Victoria Park: What's in a name?
Today, we know Victoria Park as a richly diverse and vibrant inner-city community, but for those that have been around for a while, the image that the name brings to mind is a place that was blighted, and unsavory and full of dusty parking lots.
Vic Park has experienced a whirlwind of changes since being established as the East Ward in the 1880s. In 1905, the ward system was abolished, and the community was renamed Victoria Park. This originally refered to the fair grounds and small settlemets where the Stampede exists today, from there Victoria Park expanded westward to roughly 2nd or 4th Street SW over the next 80 years.
The latter decades of the 20th century were not easy on Vic Park. In the 1960s, the Calgary Stampede began looking to expand the fairgrounds, leading to property speculation and a decline in maintenance and redevelopment. After the Stampede expansion was approved in 1968, uncertainty regarding its implementation along with decreased property values, absentee ownership and depopulation created an atmosphere of doubt and neglect through the 1970s. Investment and development stopped.
When the Stampede expansion implementation began in the 1980s, it brought significant housing demolitions and population decline. In the 1990s, a new nighttime entertainment district emerged along 1st St SW. The intensity of the entertainment uses exacerbated the social issues of the depopulated and depressed community, resulting in high levels of social disorder. During this time, the area gained a tarnished reputation amongst some Calgarians and many avoided the area entirely except for to find cheap parking for events on the Stampede grounds.
In 1997, a group of Vic Park businesses decided it was time to address some of the public safety and social issues the area was facing, and formed what was then called a BRZ, or Business Revitalization Zone (we now call ourselves a BIA, or Business Improvement Area). In an attempt to influence public perception in the community, the BRZ rebranded the area to “Victoria Crossing”, a name which reflected the nearby crossing rivers, as well as the need to physically cross the train tracks to enter the area. There was a concerted push for adoption of the name, and “Victoria Crossing” still exists in certain city documents today. During this change, it was proven that despite the negative perception of Vic Park, there was still a large amount of social capital and value in the heritage of the community.
In 2003, with a declining residential population, uncertainty around Stampede expansion plans and an eye towards a larger vision, the community of Victoria Park merged with Connaught to make “The Beltline Communities of Victoria and Connaught.” This mouthful of a name came with its own set of challenges, as it was tough to define this giant piece of real-estate. With boundaries spanning from 14th Street all the way to the Elbow River, this amalgamation was not useful from a placemaking or a community building perspective.
In the mid-2000s, pockets of intense redevelopment and population growth began to occur in Vic Park, and in 2010, amid a rapidly revitalizing community, the Victoria Crossing BRZ re-branded itself the Victoria Park BRZ (the change to a BIA would come in 2016), and continued to promote a character and a diversity totally distinct from the rest of the Beltline.
This history is what has given Vic Park today the rich diversity of demographics, built form and uses that make it much more than a model mixed-use urban hotspot. In celebrating its growth while keeping its history close, Victoria Park is redefining how a medley of businesses and residents can work together and thrive as a community.