• Richard Davignon

Calgary’s Most Iconic Landmark?

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

We’ve been talking a lot lately about exciting new Calgary landmarks – both around the office and on the blog. We have talked about who’s designing them, how much they cost, and what the significance of them is in today’s urban landscape. But what about the old ones? Where did they come from, what inspired them, who imagined them, and what was the value of them when they were originally built? More importantly, what kind of significance do they hold today?

I am used to fielding questions about the Peace Bridge. A lot of Calgarians have opinions about the design, the designer, and especially about the cost: “$25 million for a pedestrian bridge?!” But recently a friend of mine inquired about something a little different: “Whose bright idea was it to build the Calgary Tower, anyway? Why was it built?” I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve done a bit of digging.

Some of us already know the stats and facts from visits, or a childhood field trip (I’m probably reverse-aging myself, here): it’s 627 feet tall, can withstand 160+ km per hour winds, was the first building in Western Canada designed to withstand earthquakes, and it was originally called The Husky Tower (it was constructed amidst the collaboration of Marathon Realty and Husky Oil Limited). But enough with the metrics, let’s talk about the true, honest value of our city’s tower.

The tower was constructed to honor Canada’s centennial (1967) – the same reason we have the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill. It was also a contribution to Calgary’s urban renewal program, aimed to improve the city’s core. In its 49 years as a Calgary icon, the tower has endured six renovations, two expansions (one of the reception lobby, and one the installation of the glass observation decks), the addition of a gas-fired cauldron for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, multiple telescopes and 159 individually programmed lights (a programme can be found and requests can be made on their website:

Once the tallest building in Calgary, the tower will soon rank seventh:

  1. Brookfield Place (currently under construction) – 56 stories / 810 feet

  2. The Bow – 58 stories / 774 feet

  3. Telus Sky (currently under construction) – 59 storeys / 728 feet

  4. Suncor Energy Centre – 53 storeys / 705 feet

  5. Eighth Avenue Place I – 49 storeys / 697 feet

  6. Bankers Hall (East & West) – 52 storeys / 646 feet

  7. Calgary Tower – 627 feet

If the Oxford Tower ever breaks ground in Calgary’s core, the Tower could drop to eighth.

While its shadow may be receding between new towers and sprawling boundaries, the tower still marks a special time in Calgary and Canada’s history; it is widely considered Calgary’s most famous structure and it marks the unity of more than just our city – it marks Canada’s confederation. The title of “most famous structure” or the tower’s reputation as the most iconic landmark may change through history (not to mention the skyline view from the observation deck), but the Calgary Tower’s history itself and its value to our social fabric will remain. If we choose to take the time to recognize and appreciate it, of course.

Now that you have some perspective, does it still hold (or maybe reclaim) its iconic title and status of the most iconic structure in Calgary, or has the onus shifted to something new? The Bow, maybe? Our new National Music Centre? Or is the title held by the age-old Lougheed House in Calgary’s Beltline? You can vote now on our Facebook page!

And, as a fun aside: The Calgary Tower was constructed for $3.5 million dollars. Considering inflation, it would cost $24,419,985.25 to build today. In 2012, the Peace Bridge was completed for a total estimated price tag of $24.5 million. Already, it’s one of Calgary’s most photographed structures, attracting international attention – it’s even listed as an attraction on TripAdvisor and Yelp.

“This […] bridge. It was such a controversy when it was first being built. Now, I see it in more photos representing the city than anything else, I think. It’s become iconic.” Wendy P. (Yelp)

“A signature piece of architecture that Calgary was sorely in need of for years. Any great city has certain structures that are timeless and very memorable and this is certainly a structure that is unforgettable.” Stuart P. (TripAdvisor)