East of downtown Calgary, in the shadow of the core’s hulking skyscrapers, stands the city’s oldest home in its original location – Fort Calgary’s Hunt House.
The Hunt House was built around 1880 as part of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trading post. It is believed its first resident served as the company’s interpreter, although much of the history around the post’s remaining structures is still uncertain. “The specifics of who built them, lived there, etc., are still somewhat of a mystery,” said Troy Patenaude, Fort Calgary’s director of cultural development.
The home’s last occupant and namesake, rail worker William Hunt, lived there until the 1970s. Described as a simple structure, the home featured a wood-shingled exterior, gable roof and brick chimney, as well as a partial cellar.
“Between Hunt residing there and the 2015 movement to protect the land and buildings of Fort Calgary, it’s quite remarkable that it’s still standing on its original location,” said Patenaude.
The original post included several cabins, presumably for the interpreter and other employees. Métis Cabin, beside the Hunt House, is another one of the structures that’s still here today. Moved in the 1930s to the Inglewood Brewery and used as a pump house, the cabin was restored and returned to the Fort in 2017.
The restoration of the Hunt House, along with the Métis Cabin and the Deane House, is part of Fort Calgary’s larger “Make History” project, highlighting the ways Calgary’s past shapes the city today.
For 18 months, a crew led by Dave Chalmers, owner of Chalmers Heritage Conservation, carefully completed the period restoration of the Hunt House, returning it to its frontier-era appearance.
“It was covered in numerous levels of siding, that’s why it lasted so long,” said Chalmers. “And there had also been some lean-tos and additions put on to it.”
The restoration included lifting and restoring the cabin from the bottom up to preserve as much original material as possible. Any affected logs were removed and restored individually.
“The logs had the original hand-hewn marks and dovetail notches,” said Chalmers. “We also discovered the original plank floor with all the old wear and burn marks, even axe marks from chopping firewood. So much of the story is told by the materials.”
Other details include original clay chinking and daubing between the logs, using a mix of clay, lime and straw. Now, what you see is the cabin as it would have been when it was built, with some discreet “asset protection,” including intumescent coating and a sprinkler system in case of fire.
“Even though these were very simple buildings, they were built entirely from the surrounding environment, almost entirely from what was locally available,” said Chalmers. “We see an old cabin, but that was somebody’s home that they would have been very proud of.”
Without projects like “Make History,” important parts of Alberta’s heritage could be lost.
“These buildings are physical reminders of how we came to be as a society and why we’re all here today the way we are,” said Patenaude. “They remind us of all these stories that bring our history to life.”