Jan 282015
Calgary downtown skyline

The pair of pictures seen here, the first supplied by a legend of photography, Harry Palmer, the second from us, show the same Calgary skyline scene some thirty years apart. A lot has happened between the shooting of his photo in 1983 and ours in 2014 – many new towers have sprung up in the downtown core for example – yet there are still many things that are much as they were, or at least easily recognizable, like many of the fine old homes seen across the road.

The location of this photo is on the grounds of Sunatla School, which this author attended briefly in the 70s, in the community of Scarboro. We’re in the city’s southwest, on a hill overlooking downtown, facing in a northeasterly direction. The neighborhood here dates from the early 1910s and has always been a fairly affluent part of town. Not showoff-ish like Mount Royal, but overall well to do, reserved, comfortable and dignified.

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In the middleground there are a number of houses seen in both pictures. The one on the far left, with the pronounced pointy roof, stands out the most. It’s had some work done on it, but it still instantly recognizable.

Next door a new house has replaced a much smaller dwelling that used to sit on the same lot back when the old photo was captured. The next two homes to the right can easily been seen in both photos too. Beyond them there are too many trees in the way, in both photos, to make anything out reliably.

There are lots of towers in the city core in the 1983 image and a huge number more have been built since (notice all the building cranes in both shots). Prominent in Harry’s photo and still visible in ours, near dead centre, is the huge Nexen Building (I think it had another name in the 80s). It was very new back then. In fact, most of the towers seen in the old photo were for the most part less then a decade old at the time. Calgary’s downtown skyline before was quite different. The oil boom caused a building boom starting in the 1970s.

Conspicuous by its absence in our photo is the iconic Calgary Tower. The trees today, some of which seem to have grown up like weeds since ’83, block it from view.

Many apartment and condo complexes can be seen on the left side of the city core. All of these remain with lots of new ones added in the last decade or so. I don’t get downtown living, but then again, there is a lot in this world that is a mystery to me.

Even with all the new towers in downtown, and there are a lot of them, the overall skyline, it’s silhouette, is not that different from back then to now. Interesting.

The original photo is courtesy of and copyright Harry Palmer and is used with permission. Harry is a long time pro and we’re so privileged that he allowed us use of his work. If you have an old photo, yours or in the public domain, showing a street or city scene like this and would like us to visit the location shown and then document it all on this website, simply drop us a line via our contact page.

Our “now” picture was shot free-hand using a grid formula we’ve developed over the last couple years, that helps us line up our image with the old one (even when the aspect ratios differ greatly, as was the case here). Results using our method can be anywhere from pretty good to occasionally amazing and everything in between. This one’s almost perfect. We don’t line things up in post, save for some very MINOR tweaks, mostly scaling and keystoning, and what we get is what we get, be it good or great.

By the way, we shoot 5-8 pictures, typically, at slightly varying angles and such which is usually enough to assure that one photo will be near spot on.

To see some of our favourite then and now posts, go here…
Calgary Transit then and now – #7 South Calgary run.
Fort MacLeod then and now – Fort Museum.
Moose Jaw then and now – CPR train station.

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

Date: November, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.
The places seen in this report are publicly accessible.

Calgary skyline

The Calgary skyline, 1983. Picture courtesy Harry Palmer.

Calgary downtown skyline

The same view as it appears today.


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4 Comments on "Calgary then and now – city skyline"

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Harry Palmer
Harry Palmer


Harry Palmer (photographer)

Dan O
Dan O

Someone stole the tower!