Calgarians embrace winter.

By Richard White, December 26, 2013

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

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

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

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



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

Winter Event Experiments

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

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

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

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

Winnipeg does it best?

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

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

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

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

Can’t compete with mountains?

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

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

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

Livable Winter Cities Movement

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

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

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

Winter Patios?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Do Calgarians embrace winter more than we think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tobboggans / Dogs

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

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

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

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

Last word

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Does Calgary have an inferiority complex?

Calgary City of Parks & Pathways 

Calgary Dog Park Capital of North America?

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

Readers' Comments:

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

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

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

More lessons from Winnipeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Famous 5 at Olympic Plaza

By Richard White, September 19, 2013

Last week I had some time to kill before a morning coffee meeting so decided to flaneur a bit and ended up at Olympic Plaza and the Famous Five sculpture.  The morning sun was just rising about the buildings to the east and casting a wonderful spotlight on the ladies. 

I love the way the sculptures invite pedestrians both locals and tourists to stop and interact with them.  There is a chair to sit on if you wish, or you can just go up to them and have a chat.  Getting up close you can see how artist Barbara Paterson has created realistic portraits that capture a sense of the personality of each of the in figures.

I quickly grabbed my phone aka camera and started shooting. 

Once home I thought it would be fun to share the artwork and history with my readers. I had some superficial knowledge about the role of the five ladies in lobby for women’s rights early in the 20th century but I should know more. I also knew that the sculpture had been commissioned by the Famous 5 Foundation and was spearheaded by Calgarian Francis Wright.  I also knew that there is an identical installation in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. 

I hit the jackpot on my first click on Famous 5 Foundation website. Rather then retyping the details click here and you can find out the history of the Famous 5.  Some more search told me that there is also different Famous Five sculpture at the Manitoba Legislature by artist Helen Granger Young. 

What captured my interest most on the Famous Five site the quotes selected to represent each of the five ladies.  



This is the Famous 5 sculpture by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson in Calgary's Olympic Plaza.  Paterson captured the five women at the moment they reunited over a cup of tea to celebrate their victory. 

Nellie McClung 1873 – 1951

“Canada is destined to be one of the great nations of the world and Canadian women must be ready for citizenship.”

Nellie McClung is holding up the newspaper with the announcement that in 1929 that they had won the "Persons" case in 1929. 

Louise McKinney 1868 – 1931

“What, after all, is the purpose of a woman’s life? The purpose of a woman’s life is just the same as the purpose of a man’s life: that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which she is living.”

Louise McKinney sitting looking at McClung holding up the newspaper hands folded. The artist has captured a sense of pleasure, pride and/or satisfaction in her face. 

Emily Murphy 1868 – 1933

“ I believe that never was a country better adapted to produce a great race of women than this Canada of ours, nor a race of women better adapted to make a great country.” 

Emily Murphy is standing by a chair gesturing to pedestrians to come and sit and think about how the world has changed?  

Henrietta Muir Edwards 1849 – 1931

“If women had the vote there would be no need to come twice asking for better legislation for women and children, no need to come again and again for the appointment of women inspectors where women and children are employed; we would not ask in vain for the raising of the wage or consent.” 

Henrietta Muir Edward sits next to McKinney holding up her cup of tea as if she is toasting the victory.  People love to interact with the sculptures often leaving their coffee cups or other artifacts on the table. 

Irene Parlby 1868 – 1965

“If politics mean…the effort to secure through legislative action better conditions of life for the people, greater opportunities for our children and other people’s children…then it most assuredly is a woman’s job as much as it is a man’s job.”

Irene Parlby standing next to McClung gesturing to the newspaper with the headline that Women are Persons. 

I think these quotes nicely sum-up the issues of the time and serves to illustrate how the world has evolved over the past 100 years, in part as a result of the diligent efforts of these five women.  Isn’t it ironic that today Alberta has a female Premier.  

Downtown Calgary is blessed with several memorial bronze sculptures but none are as accessible or as fun at the Famous Five.  The best time to judge the success of public art and public spaces is not immediately after they are completed, but 10 years later to see if they have continued to capture the public's imagination and truly created a sense of place. 

The Famous 5 Foundation is planning a fun event at the sculptures on October 18th to celebrate "Persons" Day. Everyone is welcome!  

Reader comments: 

  • JH writes: "your piece on the ladies is awesome, informative and to the 'point'"
  • BB writes: "A great salute to Alberta's progressive past. Here is hoping that this past will influence its future."
  • SM writes: "I like The Conversation" the two guys talking on Stephen Avenue. It's timeless.
  • FB writes: "Surprisingly this barely TOUCHES the surface when it comes to public art in Calgary.
  • MW writes: "I love this sculpture and always visit it when I go to Calgary and Ottawa. I sit on the chair and thank these ladies. Hope you like reading ti as much as I did." 
  • RP writes: "I did enjoy every word. The sculptures are great. It is like those warrior statues of the heroes of Hungry...they each have personality."  

If you like this blog you might like:

The Rise of Public Art / Decline of Public Galleries  

Olympic Plaza Needs A Mega Makeover

Putting the public back into public art




Saskatoon city trekkers recommend exploring Calgary and other second tier cities....

Guest Blog by two city trekkers from Saskatoon who love to explore cities around the world who recently discovered Calgary has more charm and character than they originally thought. 

Over the past few years we have been able to travel the planet studying the city building experiments that are currently taking place in Europe, Asia, Africa and many American urban areas. It has been an education and we lament the state of most Canadian cities including Calgary. My wife and I have visited Calgary many times over the past 30 years and we even lived there once upon a time.  Usually when we are in Calgary we are visiting friends and relatives, so don't have time to explore, however a few weeks ago we found ourselves in a unique position - we had a free Monday morning to spend in Calgary.

What to do?  We asked ourselves, what would Richard do?  Then, we asked Richard himself.

Based on his recommendations, we spent a wonderful morning enjoying the inner-city Ramsay and Inglewood communities. These areas are enjoying a wonderful urban transformation. We spotted the upside down church right away and then, as he said, Café Rosso was a great place to start exploring. We made new friends with some very creative people over coffee and muffins. Then, because the major galleries were closed on Monday, we just walked the streets of this colourful neighbourhood where you see yards that must have had artists in residence. There are a rich variety of small stores along Inglewood’s historic main street including a fascinating bookstore with nooks and crannies of art on an upper level.

Cafe Rosso located off the beaten path in an industrial building which has been rebranded as Ramsay Exchange with plans to become a mixed-use urban development with offices, retail and condos. It is a popular spot for the Ramsay hipsters to hang out.

Fair's Fair Books combined with Galleria is an urban trekker's hidden gem for hipsters, as well as others. 

Unlike most Saskatoon people, we are not encumbered by a cottage at the lake, which means we can explore cities all over North America and the world. We are writing this from Prince Edward County in Ontario where we are currently having a wine tasting weekend with friends from Burlington. Two weeks ago we had our bicycles in Minneapolis for a week. This is the perfect way to explore their incredible residential urban lake districts. We love exploring cities.

We are pretty sure this is a trend that involves more folks than us and Richard White. On our latest trip we met some other Saskatchewan folks in the airport who have created their own version of NAFTA. For them it stands for the "North American Fun Travel Arrangement." Twice a year they meet their Texas friends in a new city for fun and urban adventure. They take turns between Canada and the USA. Each couple is responsible for the basic accommodation and activity arrangements in their home country.

In our view, city holidays are a great way to go. It’s great to visit New York, San Francisco and Chicago, but everyone does that. There are so many other interesting places to explore. Some of our favorites include Winnipeg, Kansas City, Pittsburg, Omaha, Memphis, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and now Calgary. There is plenty of fun to be had in these lesser known cities if you are prepared to explore and ask locals for recommendations. They are less expensive, have fewer line-ups, wide selections of amazing VRBO’s and generally people are friendly and happy you came to visit their city. 

Winnipeg is probably not on the top of most urban explorers' "must see" list.  However, projects like the "Ice Huts" make The Forks one of the best urban renewal projects in North America.  Winnipeg is also home to the "Exchange District" one of the best collection of early 20th century architecture in Canada, maybe North America. 

