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.

 

The Bee's Knees Experience

By Richard White, December 15, 2013

Spent last Wednesday night at 'in lovely downtown De Winton, Alberta listening to local musicians jamming.  It was a true grass roots experience, no egos here?

Perhaps it is the prairie version of an east coast “Kitchen Party” - instead of everyone gathering in someone’s kitchen and playing tunes, people gather at the neighbourhood café or bar and take turns playing for others.

Everyone is invited to participate at the Bees Knees Experience and stay as long as you want.  The lead cycles to whomever wants to play a song.  There is no sound system, no mics and no electric guitars - everything is unplugged.

A blast from the past

One can certainly picture nights and afternoons like this in kitchens of Canada's Maritime provinces or porches in the Mississippi Delta. Musicians playing for the pure enjoyment of it...any skill level is welcomed to join in.  The song selection is all encompassing - country, blues, rock or island music - anything goes. 

You don’t read about these jams in the newspapers or the magazines…they aren't all over social media….yet it is vital to creating a vibrant music scene.

Too often we think of culture as something that only happens downtown… in formal cultural spaces…but in reality much of it is happens in the churches, schools, cafes and bars in the ‘burbs. 

The big city jams are more orchestrate with a full stage and sound system. The performances are more polished as often the musicians have played together for years. Also, there is a formula, you get your three or four songs before its time for the next musicians.  There is lots of fun, often accompanied by dancing and a good bar room buzz.  

A "music city" needs both grass root and professional jams. 

 Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Paul's trombone adds a unique sound to the Bees Knees experience. 

It doesn't take long before Merv (Smilie) joins in. 

The Bees Knees Experience

When a buddy suggested we check out the Wednesday jam at Bees Knees Café just off Highway 2 in De Winton I was skeptical, but the “flaneur” in me said “Why Not!”   Back story – for past 20 months three buddies (two play guitars, one gets beer i.e. me) had been getting together to jam in their respective houses and regularly attending jams at Mikey’s, Blues Can and other pubs. 

It was time for a pre-Christmas house jam at GG’s who happen to live in the De Winton area, so why not kick it up a notch by combining our jam and dinner with the Bees Knees jam. 

As we arrived the “OPEN” sign was flashing, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside and there were few cars around.  But, as we got closer we could see one guitar player…opening the door, we were surprise to find four guitar players and a trombone player jamm’n away.  What was missing was the audience?  Was this a private jam? 

We were quickly welcomed to sit and listen or join in - there was even an extra guitar if we wanted to use it.  We sat back enjoyed the music and our bottle of wine for a few songs. The trombone added a nice rich element to the jam that was unique. 

Jay takes the lead on this one...

Smilie loves to let others take the lead. He is life long learner! Take it away Ron and Ron.

GG finally joins in....he loves to pick...

Angry River

Soon Merv couldn’t resist the temptation! He grabbed the extra guitar and joined in. He was quickly assimilated into the group…singing and playing as if he was a BFF.  He was even encourage to play his “Angry River” song he had written about the flood – his first attempt at song writing.  Later GG joined in…the first time he has played in public!!!

As we left we found out the group wasn’t locals from the De Winton area but from Ogden to Okotoks.  Turns out the owner of Bees Knees Café lets them and anyone else who wants to join in use the space to jam Wednesday nights – 6 to 9 pm. There is even a small stage for more formal music events.

Explosion

It is just me or does it seem there has been an explosion of live music events in Calgary over the past few years.  Seems like every café and neighbourhood pub has some live music one or two nights a week.

Jay's guitar string art...

Tina's artifacts or Bees Knees Still Life

Last Word:

If Calgary is going to evolve into a vibrant music city, the development of places like Bees Knees Café is just as important as the multi-million dollar projects like National Music Centre and cSPACE.  

I encourage all of us to get out and support the local jams, open mic nights and other performances.   

I you like this blog you might like:

Cowtown's Budding Music Scene 

Are we too downtowncentric?

Cafe: Montreal vs Calgary 

Calgary North America's new "music city."

The Bees Knees Experience

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

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. 

Free Trip To New York City (well almost)

By Richard White, September 14, 2013

This week I got a free trip to NYC (well, almost) via the September 8th edition of the New York Sunday Times.  I am not a regular reader, but one of the bonuses of dog and house sitting this week is the home delivery of the NYT Sunday edition.   There was an extra dividend this week as it was the Arts & Leisure’s “The New Season” edition with three full sections featuring all the arts activities happening this fall in the Big Apple.  For me, it was a reminder of the incredible depth of NYC’s cultural scene.

