It happened in Calgary: A look at what Calgary may have looked like according to a 1914 plan

Imagine a Calgary with Euro-style, monumental buildings, radial roads and boat docks along an elaborate boardwalk in the centre of the city. That was the original plan in 1914.

The forward-thinking city of 80,000 was hungry for growth and was the first in the Dominion to adopt city planning. Accordingly, in 1913, Englishman Thomas H. Mawson, a landscape architect and urban planner, was hired for the sum of $6,000 (about $130,000 in today’s dollars) as City Planner. He was asked to prepare a preliminary but comprehensive development plan for Calgary.

The members of the Calgary City Planning Commission were drawn to Mawson’s work as a landscape architect because he was an advocate of the “City Beautiful” movement which aligned with their own vision for Calgary. In Mawson’s plan, Calgary would have embarked on a grandiose and expensive program of development. Mawson’s plan set out a well-defined path for Calgary’s growth and layout that would have seen Calgary take on a distinctly European appearance in its architecture. Other ideas Mawson put forward included wider streets and narrower sidewalks to improve traffic flow, increased use the natural environment for park space, additional space for performing arts and an elaborate civic centre complete with a boating reach.

At the time, Mawson explained his ambitious blueprint for a future Calgary saying it captured its beauty and the viability of its people. He explained it may seem “a little absurd” to those who had never experienced Calgary to see it as “a city of the future.” But he added that “no one can live, even for a short time, among you without being impressed with the genuineness as well as the practicability of the spirit of optimism which pervades your lives and all you do.”

His plan was presented to Calgary City Planning Commission in April of 1914 and to City Council later that summer. The timing was not ideal, however, as the outbreak of the First World War and concerns about costs – estimated to be upwards of $10 million (about $221 million in today’s dollars) – prevented the immediate implementation of any of Mawson's ideas. As such, the plan was quickly abandoned and subsequently lost.

It resurfaced more than 60 years later after it was found during renovations at a residential garage in 1970’s.

Today, the Mawson Plan remains one of the most popular early documents from Calgary's history because of the grandiose and optimistic vision it outlined. An award that bears Mawson’s name is handed out each year to toast urban design excellence and creativity as part of the Mayor’s Urban Design Awards.