The former Riverside Iron Works site in the historic neighbourhood of Ramsay has found a new lease on life and some of the old buildings are being converted into offices and studios. Once a ratty old factory, gritty and dirty, parts have been cleaned up and remodelled and look as good as new. It’s a revival combining the wonderful architecture of old, with the new.
The factory seen in this report is one of the original buildings in the large Riverside Iron Works complex. Built in 1927 the company produced all manner of formed, cast and forged metal products here. After only a couple years, they were taken over by the huge Dominion Bridge Company who continued to use the buildings and the new ones they added over time, until the 1980s when they closed their Calgary factory. After that, it became an industrial park of sorts, home to a number of fabricating firms.
Products made at Riverside Iron Works included various type of mining, industrial, petroleum related, and agricultural equipment. If it was made of metal Riverside did and could make it and their output was incredibly diverse.
An example of this…this author has seen photos at the Glenbow Archives showing mine hoists and coal mine cars made at the factory. This was a good market for them and dozens and dozens of coal mines operated in the Red Deer River valley northeast of Calgary and more still southwest of the city in the Crowsnest Pass (130 and 220kms away respectively). There were many more mines in the province and perhaps these were customers too, but the ones mentioned here were the closest large groupings.
Products for Alberta’s burgeoning oil and gas industries no doubt kept the factory busy too.
Once Dominion Bridge was in control it’s assumed that more structural and larger engineering projects was taken on. That company was known for being a leader in those industries and they constructed many bridges, skyscraper sub-assemblies and other large scale metal-work projects like that. It’s not known however, the exact scope of work at the Calgary plant. Dominion Bridge had many factories across Canada and it’s assumed that each was specialized in some way. Tracking down this type of information however, is beyond the scope of this article.
It appears that the factory continued to be known as Riverside Iron Works even after Dominion Bridge took control, at least for a time anyway. In fact old advertisement from the 1930s seen by this author, showing a line of water and petroleum tanks offered by the company that could be mounted on a truck chassis, are shown as being “Riverside” products.
Closed by Dominion Bridge in the mid to late 1980s, the facility was later converted to an industrial park, home to many different factories and the like.
While the building fronting on 24th Ave SE has been remodelled, there are other sections of it that have not yet been touched. These I guess will be converted over time. A look inside one shows it being used for some sort of industrial storage.
On the east end of the building is a coffee house and beside it an alley. We walked down it feeling like we had been here before (and we hadn’t), before realizing it was used in the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain. At this spot, an ancient door is found, that was incorporated into a remodelled part of the building. Many old features like this will hopefully be kept.
Seen at the west end of the building is a work called “Device To Root Out Evil” by artist Dennis Oppenheim. An upside down church, it was placed there in 2008.
Seen in behind that unique sculpture are two huge fabrication buildings, part of the complex but still being used a for factory space. They were not connected to Riverside Iron Works directly but rather were part of the expanded upon Dominion Bridge complex that came later.
One, the most westerly building, houses a company called F&D Scene Changes, who build movie sets and the like. The occupant of the other (blue) building is not known. There was no sign and in fact the building may not be even used right now – who knows. In the 1990s it housed a company call Maloney Process (earlier Process Industries). Back when I was driving truck, I used to visit that building nearly every day. I also occasionally hauled out of F&D.
Based upon plans in place for the complex, what we see here is only the start and I guess the whole complex is due to be incorporated into a large scale office and housing complex. New buildings will be added and most if not all the old ones not yet touched, will be renovated.
At one time, the CNR had a rail line that ran along the south side of the complex and it was used to serve the facility. It was pulled up in the early 1990s I believe, although by then no company in the complex seemed to be using the railway anyway. The area used by the railway is now a parking lot.
Prior to this site, Riverside Iron Works operated at another, on a street called Riverside Boulevard, located on the north side of the Bow River, northeast of downtown Calgary. This street no longer exists but was roughly where present day Memorial Drive is.
An early picture taken around the time the current complex was built, shows the word “Riverside” spelled out prominently on the west facing factory walls.
Ramsay was at one time an thriving working class community, well over a century old, but by the 1970s and 1980s it had declined and was rather rough and run down. A change has taken place and now the community, with many historic houses, is becoming more upscale and the complex we just explored is part of that renaissance.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.