Iconic Canadian art hidden in YYC office lobby!

By Richard White, December 28, 2013

It always amazes me what you can find in downtown Calgary if you just explore a little bit - get off the beaten path.  A few weeks back I shared with you some artworks that I found in the lobby and hallways at Bow Valley College.  The place is a friggn public art gallery with art everywhere. Learn more at: Flaneuring Bow Valley College 

Another day I was flaneuring the east end of Stephen Avenue and while not off the beaten path there was the one of downtown's more successful public artworks - the larger than live famous five ladies.  Learn more at Famous 5 at Olympic Plaza

Today I had an appointment at Eight Avenue Place (EAP) and discovered paintings by Jack, Jack, Ray, Jean, Jean-Paul and Marcelle - all members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.  It is not everyday you find in an office lobby with museum quality artworks. 

But then downtown Calgary is not your average downtown, with over 40 million square feet of office space, it is one of the top 10 downtowns for corporate headquarters in North America.  Every new office building has wonderful art in the lobby and on the plaza making the downtown a 40-block contemporary art gallery.  Learn More: "Downtown Calgary giant outdoor art gallery"

Someday someone is going to create an app that will be a self guided tour of YYC's Downtown Art gallery. 

Iconic Canadian Artists

In the meantime, EAP has created a brochure for six masterpiece contemporary artworks by iconic Canadian artists:

  • Jack Shadbolt
  • Ray Mead
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle
  • Jack Bush
  • Jean McEwen
  • Marcelle Ferron

While I have been critical of Calgary's downtown in the past for being too corporate, too conservative and too minimal in its urban design, EAP and others have certainly contributed to making our downtown more visually interesting with literally hundreds of artworks.  

EAP's Lobby Art & Design....

As you enter from Stephen Avenue you are immediately welcomed by Jack Shadbolt's, "Wild Grass Suite - Quintet" (1979).  I love the fact that you can grab a coffee next door and sit and enjoy the art.  

In this close-up of one of the panels you can see that the image looks as if was inspired by the Alberta prairie grasslands where they meet the foothills.  The piece has a wonderful sense of playfulness and certainly adds lots of warmth and colour to an other wise stark lobby.

The next piece you encounter is Ray Mead's "Totem" (1986) which hangs above the concierge desk. Again it adds lots of colour and have an aboriginal quality to them in the simple mark-making and flattened stylized images.  The title also suggest an affinity with First Nations sense of place. 

Tucked away in one of the three elevator lobbies is this unusual Jack Bush painting "New York 55" (1955).  Unusual in that most of us associate Bush with bright primary colours, yet this piece is mostly blacks, browns and pinks. The piece definitely conveys New York's sense of place as the world's leading skyscraper city with its collage of vertical blocks, interspersed with smaller marks for windows and swirls for window reflections. This is probably the most literal Bush piece I have ever seen and certainly is museum quality. 

Definitely a good choice for EAP as it is one of Canada's best skyscrapers.  Did you know that Downtown Calgary is built at the same density as Manhattan or Chicago? 

Any public art gallery in Canada would love to have this piece titled "Oliviers" by Jean-Paul Riopelle in their collection.  I wonder if the EAP tenants who pass by it everyday even realize that they get to enjoy a painting by one of Canada's iconic artists everyday.  While other office buildings in North America have modern art in their lobby; there are very few that have iconic works of art. 

Jean McEwan's "Le Climat Rouge" (1957) invites contemplation, I want to grab the bench that is underneath the painting and move it to the middle of the elevator lobby and just sit and study it.  

It is obvious that the six artworks have been carefully selected to complement each other with a focus on use of colour, brush and mark-making and abstracting from nature. 

Marcelle Ferron's "Chile" (1973) combines elements of Shadbolt, Mead, Riopelle, Bush and McEwan in her work.  

Signature Furniture 

EAP lobby also includes modern office furniture by Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll.  The huge south facing two story atrium or winter garden would make a wonderful sculpture garden. While there are plans for a major piece of public art, it is most likely to go outside on 9th Avenue.  

Currently the lobby features numerous "ice bursts" suspended from the ceiling that add an element of surprise and elegance to the minimalism of the lobby design. 

The lobby offers dramatic views of Calgary southern sky.  

The lobby has several inviting areas to sit and linger each authentic modern furniture.  And yes over the holidays they had the TVs turned to the Shaw's burning fireplace. 

EAP's has one of the most dramatic office lobbies in Canada, perhaps North America.  

These "ice bursts" were created by Stephen Stefanou of Venue Arts.  Each point of the bursts is individually created by slowly pushing a metal rod through the heated plastic-like material, so each is unique. There are several "bursts" hanging from the ceiling  in the central lobby as well as the lobbies of the two towers. Flood lights are used to slowly change the colour of the bursts adding yet another element of surprise. 

While under construction EAP had over 20 reproductions of artworks by senior Calgary artists covering the construction hoarding along the side of the road.  It was literally a who's who of Calgary art. I have never seen this done before. 

On the second floor (+15 level) SQCommons has been operating a "pop-up" contemporary gallery both in the public areas and in a 6,000+ square foot future retail space.  The space has also been used for several special events including Burst Calgary. 

