The History of Hostelling on Canada’s West Coast: HI-Calgary
Calgary has been a hub for hostelling in Alberta and Canada. The city served as the headquarters of CYH-Mountain Region and was home to countless hostel volunteers. For decades, however, it wasn't home to an actual hostel.
Instead of building a hostel in their own backyard, Calgary's large group of dedicated volunteers focused their energy on building hostels where they could get away for the weekend. Their hard work created the chain of wilderness hostels along the Banff-Jasper Highway. Eventually, it became clear that their own backyard needed a hostel for the legions of travellers heading into Calgary.
During the early days of hostelling, the only hostel listed in Calgary was actually at Mary Belle Barclay's personal home. For decades after, CYHA members in Calgary worked to set up a hostel in their city. In the 1940s, hostel members considered taking some of the prisoner-of-war camp buildings and setting them up in Calgary. Others talked about setting up a hostel in the exhibition grounds. In the 1960s, CYHA member Neil Worley suggested a hostel at 1706 12 Ave SW, a former schoolhouse. In the 70s, a potential hostel site on Kensington Road was nixed after residents signed a petition against the hostel. Another location in Sunnyside was also scuttled by a resident petition.
Eventually, a new hostel was built in 1976 in Calgary's East Village, just outside of the city centre. Unlike many of the hostels in Alberta, the Calgary hostel wasn't built by volunteers. The size and complexity of the urban hostel forced the CYHA to hire contractors. Instead, volunteers focused on raising funds for the hostel. The CYHA received a $60,000 grant from the provincial government but that wasn't nearly enough to cover the costs of construction. This forced the volunteers to look for other sources of revenue.
Perhaps the CYHA's biggest money-maker was The Hostel Shop, which opened in 1971 on 1414 Kensington Rd. The store sold mountaineering gear, one of the few shops of its kind at the time. There were also several casino nights that raised thousands of dollars for the hostel.
After years of fundraising, HI-Calgary City Centre opened its doors in 1976. According to the plaque, the HI-Calgary City Centre is “the first facility in Canada designed and built as an urban hostel.” The building's central location allows guests to explore the city of Calgary. A quick walk takes you to the city centre where you can find dining, shopping, entertainment and cultural districts for every taste and budget. Other attractions are easy to get to with the help of nearby city transit.
In 2004, HI-Calgary City Centre underwent a major renovation. At present, the hostel offers both shared dorms and private rooms, a comfortable lobby area, activity room, reading room, and a large fully-equipped self-service kitchen.
It took years for Southern Alberta hostellers to build a hostel in their own hometown. Today, HI-Calgary City Centre serves as a jumping off point for travellers looking to explore the Rockies and remains a vital part of Alberta's hostelling network.