Calgary actually has an impressive history of repurposing heritage buildings

The redevelopment of downtown office buildings into residential towers has been getting a lot of attention recently, but this isn't part of a new trend. Calgary has been adapting old buildings for new uses for decades, writes Richard White. 

Developers have been adapting old buildings for new uses for decades

King Edward School, built in 1913 but closed in 2001, was converted to an arts incubator and hosts a farmers market. It also features a coffee shop. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

One of the hot-button topics these days in city planning is the adaptive reuse — or repurposing — of older buildings by renovating them to accommodate new uses, rather than tearing them down. 

In Calgary, the redevelopment of old downtown office buildings into residential towers has been getting a lot of attention recently, but this isn't part of a new trend. The city and private developers have been adapting old buildings for new uses for decades. 

While Calgary has a reputation of having a bias for new construction, rather than re-purposing, there are several good examples of adapting our historic buildings to new uses — condos, concert hall, ballet centre, theatres, innovation/art hub and even a farmers' market.

Calgary Public Building (1931)

The Calgary Public Building, now the Jack Singer Concert Hall and City of Calgary offices, was completed in 1931.  The building's modern classical style retained its Tyndall limestone exterior and massive iconic columns on the north and west facades when it was re-purposed. 

Arts Commons, home of the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

The building, located in the 200 block of Eighth Avenue S.E., was the city's main Post Office from 1931 to 1961, then federal government offices until 1979, when their offices moved to the Harry Hayes building. It still has the original manually operated elevator. 

The building became the anchor of the Calgary Performing Arts Centre, which opened in 1988, and is now branded as Arts Commons, with plans in for a mega renovation and expansion in the near future. 

King Edward School (1913)

The King Edward School, 1740 – 30th Ave. S.W., with its 19 classrooms and two cupolas, opened in 1913, with William Aberhart as its first principal.  A gymnasium was added in 1956 and a second addition in 1967, designed by W.G. Milne, but it was torn down in 1978 because of structural problems.

The school closed in 2001, but in 2012, cSPACE (a partnership between the City of Calgary and the Calgary Foundation), purchased the building from the Calgary Board of Education and converted it into an arts incubator, with studio, exhibition, performance and meeting spaces. 

King Edward School in Calgary, photographed this month. It was initially built in 1913. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

To help with the $35 million in renovation costs, which included a modern addition to the west side, the city block was sub-divided, with the eastern and western sides sold to developers for upscale condos and a seniors residence. In the summer, the plaza on the south side of the school hosts a popular weekend farmers' market. 

Katchen Brothers Abattoir (1938) 

The Crossroads Market building (opened in 1938, with an additional storey added in 1956), located at 1235 – 26th Ave. S.E., in Calgary's historic Stockyards District, where the CP and CN rail lines intersect in southeast Calgary. It was originally the Katchen Brothers abattoir and later Calgary Packers. 

The Crossroads building is the only remaining abattoir in the city, and its presence recalls the now-demolished Alberta Stockyards that stood directly across 26th Avenue S.E. from 1903 to 1990. Slaughtering and meat-packing was part of Calgary's rich ranching history and the reason the city is often referred to as "cowtown." 

Today, the building has been repurposed to house a farmers' market, flea market, Loose Moose Theatre and several other art and creative endeavours, including the Alberta Society of Artists' gallery.

There is a high probability the building and entire site will undergo a major repurposing when the southeast leg of the Green Line is completed with the 26th Avenue S.E. station next door. Wouldn't it be great if the station was named the Stockyard Station to help celebrate some of the area's history?

The Crossroads Market building is located on the site of the former Katchen Bros. slaughterhouse, which opened in 1938 in Calgary. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Pumphouse No.2 (1913) 

The Pumphouse Theatre's red brick building originally opened in 1913 as the Bow River Pumphouse No. 2. The hipped-roof building is situated amidst a park-like setting with historic poplar trees and a small art park.

The property, located at 2140 Pumphouse Ave. S.W., was protected as a Provincial Registered Historic Resource in 1975, declared a Canadian Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association in 1980 and designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 1996.

