Calgary’s Sandstone Statesman

Historic McDougall Centre thrives under many transformations

While you may not believe it today, Calgary was once known as the “Sandstone City” for its prevalent sandstone buildings constructed during the late 1800s.

As time passed, old was replaced with new and few of those elegant sandstone structures remain as evidence of the Sandstone City that was. One of those historical markers is the McDougall School building covering an entire block on 4th Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Calgary.

Completed in 1908 for a reasonable price tag of $150,000, the school was designed by Allan Merrick Jeffers. It was the location of Alberta’s first teacher training (or normal) school and served that purpose until 1945, one of the earliest major public buildings constructed in Alberta. McDougall remained the only normal school in Alberta until the construction of another facility in Camrose four years later. In 1922, the building was purchased by the Calgary Board of Education and named after George McDougall, a Methodist missionary (as well as his sons John, also a missionary, and David, a rancher).

In what could be considered historical gossip, historians claim the school was built in Calgary as compensation for Edmonton being named the provincial capital.

From 1945 to 1981, the building operated as a junior high and elementary school before being decommissioned due to decreased enrollment. The Government of Alberta purchased the school and today, known as McDougall Centre, it serves as an office space and centre for government events in southern Alberta and an acting office for the premier and their ministers when they do business away from the provincial capital of Edmonton.

The signature architecture of the school is influence by the Beaux-Arts style — a Parisian style of architecture whose characteristics included a flat roof, grand entrances, arched windows, classic details, symmetry and classical architectural details such as balustrades, pilasters and cartouches.

In September of 1982, the school was recognized as a Provincial Historic Resource.

For visitors to the Calgary or residents interested in learning a bit more about the history of the city they live in, McDougall School offers tours from Monday to Friday between 8:30 and 4:30, however it is suggested that tours be booked in advance. Touring the centre takes between 15 minutes and half an hour and admission is free. Call 403-297-8687 for more information.

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