A moment in history: Dec. 20, 1966

A moment in history: Dec. 20, 1966

· The Pulse

On this day in 1966, Edmonton discussed proposals for two new skyscrapers in the heart of the city.

The 1960s were a boom period filled by big plans and breathless announcements. The oil industry was motoring ahead and Edmonton's population surged in response. Cranes dotted the city's downtown skyline as new construction and redevelopment tried to keep pace.

But even compared to the era's most ambitious plans, the proposed new headquarters for Alberta Government Telephones was big. The original idea was to build two towers on Jasper Avenue separated by a plaza, across from the Hotel Macdonald. One would be a 30- to 35-storey building to house AGT, while a private developer would build a second, 18- to 20-storey tower.

The project, which gave Edmonton what's currently known as ATB Place, was at the time seen as an anchor to reshape the city's downtown. When announcing the project, then-Mayor Vincent Dantzer said the towers would be one point in a triangle that would form Edmonton's civic centre, the other two being the CN Tower and a proposed downtown arena that was "not as far away as some people think," according to Dantzer.

The city approved the skyscraper proposals, which included demolishing the central library (also known as the Carnegie Library, because of the organization that funded its creation), which had stood on the spot for nearly 50 years.

Both towers ended up taller than first proposed. The smaller of the two, ATB Tower, was completed in 1969 and topped out at 26 storeys. Aside from holding offices for ATB, the building hosted retail space on its lower floors as well as a connection to the city's LRT system.

Two years later, when the taller AGT Tower was finished, it stood as the tallest building in the city, at 34 storeys (a record it would hold for a decade until Manulife Place was built.) The public was able to enjoy the views the new tower offered by visiting Vista 33, a telecommunication museum and observation deck that was built on the penultimate floor.

A third, two-storey structure was later be added to the plaza between the two towers.

In 1987, artist Slavo Cech pitched a festive idea — a light display featuring giant Christmas trees along the river-facing sides of AGT Tower. It was a difficult engineering endeavour, but soon hundreds of lights were permanently installed on the skyscraper. The display, with its multiple multi-coloured Christmas trees, was first lit up for the holiday season in 1988. It has since become an annual tradition, with the colourful display brightening up the city's skyline every December.

The building complex went through a few name changes in the 1990s when AGT was privatized into TELUS Communications. The plaza became TELUS Plaza before being renamed to the current ATB Place Plaza. And what was once the AGT building is now TELUS House, which holds the company's Alberta headquarters.

Half a century after construction, ATB Place remains a stalwart of Edmonton's skyline. And the colourful Christmas trees adorning the side of TELUS House are lit once again, adding to the many decorations brightening downtown. That includes a Christmas tree, which was unveiled to the public on Dec. 12.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.