The History of Bungalows in Calgary

Two of Calgary’s oldest remaining residential communities are Cliff and Mission Bungalow. Political, economic, and social forces shaped the communities. Identifying relevant site and heritage characteristics and interpretation and conservation of the communities is an ongoing effort.

The first Mission residents arrived more than 12,000 years ago. They were native groups seeking shelter from the weather. The cottonwoods along the Elbow River curve provided the shelter they needed. These groups used the area as a wintering place for centuries. They continued to do so after the colonisation by European settlers began. Before the arrival of the current southern Alberta inhabitants, three native cultures inhabited the area. They were the Stoney, who were travelling west with the fur trade from Manitoba; the Sarcee moved south in the 1700s from the northern woods, and the Blackfoot, who arrived from an eastern woodlands migration.

Imagine yourself as a native of the area or a European settler. Not only was the area an optimal spot for the winter, the Bow and Elbow valleys provided opportunities to procure food. Buffalo, driven down Mount Royal were immobilised near the Bow River backwaters. Animals could easily be taken as food.

The area east of 4th Street was referred to by two separate terms. If you were one of the early European settlers, you called the land in the crook of the Elbow River ‘Moccasin Flats’ because of the continuing presence of native encampments. Belonging to the Sarcee tribe, you would have referred to the area as ‘Kootisaw’ which means ‘meeting of the waters.’ The natives eventually joined the Metis and built shacks along the edge of the river.

The Arrival of the First Europeans

To digress a little this explanation gives the reason the first Europeans came to the area. Father Albert Lacombe, a Roman Catholic missionary, established an Oblate Order mission in northern Alberta at Lac St. Anne and St. Albert, among the Cree. He envisioned missions that were similar ministering to the Blackfoot in the south. With his superiors’ permission, he established the Notre Dame de la Paix mission. The name was chosen because of Lacombe’s desire to create good relations between the Blackfoot Confederacy and their rivals, who were often at war. Peace between European settlers and native groups was also a goal.

The first mission was established in the present day Springbank area. Fathers Scollen and Doucet moved it to the Bow and Elbow River confluence. Doucet welcomed the North West Mounted Police, who arrived in 1875 with the intention of building Fort Calgary. The Mounties realised the mission’s location had a strategic advantage for their Fort. With the promise of being given a free hand, the Oblates moved further up the river. The mission district was born.

The Diocese established a social services infrastructure in the Catholic precinct created around the mission. The area’s growing population needs were met with the building of the Church of Notre Dame de la Paix in 1875, the Holy Cross Hospital in 1891, and St. Mary’s Parish Hall in 1905. The hall was used for both a school and community functions until St. Mary’s School was built in 1909.

Building Boom

In 1884, Calgary became an incorporated town. The Oblate subdivision known as ‘the Mission’ was outside the Calgary boundaries until 1907. From 1909 to 1912, Calgary experienced a building boom, especially the Mount Royal and Mission areas. Due to the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern Railways; high agricultural prices; and a massive settler influx, many commercial buildings and hundreds of houses were erected. The majority of the homes in Mission and Cliff Bungalow were built between 1909 and 1912. The Canadian Pacific Railway was mostly responsible for the development. Cliff Bungalow was promoted, by the CPR, as a community of substantial homes for the upper middle-class community. Mission was a neighbourhood comprised of a mixed-income community. Detached homes were predominant is both communities. There were only a few small apartment buildings and duplexes.

The population of Calgary grew from 12.500 to over 67,000 from 1989 to 1915. Calgary was the headquarters for the Canadian Pacific Railway that was west of Winnipeg and the Natural Resources Department. At the height of the boom, over 20 million dollars of building permits were granted. Formalised town planning became necessary. A comprehensive set of building codes was implemented in 1914.

Nearly 75 percent of the construction was residential. Affordable natural gas, electricity, and water; electric street railways to outlying neighbourhoods; and mortgage interest rates as low as five percent in 1909 aided in new housing development. Quality brick and stone were scarce and expensive. Most homes were built of wood. Those of you who were wealthy who likely have built mansions in Mount Royal. If you were among the working and middle class, you would have built practical family homes below the hill, which were simple, but elegant, in style. Homes built during this time were primary one or two-storey, single-dwelling, detached houses. Common features included simplified classical columns, bay and Palladian windows, and decorative shingle work. Many of the plans and designs were adaptations from pattern books and used elements that were mass-produced. The result was rows of almost identical houses.

The number of new families necessitated educational facilities. The demand exceeded the board’s ability to build new schools. To meet the educational needs of Calgary small two-storey cottages were erected and used as schools from 1908 to 1910. One-and-a-half-storey brick bungalows were used as schools beginning in 1913. Both the cottages and bungalows were to be converted to housing or apartments when more substantial schools were built. Both public and parochial schools had bungalow type facilities.

The community was undergoing a significant change because of the arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway. The steady population increase resulted in the construction of apartment buildings have two, or even three storeys. Multi-family dwellings were frowned upon by city planners. However, the need for accommodations that was affordable necessitated higher-density housing. By 1913, the number of apartment blocks in the city ballooned from 25 to 81. Many were built to accommodate residents of modest means.

The End of the Building Boom

An economic recession, in 1913, was responsible for the collapse of the housing market. The downturn further encouraged apartment building construction. In the 1920s, new single-family housing made up primarily of small popular Craftsman style bungalows was built. High-rise apartment development flourished during the decades that followed with little regard to blending with the traditional style of the area. During the 1950s to 1970s, due to a severe housing shortage, demolition of older buildings was done to make way for office buildings and apartments.

The trend reversed in the 1970. Older homes were restored to one or two-family dwellings. During the 1980s, townhouse complexes and apartment blocks, built within the community core, started to include horizontal siding and gables that complemented the area’s older homes. In 1971 trains no longer ran. The City of Calgary had been able to buy back the yards, bridge, and building of St. Mary’s Parish Hall. It was restored and reopened in 1985.

In 1990, The Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association was formed by the amalgamation of the Cliff Bungalow and Mission community associations. The merger was eventually successful in increasing aware of conserving the heritage. For the first time in quite a while, the focus was on maintaining the heritage character of Calgary. The St. Mary’s bridge rehabilitation was complete by 1999. Cyclists and pedestrians now use the bridge that was once designed to bear rolling stock and heavy locomotives.

Calgary Bungalows’ Future

Greater importance is placed on the heritage of the area as Calgary grows. Keeping bungalows is a way to respect, celebrate, and conserve the heritage of Calgary. Today people wanting to live in a historic bungalow setting can enlist the help of real estate agents who know of bungalows in Calgary that can be purchased and some tender loving care applied to continue the renovation trend. There are also stunning bungalows available that have been renovated by professional designers.


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