Minneapolis is one of North America's leading cycling cities.  We had to check it out for ourselves.  The Walker Art Gallery is another must see North American gem. 

The San Antonio Library is perhaps the most fun architecture we have encountered in our travels around the world.  Who wouldn't want to go inside? 

Another fun place to explore in San Antonio is the Blue Star Art Complex it is just as interesting inside as it is outside.  We love old industrial sites that have been repurposed.  

We would not have found Ramsay, Café Rosso and the “upside down church” without advice from a local. A downtown concierge would have not have made this recommendation.  The church (Dennis Oppenheim's "Device to Root Out Evil) was interesting on a number of levels. It raises some interesting theological issues and even calls to mind the bumper sticker, "I'm in favor of the separation of church and hate". It was executed with excellent craftsmanship in a deconstructionist style. The scale was completely appropriate to the context. Too often, public art and the space it occupies are not really synergistic. 

Another observation from our recent “off the beaten path” experience in Calgary would be how easy it was to make personal connections in the shops. The owner of the metal shop in Inglewood was interesting and personable. We have seen recycling stores before, but the one on 9th was staffed by an owner/operator. We ended up buying things we didn't need while discussing ideas for products they could add to their inventory. For a city of over one million, Calgary still has lots of areas with small town charm.  

"Device to Root Out Evil" was created by Dennis Oppenheim in 1997.  It is a compelling 6 meter tall glass, steel and aluminum sculpture on loan to the Glenbow Museum from Vancouver's Benefic Foundation.

Mr. Wrought Iron is an example of the eclectic mix of local businesses in the Inglewood Ramsay district. 

How cool is this entrance patio/plaza to DaDE Art & Design? 

Saskatoon Urban Trekker also explored the residential streets in the area with their charming early 20th century CPR worker homes that have been adopted by artists who have added charm with front lawn patios, sculptures and murals.  

We were surprised at how easy it was to find a parking space, even for an F-150 extended cab 4x4. We had read Calgary has some of the most expensive parking in North America, not true in Ramsay and Inglewood.

It's sad that many Calgarians are not aware of what they have at their doorstep and do not take the time to find out. Get out and explore! Urban tourists and especially those from Calgary need to add CALGARY to their bucket list. 

Saskatoon Urban Trekker 


Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk

Editor's Note: This blog was originally written for Hotel Arts newsletter.  It has been slightly adapted from the newsletter. 

Few Calgarians are aware that along 13th Avenue SW is one of Canada’s most interesting heritage walks.  13th Avenue is not "on the beaten path" most of us drive, walk or cycle along 11th, 12th or 17th Avenues if we are headed east or west on Downtown's south side.  Calgary's Secret Heritage walk is It just 8 blocks long, (2 km) round trip.  You could walk it in about an hour depending on how much you want to explore, or you could cycle it in less time.

Start the walk at First Street SW and 13th Avenue.  From here you have a wonderful vista of the St. Mary’s Cathedral if you look south, but your walk is west along 13th Avenue. (You might want to grab a coffee at the Starbucks before you head out).  As you head west mid-block you will be at the quaint Haultain School.  Built in 1894, the school is unique in many ways – its Richardson Romanesque architecture, Calgary’s first sandstone school and the first one with electricity and running water.  Looking more like a house than a school, it is a reminder that Calgary is still in its adolescence as a city just over 100 years old.

Originally named the South Ward School, it was renamed in 1910 after Sir Fredrick Haultain, the President of the Executive Council (Premier) of the North-West Territories Legislative Assembly.  Today, it is home to the Parks Foundation Calgary, which is also unique in Canada with its mandate to foster parks, playgrounds and pathways throughout Calgary.  

Haultain School  

Cross over Second Street SW and you are immediately at Memorial Park with its statuesque trees and iconic Memorial Park Library – Alberta’s first library.  Opened in 1912, it is one of 150 libraries built in Canada with funds from the American millionaire Andrew Carnegie.  It is a classically inspired two-story sandstone building, sitting on top of a series of granite steps adorned with Ionic Columns and skilfully carved pediment, which combine to create a grand entrance.  The building is topped with a low-hipped roof with extensive decoration.  Still a public library, wander inside to enjoy the charming details that have been preserved, sit and enjoy a magazine or newspaper of find a great book. 

On the other side of the library is the storied Memorial Park, which was originally designed in 1911, by Calgary Parks Superintendent Richard Iverson, after the land was given to the City by the Canadian Pacific Railway for back taxes.  The actual development of the park was done by William Reader, Parks Superintendent (1912 to 1942), who created a formal garden with a symmetrical layout, manicured lawns, a mix of domestic and exotic trees and plants, intricate bedding schemes and geometrical walking paths to provide a tranquil respite for urban dwellers.  Reader even attempted to grow palm trees in pots as part of creating a unique prairie park.

The Park’s “memorial theme” was intended to memorialize British Empire patriotism, with statues and cenotaph.  Today, it is used for one of Calgary’s major Remembrance Day ceremonies.  The Park was recently given a major makeover, which saw the addition of the fountains and Boxwood Bistro.  It is also a popular feeding ground for Calgary’s fleet of Food Trucks. 

Memorial Park in summer is on of the best urban places to sit in Canada. 

Memorial Park Library 

Boxwood restaurant in Memorial Park. Highly recommended.  

Continuing west along 13th Avenue at 4th Street (yes, there is no 3rd Street) sits the First Baptist Church. It was built in 1911-12 based on designs by architect D.S. McElroy. Many prominent citizens, including Thomas Underwood, a member of the church board, and R.B. Bennett, the City’s acting solicitor, raised money for the construction of the church. Many socially prominent Calgarians worshipped in the church over the years, adding to its historical significance.

The building is a very good example of the Gothic Revival style, with its numerous pointed arches, gables, decorated windows, and attached buttresses. The building features a square tower with a spire at the corner. With a capacity to seat 1,300 people, with room in the vestibule for an additional 200 it is believed to be the largest Baptist church in Canada. The interior details are worth seeing, and its exterior is unaltered except for a two-storey brick addition, which was added inconspicuously at the rear in 1951 to house a church youth centre.

The amber-toned stained glass windows imported from Germany are part of the original construction of the sanctuary. The three-manual, 42-stop pipe organ which was built and installed by the Casavant Freres Company of St. Hyacynthe, Quebec in 1912 and underwent further enhancements in 1965 and 1992. Currently, the 900-seat acoustically-rich heritage sanctuary supports an adult sanctuary choir, two handbell choirs, a children's choir and a contemporary worship team. Perhaps you might want to consider attending a service if it fits with your schedule.

First Baptist Church, 1911/12

Continue walking west along 13th Ave and you quickly arrive at the grand Lougheed House and Gardens.  Built in 1891 and originally known as "Beaulieu", meaning "beautiful place" in French, the Lougheed House is now a national historic site. The mansion was built by Senator James Lougheed for his wife, Isabella Hardisty Lougheed and their two sons, Clarence and Norman. Following the move to the large mansion, four more children were born: Edgar, Dorothy, Douglas and Marjorie.

In 1907, the house was enlarged to accommodate the family and their large social calendar. Lougheed House received important state visitors on many occasions. In 1912, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughter Princess Patricia stayed at the house. In 1919, the Lougheeds entertained the Prince of Wales at a garden party. Prince Edward visited in 1923 and 1928.

Throughout its long history, Lougheed House has been a family residence, a training centre for young women, a women's military barracks and a blood donor clinic. Then, for many years, it sat empty — cared for, but unused until its restoration in 2000.  For more information and visiting hours check their website

Strolling through the formal Beaulieu Gardens, situated on the 2.8 acre Lougheed estate, is one of Calgary’s best urban pleasures.  The Lougheeds were horticultural leaders in Western Canada in their day. The plant material has been accurately restored to the 1891 to 1925 period. Some of the original plantings and garden elements can be seen in the spruce trees, circle flower beds and the balustrades. 

