With the Christmas and holiday season behind us, let’s reflect on the buildings that help us get it all done: the shopping mall.
The word “mall” can refer to different destinations, such as outdoor pedestrian promenades or covered markets. For now, let’s focus on large, enclosed shopping centres. These began popping up in North America as suburbs developed after WWII. One of the first opened in a Minneapolis suburb in 1956.
Originally called “Calgary Centre”, North Hill Centre is Calgary’s first mall. It opened in 1958 in Hounsfield Heights/Briar Hill. The area was subdivided and annexed by the City in 1906 and was established as a neighbourhood in 1953. It was homesteaded by Thomas Riley and Georgina Hounsfield Riley in 1888. Their lodge was located on the site of Bethany Care Centre, which opened in 1946.
North Hill’s original freestanding anchor tenant was Simpsons-Sears. This was the first Sears in Calgary and one of its first A-class stores in Canada (Sears closed in 2018). The mall was billed as the largest in Western Canada at the time, with 30 stores and services in one place, including a grocery store and bowling alley. In 1973, North Hill’s strip mall feel was eliminated when the anchor stores were enclosed with the other shops in one building.
Chinook Centre arrived in 1960 as an open air complex anchored by Woodward’s department store (acquired by Hudson’s Bay in 1993). It merged in 1972 with Southridge Mall (built in 1965). By 1974, Market Mall, Northland Village and Southcentre Mall were all operating.
Large malls have seen plenty of alterations over the years as tastes have changed and competition for our entertainment dollars has increased. In the mid-1990s, North Hill’s grocery store, bowling alley and theatre were demolished, replaced by more retail spaces and restaurants. I remember in 2000 when my first job (as a grocery clerk) transferred across the mall to the newly built Safeway. By 2004, twin 8-storey condo towers were completed. This ushered in a new era for North Hill as a mixed-use residential and services hub, preserving a key anchor of Calgary’s urban growth.
– Anthony Imbrogno is a volunteer with The Calgary Heritage Initiative Society/Heritage Inspires YYC
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