1886 Buffalo Cafe launches letter-writing campaign to stop eviction

·3 min read
1886 Buffalo Cafe owner Joanna McLeod told CBC News she feels the city led her astray with confusing communications that made her think they'd be able to stay in the building longer. (Google Earth - image credit)
1886 Buffalo Cafe owner Joanna McLeod told CBC News she feels the city led her astray with confusing communications that made her think they'd be able to stay in the building longer. (Google Earth - image credit)

The owner of a Calgary cafe has started a letter-writing campaign aimed at convincing city council to reverse a decision that will result in the eatery being evicted from a historic building in Eau Claire.

The city, however, says its decision is irreversible — and has been in the works for a long time.

The 1886 Buffalo Cafe has been running out of the historic Eau Claire Lumber Company building for about 40 years.

Next month, however, the city will not be renewing its lease, in order to undertake some long-anticipated area refurbishment.

City councillors said the cafe owners were given notice in 2017 that the city would need to move the building to do some major flood work, and as part of the redevelopment that was happening in Eau Claire.

But owner Joanna McLeod told CBC News she feels the city led her astray with confusing communications that made her think they'd be able to stay in the building longer.

It prompted her to start a letter-writing campaign and petition in the hopes of saving the cafe.

"I just think there's a lot of missing information for the city's aspect," she said.

"We've been the best tenants for 40 years … and we would really just love to stay in that building."

'Timeline of assurance'

McLeod said they were in negotiations with the city to renew its lease in 2018.

At the time, they were on a month-to-month lease, she said, because of the developments that were planned for Eau Claire.

The cafe owners were told the revitalization of the area would have the cafe moved closer to the river, and in the same building.

In February 2020, McLeod said, she was offered a five-year lease by the city that went unsigned after a realtor told her the language wasn't typical for a commercial lease, and the cafe owners wanted a few details changed before they committed.

According to the city, the lease was rescinded in November 2020, after the tenant failed to sign and the city received confirmation of $8.6 million in funding from the province to proceed with the Eau Claire Plaza reconstruction project.

But McLeod said there are documents and emails that showed a "timeline of assurances given to us by the city, and kind of leading us down a path of security with them."

The owners were blindsided, she said, when they were eventually given notice by a leasing agent that they had 90 days to vacate the premises.

And thinking they were going to be staying in the building, McLeod said they invested money into the place.

"Had we known that it was a possibility that we wouldn't be able to continue business out of that building … we would have chosen to do business a little differently," McLeod said.

Development plans not a secret, councillor says

If the decision isn't reversed by the city, McLeod said, she is hoping they will be compensated for the business decisions they made "under bad faith."

However, Coun. Druh Farrell told the CBC that while she is very sympathetic with the owners, they have known for a very long time that these developments were in the works.

"It's not a secret, and the information has been shared with council, and we've been working on this for a number of years," said Farrell, who represents Ward 7.

Significant changes are coming to the area, including essential flood work, that will be very disruptive — but there is a commitment to restore the building and put it in a new designated location, Farrell said.

It will be available again in 2023.

"There will be no reversing this decision," Farrell said.

Still, McLeod is hoping the city might budge.

"We're imploring them to change their mind. It's a building that's not only close to our hearts, it's a building that's close to many hearts," McLeod said. "It's just such an iconic piece of Calgary."