Calgarians embrace winter.

By Richard White, December 26, 2013

I eagerly looked forward to reading Jeremy Klaszus’ Urban Compass column on what we could learn from Edmonton regarding embracing winter (Calgary’s Metro newspaper on December 23, 2013). However, I was disappointed that while the column talked about Edmonton’s policies and strategies for embracing winter, there was no real evidence they were actually doing so. 

I was expecting to hear about thousands of people skating on quaint neighbourhood ponds evenings and weekends. Maybe about hundreds of people enjoying community toboggan hills with pop-up food trucks, or new ideas for designing playgrounds for year-round use.  Rather I read about a vision of a vibrant winter city that is yet to be realized. 

Read Klaszus' Urban Compass column "Let's do what Edmonton does."

Since Klaszus' column there have been numerous articles in the media about Calgary's winter activities including Annalise Klingbeil's "Backyard rinks make comeback in Calgary" which addresses the many backyard rinks in Calgary inlcuding Snider's curling rink and Rosemont Ice Guys. Read more.

 

 

Calgary's Bowness Lagoon is one of the world's best outdoor skating rinks.  Unfortunately it is closed this winter due to the flood. 

Winter Event Experiments

Calgary has experimented with numerous major winter events over the past 30+ years.  After the 1988 Winter Olympics, annual attempts were made to have a winter carnival in the middle of February.  Several locations were tried – Canada Olympic Park, Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Island and Calgary Zoo - but eventually organizers had to accept there was no support for it. 

This was very disappointing as Quebec City (one of our sister cities) has probably the best winter festival in the world.   You’d think we could learn from them how to plan a major winter festival.

In the past, Calgary has also experimented with a First Night Festival (New Years Eve), which many cities established late in the 20th Century, but again the support for such a winter celebration died a slow death.  

Stephen Avenue with its wonderful winter lights and +15 connections to hotels and office buildings is an indoor outdoor adaptation to winter in Calgary where the temperature can be -30 one day and +10 the next. 

Winnipeg does it best?

Recently, while doing some research on Winnipeg, I discovered they might in fact be the leader in Canada for urban winter activities.  Did you know Winnipeg has the world’s longest skating rink? Yes, longer than Ottawa’s Rideau Canal! 

The Forks, Winnipeg’s equivalent of Granville Island or Calgary’s Stampede Park has numerous outdoor winter activity areas including an Olympic-size skating rink, 1.2 km of skating trails, a snowboard fun park, a toboggan run and warming huts designed by the likes of world renowned architect Frank Gehry.  

They even have Raw: Almond the world’s first pop-up restaurant on a frozen river.  See more winter programming ideas from Winnipeg at the end of the blog.

Thousands of people enjoy the world's longest skating rink in Winnipeg.  Perhaps Calgary could convert some if its pathway system into a skating trail.  (photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg) 

Can’t compete with mountains?

I can’t help but wonder if the reason Calgarians don’t embrace winter in large number in our urban parks and public spaces is because we have such a wonderful winter wonderland outside the city.  On any given winter weekend, tens of thousands of Calgarians are in Canmore, Banff, Fernie and Invermere, as well as places in between, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

While these outdoor winter activities are available in Edmonton, Quebec City and Winnipeg they are not as prevalent, accessible or grand as Calgary’s. 

Camore Nordic Centre is just one of hundreds of places in the Rockies that thousands of Calgarians, Albertans and tourist flock to in winter to embrace winter. 

Livable Winter Cities Movement

In fact, Calgary was one of the early members of the international winter cities movement in the early ‘80s.  I remember chatting with Calgary planner Harold Hanen (I believe he was one of the founding members) about how we could encourage Calgarians to embrace winter.  Yes Hanen, was the same guy who championed Calgary’s +15 walkway system, which was an adaptation to winter, as was Devonian Gardens.  

At that time urban thinkers were focus on how to mitigate winter by allowing for summer activities indoors.  Our regional recreation centres are part of that thinking with their indoor wave pools, gyms, skating rinks and climbing walls.  

In various chats, with Hanen and other planners, as well as 10 years of trying to develop outdoor winter programming on Stephen Avenue, Olympic Plaza and Prince’s Island I came to the conclusion Calgary probably has as much winter outdoor urban vitality as we are going to get.

Winter Patios?

Klasuzus’ article talks about crating a year-round patio culture, which is a great idea in theory, but downtown Calgary with its concentration of office towers doesn’t allow for any sun on sidewalks.  Winnipeg, Edmonton and places like Copenhagen (thought to be the mecca of winter cities by most planners) have few tall buildings so maybe they will be more successful with winter patios.   