The unique design for Eight Avenue Place was inspired by the Canadian Rockies with their jagged, angular, shard-like peaks. The building's facade reflects Calgary's abundant sunshine at several different angles during the day and seasons creating an ever-changing facade. 

Last Word

Eight Avenue Place was designed by Pickard Chilton an international architectural firm based in New Haven, Connecticut and Gibbs Gage Architects from Calgary.  It was the first pre-certified LEED Platinum high-rise building in North Americia.  The first tower is 49 floors and the second tower which will be completed and occupied in 2014 is 40floors.  Combined they provide 1,800,000 square feet of office space on 89 floors. 

Kudos to AIMCo, SITQ and Matco the co-owners of EAP for their innovative use of art (both locally and nationally) to differentiate themselves from other major office complexes.  I can't wait to see the outdoor sculpture piece they will commission.

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Downtown's Udderly Art Pasture

Flaneuring Bow Valley College

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Readers' comments:

RW writes: Great article. Most of us, myself included might notice these things but do not tie it all together because we are on a mission aka meeting/lunch/deadline.  The thought of having art all around us sure gives another dimension to our corporate downtown. Keep up the increased pace of writing...I find your “investigative” sleuthing makes me re-think and re-examine my urban environment.  I sometimes find myself in a situation re-examining a streetscape or a public space and wonder how Richard might interpret the situation as compared to how I am seeing it. A recent example occurred when I was describing Stampede Trail  and the activities/signage and buzz we hope to create with a new entertainment district and thought back to your signage article and how you might view our approach (I think you will get excited).

GB writes: When I was a young man, I worked for Manulife and we operated Calgary House at 550-6th Avenue. The lobby has a full wall bronze of "Pan and the Three Graces". In 1972 I had a plaque put up describing the piece, but I think it is gone now. The amount of great public art in Calgary is amazing, but much of it is seldome seen or identified. Good for you for bringing some of it to our attention.

JB writes:Thank you! Viewing this blog this morning brought a burst of warmth into my office! All that lovely color! This definitely warrants a trip downtown.

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.

 

Freakn Fun Funky Quirky (FFQ) Bike Racks

By Richard White, December 8, 2013 (revised May 3, 2014)

Saskatoon's everyday tourists, Leila and Charles Olfert. recently sent me six photos of FFQ (fun, funky, quirky) bike racks in Nashville that inspired this blog.  I am hoping other readers will send me more images of FFQ bike racks so I can create a fun gallery.

A little research uncovered that Nashville’s bike rack program is not focused on downtown (like most programs), but in the residential neighbourhoods. I was also shocked to learn the budget is $300,000 for 30 racks. That’s, on average $10,000 to design, construct and install the racks – seems a bit pricy to me.

I learned funding for Nashville artists’ bike racks comes from the "Percent for the Arts" program, an policy that says 1 percent of all net proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for construction projects must be spent on public art. That made we wonder if this is art or decoration? 

Iconic?

The vision for these bike racks is to “be an iconic program for Nashville.” I am not sure I would visit Nashville just to see 30 bike racks, but if I was going, they would be a fun thing to checkout.  The racks being dispersed around the city is a great idea on one level, but it limits the ability for a tourist to see them all.  However, a map of where all the bike racks are, with the best cycle route to see them and a bike rental program would make for a fun a fun Bike Trail.  This raises the question - what does iconic mean?

Do we use the word to loosely today? 

This quirky corn stalk bike rack on a quiet residential street are a good example of "urban surprise."  Credit: L. Olfert 

Now this is fun...note the air pump posts, I missed that at first glance. Credit: L. Olfert

Who would of thought of a sliced tomato as a bike rack.  Where exactly do you lock your bike up? Form vs Function? Credit: L. Olfert

A city is a city…

 A quick check in with Leila who informed me... 

The bike racks are indeed located all around the city -  a map and bike trail would have been really handy.  In fact, it would have been handy if the local people knew about the racks and where they were!  Probably because of their obscurity and uniqueness, Charles and I made it a mission to find all them!

Some of them were in pretty obscure places but it allowed us to explore parts of the city we would not have ordinarily gone to.  In some places, we had to go around the block several times before we figured out where the rack was!  It was a real treasure hunt.  We enjoyed each and every one of the bike racks.  

Some of them had us wondering just how we would lock our bike up to them though!  

 We have not seen anything like this in our travels and thought it was great!  A city is a city and has all the 'city things,' so when we find something peculiar to a city, we latch on to it and run with it.  Seeing the bike racks should definitely be on your must-see list. They are pretty cool!

Future Dividends?

As I continued to do my research I found out program favours younger artists, which is an interesting policy.  The easiest way to create an iconic art program would be hire a famous artist or architect to design them and get immediate recognition.

The idea of giving young artists an opportunity to have their work on permanent public display and to experience the public artwork design process provides an invaluable lesson that will pay dividends in the future. 

And, you might just find that you have a real gem if one of the artists becomes famous, and you would have one of his/her’s early works.  

