McVittie cabin, one of the original Inglewood buildings Alison Jackson Collection
Inglewood, once home to porn theatres and used car lots, is now one of five finalists in contention for the title of Greatest Place in Canada. This story is very heartening for those of us who value the heritage in this city and it is also an example of how a strong community can work together to make their neighbourhood what they want it to be.
Back in the day, I used to make the trip through Inglewood on my way to my job at the Alyth Yards. The main street, once called Atlantic Avenue, was something of a wilderness of shabby old buildings and not-very-nice businesses. There was alway a bit of a bohemian buzz about it, but for the most part it was forlorn-looking. But when I veered off the strip and poked around a bit in the neighbourhood, I came to realize that this had indeed been the heart of our city.
For an old building lover, the old houses, generally left untouched by gentrification, the railways workers’ cottages, the beautiful tree-lined streets were a paradise. And talk about urban wildlife! Strange and wonderful birds flitted in the trees and wandered the banks of the river, thanks to the proximity of the bird sanctuary. And you could hear lions roaring and wolves howling from their home at the zoo. It was a charming, quirky neighbourhood – and I am so happy to see that it is still a charming and quirky neighbourhood.
I am also delighted that the heritage of the area has been preserved. Inglewood was the very first area to be settled of what would become Calgary. When Fort Calgary was established in 1875 at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, the town kind of sprung up around it, albeit a town of tents and cabins built from whatever could be found. The McVittie cabin, shown above, was made of packing crates and other waste wood. Further development was spurred by the announcement that Calgary would be the railway hub for southern Alberta. It was assumed that the station would be in the area of the Fort, which didn't turn out to be the case, but in any event, Calgary's first neighbourhood was born.
In 1892 the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. opened at the end of Atlantic Avenue and the area became known as Brewery Flats. Over the years there was more industrialization in the area, with the opening of the rail yards, an abbatoir and stock yards and other processing and manufacturing industries. But over time, the area east of the downtown became run down and neglected. In time Inglewood would be facing what many other older areas of the city had faced — the dreaded "urban renewal scheme."
Had the "urban renewers" had their way, much of what is standing in Inglewood would have been razed in the 60s and 70s to make way for roads, interchanges and parking. It was an area in decline and in the 1960s the answer to that was to tear it down and put up new stuff. This had happened down here, in the area around City Hall. Old hotels and businesses were seen as dilapidated eyesores and were torn down to make way for development. As we know now, that might have been a bit of a mistake. Losing many of our old buildings robbed this end of the downtown of its character and walkability and exacerbated the problems that the scheme was designed to remedy. But that wasn't allowed to happen in Inglewood. It has undergone a renewal, for sure, just not urban renewal.
If you are interested in the history of this part the city we have scads of stuff in the Local History room at the Central Library including a building inventory and other general histories. There is also a self-guided walking tour available here that you can use to explore Inglewood and visit some of its historic sites — and great shops and cafes.