Calgary Then and Now: Stephen Avenue in 1889

At the crossroads of Stephen Avenue and Scarth Street, it wouldn’t be odd to see livestock crossing the road.


Stephen Avenue has been a central gathering point and cultural hub since Calgary’s earliest days. Named for Lord George Mount Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, many of its historic buildings are still standing, including the one on the right side of the original photo.

The Alberta Hotel was fairly new at the time, sitting on the southeast corner of the intersection of Stephen Avenue and 1 Street S.W., which was known then as Scarth Street. It operated between 1890 and 1916, but closed during Prohibition. 

On the left is the original Bank of Montreal building. It became one of the first financial institutions in the fledgling town of Calgary in 1886, and its central branch, a three-storey building with an unusual turret on the southwest corner, went up in 1889.

But architecture fashions changed a lot over the decades, and to keep up with the classical style that many new banks were adopting, the branch was torn town in 1930 and replaced with the building that now occupies that spot, a limestone and granite creation complete with fluted Corinthian columns. It was originally planned as a 12-storey tower, but the project was scaled back, reflecting the economic impacts of the Great Depression.

The arch at the end of the street was put up to commemorate the visit of the Governor-General of Canada, Frederick Arthur Stanley (then called Lord Stanley of Preston) in October 1889. Three years later, he would present the first Stanley Cup to the best amateur hockey club in Canada.

Why there’s a cow standing in the foreground is anybody’s guess.

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