Destructive Construction

One thing I find dismaying is the destructive construction mentality that many Calgarians have. In recent days two heritage buildings in my neighbourhood have been slated for demolition. For me, coming from a province where a great deal of value is placed on your heritage, your history and your people, I find this need to destroy to create very confusing.

Take for example a comment I heard not so long ago by someone I know. This person is having a house built because he and his wife did not want to own a house that was “used”. I’ve talked to many Calgarians who feel this way, hence the cancerous growth of housing on the prairie. The city dwellers in Calgary have never had to exist with a physical boundary nor have they ever had to really exist without.

Here are two buildings downtown that have been destroyed / slated for destruction:

Downtown Co-op

This was one of the few places that people who live on the east side of downtown could go for food. It is now gone. I remember on one of the last days it was open, an elderly woman said to the clerk at the checkout: “I have been coming here for many decades. It is within walking distance of my home.” There was no other place for her to go for food that was close and accessible.

This building had an interesting mural on the side that everyone knew about. It was a scene depicting horses grazing on the open prairie, within the boundaries of the co-op walls. It was interesting. The scene was simple yet it was so Calgary, so western, innocent and pure. After the buildings were torn down, many that I talked to lamented that they had not taken pictures of it. I have photos if anyone wants them.

Penny Lane

The first Colonel Belcher Hospital opened June 7, 1919 to help treat veterans of World War I. The location of the hospital was in the renovated Fairbanks Morse Warehouse or what Calgarians now know as Penny Lane.

Penny Lane is one of the only buildings in the downtown core that has character. It caters to the martini crowd looking for something different from the typical “square” brick and mortar that you see everywhere. It is charming and very charismatic. This building also houses Ceili’s Pub, a popular Irish Pub and is next to Cowboys another popular night club. Both are slated for destruction.

The thought is that once the new building is built (a “square” brick and mortar building) it will attract more people who will buy in the new shops and who will drink in the new Cowboys and Ceili’s. I am a bit skeptical because I live downtown and when 5 o’clock hits everyone leaves to go to the suburbs. Why would you want to shop and then drink in the downtown core when you can’t drive home afterwards? Six o’clock hits and the downtown core is the dead zone. Many a business has gone under because of this.

In the James Bond move The World is Not Enough Electra King (Sophie Marceau) says after telling her pipeline construction crews to build around a historical site: “The pipeline is our future but it would be a shame to destroy what little is left of our past.” A powerful message, not to preserve but to find the wisdom to maintain balance between the two. Penny Lane was that balance in the downtown core and now it is being taken away.

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