The 1950s was a decade of enormous growth for Calgary. After oil was discovered nearby in 1947, the city’s population ballooned, rising from 100,000 in 1947 to 325,000 in 1965. With that explosion of people came big architectural changes — skyscrapers sprouted up downtown, more retail stores began to dot the city and a major university took shape.

Keep scrolling to learn how the 1950s helped make Calgary the exciting city it is today.

Calgary looking east from North Hill, 1955

calgary 1950s north hill

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

You’d never know that 1950s Calgary was booming from this sleepy looking eastward view from North Hill. While some tall buildings are visible, the city’s changing face is largely hidden.

That said, North Hill itself did soon see some significant changes. Three years after the photo above was taken, Calgary’s first shopping mall was built on North Hill. Called North Hill Shopping Centre, the complex was designed as a strip centre anchored by a Simpson-Sears department store. In 1973, the mall was transformed into an enclosed building, and in 2000 another major renovation brought the addition of more shops and services.

McDougall School, 1952

calgary 1950s mcdougall school

Photo: University of Calgary Archives

Completed in 1908, the building above originally served as Alberta’s first normal school, a training centre for soon-to-be teachers. By 1922, it had been purchased by the Calgary Board of Education and reborn as McDougall School, an elementary and junior high school — it played that role until 1981, when it was decommissioned due to falling enrollment.

Today, the building is known as McDougall Centre and is a hub for provincial politics in Calgary. Last fall it received a $175,000 renovation aimed in part at restoring its sandstone exterior.

Calgary’s first house, 1956

calgary 1950s first house

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Many of Calgary’s oldest and most historically significant buildings still existed in the 1950s, and the photo above offers one example. It shows what may have been the city’s first house — built in 1882, it was looking pretty good for its age in 1956.

Calgary Public Library, 1958

calgary 1950s library

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

The Calgary Public Library officially opened on January 2nd, 1912, and enjoyed immediate popularity — during the first three months that it was open, 5,000 of the 40,000 people living in Calgary at the time became members. It wasn’t long before it was the cultural centre of the city, playing host to a huge number of educational and arts groups, from the Calgary Women’s Literary Club to the Calgary Natural History Society.

At the time the above photo was taken, the Calgary Public Library was still the city’s main library. It lost that distinction in 1963, when the six-storey W.R. Castell Library opened.

Memorial Park with Calgary Public Library in background, 1955

calgary 1950s memorial park

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Like the Calgary Public Library, Memorial Park was completed in 1912. The land it sits on was donated by Canada’s federal government, and the park itself was designed to look like a formal Victorian garden — features include geometric pathways, elaborate flower beds and rows of imported and native trees.

Although they aren’t visible in the photo above, Memorial Park is home to several monuments, including a cenotaph, statues commemorating World War I and the Boer War and a memorial honoring Richard Bedford Bennett, Canada’s 11th prime minister. The park got its name in 1928 after the cenotaph was unveiled on Remembrance Day.

First hospital in Calgary, 1958

calgary 1950s hospital

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

This 1958 photo shows Calgary’s first hospital. Opened in 1890, it was located in a two-storey frame house — in fact, according to The Calgary Herald, it didn’t even have an operating room. When necessary, staff simply used the dining room.

Unsurprisingly, the city soon found it needed a larger hospital, and the facility was moved to a larger building in 1895. After the move, the original hospital building became a residence. It was demolished not long after the above 1958 photo was taken.

University of Alberta, Calgary Branch under construction, 1958

calgary 1950s university 1

Photo: University of Calgary Archives

The Edmonton-based University of Alberta opened up a Calgary branch in 1946, and quickly found it needed to expand. Calgary’s city council provided a bigger location for the branch in 1955, and building officially began in 1958 — in the photo above, the Arts and Education and Science and Engineering buildings are under construction.  

Work at the new site was completed in 1960, and in 1966 the branch gained autonomy from the University of Alberta, becoming the University of Calgary. This year the school is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

University of Alberta, Calgary Branch, 1958

calgary 1950s university 2

Photo: University of Calgary Archives

The above 1958 photo shows the west wing of the Education Building at the University of Alberta, Calgary Branch. The building is at the original campus, not the new campus that was under construction at the time.

Loblaw’s store under construction, 1958

calgary 1950s loblaws

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Today Loblaw Companies is Canada’s leading food and pharmacy company, with six independent divisions and close to 200,000 employees. But back in 1958 the company was a little newer — it had only just been incorporated, and was preparing to launch a stamp-based customer loyalty program.

The photo above was taken from Devenish Apartments, a complex with 57 three- and five-bedroom homes. When it was built in 1911 it was advertised as the “finest and most up-to-date structure of its kind.”

Central High School, 1958

calgary 1950s central high

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Central High School was nearing the end of its life when this 1958 photo was taken. Originally called the Calgary Collegiate Institute, it opened in September 1908 with 120 students and four university-educated staff. Enrolment grew rapidly at first, with additions to the school including a four-room sandstone building and an Egyptian revival-style gym, but in June 1965 the school was closed due to a lack of students.  

Residence of Calgary’s first farmer, 1958

calgary 1950s farm house

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Known for being Calgary’s first farmer — and sometimes referred to as the city’s first citizen — Sam Livingston was born in Ireland and came to North America in search of gold in California. After failing to strike it rich, he headed north and eventually settled with his wife and children about four miles from the confluence of Calgary’s Elbow and Bow rivers. There he turned his full attention to farming.

The photo above is a 1958 shot of one the buildings that the Livingston family lived in. It was originally made of logs, but was later stuccoed.

Car dump northeast of Calgary, 1957

calgary 1950s garbage

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Plenty of growth was going on in 1950s Calgary, but with growth some things must be discarded. This car dump in the northeast of the city is a perfect example of that cycle.

Eaton’s store and 8th Avenue Southwest, 1959

calgary 1950s eatons

Photo: Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Collection

When Eaton’s officially opened in Calgary in 1929 it was a huge event — the store had between 400 and 500 staff, and it’s estimated that over 5,000 customers passed through the building’s four main entrances during the first half hour of opening day. In the 1950s, Eaton’s was still thriving in the city, and a large addition was made to its north side.

Wondering about the Union Jack flags pictured above? The store was decorated for a royal visit from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. While in town, they visited the Calgary Stampede, where the queen reportedly handled herself regally, even in the face of dirt, wind and noise.

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