Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk

Editor's Note: This blog was originally written for Hotel Arts newsletter.  It has been slightly adapted from the newsletter. 

Few Calgarians are aware that along 13th Avenue SW is one of Canada’s most interesting heritage walks.  13th Avenue is not "on the beaten path" most of us drive, walk or cycle along 11th, 12th or 17th Avenues if we are headed east or west on Downtown's south side.  Calgary's Secret Heritage walk is It just 8 blocks long, (2 km) round trip.  You could walk it in about an hour depending on how much you want to explore, or you could cycle it in less time.

Start the walk at First Street SW and 13th Avenue.  From here you have a wonderful vista of the St. Mary’s Cathedral if you look south, but your walk is west along 13th Avenue. (You might want to grab a coffee at the Starbucks before you head out).  As you head west mid-block you will be at the quaint Haultain School.  Built in 1894, the school is unique in many ways – its Richardson Romanesque architecture, Calgary’s first sandstone school and the first one with electricity and running water.  Looking more like a house than a school, it is a reminder that Calgary is still in its adolescence as a city just over 100 years old.

Originally named the South Ward School, it was renamed in 1910 after Sir Fredrick Haultain, the President of the Executive Council (Premier) of the North-West Territories Legislative Assembly.  Today, it is home to the Parks Foundation Calgary, which is also unique in Canada with its mandate to foster parks, playgrounds and pathways throughout Calgary.  

Haultain School  

Cross over Second Street SW and you are immediately at Memorial Park with its statuesque trees and iconic Memorial Park Library – Alberta’s first library.  Opened in 1912, it is one of 150 libraries built in Canada with funds from the American millionaire Andrew Carnegie.  It is a classically inspired two-story sandstone building, sitting on top of a series of granite steps adorned with Ionic Columns and skilfully carved pediment, which combine to create a grand entrance.  The building is topped with a low-hipped roof with extensive decoration.  Still a public library, wander inside to enjoy the charming details that have been preserved, sit and enjoy a magazine or newspaper of find a great book. 

On the other side of the library is the storied Memorial Park, which was originally designed in 1911, by Calgary Parks Superintendent Richard Iverson, after the land was given to the City by the Canadian Pacific Railway for back taxes.  The actual development of the park was done by William Reader, Parks Superintendent (1912 to 1942), who created a formal garden with a symmetrical layout, manicured lawns, a mix of domestic and exotic trees and plants, intricate bedding schemes and geometrical walking paths to provide a tranquil respite for urban dwellers.  Reader even attempted to grow palm trees in pots as part of creating a unique prairie park.

The Park’s “memorial theme” was intended to memorialize British Empire patriotism, with statues and cenotaph.  Today, it is used for one of Calgary’s major Remembrance Day ceremonies.  The Park was recently given a major makeover, which saw the addition of the fountains and Boxwood Bistro.  It is also a popular feeding ground for Calgary’s fleet of Food Trucks. 

Memorial Park in summer is on of the best urban places to sit in Canada. 

Memorial Park Library 

Boxwood restaurant in Memorial Park. Highly recommended.  

Continuing west along 13th Avenue at 4th Street (yes, there is no 3rd Street) sits the First Baptist Church. It was built in 1911-12 based on designs by architect D.S. McElroy. Many prominent citizens, including Thomas Underwood, a member of the church board, and R.B. Bennett, the City’s acting solicitor, raised money for the construction of the church. Many socially prominent Calgarians worshipped in the church over the years, adding to its historical significance.

The building is a very good example of the Gothic Revival style, with its numerous pointed arches, gables, decorated windows, and attached buttresses. The building features a square tower with a spire at the corner. With a capacity to seat 1,300 people, with room in the vestibule for an additional 200 it is believed to be the largest Baptist church in Canada. The interior details are worth seeing, and its exterior is unaltered except for a two-storey brick addition, which was added inconspicuously at the rear in 1951 to house a church youth centre.

The amber-toned stained glass windows imported from Germany are part of the original construction of the sanctuary. The three-manual, 42-stop pipe organ which was built and installed by the Casavant Freres Company of St. Hyacynthe, Quebec in 1912 and underwent further enhancements in 1965 and 1992. Currently, the 900-seat acoustically-rich heritage sanctuary supports an adult sanctuary choir, two handbell choirs, a children's choir and a contemporary worship team. Perhaps you might want to consider attending a service if it fits with your schedule.

