The cities of Canada’s interior owe their existence to rivers. For Calgary, the water courses were the Elbow and Bow rivers. Where the two flowed together is where a detachment of the North-West Mounted Police built a command post in 1875 to orchestrate operations to protect the fur trade on the plains. The fort was named after Ephrem-A. Brisebois, a Mounted Police officer, but a year later Colonel James Farquharson Macleod renamed it Calgary after a village on the Isle of Mull in his native Scotland.
The Canadian Pacific Railway built into the area in 1883 and the town was incorporated the following year. The young settlement received a sobering wake-up call on November 7, 1886 when fire broke out in the rear of a flour and feed store. Before the conflagration burned out the flames consumed fourteen wooden buildings, a considerable chunk of the town at the time. No lives were lost but city officials quickly drafted a law that any substantial downtown building going forward must be fashioned from Paskapoo sandstone.
The growth of “Sandstone City” was spurred by the Dominion Government that offered grazing land for rent for one cent per acre up to 100,000 acres. The era of big ranches and cattle barons was on in the rapidly growing frontier town. The four biggest - Pat Burns, George Lane, A.J. McLean and A.E. Cross - transformed a local agricultural fair into the Calgary Stampede in 1912 as a celebration of their long careers. They guaranteed $100,000 to fund a six-day rodeo and the city built an arena on its fairgrounds. The event was a smashing success but the “Big Four” saw the Stampede as a closing act and expressed no interest in a sequel. Civic leaders, however, doggedly pursued the idea until the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede became a fixed annual event in 1923 and eventually a famous worldwide attraction.
Oil was first discovered in Alberta in 1902 but Calgary did not begin transforming from an agricultural and ranching community until the province’s most prolific oil reserves were tapped in the Leduc Formation on February 13, 1947. Until that point Imperial Oil had suffered through 133 dry holes, always missing the 300 million barrels of black gold trapped underground. Over 500 oil exploration companies were formed within days. By the time of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s Calgary was well positioned to fill the petroleum void. The burst in oil prices led to a building boom that sent steel-and-glass skyscrapers soaring in the downtown core, hard by heritage structures that seldom rose above ten storeys.
Sensing the threat, Calgary officials began preservation efforts. The flavour of turn-of-the-20th century Calgary was salvaged on much of 8th Avenue which became touted as Stephen Avenue and transformed into a part-time pedestrian mall. Our walking tour of Sandstone City will revolve around Stephen Avenue and will begin where the old and new stand side-by-side, clashing in stark opposition to each other...
800 Macleod Trail SE at southeast corner of 7th Avenue
This is the last of the monumental civic halls that went up around the start of the 20th century for towns to make a statement on the Canadian prairie. Ontario-born William Marshall Dodd drew up the plans for the government home in 1907, tapping the burly Richardsonian Romanesque style made popular by Boston master architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The design includes such hallmarks of the form as a central clock tower, powerful entrance arch, rough-cut stone, triangular gables and smooth, polished columnettes. Dodd was dismissed from the project in 1909 due to going $80,000 over budget for even more elaborate features that were ultimately never pursued. Gilbert Hodgson and Ernest Butler ushered City Hall to its grand opening on June 26, 1911. This was Calgary’s second city hall; the original was demolished when this was ready. Inside, in addition to offices were 15 jail cells, the Calgary police department and the city court room. The final price tag for the four-storey landmark faced with sandstone hauled from the Bone and Oliver Quarry was $142,000. The tower is furnished with a four-sided clock from the continent’s most famous public timepiece supplier, the Seth Thomas Clock Company of Thomaston, Connecticut.
THE BUILDING ON THE SAME BLOCK TO THE SOUTH IS...
Calgary Municipal Building
800 Macleod Trail SE
Christopher Ballyn’s winning design from 74 entries was the basis for the city’s new government digs that overwhelms its predecessor in scale. The final price tag also dwarfs the former city hall - $97,000,000, which was a bargain compared to the original budget of $124,000,000. With office space for 2,000 administrators the Municipal Building opened in 1985.
CROSS THE STREET AND WALK INTO...
2nd Street SE between 7th and 8th avenues
Six times cities in Canada had presented qualifications as host country for the Winter Olympic games before the International Olympic Committee - once for Montreal, twice for Vancouver and three times for Calgary - with no success. The Calgary Olympic Development Association even went dormant after losing bids for the Games in 1964, 1968 and 1972. But the Calgary backers amped up their efforts in 1979 by selling money-raising memberships to 80,000 residents and sending pitchmen across the globe to woo committee delegates. In 1981 Calgary prevailed over Falun, Sweden and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy to be named host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics, becoming only the second Canadian city to host the Games, following the Summer Olympics in Montreal in 1976. Olympic Plaza was an urban park created as a venue for the medal ceremonies during the competition.
EXIT THE PLAZA TO THE SOUTH ONTO 8TH AVENUE. AT THE CORNER IS...
