Jun 18

1960s Calgary: The Tower Rises

by Kristy · 0 comments

The Calgary Tower in 1969, Retrieved from the Calgary Public Library

 

The 1960s was an era of iconic events and tumultuous change around the globe. The decade inspired entire books, university classes, and ultimately, deep analysis of its complex events. Calgary was itself transitioning in the 1960s, from a railway town full of ranches and farms, to an oil town, able to compete with the big energy players on the world stage. In February of 1967, construction began on a landmark Calgary project, one that would change the face of the city’s skyline. At 626 feet tall, when it was completed in June of 1968, the Calgary Tower was the tallest free-standing structure in North America. This June, the Calgary Tower celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

Originally named the Husky Tower, the structure was to be built on the old CPR Station at 9th Avenue and Centre Street. The specific placing of the Tower holds historic meaning, as it signifies the importance of the railway to the city’s development. In order to begin construction, the old train station needed to be demolished, perhaps metaphorically signifying the city’s shift from railway town to energy giant.

Calgary Tower Architectural Drawing, Retrieved from the Dale Kennedy fonds/Canadian Architectural Archives

 

Then-mayor Jack Leslie and Husky president Glenn Nielsen participated in something of a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the beginning of construction. The objective was simple, get behind the controls of a wrecking ball and take the first swipe at the old rail station. In practice, this was not so simple. Ten swings were taken with the wrecking ball and all failed to make an impression in the existing structure. Demolition professionals had to take the helm and it took them more than a dozen swings to bring even a section of the wall down.

The Calgary Tower, though owned by Husky Oil and Marathon Realty, was conceived of  by W.G. (Bill) Milne, an architect. He wrote letter after letter to the City of Calgary, pitching ideas for Canada’s 1967 Centennial. He envisioned a golden spire, and a structure not unlike the recently unveiled Space Needle of Seattle. Milne’s original proposed names for the Tower reveal the sentiments of the 60s as the world watched the US-Soviet Space Race. Sky Spire, Sky Deck, and Space Deck were some of the names left on the table in favour of Husky Tower. The tower’s current restaurant, however, is called Sky360, perhaps in homage to those early suggestions.

The Calgary Tower Under Construction, Retrieved from the City of Calgary Corporate Records Archives

 

Renamed the Calgary Tower in 1971 and dedicated to the people of the city, the tower is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers alongside more than 40 other structures in 20 countries. The wording of W.G. Milne’s original proposal was certainly prophetic: “This tower could be a bold stroke which would truly catch the Calgary spirit.”

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