Calgary’s Next Downtown Museums

Posted on
May 9, 2019

Revitalization vs. Preservation: Reconciling Calgary’s Past and Present

A true city centre needs to be active and engaging all the time. It needs to have public spaces where the general population can meet, be entertained and engaged, and participate in festivals and events.

By this definition, Calgary’s Centre City has some work to do. Located in the heart of Calgary, the downtown area functions primarily as an employment centre for the city of almost 1.25M people and is almost empty outside of business hours. There just aren’t enough entertainment venues, places for festivals and cultural events, and public spaces to draw or keep people downtown after hours. Without an attractive downtown core, the city is missing out on a key source of revenue and an important factor in the city’s overall quality of life.  

Fortunately, revitalization projects are already underway in Downtown West and Chinatown. The East Village got its National Music Centre and the New Library, and there are many attractive buildings and urban spaces in the newly revitalized residential area. Yet, other areas of the downtown core are still waiting to be brought back to life.  

Proposal: Turn Heritage Structures into Historical Museums

The historic Fire Station No. 1 and the Mewata Armoury are both rare examples of well-preserved heritage structures with their own significant history and value. While they are both still in use, we believe their true potential remains untapped. We suggest that these wonderful historical buildings, if given a new life as museums, could serve to draw traffic and tourism downtown while preserving important stories from Calgary’s past.

Fire Station No. 1

This building is currently used by Budget Car and Truck Rental, but it has significant emotional value to Calgarians and is a venerable landmark. Built in 1911, it features a beautiful red brick façade, five arched bay doors, and a bell tower.

Fire Station No. 1 represents a historical moment in municipal fire-fighting, when cities were making the shift to professional fire-fighting teams instead of volunteer brigades and were building dedicated facilities for the first time.

Fire Station No. 1 is a well-preserved example of the first generation of dedicated municipal fire-fighting stations.

This building is perfectly suited for a second life as a historical site and museum for Calgary’s emergency response units. Its large bays can display historical and current police, fire and ambulance equipment, while the rest of the building can display exhibits related to the history of Calgary’s fire-fighting, police and ambulance departments.

Mewata Armoury

The Armoury is the current home of several militia units, including:

  • The King’s Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC),
  • The Calgary Highlanders,
  • 15 (Edmonton) Field Ambulance Detachment Calgary,
  • 41 Canadian Brigade Group Influence Activities Company, and
  • A number of cadet groups.

Built in 1915, the Armoury is a large, imposing red brick structure with a front gate, corner towers and turrets. During WWI, it served as a recruiting and training facility.

Few buildings in Calgary are as commanding or well-placed as this one, especially considering that it terminates the axis and view corridor along the 8th Avenue, from the City Hall looking west.

I propose that the military and militia units could be provided with a more up-to-date building, or could continue to use part of the structure, and the remaining space could then serve as the downtown post of the Calgary Military Museum located in the Garrison Woods area of the city.

This new function would preserve the Armoury’s original purpose as serving the Canadian military, while maximizing the building’s reputation and appeal. The Armoury could also work well as a dedicated WW1 museum, capturing Calgary’s contribution to the war as well as the war’s lasting impact on the city.

These two great historical buildings in Calgary could support the revitalization process of the downtown area by drawing more visitors and acting as anchors for the cultural and social endowments of their respective areas.

This proposal is well-timed with the new plans for a contemporary arts museum in the old Planetarium building next to Mewata Armoury, and the well-known and high-traffic Bow Tower near the historic Fire Station No 1.

Source: HeRMIS at, Wikipedia

Photo credit: River Cha, Tomasz Sztuk

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