You have to smile when you see this rack.This looks to me like something  This looks to me like something Claes Oldenburg might have done in the '60s as part of the "pop art" movement. Credit: L. Olfert

This one seems pretty tacky to me...very contrived. Credit: L. Olfert

Portlandia has FFQ bike racks too…

A little more digging and I found that Portland also has an FFQ Bike Program.  The Portland Mercury’s Blogtown did a fun piece on The 10 Craziest Bike Racks in Portland. 

Art / Decoration / Tacky?

When I look at the photos of these bike racks I smile and then I wonder. Are these more decoration than art? They are clever and fun, but I don’t see a personal statement in any of these racks.  To me, they are a quick, “look-see” experience, not something that makes me ponder.

Is this art or decoration or just tacky? Does it matter? Can’t help but wonder if $300,000 could buy one or two nice piece of more thought-provoking public art in higher traffic areas. but that's just me.

This is very appropriate for Nashville which I am told is home to about 20,000 aspiring singers and songwriters. Credit: L. Olfert 

Found this fun bike rake in Downtown Boise's Linen District this fall. I think it would fit well with Nashville's bike rack program. 

This is just one of 10 FFQ bike racks in Portlandia.  Love the title Cupcake.  Credit: Travel Portland 

How sweet is this? A covered bike rack at the Shaganappi Point LRT Station on Calgary's new West LRT line.Credit: David Peyto 

This set of dentures that also works as bike rack is located in Calgary's Beltline district outside a dentist's office.  Credit: David Peyto

Found these fun bike racks in front of a grocery store in downtown Salt Lake City. 

Love this custom bike rack in front of Bozeman's downtown library. 

Send us photos of your your favourite bike racks and we will add them to this blog.

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Tri-cities 

FFQing Udderly Art Pasture

Downtown Fun: Spokane 

Window Licking in Chicago

Moosomin's Motel 6 is full of surprises!

By Richard  White, November 30, 2013

A good road trip is one that is filled with surprises  - pleasant surprises!  Recently, we had such surprise when we checked into the Motel 6 in none other than Moosomin, Saskatchewan (population 2,500) on the TransCanada Highway. 

We arrived with no real expectations other than the online reviews were good and given we couldn’t find anything in Brandon and Virden didn’t seem much better, so I booked it online. The last thing you want on a winter road trip through the prairies in the “great white north” is to be stranded at -30 and discover there’s “no room at the inn.”

Immediately upon checking in we noticed something was different, very different. Marina, with her attractive northern European accent had a charming way about her  (elegant and refined, yet down to earth and authentic) that was immediately infectious. 

She was very professional in informing us about the various amenities including the workout room, guest laundry and the complementary 24/7 coffee/tea/hot chocolate bar.  

The Moosomin Motel 6 has a contemporary design that is a nice urban design surprise for a small prairie town. 

Saskatchewan is a magnet!

With our encouragement, she shared a bit of her personal story as if we were family, telling us about her adventure moving to Saskatchewan from the Ukraine with her husband and two kids.  She couldn’t hold-in how happy she was to live in Moosomin where “the sun shines most of the time, not like in the Ukraine” (although the day we arrived, it was cloudy, windy and freezing cold – the image most Canadians have of the prairies).

She also finds the “people are so friendly” not like in the Ukraine, where everyone wears a frown.   She also shared with us how business in Ukraine are so corrupt and people are oppressed. We don’t know how lucky we are.

When asked “why Saskatchewan?” she said because she liked Canada more than the other places around the world she had visited and Saskatchewan made it easy to immigrate.  She proceeded to tell us that the Motel 6 staff is like a mini United Nations with staff from Korea, Philippines, Honduras and of course, Ukraine.  Who knew Moosomin was a magnet for new immigrants?

She loved Moosomin’s schools for her two children and both she and husband Roman Chernykh had been hired by Motel 6 owner Josef Tesar, himself an immigrant, from Czechoslovakia.  

Roman Chernykh hotel General Manager and his wife Marina.  Gotta love a hotel manager who isn't wearing a suit and tie.  Their happiness and enthusiasm is shared by all the staff i.e. leading by example.

Orange

And the surprises didn’t stop at check-in. When we opened the door to our room arrived at our room we were nicely shocked to find a minimalist boutique hotel-like room (there is no art or photographs on the walls).

The floor looked like bamboo - we later found out it was made from recycled boxes.  The pallet was white and burnt orange walls, with orange and taupe bedspread. A corner workstation with banquet seat that was perfect for my laptop, complete with mini fridge built into the wall above (convenient for a beer). 

The bathroom was modern with a fun yellow, built-in towel holder that also served as a towel warmer and light.  The flush-to-the-wall TV had an easy hook-up for an Xbox.  This was certainly as nice as the any of the hotels we have stayed in recently in big urban centres!

The first thing we loved about our room was the comfortable workstation.  It was like having a cafe in our room.  The black box is the fridge.  The interior designers got this design right it was function, comfortable and looked great. Good use of space. 

Green Keys

When heading out for dinner, we ran into Roman, the General Manager.  Just as friendly, he shared more of the story of the hotel.  I quickly found out that it had won 3 green keys for being an environmentally-friendly construction including solar panels on the roof that resulted in heating bill of $50 in October for the 76-room hotel with 76 rooms. 

