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Growth of Alberta's Financial Centre (1961-1981)

Chinook Centre

Between 1961 and 1981, Calgary's population more than doubled, growing from 250,000 in 1961 to almost 600,000 in 1981. The growth trend of the post-war era continued throughout the 1960s and gained further momentum in the 1970s. Most of Calgary's buildings were built during this period, a time when Modernism reigned in architecture, giving the city its stark and practical look.

Guiness House

During this time of exponential growth, Calgary's pace of construction and infrastructure could not keep up with the needs of its citizens. The city needed more efficient roads, new industrial parks, downtown office space, housing, and commercial services for families choosing to live in the suburbs. Consequentially, the real estate industry was thriving. REALTORS® were constantly welcoming newcomers into the city and gladly assisting them with their real estate concerns. American oil companies were continuing to open up new offices in the city, bringing in new workers on a weekly basis. By the end of the 1960s, the oil industry provided direct employment for nearly 10% of all Calgarians.

First Plus 15

Newcomers to the city needed homes. Bungalows and split-level houses in the suburbs were constantly going up in new neighborhoods featuring schools, shopping centres, libraries, churches, entertainment facilities, and other commercial services. Due to the post-Second World War baby boom, Calgary's demographics changed-young families sought large homes with three or four bedrooms. They wanted nearby schools for their children to attend. In response, the city approved the development of numerous new elementary, junior high, and high schools. In addition, post-secondary institutions like Mount Royal College and the University of Calgary received significant expansions. Calgary was often described as a youthful, white-collar city; therefore, many Calgarians had purchasing power and sought various ways of investing or spending their hard-earned money. This spurred further construction in the retail industry as shopping malls and auto dealerships sprung up all over the city.

Downtown Calgary witnessed real estate's biggest developments. High rises continued to go up, namely the Imperial Oil Building in 1964 and the Guinness Complex the following year. The most exciting of these projects was the Husky Tower (later renamed the Calgary Tower), a 626 feet concrete mammoth featuring a revolving restaurant at the top, built in 1967. Another important project was the Plus 15 walkway system, a series of walkways 15 feet above the ground that connected downtown businesses. Culturally significant projects were also developed in the 1960s including the Glenbow Museum, the Convention Centre, a library, a performing arts centre, and the Centennial Planetarium. The institutional district was not particularly pedestrian friendly or even visually appealing-many of the buildings were made of drab concrete, and there were no trees or civic squares to break up the visual monotony. The 1960s revitalization of downtown was all part of the city's master plan to encourage high density construction in the downtown core. But all of this came at a high cost, culturally and financially; historical buildings were constantly being bulldozed to make way for these developments. Residential neighborhoods were also leveled causing residential development in the city's core to cease altogether. Thus, the downtown core was transformed into a single-use commercial zone. People were moving away from the city centre towards the open spaces of Calgary's new suburbs.

Calgary Tower

The 1970s witnessed more significant development for downtown Calgary. Due to high oil prices brought on by the OPEC energy crisis and an ever-expanding petroleum industry, more and more companies were choosing Calgary as a place to conduct business. As a result, high-rise office towers continued to be the norm in property development. The Calgary Tower was dwarfed by these new high-rises, and from 1978 to 1982, Calgary set a record for square footage of office space constructed in Canada. Unfortunately, these developments meant that more historical buildings were being demolished; at the peak of the boom, almost 600 buildings were destroyed every year.

Block of houses

Calgary's economy was stronger than ever, evident most notably by the plethora of job opportunities. By late 1970s, 3000 people were arriving in Calgary every week, bringing its population over the half-million mark. Building permits topped one billion dollars a year. The vacancy rate was very low because the construction industry could not keep up with the demand for office towers, housing and retail establishments. Despite downtown's continual growth, it remained merely a place to work and, consequently, was deserted in the evening. Instead, social activities continued to drift towards the suburbs. Indoor shopping malls were built throughout the decade including the Market, Southcentre, Trans Canada, Marlborough, Lake Bonavista and Northland Village Malls. Chinook Mall took over Southridge Mall, allowing it to remain the largest shopping centre in Western Canada for another decade. Athletic recreation centres and parks were also popular spots. Dozens of community recreation complexes were built by the city during the 1970s, and many new parks were developed including Confederation Park, Richmond Green Park, and St. George's Heights Park. In addition, two environmentally protected reserves were established north and south of the city at Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park.

Imperial Oil building

The 1980s began on a promising note. The construction boom was ongoing and the economy was strong. City planners were attempting to revitalize the downtown core by improving public transit, making it more pedestrian friendly, adding more public spaces and residential areas, and conserving the few remaining historical sites. However, real estate prices were exceptionally high causing demand to slow down. The enactment of the National Energy Policy by the Federal government effectively crashed Alberta's oil industry and sent Calgary into its next recession.


Jenish, D'Arcy. “Alberta soars while Canada Stagflates.” Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Mclean, Candis. “While Calgary's Economy Sizzles, its Politics Threaten to Explode.” Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 10: The Sixties Revolution & the Fall of Social Credit. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Peach, Jack. The First Fifty Years: A Chronicle of Half a Century in the life of the Calgary Real Estate Board 1943 - 1993. The Calgary Real Estate Board.

Sandalack, Beverly A. and Andrei Nicolai. The Calgary Project: Urban Form/Urban Life. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2006.

Stenson, Fred. The Story of Calgary. Fifth House Publishers, 1994.

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