Friday, September 7, 2012

Calgary icons are public treasures

The lions were created in the likeness of the bronze lions at the base of the
Nelson monument in London’s Trafalgar Square, to reflect
Calgary’s ties to the British Empire in the early 20th Century. 
An ordinary spring day in 1917 Calgary turned historic when four massive concrete lions took their place atop the four corner kiosks of the newly constructed Centre Street Bridge. There, they would guard the bridge’s north and south entrances for the next 83 years.

Originally designed to pay homage to Canada’s ties to the British empire, over the course of the lions’ reign they became well-known symbols of Calgary’s strength, integrity and independent character, and the subject of strong emotional attachment to its citizens.

Efforts to preserve the original lions have been extensive. Exposure to the freeze-thaw cycles of Calgary’s weather and the vibrations of traffic on the bridge made the sculptures more fragile with each passing year. Many attempts to patch the cracks hid, but didn’t stop their deterioration.

Major repair projects in the 70s and 80s on the bridge and lion statues extended their life, and in 1992 both were designated a Municipal Historic Resource. A year later the lions were designated to the inventory of The City’s Public  Art Collection.

Six years later, in 1999, the Centre Street Bridge was closed for major renovations. The lions had to be removed to accommodate the work, at which time a consulting firm was commissioned to conduct an assessment of the lions’ physical condition. It wasn’t good.

That assessment led to a recommendation to Council from the Calgary Heritage Authority to fully restore the southwest lion, deemed to be in the best condition, for the purpose of creating a cast and mould to make four new replacement lions to install on the renovated bridge when it reopened in 2000. The restored original can be seen perched at the entrance of the Municipal Building, where  it has proudly greeted thousands of visitors every year since its unveiling in 2003.

Council of the day also agreed to repair two of the remaining three lions and relocate them to a publicly accessible, protected environment. A campaign to raise the necessary funds was unsuccessful and the three have remained in storage ever since. They are too frail to be moved so they are cared for with tarp covers in the winter and airing in the summer. However, given the original construction materials and ongoing exposure to the elements, the lions continue to deteriorate, as confirmed by a second condition assessment conducted this past spring. A permanent solution is urgently needed and The City has made it a priority.

To come up with a shortlist of feasible solutions, The City’s Public Art and Urban Design & Heritage staff engaged the input and expertise of the Calgary Heritage Authority, the Calgary Heritage Initiative and the Public Art Board.  They have reviewed the new physical condition assessment report, they know the lion’s history, they know their historic and cultural value, and they know there are risks and costs associated with any recommendation they put forward for public input.

The group reconvenes next month and will meet monthly to weigh all these factors and collaborate on a series of recommendations. Calgarians will be invited to join the discussion to ensure public interest is reflected in whichever  recommendation is presented for Council deliberation.

Watch for more information and public engagement opportunities to come. For more on the history of these treasured artefacts, visit Historic Calgary Resources on

No comments:

Post a Comment