He was proud that they had sourced as much of the materials locally as they could, including 80 televisions from the local Moosomin electronic dealer.  (Back story – the storeowner was so shocked/excited by such a large order the order that he literally had a “heart attack” shortly afterwards and had to be taken by air ambulance to Regina).

He too loves the lifestyle that Moosomin offered him and his family (he also had travelled the world as a waiter on cruise ships).  This unassuming family could well be THE poster family for Saskatchewan economic development and tourism. 

The bathroom was also very contemporary with the yellow towel holder/warmer/light reflected in the mirror. 

No room at the motel

In the morning, when checking out, the front desk clerk greeted us with a bright smile, a “good morning” greeting and immediately directed us to the coffee and Tim Horton muffins.  She too couldn’t be happier living and working in Moosomin.  So much so, she willingly shared with us her story of immigrating from Korea with her husband and young child and has never looked back.

This is the view of the room as you enter. The lighting is great to read by, something many posh hotels don't have. The design is warm, inviting and contemporary. Love at first sight! 

Book Ahead!

So, if ever in the area, consider an overnight stay in Moosomin, SK at the Motel 6 – you won’t be disappointed.  But book ahead, word has gotten out about the hot property so sometimes “there is no room at the motel."

Reader's comments:

GM writes: Awesome tie!

DF writes: My girlfriend and I spent our summer vacation in Saskatchewan (Batoche between Saskatoon and Prince Albert, then south to the East block of Grasslands National Park, where we stayed in a tipi, then to a former convent in Val Marie in the West block). I’ve been to the Cypress Hills a couple of times, too. There’s much to be said for the prairies.

DB writes: read the article and saw the pics – charmingly modern for sure. Can see how you would have been surprised. Reminded me a little – at least interior design-wise, of a boutique hotel I stayed at in Frankfurt one time. Similar furniture and colour scheme. Piece had a Stuart McLean feel to it and that’s a compliment. Good to hear from new arrivals how good we have it here in Canada. Sometimes we just plain forget.

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This tie is made out of pheasant feathers and as a tie collector (over 500 ties) I have always coveted this one.  I first saw it in the Red Barn restaurant in Moosomin Saskatchewan 25 years ago.  

Recently the Trans Canada Highway was diverted around the city, and the Red Barn restaurant had to be rebuilt.  Today it is a popular spot with locals, bus tours and others.  When I asked about the tie, sure enough to my SURPRISE It hangs in a prominent place in the new lounge.  Maybe after a few drinks I will find a way to add it to my collection. 

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. 

FFQing in Downtown Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture!

By Richard White, November 21, 2013

Next time you are downtown and between meetings and looking for something fun to do head over to the Centennial Parkade along 9th Avenue from 6th to 5th Street and checkout the Udderly Art Legacy Pasture.  Or bring the family down on sunny but cold winter day and enjoy the warmth of the greenhouse-like pasture.  It is a great place to just let the little ones run. Weekend parking is just $2. 

Here you will not only find a dozen or so fun, funky, quirky cows basking in the sun, but also the history behind one of Canada's biggest and best public art projects.  There are several large didactic panels that tell the story of how the project came to being,  a well as background on some of the most famous bovine beauties. 

You will find some interesting factoids like:

  • Did you know that $1,234,896 was raised for 76 local charities?
  • Or, that each virgin cow was 54" tall head to hoof and 84" long from nose to tail and weighs 90 pounds.
  • How about the fact that 800,000 people visited the website from 36 different countries (that was before iPhones and iPads).  
  • You can learn more by visiting the pasture which is open 7-days a week and its Free.

Kid Friendly

Kids will love to have their picture taken with famous beauties like "Jingle Belle" (great christmas card opportunity), Cow Belle with a working Fisher Price musical instrument that kid's can actually play.  

This is the entrance to the pasture from 5th Street. As you can see it is a wide open space for kids to run in the sun. 

There are several huge information panels that explain the story behind some of the more popular bovine beauties. 

Moony Trader is one of the first cows you encounter. Damien Manchuk from ACAD was the artist, the piece was commissioned by Hugh McGillvary of CIBC Wood Gundy who had an idea to dress up a cow as a stock-trading pit trader.  Hugh took Damien to men's clothing store to see what well-dress cows were wearing in 2000 and let his imagination go to work.  The result was a pin-stripped hind quarters, a bright yellow striped power tie and the now antique looking computer strapped to his nose so he could keep up with the TSE quotes 24 hours a day. 

Chew-Choo was also done by artist Damien Manchuk and was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway. 

Another large information panel gives the history of the project and has a picture of each of the more that 100 cows commissioned for the project. 

The Udderly Art Pasture is a great place to meet friends or even have lunch together.  Too bad there weren't a few tables and chairs.  

Be careful to look closely as there are lots of subtle details that can be missed at first glance. 

One of my favourite pieces was Chewing the Cud by Evelyn Grant commissioned by the Calgary Downtown Association (yes I am bias as I was the Executive Director of the CDA at the time).  The piece was a wonderful bronze bovine schmoozing with the two "fat cats' on Stephen Avenue. Unfortunately the piece was often vandalized not only when it was on the street but even in the pasture.

