Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek SK!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. Thanks for all the support in 2013 and looking forward to some interesting dialogue in 2014.

Thought I'd share with you some vintage Christmas decorations we found in downtown Maple Creek SK. outside their thrift store.  

If you are driving past Maple Creek on the Trans Canada Highway this Holiday Season (or anytime for that matter), Maple Creek is definitely worth getting off the beaten highway.  

Happy Travelling Everyone Everyday!

Found these fun lawn ornaments lined up on the wall outside the Maple Creek thrift store.  We had to stop and check it out.

Don't you just want to take these guys home with you?  Love the shape of the shadows.  

The classic Santa Claus!  

Sorry, can't stop now!  

Looking at the photos taken while flaneuring Maple Creek, thought some of you might like to see more  fun finds. 

We found this totem piece with the little buckaroo very fun!

Great welcoming entrance to the historic Jasper Colonial Hotel bar...

Howard's  Bakery was chosen as best bakery in Saskatchewan in 2013...loved the apple fritters and the maple glazed cinnamon buns.  

BC Cafe is the classic prairie restaurant - Chinese Western menu.  Definitely worth a try - grilled cheese and soup recommended. 

Yes they love their football?  

The new prairie sentinel! Brutalist architecture at its best? worst? 

For flaneurs there are lots of flashbacks to the past in Maple Creek!

Happy and safe holidays everyone!

 

If you liked this blog, click on these blogs:  

Ten Commandments of a Flaneur

Flaneuring Uptown Plaza  

Tale of Two Donuts!

 

Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard

By Richard White, 

I often wonder when developers and urban planners will wake up and see the light (pun intended), recognizing the importance of “lighting” in creating urban vitality - and I am not just talking about street lights.

When will they realize the bleakness of today’s city centers and urban streets is due in part to the absence of the colour, charm, playfulness and character that neon lights provided (day and night) to downtown hotels, restaurants, pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas and retailers.

Show me a street full of neon and I will show you a street full of life.  Human beings are attracted to neon like moths to a light bulb.  

Downtown Decline

The heyday for most of North American cities’ downtown was in the early to mid 20th century.  It was a time when downtown streets were full of bright, flashing neon lights. 

Perhaps the best articulation of the importance of neon light to creating great street life was in the 1964 hit song “Downtown” in which Petula Clark belted, “Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty. How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles; forget all your cares.” 

 In retrospect, the mid ‘60s was also the beginning of the rise of minimalism urban design that shunned “ornamentation and decoration,” including neon signage.

Neon signs are works of art and function much like public art in creating a more visually engaging public realm that invites people to stop, look around and linger.  Cities around the world spending millions of dollars on public art each year that rarely captures the public’s imagination and is soon forgotten or ignored in the new minimalistic urban landscape.

Perhaps we should be encouraging developers to create signature neon signage that are “works of art” while at the same time help brand the building and add to are part of an engaging downtown wayfinding system.        

 

In my mind, the Boneyard Park is a must see Las Vegas attraction, way more interesting than The Strip.  It is much more authentic and offers an up close and personal look at one of the iconic artifacts of urban design - the neon sign. 

The link between folk art and neon art becomes more obvious the more you explore the Boneyard Park.

I am not sure which came first Disneyland or Vegas but there is a strong link between the two i.e. the sense of play, fun and fantasy. 

A perfect example of how neon signage was critical to the branding of hotels in Vegas. The sign immediately said "Fun" even without the lights on. 

Another example of branding and signage.  Love that the signage is large and easy to read. Too many downtown and suburban buildings today have small signage that is hidden away making it very difficult to find them.

The Boneyard is like a grave yard or junk yard; this just adds to the fun of exploring.  The juxtaposition of the different signs is wonderful. You also get the sense of how sculptural the signage is.  These truly are works of art. 

The Boneyard entrance is a wonderful mid-century modern building that is very inviting and memorable.

Freemont street recalls the main streets of many cities from the mid 20th century when the streets were indeed brighter and more fun visually than they are today.  

The Silver Slipper is fun day and night, male or female, young or old.  

Love the link between cartoons and neon characters.  

A good example of how neon signage can be used to add fun and colour to an otherwise ordinary streetscape. 

Lighting can also used to create a fun facade in the evening, which is even more important in winter cities like Calgary. 

Las Vegas’ Boneyard Park

Being in the Neon Boneyard Park (a two-acre oasis with over 150 historic neon signs) is like being in a museum’s storage room, with the “museum” being outdoors in the middle of the city. See artifacts in their raw state, not polished, lit up or presented in isolation on a pedestal. Here you see them randomly mixed together in junk-yard like fashion, yet they are still  wonderful works of art.

Las Vegas Signs Project has been restoring signs from the Boneyard Park and installing them along Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Vegas since 1996. Several restored neon signs including the Horse and Rider from the Hacienda Hotel and the Silver Slipper can be enjoyed day and night by both pedestrians and those in vehicles. 

Access to the Boneyard is by guided tour only.  Our tour guide was very informed and informal, providing lots of information but allowing lots of freedom to explore on our own, take pictures and ask lots of questions. 

Guided tours are 7 days a week and reservations are recommended.  (Note: As tours can be cancelled due to inclement weather - especially wind storms - don’t wait until the last day of your Vegas vacation to visit).

The Neon Museum’s Visitor Center is the lobby of the old La Concha Motel Lobby designed by acclaimed architect Paul Revere Williams. It is like something right out of the Jetsons.  Built in 1961, it is an excellent example of the mid-century modern Atomic and Space Age design with its curvilinear arches.

See Appendix for history of neon.

The crowd gathers waiting for the Freemont Experience to begin.  

Age of LED

Today the most popular form of decorative lighting is LED light.  There are several reasons for this. While the initial price is almost the same as neon, once you have a neon sign there is no changing it, whereas LED lights can be updated as often as you like. 

Secondly and the biggest advantage of LED displays is that they use 5 to 10 times less power. Thirdly, neon tubes need their gases refilled periodically and the glass can break, while LED is maintenance-free. In addition, LED lights are brighter and can be seen from further away and even in daylight. 

Arguably, the best use of LED lighting is also in Vegas – The Freemont Experience, which began in 1995. Today, a 1,500 foot-long canopy (three football fields) covers Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas. It acts as a movie screen.  The canopy has 12.5 million LED lights, which when combined with 180 strobe lights and 8 robotic mirrors on each block plus a sophisticated computer system, can generate 16.7 million colour combinations. 

Combine this with the 555,000 watt sound system and you get an amazing light and sound show that attracts, on average, 25,000 people per night for the Freemont Experience.

While I realize not every downtown can afford this kind of nightly entertainment, more downtowns should seriously look at how sound and light shows can be part of their quest for 18/7 vitality. 

