Rebuilding old Fort Calgary
Makeover respects the past, prepares for the future
ian John Ayre, on the centennial of the RCMP’s arrival here in 1875, the site was purchased by the City for $1.8 million. The buildings were removed and the contaminated site was cleaned up.
Then started the slow process of deciding what to do with the site. It wasn’t until 2000 when Sara-Jane Gruetzner was hired as the president/ CEO of Fort Calgary that a master plan was finalized. Gruetzner has stayed on get it implemented.
Though the master plan didn’t call for an exact historical recreation of the buildings on site, it does call for a mix of new buildings and monuments that will tell the story of Calgary’s birthplace.
Work is being completed on the land on the east side of the Elbow River with the restoration of the Deane House, built in1914 for Captain Deane, whose wife wouldn’t live in the fort and demanded he build her a separate house next to the fort.
Also under restoration is the Hunt House, built sometime between 1876 and 1881. It’s the only original Hudson Bay post in its original location.
A replica of the original Deane House garden is also to be created, as Deane was good friends with William Reader, Calgary’s first parks superintendent, who believed you could garden on the prairie. It’s believed the Deane/Reader garden is where the Calgary Horticultural Society was established.
Recently completed is the Elbow River Traverse ($3 million), which crosses the Elbow River just before it empties into the Bow. It creates an important link in the City’s Elbow and Bow River pathways, which are only going to get busier with more people living in the surrounding area and the new Enmax Park just south of 9th Ave. along the Elbow.
Future work includes a major glass gallery addition to the second floor of the current Fort Calgary Interpretive Centre. The gallery will be designed by Calgary architect Lorne Roberts, who specializes in historical restorations, and DIALOG, a local architectural firm working on the new Central Library. It’ll offer a spectacular, 360-degree view of downtown, the CP rail yards, Stampede Park and the con- fluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers.
There are also plans for a carved wood interpretive feature on the site of the old fort by Vancouver artist Jill Anholt.
Major Event Venue
While most of the year, Fort Calgary is perceived by many as a sleepy place, it has evolved into a major concert venue. Annual events included the two Rotarian concerts during Stam- pede, while Chasing Summer and X Fest both attract more than 15,000 attendees.
There are also a number of free events including WinterFest, Family Day, Heritage Day, Mountie Day (on the May long weekend, celebrating the anniversary of the formation of the RCMP in May 23, 1873) and, of course, Canada Day, when 20,000 Calgarians invade the fort site for family fun.
Fort Calgary is also where the Calgary Stampede marshals the horses for the Stampede Parade. I’m told it’s an amazing spectacle with 300 horses and floats calling Fort Calgary home for a night. The public is invited to visit on the Thursday night and join in the fun with a free barbecue.
As far as hosting major events in our city, Fort Calgary is on par with Prince’s Island, Olympic Plaza and Shaw Millennium Park.
In the words of CEO/president Gruetzner: “Fort Calgary is an old story with a new beginning. This is Calgary’s hallowed ground.”
Today, Fort Calgary is a popular meeting place for cyclists and walkers. Soon, 40,000 people will live in the area.
The Fort Calgary pathway along the Bow River will become a busy spot with more people living in the area.