237 8th Avenue SE ay southwest corner of 2nd Street SE
Patrick Burns was born in Oshawa, Ontario in 1856 and headed west in 1878 with two of his brothers to take advantage of the Dominion Homestead Act of 1872. To save money the man who the Calgary Herald named as Alberta’s Greatest Citizen in 2008 walked over 350 kilometres to Manitoba. After claiming his homestead Burns began running cattle and selling meat with a cow he bought on credit and sold for four dollars. He became a contractor for the builders of the Canadian Pacific Railway and eventually moved to Calgary in 1890 to open a slaughterhouse. Within a decade Burns was helming western Canada’s largest meatpacking company. By 1912 Burns owned six ranches with 60,000 head of livestock and his Burns Foods meatpacking plants were processing 10,000 animals a day. That year Burns teamed with A.E. Cross, A.J. McLean and George Lane to finance the first Calgary Stampede - “the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” That same year he also bankrolled this six-storey corporate headquarters with $350,000. The firm of Hodgson, Bates and Beattie drew up the Edwardian Revival design and through the years a parade of corporate Calgary leaders rented space in the building above the Burns’ meat market on the ground floor. The Burns building dodged a date with the wrecking ball in the 1980s and was incorporated into the construction of the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts.
TURN RIGHT AND HEAD WEST ALONG 8TH AVENUE.
Calgary Public Building
201 8th Avenue SE at southeast corner of 1 Street SE
Ben Albert Dore, an American architect who started his career in Ottawa in 1910, contributed this eight-storey Neoclassical government building to the Calgary streetscape in 1931. Prime Minister R.B. Bennett came out to handle dedication duties. The government presence on this corner began in 1894 with the town’s central post office. In recent years the city has reconfigured the interior for the Jack Singer Concert Hall, named for a prominent Canadian real estate developer, that is home to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and a resplendent 6,040-pipe Carthy Organ.
200 8th Avenue SE at northeast corner of 1 Street SE
Englishman George Clift King sailed for Canada in 1848 when he was 26 years old. He signed on with the North-West Mounted Police and when the first contingent sent to establish Fort Calgary arrived Constable King was the first member to cross the Bow River and earned the everlasting honor as “Calgary’s First Citizen.” King left the Mounties to open a general store on this corner in 1877. He spent two years as mayor and 36 years as postmaster. The Dominion Bank, founded by James Austin in Toronto in 1871, was a trailblazer here as well. This branch erected in 1911 helped pioneer the Beaux Arts style in Calgary and boasts a rare terra cotta facade still in Alberta.
Telus Convention Centre
120 9th Avenue SE at northwest corner of 1 Street SE
This 1974 meeting spot features 122,000 square feet of convention space and 47,000 more feet devoted to exhibit space. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker officially cut the ribbon on Canada’s largest full-service meeting space. The Centre hosts 700 events a year.
The Glenbow Museum
130 9th Avenue SE at southwest corner of 1 Street SE
Eric Lafferty Harvie was born in modest circumstances in Orillia, Ontario in 1892, He came west and ran a one-man legal office in the early days of Alberta, practising until the age of 55, enjoying most getaways to the family Glenbow Ranch to hunt and fish and camp. When he could he invested in Alberta land. In 1947 Imperial Oil brought in its historic gusher from Leduc No. 1 on land on which Harvie owned the mineral rights. His life as a small-town lawyer was over. For the final 28 years of his life Eric Harvie gave away the equivalent of a half billion dollars as western Canada’s biggest philanthropist. The institutions that have cashed Harvie checks include the Banff School of Fine Arts, the Luxton Museum, the Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, and Confederation Square and Arts Complex in Charlottetown, P.E.I. In 1966 the people of Alberta were given Harvie’s estimable collection of art, artifacts and historical documents that became the foundation for the Glenbow Museum.
Calgary’s go-to shopping thoroughfare is a daytime pedestrian mall, open to vehicular traffic only after 6:00 p.m. The devastating fire in 1886 wiped the street of most of its wooden buildings that were replaced. Afterward buildings were required to use sandstone quarried locally out of the Paleocene-era Paskapoo Formation in construction. The street takes its name from George Stephen, the Montreal banker who financed the Canadian Pacific Railway and became its first president.
118 8th Avenue SE
Hugh Neilson entered the furniture business in 1894 and his operation became one of the city’s largest. The ground floor has been totally compromised but the two storeys above reflect the Romanesque style of the original building that was erected in 1903. All three floors were occupied by the Neilson Furniture Company, which maintained a warehouse several blocks away. By the time two more storeys were added in 1910 architectural styles had shifted and decorated, rough-hewn sandstone facades had been replaced by the cleaner Commercial Style as can be seen here.
116 8th Avenue SE
Louis Henry Doll came from Calgary to Toronto in 1889 to open a jewellery store. He manufactured broaches and necklances, imported gemstones and did optical work. By 1907 Doll was a rich man and unwound plans for “Doll’s Diamond Palace” on land here he purchased from the Thomson Brothers. The building displays an exuberant Romanesque style with wide arches and an oriel window on the upper storey. The confection of Medicine Hat brick and sandstone trim is capped by an intricate parapet framed by miniature turrets. The joy over Doll’s new emporium was tempered, however, by the death of his ten-year old daughter that year. It was said that the despondent Doll lost all interest in business after the tragedy and by 1912 the building was in the hands of the Royal Bank. The ground floor has been compromised through a succession of tenants in the subsequent 100+ years.
