The McGill Block’s Compelling Link to the Titanic

 

If you’ve ever wondered what Inglewood and the Titanic have in common, you’ve come to the right place. Even if you have never wondered that, you’ve still come to the right place because this fascinating link between Calgary’s most historic neighbourhood and the tragedy of the unsinkable Titanic is quite intriguing.


"Albert Dick, a Calgary insurance man, and his wife Vera were among 711 persons aboard the Titanic who were saved. All the rest —1,490 men, women and children, perished"


Chatting with Steve Hagel, who owns the Bricks Wine Co. in the McGill Block on the corner of 9th Avenue and 9th Street, he admits he’s always had a soft spot for the neighbourhood since childhood: “I grew up in Calgary, in Forest Lawn, and we used to take the number 1 bus from our house down to The Hudson Bay downtown to have malts,” shares Steve. “Sometimes I’d hop off the bus right at this intersection to visit the sporting and hunting goods store that used to occupy the entire main floor in the McGill Block at that time.”

Since then the McGill Block has had it’s fair share of challenges and changes, including a devastating fire in the 1980s that resulted in a rebuild of the building. Architect Jack Long converted the upstairs into condos and the main floor was subsequently divided into three separate units. Steve ended up purchasing one of the spaces and moved his company Acme Works Digital Film. When time came to expand and move his business to a larger space, Steve was at a crossroads of what to do with the space; ultimately deciding that he wanted to create something unique for the neighbourhood and then came about the idea of Bricks Wine Co.

“Although I’ve never lived in Inglewood, the neighbourhood has always been a constant in my life,” shares Steve. “My sister even worked at the Fox chick hatchery down the road many years ago. There has always been this unique tie between myself and the neighbourhood. I am happy to be a part of the business community of Inglewood and I hope with my wine shop I am helping beautify this special historic part of Calgary.”

Historic indeed. One of the attributes of the McGill Block that keeps Steve so passionate and intrigued about keeping this part of historic Inglewood alive and well is the story of the man behind the building.

The McGill Block, previously named the Dick Block after A.A. (Albert) Dick, an innovative young entrepreneur from Manitoba who built the building in 1911. He also built and ran Hotel Alexandra in downtown Calgary. Less than a year after the Dick Block was constructed, Albert and his new bride Vera, were two of just 711 people who survived the horrific tragedy of the Titanic. The couple had been on a whirlwind honeymoon tour of Europe and their journey on the Titanic was the final luxurious cap on this extravagant escape; little did they know it would end in such tragedy.  Mr and Mrs Dick were even quoted in a Maclean’s article from 1950, where they recount their terrifying experience aboard the Titanic.

The story of Alfred and Vera sounds vaguely familiar, with Vera very much resembling James Cameron’s Rose. In the Maclean’s article they even speak of their friendship with Thomas Andrews, the man in charge of the ship’s construction - a storyline in the film Titanic. There are also stories of one of the ship’s porters, named Jones, who had flirted with Vera and was actually the one who alerted the newlyweds to the sinking. Perhaps James Cameron, in his research for the film, was inspired by this friendship between Vera and the porter and used them as mild inspiration for Jack and Rose.

Returning home to Calgary, Albert was unfortunately ostracized by local society; with many people claiming that he was a coward and dressed as a woman to get on that lifeboat that saved his life. His hotel business suffered and he eventually closed it and sold the property. The couple remained in Calgary, living in their Tudor-style mansion in Mount Royal until their deaths in the 1970s.

Their legacy as Calgary’s two Titanic survivors lives on in the brick landmark of the McGill Block, just a block from the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. These stories continue to be shared thanks to enterprising individuals like Steve Hagel who are dedicated to seeing Inglewood flourish and see the value in keeping the spirit of these heritage sites alive and well.

 
ryan beale