Lougheed House  and Beaulieu Gardens 

Lougheed House

Directly across the 13th Ave, is the more unassuming Ranchmen’s Club.  Established in 1892, it moved to this location in 1914.  It is the oldest and most prestigous club in Calgary. The Club dates back to southern Alberta’s golden age of ranching when cattle barons were the wealthest people in the town. Designed by architect R.E. McDonnell, it is a Renaissance Revival brick building with terra cotta architectural and decorative elements. The interior, as you might expect, features highly detailed wood, leather, stained glass and a remarkable art collection celebrating southern Alberta’s rich ranching culture.  The attached 26-story “The Estate” condominium was added in the early ‘80s. Although it is a private club, if you aren’t too shy you could pop your head in and check out the lobby.   

Ranchmen's Club  (Beltline website)

Continue walking west, past 8th Street, to Central Collegiate Institute (high school), which is now part of the new Calgary Board of Education headquarters. The original building was built in 1908, with a five-room Scottish Baronial-style addition designed by Lang and Major in 1911 and later a William Branston desiged Egyptian Revival style gymnasium in 1940.  After numerous different school uses, it closed in 1965 and wasn’t reopened until 1996 when it was leased to Rundle College for a private Jr. High.  In 2011, it was incorporated into the Gibbs Gage-designed new Calgary Board of Education headquarters.      

Reader Cee recommends you add the Moxam & Congress Apartment buildings on the east side of Loughheed house. This walking tour from the City has some info:


721 & 725 - 13th Avenue S.W.
These two buildings were among many constructed to
accommodate the rapid growth of Calgary’s population during the
pre-World War I boom period. Billed as “two of the most modern
and best-equipped apartment houses in the Northwest,” the
Congress and Moxam are unusual in their size and grandeur, and
were intended for a more exclusive clientele than most of the other
brick and wood-frame blocks of this period. Located in this
prestigious neighbourhood, the two-bedroom suites in these
buildings provided a fashionable address.
Page 8
The decorative block-like dentils in the cornice are decorative vestiges of ancient building methods, when the roof beams protruded from the walls."

Time to turn around, maybe walk on the other side of the street to get a different perspective. Looking for a place to grab a coffee, an adult beverage or a meal.  Boxwood in Memorial Park is highly recommended, as is Yellow Door in Hotel Arts or the Good Earth Cafe on 4th street.   

For information on some of the buildings check out the following websites:

For a complete historic walking tour of the area

Below area some old postcard images of the Calgary's 13th Ave SW Heritage Walk that allow you to see how the street has evolved. 



One of the many different landscape designs for Central /Memorial Park. 

13th Avenue early 20th Century, no high-rise apartments, no tree lined streets. 

13th Avenue early 20th Century, no high-rise apartments, no tree lined streets. 

Memorial Park Library before the trees dwarfed it. 

If you like this blog you might like: 

Calgary: History Capital of Canada  

Olympic Plaza needs mega makeover?

Reader Comments re: Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover?

BB writes:  "You have touched a soft spot for me with Olympic Plaza.  Although I think Parks has done a stellar job at dressing up what is there (putting lipstick on a pig ? – oops was that my outside voice)  I agree it’s time for a makeover – the Olympics ended 25 years ago and the site needs to be repurposed – I was so excited about the potential for  German Christmas market but sad it did not get legs.  The Olympic Plaza is very much under utilized and filled with potential as a gathering place.  I have and continue to travel extensively and always comment on how every major city I visit the first thing you do is head for the centre city where all the history and action/interest is.  Every day | see and often engage with visitors in our DT who seem to be looking for something.  Mayor Bronconnier started things going by putting police an bylaw into the core to clean it up as well as Parks and Roads resources.  Next we need to make it an exciting place to be especially evenings and weekends."

Derek Besant on his  Olympic Plaza SONGLINES project: 

The concept was to design several gestures that would somehow be in proximity to one another around and in visual distance to Olympic Plaza.  Each site required negotiations with the building owners, and requirements to attach mount systems to the exteriors of their faces.  

I titled them: SONGLINES, based upon research into how Indigenous myth and story-telling was preserved, as part of my job in the early to mid 1970's as Exhibition Designer for the (then new) Glenbow Museum construction downtown.

At the time, I was investigating finer optic technology, and the challenge was to create drawn gestures that were NOT interpreted as advertising or logos, but would simply be drawn line forms.  The subjective aspect was that the linear forms would "talk" top one another by shifting colour ranges, as a rhythmic dialogue amongst them.  There are five in operation on various sites:

  • Rocky Mountain Plaza, 
  • Teatro Restaurant, 
  • The Glenbow Museum, 
  • Epcore Centre for Performing Arts, 
  • City Hall

All were installed successfully, and a sixth was planned out for the West corner of the Performing Arts building near street level; but never went ahead.  Each drawing was finally selected from pages and pages fill of gesture drawings as exercises… 

The project came about quickly, and I was approached by a committee from Epcore Centre to come up with a plan for the art installation.  I had only a three weeks to research and prepare the concept and deliver a critical path plan.

Originally, I wanted to do something like I had seen in Shanghai China, with laser light projections atop several buildings into the sky; but with the density surrounding downtown, and all that glass… the reflection factor was too difficult to control, so I went the finer optic route.  

This proved cost effective and climate-controlled, and as long as the various building owners would change the bulbs whenever they burned out, the dialogue between SONGLINES would indeed 'speak' to one another as architectural  articulations of line, motion and gesture.

Derek Besant: More Thoughts On Olympic Plaza and what it could/should be. 

I have thought for a long time that Olympic Plaza needs the connective big bang 'WOW' factor to bring it up to being a focal destination and not the open space between Mall and City Hall.  My SONGLINES was a flicker to try to awaken some response mechanisms between the facades within a limited budget and less time.   It did allow me to dream on what 'could' happen there though, especially after visits on my projects to Shanghai, China.  

I understand our climate gives the space some limits… or are they opportunities?  Hmmm?  

When I am downtown by the Congress Bridge in Austin Texas, or on Trafalgar Square in London, or in the long cool shadows of bank buildings strung along Bay Street in Toronto, or crossing the Alexander III Bridge in Paris, or the central plaza with four museums opposite one another in the Medieval city of Györ, in Hungary beside the Danube; I know where I am, and the perception of place resonates within me and I long for those identifications of what those urban centres hold for me to explore and reveal, or stay hidden beneath them. 

City Hall here is a landmark building.  But what does it talk to out there, really?  Itself… It needs an opposite, a mirror, a debate, a love affair, a shot in the arm, and an arrival into another reality

Blog: Everyday Tourist  

For some reason or reasons Olympic Plaza has never really captured the public’s imagination as an attractive place to meet and hang out like other civic plazas – Portland’s Pioneer Square or Union Square in San Francisco to name just two.  It should be an important tourist attraction for Calgary, a “top of mind” place for Calgarians to proudly show visiting family and friends. 

Quoting Wikipedia, “Today, this (Union Square) one-block plaza and surrounding area is one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries and beauty salons in the United States, making Union Square a major tourist destination, a vital, cosmopolitan gathering place in downtown San Francisco, and one of the world's premier shopping districts. Grand hotels and small inns, as well as repertory, off-Broadway and single-act theaters also contribute to the area's dynamic, 24-hour character.” That is what our Olympic Plaza should be. 

Outdoor patio on Union Square in San Francisco is warm and inviting. 

Plaza in Frankfurt's city centre full of people even though there is no programming.  It truly it their "urban living room." 

In contrast, Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is only animated when it is programmed, i.e. International Children’s Festival, summer noon hour concerts, etc. Most times you can shoot the proverbial cannon off and you wouldn’t hit anyone.  Even the outdoor skating rink is used by only a few lonely souls most days in the winter, despite it basking in brilliant sunshine at noon hour mid-winter.

For a public space to feel safe there needs to be lots of people of all ages and backgrounds moving through the space at all times of the day/evening doing a diversity of activities. Olympic Plaza is surrounded by a diversity of building types – a major theatre complex, large museum, convention center, high-end restaurant, City Hall/Municipal building, Central Library, church, apartments and office buildings – which you’d think would make it a busy place even when there is no formal programming.  In theory it should work. In reality it sits empty most the time.  

With the plaza now 25 years old, I understand some elements are at the end of their life span making it timely to look at how a mega makeover could make it Calgary’s urban living room.

