Community considers old Alexandra School a historic site despite province’s refusal to grant recognition
Woven among dusty low-rises are an old-fashioned candy store, Italian pizzeria and antique shops boasting silver Islamic chairs and wooden Chinese drawers. The community stretching along 9th Avenue S.E. is the oldest neighbourhood in Calgary.
At the heart of Inglewood is the old Alexandra School building — a large sandstone structure with a dark burgundy rooftop set off by bright white trim. Constructed in 1902, it is one of Inglewood’s most historic attractions, and has been the home of the Alexandra Centre Society for the last 40 years.
“I love the building because it is a legacy,” said Shirley-Anne Reuben, the society’s executive director. “It is a re-purpose building and is really the centre of community activity.
“Originally the school was abandoned and boarded up. It was almost going to be used as a men’s shelter.”
The heart of Inglewood
The Alexandra Centre Society started in 1973, when Inglewood was designated for a Neighbourhood Improvement Program along with the community of Ramsay. It was one of the first communities in Canada to obtain government funding in order to develop the neighbourhood.
Reuben said the project was a grassroots initiative. The City of Calgary was not involved; rather, it was funded by people in the community and by the provincial and federal government.
The main project goal was to restore the school and create space to house community daycare and educational programs. At the time the community did not have its own daycare and medical clinic.
“I have seen the building go from a school to a community service centre that is unique to the city,” Reuben said. “No other community has something like this.”
Currently the centre houses the Alexandra Writer’s Centre Society, Calgary Civic Symphony, Alexandra Family Medicine and the Inglewood Child Development Centre.
Province looking for more historic significance
Even though centre representatives have made numerous attempts to have the building recognized as a historic site, the provincial government and the City of Calgary have not designated the building as a historic resource.
“Essentially we want to get the building recognized should the centre not be there in the future,” said Rueben. “Getting it recognized would provide more security against the building being knocked down for other purposes.”
Matthew Wrangler, manager of the Alberta government’s historic places research and designation program, confirms that the main reason the old school building was rejected as a historic resource was the addition of the gymnasium in 1956.
“I love the building because it is a legacy. It is a re-purpose building and is really the centre of community activity.”
— Shirley-Anne Reuben,
Alexandra Centre Society
“The gymnasium was viewed to be a highly insensitive and unsympathetic addition to the building,” he said. “It obscures a part of the original school building and detracts from its character.”
Wrangler said that when evaluating potential historic resource sites, the province looks at the overall significance and integrity of the building for Alberta as a whole.
In this case, he said it was determined that the Alexandra School did not have province-wide significance. “We want to ensure that a historic resource for the province is truly exceptional in architecture, or something that is the first of its kind.”
Wrangler said that the Alexandra School is on the City of Calgary’s inventory, but has yet to be deemed as a historic resource by the city. “It’s eligible for designation, but the city has not yet passed a bylaw.”
Reuben explained that despite unsuccessful attempts in the past, the advocates for the centre still try every couple of years to get the school the recognition they feel it deserves.
Old meets new
Former Inglewood resident Nick Hatch said, “So far, I think Inglewood has done a pretty good job in keeping the older buildings intact while still mixing in the commercial…”
He said the most common thing in Calgary is to start totally fresh. “The Alexandra School is one of the oldest sandstone buildings we have. I think there are few enough of those in Calgary that it is worth preserving.”
Robin Van Eck, a writer with the Alexandra Writer’s Centre said Inglewood has come a long way. “There is even talk about the LRT line running through here, and that looks promising.”
Van Eck said, contrary to what some community residents might say, she likes some of the new structures being built within Inglewood.
She said that the new brick office building across from the centre has a more modern look, but the brick fits into the theme of Inglewood. The building’s white and blue colours have also been designed to match the historic elements of the community.
“I think change is good,” Van Eck added. “What has been built so far blends in with the community’s feel.”