Jan 242014
Hillhurst School Calgary Alberta

We love producing these then and now reports, they are just too much fun, and in this article we look at one of Calgary’s many century old sandstone schools. Our subject today is found in the community of Hillhurst just north of downtown. First, we look at an old image showing the school not long after it was built just over a hundred years ago and we visit the same site to see how it compares today.

The “then” image is from an undated postcard contributed by a reader of this blog who wishes to remain anonymous. It shows the building, it’s south facing side, likely just after being completed in 1912. That date it somewhat of a guess, but the fact that nothing can be seen behind the building helps provide a clue. We have seen photos showing the school in 1913 and 1914 and houses by that time have appeared in behind it. The original shot shows that area as empty, meaning it must have been taken early on.

In the “now” image we do our best to replicate the old postcard shot. I am afraid however that matching it exactly was not possible. A fence and some trees meant we had to come in a bit closer than we’d have liked, which caused the building to look as though tilting back more than in the original. Also, it looks like the old image was shot from higher up (from a platform maybe?). Our position clearly looks…well…lower. While we strive to shoot a version that is as close to the original as possible, sadly, like we’ve seen here, we are not always able to do so.

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It appears that little has changed in the hundred years since the building was originally photographed. There are however things that differ – the metal stairs on the right appear to have been replaced with wider ones for example. The parapets, the fence looking structure on the roof, has been removed at some point and of course large trees have grown up in the time since. Otherwise though, it’s much as it was. It looks good then and now!

Now over a century old, the building’s future appears solid. The school has an enrolment of close to three hundred students spanning kindergarten through grade six. At various times in the past, it also served and a Junior High School or as a combination Elementary and Junior High.

A gym was added in the mid 1960s – many of the old schools were originally constructed without this feature. According to legend, the building is haunted by the ghost of its original janitor. While no mention is made of it, that must mean he died while on the job.

Hillhurst is one of close to twenty sandstone schools that were built in Calgary, most of which exist today and look very similar in overall architectural style. All were built from the 1890s to about 1914. Many are still used as schools while others have been repurposed for other uses. This author even attended one of them back in the 1970s, Sunalta School in the community of Scarboro.

The community was established around the time the school was constructed. After all, a new neighbourhood needs just such a facility. The area is a mix of century old housing and much newer apartment blocks. Right beside the school, to the east, is Riley Park and on the west is 14trh St, a busy and noisy road. To the south is housing and a church and north, the old Grace Hospital, now a medical centre, and behind it, a large escapement rises up steeply.

The postcard image is tinted, so called because it was shot in black and white and then when printed was hand painted using a thin wash, which made it appear as it was shot in colour. This was common in the era when this card was produced and at that time, full colour postcards were neither practical or economical to produce. Hand tinted cards were made up until the 1940s, although they seemed to be most popular in the 1910s and 20s. Our “now” image could perhaps use this tinting treatment – the day was so dull and blah and colourless.

As mentioned, the original image, a scanned image of a postcard, was supplied by a reader. If you have an old picture or postcard that shows a street scene or building that you’d like to visit to see how it looks today, by all mean send it our way. We LOVE doing these then and now reports!

To see some nearby buildings, located on the high escapement above the school, that were themselves a subject of a then and now report, go here…
Calgary then and now – Normal School – Institute of Technology and Arts – Heritage Hall SAIT.
Calgary then and now – Jubilee Auditorium.

To see more schools we’ve shot, follow these links…
Edmonton then and now – Norwood School.
Superman 1978 highschool – then and now.

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Hillhurst School Calgary

The Hillhurst School seen in a old postcard.

Hillhurst School Calgary Alberta

A fence and trees prevented us from duplicating the angle seen in the original image.


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2 Comments on "Calgary then and now – Hillhurst School"

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This one looked hard to line up.