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Visiting the historic Main Street of Nanton, Alberta: antique stores with 100-year old frontages

Updated on February 9, 2015
Provincial flag of Alberta
Provincial flag of Alberta | Source
W S Keely building North Bound Hwy 2, Nanton
W S Keely building North Bound Hwy 2, Nanton | Source
Façade of the Nanton Drug Co. Building in Nanton's Main Street
Façade of the Nanton Drug Co. Building in Nanton's Main Street | Source
Shaw & Cooper building Main Street Nanton
Shaw & Cooper building Main Street Nanton | Source

A throwback to 100 years ago

Nanton, Alberta, boasts several antique stores housed in Main Street (which used to be called Railway Avenue)(1) in solid, 100-year old properties with well-preserved frontages. This brief article features a few of them, all of them executed in red brick.

The Shaw and Cooper Building, which dates from 1909, is situated at the corner of Main and Shaw Streets. The corner entrance way has been converted into a window, but its pediment, along with the entrance way pediments on Main and Shaw Streets, have been preserved. At the apex of the corner, there is a smaller, simply decorated, broken pediment. The lower storey's windows on both Main and Shaw Streets have asymmetrically placed Syrian arches, while the upper stories have rectangular windows. Today, a bank and an antique store share the Shaw and Cooper Building.

The 1908, two storey former Nanton Drug Company building, has its lower storey entirely taken up with the storefront and entrance way. Above the upper storey, decorated, double layered, overhanging eaves give the name of the former store which occupied the building. Today, a furniture business occupies the property.

The W S Keely Building is similar to the former Nanton Drug Company building, but is wider, with storefront space for both a hardware business and an antiques outlet, and its overhanging eaves are less pronounced, and in a plainer execution..

The style of the buildings on Main Street are thus of typical hardware/general stores of a century ago, with clientele usually drawn from their local catchment area. One of these buildings does indeed house a hardware store, so this image is certainly accurate.

But the added reality is that being various antique stores, their actual, contemporary clientele come not only from the local area but from further afield, since Nanton has gained itself a reputation of being a tourist and visitor centre for antique lovers.

Indeed, fast-growing Calgary is less than 100 kilometres from Nanton, and its existing housing stock is under pressure and new subdivisions seem constantly to be appearing. Thus, in comparison, Nanton, with its classic, 100 year old Main Street storefronts, seems already to be a throwback to the solid real estate of yesteryear.

I do not know whether, at the period from which these various properties date, Nanton would then have resembled a frontier boom town with 'modern', commercial real estate. But today there is a somewhat staid aura to the Downtown area of Nanton, not least because of the preservation of these mature, solid, red brick storefronts.

David Thomas, who has written extensively on Alberta's historical and natural heritage, has said: 'Nanton has transitioned successfully from a railhead for local grain crops to a destination for hunters of antiques and collectibles.' (2)

Pierre Berton, in Reviving Main Street, wrote:

'Main Street is the glory of Canada. If a community has no heart, it has no soul; and its heart should beat faster at the core. For here is the glory of the past, the symbol of stability, the structures that our fathers and their fathers erected, the visual reminder of another time that gives every small town a sense of continuity.' (3)

February 9, 2015


(1) An interesting feature of Main Street, with is antique stores, is that it today forms the northbound part of Highway 2 through the town; southbound traffic must travel along the parallel 21st Avenue in the town.

(2) See also:

(3) Pierre Berton, Reviving Main Street, quoted in:

Map location of Nanton, Alberta
Map location of Nanton, Alberta | Source

Also worth seeing

In Nanton itself, the Air Museum particularly commemorates the contribution and sacrifice of the many Canadian aviators of Bomber Command during World War Two; the Museum notably possesses a Lancaster bomber, with its Rolls Royce Merlin engines in working order, and a decommissioned jet from the Snowbirds air demonstration team.

Also in Nanton; a grain elevator has been turned into a local museum; the MacEwan Schoolhouse of 1906 serves as a tourist information centre.

Calgary (distance: 92 kilometres); the Calgary Tower, Lougheed House National Historic Site and Museum, the annual Stampede, the Glenbow Museum and Prince's Island Park are just a few of the many visitor attractions in this fast-growing city.

Waterton (distance: 178.1 kilometres): this outstandingly scenic location - part of Warterton-Glacier International Peace Park - has amazing views from the historic Prince of Wales Hotel over the often snow-capped Rockies and the Waterton Lakes.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Calgary International Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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