It is interesting to note that plazas in many European cities, are often just large, flat, hard surfaces that allow for multiple uses.  They are also surrounded by mixed-use buildings that exit right onto the plaza, not separated by a street. Unfortunately for Olympic Plaza, Teatro really turns it back on the plaza (other than its small summer only patio), there is no interaction with 7th Avenue or Mcleod Trail and EPCOR Performing Arts Centre is dark during the day. Only the Jack Singer Concert Hall has a grand entrance off the plaza. 

The first thing I would do is bring in the heavy equipment!  Flatten the site so people can easily walk diagonally through the plaza - pedestrians love short cuts. Letting them easily walking diagonally from 8th Avenue to 7th Avenue would provide a link from Stephen Avenue Walk to the LRT station and to East Village and vice versa.  Plazas need to link key urban elements that surround it.

The cost to program a flat open space without a wading pool or skating rink would be less and allow for easier use as you wouldn’t have to drain the water or cover up the ice. It would be a wonderful space for a summer farmers’ market (think Portland), or a weekend flea/artisan market (think Frankfurt) or a Christmas market (think Frankfurt again). 

Strasborg town square is a wide open flat hard surfaced space that can be used for a variety of activities.  This is an early morning photo, later in the day it is busy with people cutting through or on market day it is full of vendors. 

Frankfurt's Saturday flea market happens year round on a long linear plaza along the river.  It attracts thousands of people downtown. 

At the same time I would I cut down all of the trees along 7th Avenue (I know this sounds harsh but I will explain soon) and create a long narrow space where food trucks could park to create a “pod” like they do in Portland - an outdoor food court of sorts.  Ideally, different trucks would cycle through the plaza each week to keep it fresh and spontaneous. This could also be a stage area for concerts that could then play to the entire width of the plaza. 

The large dense trees are a safety hazard.  CPTED 101  (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through the landscape design) states that public spaces should be “see through” i.e. people walking by should be able to see through to the other side of the space. No places for people to hide or sleep; no dark spaces. I will probably be “hung” for saying this, but if you look at the great urban plazas, they have very little vegetation. Their “life” comes from the people.

The biggest challenge is how to animate the space daytime and evening year round without a huge programming budget.  We could convert the space into the Olympic Plaza Art Park with numerous sculptures - some permanent and some temporary.  The first one is already there – the popular “Famous Five” sculpture.  Image if “The Root of All Evil” currently hidden away in Ramsay was in the middle of Olympic Plaza.  Or what about moving the Family of Man to Olympic Plaza?  The plaza is already home to the “Famous Five” sculpture.  

Root of all Evil sculpture is temporary located in Ramsay at Ramsay Exchange.  Imagine how much more powerful the statement would be if it was in Olympic Plaza right across from the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer.   This should be a major tourist attraction.  We need to create more urban synergies. 

The Family of Man sculpture will have to be moved as the old Board of Education block gets redeveloped.  It would make a great addition to Olympic Plaza as a gateway at the northwest corner. 

I’d love to see some pieces with special LED lighting to make the space more attractive in the winter.  A companion piece to Julian Opie’s “Promenade” in East Village would be a perfect piece for one of the corners of the plaza.  The “Crown Fountain” piece that Jaume Plensa did for Chicago’s Millennium Park would be perfect for Olympic Plaza, as would Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate.”  We shouldn’t copy Chicago, but we need to find public art that is interactive and engages the public like they do. 

There was an attempt awhile back to add whimsical lighting elements attached to the sides of the buildings around Olympic Plaza.  I believe there were light sculptures on the side of the Glenbow, Municipal Building and Rocky Mountain Plaza. The project was dropped; I’m not sure why. Imagine if there were light sculptures on all of the 20 different buildings that you can see from Olympic Plaza and they turned off and on at different times, dancing in the winter sky - the urban equivalent of the “northern lights.” 

Perhaps too there could be a laser show every night in the winter with Olympic Plaza being the focal point.  Maybe we could use modern technology to project highlights of the 1988 Olympics onto the buildings in the winter night as a way to celebrate our history and that we are a winter city.  It would also be a way to celebrate that Calgary has a wonderful public art collection, unfortunately it is too scattered and hidden to achieve the urban synergies need to make it a tourist attraction. 

Now is not too soon to plan for Olympic Plaza’s 30th anniversary in 2018. 

Plensa's Crown Fountain sculpture even at dusk attracts hundreds of people to interact with it. 

Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" aka The Bean also attracts thousands of people to come downtown every day and is a major tourist attraction. 

Opie's "Promenade" seems to be out of place sitting on a berm above the street and invisible from the new River Walk promenade.  It should be where the pedestrians can stand beside it,  interact with it and be easily photographed. 

If you like this blog you might like: Poppy Plaza Review  

Calgary's Olympic Plaza in the summer showing wading pool, Olympic medal stage area with Municipal building (large blue building) and old City Hall (red clock tower) in the background.  Look idyllic a nice oasis in the middle of the city, which is how public spaces were designed in the 70s and 80s.  Unfortunately they have not aged well and they don't function as well as they could for a diversity of activities. 

Songlines was a pilot project by the Olympic Plaza Cultural District and the Downtown Association to create a visual identity for blocks around the plaza as Calgary's cultural / arts district.  This image is from Calgary artist Derek Besant's website showing his piece on the side of the Teatro restaurant and you can also see another piece on the side of the Glenbow museum on the left side.  

This is Red Square in Moscow which is just a large flat open space with buildings not roads on the edges.  It has good pedestrian traffic even when there is no programming.  There are no trees, no decorative design elements, just space.  

This is the plaza outside of Centre Pompidou in Paris. Again just a flat open space.There are some trees on the edge but they are deciduous which allow people to see into and out of the plaza.  One the best plaza activities is people watching - people attract people. 

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Cafes are perhaps the most important component of a vibrant urban street life as they attract pedestrian, bike and vehicular traffic all day, every day not just at breakfast, lunch and dinner as restaurants do.  They attract people who just pop in and grab a coffee and go, as well as those who sit and linger (sometimes for hours).  They are a great place to meet, sit and contemplate life or to people watch. You can’t do that at a retail shop.  “The greater the café culture the greater the urban vitality,” I say.  Look at Paris! Calgary has a very established, diverse and growing independent café culture dating back to mid ‘80s. 

It is no surprise our café scene was founded in Kensington given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta College of Art – home to many of the city’s young bohemians.  Kensington has been home to the Roasterie and Higher Ground for decades.  I believe Calgary’s first Starbucks also opened in Kensington, ironically right next to Higher Ground. 

The Roasterie opened in 1985 long before lattes, laptops and lounging at cafes were commonplace. In fact, the Roasterie has access to what is perhaps the best patio space in the city i.e. the small west-facing courtyard on 10th Street, one that captures the late day sun making it comfortable even in the winter.  It is a year-round hangout for artists, art students and creative types from Sunnyside and Hillhurst.  The newer and nearby The House Coffee Sanctuary is the Generation Y’s hangout.  And a short walk off 10th is Vendome, located in a charming historic red brick building, which would be a home in Paris and is clearly a destination café. Higher Ground and Starbucks, on the other hand, attract more of the Hillhurster bourgeoisie crowd.  There is also a Second Cup at the north end of 10th Street and a Tim Horton’s in the Safeway.  Kensington remains the home of Calgary’s café culture.

Since the ‘80s, Calgary’s café culture has been growing exponentially. Caffé Beano on 17th Avenue is the southside’s bobo (bohemian/bourgeoisie) hangout. It was made famous by Calgary playwright and writer Eugene Stickland who used it as his writing studio and talked about it often in his Calgary Herald column. Bumpy’s Espresso Bar & Café on 8th Street a popular central Beltline café is especially favoured by the espresso crowd and has been a Krups Kup of Excellence winner two years in a row.

Cafe Rosso's flagship store at Ramsay Exchange. 

Root of all Evil sits precariously in Ramsay "off off" the beaten path. One of over 100 public artworks in Calgary's City Centre. 

