CF Chinook Centre in Calgary Marks 60 Years as it Looks to Future Change

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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When Mervyn “Red” Dutton, Reg Jennings, and Frank Kershaw formed Chinook Shopping Centre Ltd., little did they know 60 years ago that CF Chinook Centre would become one of Canada’s most productive malls and a retail destination for so many consumers from near and far.

The centre was originally designed as an open air shopping complex anchored by Woodward’s with opening day tenants including Holt Renfrew, Birks, Reitmans, United Cigar, and others. Before it became Chinook Centre, the centre was originally two different malls — Southridge and Chinook. The mall was designed with innovative escalators without steps. The centre featured 45 stores and services in its opening year. A branch of the Calgary Public Library anchored the centre when it first opened.

As CF Chinook Centre celebrates its 60th anniversary in Calgary, the Cadillac Fairview-owned mall continues to evolve, make changes, and deliver a premier shopping experience for local consumers and those from abroad.

OPENING DAY OF CHINOOK CENTRE, AUGUST 1960.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE FOR THE OPENING OF WOODWARD’S. PHOTO: WOODWARD’S FACEBOOK PAGE
THE AREA IN THE 1950S PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTION OF THE MALL. PHOTO: GLENBOW MUSEUM ARCHIVES
CF CHINOOK CENTRE IN 1960. SIMPSONS SEARS (SOUTHRIDGE MALL) IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION AT THE TOP OF THE PHOTO. PHOTO: WOODWARD’S FACEBOOK PAGE
IMAGE FROM THE CALGARY HERALD, AUGUST 13 1960 VIA NEWSPAPERS.COM

CF CHINOOK CENTRE CELEBRATES 60 YEARS WITH GENEROUS DONATION TO SENIORS SECRET SERVICE

“Since opening our doors in 1960, CF Chinook Centre has consistently maintained its position as a marquee destination in Calgary,” said Paige O’Neill, General Manager of CF Chinook Centre. “This can largely be attributed to our team’s unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional experiences for our guests and continue to help build a more inclusive, sustainable, and vibrant community.”

To celebrate the 60th anniversary, the Centre is doing a number of things. There’s an online contest where people can win gift cards as well as going through some fun trivia and taking a historical look at Chinook Centre. There are 60 facts online in honour of 60 years at Chinook.

“It’s a fun way to showcase the pre-opening in the 60s and 70s sort of following our 50th anniversary book that we put out and going beyond that for our 60th year. So there’s some fun stuff to do for customers that they can enter to win gift cards. We also have in the mall one of our hoarding walls to celebrate and just do some visuals of the old Chinook, the new Chinook. Going through the phases of time.

“Also the Chinook Centre team got together and voted on a charity to support for our 60th anniversary as well. The Seniors Secret Service was the recipient of $12,800 and that’s $200 per every person that works at Chinook.”

“We’re thrilled to celebrate six decades of operation. This marks an incredible milestone for our business and is a true testament to the strength and tenacity of our employees and our retail partners,” said Cam Gresko, Vice President of Operations of Cadillac Fairview. “We recognize we would not have attained this achievement without the support of our local community. Community is at the heart of our business, and it will continue to be a driving force as we look to maintain our legacy in Calgary.”

INTERIOR OF CF CHINOOK CENTRE SHOWING SPORTCHEK AND NORDSTROM. PHOTO: CADILLAC FAIRVIEW

O’Neill said the founders were visionaries in their time.

“I do believe that they felt that this property, this location within the City of Calgary, they were re-inventing retail and their long-term dreams and visions have come to fruition even more than probably what they anticipated at the time,” she said. “They were true visionaries.

“The fact that these gentlemen were able to do things on a handshake with themselves with retailers and when they sold properties and added properties it’s just a testament to hopefully how all of our developers are trying to work with clients today as well.”

CALGARY’S CHINOOK CENTRE HAS PERPETUALLY REINVENTED ITSELF OVER 60 YEARS

O’Neill said one of the keys to Chinook’s success for the past 60 years, besides attracting attractive retailers for shoppers, is the mall’s ability to continually reinvent itself and the reinvestment that owners have put into the property during that time.

Throughout CF Chinook Centre’s 60-year history, the shopping centre has undergone several redevelopments to continue matching shoppers’ expectations, as well as to evolve to meet ever changing consumer shopping preferences. CF Chinook Centre recently completed a major $101 million redevelopment project that includes: the new 61 Avenue S.W. pedestrian bridge, the revitalization of the centre’s Dining Hall to include 835 seats and feature 20 dining retailers (by GH+A Design), the South property redevelopment, and the welcoming of the first Saks Fifth Avenue in Western Canada to the shopping centre in February of 2018. Nordstrom's first store in Canada opened there in September of 2014. The centre which featured 45 stores on opening day now offers more than 250 stores and services.

“Continually reinvesting in not only Calgary but in the community and the retail environment along with all of these amazing in mall and exterior mall events and programs,” said O’Neill of the events which have included the Stampede Breakfast, the charity bazaar, the senior citizen teas.

“It has been a place where the community can come and visit and connect with people and that’s still happening today in different ways. Maybe not so much through COVID. But continually trying to come up with creative and energetic experiences customers and Calgarians can enjoy.”

Through every decade, Chinook Centre adapted to the environment and found creative ways to develop the mall into a social gathering place — truly becoming a city within a city. It has worked hard at creating a sense and atmosphere of community.

“These are very challenging times for a lot of our retail clients. But we recently opened Arc’teryx. Dyson opened (recently) with their own store. We have OVO which is Drake's brand that’s opening shortly. The Aritzia team are building this huge 'super centre' Aritzia which will have a cafe in it which opens off centre court. Lululemon is expanding into their location next door and they’ll be open by Christmas,” said O’Neill.

“It is challenging times but we do have new clients joining us and we do have existing clients reinventing themselves moving towards success. It’s really a testament to retail and how they can survive.”

IMAGE VIA NEWSPAPERS.COM
THE NEW WOODWARD’S AND HOLT RENFREW STORES AT CHINOOK CENTRE IN CALGARY IN 1960. PHOTO: GLENBOW MUSEUM ARCHIVES
IMAGE VIA NEWSPAPERS.COM

FUTURE PLANS CALL FOR MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT ON CF CHINOOK CENTRE PROPERTY

Future plans call for mixed-use development on the CF Chinook Centre property.

“We’ve had numerous conversations with respect to how Chinook could still evolve on the site itself. We’ve been working with the City of Calgary on future plans for development on the site which could include hotel, or office tower, open air space. We also own the land across the street where the Scotiabank is and again plans in place for perhaps a condominium tower with retail and restaurants on the bottom to go along with the beautification of 61st Avenue that the city did a couple of years ago,” said O’Neill.

“Those are still out there but they’re not in the books for the next little while. But again this is one of those properties that we’re fortunate gets reinvested in and people look to the future as to what that could look like. With this challenging environment it probably won’t happen in the very near future but the plans never die.”

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