Another good example of use of LED lighting to enhance downtown vitality is “Crown Fountain” at Chicago’s Millennium Park.  Learn more: Putting the public in public art.

 

The Freemont Street canopy is washed with colour as thousands of people mill about waiting for the show to begin.  

Let the show begin...the canopy becomes a huge video screen for spectacular light and sound show.

Even at night the Crown Fountain attracts hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds to play and interact with the LED faces and the wading pool. 

Take away idea

Downtowns need to focus more, or as much on becoming entertainment districts as business districts.

They need to become a place where people, “Linger on the sidewalk. Where the neon signs and LED lights are pretty. The lights must be much brighter there, so you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.”   

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtowns need to be fun

Putting the public back into public art

Cruising in Chicago

The curse of minimalism

 

 

 

 

 

Neon History (excerpts from www.neonlab.com)

Over the last 150 years, the luminous tube industry has evolved from the simple laboratory experiments in the second half of the 19th century to an industry of world-wide proportions.

In the late 1800s, scientists developed reliable and somewhat safe high voltage supplies and began running high voltages through many things to observe what would happen. Often, they tested to see how wide of an air gap the spark could jump. It was discovered the spark gap was inversely proportional to the pressure of the air and that an evacuated glass tube was the ideal method for viewing light from gas discharges.

After British researcher William Ramsey discovered the five rare gases between 1894-1898 (receiving the Nobel Prize in 1904), it then became possible for French scientist, Georges Claude, to figure out that these gases could be made to produce light discharges when electrical discharges were passed through them. Finally, the long desired method that scientists had been looking for - a form of practical lighting by glowworm or phosphorescent light which emitted “light without heat.”

By World War l, Claude had acquired many patents, but he had more on his mind than strictly scientific knowledge. He envisioned a lucrative market for his tubes in lighting and signage. Because neon gas produced the brightest light, it was used almost exclusively and soon the generic “Neon Sign” was born. By 1924, “Claude Neon” franchises appeared in 14 major cities across the United States. And by 1927, 611 out of a total of 750 neon signs in New York City had been made by Claude Neon Lights, Inc.

A great period of creativity for neon took place in the years that followed, a period when many design and animation techniques were developed. Unfortunately, the economic conditions caused by the Depression slowed neon’s growth. However, one place neon continued to work its magic during this period was on the exteriors of movie palaces, providing a colorfully glowing invitation to the fantasy world within.

Then following World War ll and the advent of plastics, manufacturers began promoting Plexiglas shadow boxes with fluorescent lighting, neon’s cousin, behind lettering and graphics. Neon, by then considered old fashioned, was relegated to use as a hidden light source. Still today, 75% of neon is used in this way.

During the last decade, neon has seen a rebirth, as artists, architects and interior designers have begun to rediscover its exciting possibilities. Neon tube construction hasn’t changed much since the days of Claude Neon. It’s still a handcrafted medium where a glassbender heats and forms each letter, one bend at a time. However, state-of-the art components and much-improved equipment make the neon tube of today superior to its predecessor.

 

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

By Richard White, December 3, 2013

Do you consider yourself to be a bit of an “urban explorer?”  Its literal meaning is “the exploring of off-limit urban places, often associated with abandoned sites and buildings or underground water and sewer systems.” 

Other terms for these activities are “urban spelunking,” “urban caving” and “building hacking.” While I and urbanists have often used the term, I don't think we have used it correctly.   

I think the term “urban pioneers” would be more appropriate…especially in Calgary given our long history of pioneering!  To me, urban pioneers are people who are willing to live, work or play in gritty urban places, fix them up and transform them into funky, friendly neighbourhoods that eventually get discovered by the masses.

Where would an urban pioneer hang out in Calgary?

Some place with urban grit and Calgary chic. Would it be East Village, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Bowness, Forest Lawn or perhaps Manchester?  My vote goes to 10th Avenue SW or what I like to call the “Rail Trail.”   

This is a Christmas window along 10th Avenue from a few years back.  There are lots of hidden gems along the rail trail if you keep your eyes open. 

Wrong side of the tracks?

For the past 100 years, 10th Ave has been the wrong side of the tracks. For many Calgarians, the area conjures up a picture of ugly parkades and empty gravel parking lots.  It is definitely not pedestrian friendly - no designer sidewalks or street furniture and no colourful banners or hanging baskets. 

Having recently become a big fan of Mikey’s Juke Joint (the new King Eddy) at 18th Street and 10th Avenue SW., I have slowly discovered the quirky charm of the area on the south side of the CPR rail tracks.

Mikey’s is tucked onto a corner in the underbelly of the Bow Trail/Crowchild Trail spaghetti over/under passes as well as the West LRT sky train.  The locale is the epitome of the urban landscape – freight trains go by regularly and lots of warehouses, empty lots and chain-link fences. This is where John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac or J.D Salinger would hang out if they were alive and living in Calgary today. 

If you are thinking you’d like to try some urban strolling in Cowtown, here is my suggested tour of the 10th Avenue Rail Trail.  You could do it in an hour or you could take a half day, have lunch, a drink or take in a blues jam session. 

One of the many ugly surface parking lots on the north side of 10th Avenue facing the CPR tracks. The Centennial Parkade is the building on the other side of the two fences and the tracks. 

Prairie Oysters & Beer

I’d suggest starting your stroll at 2nd Street SW with an early lunch or a beer at Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub.  They offer a unique Calgary experience - “Around the world in 80 beers!” While most pubs come and go, Bottlescrew Bill’s and the sister restaurant Buzzards have been around since 1980.

In June 2011, the Globe and Mail writer Robin Estrock listed “devour prairie oysters” at Buzzards Restaurant as #5 of “The 15 things to see and do in Canada before you die!”

Heading west, the next block has a north/south dichotomy with the north side being one of the many nasty surface parking lots and the backside of the Royal Canadian Pacific Railway shed. You would never know this is home to one of the best collections of heritage railway cars in the world. 

On the south-side is a collection of historic brick warehouse buildings that originally served the CPR freight trains and today house some noteworthy retailers (e.g. Roche Bobois one of the world’s most exclusive international contemporary furniture stores).  I wonder if 100 years ago they ever thought these buildings would one day be used to sell $15,000 sofas?

The next block offers up the same dichotomy with brick warehouses on one side and the City Center Parkade (CCCP - adding one more C would be fitting as this structure looks like a concrete bunker from Russia) on the other.  Did I say there are no hanging baskets on 10th Avenue?  I take that back as there are baskets at this parkade. 

This block also has the flagship CRAFT brew pub, with 100 beers on tap -  it has become an instant hot spot for the young and restless after work crowd.  The National is another larger playground for Calgary's GABEsters, with it Bourbon room and 8-lane 10-pin bowling alley. Who says Calgarians don’t stay downtown after work?

