Message from the Former Chief Justice of Alberta on the New Calgary Court of Appeal Courthouse
The announcement of a new Court of Appeal courthouse in Calgary is a positive and important development for all Albertans and for the administration of justice in our province. Thanks to the Alberta government and Albertans, the new Court of Appeal courthouse will bring all court levels in this province together as part of the Calgary Courts Centre in downtown Calgary. A single courts centre will reaffirm open access to justice in this province both symbolically and in fact.
The Court is especially pleased that the new courthouse will meet the current and projected needs of our modern society while incorporating in its design the old sandstone courthouse completed 107 years ago.
[Main entrance of the historic Calgary Court of Appeal]
The story of the old courthouse is woven together with the historical beginnings of Alberta's justice system. In 1910, the provincial government commissioned the building of the sandstone courthouse to be the Calgary seat of the Supreme Court of Alberta created in 1907. It was constructed on the same city block that had been the site of the courts for the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories since the 1880s. While Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905 out of the Northwest Territories, the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories was given two years to complete its existing cases before being disestablished at the end of that period. This explains why the Supreme Court of Alberta did not come into existence until 1907. The old sandstone courthouse remains the largest surviving courthouse from Alberta's first decade as a province.
With the planned improvements to the old courthouse, a unique piece of Calgary's architectural heritage will be restored. The building is an example of early 20th Century Neoclassical Revival style. As noted in the Alberta Register of Historic Places: "Features of the style include the symmetrical facades, cornice with dentils and corbels, and embellished central portico. It has a steel frame superstructure supporting exterior walls of smooth-faced sandstone on a plinth of rough-hewn granite blocks. The sandstone used was mainly from local quarries supplemented with stone imported from Ohio. The courthouse was the last major building in Calgary to use local sandstone."
To this day, the building remains a beautiful and historic part of the visual character of Calgary's downtown. Returning it to public use as part of the Calgary Courts Centre will ensure that it will be enjoyed by generations to come.
Many remarkable decisions were made in that sandstone courthouse. The Alberta courts were at the forefront of the delivery of equal justice under the rule of law, not just for those who passed through its doors but also as an example for the entire country. On this website, you will find the 100th Anniversary Book for the Court of Appeal published in 2014 which traces this Court's role in the evolution of the law provincially and nationally from the time Alberta became a province in 1905.
It is also noteworthy that this year, 2021 - the year in which the provincial government has decided to build a new courthouse for the Court of Appeal and integrate this part of our legal history into that facility - marks the 100th Anniversary of the formal completion of the separation of the appellate division of the Alberta Supreme Court from the trial division. While the statute providing for the creation of a separate appeal division had been passed in 1914, the intervention of World War I delayed full implementation of that separation until 1921.
With the Court returning to its historic location, the new courthouse will link the past and future of the rule of law in Alberta.
Catherine A. Fraser
Former Chief Justice of Alberta