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In 1894 R.T. Holman began the construction of a new store for his already extensive and successful retail business in the Town of Summerside. The new brick and stone store, designed by prominent local architect and builder George Baker, changed the face of commercial Water Street. Its square footage covered one third of an acre on what was previously considered an “unsightly lot.” It had a Water Street frontage of 136 feet.
Construction for the new retail store got underway with the digging of the cellar in May of 1894. The cellar was walled with stone from the quarries of Wallace, Nova Scotia, while over 650,000 bricks needed for the building of the exterior walls were produced at the brick plant of F.W. Strong & Co. in Bedeque.
The inside of the store was “simply finished” but contained impressive new technology such as the wonder of 150 electric lights, which lit up the store and street as they glowed through the large plate glass windows. Running water was pumped to the lavatories and construction techniques were employed to ensure that if fire ever struck its spread would be hampered.
In late November 1895, the department store opened with newspaper reports of the magnificence of the building. 2020 marks the 125th anniversary of the building of the store which dominated the general retail trade on the Island. The volume of business in the early years led to the 1919 addition, which joined the store and warehouse together, bringing the frontage to nearly 300 feet.
Holman’s was the flagship of the town’s commercial business for 128 years. Yearly sales were in the millions and employment numbers substantial. Holman’s supported the community in numerous endeavours, especially during the two world wars.
In May of 1985, R.T. Holman Limited was placed in receivership, and later in the year purchased by Milton Dyment of Reliance Investments Ltd, and opened as Dominion Square with numerous individual businesses housed under its roof. It would operate as such for the next twenty-two years.
The Journal-Pioneer on April 13th, 2007 carried the story that The Summerside Regional Development Corporation had assumed ownership of the building. SRDC renamed the property the Holman Building, and undertook an extensive exterior and interior renovation to refurbish and repurpose the building as highly desirable office space for professionals, businesses and government. A major tenant is the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which moved into the Holman Building in 2009-10. The Summerside Farmers’ Market, which took over the bottom floor of the original warehouse in June 2008, has been open year-round ever since.
The Holman Building still dominates the streetscape of downtown historic Water Street. It was seen as key in the ongoing effort to revitalize the downtown core. It is an example of valuing the contribution of the past in the building of the future.
Written by Marlene Campbell. Researched by Jean MacKay