Thomson Brothers Block
112 8th Avenue SE
Brothers James and Melville Thomson unveiled this handsome sandstone store in 1893 to house their book selling and printing business. The upper storey borrows elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style with rough-faced stone, broad arches and checkerboard-patterned stone. The name and date are inscribed on the parapet.
106 8th Avenue SE
John Lineham was a first generation Canadian of English stock whose father was one of the first engineers on the Grand Trunk Railway. He began his working life transporting goods on Red River ox-carts from Brandon to Edmonton. He gave up that life at the age of 26 to settle in Calgary to breed horses in 1883. Lineham was always on the lookout for business opportunities in the frontier town and spent time in the butcher trade and the lumber business and running cattle. In 1901 Lineham and two partners drilled the first oil wells in what is now Waterton Lakes National Park, succeeding until the loss of equipment in the remote locale scuttled the enterprise. Through it all Lineham was active in commercial real estate; he bought this property in 1907 that began life two decades earlier as a part of the I.G. Baker Company store. Lineham tacked on two Commercial Style floors above the classically-inspired original floors that showed off triangular pediments over the windows.
Imperial Bank of Canada
100 8th Avenue SE at northeast corner of Centre Street SW
Isaac Gilbert Baker and his brother George Amos Baker ran a mercantile and grocery concern out of Fort Benton, Montana beginning in 1866. The I.G. Baker Company drove the first herd of cattle into southern Alberta and set up the first store in Calgary in 1875 to dole out provisions to the North-West Mounted Police. In 1891 the Bakers’ Canadian assets were purchased by their chief rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the following year this six-year old building was acquired by the Imperial Bank of Canada. In 1909 celebrated Toronto architects Frank Darling and John Pearson were imported to give the property a properly suitable visage. They delivered a Neoclassical makeover with a rooftop balustrade, a modillion block cornice and decorative shields. The building was once much more impressive with a grand pedimented entrance on 8th Avenue and stone window hoods on the Centre Street elevation but they have all been removed.
LOOK TO YOUR LEFT DOWN CENTRE STREET.
The 191-metre free-standing observation tower was the brainchild of Marathon Realty and Husky Oil back in the 1960s as a way to celebrate Canada’s centennial and kick off a burst of urban renewal in the downtown core. The cylindrical shaft was created with a continual pour of concrete on a scale never attempted before. When opened in June of 1968 Husky Tower was more than twice the height of any structure in Calgary and the tallest man-made object in Canada outside of Toronto. Two elevators whisked passengers to the top in little more than 60 seconds. After completing its feat of engineering Husky sold controlling interest in the $3.5 million tower in 1970 and by 1983 it had been surpassed as the city’s tallest structure by the Petro-Canada Centre’s west tower. In 1989 the Calgary Tower became a founding member of the World Federation of Great Towers.
Hudson’s Bay Company Store #3
102 8th Avenue SW at northwest corner of Centre Street SW
This was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s third Calgary store as western Canada’s dominant retailer attempted to keep up with the shifting growth of the city. The first store was hard by the Elbow River across from Fort Calgary and when the town began building to the west Hudson’s Bay followed with a wooden provision house on this prime corner. Sandstone blocks replaced the wooden frame in 1890, erected in a Romanesque style. The mortar was scarcely dry when the store was doubled in size. In 1905 as Calgary’s population began to double another expansion project was undertaken but Hudson’s Bay soon realized that an entire new store was required to keep pace with booming Calgary. In 1913 the retailer sold the space to the Royal Bank for a record-setting $4,000 per frontage foot. A 1921 fire and renovations have stripped the building of its original cornice and front entrance and left Hudson’s Block only with its second-story arched window openings and carved columns along 8th Avenue as decorative highlights.
105-107 8th Avenue SW
James Alexander Lougheed marched through the 19th century Toronto school system until he emerged as a solicitor in 1881. He began taking work with the Canadian Pacific Railway, following the railroad’s progress west. By 1883 he was at the end of the line in Calgary where he built a practice around real estate and transportation law. He poured most of his money into downtown real estate, so much so that for years Lougheed was the single largest taxpayer in Calgary. In 1889 when he was only 35 year sold Lougheed was appointed to the Canadian Senate as a member of the Conservative Party to replace his wife’s uncle who had died. Thereafter he split his time between Ottawa with government matters and in Calgary developing his real estate. He was knighted in 1916 for his service as the President of the Military Hospitals Commission. This block, with two noticeably different cornices, began life as two separate buildings that were late joined behind a similar sandstone facade. The higher half to the east dates to 1898 and was named for John Glanville who ran a dry goods store here. Dudley Ward purchased the property in 1911.
