It was the campaign office for Ralph Klein when he ran for Calgary mayor in 1980, it was the training ground for many well-known wrestlers such as Bret “The Hitman” Hart and it was what one part of the notorious Hart family, The Annis’, called home.
After 40 years, the iconic BJ’s Gym is saying goodbye with a bash before the city tears the historic building down as part of the East Village revitalization project. BJ’s Gym owner BJ Annis recently sold the gym to the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) to pave the way for future area plans.
Angie Annis, BJ’s daughter, has mixed emotions about the building coming down, but still decided to throw a big art show and party over two days as a tribute to the neighbourhood.
“It’s still so surreal right now because I’m still going there every day,” Annis says. “I’ve just been busy organizing the art show and it hasn’t had time to sink in yet.”
The gym was where many wrestlers and Olympic athletes worked out, but also where the Annis family lived.
“I grew up above the gym my whole life. I lived there so there was never a separation,” says Annis. “The gym was my home, so it’s not just a business but it was everything to me and my brothers and my sister growing up.”
The celebration party is something Annis wants to do to give back to the community.
“I have a lot of artist friends and some of them never had a chance to show their stuff, and a lot of them have. But this is a great way to bring everyone together,” she says.
With a collective of 22 artists, including some who will be making their debut, there will also be loads of live entertainment with bands Los Morenos, The Barley Hepcats and Hurricane Felix, as well as break dancers, hula girls, fire throwers and more. Annis expects several hundred people to show up for the free event over the course of two days.
“It’s more than just an art show, it’s a giant party,” Annis says, adding all 10,000 square feet of space will be utilized. “We just wanted to do something special to say goodbye and this is a great way.”
After the show though, when the building is slated to come down, Annis will have to reflect on the demolition of the gym, her home.
“I’ll probably have to deal with the emotions after by myself. I am keeping the show as the starlight for now instead of getting too teary-eyed,” she says. “It’s a bit of a fairy tale you know, it doesn’t seem real.”
Annis’s family have already bought a new house and are moving on, but when the gym is demolished and the path is paved for a new East Village, they can reflect on the 40 years they gave to the citizens of Calgary.
“It’s a big change for my parents, but they are happy to have done everything they did down there, and they have a lot of fans in the neighbourhood,” Annis says. “This party is a chance for everyone to have their last goodbye.”