It was also a trip down memory lane and my three trips so far to NYC. Once in the ‘80s as an emerging visual artist (to study the graffiti and street art), once in the ‘90s as a contemporary art gallery curator (to study the gallery/museum scene) and once in the ‘00s as a downtown manager (to research urban vitality initiatives). Seems like I am due for another visit soon.

 

Swann Galleries' full page ad immediately captured my eye.   I am a sucker for lush passionate colours. Sorry the pics don't do justice to the actual ads. 

Bigger is better!

Perusing the pages of NYT’s “The New Season” was like flaneuring the streets of the city - new surprises with every turn of the page.  In the “Art, Pop Music, TV & Video Game” section, my memory cells were excited by the Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926 to 1938 exhibition at MoMA.  My mind recalled the images I had seen in numerous exhibition visits. Turn the page and there was Braque and Burtynsky causing more memory cells to fire. 

My imagination was captured on the next page with the word “The Power of Poison,” an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History.  This was followed by image of a Leger from an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a reminder me of another trip. 

The Swann Auction Galleries’ full-page colour ad for its fall auction scheduled featured as wonderful Alfred Maurer “Fauve Nude” image suitable for framing.  Flaneuring a few more pages, I came upon a wonderful full-page colourful Chagall image, for The Jewish Museum’s “Love, War, and Exile” exhibition. 

Who needs a gallery gift shop when you have the full-page colour ads in the NYT? The section was full of fun factoids too – who knew that Grand Rapids, Michigan was hosting ARTPRIZE this fall with $560,000 in total prize money? 

The Movie section featured “20 to Watch” which, as you would expect highlights 20 young filmmakers from around the world.  As I don’t even go to 20 movies a year, this could easily be a DIY Film Festival for someone like me.  There is at least a week’s worth of reading in this section alone.

 

This is the image from the full page ad for the Chagall exhibition at the Jewish Museum. With a bit of flattening this would make a great poster, the colours were as rich as those of his artwork. 

 

WFG

The “Theatre, Dance, Classical” section quickly sparked memories of an off off Broadway production of Samuel Beckett’s “No Exit” that will forever be etched in my memory as one of my top ten lifetime cultural experiences.  It is not surprising that my attention was quickly captured by the double bill - “No Man’s Land” (Harold Pinter) and Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot” - that you could see on the same day at the same theatre both produced in the historic Cort Theatre by Sean Mathias.

The existentialist in me was also intrigued by how Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” would be interpreted as a modern dance piece.  The old memory cells were working overtime now remembering my front row seat at Lincoln Centre watching Baryshnikov leaping in his prime (I have never gone to a ballet performance again, as that was truly the quintessential ballet experience for my lifetime). 

 

Image for The Metamorphosis ballet by the Royal Ballet reminded my of one of my yoga classes.  Seriously this capture my imagination immediately as I flaneured the paper. 

The city never sleeps…

I remember reading somewhere that there are 60,000 professional dancers living and working in Manhattan; for most cities this number would be their entire downtown working population.  No wonder NYC is “the city that never sleeps.” I expect 250,000 or more people who work every night in the entertainment industry have a work day which ends at 10 or 11 pm, meaning happy hour is at midnight, dinner is at 1 am and heading home happens in the early morning hours just as the bankers and brokers are heading into work.   Another factoid tells me there is a  “New Trumpet Music” festival. Who knew?

For me reading the NYT’s Sunday edition is like a free (well almost, it cost about $5/wk for the Sunday Times subscription) trip to NYC.

 

I have never been to the Armory Show.  Maybe I will have to plan my next trip to NYC around this exhibition.  But I know any time is a good time to visit NYC.  

Everyday Tourist Transit Tales

One of the first things we recommend - and do - when visiting a new city is purchase a multi-day public transit pass (not the one day “hop-on hop-off” sight-seeing bus passes) so we can hop on transit anytime and anywhere we want. We have been known to see an interesting café, thrift store, mural or gallery and quickly pull the cord, get off at the next stop and check it out. While on the bus, we sometimes sit apart so we can each take one side of the street to keep our eyes peeled for something of interest. We rarely rent a car because you miss too many great “street surprises.” 

The one exception was Anchorage, Alaska.  After much research and checking with friends whose house we were looking after it was determined city exploring by transit just wasn’t viable. And we were correct.

Perhaps our biggest public transit challenge was exploring Las Vegas.  We were told we couldn’t/shouldn’t do it.  But, we were bound and determined to use the RTC (Region Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada) even though we were staying on the “tourist trap” strip.  We researched the transit system and found they had a four-day transit pass for $15 – perfect!  However, upon arriving, we found out that it was for locals only. A bit of a disappointment, but not giving up, we took a short walk off the strip to a local convenience store where we scored two, 4-day passes.  While the service wasn’t very frequent, we were able to get to our off-the-beaten path destinations like the Neon Boneyard and various thrift stores.

