Walking along Fourth Street in Calgary, it’s easy to forget that it didn’t always look like the bustling avenue of shops, restaurants, amenities and bars that it is today. There is a rich history in Calgary that we want to share with you! We also want to acknowledge that Mission is built in Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina, Metis and Ktunaxa territory land.
144 years ago, in 1875, the nuns and priests of Mary Immaculate arrived and built a small log cabin on the banks of the Elbow River. Shortly after they established this, the North West Mounted Police arrived and began construction of Fort Calgary. This cabin became known as the Mission of Notre Dame de la Prix (Our Lady of Peace) and the center of the French-Catholic life, education, and healthcare. This is unique due to the fact it is one of the earliest non-Native settlements in Calgary, and for the fact it preserved a Francophone community in a widely Anglophone area of Alberta.
Growing from humble beginnings, the Mission eventually founded the Holy Cross Hospital, among other institutions. The Sisters ran the Holy Cross Hospital from 1891 – 1969, at which point the hospital was given to the province. Eventually, Mission (then known as Rouleauville) was annexed into Calgary and become known as Mission in honour of the French-Catholic community.
The Mission community was widely shaped by the building of sub-divisions in the early 20th century. In 1908 through ‘til 1914, there was an unprecedented sense of economic optimism in Western Canada – something Alberta is generally known for! Real estate boomed and building activity matched this fever pitch. By 1909, 4th Street enjoyed a brand new streetcar route allowing citizens even greater access to the new, plentiful amenities in this neighbourhood.
After World War II, the economy slowed and many of the older, historic buildings were demolished to make way for apartments and office space. However, this trend reversed in the 1970s when the value of historic buildings began to be recognized in Calgary. Many of these older homes have since been restored and are used today! It is possible to find a connection to the area’s Francophone past, in the shops, restaurants, and bars and buildings they inhabit.
McHugh House (1515 Centre Street S)
One of Calgary’s best known historic houses; McHugh House is constructed in the late 1890s in the Queen Anne Revival style, which was a very popular choice for Victorian homes. This home was owned by John Joseph (J.J.) McHugh who dabbled in everything from ranching, surveying, railway construction and mining contracting for the historic Lille Collieries (coal mines). His successful business prowess also led him to work in the Department of Indian Affairs as a farm instructor and assistant inspector of the Reserves.
The McHugh House was owned by the family until 1921, at which time it was sold to a stream of owners. In 1960, the house was sold to the Congregation of Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes who turned it into a group home for troubled youth – one of the first in Calgary!
The House of Israel (102 18 Avenue SE)
This beautiful white washed building was built in 1929 for the growing Jewish community in Calgary. The first Jewish settlers, Jacob Diamond – a wine merchant – and his family, arrived in 1889. The House of Israel was planned to accommodate many different kinds of organizations, including the Calgary Hebrew School, as well as be a synagogue for local community members. The building featured many round arches and Art Deco details, many of which were sadly lost when the building was renovated in 1949.
After serving the Jewish community for many years, including the Beth Israel congregation, it remained vacant until 1998 at which point the building was renovated and enlarged for use as condos. You can still see the original facade when you walk by today!
St. Mary’s Parish Hall (141 18 Avenue SW)
Today you might recognize the Parish Hall as the home to the Alberta Ballet, but this building was initially built in 1905 by the Oblate Fathers to complement St. Mary’s Church. It quickly became a community hub, serving as a community centre and village hall for Rouleauville (Calgary). The building features many of the elements of the Baroque Revival Style which was favoured by the Roman Catholic Church at this time, including round-arched windows and a false-front facade made of sandstone.
The Canadian Railway almost had the building demolished as part of its expansion plans, but (fortunately), the plans changed and the building itself became the railway station. The Diocese attempted many times to buy it back, but the Canadian Railway refused; eventually, they sold it to the city in 1979. In 1985, the building reopened as home of the Alberta Ballet, which has been there ever since.
Young Block (2120 4 Street SW)
Now home to a local favourite, Original Joe’s, Young Block wasn’t always home to restaurants! Built in 1912 by James Young, a local business owner to house both his family and business (which, until then, was located across the street in the Wright Building). Capitalizing on the boom, his home was the most elegant on the street. The main floor was a retail space for his print shop, and other businesses, while the top floor was a large apartment for his family – it even had a balcony in the rear to enjoy the sunny Calgary summers.
James sold the building in 1918 when he moved his family to Oregon, and he’s not particularly remembered in Calgary now. However, his building lives on despite over 100 years of various uses. Next time you’re enjoying a drink at Original Joe’s, make sure to give a toast to the Young family!
There are plenty of other historic buildings still standing, and in use, in the Mission area. Do you have a favourite historic building, or memory of one, along 4th Street? We would love to see! Share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.