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Lost in Time

Calgary Tower almost lost in the 'new'

On a photographic exploration of architecture in Calgary last week, I noticed this view of the Calgary Tower that got me thinking about change.

In 1966, in my final year of engineering at the University of Alberta, I was awarded an Athlone Fellowship to do post-graduate work and study in England. In September of that year I left from the Calgary CPR station on the CPR Canadian passenger train destined for Montreal.

At that time, the tallest building in Calgary was the Elveden House, but prior to 1960, when I was growing up in Calgary, the two tallest structures in Calgary were the Robin Hood Flour Mills and the CPR Palliser Hotel, both on 9th Avenue. The Palliser Hotel is now the Fairmont Palliser and the Robin Hood Flower Mills plant was demolished around 1971 when the land was donated to the City of Calgary.

In the 1950's, when I was growing up in Calgary, this view about the same, except the streetcars were gone and replaced with trolley buses.
Downtown Calgary-1943 (Much the same in the early 1950's.)
The CPR Train Station (1911 to 1966) and the Palliser Hotel

What I didn’t know, as the train pulled out of the station in 1966, was that the Calgary Tower had already been planned and approved. The first step of construction started shortly after I left with the demolition of the CPR Railway Station. When I returned to Calgary in 1968 the old station was gone and the tower was finished and in use. Then, it was definitely the tallest structure in Calgary and one could look over downtown from the viewing level at the top of the tower.

It can’t be obvious to a newcomer looking at downtown Calgary today that the tower used to have this status. In fact, there are angles of view from the north hill where you can’t see the tower, because it is hidden by the newer, taller buildings.

Looking at the scene at the top of this essay, I started thinking about how the constant change that our affluent society thrives on sometimes negates past accomplishments. Accomplishments that earlier generations were proud of.

My thoughts drifted back to some of my unique and successful engineering designs. Most are now gone, the result of the rapid evolution of technology in the engineering field that was my speciality. I used to design automatic control systems for large electrical generation plants; however, the control system hardware of today bears no resemblance to what I used when I started my engineering career.

Civil engineers designed bridges in the 1970’s that are in use today; however, there is no longer evidence of my control system designs commissioned in the same era. All has been replaced with more current technology. Technology which I imagine does a more sophisticated job of automatic control than the equipment I had available. I’m also sure that the new control system equipment takes far less maintenance than what I used in my designs.

I can’t take my grandchildren to see the evidence of my work, and trying to explain what I did is just too abstract for them to understand. I wish something physical still existed to show that I, as an engineer, was here.

Maybe that is one reason why I’m passionate about my photography and writing. A purchased image of mine that hangs on someone’s wall or a book of mine that sits on someone’s shelf is enduring evidence that I was here.

I wonder how the brilliant architects and engineers who conceived and executed the design and construction of the Calgary Tower explain to newcomers the uniqueness of their erstwhile designs? What is good to see is that the Calgary Tower is still a wonderful place to visit. The entertainment, programs, and services offered are as popular as ever and the updates to the tower facilities continue. The Calgary Tower today.


Here is a link to some interesting facts about the concepts, design, and unique construction of the tower. The method for building the concrete support is especially interesting to us engineers.

Link to Calgary Tower History

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