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Calgary heritage is about people and events as much as it’s about architecture

This piece was contributed by Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary. Nov. 20 to 26 is Canada History Week.

This year Calgary turned 138 years old as a municipality, having been first incorporated as a town on November 7, 1884. But Calgary has been home to Indigenous people for thousands of years.

The area we know as Calgary today is known as Moh’kinsstis, a Blackfoot word for “elbow,” in reference to the place where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet. This land is also known as Wîchîspa Oyade to the people of Stoney Nakoda Nation, and Guts-ists-i to the people of the Tsuut’ina Nation. The Métis call the Calgary area Otos-kwunee.

Heritage Calgary is a charitable Civic Partner of The City of Calgary focused on the research, education, and preservation of our shared heritage in Calgary. We believe heritage is a dynamic process by which identity is experienced, interpreted, and represented and take pride in working with Calgarians to honour the fabric of which we’re all a part.

One of our core mandates is to maintain the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources. The Inventory is the cornerstone of Heritage Calgary’s mission to embrace and keep space for the stories of this place. It is a list of sites that have been identified as possessing significant heritage value, and whose preservation is considered to be to the greater benefit of Calgarians.

Inclusion on the Inventory is a formal acknowledgement of heritage value, and in most cases does not extend legal protection to the property, nor does it regulate the property. It is, however, the first step toward obtaining legal designation if a property owner wishes to pursue that. 

Shift in public views on heritage

In the 12+ years I have been involved in heritage in our City I have noticed a significant shift in the way in which Calgarians’ attitudes and general appreciation of heritage has shifted. People now look at mid-century modern and post-war buildings as heritage. Heritage is no longer just a 1912 Queen Anne Revival or a 1920s Edwardian Commercial building.

Century-old buildings do not just grow overnight. They take years to mature and become a fixture in our community. Some of our most popular main streets where Calgarians like to shop and eat are heritage: Inglewood, Kensington and 4th Street.

Heritage is everywhere we look. It is Nose Hill Park, which was saved in the 1980s from development – it’s an excellent example of the native grasslands that makes up a significant part of our prairie city. Heritage is the buildings on Stephen Ave that are part of our city’s nickname “the sandstone city.”

But what we consider and recognize as heritage also needs to better reflect our city’s diversity and make sure that the stories of all Calgarians are being told, now and into the future.

Take the King Residence, built in 1912, in the community of Sunnyside, for example, which holds different dimensions of value. From an architectural perspective, it demonstrates an Edwardian Gable-Front 1.5 story house, but more importantly it’s significant for its person value and its association with Violet King and her brother Theodore.

Violet King grew up in the working-class community of Sunnyside and went on to become the first Black Canadian to obtain a law degree in Alberta, the first Black person admitted to the Alberta Bar. She was the first Black woman to become a lawyer in Canada in 1954. Her accomplishment made headlines across Calgary’s publications as “a milestone in Canadian history.”

As our city continues to grow and mature, more of these types of properties, like the King Residence, need to be added to the Inventory for their significance of who lived there or an event that took place versus just their architectural significance.

To learn more about the 900+ sites on the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources please visit the inventory at www.heritagecalgary.ca/explore-inventory

  • Josh Traptow is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Calgary.