Cornerstone leads to a milestone moment 110 years later

Photo by Sheila Addiscott

As the City of Calgary celebrated the opening of one of its most anticipated buildings, the new Central Library, a different ceremony took place at another of Calgary’s architectural wonders. A 110-year-old time capsule was retrieved from a cornerstone at Historic City Hall and opened by Mayor Naheed Nenshi and members of City Council, marking an era for an old sandstone building that has already stood the test of time.

The time capsule was placed under the cornerstone of Historic City Hall on September 15, 1908, by Calgary’s mayor at the time, Arthur L. Cameron (1856-1940). Mayor Cameron laid the cornerstone with assistance from former mayors George Murdock and George King.

The time capsule is a sealed box containing 27 items, including: copies of local newspapers, reports from local churches, the General Hospital and Calgary School Board, the voter’s list and the City’s Financial Report of 1907, the City’s bylaws, trade reports, coins, medals of the Police department and City Comptroller, a New Testament, and an Album of the Dominion Exhibition (precursor to the Calgary Stampede).

A beautifully made copper box typical of that period, the time capsule has some corrosion and deterioration to the outside due to water damage.

“We can look in the top of the box, but not take anything out of the box because the items are too fragile,” said Project Conservator, Lisa Isley. “At the time of its placement, they weren’t taking into account that there would be humidity, snow or rain that would be coming through the stone.”

The next step is to give the contents a chance to breathe and acclimatize. The contents have been in a microclimate for 108 years. The box will have a rest and then a lot of what’s done next is documentation. “We will take a lot of photos of the box and slowly, as items come out, we will document them piece by piece. The whole process will take months,” added Isley.

Historic City Hall is the only surviving city hall of its period in Western Canada. The building has been undergoing a rehabilitation following a $34.1 million investment towards its renewal in 2014, which is expected to be completed in July 2020.

The cornerstone and four pillars are made of red Aberdeen granite. Bought for $400, granite was considered a ceremonial stone. Leaders built the historic city hall with an eye to the future as they had big dreams for the city. Calgary was only 14 years old and only had a population of 12,000 people at that time. They wanted future people to benefit from their investment and from their work.

The City is planning the placement of a new time capsule in Historic City Hall once the rehabilitation has been completed. The new time capsule will help to tell the story of present day Calgarians’ lives. The City will be engaging with the public in 2019 to gather input on what should be included in the new time capsule. “When I do things like this, it makes me think about what we are doing today, and the decisions we make and the impact they will have 100 years from now. When Calgary was named the best city in North America to live this summer, it was precisely because people weren’t afraid to dream big. We are allergic to small dreams here, and building this building was another great example of that,” said Mayor Nenshi.