Buried deep within the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) campus, the building seen in this “then and now” series is known as Heritage Hall. In times past, it was the main hall of the Normal School and the Provincial Institute of Technology and Arts.
At one time the stately structure stood pretty much alone on the prairie, high on a bluff overlooking the city. When built it would have been easily seen from nearly any point in Calgary, not only because of its lofty location but also due to the building’s bold design. Simply, it stood out and commanded attention. Today, it sort of gets lost in the clutter unfortunately, almost hidden, and in that respect is not the centrepiece it once was. Surrounded by numerous other buildings, high towers, huge parking lots and the like, it’s almost swallowed up by its surroundings.
The structure dates from the early 1920s and was built to house both the Institute and the Normal School (more on what that is below), each organization occupying one of the wings. These two organizations shared the facility for some years, with the latter moving out permanently in the early 1960s. At that same time, the Institute changed its name to SAIT, later SAIT Polytechnic.
During World War Two, the building was used to train wireless operators for the British Commonwealth Air Training Program.
The name of the building was officially changed to the Heritage Hall in the mid 1980s. Also that decade, it became a recognized historic site. At various times in its history it was expanded upon and in the early part of the twenty first century, was completely renovated.
With a skeleton of steel and concrete, the outer walls are a facade of brick and sandstone. These latter two materials were common in the era and were used in many classic buildings in Calgary constructed in the 1910s and 1920s. Made in a Gothic style – Modern Gothic, Gothic Revival or specifically Collegiate Gothic – two large towers flank the main entrance, a commonly seen feature of this design philosophy. Other Gothic elements include a castellated look, arches, pinnacles, parapets and detailed stone work.
This building was the second location for both the Institute and the Normal School. Both formerly once operated out of various public schools before moving here.
A Normal School by the way, is used to train teachers. The name comes from the word “norm”, a term used to define the standards to which those being trained would subscribe to.
In the “then” shot, the first one, one can see just how open the grounds were – the building was alone on the open prairie. We attempt to duplicate the shot and in spite of the sprawl that surrounds it today, we are able to get almost all of it entirely in the frame. That’s surprising and we expected the view to be blocked for the most part.
In our second shot we are unable to duplicate the angle exactly. A building stood behind us and the actual shooting location would have been just inside it. None the less, we get close and I am happy with the results.
Where there used to be a field out in front of the building, now there is an arena on one side and a combo parking garage with a soccer field on the other. A large walkway now leads to the building and is directly centred with its main doorway. In front today is an open space with sidewalks, benches, gardens and trees. In the old pictures there appeared to be nothing here.
Both images are from postcards supplied to us by a a reader of this blog who asked to remain anonymous. Each is undated but I’d guess they are probably from the 1920s, mainly since the style of card reflects those of the era. We also make that assumption based on one other hunch – that decade seemed to be a boom period for the industry and a good number of cards we’ve studied so far, seem to be from that era.
The first card is hand tinted, a black and white image which is painted to appear as though shot in colour. This technique was used extensively in the first few decades of the twentieth century before colour printing became practical. Typically hand tinted postcards cost more than plain black and white ones.
We hope to return to this building to study it more. The day was a bit too gloomy to do that on this visit – a full-on study requites better light. Id love to see the inside too, if that’s even possible.
To see a then and now series were did on a nearby building, go here…
Calgary then and now – Jubilee Auditorium.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.