Did you know that all downtown office buildings have conducted shadow and wind studies for many years?  While there are some things you can do to mitigate the sun and wind tunnels created by tall buildings there is only so much you can do? 

It is unfortunate The Bow Tower’s southwest facing plaza doesn’t have patio or even some benches would be a welcome addition to those who want to sit and enjoy the sculpture “Wonderland.”

That being said there are some good winter patios in Calgary.  The Ship & Anchor’s south facing patio on 17th Ave is a very popular winter hangout when the sun is shinning and Chinooks blow in.   Similarly on 10th Street in Kensington, the Roasterie’s west facing pocket plaza is a popular place for SAIT and ACAD students to hang out on a sunny winter afternoon.   

In West Hillhurst, Dairy Lane's east facing patio is very popular and is used almost year-round with the help of blankets and heaters.

Olympic Plaza also gets good sun in the winter for skating and would be a great spot for a winter patio; however, it has never attracted large numbers of skaters.

 

The Ship & Anchor patio and 17th avenue are full of people in March 2013.  

Do Calgarians embrace winter more than we think?

Recently I have chatted with a number of people about winter activities in the city and found out there is more happening than I thought. 

A father of three and ringette coach informed me in Cranston they have an outdoor community rink (with an ice plant to allow for longer use), that is so heavily used they could easily use a second one.  He says it is the same for all of the southeast communities.  He was hoping to find some outdoor ice time for ringette practices at one of the local outdoor rinks, but no luck.

Did you know there are over 100 outdoor rinks in Calgary?

The city of Calgary has five major rinks in Marlborough Park, Carburn Park, Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Island and Prairie Winds (Bowness Park rink is closed this year), as well as 34 “adopt-a-rink” in smaller community parks.  Note: Carburn Park has been expanded with larger ice rink and fire pits due to closure of  Bowness Park. 

All of Calgary’s lake communities have outdoor rinks, as do many of Calgary’s over 200 Community Associations.  One hundred rinks at 100 people per day on weekends would be 10,000 people embracing winter – the number could easily be 20,000 on some days! 

In chatting with other friends they informed me Confederation Park has groomed cross- country ski trails.  A quick check of the City’s website and you find out Shaganappi Point, Confederation and Maple Ridge Golf Courses all have groomed trails.  Ungroomed trails can be found in Weaselhead, Edworthy, Fish Creek and North and South Glemore Parks.  There could easily be a couple of a couple of thousand people embracing winter on these trails on weekends and unless you were there you wouldn't know.  I expect snowshoeing also happens in these and other parks.

Tobboggans / Dogs

The City of Calgary website lists 18 toboggan hills in the city, with the St. Andrew’s Heights hill often cited as the best. I expect there are at least 20 unofficial toboggan hills in the city.   If 100 people used say 25 toboggan hills on a Saturday or Sunday that would be 2,500 Calgarians embracing winter.

Calgary’s dog parks are also busy in the winter with literally thousands of people walking their dog morning, noon and night regardless of the weather.  Did you know Calgary has 150 off-leash areas across the city?  If 100 people on average used each dog park per day that would be 15,000 people embracing winter daily.

Then of course there is Canada Olympic Park with it multi-use winter sports activities, which attracts thousands of Calgarians especially in the evenings and weekends. 

A local rink is used by thousands each winter to learn to skate and play hockey. Often they are next to summer playgrounds turning the space into year-round park.  

Last word

Klaszus ends his column with “If you can’t beat winter, join it.”  I am guess there are over 50,000 people embracing winter on any give Saturday or Sunday. I am thinking that many Calgarians indeed do embrace winter, each in our own way.  Calgary is a city of recreation, we like to get out and do things rather than sit on patios and philosophize. 

While some Calgarians complain about the winter roads and sidewalks, most of us are indeed out enjoying winter activities.  The media sometimes gives a distorted view of Calgary by catering to the complainers! 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Does Calgary have an inferiority complex?

Calgary City of Parks & Pathways 

Calgary Dog Park Capital of North America?

This blog also inspired another blog about "winter" by The23rdStory that looks at both Edmonton and Calgary from a more personal perspective.  Great read...Winter

Readers' Comments:

CW writes from Edmonton:  On a plus 2 Celsius Christmas night we walked the seven blocks of Edmonton's Candy Cane Lane up and down. Lots of people out. This year we were surprised that at least 80 percent of the talk on our walk was not English - most commonly Russian/east European, followed by Chinese, and Indian/south Asian. China and India are our biggest sources of immigration, after the Philippines (and they were there too, I think, but not talking as audibly).

