Calgary is the history capital of
Canada. I know you think I am crazy, but read on and you may change your
mind. Or maybe at least think of me as a little less crazy than you thought at
first. And, hopefully, you with think of Calgary in an entirely new light!
Sure, Winnipeg has the impressive new
Human Rights Museum and the historic Exchange District. Toronto has the Royal
Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario with their history collections.
And yes, Ottawa has the National Gallery, Museum of Civilization and War
Museum. Montreal has its Old Town and Vancouver Gastown. However, I think
after you read my top 10 reasons for saying Calgary is the history capital
of Canada you will have a different perspective on Calgary!
#10 Harry The Historian
Did you know that Calgary has its own
official Historian Laureate in 2012 - Harry M. Sanders? Sanders is a wealth of
knowledge tweeting some historical fact about the city's past everyday to
followers and giving talks and tours. A
story I love is about a quiet street in Calgary's south downtown Beltline
community with an unassuming Tudor Revival house that today is the Laurier
Lounge. Built in 1908, the house was the birthplace of George Stanley,
designer of the Canadian Flag. He would also tell you that Sir Wilfred
Laurier was the Prime Minister who, in 1905, oversaw Alberta's entry into
Confederation as a province. Oh, and he might even tell you the poutine
at the Laurier Lounge is tasty.
#9 Atlantic Avenue: The
Original Main Street
Did you know that Calgary has two
historic “main” streets? The original Main Street is on the east side of the
Elbow River. Still intact with its many two story brick turn-of-the-century
buildings it is now called 9th Avenue SE (formerly Atlantic Avenue, it was the
main street for a struggling frontier town). There are still two old barns standing
on two different side streets. Today, this Inglewood community street is one of
the coolest BoBo (bohemian / bourgeois) streets in Canada with a great mix of
retail, restaurants, pubs and music venues. Atlantic Avenue was a pilot
project for Heritage Canada's Urban Historic Area Demonstration project and
also a signature project for the Alberta Main Street Programme. These programs
helped fund the refurbishment of the heritage buildings in the ‘90s.
#8 Stephen Avenue: The Current
Calgary's other “main street” is
Stephen Avenue Walk (or 8th Avenue Pedestrian Mall). It links Calgary's
Cultural District to its Financial and Shopping Districts. The three
blocks from Centre Street to 2nd Street SW have been recognized by the Federal
government as a National Historic District for the number and quality of
preserved turn-of-the-century buildings. The street is named after Lord
Mount Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. At
one time, all of the downtown streets and avenues had names of CPR railway executives and its real estate subsidiary, the Canada Northwest Land Company, which subdivided the Calgary townsite in 1884.
#7 Royal Canadian Pacific Vintage Trains
Speaking of trains (and so we should
given they are integral to the city’s history), bet you didn't know that
Calgary is home to one of the world's best collection of vintage train
cars (1916 to 1931). And yes, you can even book a tour through
the Rocky Mountain on The Royal Canadian Pacific train pulled by first
generation diesel locomotives. Not only do you get to enjoy the majesty
of the Rocky Mountains, but you might be sitting in the seat as Princess
Elizabeth who road one of the vintage cars shortly before her coronation, or
maybe the same seat of Sir Winston Churchill. These vintage rail cars ooze
history. The vintage train cars are housed in a special shed located
right downtown, along with the CPR Pavilion, which is a 12-meter high glass rotunda
with marble floors attached to the historic Fairmont Palliser Hotel for special
#6 Fort Calgary
On the eastern edge of downtown is
Fort Calgary, originally built in 1875 by the North West Mounted Police and originally named Fort Brisebois, but quickly changed to Fort Calgary. The original
palisade and barracks building have been reconstructed to create exhibition
areas, theatre and gift shop. Plans for an ambitious expansion have been
approved and fundraising is underway.
Just across the Elbow River from the
Fort is the Deane House. Built in 1906 for the Superintendent of Fort Calgary,
Captain Richard Dean, it has had several lives, including a boarding house, an
art gallery and today a restaurant. It too is a designated Registered
#6 Sandstone City
After the fire in 1886, Calgary
turned to the local Paskapoo Sandstone, as the material of choice for its new
buildings. As a result, Calgary has numerous outstanding sandstone buildings
including Alberta's first library (the Memorial Park Library, in historic
Memorial Park), numerous old schools including the 1884 Haultain School (currently
home to the Parks Foundation Calgary) and 1908 McDougall School (the Southern
Alberta Governments offices) and the elegant 1911 City Hall with its 70 foot
central clock tower (still home to Mayor and Alderman).