Over the past few years new cafes have popped up like dandelions in the spring.  Caffé Rosso, which opened in Ramsay Exchange in 2007, now has three locations.  Both a café and a bakery, it was an immediate hit with the hipsters living and working in Inglewood and Ramsay despite or maybe because of its off beat location in an old industrial site away from any pedestrian traffic.  I love the industrial ambience and the opportunity to visit perhaps Calgary’s best piece of public art – Dennis Oppenheim’s “Device to Root Out Evil” or as most people call it “the upside down church.”

Phil & Sebastian Coffee is truly a “it could only happen in Calgary” story. Two engineers become espresso aficionados, do some solid research, open up a small café in the Calgary’s Farmers’ Market in 2007 and soon become a beloved market vendor. It has been a whirlwind for them since opening up a flagship café in Marda Loop and their own roasting operation in 2009.  In 2010, they moved away from the street and into the mega Chinook Mall for their third location - a daring move for an upscale urban café.  In 2012, two of their baristas top first and second place in the Canadian Barista Championship – first place Jeremy Ho and second place Ben Put are known to locals as “Ben and Jer.”

de Ville Luxury Coffee & Pastries is another rapidly expanding Calgary-based café.  Even with its flagship store closing due to the demolition of Art Central to make room for the 58 story uber chic TELUS Sky tower don’t it will reopen in the new tower in 2017. Meanwhile the Fashion Central and Bridgeland cafes will continue to meet Calgarians’ growing craving for caffeine. 

Gravity Cafe the new gathering spots for artists in historic Inglewood. 

In the past year alone three new cafes have opened in three different YYC urban villages.  Lukes Drug Mart, an independent pharmacy since 1951 (the oldest independent pharmacy in Calgary) in Bridgeland recently evolved into a hipster café, grocery and drug store.  In May, they opened up Calgary’s first Stumptown Coffee Café at the front of the store, with Stumptown trained baristas a sure sign the Bridgeland has arrived as a tony urbanite village.  

Over in Inglewood, Gravity Café and Wine Bar opened in the new Esker Foundation building to immediate praise and was chosen Avenue Magazine’s Best Café in 2013.  The new “in spot” in Inglewood has even spawned a Friday Night Market with the arts community.  Its very active live music program recalls the ’60 hippy coffee houses. 

Portland's Stumptown coffee now available in Calgary. Wonder when Phil & Sebastians will open in Portland or maybe Cafe Rosso or one of the many other Calgary based cafes / roasters.

Lukes Drug Mart located in Calgary's newest hipster village Bridgeland.

Analog Coffee opened recently on 17th Avenue SW at 7th Street in the heart of RED (Retail Entertainment District, formerly Uptown 17th). This uptown upscale caffeine hangout is the flagship store for Fratello Coffee Company, a second-generation Calgary roaster. A hit from day one, it has perhaps the best windows for people-watching in the city.

Calgary isn’t afraid to import cafes from the Pacific Wet Coast either. Caffe Artigiano from Burnaby BC has two locations in downtown Calgary, both in office buildings, and both catering to the corporate coffee klatches.  Artigiano, both a coffee house and bistro, is perhaps best known for its “work of art” lattes. 

A recent trip Portland, where I expected there to be a mature coffee culture, I found little in the way of an independent café culture.  This gave me a better appreciation for the depth and diversity of Calgary’s café scene, which I believe is under-rated in the North American coffee scene.  

PS. This blog focuses only on the city centre cafes, but I could have easily included several inner-city and suburban indie cafes – Cadence (Bowness), Central Blends (West Hillhurst) and Weeds (Capital Hill) to name three. I also didn't include the many +15 (sky bridges) and more mainstream downtown cafes - perhaps another blog. 

Analog Coffee has great windows both from the inside and the outside. 

Analog Cafe located on the 17th Avenue aka RED aka RED Mile aka Uptown17th

Hamilton's James Street North: A Hidden Gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Street North: A Hidden Gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Downtown Hamilton has several elegant early 20th century churches. 

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

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

James Street North architecture collage

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

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

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

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

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Cities of Opportunities  

Curse of Minimalism  

Calgary Flood 2013: Man vs Nature

Perhaps it is a bit early to be calling the flood of 2013 the flood of the century, but it sure looks that way.  I have lived in Calgary for over 30 years and have never seen anything like this.  

As Mayor Nenshi pointed out the flood is "bad and good" for Calgary. BAD in the destruction and costs that it will take to restore the city's infrastructure back to its pre-flood state, but "GOOD" in how the community has come together to help out family friends and strangers. There was no looting, no hysteria, not deaths (in the City of Calgary) everyone was calm and rational.  Perhaps it was our pragmatic pioneer independent spirit showing through.  Without exception Calgarians have bonded over this emergency enhancing an already strong the sense of community.   

While over 100,000 Calgarians were evacuated the need for alternative accommodations was met mostly by "family and friends," only a handful of schools and public buildings were needed.  As soon as a "state of emergency" was called local social media was swamped  with people offering their home not only to family and friends. but to strangers.  I saw one tweet that said "I don't have an extra bed, but I have a comfy couch if anyone needs it," others were offering food, meals and donations.  Twitter was full of tweets expressing citizens' praise and respect for our emergency workers and city staff.  

It was also impressive how the Mayor, Premier and Prime Minister were on site quickly sharing information with Calgarians about what was happening and what was going to be done.  Nenshi, Redford and Harper all showed tremendous leadership in the face of a pending crisis, as did all the Alderman, MLA's, Police and Fire Chief.  I believe this leadership was instrumental in keeping Calgarians calm and allowing for an orderly evacuation of 75,000 people in a matter of a few hours. 

On Saturday, while the city didn't return to normal, people were starting to go about there normal weekend activities.  The City Centre was full of people walking and cycling along or near the river trying to grasp an understanding of what had happened.  

Already Calgarians were ready to move on.  Stampede was planning on how in two weeks they were going to produce a parade for over 100,000 people and host over 1 million people for the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" on a flooded Stampede Park - nobody doubts it will happen.

It was surreal to know that billions of dollars of damage happened in just one day. It was a lesson in humility taught by mother nature.

The following pictures have been appropriated from various tweets, images sent by friends in emails and my own.   


"Patience, common courtesy and politeness everywhere - in traffic, in grocery stores and on pathways.  Everyone was being a good neighbour.  I never heard a horn honk despite likely the worst traffic gridlock Calgary has ever seen. Friendliness everywhere - groups of people talking as if they had known each other for years.  Tragedy brings out the best in our society." GG

 "Interesting to note that there was no Canadian flags jury rigged over a damage house, no flag waving of any sort.  Also no comments about being saved or survived because of the Lord.  Very different atmosphere than when disasters strike in US." BG

"It was a lesson in humility taught by mother nature. Unfortunately the Climate Change computer modelling predicts weather will become more chaotic and intense.  Unfortunately this may well not be the flood of the century." BB (scientist)

History of Bow River Floods:

The Bow River has been flooding for centuries maybe millennium.  Read more about the history of the Bow River floods. 

 Related media comments: 

"...we are also a wired city. With high levels of penetration in mobile devices and social media – the city has 760,000 people on Facebook (over 70 per cent of the population) – we begin to see how connectivity fuels the city’s spirit.  When the relatively short evacuation notice arrived on Thursday, our connected population used online channels to get the word more  Brian Singh, Globe & Mail, June 23rd.    

Personal Stories: 

Lisa Kadane about her families experience. "When we heard our neighbourhood was being evacuated on Thursday evening I wasn’t yet thinking like a refugee, weighing in my head what I couldn’t live without. Instead, we packed up the laptops and some suitcases in an orderly fashion, and even sat down to a family dinner to eat the damn meatloaf. Honestly, I thought the emergency response was a bit much; that they were being too cautious. After all, our house and neighbourhood had survived the flood of ’05!"  Read  More  

The Numbers: 

At one point the water flow in the Bow River was on par with that of Niagara Falls.  The Atlantic Cities produced a good summary of the Calgary Flood 2013's facts and figures. Read more.

Aerial image of Prince's Island, Calgary's summer playground totally flooded.  In many ways this is the heart of the city.  

Access to one of the pedestrian/bike bridges over the Bow River from the northside to downtown flooded.  Normally thousands of Calgarians use these stairs and ramps.  

