Curious about what makes Calgary such an amazing city? Well if you are interested in the city’s beginning, then you don’t have to look any further than the city’s East Village. Sitting on nearly 20 hectares in the heart of downtown Calgary, it’s nestled between Fort Calgary to the East, the downtown business core near City Hall to the West, the Bow River on the North, and 9th Avenue SE to the South. Currently in a phase of redevelopment, the East Village has been a catalyst in what Calgary is today.
Calgary was founded in 1875 with the East Village as the epicenter of the city. During those early years, the East Village was a bustling community with a mix of residential, commercial, service, institutional and industrial activity. For the first half of the 20th century, it continued to serve Calgarians and evolve with the times. Blacksmith shops gave way to iron foundries, livery stables to service stations, and single-family homes to apartments.
Considering it was the heart of the city for so long, it’s no surprise that some of the city’s most intriguing heritage buildings reside in the East Village. For those that have managed to survive, each holds over a century of stories. The King Eddy Hotel, St. Louis, Hillier Block, and Simmons Building are important parts of the neighborhood’s personality and are major players in the city’s history.
Perhaps the most famous and notorious is the affectionately known ‘King Eddy’. The King Edward Hotel was built in phases between 1905 and 1910 and is the second oldest hotel building in Calgary. It was once the site of bootlegging whiskey during prohibition, bawdyhouse activities, and, in more recent decades, became one of Canada’s most beloved blues bars. In the early 1980s, it proclaimed itself ‘Home of the Blues’ and gained a national reputation. Legendary blues musicians such as BB King, John Hammond, Pinetop Perkins and Otis Rush performed at the King Edward during this time, as well as rock star Bryan Adams. When the King Edward closed its doors in 2004, the hotel was considered to be Canada’s oldest blues bar.
There is also the St. Louis Hotel, one of only six hotels in the city to predate the First World War. Built in 1914, the St. Louis Hotel is a three-storey brick structure located on 8th Avenue SE. Distinctive tripartite windows and Neoclassical-style influences, such as an elaborate metal cornice and brick pilasters, distinguish its façade. Along with its original 60 rooms, the hotel also contained a bar, Cafe, barbershop and cigar stand. If walls could talk in the St. Louis Hotel, your ears may burn. It has a colourful past and has been described by some as the ‘Moulin Rouge’ of Calgary.
Then there is Hillier Block, one of only seven pre-World War I commercial structures to survive in East Village. Completed in 1910, the ground floor of the building contained a billiards hall and barbershop, while the two upper floors were divided into residential suites. Lastly, there is the Simmons building, which in its earliest days was used exclusively to provide bedding for the military during World War II.
It is clear that East Village has played an active role in what our city is and with its growth phase will continue to be a key player.
Stay tuned for next week when give you the insider on where the East Village is going.