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The Winnipegger who changed the course of Calgary’s history

By IRENA KARSHENBAUM Calgary is not known for saving its heritage buildings — although some impressive exceptions exist — so when on March 15 a local real estate investment company, Strategic Group, that is not in the business of heritage restoration, announced they will be restoring the city’s most significant Art Moderne building, the news came as a welcome surprise.
Work has begun on the 1951 Barron Building, once the epitome of chic, that for the last dozen years had stood empty and its future uncertain.
In 1947, when oil was discovered in Leduc, which is closer to Edmonton than to Calgary, oil companies could have settled in the provincial capital instead they were lured to Calgary, thanks to the daring of J.B. Barron, a Winnipeg-native, who saw that the city desperately needed office space and built Calgary’s first post-WWII high-rise. Named the Mobil Oil Building initially, in honour of its biggest tenant and located at 610 8 Avenue S.W., John Barron, J.B. Barron’s oldest grandson who, at the age of five, broke ground in 1949 for the construction of the building, remembers that his grandfather was thought of as “crazy” at the time because, “the city was never going to move that far west.”
Calgary had been struggling through a depression over the previous 35 years since the economic collapse in 1913, so it was hard for the naysayers to imagine a different future.
Calgary’s rising fortunes had their beginnings in Winnipeg.
Born in 1863, Joseph Samuel Barron arrived in Winnipeg in 1880 from Kiev. In 1887, he married 18-year-old Kiev-native, Elizabeth Belapolsky, and the couple had two sons, J.B. (Jacob Bell), born in 1888 and, Abraham, who followed in 1889.
Not immune to the gold rush fever that had spread across North America, in 1898 J.S. Barron left behind his family in Winnipeg and headed to Dawson City enduring an arduous journey by climbing through the White Pass on foot, carrying his merchandise on his back.
A lucky few struck it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush, which lasted only from 1896 to 1899, but most did not – J.S. Barron among them. In 1899, when gold was found in Nome, Alaska, people abandoned Dawson City to seek their fortunes in Nome. J.S. Barron remained.
Elizabeth waited for her husband to return and finally, in 1902, set out on a difficult journey with her two young sons. They traveled from Winnipeg to Regina to Calgary to Seattle by train, where they boarded a liner that sailed north to Skagway on the coast of Alaska, then by railroad to Whitehorse, where they boarded the Casca sternwheeler, which sailed on the Yukon River, and finally arrived in Dawson City.
J.B. and Abe were the first graduates of Dawson City High School and, in 1905, while the father remained in the Yukon, headed with their mother to the University of Chicago, where they studied law. Elizabeth supported her sons by sewing dresses for Vaudeville and Yiddish Theatre actresses and cooking for them. Following graduation, in 1911, J.B. Barron came to Calgary at the urging of his uncle, Charlie Bell, who had recently built the King George Hotel (demolished in 1978). Elizabeth and Abe arrived in Calgary the following year.
Even though J.S.’s mercantile business burned down three times, he continued to stay in Dawson City. Elizabeth had to brave another journey to Dawson City to coax her husband to return to his family. The parents eventually joined their sons in Calgary in 1913, but Joseph passed away in 1917. Elizabeth survived him until 1941.
In 1914, J. B. Barron married fellow Winnipeg-native Amelia Helman, daughter of Odessa-born John Louis Helman and Esther Helman (née Finkelstein), from Shumsk, Ukraine. The couple had three sons: William, Robert and Richard. A teacher, Amelia served as president of the Calgary Chapter of Hadassah and was instrumental in bringing Goldie Myerson and Eleanor Roosevelt to the city.
In 1915, J.B. Barron became the first Jewish lawyer in Calgary to be admitted to the bar. Abe passed the bar in 1919 and the two brothers started the law firm, Barron & Barron. By acting as the solicitor for the Allen brothers, a Jewish family that had established a national movie theatre chain, in 1923, J.B. acquired the Allen’s Palace Theatre on 8th Avenue and discovered his calling, as theatre impresario.
In 1924, he brought the violinist, Jascha Heifitz, and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff, who played to thrilled audiences. In 1926, he hired newly-arrived Leon Asper to serve as the conductor of the Palace Concert Orchestra, along with his wife, Cecilia, who played the piano. He convinced Crimean-born, Grigori Garbovitsky, who had settled in Winnipeg, to move to Calgary, where the violinist and conductor founded the Calgary Symphony Orchestra. In 1928, however, J.B. Barron lost control of the Palace Theatre.
It took him another nine years before he would own another theatre, the Sherman Grand. Located in the 1912 Lougheed Building — built by Senator Sir James Lougheed, the grandfather of Premier Peter Lougheed — he bought the theatre from the Lougheed family, giving them much-needed cash. The Lougheeds, who once entertained European royalty in their mansion but, since the death of the senator, and being lenient about collecting rent from their tenants to help keep their businesses afloat during the Great Depression, were themselves on the brink of financial ruin.
Owning the Grand gave J.B. Barron not only the opportunity to return to being a theatre impresario — he brought pianist Artur Rubinstein to Calgary in 1942 and 1944 — but the Chicago Style Lougheed Building would serve as a model for his greatest project yet to come.