To build our winter culture in Alberta, we should look at inviting those of other cultures that have longer traditions of living socially outdoors, and, as you propose, use technology to support the participants. Of course, through Aboriginals, Alberta has the greatest tradition of outdoor living, but I didn't see them out that night.

A parade of dog walker in January, in River Park, in Altadore is a common sight.   

More lessons from Winnipeg

Perhaps there are some more lessons to be learned from Winnipeg.  Brenda reminded me that a few years back they had a friendly community snowman making competition. Everyone was invited to make a snowman on their front lawn and they wander around looking at each others creation.  I thought it was a great idea at the time and still do.

I couldn't find anything on line to see if it is still happening. Too bad, as it is a simple and inexpensive way to get everyone out embracing winter and meeting their neighbours.  

I have certainly noticed more snowman in Calgary this year with our record December snowfall. I am thinking a Snowman Weekend festival would be easy to organize. Could be an impromptu festival that happens when we have snow and weather permitting.  

This could be the tallest snowman I have ever seen over 15 feet.  Somebody in Calgary was embracing winter. The park across the street from our house now has 3 snowman. 

I found this old relic of a toboggan slide in a playground area with an outdoor rink and summer playing fields in Winnipeg this past November.  I have never seen these anywhere else but Winnipeg. What a great idea to make playgrounds year-round attractions for families. 

Winter photography great fun....mountain or city! This image is from Grassi Lake trail...Canmore AB!

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City?

By Richard White, November 26, 2013 

Recently I read in the Calgary Herald that our city is “the unofficial folk club capital of the planet!”  The quote was attributed to Suze Casey the Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Club one of seven such clubs in the city.  Casey might be a bit bias, but hey I am all for putting the statement out there and challenging other cities to dispute it. 

The statement was made in the context of the Canadian Folk Music Awards coming to Calgary for the first time, which Casey thought was an injustice given our status as the “folk club capital of the planet.”  Unfortunately, it turned out no Calgarians (no Albertans for that matter) won any of the awards - a good host never hogs the awards! 

Amy Thiessen and Russel Broom at Lolita's a tiny intimate room in trendy Inglewood, home to several music venues including the Calgary Folk Festival's new Festival Hall. 

Prince's Island is the best

Not only does Calgary have a strong folk club culture, but we have one of the best folk festivals on the planet that takes place each year on Prince’s Island an oasis in the middle of the Bow River (best fly fishing river on the planet).  Recently, Calgary also became home to intimate Festival Hall, which is operated by the Calgary Folk Festival to provide year-round music programming.

One of several weekend jam session in Calgary's downtown.  This is an all ages jam. There is a teenage brother and sister on stage in this photo.  

GABEsters

For me Casey’s statement was another piece of evidence that Calgary is more than just a collection of conservative corporate towers, but one of North America’s vibrant urban playgrounds – a statement I have been championing for 15 years.

Recently, I wrote a blog about Calgary’s Beltline community as being one of the most attractive hipster communities in North America, certainly on par with those I have recently visited in Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.  I even suggested we create a Calgary based term “GABEster” to reflect that our hipsters are unique in that they are highly paid geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers who love to work hard and play hard, not the typical bohemians.    

Calgary's International Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park. 

WAMJAMs

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate Calgary has an incredible weekend afternoon music jam culture (WAMJAM).  In the downtown, there are jams at Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s Juke Joint (yes we have a juke joint) and Ship & Anchor on both Saturday and Sundays. 

Add in places like Broken City, HiFi Club, The Palomino, The RePublic,  Wine-Ohs and the numerous open mic nights as many of the independent coffee houses and you have a very vibrant indie music scene in Calgary’s downtown that is hard to match. 

It doesn't stop there most of the downtown churches have active music programs from classical to folk. Any night of the week, I can find a place that offers great local music.  

Over the past few years I have visited Chicago, Portland, Ottawa, Vancouver and San Francisco and asked about WAMJAMs and it was hard to find anything to match scope and strength of Calgary’s downtown jams. 

 Mikey's Juke Joint is located next to the railway tracks under a busy over pass, has just the right sense of place and ambience you want for blues bar. 

Hexters to National Music Centre 

Outside of the downtown there are numerous live music spots.  Hexters in Bowness has a great Sunday afternoon jam. Recently, I attended for the first time and was shocked to find 150 people there a “football Sunday” dancing up a storm – how cool is that.  You can even go to very edge of the city and find live music.  Bee’s Knees is a coffee house in an estate community (big homes on big lots) on the southern edge of the city offers live music twice a week – a jam session and an open mic night. FFWD our weekly art and entertainment newspaper list 64 venues across the city 

Calgary is also home to the National Music Centre which hosts one of the largest collection of keyboard instruments on the planet. With the opening of their mega 150 million dollar new home in 2015, Calgary will certainly be not only a major music city, but also urban playground destination.

