History

Heritage Hall, SAIT

The historic Heritage Hall, used as the No. 2 Wireless School, Royal Canadian Air Force, Calgary, Alberta. Circa 1942 - 1943.
The historic Heritage Hall, used as the No. 2 Wireless School, Royal Canadian Air Force, Calgary, Alberta. Circa 1942 – 1943.

Calgary is a city full of heritage sites and historical buildings. The local technical college, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, has one of the most iconic buildings in the city. Heritage Hall.

 

Edmonton gets the provincial university

SAIT’s inauguration was different than most educational institutions of the day. In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from what had been the Northwest Territories. In Saskatchewan, Regina was named the capital city and Saskatoon was awarded with the university. Local historian Harry Sanders writes in his book Historic Walks of Calgary, “Albertans expected the same model, and when Edmonton became the capital, Calgarians rightly expected the university. But in 1908, the government located the University of Alberta in Strathcona a city later absorbed into Edmonton and at that time the political constituency of Liberal premier Alexander Rutherford.”

No. 2 Wireless School, Calgary, Alberta. Circa 1940 - 1945.
No. 2 Wireless School, Calgary, Alberta. Circa 1940 – 1945.

And so, Calgarians were shocked and outraged, and rightfully so. In response to this, a group of wealthy and motivated entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals set out to set things in order. They funded a private institution, the University of Calgary, an in 1912 classes commenced operating out of the Calgary Public Library (presently known as the Memorial Park Library) until a permanent location could be determined and a campus developed.

The Alberta Government denied the institution degree granting power because they argued that it was impossible to divide resources between both universities in such a sparsely populated province (population of about 78,000). Therefore, the University of Calgary was chartered as Calgary College. With that daunting setback, combined with both the city’s economic reversal in 1913 and the national and international chaos of the first world war, students and funds were seemingly imperceptible. And thus, Calgary College collapsed. However, a royal commission did not concede all hope for an educational institution in the Calgary; they recommended the establishment of a technology and arts college in the southern Alberta city.

Interrupted by World War I

In 1916, the newly formed Provincial Institution of Technology and Art commenced classes in Inglewood, utilizing both the Colonel Walker School as well as the Fire Hall no. 8. However, soon enough operations were inevitably interrupted by the discord of the first world war. One month after World War 1 had officially ended, in July of 1919, the Alberta government bought 100 acres of land from politician and businessman Ezra Riley. The land had belonged to his parents since 1887. On June 22, 1921, George P. Smith, the provincial education minister laid the cornerstone for the first building which is now Heritage Hall. It is the largest and most prominent of three original buildings on campus. The building’s hilltop position offered—and still offers, a gorgeously stunning view of the city center. Likewise, the city was provided with a great view of the historic building.

Normal School and Institute of Technology and Arts, Calgary, Alberta. 1922.
Normal School and Institute of Technology and Arts, Calgary, Alberta. 1922.

The permanent campus opened in 1922. The east wing of the building was dedicated to focusing on tech whereas the west side was dedicated to the Calgary Normal School. The Calgary Normal School was a teacher training college that was founded in 1906 and was originally located downtown. “Built in collegial gothic style, the brick, sandstone and Tyndall stone building evokes a mediaeval appearance, complete with towers, battlements, and stone carvings,” Sanders writes.

Fast forward about twenty years—”During the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force took over the Tech campus as the No. 2 Wireless School, part of the wartime British Commonwealth Air Training Plan,” wrote Sanders. The college’s students were displaced to the Stampede grandstand and the Coste House, the large estate of Eugene Coste who was a local natural gas pioneer. The Normal School students were relocated to the King Edward School. In 1946 the two institutions returned and the students were back to the normalities of college life. However, not everything was the same as before the war. The campus had been filled with “temporary” wartime buildings that remained in use for decades.

That same year, 1946, the normal school was annexed by the University of Alberta and became part of its faculty of education department. This subset piece of the University of Alberta would eventually grow into a southern branch of the provincial institution. In 1960, the faculty of education moved to its current location in NW Calgary and in 1966 became established as the University of Calgary. In 1963, Calgary’s technical and arts college was renamed the Southern Institute of Technology when it’s northern counterpart, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology was created in Edmonton.

The historic building has stood the test of time, by Canadian standards at least. It once sat upon the hill by itself, but as Calgary has grown it’s watched over the city for nearly 100 years.

Heritage Hall can be seen up on the hill. This photo was taken just east of modern day Riley Park. The closer building behind the fence is St. Barnabas Anglican Church.
Heritage Hall can be seen up on the hill. This photo was taken just east of modern day Riley Park. The closer building behind the fence is St. Barnabas Anglican Church.