The drive from Regina to Calgary on that October night in 1967 was going to be difficult and treacherous. Dave Illsey and his wife Cecilia had loaded a tandem trailer with furniture and drafting equipment and were headed Westward. Dave had landed a job with a busy Calgary architectural firm and needed to be on the job that Monday. The forecast called for a snowstorm, and it was headed right for them. Both worried that their white 1963 Plymouth Fury coupe powered by a 145-horsepower slant-six engine and riding on bias ply tires might get into trouble on the trip. It was too late to cancel. So, with both hands firmly on the wheel and steady pressure on the accelerator, the Illseys began their slow journey to Calgary.
Sure enough, once the couple got to the Cypress Hills near Swift Current, the snow was coming down hard. The sharp rise in elevation on the Trans Canada highway just east of the Alberta border was making it difficult for Dave to maintain traction. “At one point, we were three quarters the way up a 10% incline trying to keep the car and trailer straight when an AMJ Campbell van passed us and left us blinded in the blowing snow” recalls Dave. After that fright, the couple decided to pull over right there and wait out the storm. The couple arrived safely in Calgary and drove to their new apartment in Mission district, that Dave had arranged the previous month.
Overlooking the Elbow River, their new home was located on 26th Avenue in Mission. “Cecilia and I both have great memories of our time there. I remember rafting down the Elbow in 1969 with my neighbour, who was television executive at the time.” Cecilia had found work as a legal assistant and the couple set their sights on finding a house they could afford and renovate. An Architectural Technologist by trade, Dave liked to do construction as well, and the couple bought an original 1914 bungalow on Montreal Ave. in Mount Royal. “We paid $25,000 for it ‘as is’ in an estate sale” remembers Dave, “and it needed a lot of work.” By 1972, the couple had welcomed two daughters, and with both adults working, the renovations took longer than anticipated. “Cecilia was getting tired of the accumulation of construction debris, dust, and shavings, because she’s a very neat and organized person” recalls Dave. But they remained determined to see the entire project through.
By the late 1970s, Alberta was hit by an oil boom following the OPEC embargo which caused the world’s first energy crisis. Oil prices soared and Calgary’s housing market became frenzied with newcomers looking for homes. The couple decided to buy a second distressed house in the community and Dave split his spare time between the two houses getting them ready for market. To Cecilia’s relief, Dave finally completed the reno to their own home in 1987. However, due to the changing economy, the Illseys decided to sell their beautiful Montreal Avenue bungalow and move to Palliser. The Calgary Olympics in 1988 meant it was also a busy time. New architectural projects were coming in fast and furious at Hutchinson, Barrett Partnership Architects where Dave was a partner and project manager.
Dave worked on many significant projects throughout Western Canada including Millennium Place in Sherwood Park, the Red Deer Court House, and the Calgary Real Estate Board’s Calgary headquarters. Perhaps his most satisfying was the historic restoration of the old McDougall School downtown which serves as Alberta’s Government House South. “Just the replacement of the exterior sandstone block was very complex” says Dave. “The original quarry for that particular stone was located near Sunalta School at Crowchild Trail, however the old quarry was no longer available, so the project team searched far and wide for sandstone deposits that had similar characteristics and colour. Finally, one was discovered on a farmer’s field near Lethbridge. “Initially, the owner wasn’t interested in re-opening the quarry” recalls Dave, “and it required a bottle of Scotch and some convincing to get him to agree.” Sandstone artisans were then hired to complete the restoration and replicate column capitals and other decorative details.
Dave finally decided to retire from the architectural firm of Sahuri & Partners in 2017—at the age of seventy-eight—and join the PCPCA’s board of directors. After a career in architecture, Dave wanted to oversee the planning and civic affairs portfolio. “I am concerned about the city’s plan for the densification of communities” says Dave, “particularly as it concerns low-cost development.” Dave believes that the community should continue to actively monitor ongoing discussions and planning at City Hall. He encourages all residents to support the work of the District 32 Multi-Communities Planning Group which currently represents eight communities in the area. Dave hopes that the PBP community will continue to protect its largely single-family model and monitor further planning developments of multi-family housing in Palliser.
On behalf of the PBPCA BOD, we thank Dave for his tireless service to his community and wish him and Cecilia continued health and happiness!