Located on the corner of 6th Avenue and 1st Street S.W., the 6-floor, mixed-use building contained the Sherman Grand Theatre, retail at street level, offices and a penthouse. When opened in 1912, it was Calgary’s most prestigious corporate address. (By the end of the 20th century the building was in severe decline and only thanks to a devastating fire in 2004 did it galvanize wide-spread civic support for its restoration.) J.B. Barron used this model to build his own mixed-use building with the Uptown Theatre, stores at street level, office space on the second to tenth floors and an eleventh floor containing office space for his business as well a penthouse for him, since he and Amelia were by then separated. The penthouse opened on to a rooftop garden for his dog, Butch.
Completed at a cost of $1.125 million, the Alberta Association of Architects (ASA) listed the Barron Building as Significant Alberta Architecture. The penthouse design was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. The rooftop garden won the Vincent Massey Award for excellence in urban planning for a rooftop garden.
The building housed Sun Oil, Shell Oil, Socony Mobil Oil Company and others. New office towers sprung up around it, inspiring the expression, “the oil patch.” (Built so far west, it also inadvertently saved from demolition early 20th century buildings along the eastern section of 8th Avenue that today make up the Stephen Avenue National Historic District.) Calgary’s position as the oil capital of Canada was sealed.
J.B. Barron passed away in 1965. His sons took over the management of the building until 1981, when they sold it to a Swiss family for what is believed to be $6 million. The real estate market soon collapsed and the building was eventually foreclosed. It stood on the market through the mid 1980s until 1992 when Blake O’Brien, a young banker, placed a joke bid of $250,000 at an auction and found himself the accidental owner of the Barron Building and Uptown Theatre.
Under O’Brien, the Uptown Theatre flourished as if a scene out of Cinema Paradiso, while the rest of the building languished empty like a Sicilian village. For years, O’Brien lived with his own dog in the penthouse, filled with 1950s furniture.
In 2005, while attending a Calgary Centre Hadassah meeting, I met Linda Barron (née Rosenthal), a Winnipeg native. When asked if she had a connection to the Barron Building, she explained that it had been built by the grandfather of her husband, John Barron. My relationship with the Barron family grew, along with my research about their extraordinary grandfather and his building.
In 2009, the building was bought by Strategic Group and its future came into question when the company discarded the contents of the penthouse, removed the theatre marquée ,and ripped out the Uptown Theatre.
Between 2007 and 2013, I advocated for the restoration of the Barron Building and Uptown Theatre by writing articles, giving public talks and, in 2012, witing a submission that included placing the building on that year’s National Trust of Canada Top Most Endangered Places List. This advocacy helped raise awareness of the significance of the building. Representatives of Strategic Group attended my talk for Historic Calgary Week in the summer of 2012 and, in the fall of that year, I was invited to meet with Riaz Mamdani, CEO of Strategic Group, who showed me his plans for the building. I asked Mamdani to restore the Barron Building to the highest heritage standards and make it the jewel in his Strategic crown. I left the meeting uncertain that things would end well. Later, a number of groups wrote to provincial and municipal governments and, in 2014, the Government of Alberta ordered a Historic Resources Impact Assessment.
After years of work, on March 15, Strategic Group announced they will be investing $100 million into the restoration and residential conversion of the Barron Building for which they will receive an $8.5 million incentive from the City of Calgary.
Strategic Group’s investment is likely the largest heritage restoration project in Calgary’s recent history and needs to be recognized and celebrated. The Barron Building’s continued life will serve to tell a wild story of fortunes lost and made across space and time.
With files from Daniel Barron and Donald B. Smith.
Irena Karshenbaum is a writer, historian and heritage advocate living in Calgary. www.irenakarshenbaum.com 

