Preserving Eau Claire’s Olympic Arch
CALGARY - When Eau Claire Plaza’s Olympic Arch was created in 1987, it signified the feeling of excitement and renewal for Calgary, as we prepared to host the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. As 2021 comes to a close, the Olympic Arch is also a part of a renewed effort to reinvent Calgary’s downtown and reshape the Eau Claire neighbourhood.
The Olympic Arch will be featured prominently in the new design of Eau Claire Plaza, as it has for the past 33 years. The existing features of Eau Claire Plaza are being removed, including the Arch, so the ground level can be raised to a height that would protect against flooding, similar to the 2013 flood. The Olympic Arch will be safely preserved, placed in storage until it’s reinstalled close to its original location.
In addition to the Arch, The City will also restore and reintegrate the Eau Claire Lumber building into the in the new plaza design. The Lumber building will be repurposed to support programming and functionality of the plaza. The City also aims to use as many existing elements as possible to limit the amount of waste being sent to local landfills.
“Paving stone from the plaza have been salvaged and will be reused at parks around the city,” said Dennis Hoffart, Project Manager for the Eau Claire Plaza redesign. “Lumber from trees that were removed from the plaza will be used to construct architectural elements of the new design including benches and tables. Others have been used to restore flower beds on Princes Island Park and to improve fish habitat in the river system.”
A truly Calgarian arch
In 1987, Canada participated in the Olympic Arts Festival in advance of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, the first hosted in Canada. The mandate of the Olympic Charter includes that the architecture of the host country be showcased. Twenty architects from across the country were commissioned to design ceremonial Olympic Arches for the Olympic Games. The architects were chosen by an arts festival selection committee, assisted by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Alberta Architects Association. Five of the 20 architects were from Alberta, including Fredrick Valentine of Calgary. Valentine’s entry was chosen as one of three winning designs and became the ceremonial entrance to Prince’s Island Park, in Eau Claire Plaza.
“I can’t help but feel flattered,” said Valentine, now 82. “I’m certainly honored that the Arch is being restored and integrated into the new redesign of the public space. It’s a very thrilling thing to have happen at this time of my life.”
Valentine’s Olympic Arch design draws on the precedents of triumphal arches as “city gates.” The use of the post-and-beam structure and the attic shed roof are reminiscent of the simple pole barn and ranch gate structures which are scattered throughout Alberta. Valentine’s Olympic Arch design remained a permanent reminder of the games in Eau Claire for the last 33 years and has served as the gateway between downtown and Prince’s Island Park and the Bow River pathway system.
A new Plaza and space for Eau Claire
Another Eau Claire element that is getting a second life is the iconic windmill. The windmill was recently sold to a successful bidder and was removed from the plaza on August 11. The new owner plans to install the windmill in a new dinosaur adventure park next to the Royal Tyrell Museum. Eau Claire Plaza is being redesigned and rebuilt as part of the refresh of the Eau Claire area to create a better year-round public space and improve accessibility for all residents and visitors. Its new design will embrace everyday community gatherings in addition to spaces for hosting larger events and festivals. The new plaza is part of a larger program to redevelop the public spaces in the Eau Claire area and improve the flood resiliency of Calgary’s downtown. This includes construction of the Downtown Flood Barrier, Eau Claire Promenade, and Jaipur Bridge replacement. Once fully completed, the plaza will become an iconic gateway to the area and a vibrant destination that compliments the improvements occurring around it.
Construction of the Eau Claire Plaza is set to take approximately 2-3 years, with portions opening to the public as they’re completed. To learn more about Eau Claire Plaza and the Eau Claire Area Improvement Program, please visit calgary.ca/eauclaire.