CalgaryFire Hall No. 1 was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2009. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance for either its history or architecture. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Below is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Calgary Fire Hall No. 1.
The first attempt to provide an orderly method of firefighting in the frontier community of Calgary came with its incorporation in 1884 when a volunteer fire committee was established. One of its first acts was to acquire a horse drawn wagon for a volunteer bucket brigade. In 1886, a major fire devastated the downtown and, as a result, most new commercial buildings were made of brick or stone, but these were still vulnerable to internal fires. A serviceable fire hall was obviously required.
In 1887, a wood frame fire hall was erected on 122 – 7th Avenue East. This served the town well at first, but Calgary continued to grow rapidly, and the need for another facility was soon apparent. It was not until 1905, however, that another fire hall was erected, this being another wood frame structure on 1801 Macleod Trail to serve the south side of the city. Even this was hardly adequate, for Calgary continued to grow at a frantic pace, its population rising to over 43,000 in 1911.
In 1911, both Calgary fire halls were replaced with modern brick facilities. Other fire halls were also soon built in other parts of the city. By this time, a Fire Department was a part of the civic administration, and paid fire fighters were stationed right at the halls. Reports on fires were sent in through the newly installed telephone system, and responses were handled by motorized fire trucks with pressurized pumps.
The new Calgary Fire Hall #1 was located at 140-6th Ave. SE. It was structured diagonally on the corner in order to allow easy access by fire trucks to either 1st Avenue or 6th Street. It was built of concrete and masonry with brick and sandstone cladding designed by the firm of Lang & Major, with help from Hodgson, Bates & Butler. Like the new Fire Hall #2 on the south side, Fire Hall #1 was equipped with all the fire fighting equipment necessary for a burgeoning metropolis. It was able to accommodate office space on the second floor, which was also used as living quarters for fire fighters as, from this point on, there would always be a crew on hand, ready at a moment’s notice. The major feature of the new building was its size, with five bays, and its capacity to facilitate new, motorized fire engines. Another feature was a 50’ hose tower with a cupola, with the cupola removed in the 1940s to facilitate a new siren system.
The most prominent fire fighter in Calgary’s early years was James “Cappy” Smart who, as Fire Chief, moved into Fire Hall #1 in 1912. He had been one of the first volunteers in the original Fire Brigade of 1885 and rose through the ranks to become chief in 1898. He took his calling very seriously, and, in 1904, was elected president of the Pacific Coast Fire Chiefs Association. Two years later, he was made president of the Western Canada Firemen’s Association. From 1909 to 1914, he was the president of the Alberta Firemen’s Association. In 1910, he was president of the International Fire Chief’s Association. His intense involvement in the fire fighting profession resulted in first class facilities for Calgary.
Fire Hall #1 served the City of Calgary until 1973, when a newer, modernized building was constructed. The old Fire Hall was designated a registered historic resource two years later, but then sat vacant for over ten years. The five drive-in bays no doubt hindered its utility. Various proposals were made for its re-use, and eventually it was seen to be appropriate for car rental purposes, and so it was leased to Budget Rent-a-Car in 1983. In 2009, it was designated a provincial historic resource.
Written by: David Leonard, Project Historian