 

Today all that is left is this photo of Chewing the Cud and The Conversation on Stephen Avenue but it is hard to view with the reflections.  

This is Clayton Kaplar's photograph of the Chewing the Cud on Stephen Avenue from the book "Udderly Art Colourful Cows for Calgary." 

FFQing is the act of finding fun, funky and quirky things as you flaneur the urban spaces and places! 

There are fun bits of humour everywhere you look.

Jingle Belle is a great kodak moment for any family.  

Cow Belle invites visitors to play a song or two. 

FFQing in Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland)

The first question we ask ourselves when doing travel research is "Does it have a fun, funky or quirky potential." Sometimes it is harded to tell and we have to take a chance, other times it is obvious and sometimes you just stumble upon "a find" by taking the sidewalk less travelled. 

A recent trip to Kennewick, Richland and Pasco Washington, otherwise known as the Tri-Cities had obvious FFQ places like Spudnuts and Cheese Louise (names are almost always a tip off if a place is going to be fun, funky or quirky). 

Other places like Tulip Lane sounded a bit hokey, but in chatting with locals and other tourist you begin to get an idea aht maybe it is more interesting than you think. 

We thought it would be fun to share with you a random selection of photos of the FFQing places we found during our fives days of flaneuring in the Tri-Cities.  

We found these green ladies in historic downtown Kennewick handing out green M&M as part of the First Thursay art walk event. We also found a couple of ducks! 

We did get to Spudnut Shop to sample their donuts (made from potato  flour) and the fun ambience, but the quirkiest thing was the coffee with a straw.  Not sure what that is all about? 

Wandering Richland's Uptown Mall where Spudnuts is located we discovered Desserts by Kelly the "Home of the Atomic Bombe" Cake.  We were told they see about 4 a day.  We reallly regreet not buying one. 

The store was definitely quirky - part bakery, part sports memorbilia. 

  Cheese Louise fun starting at the front door with an invitation I couldn't refuse. 

Cheese Louise fun starting at the front door with an invitation I couldn't refuse. 

 Probably one of the quirkiest places we have ever visited is the LIGO Handford Observatory outside of Richland.  I took lots of notes and I thought I kinda understood what they were doing but I am not even sure the boys on Big Bang Theory could totally comprehend the idea of measuring the existence of gravitatinal waves that was first postulated in 1916 as part of Einsteins theory of general relativity.  Even in my ignorance it was facinating.  If you'd like to try check out their  website.

Probably one of the quirkiest places we have ever visited is the LIGO Handford Observatory outside of Richland.  I took lots of notes and I thought I kinda understood what they were doing but I am not even sure the boys on Big Bang Theory could totally comprehend the idea of measuring the existence of gravitatinal waves that was first postulated in 1916 as part of Einsteins theory of general relativity.  Even in my ignorance it was facinating.  If you'd like to try check out their website.

Terra Blanca is the gateway to the Red Mountain AVA, offering spectacular views from their patio restaurant.  This is what happens with a Napa geologist discovers a special place, with special soils and a special climate in Washington.  A fun tour also includes opening the largest wooden doors we have ever seen! 

Tapteil Vineyard is almost at the end of the Red Mountain road but it is worth it for its sunny patio and sweeping views.  They also have two guest houses Spilya and Bella Luna for those who want to soak up the sun, tranquility and wine. 

Wandering along the river pathway we heard some music and wandered in that direction to find a saturday afternoon "sock hop" at Rosy's Ice Cream & Diner. Fun was being had by all.

Country Mercantile began as a humble roadside fruit stand. Today it is a roadside tourist attraction, part farmer's market, part candy store, part chocolatier and part bistro.  We were there in the Fall so it was part Fall Fair with rides, hay stack climbing walls, corn maze adn this hay bale maze.  Fun, Funky and Quirky all in one. 

Downtown Pasco is known for having one of the best the framers' market in Washington - sorry we missed it.  But we did find a downtown filled with dress shops like this one with quirky windows and fashions.  It is a photographer's paradise. 

The Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery was a great find.  We were there are on Sunday night and the place had a good buzz with locals hanging out and some playing games. No TVs showing Sunday night football. But they have lots of board games for you to play and lots of great beers with great names based on Richland's atomic culture. I liked it so much I bought the t-shirt! 

Saw this intriguing looking trailer with a white picket fence parked on the edge of parking lot and thought we have to investigate.  Sign said "Boomer on Wheels." see next photo

One of the fun finds was Tulip Lane right in the city of Kennewick.  It is home to not only serval winneries but DB Glass Studio which is attached to Barnard Griffin Winery.  It has to the most artsy winery in the region with live music and its own in house artist. Loved this FFQ glass clouds suspended from the ceiling in the wine tasting event room.  Glass classes are offered along with wine tastings - how fun it that! 

Bookwalter Winery on Tulip Lane was a fun find with its great JBistro. The menu is fun with dished divided into Preface, Prologue, The Epilogue and The Archives rather than appetizers, salads, entrees and dessert. Too  bad we couldn't take back more wine the 2006 Red Roan case special at $60 would have been a nice addition to our cellar. We are looking forward to being back for one of their Winemaker's 6 course dinners. More Info

Before we left we had to visit Spudnuts at least once more for a coffee and donut for the road.  They had our order waiting for us when we arrived. 

