At the end of July, I attended several of the Historic Calgary Week offerings. Although these lectures were on varied topics, all related to notable buildings in some way. Some structures appeared old, some actually were, and some had been given a new lease on life.
Historic Calgary Week kicks off with presentations at the Memorial Building of the Southern Alberta Pioneers and Their Descendants. This log structure, adorned inside with animal heads and old photos, commemorates the first Euro-Canadian settlers of our area. It was erected in 1955, emulating an earlier style. Depending on your perspective, it could be considered old, however, as it barely predates me, I would classify it as “kinda old but designed to look older.”
I also went to a talk at the Famous 5 Centre of Canadian Women, a new exhibit hall at Heritage Park. A replica of Nellie McClung’s Calgary home, with a mirrored floor plan, it was enlarged by 17% and modified with a commercial kitchen to allow for event rentals. Last year, I visited the original building, currently housing the Columbian Consulate. The difference between these two structures surprised me. The age of each is quite apparent in the details: layers of paint, wear on the woodwork, and renovation features. However, having seen them both, I now have a much better understanding of the life story of the real residence and how it would have functioned in its earlier days. The genuine structure was built circa 1900, but gains its significance from its most famous resident who lived there between 1923 and the mid-1930s.
Another lecture I saw was held in the basement of Memorial Park Library, the first public library building in Alberta. It was constructed in 1912, primarily funded by Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy American philanthropist, at the urging of the Calgary Women’s Literary Society and Calgary’s first librarian, Alexander Calhoun. The architectural style of Edwardian Classicism embodied by this richly-detailed two-storey sandstone structure epitomizes Calhoun’s desired “temple of knowledge.” The choice of venue for this talk was deliberate. Dr. Michael Wilson, presented by the Archaeological Society of Alberta – Calgary Centre, recounted the checkered history of the collections of Calgary’s first museum, which was initially housed in the library’s basement.
After giving my own tour of archaeological building remains at Glenbow Village in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, I popped into the Cochrane Historical Museum at the Historic Cochrane Ranche Site, since it was on my way to Bergen. This brick-faced building was constructed in 1909 as the Davies residence. At the encouragement of the local physician, Dr. Park, they built a wing to be used for medical care and it became the Cochrane hospital. I first visited this structure in its original location in 2012. Due to highway widening, it needed to be moved if it was to be saved, so the local historical society (CHAPS) undertook its preservation. I love what they have done with the place! Although the fresh paint and basic displays give it a more airy feel than I remember, it is more true to its beginnings now than when I initially saw it.
Finally, I ventured into the Calgary city centre to see a presentation called “Meet Me At The Corner: the story of an intersection.” I had prepared by studying a map of my destination, route, and parking options. It did not take long for plans to go awry: construction had closed several streets. Fortunately, fate smiled upon me and I found an easily accessible parking space just a block from my destination. Focussed on my goal, I trotted along, oblivious to my immediate surroundings, overwhelmed by the bustle of traffic, the commotion of construction, and the crush of office workers on lunch break.
The talk, at Central United Church, was given by Doug Coats, head interpreter at Heritage Park. His entertaining exposition highlighted the development of the city as it occurred around the church, which was built of sandstone in 1905. His maps, photos and personal accounts shed light on the political and economic forces of the city’s development.
Afterwards as I descended the old church steps, I looked with new understanding at the glistening tower being constructed across the intersection: Brookfield Place, at 56 stories, will be the tallest building in western Canada. I slowly retraced my steps to my car, trying to take in the scene – looking up at the sky-blue glass tower, then down at the earthy sandstone walls of the building beside me. I paused, realizing this was the Lougheed Building just mentioned in the lecture. Constructed in 1912, with the newly devised technology of steel-reinforced concrete, and then faced with sandstone, it reached the in-its-day staggering height of six stories. It housed businesses, offices and residences on successively higher floors and was surmounted by a penthouse. Years of use wore on it, but an extensive renovation in 2008 returned it to its former glory.
Almost swept away by the flow of pedestrians, I eddied into a recessed store entrance and found myself in a newsstand, advertised to have been operating since the building’s earliest era. Impulsively, in the name of supporting an enduring local business, I purchased a magazine and stumbled out the door. I was dazed by the juxtaposition of the new, the old, and the new again. Before me was a shining vision of modernity, across from it an enduring church from the dawn of the city, and at my back a renewed sandstone structure celebrating the past today.
This article was originally printed in the BERGEN NEWS and is being reprinted with permission.