Our Mount Royal History

Mount Royal is situated on the slope and crest of a hill, overlooking downtown Calgary. Comprised of neighbourhoods in ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ Mount Royal, our diverse and vibrant inner-city community has a rich and interesting history.

In the spirit of respect, reciprocity and truth, we honour and acknowledge Moh’kinsstis, and the traditional Treaty 7 territory and oral practices of the Blackfoot confederacy: Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, as well as the Îyâxe Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. We acknowledge that this territory is home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3 within the historical Northwest Métis homeland. Finally, we acknowledge all Nations – Indigenous and non – who live, work and play on this land, and who honour and celebrate this territory.

This sacred gathering place provides us with an opportunity to engage in and demonstrate leadership on reconciliation. Thank you for your enthusiasm and commitment to join our team on the lands of Treaty 7 territory.

Long before European and American settlers claimed the land, the Blackfoot people used the base of the Mount Royal hill as a campground before venturing up the Elbow Valley.

The development of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) into Calgary was foundational in the formation of the community of Mount Royal. Without the expansion of the CPR to what is now known as 17th Avenue, Mount Royal, as we know it today, would not exist.

Sir John A Macdonald celebrated his first victory, winning the election in 1878. In efforts to persuade British Columbia to join the confederation, John A. Macdonald proposed the idea of constructing a transcontinental railroad across Canada. The promise of a new railroad introduced a multitude of economic opportunities for Canadians. A new railroad quickly became the topic of most conversations and excitement began to cascade across Canada. The new conservative government provided generous financial support to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)  in return for the construction of the railroad.

In efforts to increase income, the CPR recruited a wide variety of immigrants and settlers. Promotional posters and brochures were translated into many different languages. Each advertisement sparked a great deal of interest, the echoing promise of huge plots of land traveled vastly through Europe and Western Canada became a popular choice for European farmers and wealthy residents. 

During the construction of the railroad, 6500 Chinese workers were recruited to work on railroad construction. Chinese workers were often assigned construction jobs under dangerous conditions and were paid 50c less than white workers. Hundreds of Chinese Canadians working on the railway died from railroad accidents and malnutrition. Chinese labourers suffered and died for a railroad that is widely recognized as a symbol of Canadian unity.

Without the assistance of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR), Calgary’s unique structural configuration and fascinating origin story would cease to exist today. The CPR company was officially established in 1881. The primary objective of the CPR was to unite Canadians from coast to coast. The early construction of the railroad fell short of project expectations. After 211 km of railroad track was completed, the original Chief and Assistant General were terminated from the project.  Shortly after, William Cornelius Van Horne was promised a high salary and a new position as CPR General Manager. William Van Horne was a man who held his shoulders high with pride, he was determined to succeed at any cost. In 1882, Canada was plagued with many floods, delaying railroad construction. On November 7, 1885, East Coast and West coast Canadians were officially united in Craigellachie BC when the last spike was driven. Transcontinental rail lines linked Port Moody (on the Pacific Coast) to Montreal and connected the intercolonial railways from Montreal to Halifax. To this day, Donald A. Smith is distinguished for adding the last railroad spike, uniting West Coast and East Coast Canadians. The last railroad spike would be Canada’s first step towards a path of sovereignty and unity.

The last spike celebration did not last long enough for the CPR company. Shortly after railroad completion, construction expenses loomed over the CPR company, this made it difficult to stay afloat. Luckily, this financial bump in the road did not last long and two trains officially began their departure.  The first two trains left Montreal and Toronto on expenditure to Port Moody.

The massive success was not nearly enough to satisfy the CPR. Ideas escalated quickly promoting the CPR to diversify their business endeavours. In 1882, telegraph lines were developed and installed on the right side of the railroad, transiting the first commercial telegram. Years later, the CPR expanded towards a variety of broad business schemes ranging from the production of steamships to the design and development of numerous hotels.

After the CPR’s expansion into what was then known as the southernmost border of Calgary in 1885, it took 20 more years to finally begin developing the community now called Mount Royal. It wasn’t until around 1904 that many wealthy immigrants began to purchase the beautiful, untouched land to build their new homes.

The first structure to be built was a sanatorium used for treating tuberculosis in 1903. The sanatorium was built by Dr. Ernest Willis. Sadly, Dr. Willis never got to see the opening of his sanatorium, as shortly after its completion, he had a bicycle accident and passed away. After the sanatorium was established, more settlers began to purchase land from the CPR and started to develop large family homes on the hill. Originally there were seven homes built on the hill. Two of the first homes constructed were of Louis Strong at 707 Royal Avenue and A.J. Sayre at 717 Royal Avenue. These houses were originally outside of the city’s borders and it was not until 1907 that the borders expanded and more families began to build their homes, expanding the community west and south.

