Ah, Stephen Avenue, the heart of the city’s downtown. Originally named for Baron George Mount Stephen, the president of the Bank of Montreal and the first president of the CPR, it became Eighth Avenue when the city changed street names to numbers in 1904. In 1912 Eighth Avenue was a bustling thoroughfare that held many of the important businesses of the city.
When I was a teenager, it was still Eighth Avenue – but it was not really bustling. It had become tired and rundown. In one effort to revitalize the area, the street was closed to traffic and became the Eighth Avenue Mall. This really didn’t address the issues; in fact it may have exacerbated them. So the street continued to languish until a brilliant plan to revitalize Calgary’s downtown and conserve and celebrate the built heritage along the street was floated. The Eighth Avenue Mall was rechristened the Stephen Avenue Walk and extensive efforts were undertaken to preserve buildings in the area and to bring life back to the downtown.
All the effort has really paid off. Off the buildings pictured in the above postcard, only three have been demolished and replaced. The other five have been renovated for commercial use. This conservation continues up and down Stephen Avenue, making it a celebration of the way we were and what we will become.