Panoramic view of Stampede Park totally flooded.  Normally the Elbow River is just a quiet river at the based of the bluff maybe 15 meters wide at most.

New 4th Street SE underpass flooded. Water must be 10 meters deep.  Luckily it was designed to flood.  Kudos to all of the engineers who have worked on Calgary's downtown infrastructure as they have handled the flood with little or no damage. 

Sandy Beach pedestrian bridge is probably one of the few pieces of infrastructure to be damaged. The Elbow River at this point is usually only a few feet deep.  A popular place for people and dogs to play in the river. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper surveying the damage.  Our politicians were amazing in their leadership as they were calm and articulate in the face of disaster.  Our emergency officers and city staff were tireless in their efforts.  The emergency response plan was outstanding.  

Alderman Gael MacLeod with volunteers sorting out clothes for those who were evacuated which included homeless shelters and affordable housing for seniors.  As soon as a state of emergency was called Calgarians were asking how can they help.  Calgary has a longstanding culture of caring and volunteering.  

Macleod Trail is one of the major downtown streets with City Hall, Municipal Building, Central Library, EPCOR Performing Arts Centre and Olympic Plaza all fronting onto the Trail.  

At the end of the day Friday an amazing double rainbow appeared, as if mother nature was saying better times are ahead. 

On Saturday (next day) people flocked to the flooded areas to see for them the damage.  Along the Crescent Heights bluff that has a commanding view of the downtown and Bow River valley hundreds of people lined the promenade for an expansive view of the flooding of Prince's Island and the northern edge of downtown. 

On the ground the military were already moving in to determine how best to clean up the mess.  

Eerie image of the lower deck of the Centre Street Bridge that was right at the height of the Bow River as it crested.  You can see some of the mud but otherwise no damage. While I was there a larger log floating down the river crashed into this bridge with a loud crack like a bomb going off and yet the bridge acted like it didn't even care.  I tip my hat to the engineers who designed these structures.   


This is what Prince's Island lagoon looks like today.  The next photo shows what it looked like before and what it will hopefully look like after.  

Nature has a strange way of teaching humans to be humble. 

Inside Calgary's state of the art Emergency Operations Centre hundreds of professionals from various disciplines are implementing a coordinated emergency response. Some are working 20+ hour shifts. 

Rendering of Calgary's Emergency Operations Centre. 

Poppy Plaza Review Revisited

Editor's Note, April 19, 2015.

It is now almost two years since I wrote and posted this review. Since then I have walked, cycled and driven past the plaza at least once a week, and often more.  I have yet to see anybody use the plaza for more than a walk by.  Today was a beautiful early spring day and I thought for sure there would be lots of people on the plaza. I was wrong. I hung around for about 30 minutes and I saw one couple walk through and one guy on a bike use the seating area as a bit of an obstacle course for about a one minute.  Earlier in the day I was told by some skateboarders (who had travelled from Edmonton just to skate various sites in our downtown) at the MacDougall Centre that Poppy Plaza would make a great boutique skatepark. 

It seems a shame the City spend millions of dollars to create this public space and nobody uses it.  Maybe we should take down the signs and let whomever want to use the space do so -rather than just let is sit their empty. 

I can't help but wonder "What were the lesson learned?"  

View of Poppy Plaza at 2:30 pm on Sunday, April 19, 2015. 

View of Poppy Plaza at 2:30 pm on Sunday, April 19, 2015. 

By Richard White, May 14, 2013

Recently Poppy Plaza opened along Memorial Drive at the Louise Bridge (10th Street).  The Plaza is part of a rejuvenation of Memorial Drive as Calgary's ceremonial boulevard that celebrates Canada's and Calgary's contribution to the First and Second World Wars, as well as other war and peace keeping efforts.  

The first phase of Memorial Drive took place in the 1920s when trees were planted along the roadway in memory of fallen soldiers.  Today they have become a valued part of Calgary's urban forrest, but they are also nearing the end of their life expectancy.  

Over the past five years several projects have been initiated that will make Memorial Drive an important part of Calgary's heritage for another 100 years.  The first project was the redesign of the roadway with a boulevard in the middle with decorative lighting, banners and plantings (including poppies).

The second project was the Peace Bridge designed by world famous bridge designer Santiago Calatrava which opened in 2012.  Other projects include the Remembrance Day lawn at the east end of Memorial Drive where crosses of fallen soldiers are placed in the grass every Remembrance Day and the Memorial Wall created west of Poppy Plaza.  (For more information on Calgary's War Memorials and History click here.)

Poppy Plaza has already been the subject of graffiti and complaints that skateboarders have taken a liking to the design and are causing damage, which in turn is causing some officials to want to fine the skateboarders. 

However, I liked Ray Hillman's May 8th letter to the editor in the Calgary Herald who was in favour of letting the kids play.  Hillman recalls a cartoon from the Calgary Herald published at Remembrance Day showing a WWII soldier lying on a cloud looking down at a group of children and the caption read, "I just love watching them play."  He then goes on to say that many of these skateboarders are probably the same age as the soldiers who fought for our freedom.  

I look at the design and think "how could the designers not think that the skateboarders would love this?"  Yes there is a skateboard park just across the river, but everyone knows skateboarders are part of any city's street culture and love to use public spaces everywhere, not just in the designated areas, which get boring pretty quickly. They are free spirits and you have to take your hat off to them as they are out there in all kinds of weather practicing their tricks.  If you want to animate a public space, make sure you make provisions for skateboarding and you are sure to get year-round animation.

Personally, I find the skateboarders fun to watch.  I have visited Poppy Plaza several times and the place is deserted even on nice days.  Seems to me the designers Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative should have known that skateboarders would use the plaza and made allowances for that. 

Good public space design has a diversity of uses which in turn creates a diversity of users resulting in the animation of the space.  Poppy Plaza should have been designed for multi-uses - memorial, picnics, skateboarding and maybe even a soap box so people could rant about their political views.  We need to think about including as many uses as possible for public spaces - design them for people of all ages and backgrounds - that is what public place-making is all about. 

One of the key elements of the plaza are these life-size letters spelling out Memorial.  Made out of what looks like rusty steel, they are place right up against the sidewalk and very visible to the road.  There very foreboding.  Unfortunately it is very easy to carve into the rust to write messages or tag them. 

Skateboarders getting ready to do their thing.  I have yet to see anyone sit on these seats which look intriguing but not inviting.  They look like something from a skate park.

One of two larger steel sculptures on either side of 10th street they have the look of a bomb or torpedo.  On them is written words from the poem Flanders Fields which includes the phase "where poppies blow."  The rusted steel gives an immediate patina which in turn gives the plaza a historical sense of place.  The steel looks old and weathered.  It has the feeling of a crying wall. 

The plaza even has a ramp that allows the skateboarders a place to launch off of.  As well it serves as a great place to sit and people watch or watch the skateboarders or BMX bikers do their tricks.   A good example of a simple design that functions in several ways.

Kids will also love running up and down the ramp.  It is a cleaver design that allows for multiple uses for people of all ages and backgrounds.  It also offer great views of the Louise Bridge and downtown skyline. 

A view of Downtown from Poppy Plaza and the elegant Louise Bridge. 

The Peace Bridge is popular with downtown workers morning, noon and night - be it walkers, runners or bikers. 

The west side memorial which is much more subtle and solemn with the white marble panels with the names of soldiers from various wars and peace keeping efforts.  

There are elements of Poppy Plaza in the west side memorial with the rusted steel.  From a distance it looks like one of the small boats that were use to land soldiers on the beach of Normandy.  

Remembrance Day crosses on the Memorial Drive lawn.

Rise of public art Decline of public galleries

Got my Gallerieswest summer ‘13 magazine in the mail this week – a good read as always.  Jeffrey Spalding's column, "In My Opinion" always interests me as he has great insights and insider information.  However, this one lacked the positive insights that usually characterize his rants.  His laments about the lack of support for public art galleries in Calgary and Canada.  This is not a new cry as public art galleries and museums in Calgary have struggled for over 25 years.  The Glenbow has never been in a strong financial position, which Spalding knows all too well as he served as the President & CEO from December 2007 to January 2009.  

