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North-West Travellers Building


Other Names:
North West Travellers Building
North-west Travellers' Building
Northwest Travellers Building

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The North-West Travellers Building is a four-storey red brick building in the Edwardian Classical Style, from the pre-World War One period, located on one city block at First Street and Fifth Avenue SW in downtown Calgary. A two-storey brick addition was built immediately to the north in 1954 but is not included in the designation.

Heritage Value
The North-West Travellers Building is significant as a structural representation of Calgary's role as a district metropolis in the early twentieth century, and of its civic and cultural landscape through the interwar period. It is also important for its association with the North West Travellers Association of Canada.

The North-West Travellers Building reflects the evolving commercial relationships between the booming city of Calgary and its rural hinterland, and between Alberta and the rest of Canada at the turn of the twentieth century. Due to its proximity to the transcontinental rail line after 1883, Calgary became the primary regional centre for the distribution of manufactured goods. Agents based in Calgary, acting for businesses in central Canada, would travel through south-central Alberta to display samples and take orders from retailers. The Northwest Commercial Travellers Association of Canada (N.W.C.TA.) was a Winnipeg-based organization of these "commercial men," which built the North-West Travellers Building to house - and placate - the N.W.C.T.A.'s Alberta branch (founded 1905, the same year as the province). It included "sample rooms" for display and space for socializing, notably the short-lived (1914-16) Commercial Club on the fourth floor.

Afterwards, the building housed several institutions that contributed to the civic, commercial, cultural and political life of the city. These included the Calgary School Board / Commercial High School (1926-33); the Calgary Public Museum (1928-1935), by 1932 one of only five municipally funded museums in Canada; and government offices (1914-21), including the Dominion Department of Agriculture. During World War Two the Young Women's Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) renovated the second and third floors into dormitory space for women on leave; this facilitated its use by the Salvation Army as a hostel after 1948.

The North-West Travellers Building possesses heritage value for its architectural features as well. Its construction of reinforced cast-in-place concrete is unique for a four-storey building of this type and time frame, while its facade and interior contain some excellent illustrations of later Edwardian Classicism. It constitutes an important visual landmark as part of a historic streetscape that includes the neighbouring No. 1 Firehall and the nearby Odd Fellows Temple.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2113)

Character-Defining Elements
The character defining elements of the North-West Travellers Building include:
- reinforced cast-in-place concrete structure;
- symmetrical facade of red brick with detailed ornamentation of terra cotta and pressed metal, concentrated on the side (east/west) elevations;
- east and south elevations with parapet, pedimented entrance, pilasters, entablature (with prominent "North-West Travellers Building" lettering), shields and decorative bracketed cornice;
- arched storefront openings in wrap around design (continue from east to south elevation) ;
- original light well containing wired glass and steel sash along the north elevation;
- original double-hung wood windows on second, third and fourth storeys.

Original internal elements of the North-West Travellers Building, such as:
- aspects of original staircases (e.g. railings, sections of slate treads) ;
- a second floor vault;
- working open cage elevator.


Street Address: 515 - 1 Street SE
Community: Calgary
Boundaries: Portion of Lots 17 to 20, Block 31, Plan C
Contributing Resources: Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
11 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.047941 -114.060754 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2003/01/20

Historical Information

Built: 1912 to 1912
Period of Significance: N/A
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Community Organizations
Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Office or Office Building
Current Function(s): Community : Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club
Architect: Burroughs and Richards
Builder: P. Lyall and Sons

After the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway near Fort Calgary in 1883, the community which emerged outside the Fort soon assumed the position of a district metropolis to its farming and ranching hinterland. As such, it became not only a supply and service center, but, being on the transcontinental railway, it also became a center for the wholesale and distribution of goods to retail outlets in surrounding communities. By the turn of the twentieth century, this included much of south central Alberta.

With this development, industries in central Canada began to locate agents in Calgary to oversee what goods would be in demand, and in what communities and districts the demands would be greatest. As a result, a number of commercial travelers were also hired to provide a link between Calgary and these outlying districts and the communities within them. As in most parts of rural North America, they carried samples of products with them, and took orders while en route. In time, the so-called 'traveling salesman' became a familiar figure around the countryside. Many of these salesmen were members of the Northwest Commercial Travellers Association of Canada, a Winnipeg-based organization, founded as early as 1882. It was intended to provide information and benefits to its members, which included not only the salesmen, but also manufacturers' agents, sales executives, and proprietors of wholesaling and distributing companies.

In 1905, the Association established a branch in Calgary. With business in the hinterland booming along with that in the City itself, it was not long before the Calgary Branch could justify maintaining its own building. Early in 1912 therefore, the Association announced that it was constructing a four-storey office building with reinforced concrete next to Fire Hall No. 1 on First Street and Fifth Avenue SE. The architects were Burroughs and Richards, and P. Lyall and Sons were the builders. In November 1913, the Western Standard announced the pending opening of the new business block, and that 'the commercial men … will be located in the finest quarters occupied by any similar organization west of the Great Lakes.' As was intended, the Association's offices were located on the fourth floor, along with a meeting room, a dining room, a lounge and a writing room. The ground floor was set aside for 'sample rooms,' where the salesmen might display their wares. The second and third floors were to be rented out as offices. The basement was intended mainly for storage. When the building was officially opened in January 1914, the overall cost was estimated to be 140,000 dollars.

The Northwest Travellers Building went on to accommodate a number of residential and commercial tenants over the next few years, as well as government offices. For a short while, it also served as the home of the Commercial Club. In 1926 however, the Northwest Commercial Travellers rented the building to the Calgary School Board for use as the City's Commercial High School. The Association itself moved to another facility, and the School Board proceeded to sub-let space to other tenants. The most visible of the other occupants was the municipally financed Calgary Public Museum, which began to locate its exhibits there in 1928. Due to the Depression however, it was forced to close in 1935. By this time, the Commercial High School had also been relocated, and Toole, Peet and Co. took charge of the building on behalf of the Northwest Travellers, whose offices were again located there. The building did not generate revenue however, and, in 1945, it was sold and converted into the Hotel Bliss. Six years later, the building was acquired by the Salvation Army.


The historical significance of the Northwest Travellers Building lies in its provision of structural evidence of the commercial boom that gripped Calgary during the early years of the twentieth century. It also represents the central role played by Calgary in the commercial life of south-central Alberta, and the role of the traveling salesman in small town Alberta during the first half of the twentieth century. It is important also in having housed the Calgary Public Museum and the Commercial High School, as well as the Commercial Club and several provincial government offices. Its use by the Salvation Army is also significant, and indicative of a continuing need for social services in a late twentieth century boom city recognized for its commercial advancements.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0817
Designation File: DES 2113
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 6937
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2113)
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