Wednesday, December 6, 2023

“Texas in Canada”: A history of the city of Calgary

The city of Calgary in the province of Alberta is an important financial, commercial and industrial center of Canada. The headquarters of many enterprises of the oil refinery industry are concentrated here. Due to the huge oil reserves that were discovered in Calgary in the middle of the 20th century, the city was given the name “Texas in Canada”. Continue to  calgary-future.

The first settlements

Before Europeans settled in the territory of Calgary, habitations of pre-Clovisian culture lived there. 

In 1787, 17-year-old cartographer David Thompson spent the winter in this area with a group they lived near the Bow River. Thompson became the first European to visit these lands. But the first documented European settler was John Glenn, who came here in 1873. 

In 1759, Britain conquered New France and, after the Paris Peace Agreement, began to populate the former French colony of Canada with English-speaking residents. In 1875, the North-West Mounted Police built their fort here to protect the western plains from American traders, as well as to protect the fur trade.

The post was originally named Fort Brisbois, but in 1876 Colonel James MacLeod renamed it Fort Calgary. This name was given in honor of a village on the Isle of Mull (Scotland). Why the village in Scotland was named that way is not known for sure, but there is a version that the expression kald gart means “cold garden” in the Old Icelandic language. This is what the Vikings could call the area. According to another version, the name comes from the Gaelic expression cala ghearraidh (“meadow on the shore”).

In 1877, the British and Canadian governments signed a peace agreement with the Indians, and animal breeding began to develop in the region. In 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was built here and a railway station was established, since then Calgary has developed into a significant commercial and agricultural center.

The city status and a string of troubles

In 1884, Calgary received the status of a city, then its population was only a few hundred people, and according to the census of 1891, it increased to 3,876. Residents elected their first mayor – George Murdoch.

In 1886, there was a large-scale fire that destroyed part of the city center. Then the new city council drafted a by-law that required all major buildings in downtown Calgary to be constructed of sandstone. Prominent local businessmen have opened several quarries around the city.

In 1889, real estate speculation began in Calgary. Speculators bought and built buildings west of Main Street, angering property owners on the east side of the city. The eastern side was used for livestock purposes.

In June 1892, an outbreak of smallpox occurred in Calgary. Calgarians blamed the local Chinese population for this. On August 2, 1892, there was even a revolt: residents attacked the places where the Chinese lived and worked, breaking windows and trying to burn the buildings to the ground. The local police did not try to intervene.

Despite such troubles and complex stages, the city became a major center for the transportation of cattle with cattlemen, slaughterhouses, tanneries and meat processing plants. These early commercial and industrial enterprises gave Calgary a strong reputation as a “cow city”.

Creation of educational institutions

On September 1, 1905, Alberta was declared a province with Edmonton as its temporary capital. And although the politician William Henry Cushing was strongly in favor of Calgary, Edmonton still got the upper hand.

Disappointed, Calgarians decided to focus their attention on creating a provincial university. However, community efforts failed to influence the government, so the University of Alberta was founded in Strathcona. But a provincial normal school was opened in Calgary. In 1916, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) was also established here, a polytechnic institute that created educational programs in the fields of technology, commerce and business.

Development of Calgary and the implementation of communications

At this time, built-up areas of Calgary were already served by electricity and water. The city continued the paving and asphalting program and built the subway with the CPR. The first three buses rolled out onto  the streets of Calgary in 1907, and two years later Calgary opened a municipal street railway system. This street railway system reached 250,000 passengers per month until 1910.

In 1907, the private MacArthur Bridge was opened – the predecessor of the bridge on Central Street over the Bow River. This preceded the expansion of residential development north of the river. In the early 1910s, real estate speculation began again in the city, when housing prices increased significantly.

1906–1911 marked the greatest period of population growth in the city’s history, with the population increasing from 11,967 to 43,704. During these five years, several ambitious projects were begun, such as the new City Hall, the Hudson’s Bay Department Stores, building of grain exchange and the Palliser Hotel.

By the way, Palliser Hotel was named after Captain John Palliser, who explored this region in the 1850s. The hotel was built of stone, steel, reinforced concrete and brick. It was opened without any pomp or ceremony on June 1, 1914. The first registered guest was Charles Walsh Rowley, a banker from Winnipeg. The building had 8 floors, and in 1929 another 4 floors were added. With the addition of these floors, the hotel became the tallest building in Calgary. He held that title until Elveden Center eclipsed Palliser in 1958.

Furthermore, after the 1910s, the era of the “Sandstone City” was coming to an end with steel frames and terracotta facades like the Burns Building.

Calgary Stampede Festival

In the past, agricultural exhibitions were held in Calgary, which were successful. American-Canadian cowboy Guy Weadick decided to hold the first Calgary Stampede here in 1912 in hopes of creating an event that would represent the “wild west.” With the help of a local livestock agent, Wedic convinced businessmen to provide $100,000 to fund the event.

The city built a rodeo arena on the exhibition area, and more than 100,000 people attended the six-day event in September 1912 to watch hundreds of cowboys from Western Canada, the United States and Mexico compete for $20,000 in prizes. The event generated $120,000 in revenue and was deemed a success.

Since then, the Calgary Stampede Festival has been held annually in July and has been called “the biggest outdoor show.” During the festival, you can see a parade, stage shows, a wild west rodeo, Indian tribal dances, concerts and a fair.

The beginning of the oil and gas era in the city

Agriculture and railroad activity were dominant aspects of Calgary’s early economy. However, on May 14, 1914, the Turner Valley well exploded southwest of Calgary, marking the beginning of Calgary’s oil and gas era.

The opening of Archibald Wayne Dingman and the Calgary Petroleum Product was declared “the largest oil field in the British Empire”, in 3 weeks there were almost 500 oil companies. Calgarians enthusiastically invested in the new oil companies, some even doing it too hastily, causing them to lose all their savings.

