On November 7, 1886, a devastating fire destroyed many wooden buildings on the main street of Calgary. To avoid another catastrophe, Calgarians decided to rebuild the town with Paskapoo Sandstone, a more fireproof material. This decision marked the beginning of the 'sandstone era', during which 15 quarries operated in and around Calgary. Sandstone was used to build schools, churches, and large private and public buildings, including the old part of City Hall, built in 1911 (800 Macleod Trail SE).
The old Customs Building (134-11 Avenue SE) was built with Paskapoo Sandstone from an Oliver Brothers quarry (grey blocks) and Brickburn brick (Photo: B. Groulx)
Paskapoo Sandstone consists of sand grains eroded from the ancestral Rocky Mountains and transported to the east by rivers 65 to 58 million years ago. Over time, the sands were buried under hundreds of metres of younger sediment, cemented with minerals precipitated from groundwater, and then slowly exposed by erosion to form the sandstone outcrops that can be seen today along our river valleys.
Stonecutters and a block of Paskapoo Sandstone in a quarry near Calgary (Photo: courtesy Glenbow Museum)
The Brick Boom
The 1886 fire also sparked a brick industry in Calgary. People began to build chimneys out of fireproof brick made from shale that is interlayered with Paskapoo Sandstone. From 1907 until 1912, brick homes were in vogue and the Calgary brickyards boomed. In 1914, however, the First World War brought an end to both industries as employees left to serve in the armed forces.