Ashdown Hardware Company
110 8th Avenue SW
Calgarians bought their hardware on this site from 1885 until 1971, first from Rogers & Grant and after 1889 from James Henry Ashdown. Ashdown oversaw the erection of this three-storey commercial block in 1891. Ashdown ran his hardware empire out of Winnipeg where he started with two lots in the centre of town in 1870. The “Merchant Prince of Winnipeg” compiled one of the great fortunes of the Canadian prairies, sending an entire train across the West in 1900 with 800 tons of his Diamond A Brand goods and each car colorfully painted with the “Hardware from J.H. Ashdown” logo. After Ashdown’s death in his 80th year in 1924 the family continued to sell hardware under the sandstone arches for 47 more years.
111 8th Avenue SW
This was one of John Lineham’s earliest development projects, a two-story brick building raised in 1889 in the aftermath of the 1886 fire. The arched windows on the second floor are trimmed in stone and the roofline sports a classically flavoured cornice. Riley & McCormick, Calgary’s Original Western Store since 1901, once sold harnesses and saddles here. The descendants of Eneas McCormick still run the business more than 110 years later.
Calgary Herald Block
113 8th Avenue SW
The first train that pulled into Calgary on August 20, 1883 was carrying a handpress that 11 days later put out the first edition of Calgary’s first newspaper, The Calgary Herald, Mining and Ranch Advocate and General Advertiser. The paper was a weekly then with four pages of news and the offices were in a tent near the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. The publishers Andrew Armour and Thomas Braden sold the operation a year later to Hugh St. Quentin Cayley and on July 2, 1885 the Herald became a daily newspaper. The Herald Printing and Publishing Company set up shop here in 1887.
114 8th Avenue SW
James Alexander Lougheed erected the first building here but it was so badly damaged by fire in 1911 that the sandstone was carted away and in its stead rose this Beaux Arts confection dressed in smooth Indiana limestone, a marked departure from the architecture of its predecessors on the block. The impressive structure with pedimented entrances and two-storey fluted Ionic columns was the Calgary headquarters for Molson’s Bank that was started in 1855 (look up to see date block) by the sons of brewing magnate John Molson, William and John, Jr. The Molson’s Bank assets were merged into the Bank of Montreal in 1925. You can still see the pride of stone lion heads that march across the facade between the third and fourth floors.
118 8th Avenue SW
After shedding himself of Calgary’s first newspaper, the Herald, Thomas Braden was back in the news game by 1885 with the launching of the Tribune. By 1889 he was cranking out the paper from a wood frame office on this site. He garnered the powerful support of James A. Lougheed and the Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company which resulted in the construction of this sandstone newspaper office in 1892. The facade borrows elements of the popular Richardsonian Romanesque style of the day with hallmark rough-hewn sandstone, arched windows and a checkerboard stone pattern. The economic panic of 1893 caused Braden to lose control of the paper which he continued to edit but the operation passed through a parade of owners until the building was sold in 1907 and the last press hauled from the premises. After that the building enjoyed some of its greatest notoriety as Charles Traunsweiser’s Hub Cigar and Billiard Hall.
Calgary Cattle Company
119 8th Avenue SW
This building with decorative corbelledbrickwork opened in 1903 as the meat market for the Calgary Cattle Company. Behind the enterprise were James Lougheed, a Canadian senator; R.B. Bennett, a future Prime Minister; and rancher Charles Knight. But even with that economic firepower the Calgary Cattle Company could not compete with cattle baron Pat Burns who gobbled up the assets and this property in 1905. Burns then ran the Pioneer Meat Market here until 1920.
Calgary Milling Company
119 8th Avenue SW
George Jacques is remembered as the town’s first jeweller and watchmaker. He owned this land before selling to Issac K. Kerr and Peter Prince, principals in the influential Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company, in 1902. They also created the Calgary Milling Company and contributed this building to the “Sandstone City” streetscape in 1902.
Criterion Block/Merchant’s Bank
121 8th Avenue SW
The Criterion Dining Hall was a one-storey clubhouse on this spot beginning in 1889. In 1903 the Merchants Bank of Canada bought the property and imported the revered Montreal architectural firm of Andrew Taylor, Morley Hogle and Huntley Ward Davis to provide a makeover and their delightful efforts ushered in an era of classical banking temples in Calgary. The Merchants bankers stayed only until 1914 and during World War I the 82nd Batallion and the Canadian Patriotic Fund directed wartime efforts from this location.
Jacques Jewellery Store
123 8th Avenue SW
George Jacques, son of a missionary to the Indian Reserve, was an itinerant jeweller and watch repairer who became Alberta’s first jeweler when he plied his trade between Edmondton and Fort Macleod in 1880. In March of 1881 Jacques bought a log cabin for $120 and moved into Calgary. Of the seventy-five or so residents of the settlement his wife, Mary, became the first Anglo-Saxon woman. Jacques opened his first jewellery store in 1882 and in 1893 erected this eclectic Victorian sandstone shop which he managed until his retirement in 1911. His son passed on gemstones and instead established the Jacques Funeral Home in town.
