1909: When six stories equaled “skyscraper” in Calgary.

Clocking in at six-stories, the Grain Exchange building at 1st Street and 9th Avenue SW was one of the tallest buildings in Alberta when it was built in 1909. It was the first building to extend Calgary’s business section beyond 8th Avenue.

The building’s owner William Roper Hull, was a local real estate mogul, and originally planned to house his own offices in the “Hull Block”.

At the time, Alberta was in the midst of an agricultural boom, and the grain trade business was flourishing. With grain capturing excellent prices, record setting shipments of grain were being delivered to the East from southern Alberta. The newly established Calgary Grain Exchange needed a home, and with the support of the Calgary Board of Trade, appealed to Hull. The Grain Exchange moved in in 1910, and had their name carved above the entrance.

The building became a symbol of Calgary’s rising agricultural importance, as well as a symbol of a modernizing city. A devastating fire in 1886 destroyed 14 commercial buildings and spurred the city to rebuild in materials more durable than wood. The Grain Exchange building was the first reinforced concrete high-rise structure in Calgary, using the new “Kahn” reinforced concrete construction method from the mid-western U.S. It also sported the first passenger elevator, a cage elevator with metal expanding door and wrought iron gate. The elegant sandstone structure included an elaborate carved sandstone arch and beautiful oak doors with beveled glass. Many considered it the most prestigious business block in Alberta.

By 1919, the Grain Exchange had outgrown the building and moved to the Lancaster building on 8th Avenue. Sadly, the grain boom didn’t last long and in 1925 The Grain Exchange closed up shop permanently.

But the building remains. Today, it houses a mixture of small businesses, not-for-profits, and start-ups; a testament to our city’s agricultural and architectural past.

Want to learn more?

Read: Calgary Builds: The Emergence of an Urban Landscape by Bryan P. Melnyk, and the Grain Exchange Building file in our Local History collection. Also take a look at the information included in our postcard collection.

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