NORTH HILL CENTRE
16th Avenue NW and 14th Street NW
Calgary, Alberta


Edmonton's WESTMOUNT SHOPPERS' PARK opened, in August 1955, as the first post-war shopping complex in the province of Alberta. Down in the city of Calgary, ground was broken in 1956 for its first suburban shopping hub, which would be Alberta's second post war retail complex.

Originally known as CALGARY CENTRE, it was developed by Toronto-based Principal Investments, Limited and located on a 17 acre site 1.2 miles northwest of the downtown district. Open-air in format, CALGARY CENTRE was essentially a strip-type structure with an open -but covered- mallway section.

The forty-five stores and services were situated on a single level. There was also the Calgary Centre Bowling Lanes, which occupied a basement section. 30,000 square feet of leased office spaces were on an upper level.

CALGARY CENTRE was anchored by a 2-level (221,100 square foot) Simpsons-Sears and included Reitman's apparel, Tamblyn Drugs, Bata Shoes, a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio, F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10, Zeller's discount mart and two supermarkets...a Loblaws Groceteria and Dominion.

Stores in the 3 million dollar retail hub began opening in June 1958, with the official grand opening being held October 23, 1958. The inaugural festivities, done in the grandest of mid-20th century style, were officiated by D.H. Mackay, Mayor of Calgary. Music was provided by the Lord Strathcona Royal Canadians military band. There were also a parade and nighttime fireworks display, as well as a dance presentation by the Sarcee Native Canadian Tribe.

The grand opening festivities continued with the "Wake-A-Thon" contest, held by CFAC radio. Disc jockey Doug Short broadcast live from a booth at the front of the Lazy Susan Restaurant. Contestants submitted bids for how long the D.J. could stay awake. Lastly, no 1958 celebration would have been complete without a Hula Hoop Contest.

Within months of the grand opening, the Principal Developments company was in financial trouble. They had overextended themselves with the construction of several Canadian shopping centres. Late in 1958, they sold seventeen properties, including CALGARY CENTRE, to Montreal-based CEMP Investments.

CEMP, in turn, created a new subsidiary, known as the Fairview Corporation, to manage the Principal Development acquisitions and create new shopping centres throughout Canada. Following their purchase of CALGARY CENTRE, Fairview bestowed a new name...NORTH HILL CENTRE.

The first alteration done by Fairview entailed the construction of the Fairview Bowling Centre, a 48 lane, ultra-modern facility, which replaced the complex's original basement bowling alley. The venue, which was built over a lower level parking deck, opened for business August 30, 1962. It was joined by the North Hill Cinerama Theatre, built on top of the new Bowling Centre. This single-screen theatrical venue opened, December 21, 1967, showing 20th Century-Fox's "Valley of the Dolls".

Commercial competition for NORTH HILL CENTRE came in 1960, with the completion of CHINOOK CENTRE {4.5 miles southeast, in Calgary}. The open-air complex was the first in the city to be built in a stores facing stores "mall" configuration. SOUTHRIDGE MALL, one of Calgary's first fully-enclosed centres, was completed in 1965. It was built adjacent to the north side of CHINOOK CENTRE. The two shopping hubs were merged into a single complex, known as CHINOOK-RIDGE CENTRE, in 1972.

Other shopping malls were all located within the city limits of Calgary. These included MARKET MALL {2.4 miles northwest} and NORTHLAND VILLAGE CENTRE {2.6 miles northwest}, both dedicated in 1971. 1974 also brought the completion of SOUTHCENTRE MALL {7.8 miles southeast}.

For NORTH HILL CENTRE to remain competitive, it was deemed necessary to modernize the open-air structure. Construction commenced in March 1973 on a 2 million dollar renovation which added a block of twenty stores along the south-facing front of the existing strip.

Designed by Abugov & Sunderland Architects, it featured an interior mallway done in "warm earthy colours", with paneled ceilings, rough brick walls and dark brown-tiled floors. The new mallway was punctuated by large brick support columns and its roof was of inconsistent heights.

The addition was formally dedicated August 30, 1973. The mall now housed seventy stores and services, with new tenants including Fiesta Fashions, Aggies Shoes, Coffee Tea & Spice, Craig's Keyboards, a Flavor King ice cream parlour, Peking Duck Chinese restaurant and Royal Soap Box Hoover dealership.

Simpsons-Sears at NORTH HILL CENTRE had just had its official name shortened to Sears. The Loblaws Groceteria was now sporting the Lmart banner...a short-lived discount foods division of Loblaws. The Dominion store had been operating under the Safeway Canada banner since 1971.

The following decade saw NORTH HILL CENTRE become light rail transit-accessible. The Calgary C-Train network's 8th Street-to-University Northwest Line extension began revenue service September 17, 1987. Its Lions Park station stop was situated southwest of the mall, across 14th Avenue Northwest.

Retail rival shopping centres proliferated in Calgary during the 1980s and 1990s. The first of these, DEERFOOT MALL {3.6 miles northeast}, came inline in 1981. Then came WESTHILLS TOWN CENTRE {4.6 miles southwest}, dedicated in 1993. This was followed by CROWFOOT CROSSING {6.1 miles northwest,} in 1999.

In February 1999, ownership of NORTH HILL CENTRE changed hands. It was purchased by a joint venture of Saskatchewan's Harvard Developments and Calgary's Ronmor Developers. Within months, they had initiated construction on a 26 million dollar reconfiguration of the 41-year-old shopping hub.

First, store spaces on the west end were demolished. This included the Loblaws / Lmart structure, which had been rebranded as a Super Valu and then vacated in the mid-1990s. The circa-1962 Bowling Centre / Cinerama building, on the north side of the centre, was also leveled. The mallway roof and its support columns were ripped out, with a new ceiling grid installed.

Six mini-big box stores were built in existing mall space and in a small northside addition. These faced outward and included the following; Chili's Texas Grill (5,700 square feet), Moore's Clothing for Men (5,500 square feet), Mark's Work Wearhouse (8,100 square feet), Kinko's Copy Centre (3,600 square feet), Petcetera (10,200 square feet) and Ricky's Grill (4,500 square feet). Moreover, the west end of the mall was rebuilt, with a new 1-level (46,900 square foot) Safeway and 11-bay Food Court.

The renovation of NORTH HILL CENTRE was completed in June 2000. The mall now encompassed 523,900 leasable square feet and eighty-four stores and services. The centre became a mixed-use facility with the construction of two 8-storey condominium towers in the southwest parking lot. Known as Renaissance at North Hill, they were completed between 2001 and 2004.

In 2009, a new commercial competitor joined the Calgary retail scene. CROSSIRON MILLS {10.1 miles northeast} was located in neighboring Rocky View County.

Sources:

The Calgary Herald
http://northhillcentre.com
www.bentallkennedy.com
www.calgarytransit.com
http://movie-theatre.org (Mike Rivest)




FAIR USE OF NORTH HILL CENTRE IMAGES:

The photos from Calgary Herald illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.