For this Calgary then and now post we visit St Mary’s Catholic Church and the nearby ex-CNR train station which was once a Parish hall and is now home to ballet company. The first image, from an old postcard, was take over a hundred years ago, and we visit the site today to see what’s changed and what’s remained the same.
Our “then” photo is from 1910 and shows an earlier church that used to stand at this site. It was built in the late 1880s and would be replaced by the current structure in the mid 1950s. Personally, I like the older building better. The church is officially known as St Mary’s Cathedral, or “The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.
To the left of the church is a building that still stands. At the time the old photo was shot, it belonged to the parish and was used for meetings and concerts and the like. This structure dates from 1905.
A year after the postcard picture was taken, the hall was sold to the Canadian Northern Railway. They had just built a line into the city and needed office space. In 1913 the building was transformed into a railway station. The tracks came in from behind and ended next to the building (the side we photographed). That area is now a parking lot.
The financially weak Canadian Northern network was absorbed into the Canadian National system in the early 1920s. The latter continued to use the station however. The last passenger trains visited in the early 1970s, and afterwards the station was boarded up and essentially abandoned, although the tracks remained in place well into that decade. The station can be seen in the mid 1970s train-themed movie Silver Streak (link below). Gutted by fire in the mid 1980s, not long after the building was fixed up and acquired by the Alberta Ballet Company who continues to use it to this day.
This station, when built, was a fair distance from downtown Calgary. It was in fact out in the sticks. This was distinct disadvantage when compared to the CPR station which was in the centre of town.
I recall exploring the old train station in the 70s. I was always, as it seems, drawn into old buildings and the like. I wish I had a camera back then.
Outside of some trees and bushes that have grown up around the building, it otherwise appears much today as it did back in 1910. It is constructed of local sourced sandstone which in the era was a popular building material.
The area where the buildings are located was once known as Rouleauville. It was at one time an independent community that was later annexed by the city of Calgary (around 1907). The church was to be the centrepieces of a planned Catholic/Francophone community, a dream than never really panned out. Today the area is known as the Mission District.
The postcard image was sent in by a reader of this blog, thanks Gerry, and has a postmark from 1910 and is addressed to a recipient in Essex England (now the UK). It was produced by the Stedman Brothers of Brantford Ontario and the card itself was made in Germany.
Not much can be found about the history of that company. We know that they operated from about 1908 to the mid 1930s and perhaps even later. They also seemed to have outlets in other cities and advertisements from the day show them soliciting work from independent photographers. Bases upon the sheer number of cards out there, the company was a prolific supplier in that industry. A search online pulls up numerous examples of their work.
Common at the time, the postcard is hand tinted. A thin wash of paints was applied over a black and white image thereby making it look as though it was shot in colour. At the time full colour photography was just not practical for the postcard industry and hand tinting was used well into the 1940s.
At some point, when conditions are better (meaning in the spring, summer or fall), we hope to do a full report on the buildings discussed here. They are impressive and worthy of a write up.
The train station seen here was used a movie and see the then an now report we did on it, go here…
Silver Streak movie then and now – boarded up train station.
To see some other Calgary then and now posts, follow these links…
Calgary Transit then and now – trolley buses and Devenish Apartments.
Calgary then and now – Scarboro United Church.
Calgary then and now – Family of Man.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.