The Art Gallery of Calgary too has struggled ever since they moved from the Memorial Park Library to their own building on Stephen Avenue.  The Triangle Gallery now MOCA Calgary has struggled to find its place in the visual arts community for over 20 years.  And the Illingsworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD or Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary have never captured the public's imagination. The idea of a true civic art gallery in Calgary has been debated to death for over 50 years and still nothing.  

Spalding’s position is "if you want vital public art museums, then the public has to pay for them, period."  The corollary of this statement would be "if the public doesn't want to pay for them, why do we have so many public or quasi public art galleries?”  Do we need a new model for public art galleries?  Do we have too many public galleries? Does Calgary really need the Glenbow, Art Gallery of Calgary, MOCA Calgary, Illingsworth Kerr and Nickle Galleries? 

n opening night at the Esker Foundation Gallery.  Interesting to note that for most visitors it is a quick look at the art and then stand around and chat.  The gallery experience is 30 minutes at best for most people. 

One has to wonder why an individual visual arts patron decided to build and operate the Esker Foundation Gallery on his own dollar, rather than support and an existing public art gallery? Opened in June 2012, it’s one of the largest privately funded non-commercial gallery in Canada.

Perhaps it is time to face the reality that the visual arts appeal only to a small fraction of the population. As a former Director/Curator of a public art gallery and a modest art collector, I know I don't go to the galleries as often as I should.  And when I do go, it is often is a 30-minute experience at best.

Fact is, there is a glut of art on the market and for many people; there is no urgent need to go to galleries to see art. If you miss one show, there is another one coming on its heels. Or for some, there’s the Internet, not like seeing the real thing, but for some it is “good enough.”

Calgary is a culture of recreation, not arts. That is not to say we don’t have some great theatre, music venues and festivals, or that we shouldn’t continue to foster our arts groups. However, what does it say when the city is building four recreation centers with a total price tag of $450 million, yet we struggle to raise $138 million for the National Music Centre.  The City has also recently initiated a $25 million bike-friendly program and Calgarians are much more likely to spend $2,000 on a new bike than on a work of art. What does that tell us about Calgarians and their support for public art galleries?

Calgary is home to perhaps North America's largest retail bike shop - Bow Cycle in beautiful downtown Bowness. 

While public art galleries are struggling to survive in Calgary, public art seems to be on the rise in Calgary.  Over the past 10 years, we have seen numerous new public art works installed throughout the city, including the very popular "Wonderland" by Jaume Plensa on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower.  The Downtown has over the years become an art museum without walls - public art can be found on almost every corner and in the lobby of most office buildings.  Even condo developers are adding public art as part of their amenities (e.g. MARK on 10th will have Calgary’s first Douglas Coupland artwork.)  

Rendering of lobby of MARK on 10th condo with the Douglas Coupland artwork which will be visible to pedestrians on the sidewalk.

The City of Calgary has initiated a 1% for public art program (i.e. 1% of construction cost of all city capital projects must be set aside for public art) which means LRT Stations, overpasses and all City projects have public art included as part of their design.  Over the past 10 years, the City has invested $12 million in public art and there is already $16 million in the hopper for future projects.  It could also be argued that the City has invested $50 million in two pedestrian bridges (Peace and St. Patrick's Island bridges), both of which are works of art.  

And back in 2000, Calgary hosted one of the most successful public art projects in Canada - Colourful Cows for Calgary.  That summer, over 100 cows grazed in the downtown and other public spaces attracting thousands of Calgarians, as well as visiting family and friends downtown every weekend to see the wild, wacky and weird bovines.  

In 2010, another public art project captivated Calgarians when artists floated 500 multi-coloured orbs down the Bow River and created “River of Light” as one of six temporary projects celebrating the Bow River.  Over 10,000 people lined the river that night to watch.Riv

iver of Light project in 2010, attracted over 10,000 people to watch 500 orbs float down the river.  It was magical!  

More recent a group of local artists transformed eight homes (that were about to be knocked down for a new development) into works of art. Wreck City attracted over 8,000 people to visit the temporary public art project in just one week.  That would probably be more than the all of the other public and quasi-public art galleries in the city combined.

Perhaps it is time to face reality! Times have changed it is no longer the early to mid-20th century which was the heyday for public art galleries and museums. In Calgary, and more and more other Canadian cities, the public-at-large just isn't into public art galleries. 

An example of the public art that can be found on almost every block of the downtown core and in many cases two or three.  The lobbies of the office buildings are full of art, making the downtown a public art gallery without walls.


I enjoy your continued focus on the clash between reality and ideology when we consider all the elements of city building. If people aren't engaging at length with public galleries, do we reconsider the intent or push forth with a dated concept? Love it!

J.G. May 10

"New rec centres in NW and SE will have art galleries, studios for residencies, and 300 seat purpose built theatres" T. R.  May 9

RESPONSE: This is true, however this could be more evidence that Calgarians are more interested in recreational arts than the traditional academic approach to arts and culture, which is what Spalding is looking to create. Both are good and add value to community. Everyday Tourist 


Calgary: History Capital of Canada

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

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

#10  Harry The Historian  

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

#9  Atlantic Avenue: The Original Main Street

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

#8  Stephen Avenue: The Current Main Street 

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

#7  Royal Canadian Pacific Vintage Trains

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

#6  Fort Calgary

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

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

#6  Sandstone City 

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

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

#5  Canadian Sports Hall of Fame

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

#4 Heritage Park 

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

#3  National Music Centre 

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

#2  History Museums / Parks / Plazas

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

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

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

#1  The Calgary Stampede

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

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

Last Word 

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

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

#11 Honouring Its First Nations History Everyday

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

Still not convinced? Need another factoid?

#12 Calgary Celebrates its Prairie Town Roots Everyday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberta's Dream.....Plensa meets Foster

Last night I had some time before heading to the Palomino club to hear some some indie bands, so I decided to head over to the Norman Foster designed Bow office tower to checkout Calgary's newest public artwork - Alberta's Dream by Jaume Plensa.  

Unlike Wonderland the huge 12 meter ghost-like head that dominates the grand entrance to Calgary's largest and tallest office building, "Alberta's Dream" is an intimate sculpture tucked away at the back of the building.  "Alberta's Dream" is a self-portrait cast of Plensa hugging a real tree.  The bronze sculpture is covered with the names of numerous Alberta communities with Edmonton being across the chest and Calgary across the back.  

The piece is loaded with social and political references.  It has already been renamed by the security guard who called it "The Tree Hugger" when I asked him where the new artwork was.  Alberta can hardly be called a "Tree Hugger" province. I can already hear the environmentalists having fun with this artwork.

And then there is the strategic placement of various Alberta city names on the body with Edmonton being across the heart and Calgary the backbone - coincidence? 

Unfortunately, Alberta's Dream and Wonderland don't speak to each other. I think it would have been interesting to have them both on the front plaza so they could visually play off of each other visually and intellectually.  But then again maybe there is a message in the fact that these polar opposite views of Alberta and Calgary's sense of place/importance are on opposite sides of the building?

The two pieces will be a catalyst for conversation, which is what public art is all about!

Learn more about Calgary's contemporary architecture in my earlier blog: Calgary:  North America's newest "Design" city 

Alberta's Dream aka The Tree Hugger, sit all alone one the sidewalk/plaza on the back side of the Bow office tower.  The political message is obvious.

Another view of Alberta's Dream as the figure watches the constant stream of cars go by with its back to corporate oil and gas world behind him. 

The names of various Alberta cities are tattooed across the body of the figure with Edmonton across the chest and Calgary across the shoulders. 

I thought I would add a couple of pics of Wonderland the other Plensa artwork to provide context for the two very different pieces of art he has created for one of Calgary's signature urban design projects. Calgary is quickly becoming one of the more interesting "Design Cities" of the 21st century. 

Wonderland at night.

Inside Wonderland you can capture an infinite number of images as the light and angles change. There is a wonderful interplay of the figure and the architecture.  This pic captures Calgary's rich blue sky at dusk that is very surreal.  

Wonderland breaks down to almost total abstraction at several points.

