What should be Calgary's iconic image to the world?

In May Tourism Calgary hosted their annual "White Hat Awards" where they recognized individuals who have made a difference in Calgary's hospitality industry.  Just a few weeks before the ceremony I got a call that I had been nominated for the Media Recognition Award. I was very surprised as my writing is not pure tourism propaganda, rather, I hope, it is a rigorous evaluation of our city's urban sense of place within an international context.  

Over the years I have compared Calgary to places like Paris, Lyon, Frankfurt, Dubai, Perth and Portland sharing with readers the lessons to be learned from those cities with respect to how to enrich urban living in our city.  It is only recently that I have perhaps focused more on Calgary from a tourist perspective.  

However, there is a strong link between tourism and urbanism, if you can make a city centre an interesting place to live then I think you will make it a great place to visit.  Tourist are often attracted to cities that are vibrant places to live - Paris, New York, Chicago, Montreal or San Francisco quickly come to mind.  

One of the other things that tourist cities have in common is that they have iconic images that are instantly recognizable internationally - the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, The Clouded Gate (The Bean)  or The Golden Gate Bridge.    

If Calgary wants to attract more tourists it must develop several iconic images that become it postcard to the world and say "Come And Visit."  In fact the last time I looked it was ihard to find good postcards of Calgary, most of the time if you go to souvenir shop there are a bunch of out-dated postcards of Calgary's skyline hidden amongst the Banff and Rocky Mountain postcards - even in Calgary souvenir shops.  

Fortunately, I suspect postcards are going the way of the dodo bird. With digital cameras and smart phones, who needs postcards in the 21st century?   

While we may not need postcards anymore we still must brand our city with several iconic images that "shout out" Calgary is a fun place to visit.  Currently we probably one iconic image - The Calgary Stampede and it only works for 10 days of the year.

 However, there are several good candidates and new ones being created every year.  I thought I'd share a few with you and then perhaps you can share your ideas and together we can create Calgary's top 10 iconic images. 

Criteria for being an iconic image are:

  1. Must be photo friendlly
  2. Must be memorable
  3. Must have mass appeal
  4. Must be unique to Calgary 
  5. Must be timeless

My picks are:


The Peace Bridge: This is photo of the underside of the Peace Bridge taken by Neil Zeller and was used by Tourism Calgary from my Media Recognition Award.  The Peace Bridge has become one of the most photographed structures in the City.  Like a lot of urban icons it was hated by many but over time has become part of a city's brand e.g. EiffelTower. 


The Trees on Stephen Avenue - the trees are a big bold statement and they are on our signature street Stephen Avenue.  Like all good icons they too were controversial and locals have a love hate relationship with them.  Before The Bow, Wonderland and the Peace Bridge, Calgary Economic Development and Tourism Calgary used them extensively as a statement of Calgary modernism. They are a great link between public art and architecture.  

The Calgary Tower is definitely one of our past icons.  It is not longer the tallest structure in the city, however, it does pop up in the most unexpected places as it pops in and out of view.  It could be our mid-century modern icon with its Jetson like design. 

The Conversation certainly must be consider as a candidate.  It creates the human touch that is so often missing from icons.  I love this image as it also recognizes that we are a winter city which too often we try to push under the rug.  The image also says business which is so much a part of our corporate culture.  Good icons work on many levels.  

There are three potential icons in this photo Suncor Centre, The Bow and Wonderland.  There is an interesting juxtaposition of art, architecture, corporate and culture and the individual.  Wonderland talks about our youth and innocence as a city that aspires to greatness.  

Not sure this is the right image, but the Family of Man sculpture has the potential to be an iconic image.  It conveys a modern caring city which I think is exactly what were are and is the image we'd like to convey to the world.  it will be interesting to see what happen to this piece of art and if it gets moved.  It deserves a signature site it would be a great gateway into the downtown from the northeast where most airport arriving visitors enter the downtown. 

The Saddledome should definitely be on the list as it unique shape and location create a postcard view of both our rivers valley and the skyline.  It will be interesting to see what happens to when a new arena is built.   


The one icon that comes to mind is the Bow River - a timeless icon. It is a beautiful colour and clear water (other than at run-off), is open all winter (unusual for a winter city) and is followed for almost its entire length in the city by walking paths and bike trails. I can think of no other city in Canada that has the same access to their major river.  Perhaps the postcard shot of the Bow is looking south at the downtown at the Centre Street bridge.  Certainly the Peace Bridge and Bow Tower are the new icons.  GG

My vote goes to The Conversation and Wonderland.  The office towers aren't really anything special, there are too many like it in other cities. MW 

Interesting article. For me as a relatively new arrival in the city I find the city has very few iconic structures. I think the Peace Bridge and the Saddledome are good examples but other than that..... Truth is that the city gets its beauty (if you can call it that ) because of its' proximity to the mountains. Most pictures of Calgary show the mountains in the background. If Calgary was located in the bald Prairie it would be no more interesting than Regina.

