At the confluence of two rivers
It was 1890, and Calgary was a small town in the ‘North West Territories’ four years away from becoming an official city. Despite its frontier town status, its local business leaders were convinced that the town was on the verge of exciting times. The challenge was figuring out how to grow to reach the potential they knew was possible. The solution: to form a board of trade.
On August 27, 1890, a group of 46 of those business leaders – including a doctor, gun maker, horse trader, jeweler, and the local “boot and shoe man” – applied to the deputy registrar of Canada for a Certificate of Association and on May 2, 1891, with the issuing of a Charter, the Calgary Board of Trade was born.
“The Calgary Board of Trade is organized to advance the commercial, industrial and civic interests of Calgary and district.; to promote integrity and good faith, just and equitable principles in business; to achieve uniformity in commercial usages; to acquire, preserve and distribute industrial commercial and civic statistics and information of value; to discover and correct abuses; to prevent or adjust business controversies; to support the interests of our city and district in provincial, national and imperial issues.”
Anyone in the city who was, or had been, a merchant, broker, trader, mechanic, manufacturer, manager of a bank or insurance agent was eligible for membership with the newly-formed Board of Trade. The entrance fee for membership was $10 while an annual subscription was $25.
Knowing that access to new markets was essential for economic growth, we realized our first task was to get new rail lines into the city and put pressure on Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to recognize Calgary as a divisional headquarters.
In 1893, our little frontier town officially became a city, and a new rail link with Edmonton was completed. Because of our advocacy, Calgary had taken its first first steps to becoming railway hub, something we knew was vital to diversifying our economy. Five years later in 1898, we celebrated a hard-won victory as the city was awarded divisional HQ status by CPR, heralding the beginning of multi-directional rail service to and from the city for goods, services and people. Calgary was on its way up and as its champion, so were we.
By rail, road and air
Since those early days, by road, rail and air, we’ve helped open Calgary up for growth, diversification and innovation through our advocacy work. In 1914 we were the first organization to start campaigning for a sophisticated air terminal and more hangar space, as well as a new railway station to serve all rail transport companies in the city. That new railway station would open Calgary to new markets for years to come.
When 1950 rolled in, we kicked off the decade by changing our name from the Calgary Board of Trade to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. During those early years of the 50s, our persistent lobbying played a part in getting the Trans-Canada Highway rerouted through Calgary, bringing another mainline of commerce and transportation to the city.
At the same time as the name change and Trans-Canada Highway lobbying were happening, our Aviation Committee, partnered with the city’s Aviation Commission, was pushing for international air traffic status for Calgary. We got it and our first international air terminal was born. Years later, in 1992, our Aviation Committee would produce the Calgary Airport Authority, the airport’s current governing body responsible for making Calgary the international gateway it is today.
Sowing the seeds for Calgary’s future
Our work has always been dedicated to making Calgary the best place to live, work and run a business. But it takes a diverse village to attract innovation and help it grow.
Attracting tourism to Calgary had been a part of our mandate since the early 1900s that had taken many forms, spearheaded mainly by our Tourist, Roads and Convention Committee. By 1953 our Committee-run Tourist Information Bureau had grown so much we couldn’t manage it on our own. So in 1957 the Committee handed responsibilities over to the Canadian Rockies Tourist Association, and the Tourism Calgary (Calgary Convention & Visitors Bureau) you know and love was born.
To help Calgary compete in the burgeoning technology sector, in 1981 the Chamber joined forces with the City of Calgary and the University of Calgary to establish the Calgary Research and Development Authority (CRDA). These days, you’d know them as Innovate Calgary, and we couldn’t be more proud of the work they’re doing to support and develop innovation in our city.
With so much growth happening in Calgary, simultaneously looking outwards to attract industry and inwards to help grow our existing business community was a lot for us to handle on our own. In July 1983, we partnered with the City of Calgary to jointly found Calgary Economic Development with a mandate to attract new industry and build relationships that would ensure a broader economic future for Calgary.
As we focused inwards on helping the business community grow and thrive, in the early 2000s we heard them calling for a way to tap into marginalized talent pools, something we’d had experience with since WWII. In 2003, our HR Committee founded TalentPool, an independent not-for-profit that connects companies with underrepresented pools of talent like youth, mature workers, immigrants, Aboriginal people, and people with disabilities.
Heading into the horizon
By the time 2012 came, we had accomplished a lot. But we needed to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant for our modern business community and city. So we did something a little crazy. We sold the Oddfellows Temple where we’d held court for 34 years, packed 100 years of history into boxes, and moved into a modern space on the 6th floor of the Burns Building with the intent to become the Chamber of the future.
Days into that transformation we were brought to a screeching halt with the rest of Calgary as flood waters poured over the river banks, devastating our city and surrounding areas alike. Working with in partnership with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), we helped businesses navigate the flood crisis and get back on their feet in the months after. Of all that we had accomplished in our time as Calgary’s Chamber of Commerce, this was by far some of our most important work.
It was because of that work on post-flood recovery and business continuity that we won Best Unconventional Project at the World Chambers Competition in 2015. At the most pivotal moment in our history, we had unwittingly become one of the best chambers in the world.