At the southwest corner of 4th Street is the shinny new Centre10 office tower that has risen out of the ashes of two failed condo developments on the site. A sister office complex is planned for the north side of 10th Avenue.

The alley between 10th and 11th Avenues is home the entrance to Metro Vino one of Calgary's oldest wine stores.  

Loft Living

At 5th Street, you’ll encounter the historic red brick Hudson Lofts; this was the first of the early ‘90s loft conversions in Calgary and the beginning of the renaissance in downtown living.  There are plans for more condos, hotel and another office building in this area over the next few years - the surface parking lots are quickly disappearing.

The next stop is the Uptown Bottle Depot, a “must do” stop for every urban explorer/pioneer.  If you want a truly unique Calgary experience, return your empties here; urban grit at its grittiness.

However, just across the street is the old Alberta Boot block, plans were recently announced for a new 360 Residence Inn by Marriott.  Lamb Development Corp. plans to build a 30 story, 230 unit condo building to the west of the Depot. 

Another just block west is the Commonwealth Bar & Stage, Montauk Sofa and Speed Theory (bike shop).  You are now on the edge of the Design District. 

Hudson Loft is one of many brick warehouse buildings along 10th Avenue a few of which have become loft condos.  

Centre Ice

Centre ice for the “Rail Trail” is 10th and 8th Street. It’s home to several retailers and restaurants including Mountain Equipment Co-op, Trepanier Baer Gallery, The Social Page, Bonterra Trattoria (best patio in the city), Bumpy’s Café, Café Mauro, Edo Sushi, Holly Grill, Decadent Desserts and The Ferocious Grape. 

The old West Canadian Graphics (WCG) building on the southwest corner will soon be the funky Mark on 10th condo by Qualex-Landmark.   Next to this site is the carcass of the Astoria condo (remember the plans for the $10,000,000 penthouse condo). This fenced off abandoned construction site would be a great place for true “urban explorers.”  

The eventual development of the WCG and Astoria sites will result in over 500 people living near centre ice.

Strolling further west, you pass by Vistek Camera store and quickly arrive at the Midtown Co-op grocery store block.  For those interested in what it might be like to live in the Rail Trail area, stop in at the Qualex Landmark condo sales centre on the northside of the Co-op block and find out about their latest project. Next door is Interior Living furniture store to help you furnish your new condo and Tri-Yoga a popular spot for young, hip and flexible.

The Mountain Equipment cooperative store (MEC) is the anchor retailer on 10th Avenue and was the catalyst for making 10th and 8th Centre ice. 

Street Ballet

Crossing 11th Street you will pass by some “no-name” office buildings and industrial buildings before you arrive at Community Natural Foods at 12th Street.  This has to be one of the liveliest places in the entire Centre City.

Not being part of Calgary’s granola gang, I am always surprised at the animation - an urban ballet of pedestrians, bikes and cars trying to get in and out of the too small parking lot.  The Korean Village restaurant in the strip mall next door is a hidden gem, I am told by a colleague who once lived Korea (could be a place to stop for lunch).

Those with a good imagination can envision how the next block would have changed if the proposed Lausanne and Montreau (two 50 storeys high-rises) condos had been built across from the Lighting Centre.  

This is a close up of the murals of LP records on the back side of Heritage Music store (museum) that can be seen from 10th Avenue. 

Rolling Stones meets Big Bang Theory

Some recent road changes mean you no longer have to go to 11th Ave to cross 14th street - pedestrians, bikes and cars. However, I’d suggest you do go to 11th to checkout Heritage Music - it’s the wooden shack with the Rolling Stones’ Tongue record mural on the backside.  Inside is a mind-boggling collection of vintage vinyl, Hollywood memorabilia, as well as CDs – well worth exploring.

At the northwest corner of 10th Ave and 14th St is All Season Rental Adventures.  Who knew that you can rent ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, scooters and even toboggans in Downtown Calgary?

Keep wandering past the Sunalta Community Association Building all the way to 18th Street and check out Sentry Box, Calgary’s premier fantasy, science fiction and military literature and gaming superstore (13,000 square feet).  It’s home to Calgary’s Dungeon and Dragon crowd and is where the Big Bang Theory boys would hang out if the TV show was based in Calgary. Along the way you will find a huge Western Veterinary Centre, one of the largest in Canada, as well as two surprising religion centres. 

Across the street is Mikey’s Juke Joint.  If you are strolling on a Saturday, try to arrive  about 3ish so you can experience the Saturday afternoon blues jam hosted by saxophonist and owner Mike Clark. 

Sleeping on the Rail Trail

The Calgary Mattress  Makers  at 19th St. is more of an old world arts and craft studio than a factory. Owner Dean Halstead encouraging people to walk-in and chat with him about your sleep needs.  He and his team then create a hand-tied, chemical free mattress custom made just for you and your partner with each side custom made to meet your individual needs.  After a day on the Rail Trail you may want to lie down for bit. 

Call me crazy - but in a few years, the “10th Ave Rail Trail” could well become Calgary’s hippest, coolest, hottest, funniest, liveliest neighbourhood!

 

The Sentry Box is a hangout for hipsters, GABEsters and families.  

Camera Buffs

The Rail Trail offers some unique views of some of Calgary’s modern glitzy architecture – Bankers’ Hall, 8th Avenue Place, Husky Oil Tower and Nexen Tower. It also offers some gritty views of urban industrial, warehouse and transportation design.

 Bring your camera!

This is an image of the Calgary Tower that I happened upon when flaneuring 10th Avenue several years ago. 

Found these beauties on the side of the Gulf Canada Square Parkade. 

Found these eyes staring at me as I headed into Mikey's just a few days ago.

The futuristic Sunalta station is a camera buff's paradise. You could spend an entire day they taking photos of the architecture inside and out as the light changes during the day.

The Rail Trail is full of surprises like this Kingdom Hall for Jehovah's Witness and not too far away is a Buddhist Centre.  

Postcards from cSPACE

By Richard White, December 5, 2013

Soon the majestic one hundred year old sandstone King Edward School, butchered by two ugly square box additions in Calgary’s gentrifying South Calgary community (rather an ironic name given it isn’t anywhere near the southern edge of South Calgary anymore, but rather is an inner city community) will become a bustling arts centre. At least that is the vision and cSPACE is the name!

Last weekend, I checked the space out when I went to Market Collective’s “Christmas Market” show and sale there.  The place was a hopping with Calgary hipsters (or GABEsters as I like to call them – Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) enjoying the music of a DJ, coffee from Café Rosso and browsing the pop-up artisan vendors in the second-floor classrooms. 

It gave me a chance to flaneur the school and take some photos. Wouldn't you know it I got asked three times, “you must have gone to school here?” I smiled and said, “No, I just like to explore interesting places and take pictures of fun, funky and quirky things.” 

