History of Calgary
In 1875 a foot weary troop of North West Mounted
Policemen topped the valley rim and
saw what they were looking for: two clean rivers, forests of spruce
and Douglas Fir on
the shady north face, poplars tracking the river's edge. It was the
ideal place to build a
fort, and though they had no reason to look that far ahead, it was the
ideal place to build a city too.
First called simply "The Elbow" or "Bow River
Fort" then briefly "Brisebois" by Inspector
A.E.Brisebois. This was not acceptable to Brisebois's superior
officers and Colonel James McLeod
came up with the alternate title "Calgary" after his home in the
The fort happened at Calgary because of whisky
and the Indian tribes abused by its
trade, but Calgary formed around quite different purposes. The rich
grassy foothills to
the west, fescue grasses in the rolling land to the northeast, the
vast grass prairie to the
east and southeast. The robe trade had removed the free roaming
buffalo from the
grasslands, so the Canadian government decided to use grass and cattle
as a first stage
in the process of colonization and opened the territory to ranching.
The railway came in 1883 and pioneer ranchers
poured in from across Canada and
beyond. In 1884, with a population of 4,000, Calgary was officially
proclaimed a city
Its first boom was on.
Calgary started out looking like most western
towns: a series of wood frame houses,
usually two story, with the occasional wooden church steeples and a
city hall clock
tower. The town was destined for a change, that change came in the
form of the great
fire of 1886.
Fire fighters did their best, but a large portion
of town burned down in spite of them.
The results were, those about to build considered materials more fire
proof than wood. The
answer was found sticking from the banks of the Bow in several nearby
The cool, yellow stone was not only practical,
it was attractive and for more than
twenty years, local quarries couldn't quarry fast enough to keep up
with the demand. Calgary
was suddenly a city with an image, "The Sandstone City" an image
other cities and arguable superior. Building in sandstone became more
than mere fashion,
each school, bank or private mansion built from it was a contribution
to identity, an act of local patriotism.
By 1912 , it had a reliable supply of natural
gas, it had a street railway, it had a
vaudeville house and a 1500 seat, first class theatre, the Sherman
At the peak of the surge in 1912, with 47,000
people living in Calgary, something
happened that was destined to out last the Sandstone.
A cowboy promoter by the name of Guy Weadick
talked four of the most powerful men
from the Calgary area into financially backing an experiment called
Stampede. "The Big Four", Pat Burns, Archie McLean, George Lane and
planted the seeds of what was to grow into the Greatest Outdoor Show
Although one in every three citizens turned out
for that stampede, it still lost money.
Weadick did not return to try again until 1919. Since then, the
Calgary Show has
never looked back. In 1923, it was merged with the Calgary Industrial
Exhibition to become
the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. for 10 days each July, Calgarians
put away their
business suits, grab their white Stetsons and join one million visitor
s for a noisy
celebration of the Old West.
After 1913, the boom in Calgary real estate faltered and the sandstone was exhausted.
The cost of adding to the city's sandstone image eclipsed the desire
to do so.
Just when it seemed that Calgary might have to
content itself with a less than dynamic
future, oil made its presence known in 1914 with the Dingman well
in nearby Turner
Valley. This was to be one of the shortest booms ever, lasting from
May to August
1914, coming to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of World War I.
The first World War hit Calgary hard thousands
of young men left to join the war
effort, hundreds would not return.
In 1924 the roar of high pressure oil and gas
erupting from a drill stem, Royalite drilled
below the Dingman well and struck it rich. Through '25 and '26, well
after well was
sunk and the flares from the successes were so brilliant that it was
nearly daylight at
midnight in Calgary, twenty miles away. In Calgary, life took up
where it had left of in 1914. This
boom would not begin to sputter until 1927.
The Depression of the 30's hit Calgary hard,
those with savings weathered the 30's
best, but thanks to a penchant for speculation, Calgarians had
The Depression ended in 1939 with the start of
World War II, the strong demand for
oil drained the Turner Valley oilfield south of Calgary. The
effects of the war on Calgary
differed little from those on other Canadian cities. Many young men
lift to fight, to
many didn't return. At the end of the war, the long pent desire to
get rolling again, to know
prosperity in peacetime, was as strong in Calgary as anywhere, and
Calgary had the
gift in the ground to do it with. Turner Valley wasn't going to last
forever, but it wasn't the
only oil formation in Alberta either. In 1947, oil was found at
Leduc and, though the field
was only fifteen miles from Edmonton, Calgary managed to keep an
administrative grip on
the bonanza that followed.
In the 50's Calgary became the fastest growing
city in Canada and it stayed that way
for a long time. From 100,000 in 1947, it mushroomed to 200,000 by
1955 and 325,000
The growth continued to center on oil, with
reliable and constant help from the
agricultural industries. The establishment as oil capital in the
heyday of Turner Valley held, and as
the oil patch spread across provincial boundaries and into the
untapped North, Calgary
remained the heart of the industry.
After the formation of OPEC sent oil prices spiraling upward in the 70's, a fresh boom
began in Calgary making past booms look tame.
At the peak of the boom, 3000 people a month
were arriving in Calgary. Old Calgary,
what little was left, was being smashed down by the city block to
make way for the
new. The pressure to accommodate the boom was such that there really
wasn't time for
master planning. The buildings were approved with little thought
given to the views to the
relationship of one building to the rest.
The recession that had much of the rest of the
world in its grip finally found Calgary in
1982. Some would say the recession was brought on by : the federal
National Energy Program , the failing cohesiveness of OPEC,
Reaganomics, or a
world oil glut. Whatever the cause the boom in Calgary had come to
an end and was going
the other way. Minute vacancy rates shot up to 20% for office space
employment became 15% unemployment and the trains going east were
the ones coming west.
Stereotypes live long and its hard to
change them. Calgary has been known from the
beginning as a cow town and still has that wild west image. The
reality, is to expect a
forest of Manhattan like sky scrapers, one will see the impressive
and monumental new
municipal building nest to the well preserved sandstone structure of
old City Hall. The
Olympics has left us with the legacy of the country's best hockey
arena, the Saddle dome.
The speed skating oval is simply a marvel of architecture and
technology, only the second
covered structure of this kind in the world. We are proud of a large
and still growing
university and three institutions of college rank. A new, very
functional rapid transit system
links residential areas with downtown in minutes. But the Calgary of
today will welcome
you to our city with a traditional, warm "Howdy ".
With Calgary's large ethnic presence, one can
delight themselves with the best gourmet meals
and a variety of events virtually from around the would.
Welcome to Calgary
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