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Mount Royal Hill, Montreal & Carleton

Mount Royal Hill, Montreal & Carleton
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Following information about the history of Mount Royal, Calgary includes excerpts from: Corbet, Elise A.; Simpson, Lorne G. 1994 [2006]. Calgary’s Mount Royal: a Garden Suburb. The Planning and Building Department and The Heritage Advisory Board of The City of Calgary.

"In the years before and after the turn of the century, the City Beautiful Movement was at its height. This movement had its genesis in the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, which is credited with raising public interest across North America in civic design and beautification. Garden City and Garden Suburb concepts emerged at much the same time and together they formed the beginnings of town planning, of moulding the environment to improve the quality of life for the inhabitants. In Great Britain, Europe, the United States and Canada there was a great surge toward improvement schemes in an effort to make cities more pleasant places in which to live. Some of the immigrants who came from the more settled, and treed, areas of eastern Canada and from Great Britain brought with them the concept of these movements and Calgary became swept up in attempts to improve the visual aspects of the city (Courbet and Simpson 1994:4)."

Mount Royal [h]omeowners [c. 1900-] initiated tree planting on a large scale to create a more idealized landscape, and extensive front yard tree plantings occurred along the curving streets. Many of the owners also planted a row of fir trees along the boundary line between lots, and these lines of now very tall trees are a distinguishing feature [. . .] Homes were generally set far back on the lot leaving plenty of room for such landscaping features as sweeping, and sometimes undulating, lawns, flower beds, water fountains and concrete steps through the centre of the lot leading to the front door. These latter were often decorated with sculpted figures. From the street the central steps drew the eye up to and enhanced the house behind. (see Figures 9 to 11) Several of the homes on the larger lots developed extensive gardens, for instance the sunken garden of the Coste House, and the magnificent Japanese garden that formed part of the Burns Estate (Courbet and Simpson 1994:27).

In 1908 the Calgary Horticultural Society held its first meeting in 1908 and the City Council formed a Parks Commission in 1909. A.J. Sayre, one of the first residents in Mount Royal, a member of both, supplied poplar trees from his farms for boulevard planting [. . .] The CPR, which had a vested interest in making the prairies more attractive to the prospective settler, played a large part in promoting this movement in the west. The company promoted the development of ornamental gardens alongside its railway stations throughout the prairies, one of the largest being the Calgary station garden, and instituted a Forestry Department which had its own tree and perennial nursery at Wolsely in Saskatchewan. And in its development of the subdivision of Mount Royal the company followed the precedents of such residential subdivisions in North America as the plan for the suburban village of Riverside, Illinois, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of the landscape architecture profession, in 1869 (Courbet and Simpson 1994:11).

[T]he initial settlement in what is now Mount Royal took place around the lower slopes of Hope Street, then often known as 6th street, and along Royal Avenue, known as 20th avenue. And most of these early homes were occupied by Americans [and was known as American Hill]. A.J. Sayre, Louis Strong, J. E. Irvine, E.G. Hall, Harry Honens, and A. J. Davidson were not only the same nationality, but their business affairs were also interwoven, all revolving around rural land development and urban real estate ventures. Several of them came from the Dakotas, were familiar with prairie land sales, and were astute enough to foretell the coming boom conditions in Alberta. Most of them arrived in Calgary in the early years of the century, 1903 or 1904, and were able to get in at the early stages, although not the beginning, of land speculation (Courbet and Simpson 1994:29). [. . .] This did not go down well with the predominantly British-Canadian culture of Calgary at that time. The majority of the population came from eastern Canada or the British Isles, and they were proud of their connection with the British Empire.39 R.B. Bennett, Sir James Lougheed and other long-standing and influential citizens, Toole Peet, the real estate company charged with selling the properties, and the CPR itself were not happy with this nomenclature. The initial reaction came with the 1907 plan, showing such names as Sydenham, Durham, Colborne, Carleton, Dorchester and Amherst, names resonant of British rule in Canada, which should have been enough to counter the concept of American Hill (Courbet and Simpson 1994:30). [. . .] In October, 1911, when the plan for South Mount Royal was registered, the full force of Canadian patriotism was brought to bear when the street names zeroed in on prominent French Canadians in our history: Frontenac, Montcalm, Talon, Laval, Joliet, Vercheres (the only woman in the group), and early explorers such as Cabot and Champlain. Montreal, Quebec and Levis were thrown in for good measure. After this, there was no more talk of American Hill. There is one unfortunate error in these names. Dorchester meets Carleton, but in fact these were one and the same man. Sir Guy Carleton later received the title of Baron Dorchester. (See letter to the Editor from Donald B. Smith, Calgary Herald. September 30, 1990.) (Courbet and Simpson 1994:31).

