The City of Calgary will be auctioning off properties with more than three years outstanding tax arrears. CREB®Now file photo

* Sandstone City: A series looking at the people, architecture and culture of Calgary’s sandstone glory days

Sandstone statesman Calgary’s first municipal heritage resource

Old City Hall has a new lease on life thanks to budgetary concessions that will preserve a cornerstone of Calgary’s history.

During budget deliberations in late November, city council designated $35 million to a fund to restore heritage buildings such as the 103-year-old sandstone structure on the corner of First Street and Seventh Avenue S.E.

The new funding comes just months after Old City Hall made the news when pieces started falling from the exterior. The newfound funding will address the crumbling sandstone and weakening of the stone due to June 2013 flooding.

The last major renovation in 1987 included new roofing and cleaning of the sandstone.

Designed by architect William M. Dodd to replace a wooden structure on the same sight in 1911, the building has a steel structural frame and includes a clock tower, heavy stone verandas and semi-circular arches.

The building’s official opening was conducted by Robert Borden before he became prime minister. When first constructed, the building was home to not only the offices of Calgary’s mayor and aldermen, but also the police department, courts and municipal telephone system.

Today, the building is home to the City Clerk’s offices, records and archives, as well as the mayor’s and councillors’ offices.

“Calgary City Hall is a historic triple threat: it’s recognized as a municipal historic resource, a provincial historic resource and a national historic site,” said Darryl Cariou, senior heritage planner with the City.

“It’s the only surviving period City Hall in Western Canada, and that’s why we’ve been recognized by all three levels of government.”

City Hall earned its provincial historic resource status in 1978, its national historic site status in 1984 and became Calgary’s first municipal heritage resource in 1991.

With the construction of buildings like Old City Hall, Calgary earned the moniker “Sandstone City” in the late 1800s. A great fire in 1886 wiped out 18 wooden buildings in the downtown and fire-resistant sandstone proved to be a very attractive alternative. Soon, more than a dozen quarries popped up all around the city.
“[Old City Hall is] probably our premier example of the Sandstone City,” said Cariou. “We’re a sandstone city and we’ve got a sandstone City Hall.”

While many sandstone landmarks have been demolished in support of Calgary’s continued growth, City Hall remains as “one of the few remaining sandstone buildings in western Canada,” said Canada’s Historic Places. “While the interior of the building has undergone significant design changes, the integrity of the exterior of the building has been well maintained.”