Calgary's Pumphouse Theatre was originally built as a water intake and pumping station in 1913. It was renovated to contain two theatre spaces in 1982. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

From 1913 to 1967, Pumphouse No. 2 was an integral component in Calgary's water supply and distribution system. From 1913 to 1933, the pumphouse was the main intake and pumping station to serve the city. 

In 1982, major renovations were completed, converting the pump-room into the 69-seat Joyce Doolittle Theatre and the shed structure into the 300-seat Victor Mitchell Theatre. 

Calgary Central Collegiate (1908)

The Calgary Central Collegiate Institute at 930 – 13th Ave. S.W., opened in 1908 and became the Central High School in 1918. It was converted into the Calgary Board of Education's offices in 2007.

Some of the school's noted alumni include former premier Peter Lougheed, architect Harold Hanen (founder of Calgary's +15 walkways), and Canadian flag designer Dr. George F.G. Stanley. 

Dr. Carl Safran Centre in Calgary was built in 1908 as the Calgary Central Collegiate Institute. In 2007, it was converted to the Calgary Board of Education Centre. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

In 2007, the Calgary Board of Education signed a long-term agreement with Bentall Reality to have the impressive sandstone school converted to the Calgary Board of Education Centre, with a modern addition by Gibbs Gage architects.  As part of the agreement, $50 million was spent to adapt the interior of the school to modern office spaces and restore the façade to its original glory. 

House of Israel Building (1949)

Tucked away at 102 – 18th Ave S.E. is the lovely House of Israel building, a charming art deco building with classical symmetry and an oculet — a disk containing a design motif — with a Star of David.

With suburban expansion in the late 20th century, a new Jewish centre opened in the community of Palliser in 1979, and the building became vacant. It wasn't until 1998 that the building was repurposed as condos and named Lindsay Park Place.   

The House of Israel building dates to 1949. It was repurposed as condos and named Lindsay Park Place in 1998. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

St. Mary's Parish Hall (1905)

Not far from the House of Israel, at 141 – 18th Ave S.W., is another hidden gem, the St. Mary's Hall and Canadian Northern Railway Station.

The Oblate Fathers built St. Mary's Parish Hall in 1905, but sold it to the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) which repurposed it into a temporary train station. It later became a permanent station when the CNoR was incorporated into the Canadian National Railway. 

The Oblate Fathers built St. Mary's Parish Hall in 1905, but sold it to the Canadian Northern Railway. In the mid-1980s, it was repurposed as a dance studio and headquarters for Alberta Ballet. (Richard White)

The last train left the station July 5, 1971, and it remained vacant until the mid-1980s, when it was repurposed as a dance studio and headquarters for Alberta Ballet. It was renamed the Nat Christie Centre thanks to a donation by the Nat Christie Foundation. 

Centennial Planetarium (1967)

One of the most recent repurposings of a Calgary historic building is the conversion of the Centennial Planetarium (1967) and former Calgary Science Centre (1984), into Contemporary Calgary, a public art gallery, in 2018. 

Designed by Calgary architect Jack Long, the concrete building is not only an iconic brutalist building, but with its integration of linear and curved planes, it precedes the work of current international starchitects Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind by 20-plus years. 

Plans are in place for a major expansion of the building with a new glass box that is sympathetic to the building's contemporary design. 

Contemporary Calgary art gallery originally opened as the Centennial Planetarium in 1967. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

What's Next

Let's hope 2022 brings news of plans to repurpose the former W.R. Castell Library (1963) into a mixed-use arts hub, with multi-purpose performance venue, commercial art galleries, bookstore, café, studios and live/work residential spaces. 

Telsec Properties Corp. has recently purchased the Eau Claire YMCA (1988), so let's hope they have plans for its redevelopment. And then there is the empty Greyhound building that is begging to be repurposed. I understand it is used sometimes as a film studio. Too bad Amazon didn't buy it or lease it for their Calgary cloud-computing server hub. 

As Calgary evolves, some buildings will be repurposed, while others will be demolished to make way for new ones —that's how city building works. 


Richard White

Author: Everyday Tourist blog

Richard White has served on the Calgary Planning Commission (Citizen at Large), the Calgary Tourism Board, the Calgary Public Art Board and the Tourism Calgary Board. He writes a blog called Everyday Tourist about the city, and has written extensively on Calgary's urban development.


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