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Sir James Alexander Lougheed

Lougheed House

Sir James Alexander Lougheed was one of the foremost real estate magnates of Calgary. As a lawyer, entrepreneur, and senator, Lougheed became one of Calgary's most well-known citizens - grandfather of a future premier of Alberta and developer of such famous buildings as the Beaulieu Mansion and the Lougheed Building.

Born in 1854, Lougheed was the son of a construction worker and he grew up in a poor Toronto neighborhood. Encouraged by his Sunday School teacher, a lawyer named Samuel Blake, Lougheed chose to study law rather than become a builder like his father. In 1882, he started a law firm in Winnipeg and acquired an active role in Conservative politics. The next year, he boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train headed for Medicine Hat, where he persuaded CPR executives to make him a company lawyer.

Sir James Lougheed

When the CPR reached Calgary in 1883, Lougheed chose to settle in the city because he believed it would become the centre for business in the west. After setting up a law practice, he became a real estate speculator. He bought five lots from the CPR at $300 a piece one mile west of town. This was viewed as a gamble because other speculators believed that Calgary would expand to the east rather than west. Lougheed's gamble paid off when the CPR built a train station only a block away from Lougheed's property. Lougheed further developed celebrity status in the community by marrying Isabella Hardisty, the son of the richest man in the Northwest Territories, Richard Hardisty.

Lougheed, having married into a wealthy family, needed a home to suit his new status. He bought an entire block at 707-13th avenue SW to build his sandstone mansion, which he called "Beaulieu" but was more commonly known as "the big house." Construction on the stately edifice began in 1891. Built in a late Victorian style, the mansion was surrounded by lavish gardens, ornate fountains, and imposing wrought iron fences. The interior featured eight fireplaces with Italian marble facing, windows of leaded glass, antique English furniture, brass ornaments, oriental rugs, and even palm trees. When Lougheed became a Senator in 1889, Beaulieu Mansion became a social haven for the local elite. His wife Belle, known as the first lady of Calgary, entertained many visitors including Edward VIII and George VI, before they became monarchs.

Lougheed had continual success in real estate, especially in the years leading up to 1912. He built several city blocks downtown, named after his sons Clarence, Edgar, Norman and Douglas. He built his masterpiece in 1912, on 1st Street and 6th Avenue at the height of the boom known as the Lougheed Building. This six-storey giant of red brick, with a steel and concrete base, was a multi-purpose commercial building with retail and office space. In the basement of the Lougheed, the Sherman Grand, a 1500 seat theatre was built. Lougheed contracted Lanier Rumel Wardrop to design the entire complex, paying over half a million dollars for the entire project. The Sherman Grand theatre had one of the largest stages in the country, producing vaudeville shows and opera performances, and hosting important political rallies.

Sir James Alexander Lougheed was knighted by George V in 1916, the only Albertan to receive this honour. He died at the age of 71 in 1925 after suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis. Beaulieu Mansion remained in the family until 1935, when it was seized for non-payment of taxes. In 1940, the Red Cross acquired and turned it into a blood clinic. The mansion was declared a Provincial Historic resource in 1977. The city of Calgary acquired most of the property in the 1990s, and the area was redeveloped as a civic park - the Beaulieu Gardens were completed in 1998. The refurbished mansion, declared a National Historic site in 1995, is now host to fundraising Victoria teas, wedding photography sessions, and movie shoots. Despite attempts to demolish the Lougheed Building, it still stands today.

References

Brennan, Brian. Building a Province: 60 Alberta Lives. Calgary: Fifth House, 2000.

McKenna, Marian C. Sir James Alexander Lougheed: Calgary's First Senator and City Builder. Max Foran and Sheilagh Jameson (eds). Citymakers: Calgarians after the Frontier. Calgary: The Historical Society of Alberta, Chinook Country Chapter, 1987.

Smith, Donald. Calgary's Grand Story. Calgary, AB, CAN: University of Calgary Press, 2005.

Wiebe, Christopher. Print Culture. Vue Weekly. January 12, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2008

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