Calgary's historic Deane House to reveal new restaurant this summer
Restaurateur Sal Howell of River Café and Boxwood behind the project
A new restaurant is coming to one of the most familiar and historic structures in our city this summer — after more than a decade of planning and a major set back.
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Deane House legacy
The historic Deane House was built in 1906 for the last commanding Superintendent of Fort Calgary, Cpt. Richard Deane, and his wife Martha, who sadly passed away before she could join her husband in their new home.
It originally sat near the corner of Ninth Avenue and Sixth Street S.E., facing east towards the barracks, and allowed Deane, a passionate horticulturalist, to tend to the extensive gardens around the house.
In 1914, the Fort Calgary site was purchased by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway for use as a rail terminal, and the house was moved to the southeast corner for occupation by the station agent.
In 1929, local entrepreneur C.L. Jacques bought the house and used boats and floatation devices to move it across the Elbow River — an endeavour so remarkable it was featured in a 1930 issue of Popular Mechanics — to a new foundation at its current location, facing the Ninth Avenue bridge with the river (and now a bike path) running along one side.
Jacques used it as a boarding house. It has since been an artists' studio, tea house and restaurant.
Howell has been in conversation with Fort Calgary about the renovation project for over a decade, although they didn't break ground until December.
"The work on the grounds and all of the infrastructure is the vision of the Fort Calgary Historic Preservation Society to restore and redevelop the site," Howell said.
"They did all the infrastructure and we got a shell back that was like a new building, with all the character."
Flood delays project
Ten years ago, before the development of the East Village and evolution of Inglewood, Deane House was more isolated.
It didn't seem like the right time to open a restaurant there, said Howell.
The 2013 flood set the project back — not because of Deane House, but because of the extensive flooding over at River Café.
Surprisingly there wasn't a drop of water in Deane House, despite its precarious location on the bank at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers.
The new post-flood retaining wall doubles as a garden bed, planted with edible indigenous plant material — fruit-bearing shrubs and trees including juniper, gooseberries, saskatoons and cherries.
"Rather than a traditional edible garden, or planting crops, which can take more space, our volumes are such that these are the things we can add," Howell said.
"We'd like to use it in education and storytelling."
There are 100 different edible species in and around the grounds at River Café, and at Boxwood they worked with the Urban Orchard program to put in apple trees.
The house is full of original wood and hardware, and they're utilizing the doors that were removed to do the millwork upstairs in the library.
"It's kind of like an art installation, working with local artists and re-utilizing and reclaiming objects and materials," Howell said.
Glimpse into past
With a long history of various stages, each room will help tell the many stories of the house's history.
There's the small Garden Room overlooking the garden and Ninth Avenue, the Tenement Bar, the elegant dining room at the back of the house — which will feature a gallery wall of works collected from the period and region — and an open bread station and pantry in the heart of the home.
The sunny enclosed porch along the river side will have its own small bar, and the artist who created the rawhide light fixtures at River Café is building more for the Deane House, inspired by the period and made of stained glass and laser cut steel.
The attic will provide much needed office space, but will also be furnished to be used as a multi-purpose space — perhaps a staging area for bridal parties.
(The top level is said to be the most haunted at Deane House. I met Lorne working on the reconstruction — he's been there during the day and late into the night, and says he has not as yet had any encounters with ghosts.)
On the edge of the garden, the tiny one-room Hunt House has historical significance as the oldest building in Calgary still standing at its original site.
The log cabin was built sometime between 1876 and 1881. This past year, experts hired by Fort Calgary carefully disassembled and reassembled the structure, reinforcing the pine log walls and roof.
'This was another location I fell in love with'
Like River Café and Boxwood, the restaurant itself will showcase a seasonally-inspired menu further influenced by the history of the site, with local produce, fish, game and fowl.
"All the elements of Calgary's history — the Fort, the train, the confluence of the Bow and Elbow, the Hudson Bay outpost — are here," Howell said.
"We've certainly benefitted for years at River Café having an extraordinary location, and this was another location I fell in love with.
"There's something magical about finding, creating, curating a space that people will experience on a multitude of levels."