The Haddad House in Cranbrook

The Nixon and Browning World

Cranbrook architectural firm left a significant legacy in landmark buildings throughout the region

Barry Coulter

A man who left formidable architectural footprints all across the region has passed away.

Jerry Browning, long with his partner Kent Nixon, of Nixon and Browning, Architects and Community Planners, was responsible for more than 250 completed architectural projects in the Kootenays East and West and in Southern Alberta. These include some of the significant landmark buildings in the region — certainly in Cranbrook.

Browning was 77.

In Nixon and Browning, Jerry Browning was in charge of design, business and public relations and site supervision. Kent Nixon was in charge of the drafting room and all working drawings. In what was a long and equitable partnership, Nixon’s careful control of the working drawings turned Jerry’s vision into reality. The structures they created reflect and enhance the character of Kootenay cities and towns. A high percentage of residents pass through the doors of these buildings daily.

Pictured: Jerry Browning (left), Secretary Clara Mae Wicker and Kent Nixon of Nixon and Browning, Architects and Community Planners (photo courtesy Sioux Browning)

Arguably the foremost project among this architectural legacy is the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook. Finished in the 1980s, the campus is a striking building overlooking Cranbrook at the edge of the Community Forest. Browning also designed the former Alberta Natural Gas Building in Gold Creek, a beautiful building which is now the College’s South Campus.

The first building Nixon and Browning worked on together was the Cranbrook Hospital, dedicated in 1967, and now the East Kootenay Regional Hospital. Though many additions and renovations have taken place, the original design is still very much in evidence.

Other significant buildings in Cranbrook are the Regional District of East Kootenay offices, Mountain View Senior’s Village, the East Kootenay Health Unit (now the Cranbrook Public Library), the Ambulance Service building by the library, the former WCB building (now houses Koocanusa Publications), and the former Bell Building at the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street.

Their work on personal residences was rare, but these include a beautiful house by Gyro Park in the Mid-Century Modern style, built in 1966 for George and Betty Haddad. Nixon and Browning built the BC Hydro buildings in Cranbrook, Kimberley and Revelstoke, and seniors’ complexes and drop-in centres around the region.

The firm not only designed the buildings but also frequently acted as general contractors. A lot of their work was for the local School Districts. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a big demand for schools, and Nixon and Browning built new schools in Windermere, Golden, Invermere, Fernie, the Elk Valley, Canal Flats, Revelstoke and Castlegar. They build additions to or did significant renovations on schools in those cities as well as Radium, Nakusp and Elkford — 44 public schools all told, sometimes building them and then doing additions or renovations years later.

Browning’s architectural icon was Frank Lloyd Wright, and you can see the influence in his work through strong, clean lines, the use of large fascia, careful use of windows as a design element, and pattern repetition.

Browning loved brickwork exteriors, and his use of interior colour was bold and joyous.

Browning was born in Covington, Kentucky, but grew up in Washington State, where his father worked on the Hanford Nuclear Reactor. Attended Washington State University in Pullman, where he met Nixon, and from where he graduated with a rare double degree in Architecture and Structural Engineering.

Jerry Browning loved his craft, and he and Kent both loved the business. That love is still in the architectural legacy they left behind for us.

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