In the course of our daily reporting, we often uncover unusual projects, places, or connections that don't make the final cut. Instead of keeping it to ourselves, we're pleased to share our Architrivia.
"His story is the story of Alberta. His struggles, his dreams, his success and philanthropy define the very core of our western character," remarked the Calgary Herald in 2008, which after conducting a search for the greatest Albertan, found its answer in senator, rancher, and businessman Patrick Burns. The esteemed self-made luminary was Calgary's first millionaire, and his tangible legacy continues to embody the forward-thinking vision possessed by one of Alberta's most well-known entrepreneurs.
Born to an Irish family in Ontario, Patrick Burns' industrious spirit led him to the Canadian West, where the boom in railway activity generated exponential growth. Burns soon capitalized on the area's economic fortunes, providing cattle and fresh meat to railway workers, mining and lumber camps. Calgary then became his domain. Retailers were eager to partner with Burns' growing enterprise, which eventually saw ranching, packaging and his own retail outfit integrated into one well-oiled production. By the turn of the century, P. Burns & Co. had become the largest meatpacking company in Western Canada.
Like many of the city's wealthier inhabitants, Burns erected a building in his namesake that reflected his high societal regard. Completed in 1913 and designed by William Stanley Bates, the six-storey Burns Building at 237 8th Avenue SE was constructed according to the "Kahn system", an emergent method of steel reinforced concrete framing that became intrinsically tied to the Chicago style of architecture. Housing one of Burns' meat markets on the ground floor and a wide variety of office tenants on the floors above, the building's architectural features included a grid-like window arrangement, terra-cotta ornamentation, and a prominent cornice.
Before it was designated a Provincial Heritage Resource in 1987, the Burns Building had a worrying run-in with plans to build the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts. The property was targeted for demolition under the proposal for the venue, but under advice from the City's planning consultants, was saved by a single council vote.
Overlooking Olympic Plaza and City Hall, the conspicuous location of the Burns Building reminds Calgarians of its creator's well-documented success and prestige. One of the "Big Four" cattlemen who founded the Calgary Stampede, Burns earned recognition across borders too, with the New York Herald deeming him the "Cattle King of the British North-West."