We even found a nice collage artwork propped up against the garbage can at one bus stop in Vegas after visiting a nearby thrift store (looked like somebody only wanted the frame). We would have never have found it if not talking transit. FYI…we have an excellent collection of “unknown” artists’ artworks from thrift stores, church bazaars, flea markets and garage sales, proudly displayed in our “wall of thrift.”  

Lesson Leaned: Souvenirs sometimes come from unexpected places.

Las Vegas' Boneyard Museum is where all the  mid-century neon signs are stored.  Gradually they are being restored and place along major roads in the city.  It is a wonderful place to explore, a photographers paradise. 

Tattoo Parlour in San Diego. We often find that tattoo parlours have some of the funkiest store fronts.  

One of the great things about using transit is the opportunity to interact with the locals.  Probably our most memorable “transit tale” was what happened in San Diego.  Again, we had four-day passes (a bit harder to get than we expected), but while waiting in line, we stuck up a conversation which resulted valuable information from locals, including catching the bus just outside the transit shop door, and go to a great night market in 30 minutes.

Even luckier for us, the bus we needed was out front when we stepped out of the transit shop. Two locals, on the bus not only told us what stop to get off at, but what specific vendors and shops we should check out, which proved to be very accurate.

Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask locals for tips on what to see and do. You will often learn things that aren’t in the tourist propaganda – a new café, where the good muffins for breakfast are or where the best happy hour is.

One of our funniest transit tales happened on the way home from the San Diego night market. At about 9 pm, we got on an empty bus which soon filled up with a cast of characters including four, lively teenage girls who were bouncing from seat to seat.  I asked them if they were playing “musical chairs.” They smiled and said nothing. At the next stop, I moved to another seat and they quickly did too. For about 10 stops, we did this, much to the amusement of the other transit riders.  At their final stop, they waved goodbye and we wished them a good evening.  Who knew riding the bus could be so entertaining!

On another transit trip, again in San Diego, we were sitting at the back of the bus when a young tattooed woman got on and sat across from us.  It was hard to keep our eyes off her, as not only was her face half tattooed, but the way she was dressed and her many piercings made her look as “tough as nails.”  As we got closer to our where I thought we needed to get off, I pulled out our map to check street names before our stop. After a few minutes, we heard a soft, shy voice say, “Can I help you?” To our amazement, it was the tattooed girl.  She was most helpful and as we got off the bus and said thanks, she smiled and wished us a “good evening.” 

Lesson learned: Don’t judge a person by their tattoos. 

But perhaps our most fun-filled transit tourist day ever was in San Francisco. We signed up for the Real San Francisco Tour by Chris Courtney (technically this was an organized tour which we rarely do, but this tour is so personal and “insider,” it is in a league of its own). This all-day trek takes you through 11 of the city’s coolest neighborhoods via cable cars, city buses, light-rail and subway transit. It includes stops at secret spots - fortune cookie-making bakery, OJ Simpson’s high school, back alley gardens and unique views of Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, painted ladies and the Golden Gate Bridge. The tour includes over five miles of walking, four separate uphill sections as well as six uphill and fifteen downhill flights of stairs. But it was totally worth it to get the “inside scoop” on SF’s past and the present.  We would never have found some of the places on our own, despite priding ourselves on “digging deep” with our online research.

Lesson Learned: If you do one thing in SF, take the “Real San Francisco Tour.” More info at: The Real SF Tour 

The Real SF Tour offers many unique and quirky experiences including this behind-the-scene tour of a fortune cookie bakery. There is no way we could have found this on our own.  

Hopping on the street car to start the real SF tour.  Who knew transit could be so much fun...every city should have a street car/trolley route. 

One of the many interesting vistas along the Real SF tour - that is Alcatraz in the distance. 

Then there was the “early morning massage on the crowded Vancouver bus” story. Minding our own business, with me sitting directly Brenda, I jokingly started to give her a shoulder neck rub. Just then a very tiny older Asian woman told me I was doing it wrong and proceeded to give me a hands-on lesson right then and there.  You just never know what is going to happen when you get on transit.

Lesson learned: Enjoy the journey as much as the destination. 

You never know what you might see when riding the bus in Vancouver.  I captured this image while the bus was waiting at the traffic lights along Commercial Drive.  At first was taken aback but then realized they were filming a movie. These are the kind of impromptu "street surprises" that we enjoy as transit tourists.  