The Barron Building in Calgary circa 1951
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Features

Exploring 8 Innovative New Services in In-Home Care

In-home care has evolved significantly in recent years, driven by advancements in technology, changing demographics, and an increased focus on personalized care. These innovative services are transforming the way support is delivered, enhancing the quality of life for seniors and individuals with disabilities. Here are some of the most exciting and groundbreaking innovations that families can depend on when it comes to their space and the best practices to ensure comfort and safety.

Telehealth and Telemedicine

Telehealth and telemedicine have revolutionized health care by providing remote access to services. Through video consultations, seniors and caregivers can communicate with doctors, nurses, and specialists without leaving their homes. This reduces the need for frequent visits to health facilities, which can be challenging for those with mobility issues. Telehealth also enables continuous monitoring of chronic conditions, allowing providers to adjust treatments promptly and prevent complications.

Remote Monitoring and Wearable Devices

Wearable devices and remote monitoring systems are becoming essential tools. These devices can track vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels, providing real-time data to caregivers and health professionals. Advanced systems can detect falls, monitor medication adherence, and even predict health issues before they become severe. This proactive approach allows for timely interventions, improving outcomes and enhancing the safety of in-home recipients.

Virtual Companionship and Social Engagement

Loneliness and social isolation are significant concerns for seniors living at home. Virtual companionship services, such as those provided by robots or virtual assistants, offer interaction and engagement to mitigate these issues. These technologies can remind individuals to take their medications, guide them through exercises, and provide cognitive stimulation through games and conversations. Additionally, platforms that facilitate virtual social gatherings and activities help seniors stay connected with family and friends, promoting mental and emotional well-being.

Personalized Care Plans and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a crucial role in developing personalized plans. AI algorithms can analyze data from various sources, including health records, lifestyle habits, and genetic information, to create customized strategies. These plans are tailored to the unique needs and preferences of each individual, ensuring they receive the most appropriate and effective solutions. AI can also assist caregivers by predicting potential health issues and suggesting preventive measures, thereby enhancing the overall quality of support.

Smart Home Technology

Smart technology is making it easier for seniors to live independently. Voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home can control lights, thermostats, and appliances, reducing the physical effort required for daily tasks. Smart systems can also include sensors that detect movement, alerting caregivers if there is unusual activity or inactivity. This technology not only improves safety but also provides peace of mind for both the recipients and their families.

On-Demand and Flexible Care Services

The gig economy has introduced on-demand services to the in-home care industry. Platforms like Honor and CareLinx allow families to find and hire support quickly, providing flexibility and convenience. These services offer a wide range of options, from a few hours of assistance to round-the-clock support, accommodating the varying needs of individuals. The ability to schedule help on short notice ensures that support is available when it’s needed most. This includes teams like the one at Parners for Home Care; more on their services and support options can be found on their website: https://partnersforhomecare.ca/

Integrative Health and Wellness Programs

Holistic approaches to health and wellness are gaining traction – and for good reason. Integrative health programs combine traditional medical care with complementary therapies such as yoga, meditation, nutrition counseling, and physical therapy. These programs focus on the overall well-being of the individual, addressing physical, mental, and emotional health. As a result of promoting a balanced and healthy lifestyle, integrative health services can enhance the quality of life and prevent the onset of chronic conditions.

Enhanced Training and Support for Caregivers

Innovative training programs for caregivers are crucial in improving the quality of in-home care. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies provide immersive training experiences, allowing support workers to practice and develop their skills in realistic scenarios. Additionally, online platforms offer ongoing education and support, helping individuals stay updated on best practices and new developments in the field. Enhanced training ensures that everyone is well-prepared to meet the diverse needs of their clients.

