Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek SK!

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

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

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

Happy Travelling Everyone Everyday!

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

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

The classic Santa Claus!  

Sorry, can't stop now!  

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

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

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

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

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

Yes they love their football?  

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

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

Happy and safe holidays everyone!


If you liked this blog, click on these blogs:  

Ten Commandments of a Flaneur

Flaneuring Uptown Plaza  

Tale of Two Donuts!


Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard

By Richard White, 

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

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

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

Downtown Decline

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love the link between cartoons and neon characters.  

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

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

Las Vegas’ Boneyard Park

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

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

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

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

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

See Appendix for history of neon.

The crowd gathers waiting for the Freemont Experience to begin.  

Age of LED

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Take away idea

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtowns need to be fun

Putting the public back into public art

Cruising in Chicago

The curse of minimalism






Neon History (excerpts from www.neonlab.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

By Richard White, December 3, 2013

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

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

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

Where would an urban pioneer hang out in Calgary?

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

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

Wrong side of the tracks?

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

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

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

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

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

Prairie Oysters & Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loft Living

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

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

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

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

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

Centre Ice

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

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

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

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

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

Street Ballet

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

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

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

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

Rolling Stones meets Big Bang Theory

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

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

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

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

Sleeping on the Rail Trail

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

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


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

Camera Buffs

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

 Bring your camera!

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

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

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

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

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

Freakn Fun Funky Quirky (FFQ) Bike Racks

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

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

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

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


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

Do we use the word to loosely today? 

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

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

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

A city is a city…

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

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

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

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

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

Future Dividends?

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

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

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

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

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

Portlandia has FFQ bike racks too…

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

Art / Decoration / Tacky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Tri-cities 

FFQing Udderly Art Pasture

Downtown Fun: Spokane 

Window Licking in Chicago

FFQing in Downtown Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture!

By Richard White, November 21, 2013

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

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

You will find some interesting factoids like:

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

Kid Friendly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

There are fun bits of humour everywhere you look.

Jingle Belle is a great kodak moment for any family.  

Cow Belle invites visitors to play a song or two. 

Public Art: Love it or hate it!

By Richard White, October 30, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grassi Lakes Trail Treasure Hunting

By Richard White, September 2, 2013

Today we did something we don't do very often - we hiked in the mountains. For us hiking is almost always in the city, the closest we get to nature normally is walking along the Bow River near our house or maybe we might venture to Glenmore Reservoir for a walk with friends.  

However, an invite from friends to come out to Canmore for our regular first Sunday dinner and hike the next day was something we couldn't refuse. 

After a hearty breakfast, a couple of cups of coffee, water bottle filled and sandwiches made we headed out and were on the trail by 10 am.  Lucky for us as who knew how busy the trail would get by noon hour.  


No we didn't climb this mountain but we found people who were climbing up rock faces like this one.  It was a beautiful day in Rockies. 

Grassi Lakes was designated as one of Alberta's Special Places in 2000.  It is named after Lawrence Grassi who emigrated to Canmore in 1912.  While he worked in the coal minds his real love was mountain climbing.  He is said to have been the first person to climb Mount Assiniboine in 1925.  He was an avid trail builder, moving huge stones single-handley to construct steps, bridges or simple stepping stones.  Grassi Lake trail is his signature mountain trail and evidence of his work can be found in several places along the trail. 

A view of the trail and one of the rustic benches along the way.  It is hard to imagine how Lawrence Grassi could have envision a trail up to the lakes through the virgin forrest a 100 years ago. Let alone build it! 

Grassi Lakes trail is a moderate walk with a 250 meter elevation gain and a round trip of 3.8 km.  Along the route you get to enjoy spectacular views of the Bow River valley at Canmore and the Canadian Rockies.  At the top are two colourful crystal clear lakes which make a great place for a picnic.  

The rock cliffs surrounding the upper lake is a very popular spot for rock climbing which is fun and amazing to watch. A short scramble above the upper lake takes you to a short canyon hike and  a very close look at two genuine petroglyphs on a large boulder.   

I have to admit you don't get this kind of scenery or animation walking along the Bow River.    



A view of the lower lake takes your breath away. It is magical, surreal and enchanting all at the same time. You can see why this was named an Alberta Special Place in 2000.  What took them so long? 

