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Calgary heritage buffs 'fear' Eau Claire Smokestack de-designation undercuts preservation efforts

Eau Claire developer building mixed user super complex wants to move the smokestack to make way for their market revamp

The Eau Claire Smokestack stands tall in Calgary's downtown.

Metro File Photo

The Eau Claire Smokestack stands tall in Calgary's downtown.

Turns out heritage designations aren’t forever.

The historically recognized smokestack in Eau Claire was built in the 1940s and marked the Calgary Transit garage and was the only remnant of development in area at that time.

But it’s another era for Eau Claire. A developer is eyeing a major transformation for the Eau Claire Market, which would integrate more than 1,000 homes, mixed office use, hotels and retail – but one thing didn’t fit in with the plan – the smokestack.

So, the developer wants to move it.  

It’s an odd bit of procedure that will see the smokestack “de-designated” as a municipal historic resource, moved to a city-owned site within three years at the developer’s expense while they also hand $300,000 to the city, and then it would be re-designated.

“It’s really only being moved for the purpose of the developer feeling it’s going to have an impact on them,” said Josh Traptow, Executive Director of the Calgary Heritage Authority.

“We just fear that this could create a niche for developers to find sights that are on valuable pieces of land…buying that resource, coming to council to de-designate it, move it and using that density to move something.”

Although he said the new proposed location, only 15 metres away from its original spot, is better than what was on the books before, Traptow said he’s disappointed the developers couldn’t work the smokestack into the development.

Traptow said this is the first instance like it in Alberta, where a city council will debate de-designation at the whim of a developer.

Not only does the Heritage Authority believe this would put other historic resources at risk of losing their context by being moved in favour of densification and big development, but it might also lead some to think ‘what’s the point’ when it comes to historically designating their properties in the first place.

“It really calls into question the usefulness of designation, if less than 10 years later you’re asking for a repeal of it to make way for a development,” Traptow said.

Traptow said he can only think of one recent debate about moving a historic property. Years ago there was talk of moving the Nellie McClung house in the Beltline to Heritage Park, but that conversation was quashed. But Traptow worries conversations like this one could change if the smokestack is de-designated.

Traptow said they still have many questions about what the move will mean, especially considering the rounded bricks that the smokestack is made out of are unique and it’s not clear what would replace them if any were damaged in the move. 

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