At the extreme west end of downtown, the Mewata Armoury is a Calgary landmark and has sat at this location for almost a century. Architecturally a stunning building, this brick and sandstone structure is a ceremonial and training base for a number of Canadian Forces regiments and groups.
Built at the height of World War One, the building is one of many hundreds of armouries, or drill halls that were constructed across Canada in the first couple decades of the twentieth century. Designed as a recruitment centre, training base and practice and lecture hall, it serves all these same functions to this very day.
Looking solid and near impregnable, notable features seen on the Mewata Armoury (and on other Armouries elsewhere) include a rugged castellated exterior with turrets, towers, battlements and narrow slit windows. A large troop door leads to a massive main hall, both broad and with a very high unobstructed ceiling. Other rooms in the building include offices, storage areas, recreation rooms, commissaries, shooting ranges and the like (and a bowling alley I am told).
At one time, the second floor had living quarters for soldiers training or based here.
The first image is from a postcard supplied by a reader of this blog (thanks John Williams) and it shows the Mewata Armoury at some undermined date. I’d say the early 1920s – given the lack of buildings that by the later part of that decade that would have encroached on the area. But that’s only a guess.
We make an attempt to duplicate that earlier shot and do a pretty decent job of it. The only difference is that some buildings in the area now block the overall view – that’s not surprising since we are on the edge of downtown and open areas are few and far between. When built, it would have been a many blocks from the core and in fact the area around it was once a residential neighbourhood.
I find it surprising how little the building has changed between those two shots and one would be hard pressed to find even one difference. Well, at least one significant difference.
This report is not a full study of the building, but let’s take some time to briefly explore the complex…
Sitting out front of the building are some displays, the most prominent one being a World War Two era Sherman Tank resting on a Bailey Bridge (a portable and easily erected temporary span). This is in honour of the 33rd Field Engineer Squadron, a company who would have been responsible for the placement of such bridges.
Nearby is another display, a small tracked personal carrier, but it was blocked by some vehicles and could not be seen well.
Some exercises were going when we visited, both inside and out. Peering through the big troop door, we could see cadets in training. Outside in the field to the west, a number of soldiers were practising winter manoeuvres and one drill had them transporting (on toboggans) and then setting up some large canvas tents.
A plaque over the main door lists those regiments and cadet groups that use or have used the facility. These include The 41st Canadian Brigade Group, The King’s Own Calgary Regiment, The Calgary Highlanders, 2137 Army Cadets and the 604 Moose Squadron Air Cadets. The King’s Own and the Highlanders both date from 1910 and are a reconnaissance and a mounted light infantry regiment respectively (mounted – originally horses, now armoured vehicles).
In the past other groups have been based out of the Armoury and these include The South Alberta Light Horse, The 19th Alberta Dragoons and The 746 Communications Squadron.
The building is sometimes refereed to as The Mewata Drill Hall, The Mewata Militia Base or The Calgary Drill Hall or as in the postcard, The Armouries, Mewata Park. The word Mewata is First Nations word (Cree) loosely meaning “Joy”. At times the hall is rented out for events and for one I recall a model train show there in the 1990s.
Note the old trolley tracks seen in the first image. Calgary had an extensive trolley system from 1909-1950. In the postcard the trolley wires must have been airbrushed out (before we had Photoshop) since none are seen. Track diagrams from the 1920s show a loop ending at Mewata but by the mid 1940s (the next map I could find), that track was no longer in place – there was however a line a couple blocks away.
The building is a recognized historic site and has been since the mid 1980s.
To see another building in Calgary that kind of shares some architectural features with the Mewata Armoury, follow this link…
Calgary then and now – Devenish Apartments.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.