The Future of In-Home Care Services

The way we grow and age in comfort is rapidly changing, thanks to these innovative services and technologies. Telehealth, remote monitoring, virtual companionship, AI-driven plans, smart technology, on-demand services, integrative health programs, and enhanced training are all contributing to more personalized, efficient, and effective support. As these innovations continue to evolve, they hold the promise of significantly improving the lives of those who rely on in-home care, allowing them to age gracefully and independently in the comfort of their own spaces.

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New online casinos to try in Canada

Canada is jumping aboard the online gambling train and following the same path as many other countries and territories throughout the world that are all rushing to check what this new gambling golden age is all about. Gambling in Canada varies from state to state, and before we get started today, we must advise you that you need to check out the laws and legislation in your local area before you look to play a casino game online.


Favorable changes in legislation

Gambling in Canada is legal at central government level, but it is left to the individual provinces to write up the local legislation that applies to their residents. Ontario was the most recent province to legalize sports betting and online casino gaming. Although April 2022 wasn’t too long ago, gambling platforms operating within the province are firing on all cylinders.

You don’t have to be the sharpest tool in the box to observe how significant it was for Ontario to legalize online casino gaming for all residents over the age of 19. Ontario is the most populated province and is home to two of the most prominent cities in the country, thus opening up the potential for a multibillion-dollar tax base for provincial legislators.

There has been an enormous wave of platforms looking to get in on the action, but a handful of new online casinos, which can be found on PlayCasinos.ca, are proving to be slightly ahead of the rest, at least in our opinion. Let’s take a look at some of these platforms, what they have to offer, and the sort of components you should look for when deciding which casino to play at.


BetBeast

First up today, we have BetBeast, and it ticks many of the boxes that are often indicators of a quality casino:

  • Customer service that is easy to contact and available 24/7 – an integral feature for any digital casino.
  • A great VIP program.
  • Impressive bonuses for existing customers.
  • Over 7,000 games to choose from.

There are some areas where BetBeast could improve, such as increasing the withdrawal amount for high rollers, and given it’s such a new provider, it’ll be harder for it to muscle in on the more established names, but it does all of the things you’d expect from a casino that has aspirations of getting in among the big names in Canadian casino gaming.

Gamblezen

While Gamblezen does all of the basics well, including great game selection, easy-to-contact customer service and a quick signup process, what grabbed our attention most about the Curaçao-based gambling platform was what other people are saying about it online.

Despite being in the space for less than 12 months, there’s a wave of people waxing lyrical about its service, both on social media and via independent reviews. We checked out what it has to offer, and find that it’s impressive for the short time it has been active in the Canadian online casino industry.


Casino Adrenaline

Opting for a high-octane name, Casino Adrenaline has clearly used the opportunity to name its platform as a marketing strategy, which is not a bad idea. However, it isn’t just about the face value of the intriguing name – Casino Adrenaline has a new customer, no-deposit offer of 100 free spins, which first caught our attention. Another interesting approach is its range of payment methods.

In our experience, new casinos will usually opt for the main two or three payment methods before branching out into others. However, Casino Adrenaline has been around since 2014, so its venture into the Canadian market isn’t its first rodeo. Online gambling in Canada captured national and local news and attention in 2022, while Casino Adrenaline has been offering digital betting services since 2014, and it’s clear from their website that they know what they are doing.


Belabet

Belabet has over 2,000 games to choose from, and if you’re a slot gamer, this might be the one you should put at the top of your list to check out. It’s the newest name on our list today, launching in April 2024, but is clearly eager to get going in the casino gaming market and has one of the broadest selections of slot games we’ve seen.

Of course, as you’d expect with a brand-new casino, there are still elements of the site that could do with a few adjustments, but there’s nothing major, and it’s showing a lot of promise as a site for Canadian slot fans.


MoonWin Casino

MoonWin has 3,000 games available, fewer than some of the other names we have touched on today. However, this isn’t a deciding factor in a casino’s overall quality. There are plenty of examples where quality is more important than quantity, and MoonWin definitely makes a strong case for this argument with the quality of their platform.

In addition, you can find plenty of crash games and niche casino games to check out, so you aren’t confined to traditional games if you’re looking for something a little different.