A postcard view of the upper Grassi Lake with its crystal clear aquamarine colour water.  Yes it looks surreal. 

A group of rock climbers at the upper Grassi Lake.  This was just one of about five or six groups showing off their death defying skills. 

The start of the trail up the canyon to the top. 

This is the better of the two petroglyph images.  There was lots of speculation about how it got there and who did it by the people looking at it.  To me it looks like a drum dancer. 

We were lucky we got to top before the lunch crowd as the trail was extremely busy as we descended.  People and dogs of all shapes and sizes where heading up as we headed down. On the way up I had identified a piece of weathered wood that I thought would make a great addition for the garden back home.  I don't think my hiking companions thought I would carry it out - wrong. I knew where it was and I knew how to carry it out.  I got lots of funny looks and comments as I headed down with the wood wrapped around my head, but it was worth it.  I have to have a great souvenir of the day.  I love to get a souvenir from each and every trip we take. I am addicted to the "thrill of the hunt."  

Yes this is me carrying my piece of wood down the trail to take home for our garden.  Who could pass up a treasure like this one?

As part of the climb we got very close to this waterfall and there are several places where you have to cross small streams / waterfalls.  For a moderate walk, easy climb Grassi Lakes has a lot to offer.   

This photo gives you a sense of the wonderful vistas you get of the town of Canmore, the  mountains and the valley along the trail.  

If you like this blog you might like: 

Discouver Calgary's Secret Heritage Trail 

Forensic Walks In Calgary  

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways  

George Webber: Prairie Gothic Images

Being an everyday tourist

Off The Beaten Path in Spokane

Every province and state in North America has a primary city as well as one or more secondary cities that live in the shadow of its big brother.  For example, in Washington State, Seattle is the primary city with 3.5 million people, while Spokane is the “second city” with just 500,000 people. We love visiting “second cities” as they often have fun, funky and quirky, off-the-beaten-path (OTBP) things to see and do.   That’s likely due to the fact “second cities” are often left to evolve naturally over time without massive urban renewal mega projects that often gentrify and make “big” cities all look the same.

Here are our top seven “OTBP” things to see and do in Spokane. You will note that in some cases the places are not OTBP, but the things to “see and do” there are.

Frank’s Diner

No trip to Spokane is complete without breakfast at Frank’s Diner.  Housed in a 1906 railway dining car, sit at the authentic diner-style counter or grab a booth and enjoy a hearty breakfast.  With Frank’s serving up over 30,000 eggs and 2.5 tones of fresh hash browns a year - no wonder its been voted “best breakfast” place in town 14 years in a row.  While Frank’s is well known by the locals, it is on the western edge of downtown beyond the scope of most tourist treks.

Located at 1516 West 2nd Ave. www.franksdiners.com

Everyone loves a walk back in time at Frank's Diner located in an early 20th century dining car.

Parkade Tour

Tour the streets of Spokane’s downtown and you will encounter some of the most interesting mid-century modern parkade structures anywhere.  In fact, the city’s skyline is dominated by a large “Parkade” sign (175 feet from the ground) that proudly sits on top of a massive parkade.

Simply called the “Parkade,” this 10-level 1,000 stall, above-ground parkade was built in 1967 as part of a massive downtown urban renewal project.  In 1968, it won an award of excellence for its use of concrete.  Local architect Warren C. Heylman wanted to create a parking structure that was pedestrian-friendly, had skywalks circling the structure offering protection from the elements and separated pedestrian traffic from automobile traffic.  It is an excellent example of mid-century modern parkade architecture.

It is interesting that the term “parkade” is used mostly in Canada and South Africa.  In the US, a multi-story car park may be called a parking garage, parking deck, parking ramp, parking podium or parking building depending on the design of the structure and where you are in the country.  In Spokane you can find parking structures with several of these names. Some of the best views of the city are from the top of the parkade, or is that garage or ramp? 

More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Parkade

In what other city does the parkade dominate the city's skyline. 

At street level the Parade has a wonderful sense of pattern and rhythm.  The yellow awnings create a patio like visual.  

Spokane has several vintage parkades with great neon signs at the entrance.  One has to wonder how this parking garage got the name "Evergreen." You would never associate a parkade today with the term evergreen. 

As you can see Spokane's parking structure terminology ranges from parkade to parking garage to ramp.  

