Calgary is about to get a new historic district, can you guess where? When it comes to local history most people’s first thoughts are probably the Glenbow, Heritage Park, Fort Calgary or Military Museums, maybe places like Stephen Avenue, Inglewood or Kensington. Bet you didn’t guess Currie Barracks!
Currie Barracks History 101
The Currie Barracks land just east of Crowchild Trail at Richard’s Road was first designated for military use in 1911, when the City of Calgary’s population was 43,704 and the southwest edge of the City was Mount Royal. It wasn’t until 1933 when a new Canadian military base was announced and named after Sir Arthur William Currie one of Canada’s most decorate military figures.
The area around Currie Barracks remained undeveloped until 1948, when the Department of Defence purchased the neighbouring land for the Currie Married Quarters. In 1968 the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force became the Canadian Forces and Currie Barracks was designated the Canadian Forces Base Calgary (CFB Calgary).
Currie Barracks has been home at various times to the Calgary Highlanders, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s and Canadian Light Infantry.
In 1995, when the Government of Canada announced the closure of the CFB Calgary, Canada Lands Company (CLC), a self-financing federal Crown corporation and real estate development company took on the task of transforming this site into a 21st century model mixed-use community by creating the CFB West Master Plan, which includes Currie Barracks along with Lincoln Park Permanent Married Quarters (now Garrison Green), Mount Royal College, ATCO and Westmount Business Park.
Most Calgarians know little about Calgary’s first gated community, unless we had some connection with the Canada’s Armed Forces. At best, it was that curious asphalt plaza with cast iron fence thingy that we whizzed by along Crowchild trail.
It wasn’t until 2004, that Calgarians began to appreciate the hidden gem that was Currie Barracks with the opening of several temporary uses in various existing building - Calgary Farmers’ Market, Wild Rose Brew Pub and J. Webb Wine & Spirits, several movie and television production companies, Riddle Kurczaba Architects and several charter schools. It even hosted Calgary’s first Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas.
For the first time, Calgarians could freely roam the barracks and appreciate the history of the place especially Parade Square surrounded by several distinctive wide low-rise, white stucco, cottage-style red shingled roof buildings.
Preservation vs. Prosperity
Over the past 10 years, CLC has been strategically developing all of the land around Currie Barracks in preparation for the ultimate mega-makeover project that will create a new 21st century urban village. While the new Currie Barracks will be home to new buildings – condos, townhomes, office, hotel, grocery store, shops, cafes and pubs – it will also include the preservation of all the Provincially designated historical buildings, sites and landscaping.
Designed in 1935, Parade Square was the site of inspections, drills and training exercises; it was literally the heart of the daily activity of the Barracks for several decades, as well as special ceremonies. It is surrounded by several 1950s historical buildings (Athlone, Bennett and Besborrough), which frame the Square and give is a homogenous, formal and symmetrical boundary.
Parade Square is 207 meters by 119 meters (the size of two CFL football fields) and was once the largest square in the British Empire. It was the largest Depression-era public works program in Alberta.
Parade Square will become a large central multi-purpose gathering space for major community events with links to the many park spaces scattered throughout Currie Barracks. The historical buildings surrounding the square will be converted into multiple modern uses (e.g. schools, offices and restaurants).
Other Historic Buildings
The Officers’ Mess and formal garden are located in the southwest edge of Currie Barracks away from the structures associated with daily operations of the base, which was typical at the time. The Mess is an X-shaped building with the same red cottage style shingled roof and with stucco façade. It is connected to the Officers Precinct by the formal tree-lined Trasimene Crescent and has an enclosed veranda on the south side to a formal garden. Inside are two luxurious ballrooms that hosted formal events from homage to fallen comrades to celebrating achievements.
Ramshead (1936) and Brad (1938) houses are examples of simplified English Cottage style architecture with it pitched roof structure, white rough cast stucco façade and cut stone entry. Ramshead House was originally built as the residence for the commanding officer of the Royal Canadians. Brad House was the residence of the District Officer Commanding Military District #13. Their cottage-style design conveys a sense of domesticity that contrasts with the barracks-style residences that housed the majority of the men stationed at the base.
The Stables Building completed in 1936 is a K-shaped structure with four symmetrical wings that each could accommodate 25 horses. It was a horse stable from 1936 to 1939, then became training centre and finally accommodation space for new recruits.
Currie Barracks at a glance
- First LEED-ND Gold Neighbourhood District approved in Canada
- Largest LEED-ND Gold Project in the world (at the time of approval in 2009)
- 10,000+ residents
- 3,000+ workers
- Flanders Point a pedestrian-oriented retail/restaurant activity node
- Walkable community
- 8 different open spaces totalling 21.4 acres or 14.6% of site
The decision to build Currie Barracks in Calgary in 1933 reflected in part the personal influence of Prime Minister Richard Bennett, whose home riding was Calgary West, as wells as significant recognition of Alberta’s growing status as a full partner in Canadian Confederation.
While in the past Calgary has torn down its old buildings to make way for new ones, CLC has worked hard to develop a plan that will preserve historical buildings and a public spaces, but find new uses for them as well.
Kudos to the CLC team for creating a unique sense of place for Calgarians to live, work and play.
This blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on March 14, 2015 titled "Where a gated community meets with history."
Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture.Email Richard@ground3.com follow @everydaytourist