, soon became an arts magazine for western Canada with a 90,000 monthly circulation until it folded in 1991. The Eders weren't then part of it. They closed their studio and Ernst, who became a Canadian citizen in '76 moved into the restaurant business. He began work on the historic Gibbard Block in Highlands at 112Ave and 65 St., frequenting area auctions, grabbing equipment for 10 cents on the dollar. He didn't know anything about business licenses, building permits or fire inspections, so he didn't bother to apply for them. 

He and his friends, including businessman Paul Renoir, whipped the space into shape. They evened doubled as plumbers. "Later I was told I needed certain things so we did what we had to," Eder recalled recently. He didnt know how to run a restaurant: " But i knew what i liked when i went out, so I trusted my instincts." He's learned along the way - having bought bootleg champagne for home use which resulted in charges for which he was cleared, and losing a fight with the taxman. 

He fought city call when he opened a bed and breakfast upstairs, but the battle has since died since he's now living there. He and his wife recently separated.

"I live every day as it if were my last. but i still want to leave my mark in the next decade or two to better things."