Curious Calgary #6: Hubalta

The (not quite) hub of Alberta.

Curious Calgary is a mini-comics series by Sam Hester that can be read online—and/or printed at home and folded into a zine! The entire comic fits onto a single page of 8 ½ by 11 paper. All you need is a printer.

Download this comic, print it out and follow these instructions for how to fold and cut it. A how-to video is at the bottom of this page.

Notes from the editor

When Sam sent me her comic, it jogged my memory. I had forgotten that one of the first Sprawlcasts touched on the real estate boom east of Calgary, including Hubalta, right before World War I. It's a fascinating slice of local history.

It was an era in which real estate agents and promoters breathlessly made freewheeling promises about the future to would-be buyers.

Ad in the Calgary Albertan, 1911.

One of the biggest selling points for Hubalta—and another planned subdivision nearby, Greater Hubalta—was the promise of an electric streetcar line that would run from Calgary to the "pleasure resort" of Chestermere Lake east of the city.

The new streetcar line would stop at Forest Lawn, Greater Hubalta and Hubalta along the way.

"What this railway means to Calgary is of untold value," read one 1911 ad of the Chestermere Calgary Suburban Railway Co.

"Imagine the thousands that will patronize this pleasure resort and the swellest residential suburb of Calgary. I predict that the stock in this railway will be double its par value within three years."

Ad in the Calgary Herald, 1911.

Back then (as now), promoters put out lavish renderings to entice would-be buyers. And then (as now), the reality was often very different from the rendering.

Ad in the Calgary Herald, 1911.

It is safe to say that Hubalta will be a city of 10,000 people in two or three years time.

Herald ad from 1911

But the Calgary-Chestermere streetcar dream collapsed. The trolley line was never built. (Hence the title of that 2018 Sprawlcast episode: The Streetcar That Wasn't.) And, as Sam writes, Hubalta never became the much-hyped "hub of Alberta" portrayed in the ads.

As you can see in this 1948 aerial photo, the Hubalta and Greater Hubalta areas remained mostly undeveloped decades later. Note the village of Forest Lawn in the middle, north of 17 Avenue S.E.—and the empty space between it and the City of Calgary to the west.

When Forest Lawn was annexed in 1961, Calgary became the largest city in the country in terms of geographic footprint, the Herald reported:

From December 30, 1961.

By then, the city had sprawled out to Hubalta, as you can see in this 1962 aerial photo.

A lot of the Hubalta hoopla seems laughably over the top over a century after it all happened. But it also strikes me that, in other respects, little has changed.

"Anyone who knows Calgary today and does not get a share of the benefits to be derived from Calgary's rapid development will be an object of self-pity a few years hence," stated one 1910 ad for Greater Hubalta from the Canada West Colonization Company.

"It has been proved, time and time again, that in order to become a shareholder of these great opportunities you must be a property owner, and then, only then, your interests will grow with the city."

Ad in the Calgary Albertan, 1911.

One more thing on Hubalta. Sam mentioned the Hub Oil explosion of 1999, which killed two young workers who were in their twenties, Ryan Eckhard and Ryan Silver. That happened before I moved to Calgary but the event still looms large in my imagination (maybe because of anniversary coverage?), with that massive plume of black smoke towering over the city.

Local TV news coverage from August 9, 1999.

I found it fascinating, the other night, to watch the TV news coverage of the fire from that day. If you're interested, you can watch the video above, with local personalities like Darrel Janz, Barb Higgins and Darr Maqbool covering the day's deadly events.

As always, you can print Sam's comic at home (PDF here, folding instructions here, how-to video below). We have a lot of fun making these but The Sprawl has never really figured out excellent methods of distribution. By now we are simply embracing the haphazard nature of it, encouraging you to print and pass out a few.

Speaking of zines out in the world—If you've been to the Central Library lately, you might have spotted Sam's comics in the Create Space on the main floor, where there's a station for you to make your own zine.

We're cooking something up with the library as we speak, so stay tuned!

Sam Hester is a Calgary-based graphic recorder and longtime indie comics creator. Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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