Hextall, John (later Wood's Christian Home)
• Built: 1912
• Demolished: 1975
Like so many others who arrived in Calgary in the early part of this century, John Hextall was smitten by the idea of ranching on the western frontier. A lawyer by profession, Hextall came to Calgary in 1908 from England on his doctor’s recommendation hoping the fresh mountain air would improve his health.
The idea of ranching was soon left behind, however, as Hextall saw the opportunity to develop the beautiful Bowness valley into an exclusive residential area. He returned to England in order to market his development idea. Apparently an effective salesman, Hextall returned to Calgary in 1910 to found and become president of the Bowness Development Company.
In 1911 he bought almost 2,000 acres of the land surrounding the Bowness valley, and began the development necessary for the new residential neighborhood. His developments, in keeping with his modern and exclusive ideal, were extensive and innovative. They were also expensive – a bridge over the Bow River, a hydro-electric light plant and pumping station, a water tower, a golf course and even a trolley service were all installed before any residences were actually built. The old ranch house (the original location being in the present Bowness Park) was a long and difficult horse ride (2.5 hours) from downtown Calgary, and Hextall was insistent that the area be accessible by streetcar. He negotiated a deal for this service with the city of Calgary in exchange for donating the land around the ranch house to the city for a park. In the summer of 1912, the streetcar line opened, and soon became an immensely popular ride, as many Calgarians could conveniently and cheaply escape the city for a trip to the country.
Hextall next began building the first of his fabulous homes. The first was a club house for his golf course, the second, a mansion for himself and his family, and third, a home for his personal secretary. He managed to build a few more before World War I broke out in 1914. With the outbreak of the war, Calgary’s English population diminished as many, including Hextall, traveled back to England to serve their country. His dream of a beautiful, exclusive community vanished, as he faced bankruptcy from the sapping of his private fortune and the withdrawal of support from England. He died suddenly in 1914 after a year-long illness, at the age of 54.