Calgary’s National Hotel is being reborn. Forgotten and neglected for too many years it rises like a phoenix from the ashes. A former haven for the downtrodden it will find a new life, being converted to condominiums and retail space. Now over 100 years old it’s nice to see that someone still loves “The Nash”.
Opening in 1908 it was nothing elegant, a working man’s hotel where a one could find clean and safe lodging at a reasonable cost, or as a place where one could enjoy a beer with friends and coworkers. It was typical of the era with single rooms and a common shared bathroom at the end of the hall.
Fast forward a half dozen decades or so and the world has changed. But the National has not. Retaining all its former “charm” the building is an anachronism in the modern world. Outside of perhaps some new paint (even that’s debatable), everything inside was much as it was. Expect for the clientele that is.
No longer for the working class, it was now home the dregs of society, alcoholics, the forgotten, the mentally ill, the ignored. By then rooms were rented by the month, serving much as apartments, as travellers no longer stopped here. The tavern or “beer parlour” was a seedy place, home to winos, rub-a-dubs and the like, all looking for a cheap buzz. Drinks were served in old ALCB glasses, scratched and stained from years of use.
This author has no precise information on when the hotel was closed, but it’s believed the late 1990s or early 2000s. Sitting empty since, over the years various owners announced grandiose plans to renovate the building, but none actually did it. Until now that is. The current owners came on the scene in 2010 and bring with them the expertise and financing necessary to tackle the daunting project. It’s not a simple matter of repainting everything, instead every last brick, every last post, everything will need a complete rebuilding from the ground up. A huge and expensive project.
The results look good!
Back in the late 70s and early 80s my folks were known to frequent “The Nash”, as it was known to those who patronized it. They loved a good dive bar, and in that respect the National did not disappoint.
The structure has a sandstone foundation which was a pretty common feature of buildings in Calgary from that era. There were numerous quarries along the Bow River escapement west of downtown and many construction companies often used this readily available material. It’s wood framed with brick cladding and while a fairly plain looking structure, it still has its own unique charm.
The National is unique in that it still has its original livery stable attached to it. When constructed autos were a rarity and so visitors would need a place to to feed. water and house the horses they came in on. It’s assumed it served in this capacity for some time, perhaps into the 1920s or beyond.
I believe later it was used to house horsepower of a different kind, being used as a car garage for those visiting the hotel. By the 1970s and perhaps earlier, the building was being used by an auction mart. Later still I believe it was used simply for storage – I recall peaking in a window in the early 1990s and saw lots of dusty furniture and stuff stacked inside. On that visit the building was sagging badly but it seems to have been stabilized now.
The structure is used as a base for the TV show Canadian Pickers. Is anyone else tired of awful “reality” shows like this?
In the past a hotel livery stable was not an uncommon feature, however finding one today is a real treat and this author can think of no other old hotels that still have this feature. Interestingly there is another barn nearby, just a few blocks east. It’s quite large, relatively intact and will be the subject of another report. That makes two old barns within sight of downtown Calgary. What other city of this size can say that?
Seen on the grounds is an interesting fire truck. It’s built on a Dodge truck chassis which dates from the period 1939-1947. It marked for the Crescent Beach Swimming Club (Surrey BC) and must have been a show piece for that organization – given how it looks to be drivable and is in otherwise in fine shape and complete and intact, that makes sense. What it’s doing here, what’s its history and what purpose it serves now is not clear, but Connie and I are researching it as we speak. I have an interesting connection to the area around Crescent Beach. My mother and some aunts and uncles grew up at the Stewart Farm nearby. Now a historical site, it is also known as the Elgin Heritage Park.
The National Hotel is located in the neighbourhood of Inglewood. Home to many historic buildings, the area is being slowly restored to its former glory and is no longer the depressed place it used to be. It’s now quiet, well kept and serene.
If Calgarians reading this blog would like share there National Hotel stories, we’d love to hear from you. Use contact us link below.
Update: February 2013. We quickly heard back from the Crescent Beach Swimming Club, the prior owners of the truck, and they gave us some history on it. It’s a 1942 and prior to being purchased by them it was stationed in the small town of Honeymoon Bay on Vancouver Island. It’s not clear however if the truck was purchased new by that town’s fire department or if they bought it used, the person who responded did not say (or perhaps did not know). The CBSC purchased the truck at auction in 1990 and put it on display, later selling it to the Canadian Pickers, whose base is the old livery barn shown in this report. Thanks to Heather at the CBSC for her help.
To see an equally interesting old hotel in Fort MacLeod Alberta, follow this link…
The notorious American Hotel.
To see the abandoned Farmer Jones used car lot not far away, go here…
Farmer Jones Carz.
Click the link below see that other barn mentioned, located a few blocks away…
Old barn, big city.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: January, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.