“As Calgarians, we have two organizations that fight to preserve historical buildings – Calgary Heritage Initiative and Calgary Heritage Authority. But to my knowledge, we do not have anyone that fights to keep our heritage front and center inside of our downtown buildings. I have watched in sorrow as places that once celebrated a sense of Calgary’s unique history and sense of place have been renovated to create blank walls and bland space” says Irene DeBoni in a recent email to me. She then goes on to give me some examples.
Western Canadian Place Sculpture Gone
For many years there were copies of historical pictures taken from the Glenbow archives on the +15 level of Western Canadian Place. They celebrated Calgary’s past - grain elevators and trains and oil wells; it was like a mini photography gallery. Unfortunately, they were taken out and replaced with a white wall and a ledge for people to sit at. Fine if all you want to do is look at your computer screen.
Also gone from the middle the Western Canadian Place lobby is a large fountain sculpture “The Builders” by George Pratt, removed as part of a lobby renovation. Supposedly it was in the way (of employee gatherings, I was told by an employee who works in the building.) Really? How many of these actually occur in the public lobby?
Back Story: Pratt’s website indicates that the work was commissioned by Husky Oil (the building’s major tenant) and Trizec (the buildings original owner) to illustrate the idea that both corporations were builders. Trizec in the actual sense as they build many office towers in downtown Calgary including Bankers Hall and Husky in the sense they help build the lives of people and the province.
Ironically, driving to the Crossroads Farmers Market recently, my husband and I noticed the fountain is sitting in a fenced industrial yard, in “plain” view, but for all practicality hidden. Surely, we could find a space for it downtown. What a waste.
+15 Parade of Stampede Posters Gone
The plus 15 level at the back of Centrium Place (from 6th and 7th Ave SW, between 2nd and 3rd Streets) once had approximately 100 historical Stampede posters that added colour, charm and history as you walked by. I loved to look at these as I walked from building to building on my way to and from my downtown condo. Unfortunately, many years ago, a few were vandalized and taken down (I thought for repair), but they never did return and then they all disappeared. Now it is just bland off white wall. How boring and what a missed opportunity to celebrate the history of the Calgary Stampede.
Hyatt Regency Hotel Field of Fame Gone
I was so proud that the Hyatt for years chose to show that our history was important by including numerous western paintings throughout its lobby. Also the restaurant was named Thompsons as the 1893 Thompson Bros. Block was integrated into the new hotel. There was even an upside-down canoe built into the ceiling and behind the front desk a copy of the 1832 map showing David Thompson’s route across the country.
But the piece de resistance for me was the fact that the Hyatt Hotel was one of the first places to host a “Field of Fame” to commemorate, recognize and honour those Calgarians that have made a significant contribution to the community and the city of Calgary. The Fields of Fame are groupings of structural steel, architecturally designed which are placed at prominent locations throughout the city to commemorate the accomplishments of those Calgarians who have made a lasting contribution to Calgary.
Each Field of Fame includes six steel “sheaves of wheat”, thirteen feet high, symbolic of the prairies and the farm and ranching culture that formed the early backbone of the Calgary area. Each sheaf of wheat includes a brief history on the individual being honoured, with a photograph and wording designed to highlight the importance and significant contribution made by the particular individual to the fabric of the Calgary community.
For the past several years I have been part of a group that takes tourists and locals on free walking tours downtown. The Hyatt was always part of my route because of its focus on Calgary. Locals especially liked learning more about the people who have shaped Calgary over the past 100 years.
This past summer the Hyatt underwent a renovation. While I totally understand the restaurant in its previous state often sat empty and changes had to be made, I don’t understand why the “placemaking” elements had to be reduced and, in many cases, actually removed.
Gone are the wonderful ranching pictures that used to be in both the restaurant and the lounge areas. But more importantly, gone is the Field of Fame. Nobody in the hotel could even tell me where the plaques were taken. Finally, someone in management returned my phone call and said they had been returned to the Champion Society. When I expressed my sadness at this and my hope that no further action regarding the existing artwork would be taken, I was reminded that the Hyatt did not own the artwork, that it was only leased.
Link: Alberta Champions
Everyday Tourist Note:
I checked with the Alberta Champions Society re: missing the missing “Field of Champions” and found out it had to be moved as the new owner couldn’t integrate it with their new vision for the interior design of the hotel. Too bad, very sad. This is a prime location next to the convention centre to tell the story of some of the individuals who have shaped the city of Calgary over the past 100+ years.
I remember getting into trouble with the owners of the Hyatt Hotel when it first opened and I questioned why the lobby and rooms were full of art celebrating the Rocky Mountains, but had nothing celebrating downtown Calgary. As the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association and a board member of Tourism Calgary I wanted them to showcase to visitors some of the many fun things to see and do downtown. I was told the art was from the personal collection of Ron Mannix, the former owner of the hotel and “to mind my own business.”
Too Much Corporate Blandness
Irene goes on to say, “My husband and I have always loved to travel. When we go to cities, we like to see what makes them unique. We love to discover fun, off the beaten path things that make a city unique, rather than the obvious icons.
I would like to urge the owners of Calgary’s downtown buildings to utilize their lobbies to celebrate Calgary’s history and the City of Calgary to utilize the +15 system to do the same. If we want to attract more businesses to relocate to downtown and more people to live downtown, we must make our downtown a more interesting place to explore.
We MUST work together to create a downtown that showcases Calgary’s unique sense of place, rather than transforming it into a generic corporate blandness, which many think it already is.
While new buildings, structures and public art like the Central Library, Peace Bridge and "Wonderland" are great additions to our downtown, it is the little things, the unexpected surprises that sometimes have the biggest impact on visitors.
Member of Chinook Country Historical Society
Member of Historic Calgary Week Committee
TransAlta Retirees Walking Tour Group
Everyday Tourist Note:
I too have been noticing fun, interesting elements have been removed from the lobbies of Calgary’s downtown office buildings like the bison skeleton (a boy and his Dad found it in the cliff next to the Glenmore Reservoir) that was in the Sun Life building lobby for decades. When I asked where it has gone security told me management was renovating the lobby and the skeleton had been given to the Royal Alberta Museum. This made me sad!
When I was in Winnipeg recently, I was impressed by how many businesses celebrate the city’s history and sense of place with photographs e.g. Boston Pizza (St. James) and Safeway (Osbourne Village) and the Salisbury House’s two mini-museums – Manitoba Sports (Portage location) and Manitoba Music (Pembina location).
Calgary, we can, no we MUST do better to celebrate our unique history and sense of place. Come on corporate Calgary you can do better when renovating your lobbies to create something unique that reflects Calgary and not just some generic blandness.
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