The Parkade ramp and tower are very sculptural when viewed from this angle. Also not the skybridges that connect the Parkade to neighbouring buildings without having to go to street level.  

The parkade attached to River Front Square while newer, has none of the charm and character of The Parkade.   

Nordstrom’s Fitting Rooms

We don’t usually hang out at major downtown shopping malls (not OTBP enough), but one rainy day we decided to explore Spokane’s River Park Square.  Since we didn’t have a Nordstrom in Canada (though we will have soon), I thought I’d explore it.  To my surprise, I found a good deal on golf pants.  I was as surprised – and impressed – also to find amazing art on the wall of the men’s fitting room. I don’t know for sure, but I expect it is the same in women’s change area.  I love finding interesting art in strange places.  

One of the artworks in the men's change area at Nordstroms.  I loved the whimsical drawing, the Magritte like floating hat and the newspaper background.  

The briefcase was the companion piece to the hat.   

Browne’s Addition

Browne’s Addition is named after John J. Browne who came to Spokane from Portland in 1878 and bought 102 acres of land above Spokane Falls.  By the end of the 19th century, when Spokane’s rich and famous were discovering the charms of the area, Browne applied for and received a homestead grant for additional land in the area.  Browne’s Addition became home to numerous large mansions (most of them built by local architect Kirtland Cutter) that have a wonderful history.  In the mid 20th century, it became known as Browne’s “Addiction” as many of the homes became low-income lodging houses.  However, today most of the homes have been restored to their original glory and make for a wonderful morning or afternoon walking tour.

Grab a coffee at Cannon Coffee & Cone (corner of Cannon St. and 4th Avenue) or lunch at Café Marron (144 S Cannon St) and take a history-rich stroll on your own…or with the help of a the self-guided walking tour booklet available for $6 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture…or print off the Kirtland Cutter “Age of Elegance” information on the web http://www.spokesman.com/guides/kirtland-cutter-and-spokanes-age-elegance/stop-93/
Browne’s Addition is west of downtown with Coeur D’Alene Park at its centre.

The W.JC. Wakefield House was probably the first Mission Revival house in the northwest. LIke most of the homes in Browne's Addition it was designed by local architect Kitland Cutter.  

John Finch House was built by Kitland Cutter in 1897.  The tall Ionic columns convey the aristocratic aspirations of many of Spokane's wealthy businessmen at the turn of the 20th century.  

Albert Held was the architect for the  Reid House built in 1900. It is one of the few houses that wasn't designed by Kirtland Cutter and one of the few Craftsman style homes on the block.  2315 West First Avenue.     

Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park, a 100-acre park just upstream from the famous Upper Spokane Falls, is not exactly OTBP given it was the home of Spokane’s Expo ’74 and now has many of the city’s popular tourist attractions.  The Park’s Skyride over the falls, as well as a ride on the 1909 Looff Carousel are on everyone’s list of things to see and do.  However, the “Garbage Goat” created by Sister Paula Turnbull, is a fun, interactive piece of public art tucked away in a grotto-like space.  With a vacuum digestive system that allows it to eat small items when you feed it, it has widespread appeal to young and old alike.

Also worth seeking out is the children’s playground, where a huge (12 feet high, 12 feet wide, 27 feet long) 26-ton Red Wagon with its handle that doubles as a slide. The wagon will hold as many as 300 people and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  You have to give it a try! It makes a great photo op!


Brenda feeding the "Garbage Goat" while young friend watches. 

The world's largest red wagon becomes a playground slide.  

Garland District

Just a few minutes from downtown lies the Garland District, developed in the early 20th century in conjunction with the building of the street railway line in 1910.  Today, it is home to three buildings on the National Registry – The Romanesque Revival Masonic Temple (1922); the mimetic architecture where buildings are designed to copy their function Milk Bottle (1935) and the Art Deco Garland Theatre (1945). 

This arts community is a great place to explore vintage clothing and thrift stores, check out improv theatre or see a movie.  It is also home to many fun diners and cafes, as well as Bon Bon Lounge at the Garland Theatre with its hand-muddled cocktails (made by pressing herbs and/or fruit against the side of a glass with a muddler which releases flavors and binds with the alcohol).  Who knew?

Garland District is 3.2 km north of downtown along N. Post St and Garland Avenue.

