Built just over a hundred years ago, the old Number One Fire Hall, located in Calgary’s downtown core, was last used by the fire department in the 1970s. Now surrounded by looming office towers, it almost gets lost in the clutter. Today it’s a car rental outlet and appears in fine shape. The then photo used in this post dates from around 1960, and the now, early in 2015. While the building’s appearance has changed little in that time, its surroundings sure have.
The fire hall dates from 1911 and replaced an earlier facility located not terribly far away. It’s diagonal placement allowed easy access to either of the streets here. Built of brick with sandstone accents (a combination popular at the time in Calgary), it’s a fine example of Edwardian Style Architecture. It’s nice looking structure.
The lower floor has five prominent arched doorways. The upper floor was accommodations for resident firemen. The hose drying tower on the right also housed an alarm bell and later a siren. The cupola seen on top today is a reproduction.
Used up until around 1973, the building for the next decade sat empty. In 1983 it was fixed up by a car rental firm which continues to use it this day. The building is historically recognized. This author has been inside and it’s as nice as the outside. The restoration was well done and while the building was repurposed it retains much of it original charm, its looks, inside and out, and trappings.
A number of other fire halls in town were built around the same time as this one, and to a similar overall style, albeit somewhat smaller in form. One of these today is a (fire hall themed) pub.
The current number #1 downtown fire hall is located about a block away from this structure.
The building has remained remarkably static between the time the then photo was captured and now and only that cupola mentioned differs. The old office block to the right is still there (more on it below). Of course what’s in behind has changed – that tall tower sure dominates the view today. Trees and green spaces replaced what appears to be a car lot to the right of the fire hall in that old picture. The road in front appears to have been a one way based on how the cars are parked in the then photo – it’s still a one way although the running direction is opposite that of the old days.
The structure to the right (both photos) is the Northwest (or North-West) Travellers Building constructed around 1912. Its original purpose was in support of traveling salesmen (an organized group for which the building was named), who’d use the offices and showrooms contained within to display and sell their wares during the time they were in town. Later, in the 1920s it found other uses and was home to the Calgary Board of Education and a museum group among others. During World War Two, it was used by the YWCA and afterwards by the Salvation Army as a homeless shelter. Today it’s appears to be used as office space.
Towering menacingly over Fire Hall #1 in the now photo is Calgary’s tallest office building, the Bow. It was competed only a few short years ago.
Of interest to car buffs in the old photo is the row of vehicles lined up on the right. They all appear to be brand spanking new Chevrolets and are clearly sitting on a car sales lot. To their left on the street and facing us is an early 1950s Mercury Meteor.
As you’ll hear us say every time we shoot one of these then and now posts (a BIGDoer.com specialty), we do not manipulate the photo in post production in regard to how things line up. That is done in camera using various techniques we’ve learned over the years. Photo-shopping would be too easy.
The old photo used in this report comes via a friend at the Calgary Library, and is from the Alison Jackson collection, used with permission. This is not the first of these posts where we used Alison’s work for the then component. In the 50s-70s she spent a great deal of time photographing vintage Calgary buildings and street scenes and we’ve cherry picked some of these before for use here.
We’re always looking for vintage photos to use in these types of posts. If you have one you’d like us to use, one that belongs to you (not trademarked) why not send it our way. We’ll shoot a similar picture and compare the two on this very website. Contact us today!
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2015.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article sources: Alberta Register of Historic Places, City of Calgary records, Calgary Fire Department records.
The building can be viewed and photographed from public property.