Bridgeland booming decades after Calgary General Hospital implosion

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Bridgeland blossoms in wake of hospital implosion
WATCH: It's been two decades since the highly controversial implosion of the Calgary General Hospital. As Tracy Nagai reports, despite it leaving a literal hole in the middle of Bridgeland, the community has transformed itself into an urban village – Sep 13, 2018

Two decades after the Calgary General Hospital was demolished, there are still fond memories to look back on.

“We [clinical] residents lived in the top storey of the General Hospital and there was a swimming pool down below,” recalled Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann. “Some of us snuck in there overnight and got in trouble for swimming after hours.”

A doctor turned politician, Swann interned at the hospital for two years starting in 1973.

“It was a grand, old building,” he said. “Well-lit, bright and rather a cheerful atmosphere for many of us to work in.”

On Oct. 4, 1998, thousands of kilograms of explosives reduced the hospital to a pile of rubble.

The implosion was a highly controversial decision made during the Ralph Klein era as a cost-cutting measure.

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“The community revolved around the hospital,” Ali McMillan with the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association said. “Lots of people who worked there lived in Bridgeland and the businesses were supported by it.

But the Bridgeland of today has not only survived the impact of the blast — it has thrived.

According to the City of Calgary, Bridgeland is expected to grow 90 per cent in the next 25 years.

In 2003, work began around the old General Hospital site, now known as The Bridges.

Eight parcels of land were sold to private builders and turned into mixed-use development. That phase of the project wrapped up just last year.

“The Bridges is an award-winning, master-planned community that was supposed to be finished in 2008 and yet there are still parcels that need to be developed,” McMillan said. “We’re even seeing developers come in and ask over and above what the master plan was.”

Phase 2 of the project is currently underway and includes four sites located from McDougall Road N.E. south to Memorial Drive.

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To cope with the influx of development and people, community members are in the middle of overhauling their vision for the area.

“The community had a redevelopment plan from 1980 and it hadn’t been updated,” McMillan said. “We said, ‘This is crazy, we’re getting slammed here and we need a master plan.'”

But as progress marches forward, the hospital hasn’t been totally left behind.

Bricks from the building were used to build a wall in the middle of Murdoch Park, a green space in the heart of Bridgeland.

“It’s always about balance,” McMillan said. “We want more people to live here and we want more amenities, but we’re also very proud of our heritage.”

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