Still Standing: Saving Alberta’s Heritage Buildings
It takes more than engineering solutions to save Alberta heritage buildings from the wrecking ball and give them a new lease on life.
It also takes a bit of art.
“Heritage buildings weren’t constructed to code,” explains civil engineer Brock Schroeder, P.Eng., managing director with Entuitive Corporation. The Calgary consulting firm has helped restore approximately 15 provincial historic buildings in recent years—from Calgary’s fabled St. Louis Hotel to Fort MacLeod’s Northwest Mounted Police Barracks to the Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge.
The professional engineer’s role, Schroeder points out, is to apply creative solutions to what can be a tight set of constraints, to reach the best outcome possible.
“Sometimes it takes a little bit of an artistic, intuitive approach to find the right solutions,” he says. “It’s technical ability, collaboration, and creativity. It’s engineers who possess all those things that really make these projects sing.”
Founded in 2011, Entuitive’s corporate vision is to combine engineering with intuition to enhance building performance. It’s an approach that has served the company well—especially when it comes to heritage building preservation and protection.
As Entuitive associate Nick Berci, P.Eng., puts it: “These are not standard projects. The value is not in the dollars—it’s in the revitalization of an asset.”
Take, for example, the aforementioned St. Louis Hotel.
Berci was the structural and building envelope consultant on the project. He and his team reconstructed the three-storey wooden structure literally from the inside out.
Opened in 1914, the hotel was a stopover along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line in what was then Fort Calgary. Though it was renovated over the years, the downtown landmark and popular watering hole fell into disrepair and was eventually shuttered in 2006.
Restoration efforts began in spring 2015, part of the Calgary Municipal Lands Company’s East Village revival. Instead of demolishing the building—which in some areas was close to collapse—its interior was rebuilt using a new steel frame.
Though the wood structure was replaced after the steel frame was in place, the heritage floors and ceiling were saved. Inside, an open floor plan allows for mixed-use office space and retail, while exposed brick, mechanical, electrical, and structural elements lend a rustic, industrial vibe.
New steel frame construction, St. Louis Hotel
Entuitive’s award-winning work on the project—completed in July 2016—has helped extend the life of the St. Louis Hotel for another 100-plus years, demonstrating that engineers build not only to provide a better future, but to bring new life to the past.
“We thrive on being involved in finding solutions for very complex projects that are important to the community,” notes Schroeder.
2016 post construction of the St. Louis Hotel
Some of Entuitive’s other heritage building restoration projects include:
- In Edmonton, the old CKUA building in the Alberta Block on Jasper Avenue was turned into a restaurant and bar with office space above
- In Lethbridge, the Bowman Arts Centre, the first school to be built for vocational training in Alberta, was preserved as a community arts centre
- Also in Lethbridge, work was done to stabilize two connected heritage buildings in the city’s historic Chinatown district—the century-old Bow on Tong building and the Manie Opera House, built around 1907
- In downtown Calgary, the old Bank of Montreal building was rebuilt. On the main floor, GoodLife Fitness clients now work out underneath a heritage gold-leafed ceiling supported by a rehabilitated structure above
Rebuilding of the old Bank of Montreal building