City keeps pieces of historic buildings hidden in storage

The City of Calgary has portions of a number of heritage properties hidden away in storage — potentially for some future use. A freedom of information request shows portions of seven historic buildings and structures remain in city storage yards.

As Calgarians learn about city's past during Historic Calgary Week, some history remains out of view

A buffalo head that once adorned the Centre Street bridge now sits in storage. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The City of Calgary has portions of several heritage properties tucked away in storage — potentially for some future use.

A freedom of information request shows that portions of seven historic buildings and structures remain in city storage yards. Some have been there for decades.

The City of Calgary has portions of several heritage properties tucked away in storage — potentially for some future use. 0:43

The list includes:

  • Brick facade and transom glass of the Crown building.
  • Sandstone, poles, columns, from the Alexandra Hotel.
  • Railing from old Louise Bridge.
  • Sandstone facade from the Linton Block.
  • Bricks and a sandstone crest from the old General Hospital.
  • Wood, sheet-metal pediment/cornice from the Queens Hotel.
  • Original city crest, floral emblems, buffalo heads and lions from the Centre Street bridge.

The senior heritage planner for the city, Clint Robertson, tells CBC News the heritage pieces were taken on for a variety of reasons.

"Some of them were privately-owned buildings that were coming down, that there was pressure for the city to take parts of them," said Robertson.  

"Other buildings were being demolished for civic purposes and again, the city took on storage of these elements for possible re-use in the future."

Sandstone blocks from the Linton Block, which once stood on Stephen Avenue, now sit in a city storage facility. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The city opened up one of its storage yards to give CBC News a look at some of the artifacts.

Inside a temporary wooden structure in the northeast part of the city, original buffalo head sculptures from the Centre Street bridge sit side-by-side with sandstone blocks from the Linton building. 

That structure sat on Stephen Avenue until it was destroyed by fire in the mid-1980s. 

At another city works yard, pictures provided by the city show bricks and sandstone stored on wooden pallets outdoors — fully exposed to the elements.

Bricks from the Crown Building sit in a storage yard exposed to the elements. The building was torn down to make way for the expansion of the Convention Centre nearly 20 years ago. (City of Calgary)

'Definitely not the ideal'

Robertson said none of this is the best way to store the material and suggests the city needs to develop a plan on what to do with the stuff.

Clint Robertson, the senior heritage planner for the city, says the items came to be in storage for a number of reasons. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"This is definitely not the ideal," he said.  "Items should not be taken on or retained without a management plan."

"That's not the best way to manage these items."

Robertson said the city is going to find more secure and in some cases, weather-proof places to store the material.

However, the job of figuring out the future of the material will go to another city agency: the Calgary Heritage Authority.

Executive director Josh Traptow was unaware how much heritage the city has tucked away or that they even still existed.

Floral emblems from the Centre Street bridge sit in storage at a city works yard in northeast Calgary. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

"I was kind of shocked. Surprised. It was the first I've really heard of it," said Traptow.

The authority plans to ask city administrators for a briefing in September and then begin the process of determining what should be done with the material.

"I think coming up with a process about how we and the city deal with heritage artifacts in terms of those types of things is probably going to be a priority," said Traptow.

By that, he says the city must assess possible re-uses for material to get them into the public domain or potentially selling off some pieces, with the proceeds being used for other heritage projects.

He's hoping to get a field trip to see the pieces of heritage properties for himself so they're more than just words on a list.

Coun. Druh Farrell says the city needs to do a better job of protecting the material and develop a plan that will allow Calgarians to appreciate the pieces of city history.

"I've been talking to our heritage people over some time. Is there a way that if a developer is building a new building, could they use the facade? Could they use some of the artifacts in the atrium of their building, for example?"

A photo of the Alexandra Hotel taken in 1963. The building once stood at 224 9th Ave. S.E., where Arts Commons, Calgary's performing arts centre, now sits. (Calgary Public Library)

Amount in storage surprising 

A heritage advocate is also surprised to find out how much the city has in storage.

A vice-president with the Calgary Heritage Initiative, Chris Edwards, says he'd like to see some of the pieces set up in public areas like the Glenbow Museum or the atrium at city hall so Calgarians can appreciate them.

He has another idea — perhaps some of the pieces could be put back in their original sites and be incorporated in the buildings that have replaced them.

"It's going to let us tell a story about these buildings that have probably been forgotten by most Calgarians, especially in a city like Calgary where there's always a lot of new residents who never even saw these buildings," said Edwards.

He too is excited about possibly getting to see more than just pictures of the artifacts.

"Definitely reminds me of the end of Indiana Jones where the Ark of the Convenant is saved and put into a cavernous warehouse probably never to be seen again," said Edwards. 

"Luckily it looks like that potential ending isn't what's happened and we have sort of now found, refound these and we can do something with them."