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Bowness - Small Town in the Big City

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 941

Calgary Auto Club House, Bowness Park (originally John Hextall Residence)

Postcards from the Past, PC 941

I made a little visit to Bowness last week to do some shopping. My husband and I stopped at a little diner for lunch and I was amazed by the feel of the place. Bowness still feels like the small town it was when I was a child visting my mom's aunt and her family there. People still smile and greet you, staff in shops are friendly and welcoming and it really retains a lot of its small town charm.

The district has a very interesting history. It began with the vision of John Hextall, an Englishman, who caught the land speculation bug during one of Calgary's boom times in 1910. He bought the Bowness Ranche lands for $39 per acre. His hopes for the subdivision were that it would become a beautiful garden suburb, similar to Mount Royal. Caveats were put in place that required homes being built to be worth $3500 or more.

Despite his enthusiasm and promotion of the development, lot sales did not take off. By 1913 there had been a downturn in the economy and then, in 1914, war broke out and the real estate market collapsed. Hextall died in 1914 and his son, who had taken over the business, died in the war in 1916. Development in Bowness slowed to nearly a standstill.

It wasn't until the 1940s that development started up again, mostly by people building their own homes away from the taxation and restrictions of the City of Calgary. By 1952 Bowness, now a town, had a population of around 900 mostly blue collar workers. By 1964 it had become a part of the city.

The Bowness Historical Society has written a really good history of their community called Bowness: Our Village In the Valley (call number 971.2338 BOW) which is available at many of the branches of the Calgary Public Library. I used this resource for many of the facts in this posting. The Society has lots of information on their website as well. You can find them at


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