It was definitely a fun space to explore. I even found there is supposedly a ghost named Eddy on the fourth floor. I wonder what he thinks of the new tenants and new vision.

I loved the way the space was already being used by the artists in various ways.  Not only was there the “Christmas market” happening, but the 3rd floor classrooms were being used by various groups including one as drawing studio with live models. The old school’s hallway was filled with nude drawings, from floor to ceiling and some on the floor.  I wonder what the teachers and principal back in 1914 would have thought of that!   

This is the entrance to the school which once was a grand entrance, today it has been hidden by a large box addition. I hope the grand entrance will be reclaimed as part of the renovations. 

Found this interesting "still life" composition of two chairs and sign intriguing. Love the retro red, yellow and blue palette. 

Background on cSPACE

After failed attempts by the private sector to purchase the school and its surrounding land for a condo development, the Calgary Foundation and Calgary Arts Development Authority’s cSPACE group bought the land and then raised the funds to convert it into a creative hub. 

What is a creative hub you ask? It is a mixed-use art space including a performance theatre, rehearsal space and studios for visual artists and writers.  A planned hangout for artists of all ages and genres, in theory it should be a catalyst for creativity.  A lot of research has gone into assessing the needs of Calgary’s arts community to continue to evolve and cSPACE is designed to provide some of them.

cSPACE Projects is a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation and is a social enterprise model that will develop spaces for the arts across the city.  King Edward School is the first of what will hopefully be many projects in the future for cSPACE. 

For more info on the King Edward School Incubator project check out the cSPACE website. 

African mask? Monkey mask? Found several of these along a piece of wood that use to have coat hangers on it. 

I thought this window with just one clear pane created an interesting juxtaposition of light and space.

Just one of the many drawings on the third floor that gave the space a salon feel. 

A larger drawing on the main floor is an interesting dream-like collage of images of future uses.

Deja Vu

It is interesting that something similar was tried in the late ‘70s. At that time, the Memorial Park Library was converted into an arts centre with the Muttart Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Calgary) on the second floor, while the lower floor became the home of the Calgary Public Library’s collection of arts-oriented books.  

The vision was to create a place that would be home for artists and art patrons and be a catalyst for creativity.  Unfortunately, the experiment didn’t work. The locals wanted a greater selection of books and the arts community never really adopted the place as theirs. The art gallery lasted for over two decades, but the space never really worked as an art gallery it as too small, inadequate elevator and storage space, on the wrong side of the tracks and too far away from other galleries art spaces to attract a large number of visitors. Location. Location. Location. 

Today, the Memorial Park is again a regular branch library and the second floor houses the Calgary Library Foundation.  

Reader VR writes: "I still mourn the demise of The Allied Arts Centre of the 1960's and 1970's with its great little theatre on 9th Avenue. There I took wonderful classes with Joyce Doolittle and Grant Reddick. Good old Rod Sykes, the then mayor, withdrew city funding and shut it down. I guess it is torn down by now.  (Sigh) So this development shows there is hope. Now if we could just get a proper Civic Art Gallery." 

I had forgotten about the Allied Arts Centre which also was a mixed-use arts facility in Calgary that lasted for a few decades but then died.

 

Found this image of the Allied Arts Centre when it was in the Coste House.  Calgary has an interesting history of arts development. This is before the 9th Avenue location with is now a bar I believe. Credit: Glenbow Archives 

There were several folk art benches in the school but this one next to a vintage water fountain caught my eye.

I loved the colour, form and composition of these exposed pipes.  

Doors to ? 

One of the artisans was selling these fun architectural frames.  I thought it was ironic that one was a blackboard in a classroom.

This was just too fun not to include as a postcard.

Found this deconstructivist thermostat that looks a lot like a piece of art we just bought in Bosie Idaho that was was constructed out of recycled parts from cameras and other objects. I would have like to of taken this home. 

Community Impact

The cSPACE block (it takes an entire city block) is located just a “hop, skip and a jump” from the nearby community centre block with its playing fields, outdoor hockey rink and Alexander Calhoun Library. Also the west side of 14th Street SW from 26 to 29th Avenuesis quietly evolving into a local retail district with neighbourhood pub, salons, clothing stores and a soon-to-arrive Starbucks. cSPAC is Not far away is bell’s café bookstore, an established artists’ hangout.

Flaneuring around “South Calgary” you quickly realize that this, like all Calgary inner city communities is under siege with construction with infill projects being built on almost every block.  While many are single family, monster homes, there are also lots of townhouses and small condo complexes.  

They don’t come cheap, so they are no places where young artists could afford to live, but they are definitely places where art patrons would live.  Hopefully there are also plans to also create affordable housing for artists in the community as vibrant communities need people of all ages and backgrounds to call them home.

cSPACE could easily be the catalyst needed to make South Calgary Calgary’s newest urban village.  

GABEsters shopping and selling to each other.

An example of one of the pop-up artisan displays.

Mural next to the large box addition at the school entrance.  Love how the artist has used the Danger sign to mask the face. Is this a Danger Mask? 

The entrance to the school as it exists today with the jail in front and the box addition on the side. Not particularly inviting.

The history of the school.

 

The future of the school? An artist's rendering of the streetscape to be created with the school hidden in the background.  I hope that the old and the new can be integrated in a synergistic fashion that will capture the public's imagination. 

Last Word

I hope cSPACE works.  The existing old school space is exactly what artists need to create – space that isn't too fancy or too expensive.  Currently, it reminded me of how local artists had converted the Billingsgate Fish Market in East Village into studios, performance and exhibition space a few years back. 

It also had some of the ambience of Art Central.  Both were old buildings with lots of little spaces that could be rented cheaply.

My worry is that the multi-million dollar renovation will sanitize the space. Creativity is messy and spontaneous, not planned and formal.  Too often new art spaces actually inhibit creativity by being too big, too clean, too safe, too expensive and too bureaucratic.

I hope I am worrying for nothing.

Reader TT points out that Toronto has completed a very similar initiative has been completed on Queen Street West.  Shaw Street School has been transformed into a 75,000 square foot arts centre for $17 million compared to cSPACE's King Edward School which will be 45,000 square feet and $30 million including land costs. Read more: Shaw Street School

 

If you like this blog you might like: 

http://everydaytourist.ca/blog/2013/5/7/poppy-plaza

http://everydaytourist.ca/blog/2013/5/8/the-rise-of-public-art-the-decline-of-public-galleries

http://everydaytourist.ca/blog/2013/10/28/public-art-love-it-or-hate-it

http://everydaytourist.ca/blog/2013/11/15/yyc-dare-to-be-different

FUN ideas for Downtown Calgary!

By Richard White, November 24, 2013 

I recently shared some of the fun things to see and do in downtown Spokane, Wash. — and spoke of how, if Calgary wants to have an attractive, vibrant downtown, it is vital to create entertaining and even purely whimsical things for people to enjoy.