More information at: http://www.garlanddistrict.com

The art deco Garland Theatre is the anchor for this charming arts district. 

The  1935 Benewah Milk Bottle is the other iconic building in the Garland District. 

Loo with a view!

The Red Lion Hotel at the Park is definitely not off the beaten path as it is has a prime location on the edge of Riverfront Park and the banks of the Spokane River.  However, the men’s washroom in the Skyline Ballroom has perhaps one of the best views of any washroom in the Pacific Northwest…maybe North America.  Men can enjoy the vista out the picture window above the urinals that looks out over the Gonzaga University district with Mt. Spokane in the background.  It is definitely a bathroom with a view!

The hotel’s pool is also a hidden gem with its 28-foot waterslide and 6-foot rainbow LED light waterfall cascading from a lush native Northwest landscape scene. The pool has a fun history.  When it was first opened in 1983, the hotel manager, losing a bet with the contractor that the pool wouldn’t be ready for the grand opening, he had to go down the waterslide in his business suit.  The manager, Don Barbieri, is now Chairman of the Board of Directors for Red Lions Hotels Corporation. 

In keeping with tradition, current General Manager Patrick Shimon also was the first to go down the waterslide – and in his business suit - after the 2012 renovations. 

When visiting Spokane, Red Lion at the Park is our recommendation. It is located at 303W North River Dr.   More information at  http://www.spokaneredlionpark.com

This is the view from the picture window above the urinals at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park. 

The pool at the Red Lion at the Park in Spokane.  

Love to hear your stories about "off-the-beaten-path" places you have visited in Spokane or elsewhere.   

Everyday Tourist Transit Tales

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

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

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

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

Lesson Leaned: Souvenirs sometimes come from unexpected places.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantages of taking public transit:

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

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

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 


Live like a local in Chicago's Hotel Lincoln next to the park....

After this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, August 3, 2013.  Melissa McCarville, Regional Public Relations Manager, emailed "this is a fantastic piece about Lincoln Park! Love you detail and the places you mention are just perfect. Great, great, great story.  You captured the essence of living there - and I can say that because I did for 4 years!"

By Richard White

How small could you go?

How small a space could you really live in and be happy?  And not just for a weekend getaway – but on an ongoing basis. The current craze in the condo development community seems to be who can create the smallest condo!  In Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, 400 square foot condos i.e. the size of two parking spots, is becoming quite common.  And Vancouver’s new development called Balance boasts the smallest condo in Canada - a 297 sq. ft. micro condo. 

I didn’t think I could live in anything under 1,500 sq. ft. – that’s, until I spent a week in a well-designed 475 sq. ft. suite at the Hotel Lincoln in Chicago.  Now I am really rethinking how much space I need after spending a week in their chic, contemporary junior suite.  It had two bathrooms at opposite ends of the suite, which works well for couples getting ready to go out at the at the same time.  The suite was open concept - a full king size bed at one end and a sitting area at the other (comfortable sofa, chair seating and coffee table) at the other.  Tucked along the wall was a desk, small coffee area and wall mounted swivel TV so it could be viewed from the bed or the sofa.  It all worked very well.  

In order to live small you need to have a coffee spot close by that you feel comfortable hanging out at.  It becomes an extension of your home.  Elaine"s  Coffee Call in the lobby of the Hotel Lincoln is just such a place. 

The Neighbourhood

Downstairs was Elaine’s Coffee Call, a great place for a morning coffee and toast (I think I could live on their PBJ toast, with its pecan butter) and people watching – it was a happening place.  Who needs a big kitchen when there are cafes, pubs and restaurants just outside your door?  The key to living small is to have lots of amenities nearby.

If we lived at the Hotel Lincoln, I think we would have soon considered Nookies as an extension of our home.  Located just a block from Hotel Lincoln (in funky Old Town) – we loved the home style cooking and ambience. In fact, you can bring your own wine and they don’t charge any corkage and if you don’t finish your bottle, you can just take it home.  How good it that? We learned that is not uncommon in Chicago.

Who needs a big screen TV and media room when it’s so easy to wander over to the local sports bar, cheer as loud as you want without your spouse shouting “don’t make me come down there.” Bonus there are no empties or mess to clean up either.

On our first night in Chicago we headed to The Old Town Pour for dinner and to watch the Chicago Blackhawks in a Stanley Cup playoff game. We have never been in a bar that was so loud and so full of energy – who would want to stay home when, instead,  you could be part of that! 

