History in the breaking

Seventeenth Avenue heritage site faces demolition

One of Calgary’s oldest examples of Edwardian commercial architecture may be facing the wrecking ball. Draper Grocery located at 226 17th Ave. S.W. is under threat of demolition after a permit application was submitted to the city in August to tear down the century-old building.

Tony Smith of the Calgary Heritage Initiative believes the building should continue to stand not only for its historical significance but also as an authentic representation of how people lived 100 years ago. “When you’re picking buildings that you’re going to try and save you try and pick the most important ones that have some sense of importance like the mayor used to live there” says Smith. “That’s OK but it means that some of the (buildings) that the average guy used to live in like Draper Grocery or [the owner’s] house next door will be lost.”

Built in 1906 the store was owned by Luke Draper an Ontario native who moved to Calgary in 1890 and took a job as a driver for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Choosing to go into business for himself he started Draper Grocery which later became known as Standard Grocery and Confectionary. In 1977 it became The Sound Exchange a record and tape store before closing its doors in 1990 and remaining vacant ever since.

Classified as a category C heritage site in 1987 Draper Grocery and its preservation are encouraged by the city of Calgary but according to senior heritage planner Darryl Cariou the store’s fate is out of their hands. “As you probably know the owners have a lot of influence as to whether the building gets preserved or not” says Cariou noting the demolition permit is currently on hold for unspecified reasons.

“Basically it requires the owner’s collaboration to preserve a building. Clearly here the owner wants to demolish the building.” The city is not pursuing historic designation in this case and focuses on buildings in the A and B category he says.

To date the owner has submitted no applications to the city for the property’s future use should the demolition occur. However Kristi Johnson believes Draper Grocery can still contribute to the area despite its age and size.

Johnson the director of research for the Calgary Heritage Initiative feels the building’s location on 17th Avenue would make it perfect for a small store and hopes that the public’s understanding of its history will make people think twice about its possible demolition.

“There seems to be sort of a thing you might call ‘homely heritage’ where buildings that aren’t terribly grand architecturally don’t get a whole lot of consideration in terms of protection or preservation” says Johnson. “Most people that came to Calgary at the time weren’t wealthy and weren’t famous but they did have a meaningful impact on what makes a city a city and Draper Grocery is probably one of the excellent examples. To be more succinct it’d be nice to keep these little things to add to the feel of a neighbourhood.”