As for one of our most epic bus trips, it was when in Guadalajara, Mexico when we got on the wrong bus and found out we were heading to Ajijic and Lake Chapala (can’t remember the town we were planning to visit). Once we realized we were on the wrong bus, we decided to just “go with it.” Turned out to be one of the best “treasure hunting” days of our lives.  Arriving in Ajijic, we found a wonderful resort town on the shore of the largest lake in Mexico at the same latitude as Hawaii.  It was full of expats from Canada and US who have wintered here since the mid-‘50s.  It is also famous for being the home of D.H. Lawrence   After wandering the downtown for a bit with its charming town square, we found a spot to have lunch and quickly started up a conversation with two snowbird couples at an adjacent table who drive down from southern Ontario every winter.  After lunch, we wandered further afield and stumbled upon Bazar Barbara’s a flea market/used-furniture emporium.  Brenda the scavenger she is, unearthed behind a pile of old frames a framed Mariam Shapiro 1961 drawing with a Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York City sticker on the back for $25. We knew we had a great find – and so began our “Wall of Thrift.” We also found an authentic Asian gong for 10 bucks, which we hauled home and now holds pride of place in our garden. It was a perfect day!

Lesson Learned: Don’t be afraid of getting on the wrong bus. It might just end up being the best decision you make that day.     

Bazar Barbara in Ajijic Mexico was a great place to explore and was probably the catalyst for us to begin our 'found" artwork collection. 

"Yesterday" by Miriam Shapiro a 13.5 by 15 inches pencil drawing was our big find at Bazar Barbara's.  It is a bit wrinkled but otherwise in great shape. 

The gong acquired at Bazar Barbara's in our garden.

Some of the artworks collected over the years have been collaged into a "wall of thrift."  

Advantages of taking public transit:

  • It is cheaper.
  • It is more fun.
  • You get to interact with locals who are often only too happy to give you insider information
  • You see more when someone else does the driving.
  • We enjoy the bus more than subway as you get to see things along the way.
  • It allows you rest a bit and most buses today are air conditioned so you can cool off a bit too.
  • You don’t have to search for a parking spot.

We’d love to hear your “transit tales.” We will add them to this blog.    

Calgary: History Capital of Canada

Calgary is the history capital of Canada.  I know you think I am crazy, but read on and you may change your mind. Or maybe at least think of me as a little less crazy than you thought at first. And, hopefully, you with think of Calgary in an entirely new light!

Sure, Winnipeg has the impressive new Human Rights Museum and the historic Exchange District. Toronto has the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario with their history collections. And yes, Ottawa has the National Gallery, Museum of Civilization and War Museum.  Montreal has its Old Town and Vancouver Gastown. However, I think after you read my top 10 reasons for saying Calgary is the history capital of Canada you will have a different perspective on Calgary! 

#10  Harry The Historian  

Did you know that Calgary has its own official Historian Laureate in 2012 - Harry M. Sanders? Sanders is a wealth of knowledge tweeting some historical fact about the city's past everyday to followers and giving talks and tours.  A story I love is about a quiet street in Calgary's south downtown Beltline community with an unassuming Tudor Revival house that today is the Laurier Lounge.  Built in 1908, the house was the birthplace of George Stanley, designer of the Canadian Flag.  He would also tell you that Sir Wilfred Laurier was the Prime Minister who, in 1905, oversaw Alberta's entry into Confederation as a province.  Oh, and he might even tell you the poutine at the Laurier Lounge is tasty. 

#9  Atlantic Avenue: The Original Main Street

Did you know that Calgary has two historic “main” streets? The original Main Street is on the east side of the Elbow River. Still intact with its many two story brick turn-of-the-century buildings it is now called 9th Avenue SE (formerly Atlantic Avenue, it was the main street for a struggling frontier town). There are still two old barns standing on two different side streets. Today, this Inglewood community street is one of the coolest BoBo (bohemian / bourgeois) streets in Canada with a great mix of retail, restaurants, pubs and music venues.  Atlantic Avenue was a pilot project for Heritage Canada's Urban Historic Area Demonstration project and also a signature project for the Alberta Main Street Programme. These programs helped fund the refurbishment of the heritage buildings in the ‘90s. 

#8  Stephen Avenue: The Current Main Street 

Calgary's other “main street” is Stephen Avenue Walk (or 8th Avenue Pedestrian Mall).  It links Calgary's Cultural District to its Financial and Shopping Districts.  The three blocks from Centre Street to 2nd Street SW have been recognized by the Federal government as a National Historic District for the number and quality of preserved turn-of-the-century buildings.  The street is named after Lord Mount Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  At one time, all of the downtown streets and avenues had names of CPR railway executives and its real estate subsidiary, the Canada Northwest Land Company, which subdivided the Calgary townsite in 1884.

