My bed and breakfast, Mount Royal Bed and Breakfast, stood in the heart of the historic Mount Royal area, a wonderful neighborhood of hilly terrain in which to stroll along tree-lined streets. It was here that I discovered a collection of 20th-century mansions, some of which are among the city’s most beautiful buildings. A quick walk into downtown Calgary, however, also led to some noteworthy structures. These are my favorites.
#1 Lougheed House
Preserved on nearly three acres in the middle of Calgary, this elegant 1891 sandstone mansion with a red-tile roof stands as a reminder of what the city was like when its population was only 4,000 (now it’s more than one million) and glittering skyscrapers did not dominate the downtown. Surrounded by a gracious terrace and finely kept grounds, including flower and vegetable gardens, Lougheed House was built for Senator James Lougheed, his wife, their six children, and, of course, their staff. Among the most influential families in Calgary, the Lougheeds hosted renowned visitors — lords and ladies and European princes among them — over the decades, and their house became the political and social hub of the growing city. Nothing lasts forever, of course, and the Great Depression left the family unable to pay the property taxes on their real estate holdings. In 1934, the city took legal title to the house. Since then, Lougheed House served as the temporary home for women attending a youth employment training program, barracks for the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and a Red Cross headquarters. The province of Alberta purchased it in 1977, and in 2005, the Lougheed House Conservation Society opened the property to visitors. I took the self-guided tour of the 14,000-square-foot mansion. Even though a 1938 public auction resulted in the disbursement of the mansion’s contents, I was still impressed by what remains: highly polished wood columns, the original stained glass, finely detailed plaster ceilings, and an ornate Victorian piano organ. Still relevant, still beautiful, Lougheed House is easily the city’s most attractive building.
#2 Fairmont Palliser
Although I wasn’t staying at the Fairmont Palliser as one of its guests, this premier hotel warranted a visit. Calgary’s oldest and most luxurious hotel opened on June 1, 1914, after three years of construction in the heart of the city at a cost of $1.5 million. Originally one of the luxurious hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, it was named after Captain John Palliser, an explorer in the region in the 1850s. Designed in the Edwardian style, the building’s original eight stories were expanded to 11 in 1929, making it the tallest building in the city until 1958. Shaped like a capital E with a few balconets, the three wings offer plenty of fenestration for the guests in the hotel’s 407 rooms and gives the impression of the grain elevators found throughout Alberta. Inside, I explored the elegant lobby, with its crystal chandeliers, marble columns, blue and beige carpet, and comfortable seating — a wonderful setting in which to relax or to hide out on a frigid Calgary winter day. And anyone enjoying a cocktail in the Oak Room Bar and Lounge will enjoy it more, knowing that this hotel was one of the first two establishments in all of Alberta to receive a liquor license once the province abolished Prohibition in 1924.
#3 Knox United Church
Unofficially called “the cathedral of the West,” Knox United Church today is dwarfed by towering glass and steel boxes. But when it opened in 1912, Knox was a prominent fixture in the Calgary skyline, although its original mission surely was not in line with its reputation today as a leader in helping homeless people, welcoming the LGBT community, working with authors and playwrights through its Knox Centre Theatre Collective, and serving as a fine venue for musical concerts, thanks largely to its Casavant Frères organ, one of the largest in western Canada. The sandstone building features a sturdy corner bell tower and its most riveting feature, a huge stained-glass window above the main entrance. This Memorial Window depicts humanity’s suffering below the feet of the risen Christ, getting progressively more human, and more violent, the farther down I looked. He is surrounded by angels and cherubs in devotional poses. Below them, knights clad in armor represent such virtues as nobility, honor, and brotherly love, and the knight bearing the Red Cross banner represents charity. Under them, scenes of war disturb the divinity of everything above it: a firing cannon, a burning village church, a wounded Canadian soldier in the arms of a nurse, a dying solider about to meet his savior. Finally, at the bottom, a horizontal homage to the region and its history spans the width of the window, with panels depicting a beaver and maple leaf, an English rose, and the shield of Alberta. The central panels contain the inscription, “To the glory of God — and in loving memory of the heroes of Knox Church — who fell in the Great War.”
#4 Old City Hall
Calgary’s plain glass City Hall can’t hold a candle to its predecessor — although you won’t be able to see the original for a while. Currently under scaffolding for a multi-year $34 million renovation, the old City Hall was completed in 1911, after a fire in 1886 destroyed many of the city’s wooden buildings and a bylaw mandated that all major downtown buildings be built of a fireproof material. Architect William Dodd designed the sandstone structure in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, but cost overruns ended up costing him his job. His design, however, endured, and the only surviving civic hall erected in western Canada before 1930 was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984, a mark of distinction I greatly appreciated as I admired the octagonal dome, small lanterns, mansard roof, deeply recessed front entrance with double ionic columns, and especially the 100-foot clock tower, with a pyramidal roof and chimes that ring every 30 minutes, which remains one of the city’s most esteemed landmarks.
#5 Stringer House
Like a cottage that a wealthier Snow White or Goldilocks might reside in, the Stringer House hides behind some generous foliage in the Mount Royal neighborhood. This 3,000-square-foot residence was constructed in 1909 for local businessman and real estate developer Bert A. Stringer, who ran into some financial difficulties and began renting out rooms as early as 1916, but he managed to hold on and reside in the house until his death in 1934. The red brick home with a sandstone base is a charming mixture of Queen Anne and craftsman styles. I admired the front triangular gable dormer with Palladian window and especially the round corner tower with Gothic windows and a bell-shaped roof with a quirky window. For a moment, I felt as if I had stepped into one of the Grimms’ fairy tales.