And then there is Sled Island which was quickly becoming one of North America's premier music festivals until it was flooded out last June.  I expect it will come back stronger than ever in 2014.  The festival offers over 250 bands, plus film, comedy and art exhibitions at 30+ venues.  

Even in March, the Ship & Anchor's patio is full of GABEsters. 

Sir Elton John likes Calgary 

I haven’t even mentioned Alberta Ballet’s successful collaborations with the likes of Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Sara McLachlan to create original ballets. Or Calgary Opera's commissioning of new contemporary operas.  And there is the Calgary Stampede, includes an amazing 10-day music program that includes major headliners as well as local musicians, and it is not all county and western music.

For most people, Austin, Memphis and Nashville are top-of-mind when you think of North American music cities.  My plans are to visit Memphis in January for the International Blues Challenge January 21st to 25th where Calgary’s Mike Clarke Band (owner of Mikey’s Juke Joint) and Tim Williams will be competing.  I am curious to see how Calgary competes with the big boys of the bayou.

Guitar Club

A grassroots affair modeled after successful shows in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Calgary Guitar Show will be a one day/all ages event focused on bringing together anyone who loves music. It will provide a venue for retail music stores and collectors alike to sell their guitars, amplifiers and accessories and an opportunity for the public to meet collectors, talk to technicians and builders, and hang with local musicians. A much anticipated event that will evolve and expand in years to come.

The Calgary Guitar Show will take place at The Golden Age Club in the heart of Calgary’s East Village. In addition to the 20+ vendors expected to sell their goods, homegrown talent will be showcased on the Club’s magnificent stage and 50/50 raffles held to support the community. Following the show, an exclusive “After Party” for vendors, sponsors and friends will be held at the National Music Centre to wind down the day. Tickets will be limited to 150 for an evening of food, drink, entertainment and an exclusive tour of the National Music Centre collections – a fascinating journey for all!

For more information go to calgaryguitarshow.com.

 

 

Tim Williams and Mike Clark (owner of Mikey's) have fun on stage. 

Public Art: Love it or hate it!

By Richard White, October 30, 2013

This blog was written for the Calgary Herald's Insight section and published on Saturday, October 26th with the title: "Public Art best when it spurs debate."  I have added different photos with text to help illustrate the essay. 

When is comes to public art, it seems everyone has a love or hate opinion.  The love/hate debate raised its ugly head recently with the installation of “Travelling Light” aka the “Blue Circle” on the Airport Trail bridge at Deerfoot Trail. This time the debate is not just the usual conservative vs. liberal community dichotomy, but also within the arts community as well with respected artist/curator Jeffrey Spalding and Mayor Nenshi (both arts champions) have publicly stating they don’t like it.

Debate aside, I think most would agree public art enhances the urban environment when done right. However, doing it right is difficult and subjective. Having served on numerous public art juries over the past 30 years, I know how hard juries try to find an artist who can create an artwork that will capitalize on the place where it will be installed, as well as engage the public in a meaningful way.  Unfortunately, juries are not always successful.  No city has found a formula to guarantee every piece of public art will be critically acclaimed by professions and adored by the public.

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor is one of two major public artworks in Chicago's Millennium Park that attracts thousands of visitors everyday.  There are successful because they capture the public's imagination and allow them to interact with them.  They are fun!

I recently began serving on a City of Calgary public art jury and it was the most professional, rigorous and open jury process I have experienced. We were given the applications weeks in advance to independently review, then spent an entire day discussing them as a group before choosing three artists to submit more in-depth, site-specific proposals.  In the new year, the same process will be repeated to choose the artist and artwork.  It should be noted the jury note only has equitable representation from the two communities impacted, the City and art professionals but despite the diverse backgrounds, our three short-listed choices were unanimous. 

I smiled when the debate regressed to “why wasn’t a local artist chosen?” Local artists were invited to submit their portfolio, but were not chosen. That is how the process works, like any RFP (Request For Proposals) process that most Calgarians have experienced at one time or another.  I believe it is important local artists are given a chance to submit, but I don’t think we should limit our public art solely to local artists.  Artists from other cities and countries see our city differently and more objectively adding new dimensions to our understanding of our sense of place. 

