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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Recession and Recovery (1982-1990)

Olympic Park

Calgarians enjoyed a strong and dynamic economy at the start of the 1980s; however, a recession caused by a number of circumstances would soon set in directly impacting Calgary’s real estate industry. Returning to power in 1980, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals introduced the National Energy Plan as a means of regulating energy industries in order to encourage Canadian investment, lower oil prices, and receive a better share of the oil industry's profits by increasing corporate taxes. The NEP scared away any foreign investment in Calgary's oil companies, which were largely American owned. Immediately, oil companies in Calgary were laying people off and closing up shop. Alberta's oil and gas industry was decimated and billions of dollars of potential revenue left the province. Even Canadian owned companies like Dome Petroleum went under due to rising interest rates and fragile markets.


Compared to other Albertan cities, Calgary weathered the recession reasonably well. The oil industry did not shut down completely; many companies weathered the storm, albeit with fewer staff and lowered productivity. When the recession began to affect the city’s economy by 1981, Calgary simultaneously won the bid to host the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. The establishment of Calgary as the host city set off a small construction boom in which world-class facilities like the Canada Olympic Park, COP visitors’ centre, and a Hall of Fame exhibit were built. Other projects that went ahead were the Olympic Speed Skating Oval at the University of Calgary, the Saddledome on Stampede grounds, and the media villages at Broadcast Hill and Lincoln Park. In addition, some buildings underwent significant improvements; for instance, McMahon Stadium was enlarged, the Max Bell Arena was renovated, and the Big Four Building was converted into the International Broadcast Centre. The Olympic construction projects also benefited downtown; the construction of the Olympic Plaza on 8th Avenue helped revitalize the Stephen Avenue Mall, a retail strip in the heart of Calgary that was a popular spot for tourists.

athletes’ and media village

Calgary’s oil-based economy began a slow recovery in 1985 when the NEP was revoked. However, 1986's oil prices remained low resulting in increased job losses, bankruptcies and foreclosures. That year, unemployment rose to 9.6%. However, the next year, the real estate market continued to slowly recover when another building boom hit the city. Downtown office space was once again a hot market, because new businesses were attracted by Calgary's well designed roads, an efficient C-train system, and a busy international airport. In 1987, the housing market saw gains of 11% while unemployment rates dropped. A year later, the Winter Olympics were held in the city, bringing in a lot of business. In the closing years of the decade, Calgary's skyline was once again reshaped with the building of the Canterra Tower (1988), Amoco Tower (1988), and Bankers' Hall (1989).


Jenish, D’Arcy. “Depressed Oil Prices and the NEP Devastate the Alberta Economy.” Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Koch, George. “Gred, Neglect and the NEP Wreck Alberta’s ‘House of Cards’.” Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa. 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.

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

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

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