We'd love to hear about your FFQing places and experiences.  Leave a comment!

If you liked this blog you might like:

Flaneuring Richland's Uptown Plaza 

Flaneuring Pendleton Oregon 

Thrill of the Hunt in Portland 

Everyday Tourist Transit Tales 

Beltline: North America's best hipster/gabester community?

By Richard White / October 31, 2013 

This blog is from my White House column in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section. It was published on October 31, 203.

 Upon returning from a recent trip to Chicago and Portland, where I explored several urban villages including Wicker Park and Bucktown (Chicago) and Pearl District (Portland), considered two of the best hipster communities in the USA (Forbes, September 2012), I couldn’t help but reflect upon Calgary’s Beltline community. Shouldn’t it be on the list of best hipster communities in North America? I might even venture to say it may be THE best!

If you don't believe me, perhaps you will believe Josh Noel travel writer for Chicago Tribune who recently wrote: "Calgary pedal to the metal."
 

Beltline hipsters (GABEsters) hanging out on 17th Ave in March. 

New condos Portland's Pearl District are very similar to what you see in Calgary in massing and design.

Eight High Streets

For one thing, the Beltline has not just one, but eight pedestrian streets. First, Fourth, Eighth, Eleventh and Fourteenth Streets all have funky local shops, cafes, pubs, galleries and restaurants as do 11th 12th and 17th Avenues. 

And numerous ones are signature spots - O’Connors (First Street), Rose and Crown, REDS, Boxwood and Sony Store (4th Street), Bonterra, Trepanier Baer Gallery, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Modern Jelly Donut and Kawa Café (8th Street), Gallaxy Diner, Good Earth Café and Katmandu Grocery (11th Avenue) and Heritage Posters and Music and Boyd’s Lobster Shop (14th Street). 

Each of these streets has a very Jane Jacobs (1960s champion of urban street life) feel - lots of little shops, owned and operated by locals.

In addition, the Design district along 10th and 11th Avenues with Bo Concepts, Heavens Fitness, Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zones galleries, Metro Vino and Cookbook Company as its anchors.  

The district also is home to three grocery stores – Calgary Co-op, Safeway and Community Natural Foods (a magnet for hipsters). Lastly, Calgary’s premier urban street, 17th Avenue the Beltline’s southern boundary, is home to Calgary icons like Ship & Anchor pub, Brava Bistro, Café Beano, Rubaiyat and Reids Stationers. 

The Beltline includes five districts - Warehouse district, Victoria Park, Design District,  Gear District anchored by Mountain Equipment Co-op and 17th Ave. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue's "GABEster" corner is a popular place for Calgary's "young & restless" to hang out.  It is full of bistros, cafes, boutiques and new condos.  It is sometimes referred to as the RED Mile for the sea of red shirted sports fans that gather here for hockey celebrations.  It currently has be re-branded as RED which stands for Retail Entertainment District.  

Haultain Park in the Beltline is a busy place with a very active playground and sports field.  Old and new condos surround the park. 

 

Walk 2 Work 

There are very few urban villages in North America where you can walk to 160,000 jobs as easily (10 to 15 minutes) as you can from the Beltline. Separated from Calgary’s dense downtown office core by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main TransCanada tracks, Beltliners make the grungy trek through the underpasses to and from work.

While plans are in place to beautify the underpasses, part of the charm and history of the Beltline is the urban grit and patina that comes from decades of use.

The 8th Street underpass linking the beltline to the downtown core is a good example of the urban grit that is part of hip urban living. 

New Condos On Every Block

It seems like every block in the Beltline these days have a new condo being built. However, if you walk the streets, you find there is an amazing array of different types of housing – high, mid and low-rise condos, townhouses and single-family homes. 

Every street is a patchwork quilt of old and new, small and large residential structures of different designs and materials, combining to create a rich, residential visual impact. In addition, most of the avenues are lined with mature trees, creating a delightful canopy that is synonymous with quality residential communities in North America.

 One of the benchmarks of a good urban community is diversity of housing which in turn attracts a diversity of people of all ages and backgrounds.

The pool at Hotel Arts is a gathering place for GABEsters in the Beltline.  Does it get any hipper than this? 

The Ship & Anchor is the Beltline's signature hang-out for people of all ages and backgrounds

Density & Diversity 

Today the Beltline is home to 20,000 Calgarians, 40% of whom are between 25 and 34 years of age (more than twice the city average) and 60% have never been married.  Unquestionably, the Beltline is where Calgary’s young hip professions “live, work and play” (36% have a university degree or higher vs. 25% city-wide). 

At the same time, it is also home to two of Calgary’s major social services agencies (Mustard Seed and Alpha House) and a smattering of seniors’ residents. The net result is the Beltline has a wonderful mix of people of all ages and backgrounds who call it home - exactly what an urban village should be!

Just to the north of the Beltline is Calgary's downtown core with over 40 million square feet of office space. It has one of the highest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America. It is where the GABEsters work. The building in the foreground is the MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) which anhcors the Gear District as there are several sporting goods and bike shops in the area. 