First Baptist Church, 1911/12

Continue walking west along 13th Ave and you quickly arrive at the grand Lougheed House and Gardens.  Built in 1891 and originally known as "Beaulieu", meaning "beautiful place" in French, the Lougheed House is now a national historic site. The mansion was built by Senator James Lougheed for his wife, Isabella Hardisty Lougheed and their two sons, Clarence and Norman. Following the move to the large mansion, four more children were born: Edgar, Dorothy, Douglas and Marjorie.

In 1907, the house was enlarged to accommodate the family and their large social calendar. Lougheed House received important state visitors on many occasions. In 1912, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughter Princess Patricia stayed at the house. In 1919, the Lougheeds entertained the Prince of Wales at a garden party. Prince Edward visited in 1923 and 1928.

Throughout its long history, Lougheed House has been a family residence, a training centre for young women, a women's military barracks and a blood donor clinic. Then, for many years, it sat empty — cared for, but unused until its restoration in 2000.  For more information and visiting hours check their website

Strolling through the formal Beaulieu Gardens, situated on the 2.8 acre Lougheed estate, is one of Calgary’s best urban pleasures.  The Lougheeds were horticultural leaders in Western Canada in their day. The plant material has been accurately restored to the 1891 to 1925 period. Some of the original plantings and garden elements can be seen in the spruce trees, circle flower beds and the balustrades. 

Lougheed House  and Beaulieu Gardens 

Lougheed House

Directly across the 13th Ave, is the more unassuming Ranchmen’s Club.  Established in 1892, it moved to this location in 1914.  It is the oldest and most prestigous club in Calgary. The Club dates back to southern Alberta’s golden age of ranching when cattle barons were the wealthest people in the town. Designed by architect R.E. McDonnell, it is a Renaissance Revival brick building with terra cotta architectural and decorative elements. The interior, as you might expect, features highly detailed wood, leather, stained glass and a remarkable art collection celebrating southern Alberta’s rich ranching culture.  The attached 26-story “The Estate” condominium was added in the early ‘80s. Although it is a private club, if you aren’t too shy you could pop your head in and check out the lobby.   

Ranchmen's Club  (Beltline website)

Continue walking west, past 8th Street, to Central Collegiate Institute (high school), which is now part of the new Calgary Board of Education headquarters. The original building was built in 1908, with a five-room Scottish Baronial-style addition designed by Lang and Major in 1911 and later a William Branston desiged Egyptian Revival style gymnasium in 1940.  After numerous different school uses, it closed in 1965 and wasn’t reopened until 1996 when it was leased to Rundle College for a private Jr. High.  In 2011, it was incorporated into the Gibbs Gage-designed new Calgary Board of Education headquarters.      

Reader Cee recommends you add the Moxam & Congress Apartment buildings on the east side of Loughheed house. This walking tour from the City has some info:


721 & 725 - 13th Avenue S.W.
These two buildings were among many constructed to
accommodate the rapid growth of Calgary’s population during the
pre-World War I boom period. Billed as “two of the most modern
and best-equipped apartment houses in the Northwest,” the
Congress and Moxam are unusual in their size and grandeur, and
were intended for a more exclusive clientele than most of the other
brick and wood-frame blocks of this period. Located in this
prestigious neighbourhood, the two-bedroom suites in these
buildings provided a fashionable address.
Page 8
The decorative block-like dentils in the cornice are decorative vestiges of ancient building methods, when the roof beams protruded from the walls."

Time to turn around, maybe walk on the other side of the street to get a different perspective. Looking for a place to grab a coffee, an adult beverage or a meal.  Boxwood in Memorial Park is highly recommended, as is Yellow Door in Hotel Arts or the Good Earth Cafe on 4th street.   

For information on some of the buildings check out the following websites:

For a complete historic walking tour of the area

Below area some old postcard images of the Calgary's 13th Ave SW Heritage Walk that allow you to see how the street has evolved. 



One of the many different landscape designs for Central /Memorial Park. 

  13th Avenue early 20th Century, no high-rise apartments, no tree lined streets. 

13th Avenue early 20th Century, no high-rise apartments, no tree lined streets. 

Memorial Park Library before the trees dwarfed it. 

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