Jul 30

The Barron Building: Anchor of the Oil Industry in Calgary

by Downtown Calgary · 0 comments

The Barron Building, Anchor of the Oil Industry in Calgary @ Historic Calgary Week

By Irena Karshenbaum

As we rush to work then home, taking the kids to soccer and getting groceries, Calgarians often forget to look at the history around us. We are lucky to be rushing around though, especially considering the economic times in other parts of the world today.

Calgary, likely, would not have its good economic fortune were it not for the vision and actions of one man, Jacob Bell Barron, over sixty years ago.

In 1947, oil started to gush from Leduc #1 well site and Imperial Oil Limited executives invited the Mayor of Edmonton, not the Mayor of Calgary, and other dignitaries to a public celebration on the morning of February 13, 2022 to officially turn on the taps.

Leduc was closer to Edmonton than to Calgary and that invitation to the Mayor of Edmonton was speaking volumes as to how oil executives envisioned the future role of the provincial capital in the oil industry that was taking root in Alberta.

Being a man who had created opportunity his entire life, JB Barron wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by. He snatched the riches that he saw heading for Edmonton and gave them to Calgary.

Barron noticed Calgary had a shortage of office space and understood that oil companies moving from Texas and Oklahoma needed office space to house their workers. This may not have been as obvious as it is today, considering that in the late 1940s Calgary had still not recovered from the real estate slump it had fallen into prior to World War I.

Barron decided to risk everything. He managed to convince Great West Life Assurance Company to grant an $850,000 mortgage, which was the biggest development mortgage lent by the company to date. He hired Calgary architect, Jack Cawston, and in 1949, with Larwill Construction Ltd. broke ground at 610 – 8th Avenue SW.

Barron was thought of as “crazy,” as his grandson John Barron remembers, as people in those days believed the business district was never going to extend that far west away from its center around City Hall.

Barron’s gamble paid off. Opened in 1951, the Barron Building secured the tenancy of Mobil Oil, Shell, Sun Oil, Socony Vacuum Oil and Trans Canada Pipelines, anchoring the oil industry in Calgary and transforming the city into the Oil Capital of Canada.

JB Barron is the reason we rush around, in a good way, today. Maybe we should thank him.


Irena Karshenbaum writes extensively on art, culture, architecture, urban planning, history and heritage. She served as the founding president of The Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project Society, a project that gifted one of the last surviving historic synagogues to the permanent collection of Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village. [email protected]


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