Summary

We’ve only scratched the surface with our selection today, and given that Canadian casino gaming is one of the fastest-growing domestic gambling markets in the world, expect the competition to continue growing – most importantly, to the benefit of the customers, continuing to drive innovation and increase choice.

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Transform Your Space: Creative Ideas for Decorative Concrete

Concrete has long been valued for its durability and versatility, but it’s not typically associated with aesthetics. However, with the advent of decorative concrete, this modern and simple material is making a stylish comeback, as it offers endless possibilities for adding beauty and personality to your Calgary home or business. Here are just a few innovative ideas to inspire your next home renovation project.

Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete in Calgary is one of the most popular options for decorative appeal. This technique involves pressing patterns into freshly poured concrete to mimic the look of other materials such as brick, stone, tile, or even wood. Stamped is an excellent choice for patios, driveways, walkways, and pool decks. It offers the aesthetic appeal of more expensive materials at a fraction of the cost while maintaining the strength and durability.

Stained Concrete

Stained concrete is another versatile option that adds color and depth to your surfaces. There are two main types of stains: acid-based and water-based. Acid stains penetrate the material and react chemically to create rich, variegated colors that resemble natural stone. Water-based stains, on the other hand, offer a broader palette of hues and can be mixed to create custom colors. Stained works well for floors, countertops, and outdoor surfaces, providing a unique and long-lasting finish.

Polished Concrete

For a sleek, modern look, polished concrete is an excellent choice. The process involves grinding the surface with progressively finer abrasives until it reaches the desired level of shine. Polished can be further enhanced with the use of dyes and stains to add color, even though this finish is highly durable, low-maintenance, and reflective, making it ideal for indoor floors in residential, commercial, and industrial settings.

Concrete Overlays

Concrete overlays are a fantastic way to rejuvenate existing surfaces without the need for complete replacement. An overlay is a thin layer applied over the old surface, which can then be stamped, stained, or polished. This technique can fix minor imperfections and give your surfaces a fresh, new look. Overlays are perfect for driveways, patios, and interior floors that have seen better days but still have a solid foundation.

Exposed Aggregate

Exposed aggregate concrete in Calgary is a decorative option that showcases the natural beauty of stone and pebble inclusions within the mix. After pouring, the top layer is removed to reveal the aggregate beneath. This finish provides a textured, non-slip surface, making it an excellent choice for driveways, walkways, and pool decks; the variety of aggregate materials available allows for customization to suit your design preferences.

Engraved Concrete

Concrete engraving involves using special tools and equipment to etch designs, patterns, or text into the surface. This technique can transform plain surfaces into an artistic statement, and engraving can be combined with staining to highlight the designs and create intricate, eye-catching details. It’s a great option for adding logos, borders, or custom artwork to floors, patios, and entryways.

Concrete Countertops

Concrete countertops are gaining popularity for their durability and modern aesthetic. They can be customized in terms of shape, size, color, and finish to suit your kitchen or bathroom design. Integrating decorative elements like inlays, embedded stones, or glass can further enhance their visual appeal. Such countertops are heat and scratch-resistant, making them a practical and stylish choice for any home.

Colored Concrete

Adding color to concrete is a simple yet effective way to enhance its appearance. Integral color, which involves adding pigment directly to the mix, ensures consistent color throughout the material. Alternatively, surface-applied color options like stains, dyes, and tinted sealers can create a wide range of hues and effects. Colored can be used for driveways, patios, floors, and even garden paths to add a pop of color and complement your overall design scheme.

Concrete Furniture

Concrete furniture is an emerging trend that combines functionality with artistic design. From tables and benches to planters and fire pits, these sturdy furniture pieces are durable and weather-resistant, making them suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. The versatility allows for unique shapes and designs that can serve as statement pieces in your home or garden.

Endless Possibilities for Concrete in Calgary

Decorative concrete opens up a world of possibilities for enhancing the beauty and functionality of your spaces. Whether you’re looking to update your patio, revamp your floors, or add a unique touch to your countertops, there’s a decorative option to suit your needs. With its blend of durability, versatility, and aesthetic appeal, decorative concrete in Calgary is a smart choice for any home or business improvement project.

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