#7  Royal Canadian Pacific Vintage Trains

Speaking of trains (and so we should given they are integral to the city’s history), bet you didn't know that Calgary is home to one of the world's best collection of vintage train cars (1916 to 1931).  And yes, you can even book a tour through the Rocky Mountain on The Royal Canadian Pacific train pulled by first generation diesel locomotives.  Not only do you get to enjoy the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, but you might be sitting in the seat as Princess Elizabeth who road one of the vintage cars shortly before her coronation, or maybe the same seat of Sir Winston Churchill. These vintage rail cars ooze history.  The vintage train cars are housed in a special shed located right downtown, along with the CPR Pavilion, which is a 12-meter high glass rotunda with marble floors attached to the historic Fairmont Palliser Hotel for special events. 

#6  Fort Calgary

On the eastern edge of downtown is Fort Calgary, originally built in 1875 by the North West Mounted Police and originally named Fort Brisebois, but quickly changed to Fort Calgary.   The original palisade and barracks building have been reconstructed to create exhibition areas, theatre and gift shop.   Plans for an ambitious expansion have been approved and fundraising is underway.

Just across the Elbow River from the Fort is the Deane House. Built in 1906 for the Superintendent of Fort Calgary, Captain Richard Dean, it has had several lives, including a boarding house, an art gallery and today a restaurant.  It too is a designated Registered Historic Resource.

#6  Sandstone City 

After the fire in 1886, Calgary turned to the local Paskapoo Sandstone, as the material of choice for its new buildings. As a result, Calgary has numerous outstanding sandstone buildings including Alberta's first library (the Memorial Park Library, in historic Memorial Park), numerous old schools including the 1884 Haultain School (currently home to the Parks Foundation Calgary) and 1908 McDougall School (the Southern Alberta Governments offices) and the elegant 1911 City Hall with its 70 foot central clock tower (still home to Mayor and Alderman).  

Interesting to note there is still one wood building that predates the fire. Built in 1885, originally known at the T.C. Power & Bros. Block, today it is best know as The Pain Block on Stephen Avenue. It gets it name from Pain Furriers who occupied the building from 1935 to 1965.  Who says Calgary doesn’t preserve its history?

#5  Canadian Sports Hall of Fame

Calgary houses many of Canada's most interesting sports artifacts at the new Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Gallery exhibits have cleverly been organized into the following categories: Ride Gallery, Motion Gallery, Contact Gallery, Bounce Gallery, Hockey Gallery, Glide Gallery, Blade Gallery, Olympic and Paralympic Gallery, Locker Room and Media Room. They’re also several interactive exhibitions: Be A Sports Journalist, Be A Broadcaster, Ask The Athlete and Hero Station. Since 1955 Canada's Sports Hall of Fame has been collecting sports memorabilia from all aspects of Canadian sports history including Terry Fox's iconic single running shoe. The collection currently stands at 95,000 artifacts and continues to grow.  

#4 Heritage Park 

Calgary is home to Canada's largest living history park-Heritage Park!  The Park encompasses 127 acres and includes four distinct areas: Western Canadian history (circa 1864), Pre-Railway Village (circa 1880), Railway Prairie Town (circa 1910) and Heritage Town Square (circa 1930) to 1950.  It also includes Gasoline Alley with is extensive collection of antique vehicles a 1950s service station and retro drive in movie theatre.  There is also not only a steam train ride from the parking lot to the entry gate, but once inside, you can take a ride on the S.S. Moyie paddle wheel boat on the Glenmore Reservoir.   

#3  National Music Centre 

The National Music Centre (NMC) boasts one of the world's largest collection of keyboard instruments, 400 in total.  Furhermore, NMC has over 2,000 artifacts including Elton John's songwriting piano (which he used to compose his first five albums) and the Rolling Stone's 1968 Mobile Studio, which has also been used by the likes of Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley.  The oldest artifact is a 1560 Virginal, a keyboard instrument that predates the piano.  The collection will soon be housed soon in the new iconic, purpose-built National Music Centre building currently under construction.    

#2  History Museums / Parks / Plazas

The Glenbow Museum, founded by Eric Harvie, a Calgary petroleum entrepreneur, is one of the largest museums in Canada.  In its possession are over one million artifacts and 28,000 works of art.  Its extensive collection includes historical artifacts and art from Western Canadian, as well as Asia, West Africa, South America and the various islands of the Pacific. 

Calgary is also home to the Military Museums of Calgary, the second largest war museum in the country.  Its four galleries showcase an extensive collection of material from all three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces (Navy, Army and Air Force) and an extensive library housed at the University of Calgary.

In addition, Calgary is home to the 100+ year old Memorial Park with its numerous monuments to different wars Canadians have fought in.  And, Calgary's Memorial Drive is also dedicated to Canada's military history with its Memorial Plaza, trees and monuments.

