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History of Scarboro

At the turn of the twentieth century, Calgary experienced a building boom. Between 1901 and 1912, Calgary’s population increased tenfold. 1912 was a banner year: the City reached a population of 45,000. In 1912, hundreds of people stood all night in the rain waiting to buy no more than two lots for $1,100 each in the new “Sunalta” subdivision (today’s “Scarboro”). Much of the early development in Calgary occurred on vast tracts of land retained by the Canadian Pacific Railway. 

“Suburbs” were created on CPR-owned land. Through the real estate company of Toole Peet and Company, the CPR offered subdivisions for sale to prospective homebuilders. Building requirements were established and enforced in some of the subdivisions, hence dictating the pattern of future residential development. The southwest neighbourhoods held superior land values almost entirely due to policies followed by the CPR between 1909 and 1912. 

CP Rail contracted the Olmsted firm to design “Scarboro” in 1909. Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) began his career in architectural landscape in 1857 with the design for Central Park in New York City. His sons and his successor firm created designs for more than 6,000 landscapes across North America, including Mt. Royal Park in Montreal, the grounds of the US Capitol, and Niagara Falls State Reserve. 

Residents of Scarboro enjoy undulating landscapes with gracefully curved, tree-lined streets. The restrictions put on Land Titles with the contract of sale offered buyers generously sized lots with plenty of green space in front. Boulevards and exceptionally wide streets were designed to retain the natural beauty of the landscape and topography. A collection of parks and open spaces were made easily accessible to residents. During his time as Park Superintendent, William Reader chose many of Scarboro’s plants and trees. The Olmsteds believed in the restorative value of landscape and that parks can bring social improvement by promoting a greater sense of community and providing recreational opportunities, especially in urban environments.

The significance of Scarboro in the history of landscape architecture and urban planning should not be understated. Scarboro is one of only three suburbs across Canada that exemplifies a fully developed Olmsted design. The integrity of the original design is exhibited in its streetscapes with generous house setbacks, mature trees, public parklands, and triangular parklets that add to public space, thus inviting visitors into a residential park.

Read community historian Norval Horner's full history of Scarboro as published in the Scarboro News as a series in 1994–95.

Calgary: Canada’s Frontier Metropolis (1982) by Foran & MacEwan Foran
“About the Olmsted Firm,” National Association for Olmsted Parks (online)
Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, “The Olmsted Firm in Canada” (2006)

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Related Documents

City of Calgary’s Windshield Survey of Historic Sites 

Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources for Scarboro 

Resident Norval Horner’s Articles on Scarboro History 

Olmsted-related Documents

Presentation of Olmsted Principles in Scarboro 

Interview with Nancy Pollock-Ellwand about Olmsted

Olmsted-CP Rail Correspondence

Historic Maps

1908_CPR Land Tracts to become Southwest Calgary Suburbs 

1909_Topographic Survey of Sunalta 

1910_Preliminary Map of Sunalta 

1911_Sunalta Suburb 

1918_Sunalta Suburb

© Scarboro Community Association 1727 14 Avenue SW, Calgary, AB  T3C 0W7

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