Alexandra School is located just east of downtown Calgary in the historic neighbourhood of Inglewood. Just over a century old, the building looks good, in spite of some ugly additions, and today is used as a community centre. The “then” image is from an old post card dated 1908 and it shows the building plus three houses on the street behind. Surprisingly, everything seen in that old photo exists to this day and while the school looks different than it did, in many ways, the houses have changed very little. They’re instantly recognizable.
In the “now” pictures we were unable to duplicate the original angle at all – those additions mentioned got in he way.
The building dates from 1902, and was Calgary’s second school constructed of sandstone. There were many so built and the city is famous for them. Known originally as the East Ward School, the name was changed to Alexandra a few years later, in honour Alexandra of Denmark (Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia – whew!), the wife of King Edward VII.
Around the time the postcard image was shot, the school was doubled in size and the new annex, a mirror image of the front, was added in the back. This extension followed the same architectural style as the first and used the same sandstone material, and unless you look hard, you won’t see the seam between them.
In the early 1950s, an ugly cinder-block gymnasium addition was constructed at the front of the building. I didn’t even bother photographing that part, I hated it. The school was closed in the early 1960s, save for that gymnasium which was used for community events. The rest of the building soon fell into disrepair and was for much of that time boarded up.
Saved in the mid 1970s by the group that still manages it to this day, the Alexandra Centre Society, the building is used for community events, as a day care centre, a health centre and for artist’s workshops.
The Alexandra is one of many sandstone schools that were built in Calgary, most of which look similar overall in architectural style. Some are still used as schools and others have been repurposed for other uses, like this one. This author in fact attended one of these schools in the 1970s (Sunalta). All were built prior to 1914 and of the nineteen originally constructed all most all of those remain. This one was the second of this type constructed.
Typical of the era, these schools had separate girl’s and boy’s entrances which is clearly seen in the postcard. None were built with gymnasiums although all had one added at some point – sometimes the addition was not so well executed, as was the case here – don’t get me started how ugly it is.
You’ll notice in the postcard that the street is close to the front entrance of the school. At some point, the road, 9th Avenue, a busy thoroughfare, was moved further away from the building. It’s not known when this happened.
The sandstone used in this building was sourced not far away, coming from a steep bluff (Scotchman’s Hill) overlooking the Elbow River near the present day Stampede Park. Calgary was known as the “Sandstone City” and many buildings constructed prior to World War One used this material, with the blocks coming from any number of quarries around or near town.
Early in its history, but only for a short time, the school’s principal was none other than William (Bible Bill) Aberhart. He was a well known evangelist and later his radio program was heard far and wide. He created the Alberta Social Credit Party in 1935, and was premier of Alberta from that date until his death in 1943.
Not much is known about the houses seen behind – they were all built to the same design which of course is obvious, but when they were built is not known. And while some modification have been made to each, they all retain their overall original look, especially the centre one.
Inglewood has lots of historic buildings and one could spend a lot of time there exploring them. Across the road from the school is the old site of the “Farmer Jones Carz” car lot, a Calgary institution for years and recently closed.
This old postcard was contributed by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. Thanks reader!
To see another Calgary then and now series we created, follow this link…
Calgary then and now – Family of Man.
To see an old hotel nearby, click the link below…
The Nash aka the National Hotel.
Not far away we examined an ancient barn, and to see that report, go here…
Old barn, big city.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.