The district that was to become Mount Royal was on a rise of land that rose gently from the north but more precipitably on the east side, forming a distinctive ridge along the eastern edge of the area. At the top of the rise, gently contoured hills and dales rose and fell to the south and west; water sometimes gathered in the lower lying areas, and a creek meandered down what is now Premier Way on its way to the Elbow River. The entire area was covered with short prairie grass and it was treeless (Courbet and Simpson 1994:11). [. . .] By 1922/12 the city was in the throes of a tremendous real estate boom, and land speculation was rampant.

However, during the Depression, “the community began as American Hill and by the thirties it was known as Mortgage Hill (Courbet and Simpson 1994:32). [. . .] One of the most dramatic falls from “riches to rags” occurred to the owner of one of the most impressive houses in the area. The T.J.S. Skinner home on 7th street, was set on three lots between Hillcrest and Prospect. (see Figures 18 to 23) Skinner was one of the most prominent real estate men in the city. He also had a financial and insurance agency, interests in several of the major companies in the city, and was one of the Directors of The Canada North-West Land Company along with William Van Horne, President of the CPR, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy and Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.45 By the early 1930s, however, he could not afford the upkeep of his house and rented it to a bank manager for five years. After that family left, it remained vacant and the city acquired the house under the Tax Recovery Act. During World War II the Canadian Women’s Army Corps occupied it and following the war it was made into apartments. With such multiple use it fell into disrepair and the City demolished it in the early 1950s. All that remained was the coach house, which had also served as servants’ quarters, and a sandstone retaining wall. The coach house, which faces onto Prospect, has recently received extensive alterations (Courbet and Simpson 1994:33).

Seven houses were built before the end of 1907, all on Hope Street or Royal Avenue, at the first rise of the hill, west of the escarpment, and overlooking the extensive grounds of Western Canada College [. . .] These homes were, by and large, luxurious houses, well built and architecturally designed, with large lots, but they were unserviced as they were outside the city limits. [A]ccording to John Cruikshank, grandson of Louis and Julia Strong, who built the home at 707 Royal Avenue, “no one lived in the house during the cold winter months – the coal furnace in the basement just couldn’t heat all those rooms ….Julia and the children went south to San Franciso for the winter while Louis and other husbands checked into the Alberta Hotel.”(Courbet and Simpson 1994:15).

In 1907, the CPR registered the area from Royal Avenue, and its western extension, Colborne Crescent, south to Dorchester Avenue, and from the eastern escarpment to 14th street on the west. [. . .] It was officially named Mount Royal, after the Montreal district where the CPR president, William Van Horne, lived. [. . .] Designed as an elite residential area, the lots were large, ranging in width from 50’ to 175’. Many of them were through lots extending the full depth of the block, anticipating the construction of large homes complete with both formal front entrances and rear service access. Lots on Sydenham Road extended right through to Prospect Avenue, as did those between Hope and 7th Streets, and Royal and Durham Avenues. The curvilinear roads followed the contours of the land, although the blocks between Prospect and Dorchester Avenues showed some relationship to a grid conformation, albeit with much more spacious lot sizes. The most desirable lots were on a slope and afforded the best views: northward they has a panoramic view of the city and the Bow River valley; and south and westward a view to the foothills and the Rocky Mountains. They were, of course, also on a distinct rise of land, above the dust and smoke of the city, an aspect that applies to many elite districts, Mount Royal in Montreal, for instances, and Shaughnessy in Vancouver(Courbet and Simpson 1994:17). By 1923 there were still 416 unsold lots in South Mount Royal, with an estimated value of close to 0,000.00, and the CPR still retained some at the end of World War II. All this vacant land led a group of enthusiasts to develop a golf course in 1919 on the land on the brow of the escarpment between 7th and 8th Streets. The course circled the school and hence called itself the Earl Grey Golf Club. [. . .] In the 1940s the pace of development picked up and by the 1950s and 1960s there were ever fewer vacant lots (Courbet and Simpson 1994:23). During its maturing process in the years between the wars, the community developed as an insular district sufficient unto itself. Vacant lots created an even more spacious and open feeling and many of the young people living in the area had their own horses, tethered for the most part on their own lots. There was no development to the south and they had the wide open prairie over which to ride (Courbet and Simpson 1994:23).

After the discovery of oil at Leduc, the momentum for development began again, only this time it was spread over a longer period of time. As American oil companies moved in to Calgary and brought their own employees with them, once more Americans moved into Mount Royal. Ownership in the area became more eclectic, but it remained predominantly professional and managerial classes (Courbet and Simpson 1994:23).

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