In this blog, I want to open up the discussion as to how we might add more fun to Calgary’s rather staid, office-centric core, where sober practicality can too often be an excuse for lack of imagination and engagement.

Arguably, the most fun spot in our downtown is the Colourful Cows for Calgary exhibition, hidden away on the second floor of the Centennial Parkade. Where, and what, you say?

That’s where a dozen or so of the Udderly Art cow sculptures were put out to pasture, so to speak, at a city parkade on Fifth Street near Eighth Avenue around the corner from the Globe Theatre.

Udderly Art was a charity event that took place in the summer of 2000. Using the same fibreglass cow as a template, artists were sponsored by companies to come up with everything from a Mae West-inspired entry named Moo West to a Holy Cow that was perforated with holes. The history of one of Canada’s most successful public art projects is there for everyone to enjoy. Thirteen years later, perhaps it is time for another fun summer public art program. 

Just one of the dozen of so cows that are grazing on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  

Everybody loves a train

Is it just me, or is there something fun about a train?

Did you know that at noon every day, the steam whistle on the Canadian Pacific Railway No. 29 steam locomotive goes off in front of the Gulf Canada Square building on 9th Avenue? Too bad this couldn’t happen more often; it would be great if anyone could come up to the train anytime pull a lever and the whistle would sound. 

I hope downtown doesn’t lose the engine when the railway company moves its headquarters out of downtown. If it is moved, perhaps it could be replaced by a monster oil sands truck. Last time I talked about Spokane’s popular Big Wagon slide. How about we get a decommissioned truck and turn it into a slide? Maybe with a little imagination, it could also become a climbing apparatus for kids. What kid (even dads) wouldn’t want into climb the big truck?

We need some visual reminders downtown that we are one of the world’s leading oil and gas centres. 

The historic Engine #29 sits on Gulf Canada office building which is the head office of the historic Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. Unfortunately they are moving out of the downtown.   

Climbing walls?

Speaking of climbing, if we want to add some fun to our downtown and give a nod to the Rocky Mountains and our passion for recreation, we need a mega downtown climbing wall. Perhaps we could start by turning the Calgary Tower into a huge climbing wall. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch people climb the outside of the tower? The colourful hand and foot holds, with their funky shapes and patterns would make the tower look like a totem sculpture.

If the Calgary Tower doesn’t work, perhaps an existing or new office developer could create a climbing wall on the outside of their building or in the lobby. Canmore has a climbing wall in their new recreation centre in a space that looks remarkably just like an office lobby — wouldn’t that animate a sterile office building. I could see the space being used by all kinds of people for different events.

For anyone who argues the liability lawyers would have a field day with this idea, I recently toured the University of Idaho’s climbing wall facility, which has one of the highest walls in the world. It turns out injuries are minimal and they have had no liability issues.

The climbing wall located on the main floor of the new Canmore, Alberta recreation centre bears a striking resemblance to an office lobby with its two floor open ceiling. Sure beats a sterile office lobby for animation. 

The University of Idaho in Moscow has once of the tallest climbing walls in the world.  Wouldn't this be a nice addition to downtown Calgary. 

Family days

In the early ’90s, the Calgary Downtown Association organized a Kids’ Days event.

But rather than the usual face-painting and art-making activities, how about an annual or monthly downtown scavenger hunt that encourages families to explore, learn and have fun downtown.

Perhaps it could even be self-guided, encouraging families to find interesting things, such as a bush plane hanging from a ceiling … or a buffalo skeleton … or the Cowabunga skateboarding cow from Udderly Art.

Might we convince Calgary Transit to offer free rides on the LRT to downtown on the first weekend of the month? Kids love to ride the train and come down to the “tall city” (as my nephew used to refer to Calgary’s downtown when he was three years old). 

This is an actual plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre.  

Christmas

Calgary used to have a downtown Santa Claus Parade, creating an annual fun event for families to do in the core. I think some of us still have childhood memories of going downtown to see the animated Christmas windows at The Bay and Eaton’s.

Flagship retailers in New York, Chicago and Paris pride themselves on their magical Christmas windows, attracting tens of thousands of people to their downtowns at Christmas time.

Perhaps we could convince businesses along Stephen Avenue, aka Calgary’s main street, to create amazing Christmas window displays each year that would add some fun and excitement to the street for everyone. While some of the current windows are nice, none have the magic of past Christmases. We need to kick it up a notch, perhaps through a contest with proceeds going to charity

Why wait for Christmas...fun, funky, quirky downtown windows should be part of the unique downtown experience all year. 

Kids banners

We could also have an annual fun banner program downtown.  Instead of the text-oriented designs used for most of the current banners, children’s workshops could be organized throughout the city to generate art depicting what they like about Calgary.

Judges could choose which ones get made into banners, while others could be displayed as part of exhibitions at City Hall and the Devonian Gardens.

Everybody loves children’s art as it is always colourful and fun. Imagine if every lamp post downtown had a kid’s banner on it? Imagine how the Seventh Avenue Transit corridor could be transformed into a children’s art gallery — now that would change downtown’s sense of place

Imagine if these LRT station banners used children's art to create a more unique sense of place and play.

FUN Architecture 

The proposed new downtown library is an opportunity waiting for some fun urban design. We should let kids in on designing the library; they did a great job on the Alberta Children’s Hospital. At minimum, they should be part of the creation of the library’s children’s area. 

The proposed Telus Sky building also has an element of fun in its design, which I think (and hope) could probably be played up even more as the design evolves. Maybe one of these two projects could incorporate the climbing wall?

It is not coincidence that the Alberta Children's Hospital looks like it was constructed with lego.  A youth advisory group provide the design team with ideas about what the hospital should look like - big windows and bright colours were two of the suggestions.  The building is both fun and welcoming, something every building should be. 

Some of Calgary's most colourful and fun architecture is hidden from view, like this office building at Canada Olympic Park.  Imagine if this building was along the 7th Avenue Transit corridor or along 9th Avenue as a gateway into downtown.  This makes a fun statement. 

Alley Art Gallery

While recently strolling through downtown Boise, Idaho, my wife and I recently came upon an alley full of young girls and their moms. We wondered what was happening.

It turns out it was a dance company that was using their “Freak Alley” paintings as a backdrop for a photo session. Even a place in a state known for its potato production is willing to fly its freak flag — how fun is that?

 The walls of the buildings facing the alley and an adjacent surface parking lot are full from the ground to the rooftops of street art by numerous artists, whose styles range from graffiti to realism. It is a wonderful outdoor gallery and a nice urban surprise.

If only we use a little imagination and co-operation, Calgary’s downtown has plenty of alleys that could become outdoor art galleries.