Who needs a media room when you have a sports bar just a block or two away. 

Downtown Fun

Not a sports fan?  More into comedy?  No problem. Second City is located just a few short blocks away, with performances nightly, with many nights offering multiple performances.  Forget reruns of Friends, Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld; enjoy live comedy instead with a room full of kindred spirits. Living small is about living in your community.

The Hotel Lincoln was perfectly located for living without a car.  Bus stops are just steps outside the door, as is the huge Lincoln Park with its free (yes free) zoo – yes free!  Imagine… walk out your door down the street and in five minutes you are wandering in a hundred year old (1868), 35-acre zoo… beats having a cat or a dog in my mind. 

Or, head to the beach in the summer. It too is only a few minutes walk away.  It is almost like having a pool in your own backyard.  The closest that you might get to this in Calgary would be those living in the condos near Hotel Arts! (Did you know that you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the Hotel Arts pool? I just found out!)

Imagine having Second City in your backyard, beats watching sitcom reruns....

Lincoln Park Zoo is a wonderful walk in the park with the bonus of being able to get up close and personal with the animals. 

Aerial view of Chicago's beaches from the Hancock Building with Lincoln Park at the top.  Beach, park, zoo, farm and farmer's market makes living small easy in Lincoln Park or Gold Coast communities in Chicago. 

Rooftop Patios

Who even needs their own little balcony or patio when you can hang out on you own roof top patio?  We were able to experience what this would be like at the Hotel Lincoln as they had one of the coolest and most popular rooftop restaurants in Chicago. It doesn’t get much better than to come home, sit back and have someone serve you your favourite adult beverage.

Calgary doesn’t make enough use of its  rooftops (office or condos) for restaurants. An exception will be Qualex-Landmark’s new condo Mark on 10th, which will have a rooftop patio that I suspect with become the residents’ second living room.  You don’t need a large space if you have the right amenties both on site and on the street.

What about laundry you say? Chicagoans have that figured out too; a local dry cleaners on every block.   Well maybe not every block but just about.  On our way to Nookies for example we passed a dry cleaners/tailors that would have made it easy to just drop off our cleaning at our convenience (or I expect they would pick up too).

And to top it off, every Wednesday and Saturday in the summer a Farmers’ Market in Lincoln Park is literally right across the street. No need for your own garden when you have all the fresh fruits and vegetables you can imagine, as well as breads, jams, honey and flowers across the street.  

Brenda looking over the options at the Lincoln Park Farmers' Market across the street from the Hotel Lincoln in Old Town. 

Last Word:

Living small in Chicago I think would be easy.  I’d recommend that if you are contemplating buying a small condo, that you rent a hotel room in the area for a month so you can see if there are sufficient amenities to make small living realistic. I am thinking condo developers would be wise to have a couple of furnished room that they rent out for a month to prospective buyers – consider it a test drive. 

Condos in Calgary are definitely getting smaller, many in on the 500 sq. ft. range.  A well-designed 500 sq. ft. space might just be the ticket for a single first time buyer, or someone who travels a lot, or a true urbanite who really lives and embraces their local community.

P.S. Don’t forget the big benefit of small living is that it takes no time to clean up, leaving you more time to play!


JT writes: "I would easily live in 500 sf in the middle of any city if it was just me.  It would be even better if it was central Chicago and with a healthy budget.  I'd add this wrinkle - add a person and you add 500 sf of space need.  A family of four gets you to 2000 sf.  Try living with that size of family in 1000 sf like we did as kids- it is not fun, especially when you have the option of living in bigger.

The small solution is a great one to populate urban spaces but the band of potential residents is narrowed to the singles with enough disposable income to live a lifestyle of spending in the public realm. 


Nookies is a family restaurant in Old Town that serves up home-cooking meals for locals. Bring your own wine is encourage and no corkage is charged. Just like being at home, except you don' t have to cook or clean up.  

Hotel Lincoln on Lincoln Park in Old Town is the perfect place if you want to live like a local when visiting Chicago. 

Who needs a backyard or a patio when you have a park next door - horse shoes anyone? 

Most backyards aren't big enough for a pick up game of baseball...Lincoln Park is perfect... 

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 www.lougheedhouse.com.

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 Chur