The Calgary tower is no longer remarkable, the Bow river valley is ordinary  ( eg compared to Edmonton) the Encana (Bow) tower is impressive but not very architecturally unique. There are no Churches or schools of much interest and the University has very utilitarian boring buildings with no efort at continuity. For example the University of Saskatchewan is iconic (also Queens) because of the theme that runs through the buildings and the association of beautiful stone buildings with an important academic function. Who would waste time taking a tour of the university of Calgary campus? JM

Each of these makes a connection at a certain level. I personally like the big white head, but for a city Image to the world i guess it has to be the calatrava bridge. CO (from Saskatoon, world traveller).

I don't know that any single image really works. Maybe we, as Calgarians, are too close to the city to choose one representative icon. Every one of these images says SOMETHING about Calgary, but doesn't say "Calgary" in a way that would make a visitor or newcomer feel familiar with the city's style, personality and "feel" upon arrival. If we just picked the most stunning image, it would be the Bow/Wonderland or Calatrava's bridge — or perhaps one of the new west C-train stations. But do these really represent what the city is? Do they oversell Calgary in one sense, and undersell it in another? I'd like to ask a visitor who has spent a few weeks here to describe Calgary, then choose an image based on that. One that shows our "good side," of course! MD

Here's a nod to one of our earliest icons, Calgary City Hall, one of the exemplary buildings that earned Calgary the nickname,  The Sandstone City.  (George Webber (Calgary photographer).


George Webber's reminds us that Calgary is home to some iconic sandstone buildings from the early 20th century that should be considered as one of our postcards to the world.  

From Reddit got some interesting comments:

Ha, I actually think the nearly endless rows of manufactured homes is more Calgary than a view of the mountains. Me too, but you'll always hear something like "Only an hour away from the mountains!" in every promotion of Calgary tourism.

I thought this image actually did convey a lot of what Calgary is in some ways. The attractive parts of nature, of the vast wilderness that once characterized this land a century ago, the cowboy days of making a go of it in a virgin territory; all things said about Calgary as something people want to and claim to take pride in. In reality they are real, but obscured by distance or time, as you can see from the haze obstructing the view of the mountains.

In the foreground, the stark contrast of hundreds of thousand of identical vinyl cubes with the same black asphalt roofs are clear in focus, representing the sprawl that is the reality of life in Calgary here and now. The only thing I would have liked in the picture as well is something representing the beltline/downtown core area, which is where the pockets of culture in Calgary that actually do exist are.

The downtown skyline from Crescent Heights with mountains in the background and Bow River in the foreground is my iconic image of Calgary.  


Stephen Avenue at lunch hour when thousands of office workers migrate to the walk the street is a unique phenomena that could be an iconic image of Calgary. 

Good discussion. Another iconic image whose heyday has now sadly passed is the main ski jump tower at COP. It is still eye-catching, but was once quite breathtaking, standing out against the sky with the Olympic rings on the side. Talk about a symbol of Calgary's coming of age as a world city! Now, the ill-conceived dirt pile WinSport has built up beside it detracts from its visual impact, but it's still worthy of acknowledgement MD.

"Missing from the images is my suggestion - Calgary's first public library opened in 1912 in the grounds of what was then known as Central Park.  It was a Carnegie funded library now called Memorial Park branch. Many cities decommissioned their Carnegie libraries in fact some have been demolished and I'm proud of Calgary for continuing to operate ours as a library. I would also include the memorial to the fallen in both world wars and other wars in the picture as it too is located in Memorial Park on the same grounds as the library." Says GW

"Another unusual iconic image often overlooked is Western Canada High School with a memorial in the school grounds fronting on to 17 Ave.  I included the history of that memorial and the original private boys' school, the first in Calgary - Western Canada College - in the book I compiled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Western Canada College a decade ago in 2003.  The war memorial is unique in that it is the only city school that has one. It was erected in 1927 to honour the old boys and masters of Western Canada College who died defending their country. Although the buildings that formed WCC were torn down years ago, the school's namesake, Western Canada High School continues to connect the past to the present." Say GD 

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