A glimpse at CF Market Mall's history on its 50th birthday

·3 min read
CF Market Mall celebrated its 50th birthday on Aug. 4, 2021. (Mark Matulis/CBC - image credit)
CF Market Mall celebrated its 50th birthday on Aug. 4, 2021. (Mark Matulis/CBC - image credit)

Since CF Market Mall opened 50 years ago, a lot has changed for Calgarians.

In 1971, the city's population was around 389,000, and bungalows in the northwest community of Charleswood were selling for just over $20,000 — about $150,000 in today's currency.

And according to Josh Traptow with Heritage Calgary, the mall that cost more than $20 million to build was going to be called Uni-City.

The project, which was supposed to be completed in three instalments costing $120 million altogether, was envisioned to function as a town centre that would eventually house 3,000 apartments. But, like the mall itself, some things in Calgary have endured — including concerns about density and traffic.

"Obviously, that later phase development never happened, [and it was] because of Calgarians not wanting increased density within their neighbourhoods," Traptow said.

"Which is interesting, because that's something we hear even to this day."

The mall's beginnings

When the mall first opened in 1971, it sprawled about 425,000 square feet and was home to 70 retail shops and two anchor tenants: Woodward's and The Bay.

In 1977, Traptow said a Famous Players movie theatre moved in and opened with six screens playing Wizards, Rocky, Bound for Glory, Pink Panther Strikes Again, Islands in the Stream, The Littlest Horsethieves and Winnie the Pooh.

The Bay, of course, is still a stronghold. Famous Players stood until 2002 (its space is now taken by Old Navy), and in 2004, the mall saw a big turning point: an expansion added the horseshoe-shaped area onto its south side.

"At that time, not only did we add about 100 tenants to the mall, but we also added about 620 parking stalls of underground parking," said Market Mall general manager Darren Milne.

There was further development in 2018, when the space occupied by Target was redeveloped and replaced by Sporting Life and Zara, the existing Sport Chek was expanded and 100 underground parking spots were added.

Most recently, in 2019, Saks Off 5th and Landmark Cinemas were added to the parking lot where HomeSense and Staples used to stand.

Today, Milne said the mall houses 220 retailers and clocks in at over one million square feet.

Community hub

Milne said Market Mall is currently the second most productive mall in Calgary and is consistently one of the top-10 most productive malls in Canada, based on annual sales per square foot — an accomplishment he's proud of.

But the mall, while fundamentally centred around retail, isn't just about sales.

Mark Matulis/CBC
Mark Matulis/CBC

"It's about building community," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi at a media event at the mall on Wednesday. "It's about a place where you run into your neighbours, where you talk to people, where you catch up on the neighbourhood gossip, where you start thinking about what's going on in your community."

Milne remembers growing up in the nearby community of Dalhousie, taking family photos at a studio in the mall and buying his engagement rings from a jewelry store there years later.

"I have, you know, a really an emotional connection to the mall, just because I grew up in the area," he said. "So it's nice to be able to be here and celebrate the 50th anniversary as well."

With files from Hannah Kost.

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