Mar 212016
Designs by Manuel

The third report in what’s turning out to be an ongoing yearly series, it just kinda happened, where we casually catalogue all the houses still standing in downtown Calgary. The count today is seven, down one from the previous year. Some of them are still lived-in, some are now used by businesses as office space, and a couple appear empty. It’d be safe to assume not all have a bright future and no doubt when we revisit the subject this time next year, we just may find the numbers have dropped.

Calgary’s extreme downtown core, the area we documented, is bordered on the CPR tracks to the south, the Bow River to the north, 14th Street to the west and the Elbow River to the east. That’s all we touched on and the city, Google, map makers, they all agree on that as a definition. There are still many fine old homes in neighbourhoods that border downtown, just not many inside it.

Seven Houses, a quick and dirty inventory of detached dwellings or former dwellings in Calgary’s downtown core. Written & photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart (BIGDoer)

To avoid confusion we defined what is a house in regards to this article, thusly: a detached single family dwelling or one that was formerly so, that retains all or most of its original characteristics. Meaning, to be included, it still has to look like a house. Simple and that’s the only rule we’ve put down. Anything not looking the part, and there are one or two so heavily modified as to be almost unrecognizable, would not make the cut.

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1) This is the very last house in the East Village, the the downtown core’s eastern fringe. Built in the early 1900s, it’s used as boarding house of sorts catering to a low income or transient population. The immediate area at one time was full of old houses repurposed this way. This neighbourhood was for many years one of Calgary’s less desirable places to live and was best avoided at night. Lots of new condo towers are being built here and it’s quickly shedding its once gritty image for something more upscale and trendy.

The structure looks in pretty rough shape and given its surroundings is really out of place (well today) and I doubt it’ll be around for much longer.

2) This house, of all those we’ll look at, is the newest and dates from the early 1950s. It’s also the deepest into downtown of any seen. The area where it stands was once residential, hard to believe, but today is nothing but tall office towers. They loom over the tiny single story house (people didn’t built McMansions back then it seems), almost as though they were to devour it.

It’s set back a bit, so it’s doubtful many people driving by notice it (it’s on a very busy street). It’s got that broken glass stucco that was so stylish back in the day. The East Village house has it too. It does not appear anyone is living in the dwelling at the moment. I can’t see this one lasting, but with the economy in the doldrums, I also don’t see it being demolished right away either. Still, time must be ticking.

3) Right around the corner is a former house that is now a lawyer’s office. It dates from the 1910s. It’s well cared for and I’d be willing to guess it’s not under threat of any kind at the moment. The number of office towers being built in Calgary has slowed to a crawl with no real change in site and so not everything old or small is presently a candidate for redevelopment. That of course, could change.

Leaving the deep core behind, we head to the western fringes…

4) Dating from the 1910s, the house seen here is connected to the church beside it. It’s even painted the same. It was once where the pastor lived, but now I believe is rented out. It appears in good shape and likely has a reasonable future ahead of it.

A block or two away is the final cluster of three. This neighbourhood, well into the 1970s, was mostly residential (and at the end, quite rough). Today, it’s been gentrified, with the vast majority of buildings, apartment towers and many, many expensive and swanky condo towers, dating from the last couple/few decades.

5) Jewels by Design operated out of this former house. Last year I stated it seemed to have a solid future. Wrong I guess. A big for sale sign with the word “redevelopment” suggests its days are numbered. It was built in the 1910s.

6) Kitty-corner is arguably the most stately and architecturally interesting of all the houses seen this day. Two story and made of brick, it’s from the 1910s. It’s been vacant and boarded up for some years and since our last visit a fence has been erected around it. Its future? Hard to say but that its been empty for so long is likely not a good sign. An old garage is seen out back.

Right next door is a building that didn’t quite fit the requirements of this article. It’s clearly made from an old house, similar in size and type of construction to its neighbour. A restaurant operates out of it and it’s been so heavily modified, that we felt it shouldn’t be included here. Only out back can one see it’s a former house. Out front, there is little to suggest that.

7) Another jewellery business, this one named Designs by Manuel, operates out of the final house. This is the oldest of the bunch and was built at the turn if the twentieth century. It’s in fine shape from what we can see and I’d be willing to make a guess it’s not going anywhere soon (I should be careful, as I’ve eaten my words too many times).

When we explored this same subject a year ago, there was one additional house in the core when compared with today. Not far from the last three we just spoke of, it was torn down a few weeks after we made our report in the spring of 2015. At present the land it sat upon, along with that of a former car dealership, is pretty much an empty field with no real work, outside levelling everything, having taken place. Redeveloped was planned, but perhaps the tanking economy has slowed that. One additional house was lost between 2014 and 2015.

Update: Silly us, seems we missed one house. I know, we NEVER mess up! There’s a former dwelling, now occupied by a jewellery store (what, another one?) on 6th Ave SW. It’s a fine building too, made of brick, two stories and around a century old.

The last two year’s reports on this same subject…
Eight Houses (2015).
Nine Houses (2014).

Some trademark then and nows shot in the core…
Calgary then and now – Fire Hall #1.
Calgary then and now – Stampede Parade.
Calgary then and now – Family of Man.

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

Date: March, 2016.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article references: City of Calgary.

Last House East Village

1) The very last house in the East Village.

House in downtown Calgary

2) This one is dwarfed by surrounding office towers.

Downtown Calgary House

3) A former dwelling now a lawyer’s office.

Church residence

4) This house was once the pastor’s residence for the church beside it.

Jewels by Design

5) A redevelopment sign suggests this former dwelling is doomed.

Old house downtown Calgary

6) This one has been empty for years – the BIGDoerMobile (left) makes an appearance.

Designs by Manuel

7) Designs by Manuel. a jewellery firm operates out of this one.


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12 Comments on "Seven Houses"

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Lynda Reid
Lynda Reid

(via Facebook)
I am certain that I lived in the small house, in the 70’s.

Patricia Dawkins
Patricia Dawkins

In the 1980’s artist Rita McKeough did an installation at the Illingworth Kerr gallery ACAD about the houses in Calgary’s west end being gobbled up.

Cindy Bertrand
Cindy Bertrand

So many fond memories…I grew up a few houses down the street from the church house!! It was all houses then.

lawrence thompson
lawrence thompson

(via Facebook)
The west end of down town was party city before all those condos.


I live near #6. I’ve noticed giant dumpsters and people going in/out of the house on weekends in what looks like an attempt to clean it up. Not sure what is going to happen with it though.


my friends grandparents built the jewels by design house years ago.