I love Calgary’s history, but…

This beautiful Opera House opened in 1893 and by 1963 it was demolished to make way for a parking lot in Calgary's downtown core.

This beautiful Opera House opened in 1893 and by 1963 it was demolished to make way for a parking lot in Calgary’s downtown core.

Oh…I told myself I won’t do this; actually, I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this; yet, here I find myself doing the very thing I sore I wouldn’t do – complain, there I said it.  I mean, I am allowed to voice my likes and dislikes aren’t I?  Freedom of speech – yada, yada, yada… Not everything can be sugar-coded, or can it be?  Hopefully by the end this post my ideology will change drastically enough that I will see a silver lining on the dark cloud that I have casted over this unexpectedly opinionated post.  Surprisingly, I feel rather guilty about writing something in a negative tone, but I feel that I must – at least regarding this topic.  Where shall I start?

Calgary’s early history – sensitive subject – depending on “who” you talk too and “when” you bring up the subject.   “Who” – easy enough – residents of our beautiful city or developers with fresh-inked building permits curled up in their sweaty little hands (there I go again – I do apologize).  “When” – demolishing historic buildings can happen year round – sorry, another “slip-up” on my part, I should be stating – “restoring historic buildings” can happen year round. Oh, come on; let’s call a spade a spade!  In my opinion, to be told that the city is demolishing a historic building and all that will be left is a 2×2 piece of foundation sticking out of the sidewalk to be used as a “façade” does not sit well with me or any other resident of this great city, well, unless your last name is Developer.   Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating…  However, I do know that I am not the only person who thinks this way; but I will take this opportunity to voice my concern along with numerous other residents who wish to keep the history, well – history!   Calgary is a beautiful city and yes, we do take pride in our antiquity, many buildings in Calgary have been recognized as historical structures in one shape or another, which is fantastic. However, let’s step back and think about it…could we be doing a better job accentuating the buildings original design versus rezoning the building and implementing new 21st Century blue prints throughout the interior?   Okay, I’m an accountant by day and writer by night, and I will honestly state that I have no engineering background whatsoever, so aside from the obvious, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if a building was structurally sound or not unless I fell straight threw a floor-board, which I’m sure a few developers in town are wishing of me at this very moment.  I don’t know what happens behind the scenes to determine if it is safer to tear down the existing structure and rebuild, or tear down the building because the cost to reconstruct would be ridiculous and would eat up the tax payers’ money, or to just let Mother Nature take care of the structure herself.  However, every time I travel I ask myself the same question, “If the Pantheon is still standing after 2000 years….”….I am certain you understand my exaggerated thought process…

I love our history in addition to our historic buildings and I must admit that the combination of the original façades assembled with the newer more modern structures gives Calgary a very unique look to visitors far and near.  That said, I wish our city could do more to keep the interiors intact versus changing them at will, losing the noteworthy history of the buildings with any given hammer swing.  Perhaps keeping the original interior layout occurs more frequently than not and perhaps I am making a mountain out of a mole hill – I just love history, call me old fashion.

So, what made me suddenly go off the deep end and express my opinion?  Innocently enough, I was reading about a historic hotel located in the community of Inglewood; this hotel had the interior rezoned versus having it lovingly restore to its former grandeur.  Why?  Here is a quote from the property owners during an interview with the Calgary Herald, “We have a bunch of property in Kensington and some in Sunalta, and we didn’t want any more residential. My wife and I are in our 60s and our daughter Jane, who has come in, won’t put up with the residential that we do. She’s going more commercial.” I’m sorry, what did I just read? “won’t put up with the residential that we do” – so, instead this historic hotel will have the upper floors converted into office space and the main floor will be reserved for retail space and perhaps a restaurant.

Now from what I understand, the owner is undeniably aware of Calgary’s heritage and takes great pride in restoring other fine examples of our historic architecture.   I have also read that this restoration project has not been immune to numerous struggles and on-going issues, which in turn has pushed the project well beyond the original completion date.  However, in my sad opinion this project will not follow through with the original plans to turn the property into a condo complex, similar to what the original historic building would have been like.   To me, it’s just like any other office building located near the downtown core, except this one has been stamped as one of Canada’s Historic Places.

Thankfully as I near the end of this post, my thoughts are becoming a tiny bit more sympathized.  I have reviewed more articles regarding this project, in addition to reading the history about this hotel.  Presumably, since the opening in 1907, this hotel has adapted on numerous occasions to suit the times and needs of its patrons.  Perhaps it’s come down to me, perhaps it’s time for me to adapt to the changing times versus the other way around.  Besides, at least this owner did not purchase the property and turn it into a parking lot…

Pictures compliment of Glenbow archives

A very early picture of 9th Avenue SE, Calgary.  Also known as Atlantic Avenue or "Whiskey Alley".

A very early picture of 9th Avenue SE, Calgary.
Also known as Atlantic Avenue or “Whiskey Row”.

Categories: Calgary History

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7 replies

  1. It’s heartbreaking to see structural marvels disappear. Other old buildings…not so much. Fabulous photos.

  2. Having lived in Saskatoon and Winnipeg as well as Calgary, all 3 have their ups and downs as they balance history and development. Many buildings are “renovated” with spectacular results, while preserving most of the history. The Forks in Winnipeg is a great example of that. Tough one to work through.

  3. If Europe can keep its historic buildings intact over the years and preserve and respect them, After all, they have stood through not one by two wars! Calgary should be able to do the same. I realize our history is not as long but it is important that we maintain some of the fine examples of the earlier days of our great city.

  4. It is too late I am afraid. All of the beautiful brick building from the past were replaced with the ugly concrete building we have now which in turn are also now being replaced. The old brick buildings along Inglewood or on the beltline are the type of buildings that make someone fall in love with a city. There is nothing wrong with having new buildings, they just went about it the wrong way. The whole city as far as urban development and planning is in shambles.

    These old building have character and make for some cool establishments. Without them we are a faceless city.

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