Cecil Hotel's demise met with mix of nostalgia and glee

It sprang up during Calgary's first big boom, but the Cecil's time has finally come. Heritage advocates and those who live or work in the area greeted the announcement of the hotel's imminent destruction with a mix of regret, acceptance or outright joy.

Heritage building will be destroyed because of structural issues

For better or worse, the hotel has been part of the city's downtown for more than a century. History buff, Cynthia Klaasen, tells us about it. 1:45

It sprang up during Calgary's first big boom in 1912, but the Cecil's time has finally come. Heritage advocates and those who live or work in the area greeted the announcement of the hotel's imminent destruction with a mix of regret, acceptance or outright joy.

The hotel had certainly fallen on hard times and became a symbol of human suffering for many, but also a home to some. Its tavern was a rough and tumble part of Calgary's history until closing in 2008.

Structural damage

Recently, the structure itself was the one suffering, with the 2013 floods inflicting serious damage.

"I'm certainly disappointed, but I'm not surprised that that would happen," says Cynthia Klassen, president of Calgary Heritage Initiative about the announcement. 

"We were aware that nothing had really been done to the building after the flood and that there was a lot of water standing in the basement that was just kind of being left to rot unfortunately."

She says the fact the hotel sits below the flood plain means the whole structure would have to be elevated if it was to be saved.

It was all just too much for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, which owns the site.

"It's not worth the dollars to put into it. ... In order to redo the building, you'd be rebuilding the entire building and so at that point it doesn't make any sense," said Michael Brown, president and CEO of CMLC. 

The Cecil Hotel, which has been shuttered since 2008, was a symbol of Calgary's history, but also of its dark side. (CBC)

'Pool of despair'

While there is nostalgia and regret when it comes to losing one of the few remaining hotels from this era, there is also celebration that a symbol of pain, addiction and destitution is coming down.

"Certainly the last five or so years that it was operating, it was a place of considerable misery and some pretty significant human suffering," said Elsbeth Mehrer of the nearby YWCA. 

"So, I think lots of families and certainly lots of vulnerable women won't miss it."

She said the Cecil, when it was still open, was a barrier for women accessing services at the YWCA and moving on with their lives. Clients felt unsafe near the "pool of despair" that was right across the street, said Mehrer.

Saving what they can

Ray Whiteman, who owns two condos in the East Village, is excited the "eyesore" is finally coming down, but he, like most, are hoping the CMLC can salvage enough of the building to incorporate the elements elsewhere. He says with all the bad that happened within its walls the "ghosts need putting down."

CMLC said it will preserve the large neon sign and as much of the other elements it can. 

"I have faith in CMLC and others to look at salvaging what they can and trying to make something positive out of what's right now a pretty dark corner and a pretty sad reminder for lots of people," said Mehrer.


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