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Customs House

Calgary

Other Names:
Customs Examining Warehouse

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Customs House. completed in 1916, is a four-storey Chicago Commercial-style warehouse-type building, clad with red brick and sandstone. The Customs House is located in the Beltline neighbourhood immediately south of Calgary’s downtown and adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway’s mainline.

Heritage Value
This property is historically significant for its role as the federal government’s customs house in Calgary from the time of its completion in 1916 until 1979. During this period it contained the administrative offices and examining quarters for the Port of Calgary. The Customs House received goods and mail coming into Calgary from foreign places where it was inspected, recorded, and valued for any excise taxes owing prior to re-shipment. Its location adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (C.P.R.) mainline and the former site of the C.P.A. station reflects the method of shipment for items historically moving through the Customs House. The Customs House, which contained the Post Parcels Branch, was strategically situated just two blocks south of the main post office, facilitating the movement of goods between the two buildings.


Largely functioning as a sorting warehouse, the building contained eight administrative offices and a second storey long room—the grand public space of the building. Indicative of the building’s original customs function, the building retains its internal west elevation driveway and loading docks. Originally, internal driveways and loading docks also comprised the building’s north-east corner, but have subsequently been in-filled.


The Customs House is symbolically important, reflecting Calgary’s historic status as a major shipping and distribution centre in western Canada. In 1912, the year it was commissioned, customs receipts in Calgary exceeded those of any other centre west of Toronto, justifying the erection of such a substantial facility. When completed, the Calgary Customs House was the largest and finest facility of its type between Winnipeg and Vancouver, and equaled facilities in either of those centers. Further, the Customs House recalls the unprecedented boom that occurred in Calgary between 1909 and 1913, reaching an apex in 1912. The boom made Calgary one of the fastest growing cities in North America with the Customs House built as a direct result of this activity. Inauguration of the Customs House replaced customs operations that were housed under no less than five different roofs and continued a tradition of customs services that were first established in Calgary in 1884.

The Customs House is architecturally significant as Calgary’s—if not Alberta’s—most handsome example of a warehouse-type structure, and is one of the city’s best examples of Chicago Commercial style design. Similar in design to the Customs Houses in Winnipeg and Vancouver the Customs House exemplifies the customs facilities built by the federal government in large centers prior to the First World War. Classically detailed, it features a rusticated sandstone base, brick-clad upper storeys spanned by pilasters and a substantial, overhanging sheet-metal cornice capping the facade. Built to be fireproof, the building comprises a steel and concrete frame clad with brick produced on the west side of the City and locally quarried sandstone from the Glenbow area of north-west Calgary. Canadian made materials and fittings were used in the building’s construction to the greatest extent possible, aligning with the period’s strong sense of nationalism. As such, the marble paneling and detailing that still adorns the lobby and staircase of the building was sourced from Quebec quarries. The Chief Architects Branch of the federal Department of Public Works was responsible for the design. Leo Dowler, the Dominion Government’s Resident Architect in Calgary supervised the construction, with construction charged to the Thomas McDiarmid Co.


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Customs House include, but are not limited to its:

- Symmetrically balanced, rectangular, four-storey, flat-roof form;
- Steel-frame and concrete construction with pressed, red-brick cladding (upper storeys) and rock-faced, Glenbow sandstone cladding laid in coursed ashlar (first-storey);
- Brick detailing consisting of pilasters;
- Sandstone detailing consisting of pilaster capitals and bases, window lintels and sills, continuous window hoods with keystones and the front doorway surround;
- Substantial, block-modillion, sheet metal cornice;
- Horizontally and vertically aligned symmetrical fenestration with rectangular and segmental-arched openings; multi-pane, wooden sash window above main entrance;
- Western bay consisting of unenclosed opening, and the loading docks contained within;
- Rooftop flag pole;
- Interior configuration of the split-level lobby/stair hall and main stair well;
- Interior detailing of the lobby/stair hall and main stair well consisting of marble paneling and baseboards and terrazzo flooring; and
- Interior main staircase with iron framework, balustrades, newels and wood hand rails; marble treads.


Location



Street Address: 134 - 11 Avenue SE
Community: Calgary
Boundaries: Lots 21 to 28, Block 70, Plan A
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
5
1
24
15
06

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
A (Calgary)
70
21-28


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.04243084310 -114.06115505400 Secondary Source NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2009/07/13

Historical Information

Built: 1916/01/01
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Governing Canada : Government and Institutions
Historic Function(s): Government : Customs Building
Current Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Office or Office Building
Architect: Leo Dowler
Department of Public Works
Builder: Thomas McDiarmid Co.
Context:

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0258
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link:
Data Source: City of Calgary, Heritage Planning, File No. 02-110
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