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Old place names may see renaissance in Calgary’s inner city

Cities are always changing, evolving, and growing, and Calgary – even with less than 150 years under its belt – is no different.

Old maps of the city show a mixture of familiar and now-unfamiliar place names, but one area councillor says he thinks those name can and should be reintroduced as the city evolves.

Gian-Carlo Carra said he first realized the importance of these historic place names while serving on the Inglewood Community Association.

“People had very different perspectives of neighborhoods based on where they were,” said the Ward 9 councillor.

“If you were talking about a multi-storey building with shops underneath it, some parts of the community were totally down with that, while other parts of the community(…)were generally disinclined.

“The question of where and how to redevelop boiled down to a yes-versus-no battle between people.”

These are the old neighbourhood / area names in Inglewood and Ramsay. SCREENSHOT, CITY OF CALGARY REPORT

Carra said he started making the argument that in a community the size of Inglewood, a finer grain understanding of the neighborhood is needed.

“It transformed the conversation from, ‘yes versus no’ to, ‘where do certain things fit and how do they fit?’”

In Inglewood and Ramsay, the historic planning is being used as a foundation for future planning as the city gets ready for the Green Line.

A draft of the area redevelopment plan shows how the area along 9 Avenue that most people think of as Inglewood was once called Atlantic Avenue. The area south of that corridor was Brewery Flats for the obvious industry that was centered there. The area around Ramsay once had a Burnsland – which is no longer found on most maps.

Chris Wolfe, senior planner with community planning at the City of Calgary, said while they’re not actively looking to put up signs with these old place names, the old structure is really informing the planning.

“The legacy of how a neighborhood was first formed really has a way of establishing itself on the landscape in a permanent way,” he said.

“These things have a lasting legacy. It’s interesting and they do have an impact on the present.”

Calgary historian Harry Sanders has encountered many of these place names while researching the city and looking at old maps. He said Calgary once had an area known as The Bronx.

“Some of them were legal fiction. It was the name of the area subdivision plan. It was promoted by the promoter but didn’t develop as such,” Sanders said.

He said Calgary was over-ambitious before the First World War, and after the real estate bubble burst, many of those names lived only on maps.

Ezra Riley – an early Calgary politician and city developer – promoted areas around Hillhurst with traditional Anglo-Saxon names, according to Sanders. He said those remnants can be seen in Kensington Road and Gladstone Road, but most others have fallen by the wayside.

“I think the unspoken understanding is that it stood in contrast to Bridgeland-Riverside, which was ethnic. That’s where the Germans and Italians dominated.”

He said old maps of Riverside have German and Ukrainian names.

Sanders said there’s value in bringing back the use of these historic names as the city evolves.

“I like a reference to the past and there’s legitimacy to these things,” he said.

“It adds to the richness of city life, and it’s not random. It’s going back to some former use or even a proposal of long ago and there’s a tangible reason for it.”

Carra said the organic growth of inner cities was later imposed on greenfield development in the suburbs – with communities subdivided into smaller neighborhoods.

He said that now needs to be reclaimed in the original inner city neighborhoods as well.

“As we start to celebrate where we live and we start to have thoughtful conversations about how we grow, we have to really return to a nuanced and fine-grained understanding of our past if we’re going to get to a nuanced and great outcome for our future.”