Wonderland by famous Spanish artist Jaume Plensa is a wire sculpture of the head of a young girl on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower by renown architect Norman Foster.  This ghost-like representational figure piece has been widely praised by professionals and public.  It is a fun piece to go inside and look at the downtown skyline through the maze of lines created by the skull form.  One local businessman, in his street shoes and clothes decided to climb it, turning it into a playground climbing sculpture for adults. 

Similarly Calgary artists are often creating public art for other cities.  Calgary’s Derek Besant, for example has numerous pieces in New York City, Toronto and Edmonton, as well as Calgary. Calgary artists and the public are served best when we have open competitions for public art.

As a member of Calgary’s arts community in many different capacities, I am well aware of the ongoing debate re: the need, value and role of public art. Historically, public art has been something found mostly in the downtown as part of new public buildings or office buildings. Over the past 30 years, downtown Calgary has become an art park with100+ sculptures, murals and paintings commissioned for plazas, parks, sidewalks, lobbies, LRT stations and +15 walkways.

My favourite public art project was the “Colourful Cows for Calgary” in summer 2000 which saw 100+ cows (painted by professionals and amateurs) temporarily placed throughout the downtown (including one in the lagoon at Prince’s Island).  I believe it was the city’s most successful public art project because it captured the public’s imagination and engaged thousands of people to venture downtown to see and discuss the statements each cow made about Calgary’s sense of place.  Yet there were some who thought it was too populist.  

Utterly Art: Colourful Cows For Calgary took place in the summer of 2000, with 100+ cows being placed in parks, plazas, sidewalks and even in the Prince's Island lagoon.  The project capture the imagination of Calgarians young and old.  It add a lot of fun to the downtown's sense of place that summer.  Several of the cows can be found in the Legacy Pasture on the second floor of the Centennial Parkade on 9th Avenue SW. 

To me, public art must engage the public. It must motivate them to think outside their everyday box and look at the world we share in a different way.  The best public art I have encountered has always been a “pedestrian” experience where people can stop, interact with the art, reflect on it, discuss it with friends and take pictures in close proximity.  One of the reasons most Calgarians love William McElcheran’s two businessmen “Conversation” on Stephen Avenue is that you can walk right up to it, view it at different angles and relate it to the real businessmen walking the street.

On the other hand, “Travelling Light” doesn’t allow you to walk around or through it; it’s a drive by art experience. Yes, there will be a public pathway in the area, but even then you will still only see it from a distance.  This is not a good public art location.

Similarly, I have questioned the location of Julian Opie’s (British) Promenade 2012 next to the Fifth Avenue flyover bridge in East Village. It too is mainly a “drive by” experience.  A great piece, but it would be more engaging if placed on the sidewalk in East Village or along Riverwalk where pedestrians could interact with it.   

In contrast Ron Moppett’s (Calgary) 33 meter long by 4 meter high ceramic mural on the retaining wall for the LRT tracks only a block away from Opie’s piece is far more successful partly because pedestrians are invited to sit and ponder the piece in a comfortable setting.  Good public art has a synergy between the art, its surroundings and the pedestrian.

William McElcheran's bronze sculpture of two business men in conversation is on the sidewalk of downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk, pedestrian mall where it is viewed by thousands of pedestrians every day.  Often people will add scarfs, a cup of coffee or other items to the piece. It is a popular photo op for tourist. 

Julian Opie's video is placed on a plinth next to the 5th Avenue Flyover exit from downtown.  The video is of people of all ages and backgrounds walking quickly around the cube.  It is an attractive piece but would me more effective if place next to the sidewalk so pedestrians could interact with it. 

In 2004, the City of Calgary adopted a “1% for public art for all City capital projects: policy. As a result, public art is now popping up everywhere - from LRT stations to recreation centers and yes, even bridges. Calgarians, more than ever, are experiencing public art as part of their everyday experience so it is not surprising they are also commenting on it.  Debate is healthy and I am glad Calgarians care enough about their city’s evolving sense of place to comment.

The time to judge a work of art is not 10 days, not 10 weeks but 10 years after it is installed (the Eiffel Tower was hated at first).  It will be interesting to see in 2023 what Calgarians think of “Travelling Light” versus say “Wonderland” (the “child’s head” sculpture on the plaza of the Bow office tower) or the Peace Bridge.

I believe the majority of Calgary’s new public art projects have been well received and I don’t believe the selection process is flawed.  Urban design and creating Calgary’s unique sense of place is an ongoing experiment.  We should not be surprised that some of our “experiments” in public art, architecture and public space design fail to please everyone.  However we should learn something from every experiment on how best to link our diverse visions with the reality as we transform space into place.