#1  The Calgary Stampede

Calgary is home to Canada's oldest agricultural fair, one that has evolved over the past 101 years into Canada's biggest Canadian cultural festival. The Stampede annually celebrates our First Nations culture, our agricultural culture, our music culture, our youth culture, as well as two unique prairie sports cultures - rodeo competition and chuckwagon races. 

The Stampede is not an imported myth from the U.S. frontier, but started as a tribute to the authentic ranching culture of Southern Alberta and continues to celebrate that culture today.  The Ranchmen's Club established in downtown Calgary in 1892 and still operating in its historic Renaissance Revival building is evidence of the City's long history as ranching agricultural centre.

Last Word 

YES, little old Cowtown, often cited as having no history and just a bunch of corporate cowboys, offers up a lot more local and Canadian history than you think.   Next time you are in town, stay awhile and enjoy our western hospitality.  

AND, if these “top ten” aren’t enough to convince you…how about a bonus reason!

#11 Honouring Its First Nations History Everyday

In Calgary, the names of most major roads are linked to celebrating our First Nations neighbours and their leaders, with names like Sarcee and Blackfoot recognizing nations and Deerfoot and Crowchild being leaders. In addition, these roads are not called highways or freeways, but Trails a further “nod” to our historical routes - Edmonton Trail follows the original trail from Calgary to Edmonton and Macleod Trail the route south to Fort Macleod.

Still not convinced? Need another factoid?

#12 Calgary Celebrates its Prairie Town Roots Everyday

In what other major city in Canada - maybe in the world - do cars stop and let pedestrians cross the roads at unmarked intersections mid-block.  Yes, in true prairie small town tradition, in Calgary if you stand at the edge of the sidewalk, cars stop and let you cross; just like they did when cars were first introduced and pedestrians had the right-of-way100 years ago.  

I stand by my claim: Calgary is the history capital of Canada.

Laurier Lounge which was  George Stanley's the designer of the Canadian Flag's home. 

Atlantic Avenue, Main Street Inglewood was Calgary's original Main Street before the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived.

Downtown Calgary's signature Hudson Bay department store on Stephen Avenue aka Main Street.  

Glass Rotundra that links historic Fairmont Palliser Hotel to vintage train shed in downtown Calgary.

Fort Calgary baracks building on the eastern edge of downtown Calgary. 

Sandstone City - Calgary's historic city hall is still home to the Mayor and Aldermen's offices. 

The Sports Hall of Fame located at Canada Olympic Park has an incredibly diverse collection of artifacts from hockey to rowing, from figure skating to lacrosse.  There are many hands-on activities and a captivating movies about Canada's sports history.  (photo courtesy of Canadian Sports Hall of Fame)

Heritage Park Canada's largest living history museum. (photo courtesy of Heritage Park)

The National Music Centre's oldest keyboard instrument a Virginal from 1560 - it predates the piano.  photo courtesy of the National Music Centre. 

Glenbow Museum one of North America's finest museums and the largest in Western Canada. 

Every Remembrance Day in Calgary along Memorial Drive. Other Remembrance Day ceremonies take place at Memorial Park and Military Museums.

The Indian Village has been an important part of Stampede since the very beginning. And, I am told that they like the name "Indian" village and don't want it changed to aboriginal or first nation. A new location for the village is in the works along the Elbow River as part of the new Stampede Park master plan for the 21st century. 

Aerial photo of the Calgary Stampede with all of its colour and pageantry. Truly one of the greatest festivals in the world appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds. (photo courtesy of the Calgary Stampede).

Memorial / Central Park early 20th century postcard.  Park has been updated but still looks very much like this today.

First Baptist Church at corner of 13th Ave and 4th Street. 13th Ave is wonderful Heritage Trail with Calgary's first school, Alberta's first library, Lougheed House and Gardens and Ranchmen's Club all from the late 19th early 20th centuries. The area is rich with history. 

Killarney is hot and getting hotter....

Calgary’s southwest community of Killarney is home to not one, but two “HOT” yoga studios – Calgary Hot Yoga (one of the first hot yoga studios in Calgary) and Hot Yoga on 17th. 

Or, if your Buddha belly is looking for some sustenance and a bit more of a European flair you can walk to Cassia Bistro.   To quote John Gilchrist, Calgary’s esteemed food guru, "Restaurateurs Gilles and Andrea Brassart and Dominique Moussu have created a bistro in the new Casel Marche that is as French as anything I’ve tasted on this side of the Atlantic. It’s lively, loud, casual and rocks with an engaging blend of French technique and Canadian ingredients."  Cassis Bistro, Casel Marche and J. Webb Wine Merchants all located on the corner of 17th Avenue and 24th Street SW have together created Calgary’s best French Corners.  I believe this is foreshadowing of good things to come as the area evolves into a more diverse walkable urban village. 