Clarence Block/Norman Block
120-126 8th Avenue SW
The town’s leading real estate developer James Lougheed built these two commercial blocks in the early 1890s and named them for two of his sons, Clarence and Norman. He kept offices here and so did some of his illustrious partners. A fire of Christmas Day 1900 gutted both buildings. William Dodd, designer of City Hall, was called in to draft plans for the replacement blocks and he tapped classical influences including balustrades across the roofline. The Norman Block experienced a more illustrious career as it once hosted a theatre of show business impresario Alexander Pantages. Tommy Burns, the only Canadian-born Heavyweight Champion of the World, fought bouts on its stage from 1911 through 1913. The Norman Block continued to be haunted by fire - there were more blazes in 1904, 1911, and 1933.
Bank of Nova Scotia
125 8th Avenue SW
Celebrated Toronto architect John M. Lyle’s touch of Art Deco intertwined with Beaux Arts classicism can still be seen on this bank vault from 1930. Stone carvings infused into the facade include stylized icons of prairie life such as wheat stalks, oil rigs, saddlery and Great Plains animals. The decorative touches carry to the metal windows and balconies adorned with fleurs-de-lis, roses and shamrocks. The Bank of Nova Scotia, which was founded in Halifax in 1832, as the date carved in the entrance attests, remained in these splendid quarters until 1976.
131 8th Avenue SW
This is the only wooden building along 8th Avenue to survive the conflagration of 1886 and offers a rare glimpse into how Calgary looked in its formative days. It is so old there is no definitive history on its origins. The best guess pegs it as office space for A.P. Sample & Company that dealt in livestock. It carries the name of its tenant for thirty years from the 1930s on, Pain Furriers.
Bank of Montreal
140 8th Avenue SW at northeast corner of 1st Street
This is the busiest intersection in Calgary and the Bank of Montreal spent a century here from 1889 until 1989. Architect Kenneth Guscotte Rea was born, educated and apprenticed in Montreal but cut his design teeth with prestigious firms in Boston and New York. After he returned to Montreal in 1905 he picked up work with public utilities and big banks; he is credited with designing 61 buildings for the Bank of Montreal alone, including this Neoclassical tour-de-force in 1929. The 8th Avenue facade is dominated by full-height Corinthian columns that support a grand pediment with carvings of beavers, tall firs and First Nations people to symbolize Canada.
133-139 8th Avenue SW at southeast corner of 1st Street
Frontier hotels were known for being colourful and the Alberta Hotel, raised in 1888 as one of Sandstone City’s earliest such buildings, was no slacker in that score. The Long Bar was said to be the longest between Winnipeg and Hong Kong and the cast of regulars included satirist Bob Edwards who wrote and edited the influential Calgary Eye Opener, members of the Big 4 cattle barons Pat Burns and Alfred Ernest Cross, and frontier lawyer Paddy Nolan who was known as “the greatest wit in the West.” The coming of Prohibition in 1916 shuttered the historic hotel. The building today displays the Romanesque style of the upper two storeys and the bracketed cornice. The ground level has been remodeled including eight newspaper-themed gargoyles that were copied from the demolished Herald Building.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST STREET AND WALK TO THE CORNER OF 9TH AVENUE.
Calgary Grain Exchange
813 1st Avenue at northwest corner of 9th Avenue SW
Using the first reinforced concrete in Calgary this 1910 heritage building reigns as the city’s first “skyscraper.” Despite its modern construction techniques architects Gilbert Hodgson and W.S. Bates chose to dress the Grain Exchange in standard issue sandstone. William Charles James Roper Hull, an Englishman who came to the wilds of British Columbia in 1873 when he was 17 years old to help his uncle run cattle, bankrolled the project. Hull won the contract to supply beef to the Canadian Pacific Railway and he and his brother John ran the busiest slaughterhouse in Calgary by the 1890s. Hull sold off his ranching interests in 1902 to concentrate on his Calgary Brewing and Malting Company and real estate projects throughout the province. The Grain Exchange was never envisioned as such and harboured no trading pit but merely doled out information and services until 1919 when it moved on before disappearing in 1933.
133 9th Avenue SW at southeast corner of 1st Street SW
Architect William Sutherland Maxwell broke from the tradition of designing grand French chateaus for the Canadian Pacific Railway to give the Palliser Hotel a more urban classical vibe, including its E-shaped form that gave more rooms windows in the days before air-conditioning. It took three years and $1,000,000 to bring the 12-storey luxury hotel to its grand opening on June 1, 1914. When three more floors arrived in 1929 the Palliser began a three-decade run as the tallest building in Calgary. The Palliser has always been the guest house of choice in Calgary for English royalty to Hollywood royalty. The railway hotel takes its name from Captain John Palliser, an Irish-born geographer who was tasked with leading the British North American Exploring Expedition to report on the open prairies and mountain wilderness of western Canada from 1857 to 1860. Palliser’s conclusion: the southern prairies were too arid to ever support agriculture and the value of a transcontinental railroad was dubious.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO STEPHEN AVENUE AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING TO TRAVEL WESTWARD.