The outbreak of World War I reduced the oil frenzy as many left for Europe. The Turner Valley oil fields began to flourish in 1924 and 1936, and by World War II these fields produced over 95% of Canada’s oil.

In 1947, a major discovery of crude oil near Leduc (Leduc No. 1) led to an oil development boom in Western Canada and eventually transformed Calgary into an oil and gas city. The province of Alberta has become one of the richest in the country. At the national level, this discovery allowed Canada to become self-sufficient and a major oil exporter.

Many corporate offices were opened in Calgary. By 1967, it had more millionaires than any other city in Canada and more cars per capita than any other city in the world.

Center of political activity

At the beginning of the 20th century Calgary was a heart of political activity. Historically, Calgarians have supported the provincial and federal Conservative parties, while residents of neighboring Edmonton have been supporters of the Liberals.

Calgarians supported the development of working organizations. In 1909, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) formed a non-partisan lobbying organization in Calgary to represent the interests of farmers. UFA representatives quickly abandoned the non-party aspect of the organization and began to participate in the provincial elections of 1921, forming the first non-liberal provincial government.

After World War I, the city experienced a 6-year recession, when the demand for manufacturing decreased, and therefore the unemployment rate increased. The situation got worse  by the fact that many servicemen had returned from Europe, they all needed work. By 1921, more than 2,000 men were officially unemployed. Trade union organizations began to nominate their candidates for the city council and quickly achieved success. For example, Samuel Hunter Adams became mayor in 1920.

In 1922, in contrast to the growing influence of labor groups, the Labor Civil Government Association was formed. However, the influence of Labor on the city council was short-lived, the candidates did not receive significant support. Most of the citizens continued to be supporters of the labor and agricultural groups.

In 1930, Richard Bennett’s Conservative Party won the federal elections and formed the government. Bennett became the 11th Prime Minister of Canada and the first Premier from Calgary. Previously, he headed the provincial Conservative Party, advocated for Calgary to become the capital of Alberta, and supported the development of the city in every way.

Economic growth and collapse

In the 1970s, the  energy crisis happened in the city, which gave impetus to the development of Calgary. As a result of economic growth and population growth, high-rise buildings began to be actively built. A flurry of construction resulted in more office space being opened in Calgary in 1979 than in New York and Chicago combined. In 1984, the construction of the Petro-Canada Center was completed – an energy center with an all-glass construction of two office towers. During construction, a local dispute arose when no Canadian bids were received to supply the exterior granite cladding, leading to the use of $500,000 worth of Finnish granite, which was cut and polished in Italy and shipped to a site in Calgary for installation. After the complex was completed, a writer in the Calgary Herald described the buildings as “a $200 million, two-tower monument to socialism.”

However, the economic boom could not last forever. Oil and grain prices collapsed. In 1983, Calgary City Council announced service cuts, unemployment rose from 5 to 11% in just one year, and the city’s population declined for the first time in the city’s history. In addition, 3,331 buildings were foreclosed by financial institutions in 1983. Low oil prices in the 1980s prevented a full economic recovery until the 1990s.

Sport achievements

On May 21, 1980, Canadian businessman Nelson Skalbania bought the Atlanta Flames hockey team for $16 million and moved it to Calgary, where it was renamed the Calgary Flames. The team was an immediate success, making the playoffs every year in their first 10 years in Calgary. The Flames did not win a Stanley Cup in 1986 with the Montreal Canadiens, but did win their only Stanley Cup in 1989.

On September 30, 1981, the International Olympic Committee voted to award Calgary the right to host the 1988 Winter Olympics. Calgary became the first Canadian city to host the Winter Games.

The Scotiabank Saddledome sports complex was the main place for ice hockey and figure skating. The Olympic Oval was built on the territory of the University of Calgary. It was the first fully enclosed 400-meter skating rink in the world, as it was needed to protect against possible low temperatures or wind. During the games, seven world and three Olympic records were broken, as a result of which the structure was called “the fastest ice on Earth.”

The Canadian Olympic Park was built on the western edge of Calgary, where bobsleigh, luge, ski jumping and freestyle were played. It was the most expensive facility built for the Olympic Games, costing $200 million.

Although Canada failed to win a gold medal at the Olympics, the events proved to be a major economic boom. It turned out that the games brought in 1.4 billion Canadian dollars in economic benefits across Canada as early as the 1980s, and in particular, in Alberta itself, as the influx of tourists began, new attractions were built that caught the attention of the world.

Economic prosperity and a large-scale flood

Due in part to escalating oil prices, Calgary and Alberta’s economy boomed by the end of 2009, and the region of nearly 1.1 million people was the fastest growing economy in the country. While the oil and gas industry remained an important component, the city invested heavily in other areas as well, such as tourism and high-tech manufacturing.

More than 3.1 million people have come to visit Calgary each year because of the many festivals and attractions, especially the Calgary Stampede. The nearby mountain resort towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore have also become popular with tourists.On June 21, 2013, heavy rainfall triggered a catastrophic flood that the provincial government called the worst in Alberta’s history. Areas along the Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Spike, Little Bow and South Saskatchewan rivers were particularly affected.

Approximately 2,200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed to assist in flooded areas in addition to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Alberta Sheriff’s Department. A total of 32 local states of emergency were declared and 28 emergency operations centers were activated, and numerous communities were ordered to evacuate. Large areas of Calgary, along with its city center, were without power for a while.

It has been confirmed that 5 people have died directly as a result of the flooding and over 100,000 people have been forced from their homes across the region. Total damage estimates exceeded C$5 billion, and in terms of insured losses, the 2013 Alberta floods were the costliest disaster in Canadian history until the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires.

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