 Downtown is already mega urban art park that contains more than 100 public sculptures, not to mention a few murals. Perhaps the city’s bonus density program — a municipal policy that allows developers to build more floors in return for creating public amenities like indoor gardens, plazas, public art and Plus-15 bridges — could include creating an alley art gallery. 

It would be fun to have an alley art walk that people could experience anytime they are downtown. 

Fun art from Boise's Freak Alley.

 Calgary does have some fun art like these two sculptures at Bow Valley Square. They always make me smile.

Calgary does have some fun art like these two sculptures at Bow Valley Square. They always make me smile.

Zip Line

Freemont Street in Las Vegas is very much like Stephen Avenue — both are pedestrian malls. One of Freemont’s big attractions is a zip line down the middle of the street.

I am not sure this would work on Stephen Ave, but perhaps it would somewhere else downtown; maybe in Shaw Millennium Park, or in Prince’s Island. How about across the Bow River (a reader once suggested this to me) going both ways.

It could add a whole new dimension for those walking to work and would be a fun activity for Calgarians and visitors.

Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas has a zip line under the white canopy that covers the street for several blocks.  The canopy is used in the evening for a spectacular light show that is set to music.  Now that FUN!

Bring back the neon

In the heyday of downtowns in the mid-20th century, the streets were “brighter,” as ’60s singer Petula Clark once noted in her song, Downtown. But that is not true today. Most of the streets in downtown Calgary are dark, with little or no light on the sidewalks. Any signs you come across are very subtle and corporate.

We need to bring back the flashing blade signs of the neon era that shout out that something fun is happening inside. A great place to start would be to animate the EPCOR Centre and the Glenbow with some great neon signs.

Downtowns across North America use to fun places with lots of colour and street animation animation provided by the flashing bright neon lights. Today there are few of the big, bold beautiful neon signs left.  

Last Word

These are just a few of my wacky FUN ideas I am sure there are more and better one’s out there. Email me your thoughts on how to make our downtown or city centre a more FUN place for everyone and I will tweet and blog them out. 

If you like this blog you might like: 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

FFQing in Tri-cities

Downtown Spokane Fun

An edited version of this blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on Saturday, November 23, 2013 with different photographs. 

Louis L'Amour: Education of a Wandering Man

By Richard White, October 26, 2013

One of the things I love about browsing the bookshelves of thrift stores is that you never know what you will find.  Recently, I picked up Louis L’Amour’s “Education of a Wandering Man.”  I’m not sure why I picked it up, as I have never read a L’Amour book and I am not a big fan of the western novel, thinking they are the male version of a Harlequin Romance novel.  I am looking for something more thought provoking.  I am not against novels. I spent my 20s reading everything from Camus, Satre, Hemingway, Maugham and Steinbeck et al.

It is only recently I have started to read biographies, mostly as a result of my recent interest in blues music and trying to understand that culture as it relates to the beat and existentialism cultures I am more familiar with.  This has lead me to become more interested in the pioneer and frontier culture of early North American. It is fascinating how one’s interests evolve (another blog).

When locating a book in a thrift store or used bookstore that might have some interest, I often find myself thinking “why not it’s only a buck or two,” so the barrier to buying is low.  Sure the library is cheaper, but you have to know what you are looking for. Also I love to write in my books.  I would never have thought to check-out L’Amour’s biography.  

Photo of Louis L'Amour c. 1939

That is one of the great things about thrift store book collecting you get exposed to lots of different genres and authors you would never look at if you went to a bookstore or to a library.   Often when Brenda says I need another 15 minutes, I will wander back to the book shelves and did even deeper to see if I have missed something during my first look - that is often when I take a look at something different.

Sometimes these “off the beaten shelf” books sit on my shelves at home for years and end up in our next garage sale unread. But for some reason, as soon as we got back from our Washington, Idaho and Montana road trip the first thing I did was pick up the L’Amour bio and start reading.

Boy was I wrong.  Almost immediately the book had captured by attention. L’Amour was a kindred spirit with his life long commitment to self-learning and the role books played in his life.  The format of the book is to share with the reader his experiences and philosophy on life and living through the thousands of books he has read. In 1939, he read 115 books and plays, my best year was 52 books in 52 weeks in 2005. 

Partial list of books and plays read in 1934, in author's own handwriting.

By page three he got me hooked:

“If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction.  Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness.”

Near the end he shares my sentiments exactly:

“A wander I had been through most of my early years, and now that I had my own home, my wandering continued, but among books. No longer could I find most of the books I wanted in libraries. I had to seek them out in foreign secondhand bookstores, which was a pleasure in itself. When seeking books, one always some upon unexpected treasures or books on subjects that one has never heard of, or heard mentioned on in passing.”

The memoir touches on many fascinating reoccurring themes and travels back in time, as well as around the world to tell his story.  Louis L’Amour was indeed an “everyday tourist.”  I will definitely be looking out for more of his work when flaneuring book shelves in the future.

The memoir is full of insights into the early 20th century frontier culture that is very relevant to our current society. The following are various quotes organized into some of his reoccurring themes. 

Artist at typewriter in Los Angeles apartment 1953

Frontier Life

“To properly understand the situation in America before the Depression, one must realize there was a great demand for seasonal labor, and much of this was supplied by men called hoboes.  Over the years the terms applied to wanderers have been confused until all meaning has been lost. To begin with a bum was a local man who did not want to work. A tramp was a wanderer of the same kind, but a hobo was a wandering worker and essential to the nation’s economy.”

Later he talks about the prairie pioneer culture as distinct from that of the east and west coast.  When asked in a TV interview “what one quality distinguished pioneer life?” he didn’t have an answer but later it came to him. Dignity. They all had dignity, a certain serenity and pride that was their completely.

L’Amour shares with us his thoughts on frontier life based on first-hand research and his extensive reading: “cowboys came for everywhere, and the West was a great melting pot of drifters, soldiers of fortune…adventurers..”

I believe that all that has gone before has been but preliminary, that our real history began with that voyage to the moon. Progress at first may be slow, but man will not be held back. There will always be those few who wish to push back the frontiers, to see what lies beyond.

Western pioneers were select people…each one was expected to stand on his own feet…on his own support system…no one told him where to go.  He simply packed his what goods he could carry and headed west, looking for what chance might offer.

So much has been written about the individual that many have forgotten that our country was settled by families.

Page from 1932 diary that shows stories and poems Louis submitted and whether they were accepted for publication or refused. 

Contemporary Life

Ours has been called a materialistic society. The Europeans love saying that of us, but I have never found a society that was not materialistic.  Man seeks a means to exist; then strives to improve that situation. At first he wants something to eat; then he tries to store food against times of famine he tries to find warmer furs, a better cave, a more secure life. He creates better weapons with which to defend himself, to form alliances that will assist in his protection. It is a normal, natural thing and has existed forever.