Interesting to note there is still
one wood building that predates the fire. Built in 1885, originally known at the T.C. Power & Bros. Block, today it is best know as The Pain Block on Stephen
Avenue. It gets it name from Pain Furriers who occupied the building from
1935 to 1965. Who says Calgary doesn’t
preserve its history?
#5 Canadian Sports Hall of Fame
Calgary houses many of Canada's most
interesting sports artifacts at the new Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Gallery
exhibits have cleverly been organized into the following categories: Ride
Gallery, Motion Gallery, Contact Gallery, Bounce Gallery, Hockey Gallery, Glide
Gallery, Blade Gallery, Olympic and Paralympic Gallery, Locker Room and Media
Room. They’re also several interactive exhibitions: Be A Sports Journalist, Be
A Broadcaster, Ask The Athlete and Hero Station. Since 1955 Canada's Sports
Hall of Fame has been collecting sports memorabilia from all aspects of
Canadian sports history including Terry Fox's iconic single running shoe. The
collection currently stands at 95,000 artifacts and continues to grow.
#4 Heritage Park
Calgary is home to Canada's largest
living history park-Heritage Park! The Park encompasses 127
acres and includes four distinct areas: Western Canadian history (circa 1864),
Pre-Railway Village (circa 1880), Railway Prairie Town (circa 1910)
and Heritage Town Square (circa 1930) to 1950. It also includes
Gasoline Alley with is extensive collection of antique vehicles a 1950s service
station and retro drive in movie theatre. There is also not only a steam
train ride from the parking lot to the entry gate, but once inside, you can
take a ride on the S.S. Moyie paddle wheel boat on the Glenmore Reservoir.
#3 National Music
The National Music Centre (NMC) boasts
one of the world's largest collection of keyboard instruments, 400 in total.
Furhermore, NMC has over 2,000 artifacts including Elton John's
songwriting piano (which he used to compose his first five albums) and the
Rolling Stone's 1968 Mobile Studio, which has also been used by the likes of
Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley. The oldest artifact is a 1560 Virginal, a
keyboard instrument that predates the piano. The collection will soon be
housed soon in the new iconic, purpose-built National Music Centre building currently
#2 History Museums / Parks / Plazas
The Glenbow Museum, founded by Eric
Harvie, a Calgary petroleum entrepreneur, is one of the largest museums in
Canada. In its possession are over one million artifacts and 28,000 works
of art. Its extensive collection includes historical artifacts and art
from Western Canadian, as well as Asia, West Africa, South America and the various
islands of the Pacific.
Calgary is also home to the Military
Museums of Calgary, the second largest war museum in the country. Its
four galleries showcase an extensive collection of material from all three
branches of the Canadian Armed Forces (Navy, Army and Air Force) and an extensive
library housed at the University of Calgary.
In addition, Calgary is home to
the 100+ year old Memorial Park with its numerous monuments to different wars
Canadians have fought in. And, Calgary's Memorial Drive is also dedicated
to Canada's military history with its Memorial Plaza, trees and monuments.
#1 The Calgary Stampede
Calgary is home to Canada's oldest
agricultural fair, one that has evolved over the past 101 years into Canada's
biggest Canadian cultural festival. The Stampede annually celebrates our First
Nations culture, our agricultural culture, our music culture, our youth
culture, as well as two unique prairie sports cultures - rodeo competition and
The Stampede is not an imported myth from the U.S. frontier, but started as a tribute to the authentic ranching culture of Southern Alberta and continues to celebrate that culture today. The Ranchmen's Club established in downtown Calgary in 1892 and still operating in its historic Renaissance Revival building is evidence of the City's long history as ranching agricultural centre.
YES, little old Cowtown, often cited
as having no history and just a bunch of corporate cowboys, offers up a lot
more local and Canadian history than you think. Next time you are in
town, stay awhile and enjoy our western hospitality.
AND, if these “top ten” aren’t enough
to convince you…how about a bonus reason!
#11 Honouring Its First Nations
In Calgary, the names of most major
roads are linked to celebrating our First Nations neighbours and their leaders,
with names like Sarcee and Blackfoot recognizing nations and Deerfoot and
Crowchild being leaders. In addition, these roads are not called highways or
freeways, but Trails a further “nod” to our historical routes - Edmonton Trail follows
the original trail from Calgary to Edmonton and Macleod Trail the route south
to Fort Macleod.
Still not convinced? Need another
#12 Calgary Celebrates its Prairie
Town Roots Everyday
In what other major city in Canada -
maybe in the world - do cars stop and let pedestrians cross the roads at
unmarked intersections mid-block. Yes, in true prairie small town
tradition, in Calgary if you stand at the edge of the sidewalk, cars stop and
let you cross; just like they did when cars were first introduced and
pedestrians had the right-of-way100 years ago.
I stand by my claim: Calgary is the
history capital of Canada.