History

The Beltline is one of Calgary’s newest communities formed in 2003, when the Connaught (west of 4th Street) first established in 1905 merged with the Victoria Park (east of 4th Street) established in 1914. As such, it lays claim to some of Calgary’s best heritage sites - Central Memorial Library, oldest library in Alberta, Haultain School, Calgary’s first school, Memorial Park, one of the oldest urban parks in Canada and Lougheed House one of Calgary’s first mansions. 

The Beltline name comes from the No. 5 trolley which in the first half of the 20th century circled back and forth on the avenues the Beltline and connected it to downtown in belt-line like manner in the first half of the 20th century. For more information on Beltline history go to www.beltline.ca.

New +/- 20 storey condos are popping up on almost every block in the Beltline. 

GABEsters

Calgary’s hipsters are unique as they are more likely to be clean shaven, Armani suit wearing, geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers, than bearded, skinny jeans and plaid shirt artists, writers and musicians. 

But let it be understood they definitely love their Saturday music jams, bowling alley, craft beer drinking, gallery strolls, food trucks and festival fun as with any hipster. Perhaps we need to coin a new term  “GABEsters” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers/Brokers and Engineers).

Future GABEsters also love playing in the Beltline. Does it get any better than this?  

Not only are there 8 pedestrian streets but there is also alley shopping.   

The Beltline's Design District is a fun place to flaneur on weekends.  

Chicago's Bucktown is much older and as a result has much more urban grit than Calgary's Beltline.

The Beltline's Victoria Park district has a mix of old and new, high-end fashion shops and funky pubs and clubs. There 100+ historical buildings and sites in the Beltline. 

Inn from the Cold is just one of several major social agencies that call the Beltline home.

No hipster village would be complete without at least one thrift store.  The IODE thrift store has been in the Beltline for a long as I can remember 20+ years?

The Beltline's warehouse district is getting a major makeover with old buildings being renovated and expanded and new ones being built.  What hipster wouldn't want to work in the Biscuit Block? 

Comments:

 HH writes: "I like the way you describe the beltline but here is a question for you- why doesn't this area have the reputation some similar areas have in other cities?  What does it need to have a place identity that attracts visitors?  The Red Mile was developing that kind of identity but then of course they shut it down because it was too uni-dimensional.  What is needed to make it a true gathering place and destination for residents elsewhere in the city or tourists?  I think you uncover very interesting stuff that most Calgarians either take for granted or do not even recognize but the place has no identity that is widely recognized.  We need more people like you to point all this out to us."

JM writes: "Great read! It's got some interesting perspective to it, one that probably eludes lots of folks."

CW writes: "I remember Beltline when I moved to Calgary from Ontario in '81: there was a diner intact from the 40s, but not celebrated as retro, called the Lido, I think; a couple of used record shops; the IODE thrift shop that sold vintage western clothing that I could no longer fit into (if I still had the items); the Muttart Gallery, of course; and a bit later an artists' co-op where they showed godawful art videos, as well as a folly of a record store 100% devoted to jazz. It was all good enough for me to buy a condo alongside the Beltline three years later.

I don't know if you're correct to say that Beltline doesn't have the past of the Chicago district, it would be correct to say that a good part of it has been diminished - the folly part of it. I think your column nails it when it says the it's professional population distinguishes this district. There's no reason that Calgary should be the same as Chicago or Portland, and I am looking forward to seeing the "place identity" (sought by the commentator) that this population produces."

GG writes: "I like the term Gabesters."  

ST writes: "Not sure about Beltline being the hippest in N. America, but it feels good when I read your stuff...and yes, most people do not have a clue what good stuff we have, so keep reminding the public with your good blogs.

Was wandering in the Beltline today and came across this sign which I thought illustrates just how hip the Beltline is.   The neighborhood is full of historic churches which have become community centers for various ethnic and arts groups including Calgary Opera. Jane Jacobs would have loved the Beltline.

During the 1988 Winter Olympics 11th Avenue was branded as "Electric Avenue" for its concentration of bars.  Today it is a mix of bars, shops, restaurants and galleries.   It is a GABEster hang-out!

GABEsters love their bikes even if it means hanging them over the balcony! 

Public Art: Love it or hate it!

By Richard White, October 30, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Boise...going once...going twice...sold!

By Richard White, October 20, 1013

Attention all collectors, antiquers, bottom feeders, scavengers, thrifters, flea marketers and storage warriors - bet you don’t know about the “Mega Marathon Auction” in Downtown Boise?  Even the local tourism folks don’t know about this “off, off the beaten” track attraction. 

Yes, since 1937, every Saturday morning at 10 am sharp at 2912 Main Street, Boise the auction begins with two auctioneers starting at either end of an old horse barn going until everything is gone, usually means until after midnight. 

The Main Auction is pretty much devoid of people when we arrive at 9am.  This allows us an opportunity for a good look around.

