Dec 182014
Sunalta School

Sunalta School is located in the Calgary community of Scarboro, just west of downtown. This fine structure was made from locally quarried sandstone, one of many old schools in the city built from this material and is just over a century old. We’ve been given an old photo from the 1960s showing it and we return to that same spot to see how much has changed since then.

Notice how much the trees have grown up. They’ve gotten so huge that the building today is almost totally obscured by them. Must be something in the soil!

Built in 1912, at the then edge of town, the school replaced an earlier facility, smaller in size, located a few blocks to the east and dating from a couple years prior. Sandstone blocks for the building came from a quarry not far way, which has long since been obliterated by development.

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Sunalta was one of around twenty schools in Calgary, built from 1890s and up until about 1914, that were made of this local material and built to a similar overall pattern. Most of these still exist. Some are still used as schools and some serve other community functions.

Many buildings in Calgary, commercial ones, public ones, were made of sandstone either entirely, or in combination with other materials, often brick. It’s readily available in the area, easy to work, and makes for a good solid structure.

Oddly, Sunalta School is located just inside the neighbourhood of Scarboro and not in the one for which it is named, located a few blocks away. Both are fairy well to-do communities established in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Today the school serves grades one through six in addition to having kindergarten and preschool programs. In times past, it also was a junior high. Current enrollment, according to the Calgary Board of Education, is a couple hundred kids.

Looking at the two photos, it’s quite interesting how little has changed over the years, from this angle at least. The grounds are different and the those trees have sure grown, but outside those things it’s much as it was. Not seen from this angle is the gym, added in the 1950s and built in a very basic style that does not fit in well with the main structure’s architectural design. Busy Crowchild Trail passes by the on the far side of the structure, and is also unseen from this angle. But it can be heard.

This author went to Sunalta School, briefly, in the 1970s. While there, I had a chance to talk in person with the well known Canadian author and historian, Pierre Burton. He spoke to our class about his time in the Klondike, and I was so fascinated by what he said that I chased him down afterwards and talked with him for a good half hour. I believe it was this meeting that inspired me to take an interest in all things old. I can say with reasonable certainly, that he was the catalyst that lead to the eventual founding of this website and the business behind it (yup, we make a living documenting history).

The then image in this report comes form the family collection of Betty Ann, thank you for scanning it and sending it to us, and was taken by her cousin Alison. If you have an old photo (your copyright or one in the public domain) showing a building such as this, or a street scene, send it to us (contact info below) and we’ll visit the spot seen to record how it looks today and then post the results here on the BIGDoer website.

Our now photos are shot free hand, using a grid system we’ve developed to help line things up. We don’t do cropping and aligning in post to get it right. That would be far too easy. Our results are never spot on, nor do we strive for that level of perfection. We just like get close. And that’s good enough. This set, by the way, turned out pretty well – side to side and top to bottom we lined it up good – keystone effect however (how the building appears to get narrower at the top) could have been improved had I dropped the camera angle down a bit. Oh well.

We love shooting these then and now posts for you to enjoy…
Calgary then and now – National Hotel.
Moose Jaw SK then and now – CPR train station.
Calgary then and now – Scarboro United Church (located not far away).

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: August, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Sunalta School

Sunalta School in the 1960s.

Sunalta School Calgary

The trees sure have grown.


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8 Comments on "Calgary then and now – Sunalta School"

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Connie Biggart
Connie Biggart

Such a nice stately building.

Elizabeth Crutcher
Elizabeth Crutcher

It was a wonderful school all through the 1950s
Love the memories!!

Don Nissen
Don Nissen

I went to this school in the mid 1970’s. And I have always been proud to have gone to this school. Because my Grandfather even went to this school when he was growing up. And it has made me so proud, all of my life. To have had a chance to have been in the same school that my Grandfather went to. And to also known that he knew I was in the same school that he went to. It was just so nice for me to have done that.

Thank You, Sunalta School for giving me the chance to do that.


I went to Sunalta from 1966-1970. At that time the school taught grades 1 through 9. I lived on Coach Hill and we were bussed in. Sunalta had a strict boys side and a girls side rule for The (imaginary) dividing line was the East side door. The lunch room was in the basement, and we weren’t allowed to talk beyond a whisper at lunch. I remember there was a very nice gymnasium/auditorium. Mostly I loved the grounds, and especially the bushes on the boys’ side. I always looked forward to track and field day in June when the grounds were converted into different track meets. If anyone else went to Sunalta during this time period, please contact me: Brad Carpenter (message Team BIGDoer and we’ll pass your name along).