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 


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: Canada's Bike Friendly City!

Yesterday I got a twitter saying the Copenhagenize 2013 Index of  the top 150 bike-friendly cities was out, so I quickly checked to see which cities were listed.  At the top were the usual suspects - Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I was surprised only one North American city - Montreal (tied at #11 with Munich and Nagoya), Tokyo and Rio were also in the top 20, all others were from Europe.  No Vancouver, Portland or Melbourne!  Given the domination of European cities one has to ask what are the study’s objectives and criteria for determining a city’s bicycle-friendliness? 

The study’s objective is clear – “the index looks only at each city’s efforts towards reestablishing the bicycle as a feasible, accepted and practical form of transport.”  To me, the Copenhagenized Index is not a true measure of a city’s bicycle-friendliness as it doesn’t look at all aspects of a city’s bike culture. 

To me, a bike-friendly city is more than just having roads with bike lanes, bike share programs and modal splits.  It is also about the diversity of biking opportunities in a city from velodrome, touring and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.   And from opportunities for the weekend warriors, family wanders, the fanatical and the fair weather cyclists. 

I truly would love to cycle to and from my daily meetings and activities as they are almost all within 10 km of my house, but for at least 7 months of the year it is too cold and too dark. Call me a fair weather cyclist, but I am not cycling when it is cold and there is snow and gravel on the road.  Even today, the end of April, when I left in the morning it was too cold for me to bike and was still too cold at noon. And then there are days with back-to-back meetings with a squash game or yoga practice added to the mix that makes cycling just not a viable option. This relegates me to a recreational cyclist status.

There were 13 criteria for the Copenhagenize Design Co. study, with each city given 0 to 4 points in each category, plus up to a 12-point bonus for particularly impressive efforts. This works out to a maximum of 64 points, which is then translated into a number out of 100.  While every attempt is made to make the study objective, there is still a lot of subjectivity. How do you measure Social Acceptance, which they define, as how do drivers and the community at large regard urban cyclists? Or the degree of  “passionate political involvement?”

I'm not naive to think Calgary will score high on the list of the top 150 cities, but I think for a cold prairie winter city  (as opposed to a cool coastal winter city) we are very bike- friendly.  And if our recreational cycling culture and facilities were given equal status to the transportation side of cycling I am sure we would do better. But lets not get caught in the trap of “best practices.”  No city can be the best at everything. 

In some cases, geography and climate will limit a city's ability to perform in certain areas.  Also, you simply can’t afford to be the best at everything. Cities need to pick one or two things to excel at, and be good at most of the other things which make a city attractive to live, work and play while limiting the negative impact of its weaknesses (cities will always be weak at some things).

Perhaps Calgary is not the best place to ride your bike to work or for shopping, but I still think we can promote Calgary as a bike-friendly city for citizens and tourists wanting to explore our extensive urban parks and pathways (which are truly some of the best in the world (Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways blog). 

Also in what other major city do drivers stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the street? This behaviour ironically would be rated as a negative in the Copenhagenize Index as the “transportation” cyclist doesn’t want any special treatment.  But I expect the family out cycling to the playground, park and pathway appreciate having Calgary drivers giving them the right-of-way.

The fact we are in the top 150 in the 2013 Index should be celebrated. Calgary can’t be in the top 10 on every world ranking. Below is some of the information I have collected on Calgary as a bike-friendly city.  As I am still working on this document, feedback is welcomed. 

Calgary’s Bike Friendly Stats-At-A-Glance:

From the BikeCalgary website I got that 40,000 Calgarians ride their bike regularly for transportation spring, summer and fall or about 6.5% of our 618,000 workforce. In addition, 140,000 ride their bike recreationally at least once a week and another 400,000 ride occasionally.  I am not sure how that compares to other cities.  And I am also told the Calgary numbers and those collected by other cities are not always collected in the most comprehensive and scientific manner.

From the City of Calgary website and Tom Thivener, City of Calgary, Bike CoordinatorI got the following factoids:

  • 712 km of multi-use pathways
  • 328 bikeways
  • 23 km of bike lanes 
  • 300 km of snow cleared pathways
  • 80 underpasses and bridges
  • 5,018 private bike parking stalls in Downtown (62% weather-protected)
  • 10,000 to 12,000 cyclists commute to Downtown in prime cycling season ( mid April to mid October) or about 7.5% of the downtown employees
  • 14.5 bike injuries/yr/100,000 and declining (2009)
  • City employs Cycling Coordinator, Bike Traffic Engineer and Cycling Education/Encouragement Coordinator.
  • Comprehensive Cycling Strategy approved by Council in June 2011. In it a citywide survey indicated 2% of Calgarians are Fearless Cyclists (share the road with cars) 20 are Confident Cyclists (moderately comfortable sharing the road), 51% are Interested Cyclists (not comfortable sharing the road) and 28% are Reluctant Cyclists (not interested in cycling).

From the City's 2011, Cycling Strategy report noted the following: 

Calgary’s multi-use pathway and on-street bikeway network has almost doubled from 550 kilometres in 1999 to 1,067 kilometres in 2010. In 2010, Calgary had 712 kilometres of multi-use pathways and 355 kilometres of on-street bikeways, 328 kilometres of which were signed bikeways and 27 kilometres of which were bikeways with pavement marking — bike lanes and marked shared lanes. From City of Calgary Cycling Strategy document page 17

From chatting over the past few months with 10+ avid cyclists from different sectors of Calgary’s bike culture  the following strengths and weaknesses of cycling in Calgary have emerged:  


  • Excellent recreational cycling paths for families and beginners
  • Good mountain biking for beginner and intermediate cyclists within the city – Canada Olympic Park and Nose Hill Park
  • Excellent road cycling routes along secondary roads just outside the city.
  • Excellent cross-cycling routes within an hour of city limits – Bragg Creek and Canmore Nordic Centre
  • Excellent BMX bike park – Shaw Millennium Park
  • Excellent mountain climb hill – Edworthy Park
  • Strong club scene with over 30 different bike clubs registered with Alberta Bike Association
  • World Class mountain biking a 3 hour drive (Panorama or Fernie)
  • World Class new professional road cycling event - Tour de Alberta


  • Pathway system doesn’t connect directly to major shopping or workplace destinations
  • Lack of a bike sharing program
  • Lack of dedicated bike lanes on major bike routes  

ound this image on the Copenhagenize Design Co. website. While for many "bikes for transportation" advocates this is the vision i.e. roads crowded with people using their bikes for everyday activities.  However, I am not sure this would be attractive to many of the Calgarians who are currently reluctant to use roads and pathways as it is too crowded.  It would be interesting to show them this picture and say would you be wiling to ride on this bike lane.   I

t will take a huge paradigm shift in the thinking of Calgarians to move from recreational to transportational cycling.  The creation of new bike lanes to link the current pathway system to key destinations is a great place to start.  

But we need to be realistic in our expectations of the numbers who will be prepared to make the change and this is not going to happen overnight.  

ast Word

Big Blue sits in the garage. Used only occasionally unfortunately. In my teens and early 20s I used my bike for "transportation" , but once I got a car it was more convenient and comfortable to drive rather than ride (see blog on Comfort and Convenience).  

I did ride my bike to work in my 40s when I worked downtown and my life was more downtown centric. Today my live, work, play is all over the place and changes hourly.   

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Bike Expert:  75 Most Bike Friendly Cities In The World (Dec 2016)

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.