Victoria Park, just southeast of and across the tracks from downtown Calgary was for much of its history a working class neighbourhood. One of the city’s earlier communities, almost all the many homes that once stood within its borders are long gone, replaced by endless parking lots in support of nearby Stampede Park, and tall condo towers. Nevertheless, here and there, a few old dwellings remain, some lived in, others empty, the fate of most, an upcoming date with the wrecking ball.
Plans are to completely redevelop the area, already set into motion, and ratty old homes just don’t fit into the equation.
In one corner, down a lonely dead-end street, off by itself, forgotten, is the century plus old Oliver House. That’s what we’ve come for. That’s our subject today. An exception to what we just spoke of, it’s not threatened and has been set aside to be saved. It has a rather unique feature which makes it stand out…that being what it’s made of. Not of wood, not of brick, not of stone, its walls are from cast concrete blocks. Not something you see every day! (It’s our second “cement” house.)
The building dates from 1906, so fairly early on in the city’s history. At the time, Calgary was a couple decades old and had a population of some twelve thousand people (compare that with over a million today) and was going through a boom of sorts – the town’s no stranger to those. The Victoria Park neighbourhood was one of many communities quickly filling up at the time. While there were a few fairly opulent homes here, mostly towards its western border, the area overall was filled with dwellings that were fairly modest in nature.
Victoria Park borders the railway to the north, the warehouse district to the west, the Exhibition Grounds (later Stampede Park) to the south and the Elbow River in the east.
Up until the 1990s, even into the 2000s, the community was reasonably well populated. By that point things had changed and it was rather run down and home to many low income residents, the beaten, the forgotten, the damned, many residing in numerous flop houses that dotted the area. It could be a rough place…lots of drugs, booze that sort of stuff. It’s natural for inner-city neighbourhoods to fall from grace like this – once nice, later, well, not so much. Not a Calgary thing, no city is immune.
The Stampede by then wasn’t a fan of the area, I can say that with certainty. Far too close to their grounds, all those tourists seeing that ugly “slum” must have been a big concern. With that, they put forth an effort to acquire much of Eastern Victoria Park bulldozing most of the structures here in the process. They said so they could expand the grounds, but little work has been done to that end, but maybe it was just to rid the area of what they saw as an eyesore. In the meantime, the many parking lots come in handy. The venue often has a shortage of parking.
But back to the house…
The Oliver Residence is named after it’s first owner, one Ernest Oliver, whose family occupied the building for many decades. The concrete blocks used to construct the walls, it’s said, were cast on site using a special mould purchased just for that purpose (we’ve seen some of these described in old catalogues). This form of construction sure makes the home seem overbuilt. That Mr Oliver was said to be an engineer perhaps explains it – those guys don’t do it half baked. Over a century old, it looks perfectly solid and square today.
The building is rather plain in form, with a simple square footprint. While the concrete makes it imposing, it’s actually quite modest in size. The blocks on the back wall are plain and smooth, no doubt put in place as a budgetary measure, while those on the other three sides, the sides visible from the street, are more elaborate and textured (corner ones red) and looking much like sandstone blocks. If not for its rather unique construction it’s quite unremarkable otherwise – simple, angular, hardly elaborate. It has no official historic designation.
The dwelling it continued to be lived in until fairly recently (the last occupied home in this part of Victoria Park). The building was then sold to the Stampede. It won’t be torn down. Exactly what plans they have for it, they’re not saying, but we’ve heard a few rumours. The many trees and shrubs that surrounded the structure have been cut back affording one a clear view that wasn’t possible before.
Until recently, a modest sized apartment building used to stand right next door – it’s now an empty lot. Across and down the road a bit is an old folk’s home, still standing but empty. Otherwise, the whole area is mostly vacant lots or parking lots and little else. Most everything that was once here is gone. It’s very ghost town like. The Saddledome in back and condo towers off in the west provide an interesting backdrop to the lonely old house. What a contrast.
The land the Oliver House stands upon on and all those nearby parking lots, recall, is owned by the Stampede Venue. They’re being a bit hush-hush of late when it come to their plans, but some sort of eventual expansion is in the works. We touched on that. Perhaps they’re waiting for the economy to recover. The other areas of Victoria Park down towards those condo towers is not on the Stampede’s radar. Expect more condo towers to go up there as time passes.
BIGDoer.com made a request to view the inside of the Oliver Home but were turned down. Rather bluntly. Ouch! It happens sometimes. At least they said knock yourself out in regards to the exterior. There had a friendly tone until I said inside. What, EXACTLY, are they hiding? Cue the X-Files music!
A farm house made of the same material…
1915 Cement House.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2016.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article references: Calgary Heritage Authority, Calgary Heritage Initiative.
The building can be viewed (for the time being anyway) from the street.