This is the infamous "Travelling Light" sculpture which is a functioning lamppost on the bridge over the railway tracks next to Deerfoot Trail, Calgary's busiest freeway and at the gateway to the Calgary Airport. (photo: Calgary Herald)

Crown Fountain is Jaume Plensa's signature public artwork in Chicago's Millennium Park.  Even into the evening hundreds of people of all ages are playing in the water and glow of the artwork.  This is public art at its best. 

A few blocks away from Millennium Park are several signature public artworks (Picasso) that sit on plaza's in front of office buildings.  While there were highly popular when installed over 30 years ago, today they are just part of the urban landscape.  Is this the fate of all public art? 

Hamilton's James Street North: A Hidden Gem

As a former Hamiltonian, I have watched with interest Hamilton struggle to cling on to its status as one of the top 10 cities in Canada.  Like Pittsburg, Buffalo and other cities in the North American Rust Belt, Hamilton has had to reinvent itself.  It is no longer the “ambitious city” (a former moniker)! Similarly its status as a “steeltown” has long disappeared with its now more diversified employment base.

James Street, one of the oldest streets in Canada, has a history, which dates back to the early 1800s.  It was home to Hamilton’s first department store (Right House, 1893) and first skyscraper (Piggott Building, 1929, 18 floors).  Lister Block, the first indoor mall in Canada, was built in 1886, burned down in 1923, was rebuilt in 1924 and in 2011, was restored to its early 20th century charm.

James Street is also home to Lloyd D Jackson Square, a mega downtown indoor mall built in 1972. It includes a public square on top that never really worked.  The mall was part of a major downtown renewal project that includes a theatre, civic art gallery, convention center, arena, central library and farmers’ market – basically   everything an urban planners and developers at the time thought was needed to revitalize the Downtown.  The thought was downtowns needed an downtown indoor shopping mall to compete with the suburban malls - Calgary built TD Square in 1977, Edmonton built, its City Centre Place in 1974 and Winnipeg built Portage Place in 1987. 

Forty years later, Hamilton’s downtown, not unlike Winnipeg’s and Edmonton’s still struggles to become the vibrant live, work and play places they were in the ‘50s. Lesson – Urban vitality is an art not a science! 

Morgenstern's is not truly a department store. Just one floor, mostly clothing.  There is an entire section of first holly communion dresses and lots of party/graduation dresses that are right out of the '60s maybe '50s.  We are always surprised it is still there when we visit. 

Hamilton City Centre/Jackson Square  shopping mall looking south from James Street north.  Once downtown was home to several department stores, today there are none.  

The barren bleak public plaza that was created on top of the Jackson Square shopping mall above street level.  Public plazas must be at street level or at least visible from the street to be welcoming.  Plazas need animated shops and restaurants opening up onto it with patios. The buildings here turn their back on the plaza and have no interaction.  What were they thinking? 

James Street North: A Hidden Gem

However, an area just north of the “super blocks,” once called “Little Portugal” now branded as James Street North (JSN) that is becoming very attractive to indie artists in many different disciplines from across southern Ontario.  JSN, a seven block district, extending from Wilson to Murray Street, consists of early 20th century, low-rise brick buildings that are ideal for low rent street level retail, restaurants and cafes with studios and apartments above.  The street retains its historical authenticity architecturally and culturally with several Portugal-based restaurants, pubs and shops in operation. 

JSN is a Jane Jacobs urban village with a diversity of buildings, activities and people and its mixture of local pubs, clubs, cafes, bistros and shops. There is no Tim Horton’s, Starbucks or Lululemon.  What there is is a new energy with the opening of the Art Gallery of Hamilton Shop and Annex, as well as CBC Hamilton studios.  C

The CBC and Art Gallery of Calgary building is the gateway to the James Street North Arts District.  This is the only contemporary urban design element in the entire district. 

James Street North streetscape is one of narrow sidewalks with lots of small shops. Doesn't take many people to generate a vibrant ambience. 

This could be in Portugal, but it is downtown Hamilton's James Street North.  This is just blocks away from Hamilton's downtown Farmers' Market one of the largest and oldest in Canada. 

New independent restaurants are starting to populate the streets. These are small intimate spaces that encourage human interactions. 

Ola Cafe is just one of the many Portuguese shops that adds an authenticity to JSN's sense of place.  You can't create this with urban redevelopment it takes decades to create character like this. 

An art exhibition in one of the many bohemian art galleries, mostly artists' cooperatives vs commercial galleries. Meet the artist not the owner!

There is a playfulness and spontaneity in the galleries. This mask/head was taken off the wall and an impromptu performance happened. 

