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Historic Ogden building set for demolition to make way for Green Line

With the push to move forward with Calgary’s Green Line, naturally, some of the city’s history will be stripped away to make way for the new.

At 7044 Ogden Road SE, you would stumble across an old apartment building. Today, it’s boarded up and the paint is beginning to peel away.

While now defunct, the brick and mortar structure was a bustling Chinese laundry in the early 1910s. Eng Hon Quan and Eng Shon Hun built the building in 1914 to provide laundry services to Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) workers.

According to the Lee Association of Calgary, there were 18 second-floor apartment rooms used by boarders. The boarders were mostly CPR workers. The building originally had a red brick façade that was stuccoed over. That stucco is starting to flake away, revealing the original red brick underneath. 

Ogden resident Bonny Warbeck said that the building’s history goes further. There’s evidence from 1919 tax rolls that this building had seen use as an annex for patients recovering at the old Ogden hotel, also known as Alyth Lodge.

The hotel transformed into a convalescent hospital during the First World War, to treat patients returning from Europe. This evidence, while strong, isn’t conclusive. There is conflicting information showing the annex at another address as shown by Henderson’s 1919 directory.

Reasons for demolition

Despite the storied history, the city is planning to demolish the building. It will make way for the Green Line and the Ogden station that is set to be built near the site.

The old Chinese laundry isn’t included in the city’s inventory of historic resources. It isn’t recognized by Heritage Calgary either.

Josh Traptow, executive director of Heritage Calgary, said there are several reasons why the city might not recognize the building as historically significant.

“It has to have some historic integrity. Be it the window fenestrations or the doorways. There has to be a character-defining element. It’s hard to say what kind of historic integrity it may or may not have,” Traptow said.

In addition to that, nine points of evaluation must be met for something to be historically significant. Those would be activity, event, institutions, people, style, design, construction, landmark, or symbolic value. Many sites in Calgary fall under the style value, the design of the building, whether it be Edwardian or a Queen Anne revival style houses.

One of the other criteria often met for the city is whether it had any historical events associated with the site. This could be anything that had a role in shaping the story of the city. But the Ogden block that is home to the Chinese laundry has not had any thorough evaluation done to determine if it meets any of these points of value.  

Traptow said that the laundry was never brought to Heritage Calgary’s attention, so no evaluation was made.

“We largely rely on crowdsourcing, whether it be heritage advocates or community associations. The sites need to be brought to our attention to add to the inventory. There are a finite number of resources to do evaluations,” Traptow said.

Hurdles to stopping demolition

Ogden itself may not have enough historical representation that other communities have. While there are a few recognized sites like the Ogden hotel, Warbeck said that not enough has been done to record the history of the community. She’s gathering a few interested individuals to try and do their own evaluation of Ogden’s historic resources.

“There was a survey done of 26 inner-city communities where people would go out and do an informal heritage inventory, but Ogden wasn’t included in that. Ogden flies under the radar,” Warbeck said.

In the fall, a heritage sub-committee under the community association will be set up, Warbeck said. They hope to do a formal historic inventory at that time.

Even if the laundry site managed to make its way onto the inventory of historic resources, it might be hard to save.

“Of the 850-900 sites on the inventory, only 115 are designated as municipal heritage resources which means the vast majority of those other sites can be altered or demolished at the will of the owner,” Traptow said.

The building is not on the city’s inventory of historic resources. It is set to be demolished to make way for the Green Line. ETHAN WARD FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Preservation versus progress

Rick Smith of the Millican-Ogden Community Association said that many buildings have a story to tell but not necessarily a way to save them.

“Retrofitting an old community like Ogden to accommodate a light rail transit system is not something the original creators ever had in mind when they built it,” Smith said.

“There will be casualties. Those will be buildings and homes that are in the project’s way. This building is not one I would suggest moving the LRT system over.”

Warbeck, however, said that even the Green Line isn’t enough of a reason to have the building destroyed.

“The Ogden hotel has been designated and given recognition on the inventory of historic resources for its use as a military hospital. Now we find out the building at 7044 Ogden Road was also part of the hospital. It deserves to be recognized,” Warbeck said.

Warbeck said that she hopes the city might somehow incorporate the building into the Green Line design process. Especially given the history of the old building as a laundry servicing the railway and the CPR.

According to the city, the building will be undergoing an evaluation process with a historical resource consultant from the province.

The consultant will perform an impact assessment, documenting the building for archival records. The building won’t be demolished until this process is complete.