Initially, the community of Upper Mount Royal was called “American Hill” because the majority of first settlers in the area were wealthy Americans. Later however, the name received backlash from the Canadian residents of Calgary. Two prominent Mount Royal figures, William Toole and R.B. Bennett went to the CPRs Assistant Land Commissioner, J. Lonsdale Doupe with the opinion that the name should be changed to something more supportive of the Canadian identity. Doupe agreed, and decided to rename the subdivision “Mount Royal” after the city of Montreal, the hometown of the President of the CPR, William Van Horne.

Over the years, many of the original homes that were built in Mount Royal were torn down or repurposed into something else. One of the original houses even burnt down in 1994. Luckily however, after around the 1970s, many of the remaining heritage homes in the community were municipally designated as historical resources and are protected from being demolished. Many original Mount Royal homes were constructed during Calgary’s 1910-1912 building boom. Restrictive covenants were also placed on many property titles, limiting housing development to single family dwellings and setting minimum construction costs thus protecting the character and family-oriented feel of this residential district over the years. There are currently 68 heritage homes still standing in Mount Royal.

The Lower Mount Royal area was annexed to the City and formally established in 1907 and became part of the original CPR subdivision of Mount Royal in 1909. Wood and stucco were the predominant building materials as compared to the brick and sandstone in Upper Mount Royal; many lots were subsequently subdivided and developed with houses of wood frame construction, similar in style to those of the Beltline district.

In addition to the 68 remaining heritage homes occupying the community, Mount Royal is also home to hundreds of heritage trees. In 1929, William Reader, Calgary’s Superintendent of Parks and Cemeteries at the time, planted 53 American Elm trees and 24 Dogwood shrubs along Frontenac Avenue SW. In 1930, Reader planted 22 Green Ash trees and 10 Honeysuckle shrubs along Montcalm Crescent SW (north of Quebec Avenue), 30 American Elm trees and 42 Cotoneaster shrubs on Montreal Avenue SW, as well as 10 Green Ash trees and 6 Honeysuckle shrubs along Quebec Avenue SW. The trees are now over 90 years old and add a great deal of character and beauty to the neighborhood.

The Mount Royal Community Association (MRCA) was first incorporated as the Mount Royal Community Club on January 22, 1934 under the Societies Act 1924.

At the time of incorporation, the objectives included the following:

(a) To provide recreation for its members and to promote and afford opportunities for friendly and social intercourse.

(b) To acquire lands, by purchase, lease or otherwise, to erect or otherwise provide a building or buildings for social and community purposes, including to provide play grounds, a clubhouse, skating rinks, swimming pools, tennis courts, bowling greens and to establish, develop and beautify parks and playgrounds in the community and to operate the same.

(c) To encourage and promote amateur games and exercises.

(d) To provide a meeting place for the consideration and discussion of topics of general interest, and to encourage the practice of public speaking among its members.

(e) To procure the delivery of lectures on social, educational, political, economic and other subjects, and to give and arrange musical and dramatic entertainments.

(f) To provide a center and suitable meeting place for the various activities of the community.

(g) To generally encourage and foster and develop among its members a recognition of the importance of agriculture and horticulture in the national life and the beautification of the grounds of the Club and of the City generally.

In 1969, the society adopted its current name, Mount Royal Community Association, and recast its objects as follows:

(a) To provide recreational, social, educational, cultural and athletic facilities for the use of its members and their families;

(b) To encourage, promote and defend the collective interests of the Mount Royal community, its residents and their interests in the community;

(c) To encourage and promote amateur games and exercises;

(d) To acquire lands by lease or otherwise, and to erect or otherwise provide the buildings and other improvements which are required to carry out the objects of the Society;

(e) To provide all equipment and furniture which are necessary to carry out the various objects of the Society; and

(f) To sell, manage, lease, mortgage, dispose of and otherwise deal with the property of the Society whether held under lease or otherwise.

Our community has experienced dramatic changes over time. Both residential and commercial areas have seen redevelopment to accommodate Calgary’s rapid growth, promoting increasing walkability, diversity and vibrancy. Our Mount Royal Area Redevelopment Plan encourages continuation of positive development in a manner which reflects community and city-wide objectives and fosters mixed density residential and commercial development.