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Alberta's Irish Legends: Elveden Centre (Designed and Built 1959-1964)

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Elveden Centre (designed and built 1959-1964)

Photo credit: Detail, Elveden Centre, by Grace Johnston

It’s a long way from St. James’ Gate in Dublin to downtown Calgary, but the two places are linked through Irish enterprise. Among the striking decorative features of the Elveden Centre, a trio of early Calgary skyscrapers that marked the beginning of Alberta’s first oil boom, is an Irish harp, the familiar trademark of Guinness Stout. Arthur Guinness was the visionary Irish brewer and founder of the Guinness brewery, established in 1759. A philanthropist as well as entrepreneur, Guinness was a devout Christian who was socially and politically active. (Along with other influential Protestants, he petitioned the British government to grant Catholics more political rights in 1812.) He was involved in other charitable causes and an active member of the Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry and Other Useful Arts. Confident in the future of his enterprise, he signed a 9,000-year lease on the brewery, which continued to thrive and grow, its product becoming an iconic symbol of Ireland.

Miles and centuries away, a different dark liquid was changing the economy and landscape of Alberta after a major discovery of oil near Leduc in the late 1940s. As Calgary became a hub for oil companies, Elveden Centre’s three innovative Modernist towers sprung up early in what would become Calgary’s distinctive skyline. The foundation stone of the first tower was laid by a descendant of Arthur Guinness, namely Arthur Francis Benjamin Guinness, 3rd Earl of Iveagh and Viscount Elveden and the chair of the company at the time. As it diversified, the Guinness corporation had begun investing in real estate and oil drilling companies in Calgary, and their holdings included British Pacific Building Ltd., which commissioned the Edmonton architectural firm Rule Wynn and Rule to design the complex. The first two towers, Iveagh and Elveden took Benjamin Guinness’s titles for their names, and the third tower, Guinness, carries the family name. The Calgary Heritage Authority recognized the towers’ historic and aesthetic contributions to Calgary in 2005 by designating them a Category A site. While these early skyscrapers have been followed by higher buildings, they still seem modern with their light-filled open plan and atriums. Managed by Estancia Investments, Elveden Centre remains a hub for Calgary businesses and services today.

Further Reading

Bly, David. “Calgary’s First Skyscraper Makes History” Calgary Herald, 5 December 2005, B3. Calgary's first skyscraper makes history: From the archives | Calgary Herald

Guinness, Patrick, Arthur's Round: The Life and Times of brewing legend Arthur Guinness. London: Peter Owen, 2008.


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