804 1st Street at southwest corner of 8th Avenue
This is an earlier development effort from William Roper Hull, created in 1903. The ground floor has been modernized but the second storey retains its early Commercial Style sensibilities. Look up to see stone lintels on the windows and a simple cornice pediment.
Hudson’s Bay Company Store #4
200 8th Avenue West at northwest corner of 1st Avenue
Canada’s oldest trading company ended its wanderings around Calgary here in 1913, with an original entrance on 7th Avenue. Rather than give up its home on the town’s premier corner Hudson’s Bay enlarged this store twice - first in 1929, which brought an 8th Avenue entrance and the colonnade, and again in 1957. The Toronto architectural firm of Burke, Horwood and White provided a classical Edwardian design with glazed terra cotta and granite trim around the exterior. The newspapers estimated that there were 12,000 Calgarians on hand for the grand opening on August 18, 1913 to wander around the six floors, 40 departments and five acres of selling space. The magnificent Elizabethan Room for dining on the sixth floor with two 14th century suits of armour at the entrance drew most of the attention. Hudson’s Bay also boasted an in-store hospital, lounges, circulating library, playground with attending governess, post office and telegraph station. The interior has received many a make-over in the century since but opening day shoppers from 1913 would still recognize the exterior. In 1930 one of the world’s first aeronautical beacons was installed on the roof with three million candle power - strong enough that it was reported to be visible for 150 miles.
Leeson & Lineham Block
209 8th Avenue SW
Between them George Leeson and John Lineham tried just about every way there was to make a living in 19th century Alberta. Leeson managed a general store, ranched and had a piece of the Royal Mail stagecoach line. Lineham ran cattle and started the Lineham Lumber Company. The two men came together in a joint venture to wildcat for oil but the Rocky Mountain Development Corporation could not bring what little oil it discovered to market affordably. The pair then focused their efforts on real estate, developing several blocks in downtown Calgary. This six-storey brick building with bands of yellow sandstone was one of their last projects; it was completed in 1910, the same year Leeson died. Lineham lived only four years longer. The building was once far more festive with an exuberant cornice and entrance but both have disappeared.
219 8th Avenue SW
Barney Allen and his sons Jules and Jay out of Brantford, Ontario made a formidable business team. Barney was level-headed and visionary, Jules was flamboyant and sales-oriented and Jay was the serious-minded money manager. In the early 1900s the Allens went into the business of bringing patrons the new-fangled motion pictures shows of the highest quality with courteous service at whatever cost. The Allens used Calgary as an operational hub while they assembled a show biz empire of movie houses in every major Canadian city. American architect Charles Howard Crane, who designed some 250 theatres, is credited with the plans for the Allen Theatre that screened its first movie on October 25, 1921. The Neoclassical exterior was fashioned from red tapestry bricks with Corinthian pilasters separating the seven bays; inside the Allen had seats for 1,950 movie fans. In an era when movie studios owned their own theatres Paramount Pictures was able to keep its films out of Allen houses, a ploy that collapsed the Canadian enterprise. In 1929 control of the Allen was assumed by Famous Players and today it operates as a night club.
MacKay & Dippie Block
218 8th Avenue SW
Walter MacKay came to Calgary in 1886 and established himself in the community as a taxidermist. He moved into this space in 1909 with a small piece of this lot. Naturalist George F. Dippie joined the business and MacKay & Dippie Furriers & Taxidermists operated until 1945 when Mackay retired.
220 8th Avenue SW
This is a representative Calgary commercial building from the early 20th century with selling space on the ground floor and living quarters upstairs. Tenants have included hardware stores, a bank and the Famous Cloak Company.
McPherson Fruit Company
227 8th Avenue SW
This commercial building looked much like its neighbours when it was raised in 1906 for the McPherson Fruit Company. In 1912 the Northern Crown Bank acquired the property and in 1928 sold the building to the Trust & Guarantee Company which engineered a stylish Art Deco makeover with sleek black panels. The modernistic style did not take hold among its Calgary brethren, leaving it to stand out on the streetscape of Sandstone City.
Canada Life Assurance Building
301 8th Avenue SW at southwest corner of 2nd Street SW
Montreal architects David Robertson Brown and Hugh Vallance outfitted this 1912 building with a decided upward thrust in their Neoclassical design. Unfortunately the fortunes of Calgary were not in lockstep with Canada Life Assurance Building’s implied optimism. The boom times were about to grind to a halt and the First World War was on the horizon adn the building’s triumph was muted. The elaborate terra cotta details and bronze windows are still much in evidence a century later. Life insurance policies are no longer written here, however. In the 1980s the interior was incorporated into a retailing and office complex.
