Built on beef, Calgary’s historic Burns Building embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that shaped the West.
By: Sydney Loney
Patrick Burns was born in Oshawa, Ontario, in 1856. As the fourth of 11 children in an Irish immigrant family, his living conditions were humble and his access to education limited. When he turned 22, he headed west in search of fame and fortune—and found both. It started with a single cow, which Burns bought on credit and later sold for four dollars. By 1912, he was running six cattle ranches and heading up the largest meatpacking company in the region. That year, construction began on the six-storey building at 237 8th Avenue SE that still bears his name.
Designed by William Stanley Bates, the Burns Building was built in the Chicago style of architecture with steel-reinforced concrete framing and a flat roof adorned with a terracotta cornice. Green and white marble corridors were paired with modern conveniences, like natural gas lighting. The ground floor housed one of Burns’ many retail meat markets.
Burns, Calgary’s first millionaire and a renowned philanthropist, helped found the Calgary Stampede and was appointed to the Senate in 1931 in recognition of the impact he had on the development of Western Canada. Although he died in 1937, his legacy lives on in his building, which became part of Calgary’s Performing Arts Centre in 1981 and received heritage designation in 1987. Allied acquired the building—and maintains its namesake’s legacy—exactly 100 years after Burns broke ground.