Coun. Evan Woolley saves city’s sixth oldest home from demolition
Another historical home in Calgary has been spared from seeing the light of its last day. The City of Calgary struck a deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese to save the McHugh house from demolition.
It was confirmed on Feb. 13 that Calgary’s sixth oldest home – and one of the last remaining Queen Anne-revival architecture buildings in the city – will be moved to a different site where the city will become the new owner.
Preserving McHugh House
Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley first brought the issue before city council as urgent business at the Jan. 27 meeting. The Diocese had originally filed for the demolition of McHugh house on March 3, 2013.
Council went in camera to discuss the topic, citing confidential issues. However, the meeting minutes noted that they considered three options concerning McHugh House:
- Buy the land from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary
- Move the home to another site
- Find funds to preserve the home at its current location
John Merrett, a representative for the Diocese, wrote to the Calgary Journal via email that McHugh House will move to a different location, and the city will take ownership of the home. If the province is able to provide funding, money will go to the City for upkeep of the home.
McHugh House is currently located at 110 18th Ave. S.W., and is listed on the Inventory of Evaluated Historical Resources. However, in order to be protected by law from demolition, the home would need to be listed instead as a historic resource under the provincial Historical Resources Act.
The act gives all municipalities the ability to protect historic resources, including homes. However, it requires that the municipality giving designation compensate owners for any economic losses.
Darryl Cariou, City of Calgary senior heritage planner, said neither the province nor the City could designate legal protection to the home without permission of the owner.
According to City information, McHugh House is currently valued at $2 million.
Protecting architectural history
McHugh House is named after the pioneer McHugh family, who arrived on Calgary soil as early as 1873, according to Calgary Public Library archives. After selling in the 1920s, the house continued to serve as a residence for early Calgarians until the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Roman Catholic group, purchased it in 1960. The Diocese took ownership in 1969.
Courtesy of City of Calgary Heritage Planning
The house was most recently home to Elizabeth House, a religious organization that serves as a place for pregnant teens and young mothers. Diocese representative Merrett said the organization eventually moved from the location due to mold and foundation problems. McHugh House has remained vacant ever since.
Demolition of historic and inspiring architecture is not a new problem in Calgary. According to the Calgary Heritage Initiative Society website, many historic properties have faced demolition or are at risk for ruin.
The Calgary Heritage Authority notes that many well-known properties, such as the Sunnyside Grocery, Ramsay Design Centre and Riverside Bungalow School, are all at-risk properties fated to become vacant or destroyed for further development.
Prior to the news of McHugh House, the Eamon’s Camp building, a former gas station between Calgary and Cochrane, Alta., was moved to make way for the Tuscany LRT station. The structure, which cost the city $500,000 to move, is currently sitting in storage. Its future is unknown for the time being.
The last residential house in the downtown core, located at 933 5th Ave. S.W., is also up for demolition.
Ricky Leong, a columnist for the Calgary Sun, recognized a major flaw in the city’s preservation process, noting that a building simply receiving historical significance isn’t enough to provide for maintenance and upkeep beyond protection.
“It’s no wonder, then, that many homeowners would rather knock over a piece of history then take care of it,” he wrote in a March 2013 column.
Residents who wish to preserve a landmark are able to apply for city funding through the Historic Resource Conservation Grant program.
Scott Joliffe, chair of the Calgary Heritage Authority, said in an Oct. 2011 Calgary Journal article regarding the demolition of the Ogden grain elevator, “It’s important to preserve the city’s history.”
“Historic buildings are symbols of the hopes and dreams of generations that came before us, and preserving those gives us roots in this community,” he said.
“Historic buildings are symbols of the hopes and dreams of generations that came before us and preserving those gives us roots in this community.”
– Scott Joliffe, Chair, Calgary Heritage Authority.
Cynthia Klassen, president of the Calgary Heritage Initiative Society, was quoted in the same article, and said that the destruction of the landmark goes well beyond the loss of a building.
“The building held a lot of stories, and now that the building is gone, the stories are gone too,” she said.
A loss of these valuable buildings and homes means a loss of the stories and history that makes Calgary what it is today. Klassen said in the article that much of the destruction of many historical properties is due to the need for more space for modern transportation.
In fact, the Ramsay Design Centre is noted on the Heritage Initiative Society’s website as being “partially ‘in the way’ of the future S.E. LRT.”
Although the Calgary Heritage Strategy document states that the City of Calgary will work with “owners, developers, community groups and other levels of government to help build a culture of preservation,” the strategy could be supplemented by expanding the historic grant resource program, or by obtaining legal protection for more historic buildings.
In Jan. 2014, the province pledged $12 million towards heritage projects damaged by the June 2013 flood, with $4.5 million of that going towards damaged homes that have a heritage designation.
McHugh House has been spared from demolition for the time being, however, the future of the remaining jewels of Calgary’s past continue lie under clouds of uncertainty.