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Calgary’s historic city hall reopens following 3-year heritage restoration

Click to play video '‘Beautiful, extraordinary work’: Calgary’s historic city hall reopens after major renovation project' ‘Beautiful, extraordinary work’: Calgary’s historic city hall reopens after major renovation project
WATCH: One of the biggest makeovers in years in downtown Calgary is done, with the official reopening of the 109-year-old historic city hall on Tuesday. Gil Tucker reports.

Calgary’s historic city hall is open for business again after a three-year, $34.1-million restoration project.

The reopening comes 113 years after the cornerstone of the building was originally laid.

Read more: Calgary historic city hall 3-year sandstone repair set to be unveiled

The project was originally approved in late 2015, with the old city hall going under wraps for renovation in May 2017.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the restoration team, led by Darrel Bell, treated it as a “labour of love.”

Click to play video 'Restoration of Calgary’s historic city hall nearing completion' Restoration of Calgary’s historic city hall nearing completion
Restoration of Calgary’s historic city hall nearing completion

“This beautiful building is now 109 years old and is the only surviving city hall from its time in western Canada,” Bell said.

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“It is a national, provincial and municipal heritage resource, and its rehabilitation has been one of the most significant heritage projects underway in Canada since 2016.”

Read more: Calgary councillors consider whether to move back into historic city hall

Nenshi said he was pleased with how the renovations came out, and that they weren’t delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic late in the project.

“They brought it in using the mayor’s four favorite words: ‘on time, on budget.'”

Heritage restoration

Bell said 97 per cent of the sandstone that made up the three-storey building and clock tower was repaired by either cleaning, structural repair, fortification or replacement. While it was clear where the stones had been replaced on Tuesday, the acting director of facility management told reporters that the shade of the new sandstone will match the older ones in a couple of years.

Read more: Multi-million dollar repairs approved for Calgary’s historic City Hall

Part of the work included the integration of a rain collection and management system, directing rainwater away from the sandstone onto Macleod Trail.

All but two of the 191 original wooden windows were restored and preserved.

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Other work included replacement of the roof, reinforcing verandas and balconies, and the building’s foundation and concrete has been renewed.

Calgary’s Historic City Hall, with the more modern municipal building behind it, pictured on Sept. 15, 2020, following a 3-year, $34-million rehabilitation project.
Calgary’s Historic City Hall, with the more modern municipal building behind it, pictured on Sept. 15, 2020, following a 3-year, $34-million rehabilitation project. Adam Toy / Global News

The forecourt facing Macleod Trail in front of the city hall mimics what was there when it opened in 1911.

“That was one of the goals we had,” Bell said.

“Rehabilitation is to renew or to bring it back to the original intent and purpose. And that’s why we have an open landscape and this landscaping plan. So it’s very original.”

The 100-foot clock tower was reinforced with steel to correct “leaning and widening issues.” And the encased clock has had some work done to it but the bell’s ring is off by five minutes as of the reopening.

Click to play video 'Under the tarps at Historic City Hall' Under the tarps at Historic City Hall
Under the tarps at Historic City Hall

“The intention was for the clock maker to come here, help us rebuild and calibrate it,” Bell said Tuesday.

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“That has, unfortunately, because of the pandemic, not been able to happen. So we have been virtually teleconferencing with the clock maker to build it ourselves in the tower.”

Members of Calgary’s city council stand on the steps of Historic City Hall on Sept. 15, 2020, following a 3-year, $34-million rehabilitation project.
Members of Calgary’s city council stand on the steps of Historic City Hall on Sept. 15, 2020, following a 3-year, $34-million rehabilitation project. Adam Toy / Global News

The gathering was marked with nearly all in attendance wearing masks with the novel coronavirus pandemic being the second pandemic city hall has seen.

“It had been open for only seven years when the Spanish flu entered Calgary in 1918 with a group of World War One soldiers returning home from a train from the front lines,” acting city deputy manager Chris Arthurs said.

“Over the next two years, the Spanish flu ultimately took the lives of hundreds of Calgarians.”

Nenshi said the people involved in building the heritage city hall following the fire that wiped out the previous wooden town hall on that site “were making a bet” on the future of Calgary.

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“They weren’t building for 1911. They were building for the future that they wanted to build for their children and their grandchildren. They were making a bet on the extraordinary future that would happen here in this community.”