This development just adds to Killarney cornucopia of restaurants including Spiros Pizza, Little Lebanon, Bow Bulgogi House (Korean) and Creteus (Greek). The urbanity doesn’t stop with restaurants either.  Killarney is home to Heritage Bakery (think perogies), Mountain Bike City and Beat It Music (look for the drum set on the sidewalk).  For true urban trekkers there is what we refer to as the BMM (Bibles for Mission Mall) on 26th Avenue at 33rd Street that is home not only to one of Calgary’s best thrift stores (my favourite place to shop for used books), but also to Café Francesco for a taste of Italy. Killarney’s other independent café is Coffee Cats Café on 17th Ave.  On Killarney’s south side is the Richmond Shopping Centre (29th Street and 31st Avenue) with its eclectic collection of shops - CURVES fitness centre, Highlander Wine & Spirits, an old fashion Shoe Repair shop, a great Vietnamese Sub shop, a Women In Need thrift store and Western Canadian Canine Academy. 

J. Webb Wine Merchants was one of the first privately owned wine and spirit stores in Alberta.  It anchors Killarney's French Corner along with Caissa Bistro and Casel Marche.  Look for more retail boutique developments like this in the future. 

Heritage Deli & Bakery is another example of the diversity of shops in the Killarney area.  All good urban villages have a signature deli and bakery. 

Killarney is one of Calgary’s thriving “infill” communities, i.e. what planners like to call an established or inner city community because it is older than 50 years and close to the Downtown. Like most of Calgary’s inner city communities, it is experiencing a lot of “ infilling,” a sign of a healthy community as it means the next generation of Calgarians find it very desirable and so they move in and invest heavily in upgrading the housing stock.  The 1200 square feet bungalows from the ‘50s are quickly becoming 2,000 square feet side-by-sides (they use to be called duplexes) or 2,500 square foot mini-mansions.   Land is also being assembled for low-rise condos that make great homes for Yuppies or Ruppies (retired urban professionals).  Look in the future for more mid-rise condos (10+ story) at key sites destined to add another dimension to the community.  With more people and more affluence will come more amenities including cafes, restaurants, pubs and boutiques.

With a walkscore of 61, Killarney is Calgary’s 56th most walkable community. I expect the walkscore is lower than it should be, in part because the scoring system undervalues some of the great recreational amenities in the area.  For example, Killarnians can walk to the Shaganappi Golf Course and Driving Range and the Killarney Pool/Recreation Centre.  (Hot Tip: the recreation centre has a great deal on drop-in passes that allow you to do everything from yoga to dance, from martial arts to access to the state-of-the-art weight room, for less than $10/visit).  

Community gardens are the new playground, where people of all ages come and play in the dirt, have fun and meet their neighbours. 

Speaking of playgrounds, Killarney has them seemingly on every second block.  

Killarney Pool has everything you need to keep fit so you can walk, run or cycle to work. 

Killarney is also home to two elementary schools, a good thing as 44% of community’s residents are between the ages of 25 and 44 and you know what that means. Parks and playgrounds around almost every corner make this a family-friendly community.  There is also an athletic park south of 33rd Avenue at 25th Street, with ball diamonds, tennis courts and a great toboggan hill. 

From Killarney you can walk, run or bike to the Bow River where you have access to Lowery Gardens (named after John Lowery who once had a market garden in the City’s earliest days) and the Douglas Fir Trail, the most easterly place in North America where the majestic Douglas Fir tree grow. 

Killarneians also have easy access to five major employment centers - Downtown, Mount Royal University, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and SAIT.  You can easily bike and/or drive to all of these in less than 15 minutes.

Killarney is only going to get hotter now with the LRT’s West Leg up and running. And just wait until the new urban village gets underway at Westbrook Station (new library, new retail and new high-rise condos and offices).  The entire Westbrook Mall will eventually become part of the TOD (Transit Oriented Development) hub.  When that happens, Killarney will be hotter than Adam Scott’s putter at the Masters!  

New Westbrook Station is evidence that urban living is coming to the Killarney area.  

Urban living is about having quirky shops around the corner like the Beat It drum music shop.  

The independent corner cafe like Coffee Cats Cafe is part of the charm of urban living in Killarney.

Every urban village needs its own art studio. 

Killarney even has its own signature gateway red pedestrian bridge across the Bow (Bow Trail, not River). And it is actually in Shaganappi not Killarney but it is the gateway to the Bow River for Kilarnenians. Architect unknown.

Killarney even has it own unofficial mural program on the side of its own comic bookstore - Bazinga! 

Comics, Action Figures and Records it does't get any better than that.