Plensa meets Foster in Calgary 

View of Norman Foster's Bow Tower from inside Jaume Plensa's Wonderland sculpture.

Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in North America?

I am working on a story on Bike Culture in Calgary and one of the topics that has grabbed my interest is the number and diversity of bike shops in the city.  I have visited lots of other cities and I don’t recall seeing the number of independent bike shops that there are in Calgary.

The one that most intrigues me is Bow Cycle in Calgary’s west side working class community of Bowness (for more history and pics you can go to My Beautiful Bowness blog).  On their vintage main street is the largest bike shop I’ve ever seen.  A quick email to Bow Cycle got a quick response saying that their shop was 24,000 square feet with another 16,000 square foot warehouse

Bow Cycle retail store on Bowness Road in Calgary is 24,000 square feet devoted entirely to bikes and accessories. 

This was my benchmark.  Let the googling begin! 

Lots of sites claimed to be the largest in the state or largest in online sales and selection but nothing about size of building.  

R&A Cycle in Brooklyn indicates on their website that they are the “World’s Largest Bike Shop” but when I emailed them their response are “the largest Professional bike shop in the world. Not in square feet as there are shops who are larger but they carry mostly bikes under $2,000 in value. As the world’s largest Professional bike shop, we have on display we have over 50 bikes with an average price tag over $4,000, with 800 frames and over 500 bikes in stock” says Philip Cabbad, Sales Representative

So I decided to contact Bow Cycle again to see how they compared as a professional bike shop.  Darrell Elliot quickly responded that “we have easily over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and easily over 50 road bikes over $5,000 on display. In fact, at a quick glance, we have over 10 bikes over $15,000.”  

Darrell went on say “I think when you are looking for the world's largest bike shop, world's best bike shop, etc., you need to have some parameters or guidelines as to what qualifies the shop as the largest or the best. Is it square footage? Overall sales figures? Bike sales? Parts sales? Accessory sales? Internal labor sales? External labor sales? Clothing sales? Bike fitting sales? Service school sales? Event sales (our shop hosts over 10 bicycle races each year)? Number of employees? Community involvement? Industry involvement? What does it take to be the world's largest/best bike store? Without blowing our horn too loud, we are probably the largest single location bicycle retail shop in Canada - perhaps even in North America - we haven't done the research on single location bicycle shops to see who in fact is the largest. It is not that important to us, we just want to meet the needs of our community.”

Yikes…I thought this would be simple - do a bit of research and write a story…I think the chain just fell off this project.  Today I spend some time at Calgary Cycle and Road sister bike shops on Centre Street North.  R&A Cycle came up again as one of the biggest and best bike shops in USA.  I was also directed to check out Colorado bike shops at is it where the USA Olympic bike teams play and major bike manufacturers are located there. 

So I need your help. Does anyone know of a single bike shop with over 24,000 square feet of space (not including warehouse space).

Calgary Cycle one of Calgary's many specialty bike shops.  Calgary has a strong bike culture perhaps as a result of having the world's most comprehensive urban pathway system at  700+ kilometres. 

About Bow Cycle:

Bow Cycle has a long history dating back to 1957 when the shop opened as a general sporting goods store by Jim Sibthorpe Sr. By 1980, the business morphed into two businesses a bicycle shop and a motorcycle shop in separate buildings on Bowness Road aka Main Street Bowness. The two businesses were successfully run by the two sons of Jim Sibthorpe (Brian and Jimi) until both were sold independently. Bow Cycle (bike shop) is now owned by five long-term employees (Kevin Senior, David Leung, John Franzky, Darrell Elliott and Kurt Christensen) who all work full time operating the business.

The retail bike store was designed by Brian and Jimi Sibthorpe the original owners. Completed in 2004, it was designed as a purpose-built bike shop, with an open design to display thousands of bikes with lots of natural light.   

Going into the season, Bow Cycle stocks about 6,000 bicycles, which indeed gives them one of the largest selections of bicycles in Canada, North American and maybe worldwide. Bow Cycle, is a family bicycle shop that caters to all types and abilities of cycling enthusiasts has a staff of 125 people, 4 shops and 30 workstations.

View from the loft level at Bow Cycle of the thousands of bikes in all shapes and colours.  

Calgary: North America's Newest "Design" City (Revisited)

As a result of the strong response to this blog, I have add some additional projects which have been suggested to me that further position Calgary as one of North America's leading "Design" cities.  

Recently I was reviewing my collection of photos of urban places and spaces in Calgary and began to realize that over the past 10 years Cowtown has become home to some pretty amazing and diverse new urban design projects.  There are several major projects that have definitely raised the bar with respect to urban design.  The diversity of the projects also impressed me - hospitals / office / bridges / parks / riverwalks / parkades / art galleries / underpasses / private homes.  I have not even touched on public art, which will be a future blog. 

However, not everyone agrees with me that Calgary's design standards have been elevated especially when it come to office buildings.  While working on this blog a colleague told me when it comes to office buildings they still tend to be short and rectangular. He is disappointed that Calgary has none of the  interesting computer generated shapes that we are seeing in places like Dubai.

 Another colleague, who has brought major international investors to the city to look a development opportunities shared with me confidentially that these investors are underwhelmed by the sense of place we have created so far.  I am thinking that will have to wait for its own blog - "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" of urban design in Calgary. You can't please everyone.  

While it is hard for Calgary to compete with non-democratic governed cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore or Shanghai, where the economics and planning rules are totally different, I believe we can compete with other North American cities for the quality of our urban design, especially over the past 10 years or so.  I think Calgary is ready to be placed on the international map of architectural tourism cities. 

While we may not have the "Wild, Weird & Wacky" architecture that some cities have, I believe we have moved away from the pioneer prairie pragmatism of the past. I am not sure there is an emerging Calgary school of design yet. However I do see a trend emerging with the introduction of the subtle use of bold colours in many of the new condos and smaller office buildings as well as the bridges.  Colour seems to be the accent pillow for Calgary's urban designers. 

Some of Calgary's new "Design" buildings have been created by signature architects  from around the world, while others have been done by our local design community.  I thought it would be interesting to put together a photo essay of Calgary in the early 21st century.  

Be sure to read to the end as I have placed Calgary's most controversial and perhaps its most challenging urban design project near the end.  

SAIT Parkade is a hidden gem as you can't really see it unless you are driving into the parkade are taking the LRT.  The skin of the parkade is made of aluminum that has thousands of holes punch into it to allow for ventilation, as well as creating the pixilation that results in the mural of the Calgary's prairie sky.   As a result of the changing sun light, the mural is constantly changing. 

Bing Tom Architects from Vancouver designed the Parkade, in collaboration with Vancouver artist Roderick Quin who designed the cloudscape mural.

The new 4th Street SE Underpass connects Calgary's historic Stampede Park with the new East Village urban village being created on the other side of the CPR railway tracks.  Immediately on the other side will be the new National Music Centre  and King Eddy Hotel (Calgary's home of the blues).  The underpass has won unanimous praise for its sleek and simple design, with great sight lines.  It has already been the catalyst for the development of the Village Ice Cream shop that serves delicious home-made ice cream. It has also inspired the City to redevelop the City Centre's other underpasses.

Broadway Malyan was he lead designer on the underpass, with Marshall Tittemore Architects being the local consultants. 

Calgary is home to over 60 skybridges (called +15 bridges in Calgary as they are 15 feet off the ground).  This one has been retrofitted with colour film on the glass to give it a contemporary stain glass feel.  This bridge enhances the arts district nature of the area as it connects Calgary's Museum of Contemporary Art with the EPCOR Performing Art Centre, as well as a major parkade and the Municipal Building (aka The Blue Monster).

The "Cloud"  is an interactive art installation by artist Caitlind r.c. Brown that was unveiled at Nuit Blanche September 15th 2012 on Calgary's Olympic Plaza.  The artwork is made of 1000 working light bulbs with pull chains and 5000 burt- out light bulbs donated by public. Visitors independently pull the chains to turn the light bulbs on and off which result in a shimmering effect.  While I was there, the public all got together to turn off all the light bulbs and then at a count of 3 they pulled the chains all the lights came on at once.  You gotta like public art that is fun.