Mom and pop cafe, no Tim's, Starbucks or Second Cup in sight.  

Supercrawl

Initiated in 2009, Supercrawl built on the popularity of JSN second Friday art crawls.  It has quickly grown from a one-day street festival into a major two-day arts festival attracting 80,000 people in 2012. The 2013 event September 13 and 14th will expand yet again to include waterfront concerts at Pier 8 at the end of James Street on the waterfront.   

Supercrawl organizers have announced that this year's free musical acts will include Said The Whale, Chelsea Light Moving (with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth), Young Rival, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Steve Strongman, Yo La Tengo, Sandro Perri, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and 2009 Polaris Prize winners F***ed UP.

 Artists and patrons enjoying themselves at one of the monthly Art Crawls along James Street North. 

Artists and patrons enjoying themselves at one of the monthly Art Crawls along James Street North. 

Exploring/Flaneuring

If you are in the Hamilton area and are interested in art and architecture, don’t just drive by. Drive into the Downtown and check out James Street North. Take a walk back in time.  JSN should be on the radar of anyone who is into urban exploring, art, architecture and flaneuring. 

Below are just a few teasers.  If you like this article you might like the blog:  "Cities of Opportunities" 

Downtown Hamilton has several elegant early 20th century churches. 

Hamilton's Farmers' Market is a foodies mecca. The old clock I believe is from the old Hamilton Birk's Building 

Downtown is full of exquisite buildings in various states of aging. There is a wonderful urban patina that creates a unique sense of place.  This is not your pretty restored historic district. 

James Street North architecture collage

Hidden amongst the architecture and urban patina are some wonderful ornamental elements from the past which enrich the streetscape.  Decorative and ornamental elements have been lost in the age of minimalism. 

The Lister Building and people wandering James Street during one of the monthly art crawls. 

Fountain in Gore Park is a throw back to age of urban ornamentation and decoration. 

Hamilton's Central Library and Farmers' Market are a key component of the city's 40 year struggle with downtown urban renewal experiments. 

If you liked this blog you might like:

Cities of Opportunities  

Curse of Minimalism  

Cafe Cafe: Montreal meets Cowtown

Attended my first CUFF (Calgary Underground Film Festival) film tonight and it was great. 

CAFé CAFé is a witty, romantic comedy film about bohemian life in Montreal.  There is great cinematography of the streets of Montreal with some “postcard” shots thrown in for good measure.  Tourism Montreal should be promoting the film as it shows the authentic gritty Montreal that tourists love, not the glitzy Hollywood-sanitized video that Tourism organizations usually produce to impress unsuspecting tourist. 

It was full of graffiti, traffic and construction scenes, as well as fountains, gardens and pedestrian streetscapes. For this everyday tourist it was a $10, 82-minute trip to Montreal (good preparation for our planned trip to Quebec this Fall).

The film is full of twists and turns as the quirky characters that make up the cast struggle to find low paying jobs to pay the bills so they can pursue their passions – art and love.  How trite? How romantic?  However the twists, turns and surprises makes for an entertaining romp.

Downtown's Globe Cinema is home to this week's Calgary Underground Film Festival.  We should do this every month. 

Calgarians take on Montreal 

What is really strange is that the film is “fueled” by Calgarians? It is produced and written by Calgarians who live in Montreal and perhaps see the city in a different light as outsiders tend to do. 

Montreal’s sense of place was a long way from Calgary’s “engineer eccentricism.”  While there are pockets of bohemian life in Calgary (or as we like to call it now, the “hipsters”) we’re no match for Montreal where making art in all its various forms is a major business.  

The film is a bit like Loose Moose meets Ship & Anchor on the way to Café Beano… or maybe Green Fools meets Higher Ground on the way to Palace Theatre. (You have to be a Calgarian to understand these references). 

In an ironic twist, the only French-speaking character in the movie (with subtitles for us Anglophones) is the red neck “marketing manager”/waitress of Café Joe who seems bent to find somebody to go with her to the Monster Truck show (usually the Calgary stereotype).

One of the most memorable moments is when she gives a rant at the end of the spoken word night (titled Brainscapes) basically telling all the lovesick hipsters to get over themselves and grow up. Contrastingly, the Calgary character who has moved to Montreal to do her Masters in Italian studies is portrayed as the hip intellectual.

Interesting there are no Starbuck or Tim Horton jokes, no lattes, no Americanos, no London Fogs, no Double Double references in the movie.

