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The Burns Building - A Success Story

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 453

Burns Building, ca. 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 453

Sometimes it feels like we want to knock down anything that isn’t shiny and new in this city. But there have been some notable success stories, of buildings that have survived the wrecker's ball. One that I get to look at every day is the Burns Building.

Patrick Burns, Alberta’s Cattle King, engaged the firm Hodgson, Bates and Beattie (incidentally, Hodgson and Bates designed the administration building on the Calgary Brewing and Malting site) to design a building for a piece of land that he had owned since 1909. The beautiful terra cotta clad building was completed in early 1913 and hailed as “Calgary’s finest business block.” Burns’ meat market occupied the ground floor and the upper floors housed a veritable “Who’s who” of Calgary businessmen.

However by the late 1970s the Burns Building was in the paper again, but without the same accolades. Mayor Rod Sykes was nearly beaned by a piece of terra cotta falling from the old, neglected building. The city took it over as part of the site for the new Civic Arts Complex. Eventually the building was deemed a fire hazard and its demolition seemed a foregone conclusion. Concerned citizens and a few aldermen fought for preservation but it was believed that the rehabilitation of the building would be too expensive. Others felt that the constraints placed on the Civic Arts Centre by the necessity of maintaining the both old Public Building and the Burns Building were too restrictive. Mayor Ross Alger lobbied hard for demolition, but lost by a single vote in 1980. Extensive restoration and renovations were done between 1981 and 1984 and the building was declared a Provincial Heritage Resource in 1987.

I can’t imagine the streetscape down here without that jewel of a building.

For information on the history of the Burns Building, you can visit our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. If you search for the postcard of the Burns Building, you will find a "Cornerstones" article written by our staff which includes more information about the building and its history. We also have a clippings file on "Buildings - Conservation and Restoration" that includes newspaper articles about the controversy over the building. You can also look for information on Pat Burns himself in our library catalogue. From the homepage, click on "Catalogue" in the black bar at the top of our webpage and then click on "Power Search". Type"Burns, Patrick" (without the quotation marks) into the text box and use the drop down menu to select "Subject". Click on Search and you are on your way.

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