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Lost in Time

In 1966, I was awarded an Athlone Fellowship to do graduate work and study in England.  In September of that year I left from the Calgary CPR passenger station on the Canadian, a CPR  passenger train destined for Montreal.

The Calgary CPR Station on 9th Ave

Prior to 1960, when I was growing up in Calgary, the two tallest structures in the city 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.)

Downtown Calgary in 1943 viewed from the North Hill

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.

A newcomer to Calgary, looking at downtown today, would never guess that the tower used to be the tallest structure in town.  Now, 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.

The Calgary Tower in 2021 viewed from the North Hill

Looking at this scene of downtown Calgary today, 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 be responsible for the specifying, testing, and delivery of automatic control systems for large electrical generation plants.  Those same control systems using today's computers bear no resemblance to what I used.

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 I could with the equipment I had available. 

Retired civil engineers can take their grandchildren to see bridges and buildings that they designed—I can’t.  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.



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