And of course every good community must have a few neighbourhood pubs....

The Little Blues Joints on the Prairies

By Richard White, April 3, 2013

NOTE: MEMPHIS BLUES FUNDRAISER: Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, The Blues Can, noon till 5pm

TICKETS: $10 in advance at www.calgarybluesfest.com/store or $15 at the door

Double Header with TIM WILLIAMS and the MIKE CLARK BAND

CBMA congratulates Tim Williams and the Mike Clark Band, the top acts selected in the Solo/Duo and Band categories respectively, who will represent Southern Alberta at the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, Tennessee, Jan. 21 - 25, 2014.

YYC: Music City?

Quietly Calgary has been fostering the development of a diverse music scene from Saturday afternoon blues jams to international piano competitions.  It may not be the biggest or the best, but it is evolving into a very vibrant community.  So if you are looking for a music city to visit - Calgary is singing and playing! 

Perhaps it started way back in 1917 with the what is now the Kiwanis Music Festival, one of the largest amateur competitive classical music festivals in North America - 9.500 musicians ages 5 to 25 compete in 16 categories. This festival is held in March each year. 

Maybe the genesis was the 102 year old Mount Royal Conservatory which has evolved into one of the most respected music schools in Canada and internationally.  It will soon be home to the new Bella Concert Hall on the campus of Mt. Royal University.  

Piano Competition

The Honen's International Piano Competition has placed Calgary on the map for young emerging concert pianists from around the world wanting to launch their career.

But for me, it is the indie music venues and festivals that make living in Calgary a fun place to live and visit. Best bets this summer are Sled Island, June 19 to 22, 2013 and Calgary Folk Festival July 25 to 28, 2013.  

However, you can visit Calgary anytime as there is indie music happening in various venues everyday of the week. Read on to learn more.

 

 

 

It all started with the King Eddy an old hotel on the east end of the Downtown where blues singers travelling the circuit would stay and play.  It soon became the home of the blues in Calgary.  More recently it has fallen on hard times, but it will be rescued as part of the creation of the new National Music Centre. 

This is a rendering of the new National Music Centre currently under construction. It will be home to a renovated King Eddy as a performance venue, a museum that will house the second largest collection of keyboard instruments in the world, including Elton John's first piano. Recently, Gotye was artist in residence at the existing space experimenting with the different instruments. 

Calgary is home to several saturday afternoon jams - Blues Can, Ironwood and Mikey's Juke Joint are along the railway tracks in the City Centre. ote the jammers in this scene are two teenagers, brother and sister.  Calgary's music scene includes people of all ages and backgrounds which argues for a healthy future. 

One of Calgary's iconic music venues is the Ship & Anchor on the Red Mile on the southern edge of the City Centre.  It is home to a variety of genres of music. Recently it hosted a Stompin' Tom Connors tribute jam hosted by Tim Hus. 

olita's is an intimate room that has emerging singer songwriters every Sunday night.  Here Amy Thiessen plays with Russell Broom. It is also home to a very popular show Carly's Angels drag show. 

Sled Island is Calgary's answer to SXSW with over 250 bands at 30 venues, with comedy, film and art shows added to the mix.  Here is Calgary mayor Nenshi ( huge cultural champion) on the right introducing one of the acts.  Sled Island was started by Zak Pashak, then owner of music venue Broken City. One of his goals was to create an urban festival using multiple venues that would showcase Calgary's growing cultural programming. 

Tim Williams (background) has a regular Tuesday Blues gig at Mikey's Juke Joint.  He is a great storyteller as well as bluesman.  Here he is playing with Big  Dave Maclean who is in town from Winnipeg.  

Perhaps Calgary should brand itself as the "Little Blues Joint on the Prairies." 

venue, Calgary's leading lifestyle magazine recently identified Calgary's top 8 music venues as - Wine-Ohs, Broken City, Dicken's Pub, HiFi Club, Ironwood Stage & Grill, Mikey's Juke Joint & Eatery, The Palomino and The RePublik. 

Perhaps, I should let Tim have the last word on why Calgary is emerging as a new urban playground for musicians in North America.  Recently in an interview by Mike Bell, Calgary Herald music writer about his new CD launch and the Calgary music scene Tim said:

"despite the ebbs and flows over the years, the city is one that now has a pretty great infrastructure - including studios, venues and even labels....it's a pretty great place for even the blues to make a home."  

If you like this blog you might like these blogs:

Calgary: North America's newest music city

 

Tim Williams: Calgary's Adopted Bluesman

Beltline: North American's best hipster/GABEster Community

inks to websites listed in this blog:

Blues Can / Ironwood / Mikey's Juke Joint / WineOh's / Ship & Anchor