All young men and women owe it to themselves to be able to write a letter on not more than one page, to set forth an idea or possible plan. That same young person should, in a few brief spoken words, be able to deliver that idea orally.

The world with which we are now familiar (book published in 1989) will have largely disappeared within twenty years, probably fewer. Business machines are changing the face of the world. When I started my knockabout years (a term he uses often to reference his early years of wandering the world educating himself reading, observing and listening to stories), there was much a man could do who was simply strong. That is no longer true. Those young people of whatever race or nationality who loiter along the streets or gather in gangs are going nowhere without education and training, but education is there for them now, as it was for me…all that is needed is the will, and the idea.

I believe that man has been living and is living in a Neanderthal state of mind. Mentally, we are still flacking rocks for scraping stones or chipping them for arrowheads (fracking for oil and natural gas). The life that lies before us will no longer permit such wastefulness or neglect. We are moving into outer space, where the problems will be infinitely greater…

Violence / Criminals

We hear a lot of talk these days of violence, but we forget the many generations that have grown up on stories of violence.  The bloodiest of all, perhaps, were the so-called fairy tales…yet I see little difference between Jack killing the fabled giant and Waytt Erp shooting it out with an outlaw.

What people do not understand is that a child in growing up repeats within his early years much of the life history of a man upon earth, and it is necessary that he or she do this to become a human being. At first a baby is simply a small animal that east and sleeps…eventually the child plays capture games (hide and seek), wants a bow and arrow or perhaps a spear or other weapons. By acting out those early years of mankind’s history, children put that history behind them.

Most violent criminals are cases of arrested development, for one reason or another, they never grow out of that period.

In Batz-sur-Mer, France, in the spring of 1985, in the footsteps of "The Walking Drum's" Kerbouchard. (photo Susan Williams).

Bookstores

It is not uncommon today to find no one working in a bookstore who reads anything but the current best sellers, if that much.  In the days I speak of, bookstores were usually operated by book lovers. Now they are run by anyone who can ring up a sale.

Native Culture

In most cases, when a chief signed a treaty, he was signing for himself. He had no authority to force other Indians to abide by it. This most white men never understood.

In most cases the only way for a young Indian to become a man and a warrior was to take the scalp or to count coup, which meant to strike a living, enemy warrior.  Until he had done so, he could not get a bride and he could not speak in council. He was literally a nobody. This is why Indians often said they could not live without war.

Jesus on the Cross

 When Jesus was suffering on the Cross, a Roman soldier offered him vinegar to drink, and this has been considered by many to have been an unkind act. As a matter of fact, vinegar was what the Roman legions drank, believing it a better thrist-quencher than plain water.  We often put lemon in water for the same purpose. In any event, that Roman legionnaire was simply trying to share his own drink with Jesus.

Education

Due to the narrow vision in many of our schools, few of our people have any knowledge of or appreciation for the culture of Asiatic nations. There has been a slight change for the better in recent years, but our people are still relatively uniformed. Too many believe nothing was known of China until Maro Polo returned with his stories.

Leadership/Politics

Nations are born, they mature, grow old, and almost die, but after some years they rise again, and we in this country, as in all nations, need leaders with vision. Too few can see further than the next election and will agree to spend any amount of money as long as some of it is spent in the area they represent. H.G. Wells wisely said that “Men who think in lifetimes are of no use to statesmanship.”  We must begin to think in generations and centuries rather than in years.

Politics is the art of making civilization work. To make democracy work, we must have a nation of participants, not simply observers.

Sex

I am not writing about sex, which is a leisure activity; I am writing about men and women who were settling a new country, finding their way through a maze of difficulties and learning to survive despite them.

Sex before WW1 was a private concern, and there were supposedly, only two places for it; in the bedrooms of married people and in whorehouses.

Louis and Kathy near the old Roman theatre in Arles, France, 1985 (Photo Susan Williams).

Great Quotes:

A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination.”

“I believe adventure is nothing but a romantic name for trouble.”

“ I have know hunger of the belly kind many times over, but I have known a worse hunger: the need to know and to learn.”

“Writing is a learn process. One never knows enough, and one is never good enough.”

“A book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.”

“History to me is the story of people and how they lived, not just endless story of dynasties and wars.

“Every written word is an effort to understand man’s place in the universe. What is he? What is he becoming?”

“We are, finally all wanders in search of knowledge. Most of us hold the dream of becoming something better than we are.”

Understanding Calgary's DNA

By Richard White, October 16, 2013

Recently, a neighbour lent me an old, tattered book titled “Calgary,” thinking I might enjoy reading it.  There was no date or author’s name in the book, just the name of the general editor, S. L. Bensusan.  However, a bit of web research turned up that the book was published in 1912 and that Samuel Levy Bensusan (born in London, 1872 to 1958) was probably the author too given he had written similar books on life in Spain, Paris and Morocco.  The cover has a foreshadowing illustration (no credit given) of Calgary complete with high-rises, smoke stacks, railway bridge and street-car that paints a picture of Calgary as a modern, industrial commercial city.  At the bottom of the cover is a reference to “Twentieth Century Cities” so I am thinking this book was part of a series on different cities at the turn of the century.  However, I was unable to find out if this is true.

I quickly found this book to be a fascinating read about what Calgary was like 100 years ago, from the perceptive of an outsider.  The book is written I suspect as a propaganda piece to entice Brits to immigrate to Calgary.  It is not unlike what Tourism Calgary and Calgary Economic Development are producing today to attract tourists and workers to Calgary.  However, recent monikers like “Calgary: The New West” and “Calgary: Be Part of the Energy” pale in comparison to the bold statement “Calgary The Phenomenal” which is how the 1912 book brands Calgary.

Though full of interesting factoids, what makes it really interesting is that many of the characteristics that define Calgary today existed or were being ingrained into our collective psyche a hundred years ago.  For example, there are constant references to Calgary being a place where a strong work ethic and individuality prevail, a sense of freedom exists for everyone and opportunities are abundant.  Comments like “all are free”, “captain of his own fate” and “master of his own soul” are found throughout the text.

As well, comments similar to former Mayor Klein’s infamous 1982 “creep and bums” comments are present in the book.  “He who will not work shall not eat, and he whose favourite task is to watch the toil of others will look in vain for a job, until he feels the contagion of endeavor and enter the ranks of the men who matter.”  Or the observation, “for the shirker, the idler and the man who was born tired, there is no place…”  

Cover photograph shows downtown Calgary in 1912 as a bustling place with street car, passenger train, smoke stakes and high-rises.  

This is an early postcard of the First Baptist Church and an early 20th century mansion on 13th Ave. SW. 

