On top of North Hill on Jan. 18, 1921, a shovel struck the earth and construction on Heritage Hall was underway.
It was a long time in the making — PITA (Provincial Institute of Technology and Art) had been operating since 1916 in the temporary location of the Colonel James Walker School. The ground breaking brought with it a promise of progress and evolution for the school and its mandate of applied education.
Today, SAIT’s landmark stands tall 95 years after its ground breaking and its design continues to influence the look of the modern campus.
The origins of a landmark
Heritage Hall stands today as a national historic site and its Collegiate Gothic style lends an elegant focal point to campus. Richard Palin Blakey was appointed as the Alberta provincial architect in 1911 and, as PITA was a government institute, he took the helm in designing the school’s new home. Blakey described his initial design as:
“A three story modern structure of brick with stone trimming having two wings, one for the Normal School and the other for technology, each to accommodate 200 students.”
Southern Alberta Gothic
Construction on Heritage Hall was completed in 1922 and doors opened to students in the fall of that year. The red brick and sandstone building loomed large on the hill, overlooking the city and claiming its place as a local landmark. Heritage Hall was unique in its design for Calgary in the early 1920s. Its classic Collegiate Gothic look — featuring twin towers with parapets, gothic arches, an auditorium with a minstrel gallery, terrazzo flooring and gargoyle stone workings — was distinctive.
In the 1950s, the Thomas Riley and John Ware buildings took their place on campus, followed by the E.H. Crandell and Senator Burns buildings in the 1960s. As PITA became SAIT in 1960, growth accelerated. In fact, it’s never stopped.
One of the most recent additions to campus, the Trades and Technology Complex (TTC), is thoroughly modern in its aesthetics, but Wayne King, CFO and Senior Vice President who led the project says the resonance of Heritage Hall can still be felt in its design.
“We call Heritage Hall the Queen. The goal was not to replicate it, but to use it as inspiration,” says King. “The way you dress up a building to make it look good is different now than it was in 1921.”
The TTC doesn’t feature any stone gargoyles, but some of the colours and finishings do reflect the 1922 building.
“They used terra cotta as a brick colour — that was influenced by Heritage Hall,” says Michelle Fernandez, Planning and Design Coordinator with Facilities Management.
Building a legacy
Whether or not Richard Blakey knew it at the time, he was constructing a legacy when he designed Heritage Hall. His hand-drawn elevations would be realized into the brick and sandstone setting for years of educational innovation. The building itself became a landmark, sitting high on the hill and marshaling learners into the future.
“We are very fortunate to have a building as iconic as Heritage Hall,” says King.