By 1988 we were on a good trajectory for achieving our goals. Our membership had grown to around four hundred and fifty, bingo funds were mounting, and a casino fundraiser was on the horizon. Nevertheless, our realistic option to create a Cultural Centre was to rent space as our likelihood of raising capital for a building was negligible. As we investigated rental options an enquiry with Albert Milne at the City of Calgary Land Department provided an opportunity. Albert arranged for the Board to inspect the former community centre in Bowness, and explained the rental terms. With input from landman Martin Cowman the board discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both the building and its location before deciding to accept. We met with local Alderman Dale Hodges to let him know what was afoot and assure him that we would be good neighbours in his Ward. Alderman Hodges raised no objections and we took possession of the hall in time to arrange the children’s Christmas Party there.
We set about right away making low-cost maintenance improvements and acquiring furnishings. While we prepared grant applications for structural extensions. Barb Hill and Debbie Graham at the City of Calgary Parks and Recreation Department were key contacts for the grants. They explained how to best prepare the required information and how to leverage our available funds plus volunteer ‘in-kind’ work commitments to obtain City and Provincial grants. We collected letters of commitment from our members to undertake hours of work in various trades and we could attribute a value to this work for obtaining matching grants. Susan Coombs with Alberta Culture was also a helpful contact in this regard. Richard Cordner provided architectural drawings for the improvements and Seamus McDonnell prepared the cost estimate for the grant application. The building extension included a new foyer, kitchen, bar area and washrooms. We met with Bonnie Lang (soon to be local MLA) who was very pleased with our proposal. Bonnie was familiar with the history of the building as a former library and community hall and wanted to be assured that a commemorative plaque on the outside wall would not be covered – you can see it now in the entrance foyer. We obtained $77,000 from the City’s Community, Recreational and Cultural Grant and $113,000 from the provincial Community Facility Enhancement Program. Our budget target was $383,000.
The official opening of the Irish Cultural Centre was held on March 18, 1989. The opening festivities committee chaired by Sean Buckley included Pat Adams, Linda Buckley, Rory Clancy, Ron Duffy, Paddy Ryan, Myles Sheridan and Paddy Slater. A full house of enthusiastic members reviewed the premises and celebrated the occasion. By this time our Society had over six hundred members.
Greetings from the Government of Canada were brought by Al Johnson MP and Lee Richardson MP, Deputy Premier Dave Russell MLA spoke for the Government of Alberta and Alderman Dale Hodges who represented Mayor Klein and City Council. Letters of congratulations came from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and from Mayor Ralph Klein who noted that “The Irish were among the very first settlers in Calgary, and it seems fitting that they should have a place of honour in the community. The Centre will become a focal point for the enrichment of Irish culture, a culture known for its music, dance, poetry and literature, and let it not be forgotten, the Irish really know how to enjoy themselves!”
He was right about that.
Unveiling a Plaque to commemorate the opening of the Irish Cultural Centre: Al Johnson, MP,, Dave Russell, MLA, Deputy Premier , Alderman Dale Hodges, Dan Bolger, President Irish Cultural Society, Lee Richardson, MP
Sean Buckley remembers: I was thrilled to be tasked with forming a committee to plan and organise a “Grand Opening” for our new centre. ICS members and friends were eager to participate in any way they could and in no time, the Grand Opening Committee, a group of 8 very talented volunteers, was formed and the ball was rolling. Each Irish organisation in the city was invited to participate and “show themselves off” to the broader world. Every inch of the new Irish Cultural Centre would be used for displays, presentations, screenings, performances and most importantly, for mingling and socialising.
The building was dressed-up, catering was arranged, dance and musical performances were scheduled, babysitting services were organised and appropriate presentations were planned as part of the day.
At 11:00 am on Saturday, March 18th, 1989, we welcomed dignitaries, neighbours and the Calgary Irish community to The Irish Cultural Centre. An estimated 600 people attended this Grand Opening event. It seemed like the whole world had come to see what The Irish Cultural Society was all about!
Everything went off beautifully and by the time we bid “Slan abhaile” to our last visitors, the organisers were feeling almost overwhelmed by the success of the day.
The afterglow was magnificent!
A full house of members and friends attended the Ceremonial Opening event
Board Member Sean Buckley speaking with Alderman Don Hartman
Sean Casey, Deirdre Halferty, Shea Sculley, John Houston Charlie Chiasson and friends jam together
Comhaltas Musicians: Bobby Skillen, Don McAuley, Rory Clancy, John Houston, Jim Osborne, Ken McEachern, Gail O’Neill and Sean McComish
Bobby Skillen plays bodhran for Kerry Houston, Kim Houston and Corrine Delaney
Al Johnson MP helps serving commemorative cake
Volunteers Linda Buckley and Paddy Ryan help with food catering