Café Joe (not unlike Central Perk in the TV show Friends) is a throwback to mid 20th century days of Pyrex coffee pots and styrofoam cups. There are no iPads or Apple laptops in any of the café scenes - writers use paper and pens. It paints a picture of Montreal as a “stuck in the ’50 and ‘60s” place where the Beat generation never left.  

I gave the film a 5 out of 5.  It was fun, entertaining and visually impressive. It was as good as any film I have seen at the Calgary Film Festival and most that I have seen at the Globe over the years.  It wasn’t intellectually pretentious, yet it had its “Bazinga” moments.  It was both a satire and a spoof.  And as Ms. B said, “it was Canadian!”

It was fun to be in a theatre where the audience was fully engaged - clapping, laughing and shouting out. It was more like being at a university football game than at the movies – and that’s not all bad! 

Kudos to CUFF! 

Get "Off The Beaten Path" with these 10 tips!

#10 A good first impression is critical to a good time.

We suggest you look for something close to your hotel that you know you like to do and check it out immediately after checking-in.  Maybe hang out at a public plaza and people watch? Head to a neighbourhood pub and chat with the locals to see what is happening while you are there.  Maybe there is a great museum or shopping close by.  Make sure you start your adventure on the right track. 

#9 Take the Bus.

We love riding the bus more than the subway when we have a choice.  Travelling above ground allows you to see things that you might not have otherwise seen.  Can't count the number of times we have jumped off the bus because we saw something interesting that we didn't know about. There is often a local bus route that is very scenic or passes by many of the local attractions.  Be a bus rider!

#8 Dare to be different.

Challenge yourself to do something you wouldn't normally do.  Maybe it is a museum or gallery if you aren't normally a culture vulture.  Maybe a sporting event if you aren't a jock. Be prepared to try new things!

#7 Ask a local.

ocals are a wealth of knowledge don't be afraid to ask them for tips.  We find they are more than happy to share their insights...great way to find a hidden gem. We ask people on the bus, in line ups and at cafes are the best.  Don't be afraid to ask!

#6 Pretend you are a local

Brenda loves to check out the local grocery stores and shop for a picnic or pick up some food for breakfast or lunch in our hotel room  Grocery stores are a great place to do some urban exploring, mix with the locals and learn some cultural difference. It was great fun in Frankfurt to wander the aisles of the Grocery store and stop in their cafe and watch how they managed recycling bottles and plastics - bottles and cans are sucked into some sort of machine like something from Star Trek. 

#5 Avoid the Franchises.

We have a rule that we never eat or drink at a national or international franchise if we can avoid it. We know it is tempting to o somewhere familiar, but resist the temptation - it will be worth it

#4 Do your research in advance.

You don't want to waste time on your vacation doing research so make sure you have a list of things you want to see or do.  Perhaps organize them into 2 or 3 things each day.  We like to have one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.  e would never have found the Tiki Lounge in Great Falls MT with the mermaid swimmers if we hadn't done our research. 

#3 Be spontaneous.

I know we just said make a plan, but don't get locked into the plan.  If you see or hear something that is captures your interest then GO FOR IT! The best experience are often spontaneous ones!  Like the time we exited I90 at the last minute to check out Livingston Montana. 

#2 Be a flaneur!

Always reserve some time to just wander aimlessly - take the sidewalk less traveled, head down a back alley that looks interesting, take a bus to the end of the line and then get off on the way back t a stop that looked interesting. 

#1 Stop / Look /Listen

Don't always be in a rush.  Spend an hour in the morning at a local cafe / breakfast spot and watch the locals grab their coffee and scurrying off to work. You will appreciate that you are on vacation!  

 

Found this amazing washroom in a thrift store when we decided to get off the interstate highway and check out Livingston Montana.  Also got some great books at the thrift store.

iding the tram in Lyon provided us with a much better appreciation of the city and how people live there today vs centuries ago. 

While in the local grocery store in Anchorage we found this guy putting out an amazing display of orchids.  Had a wonderful chat with him about growing and care of orchids.  That wasn't in our plan. 

ecided to check out Main Street Coeur d'Alene while staying at the lakeside resort and lucked out as it was parade day.  Kids were having fun riding their bikes, push cars, walking dogs up Main Street.  It was very fun and colourful. We could never have planned this! 

We love street markets.  Paris has markets everyday in different locations, so we had is all mapped out so that everyday started with a market. From there we just let things happen.

n doing our research we knew that we arrived in Frankfurt on Saturday morning which was flea market day on the river.  We hustle our buns from airport to hotel, threw our bags in the room and headed to the river.  It was a lovely April day and the "green beach" was full of people hanging out.  Guess what we did all afternoon?