We didn’t believe it so we had to see it for ourselves.  Arriving at 9 am for previewing, we found 50+ stalls jammed with every imaginable thing you could think of  - from lumber and construction supplies, to industrial clothes washers and dryers, to art, antiques and household accessories.  Thousands of items are neatly neatly piled-up behind chain linked fence barrier so you have to count on your eagle eye to spot what you want.

Lucky we got there early so there weren’t many people and we could have a good look.  Brenda’s eye caught a 1950s West German cheery yellow kitchen weigh scale branded “Accurate” with a needle that didn’t accurately point to zero. 

Another patron also noticed the irony at the same time and a lively discussion ensued.  Dan was a regular and explained the process and confirmed the auction could easily go past midnight.  He thought Brenda’s piece would be auctioned off about 1 pm. 

We didn’t want to hang around but he explained we could place our maximum bid for the piece with the teller and come back later to see if we were the successful bidder.  

This is the cheery yellow scale that Brenda spotted tuck in with hundreds of other pieces in one of the stalls.  Note the needle is not pointing to zero.

A crowd has gathered as the auction begins.   

By 10 am, the crowd had grown to over 100 people and we stayed for a bit to get a feel for the animation.  We quickly understood why it takes until midnight to complete the auction as they auction off the items piece by piece… a set of 8 glasses for $2, a TV for $25 and a load of lumber for 100 bucks – you get the picture. 

You have to be quick as these guys are auctioning off several items a minute.  This is definitely all about the art of the quick sale.  Did I tell you that there are two auctioneers? One starts at each end and they work toward the middle. It was wild.

We came back at 2:00ish after flaneuring the downtown checking out the Saturday’s Farmers’ Market, Artisan Market, Capital Building and Freak Alley (Downtown Boise is a fun place on Saturday).  

As promised the auction was still going strong and our piece still hadn’t come up for auction, so we headed back to our room at The Riverside Hotel for a quick costume change (orange and blue is a must) for the Boise State Broncos tailgate party and football game (another fun tale for a later date).

A Mom and her young daughter were the successful bidder on this Disney rug for $9.  It was 10:30 at night.

After the game, we headed back to The Riverside Hotel but not before checking out the Main Auction – it was 10:30 pm. Yep, auction was still going strong…while the crowd was down to about 50 people (amazingly some of the same people were still there) and  there were still several more stalls packed with items to be auctioned.

We couldn’t believe that the same auctioneers were still there and that they still had a sense of humour.  When taking pictures one of them quickly shout “ Hi Mom!” without missing a beat in the auction. Impressive! 

By late in the evening the floor is full of auction items in various stages of being picked up.  But the auction continues at the other end.  

Bonus

Indeed, Brenda was the lucky bidder for the inaccurate Accurate scale with a winning bid of $3. Willing to go as high as $6, she was thrilled. 

FYI: We are less tourists and more treasure hunters as we are always looking for something fun, funky or quirky to add to our collection of FFQ art and artifacts. But it must be a deal - anyone can go into a major gallery, boutique or store and buy something.

The thrill comes from the story around the acquisition. And our local man Dan was a key part of our memory.  Thanks Dan!

Brenda's new treasure with her lucky #795 bidding card.  Not sure if that means there were 795 people who had taken out bidding cards by 10 am or not. Could be!

History

The Main Auction has been family owned and operated for over seventy years. Established in 1937 by Colonel Paul Owens. After many years of running the auction, Paul decided to sell to his nephew Robert Wesely. 
Robert had six children that all worked at the auction for the next several years. 
In 1976, Robert sold The Main Auction to his son, Danny Wesely. 

Danny owned and operated the auction the longest, at thirty-two years. 
In the beginning of 2008 he sold it to David Wesely Jr., his nephew who is the current owner and works full time at the facility. For more information mainauctioncorp.com

If you ever find yourself in Boise, Idaho on a Saturday (pretty much no matter what time of day it is) be sure to check out the Main Auction. It is great fun for anyone who loves “people watching” or loves the “thrill of the hunt.”  

Even if you aren’t there on a Saturday, you can drop by any Tuesday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm for previewing the stalls as they fill up with items for next Saturday’s auction.  

Here is the Accurate scale with some of our Idaho friends that we collected along the way.  

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. 

 

Pleasure-seekers

While Bensusan didn’t use the current popular moniker “live, work and play” in the book, these three elements of urban life were the focus of his discussion.  Banff and the Rockies are referred to as “Calgary’s Sunset Playground.” He notes Canada’s Alpine Club was very important to the “pleasure-seekers” of the time and that Calgary’s proximity to the Rockies was a huge asset. 

“Calgary has an added claim, for no city is quite so pleasant to work in as that which can offer, in return for a few hours’ journey, access to one of the finest health resorts known to mankind.”

He chronicles the development of Calgary as an urban playground, beginning in 1908 with the $50,000 Carnegie’s donation to build the Memorial Park Library at a cost of $70,000.  At the time, Calgary also had 10 parks totally 500 acres.  The city was home to the Turf Club (horse racing), Hunt Club (coyote hunting), Calgary Golf and Country Club and the Calgary Amateur Athletic Association with 50 clubs and several thousand members. 

This is the 2012 Blues Festival in Shaw Millennium Park. Today Calgary offers one of the most comprehensive festival schedules of any city of its size in North America.