Hillhurst Cottage School, with its two-level wood frame structure and high roof, is a prominent historic building on the streetscape surrounded by natural wild plants and a few trees. Home of the AWA office, it is conveniently situated in a residential neighbourhood within walking distance of the downtown core. There is visitor parking behind the building that is accessible from the south bound alley on 5th Avenue.
In the years preceding World War I, Calgary experienced a rapid growth in population. City administrators found it hard to build schools fast enough to accommodate all the children arriving. The number of students in all Calgary schools in 1912 was 4960, 1200 more than in the previous year. This was a relatively wealthy boom period, and the city directed the (then) Calgary School Board to make every effort to build the best schools and hire the best teachers.
Hillhurst was the first ‘suburb’ of Calgary, named for the home farm of M.H. Cochrane, owner of Cochrane Ranch. The first farmer in the Hillhurst area was Tom Riley, and in 1910 his son, Ezra Houndsfield Riley, sold land to the Calgary School Board for $3,700. This was the same E. H. Riley who donated land to the city for Riley Park. Built in 1910, Hillhurst Cottage School was one of the first commissioned in Calgary to serve the city’s growing demand for public education. Cottage schools were intended to blend into residential streets, their wooden frames quick and easy to erect while more permanent facilities of brick and stone (like Hillhurst School beside Riley Park) were being constructed.
At least 12 cottage schools were built as a temporary measure until larger stone schools could be completed. City architects had initially planned to renovate the cottage schools into residential dwellings once the student body had moved into the permanent buildings, but surprisingly, public education was no passing fad, and need soon outpaced capacity. Hillhurst Cottage School would stay open for almost another half century, welcoming students in grades one through five until its permanent closure in 1956.
After brief stints as both a youth centre and youth hostel, ENGOs began renting the building in 60s and one never left — having been a tenant since 1978, AWA purchased the building in 2013, and with a historic designation granted in 1986, the cottage school and its original lighting, fir trim, and oak flooring will long be preserved as a part of the city’s heritage.
455 – 12 St. NW Calgary, AB T2N 1Y9
Phone: (403) 283-2025
Toll-free: 1 (866) 313-0713
Fax: (403) 270-2743