304 8th Avenue SW at northwest corner of 2nd Street SW
James Stewart Mackie aimed for western Canada from London in 1882 to make his fortune. He wound up in Winnipeg apprenticing with the Hingston Smith Arms Company. He returned to England after three years but was back on a ship in 1886, headed for Calgary to start a gun shop. Mackie prospered as a metal fabricator and gunsmith but in 1899 sold his gun business and bought the Thomson Bros. bookstore. While selling books and stationery Mackie ran successfully for mayor and became a developer on 8th Avenue. Mackie hired James Teague of Victoria to design this nine-storey building in 1912. The steel skeleton went up but due to World War I the terra cotta tiles and decorative medallions were not applied to finish off the building until 1918. Mackie named his office tower “The Lancaster” for the House of Lancaster who engaged in England’s medieval War of the Roses.
8th Avenue SW between 2nd and 3rd streets
These ten stylized tree sculptures sprouted in 2000 as a gift from Trizec Hahn Office Properties to the City of Calgary. The architect was the Cohos Evamy Partners and the idea was to symbolize the difficulty of growing trees in Calgary. There are two different “species,” one twenty-six metres high and the other twenty-one metres.
Bankers Hall East/Bankers Hall West
855 2nd Street SW/888 3rd Street SW
These are the tallest twin buildings in Canada. The East tower rose first, in 1989, and the West came along in 2000. Calgary architects Cohos Evamy contributed the post-modernistic design. The 52-storey towers are crowned with geometric forms intended to represent the iconic symbol of Calgary, the cowboy hat.
408 8th Avenue SW at northwest corner of 3rd Street
T. Eaton Company did not grow into the country’s largest retailing concern by making little plans. When the Montreal concern came to Calgary it acquired two city blocks, well away from the bustle of the town center. The vision was to fill the entire block with a building ten storeys high and shoppers would come the extra blocks from the city core. Architects George Allen Ross and Australian Robert Henry Macdonald submitted a grand Renaissance Revival design but the nation was soon in the grip of the Great Depression and only a portion of the plans were ever executed. Still shoppers could experience the ambiance Montrealers were used to and ride on the city’s first escalators. The building was torn down in the 1980s, save for a portion of the facade that was incorporated into the redevelopment of the site.
TURN RIGHT ON 3RD STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 7TH AVENUE.
Central United Methodist Church
131 7th Avenue SW at southeast corner of 1st Street
This congregation traces its origins to John McDougall, son of legendary Methodist missionary George McDougall who was serving in the wilderness in 1860. John traveled back east to be ordained in 1872 but he was a first-rate trapper, hunter and trail-blazer aside from his religious calling. Back in the West, he helped his father found the Morley Mission east of Calgary in 1873. After George died in a blizzard John ran the mission for more than a quarter-century. John’s reports on the whiskey trade sent to the Canadian government were instrumental in forming the North-West Mounted Police. Planning for this church got underway in 1898. Cleveland, Ohio architects William H. Nicklas and Sidney Rose Badgely were hired to produce the Gothic Revival design. The building was dedicated in February of 1905. One of the great patrons of the church was Richard Bedford Bennett, a native of New Brunswick who moved to Calgary in 1897 to study law with the town’s leading citizen, Sir James Lougheed. Bennett became the first leader of the Alberta Conservative Party and rose to become the 11th Prime Minister of Canada. It was R.B. Bennett’s unwavering belief that downtown Calgary should have a church that is why Central United remains, overwhelmed by its skyscraping neighbours.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST STREET.
Lougheed Building and Grand Theatre
604 1st Street SW at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue
Obscured by the orderly Commercial Style office building in which it is moored resides a stage called “one of the most famous legitimate theatres on the North American continent.” Sharing the building with the Sherman Grand Theatre were retail stores, offices and living quarters. The money man was ubiquitous Sir James Lougheed. Lougheed used the services of a relatively inexperienced architect, Lanier Rumel Wardrop, who was not yet thirty years old and had little on his resume beside the Empress Theatre in his native Salt Lake City, Utah. The Grand was the pride of western Canada after it opened in 1912 with the largest stage in the country and peerless acoustics. Every show business luminary made the trip to Calgary to appear at the Grand - and enjoyed the luxury of hot and cold running water and electricity in each of the 15 changing rooms beneath the stage. In the 1950s the theatre was converted to a movie house and after another half-century the West’s oldest theatre picked up a much-needed $12 million facelift.
Suncor Energy Centre West
150 6th Avenue SW at northwest corner of 1st Street
This granite-and-glass tower was raised in 1984 and spent a quarter-century as Calgary’s sky king with a roof 215 metres above the street. The main tenant for most of that time was Petro-Canada. The Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden Partnership of Toronto, creators of the CN Tower, were the architects.
Turn RIGHT on 6TH AVENUE.
Alberta Government Telephones Building
119 6th Avenue SW
Utility companies often tapped the emerging Art Deco style in the 1930sto project a modernistic image for their new technologies and appliances, which were not always fast to catch on. The Alberta Government brought in Peter Rule to act as its facilities inspector and also to design its buildings, even though he was not trained as an architect. Here he blended vertical elements of classical skyscrapers with geometric influences of Deco styling to create a home for the telephone operations. In 1941 Rule was granted a special certificate by the Alberta Association of Architects and he joined the Edmonton firm of his sons John and Peter - graduates of the University of Alberta’s architecture program - to run the Calgary branch of the business. The Rules had a profound influence on modern architecture in Calgary, including designing the city’s first glass box building that was the next home of the Alberta Government Telephones in 1953.