 

Stephen Avenue: Piccadilly Circus on the Prairies

Even 100 years ago, Calgary was being touted as “the city most progressive and up-to-date of the Western Canadian Plains.”  There are several references to Calgary’s multi-cultural population; “streets are full of Englishmen, Yankee, Hindu, Indian, Chinese and Japanese.  There is even an observation that the “Eighth Avenue shopping street is as congested as Piccadilly Circus on Saturdays.”  Further on, Stephen Avenue is described as an “ever-changing kaleidoscope throng of human beings from all over the world.” I am not making this stuff up!

Bensusan is quick to point out Calgary boasts “more automobiles in proportion to its population than any other city on the continent,” as evidence of the city’s prosperity and modernity.  He says he was “astonished at the sight of so many smart and luxurious private cars, ” noting that 1,000 cars were registered in Calgary on January 1, 1912.

He also states Calgary is a very cosmopolitan modern city with police and fire departments, schools, hospitals, shops, a great public library, as well as excellent waterworks and lighted streets.  Calgary with its four theatres and eleven motion picture houses, “insures to Calgary the opportunity of seeing the best class of theatrical entertainments…there shall be no lack of variety.”

Particular note is made of Calgary having 40 places of worship, obviously seen as a key to attracting new immigrants back then.  “Religious animosities are unknown, and nobody asks what a man believes in or fails to believe in, nor even what he has been, or who his father was. If he be a good citizen, the rest does not matter.” He goes on to say “the countries that have welcomed good citizens of whatever faith have lived and thrived, while those that have indulged in violent religious persecutions have failed signally to progress.”  Sounds a lot like Richard Florida’s observation that prosperous cities are tolerant places, welcoming creative young people from all walks of life.  It has always struck me when flaneuring our city centre how many churches there are; I had no idea there were 40.

Bensusan also tells readers Calgary is “not a winter city” as the warm Pacific Ocean winds called “Chinooks” moderate the temperature and keep the snow away. There are also many many references to the fact that Calgary gets over 300 days of sun, deemed I suspect very appealing to those living in Britain with its cool, damp and drab winters.  No mention is made that the temperature can get down to -30 degrees or that spring blizzards are very common.  But why let the facts get in the way of a good story!

Today Stephen Avenue is a pedestrian mall by day and a narrow one way street by night.  It is home to some of Calgary's tallest buildings and links the Financial District with the Cultural District.  It is one of North America's best restaurant rows.  

Stephen Avenue at night in the winter is a special place with lighting effects like this on the block with The Core shopping centre, Bankers Hall and TD Square complex and Devonian Gardens.  With over 200+ floors of offices and 200+ stores and restaurants it is one of the most dense mixed-use blocks in North America. 

 

Mansion Mania

Even in the early 20th century, Calgarians already loved their big homes.  One of the photographs shows 20th Ave SW in Mount Royal with a parade of large homes all sitting high above the road with a rock wall.  There is not a tree in sight.  It looks very much like a scene from a new estate community in today’s suburbs – think Aspen Woods or Riverstone.  As I have said before, don’t judge a community before the trees are taller than the houses.  It is amazing the effect larger trees can have on softening and enriching the streetscape over time.  

This is an image of the Lougheed House the first grand mansion built in Calgary and the beginning of the southwest quadrant as the preferred home to Calgary's rich and famous. 

Bushels to Barrels

From an economic development perspective, “bushels to the acre” was the benchmark of prosperity in early 20th century, similar to how barrels of oil serve as a key benchmark today. The development of the Western Irrigation project was the “oil sands” of its time, with CPR being the corporate giant investing millions in the city with their new Natural Resources building on 9th Avenue and new locomotive repair shop in Ogden which was touted as going to employ 5,000 people. It is interesting to note that CPR eventually moved its headquarters to downtown Calgary in the ‘90s, with plans now to relocate it to soon to be complete building in at its Ogden yards.  

The grain elevators along the CPR tracks were to downtown Calgary 100 years ago as the office towers are today.  Calgary companies controlled practically all of the elevators in Alberta says Bensusan.  Indeed, Calgary was already well on its way to becoming a corporate headquarters city, citing it being ranked fifth in Canada as a commercial centre.

There is even reference to the fact the City purchased most of the land around the CPR railway to develop a manufacturing and industrial district.  This was the beginning of the City of Calgary being a land developer, a role which continues today. 

However, one thing has changed, in 1912, labour was well organized with 90% of Alberta’s workers being members of trade unions (today, only about 20% of Calgarians belong to a union).  Bensusan notes in Calgary labourers often start their own businesses and become employers, which in turn make demand for labour almost always exceed supply.  Sound familiar? Calgary, it appears, has been fostering entrepreneurs for over 100 years.

 

Pittsburg of Canada

Bensusan predicted Calgary would become the “Pittsburg of Canada” because of its abundance of natural gas, coal and electricity nearby and the strong network of 20 railway lines.  He envisaged the population west of the Great Lakes would equal that of Great Britain and Ireland someday, with Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver becoming the three greatest cities of the continent.  (Note: In 1911, Winnipeg’s population was 136,000, Vancouver’s 121,000 and Calgary’s 44,000.)

He points out Calgary enjoys three postal deliveries a day, has 5,000 telephone subscribers who have unlimited calls for $30/yr  – something even London the capital of the British Empire, cannot compete with.  Calgary was also said to have 50 miles of street railway track accommodating 8,838,057 passengers per year and making a $100,000 profit (this is not a typo).  He goes on to say the expectation is that, in time, “public services will cover civic expenses and that a general tax levy will become a thing of the past.” We wish!

The early 20th century was a time when the British Empire was still strong and many young men left to seek their fortune in one of the many countries controlled by Britain.  Bensusan notes that, in the case of Calgary, “people move there to make money and establish homes, not abandon it “as they do in South Africa where new immigrants make what they can and get out.”

In many ways, that remains true today.  Young people flock to Calgary from across Canada and around the world, often thinking they will take advantage of the career opportunities the city presents and then return home or move on.  However, more often than not, newcomers stay, raise a family and retire here.  Bensusan observes,  “Calgary’s charm must be felt to be appreciated, and once felt, you become a Calgary enthusiast like those who live there.” So true!

Already in 1912 Calgary is referred to as a business centre, industrial centre, agricultural centre, sporting centre and rapidly becoming an educational centre.  Plans were already in place for the establishment of a university with a McGill College affiliation.  

While this photo is older it captures the tremendous growth of Calgary as one of North America's economic engines with one of the greatest concentrations of corporate headquarters in the world.  It also captures the city's beauty, its parks, trees and beautiful blue sky.  Calgary has come a long way from a being bald-ass prairie land. 

This photo juxtapositions the old and the new. The downtown Hudson Bay store was the icon of Calgary's position as a major commercial center in the early 20th century.  The Scotia Tower represents the late 20th and early 21st century economic engine that includes banking, oil & gas and other office tower based businesses.