115 6th Avenue SW
The Utilities Building was constructed for the Electric Light Systems and Waterworks Department as a make-work program during the Great Depression in 1939. The stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style was provided by David Suttie McIlroy who came from Scotland to Calgary in 1907 and practiced for 45 years. McIlroy preferred running a one-man shop and never took a partner. The Utilities Building was Calgary’s first office with central air conditioning.
517 Centre Street SW at the northwest corner of 6th Avenue
George Murdoch, Calgary’s first mayor, organised the Independent Order of Oddfellows lodge in 1884. Muroch could never be accused of not being a hail fellow, well met - he was also in on the founding of Bow River Lodge #1, the community’s first Masonic lodge, the Literary Society, the St. Andrew’s Society, the Turf Association, the Agricultural Association and the Citizen’s Committee that kickstarted the drive to Calgary’s becoming a town. This was one of David Suttie McIlroy’s first commissions upon sailing from Scotland. He borrowed classical elements for the Ionic capitals on the ground floor and the modillion block cornice and brought in Romanesque arched windows for the top storey. Construction was wrapped up in 1912. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce has resided here since 1979.
500 Centre Street SE at northeast corner of 6th Avenue
The tallest building in Canada outside of Toronto came online in 2012, with a roof height of 236 metres. The original plans of architects Foster + Partners called for more than 58 floors but was scaled back due to concerns over the large shadow cast by The Bow. Its arrival caused the destruction of the historic York Hotel on the site and three-quarters of the bricks from the deceased building live on somewhere inside The Bow’s exterior walls. The wire mesh head at the south elevation is a work by Catalan Spanish artist Jaume Piensa entitled Wonderland.
Calgary Firehall #1
140 6th Avenue SE at northwest corner of 1st Street SE
The first firefighters in Calgary were the Calgary Fire Brigade that was organised in 1885, working out of a wooden firehall a block away on 7th Avenue. When the great fire of 1886 struck the next year the company used a chemical truck against the blaze that turned Calgary into “the Sandstone City” that was not even paid for yet. It was an all-volunteer force until James Smart was designated as the first full-time salaried employee of the Calgary Fire Department in 1897. “Cappy” Smart spent 35 years as Fire Chief working tirelessly to provide the booming city with a professional-grade fire-fighting force with as modern equipment as possible. One of his projects was this classically-flavoured fire station from 1911, angled to allow easy access for trucks into the heart of the city. The fire department has moved on but the Firehall #1 (modern edition, anyway) was one of the first buildings in the city designated as a Registered Historic Resource.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST STREET.
North-West Travelers Building
515 First Street SE
Members of the Commercial Club on the road in Canada could find private rooms, amenities and office space in buildings such as this one. Erected in 1913 it shows of the clean lines of the Chicago Commercial style that dominated office construction of that time. Its electic roster of tenants has included the Calgary Museum, the Commercial High School, the Hotel Bliss and the Salvation Army.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON 1ST STREET, HEADING SOUTH. CROSS 6TH AVENUE AND CONTINUE TO 7TH AVENUE. TURN RIGHT.
Royal Canadian Legion Hall #1
116 7th Avenue SE
This classically-inspired two-storey building was constructed in 1922 as a Memorial Hall for the Great War Veterans’ Association. The body was established by veterans returning from World War I in 1915. The Calgary branch resolved to give grants to the returning veterans limited only by the grateful government’s ability to pay, a system of bonus payments later embraced by the entire nation.
Grunwald/St. Regis Hotel
124 7th Avenue SW
Calgary received an slice of elegance in 1913 with the opening of this “European-style” hotel with 100 rooms and 50 baths for rates of $1.50 and up. Real estate man A.C. Johnston picked up the $200,000 price tag but the establishment was named for Carl Grunwald who leased the property and ran the hotel. Grunwald cut his teeth in the hospitality business in Montana and Yellowstone National Park. The tough times of World War I left Grunwald some $11,000 behind in the rent and in 1917 Johnson took over the operation and renamed the place the St. Regis. Today the St. Regis is one of only six hotel buildings remaining in Calgary that pre-date World War I and one of the few buildings in the entire city with its original terra cotta tiles intact.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO 1ST STREET.
Cathedral Church of the Redeemer
218 7th Avenue SE at northeast corner of 1st Street
This is the second oldest ecclesiastic building in downtown Calgary, erected on plans drawn by Vancouver Island architect John C.M. Keith in 1905. The original Anglican church in town had been built on this block in 1884. There were elaborate plans for this to become the Anglican Cathedral of Calgary but wars and economic hard times intervened and that did not take place until 1949.
CONTINUE ONE MORE BLOCK TO 2ND STREET AND THE START OF THE TOUR.