Downtown Fun Spokane vs Calgary!

By Richard White, November 11, 2013

Recently we were in lovely downtown Spokane staying at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park (yes they have a hotel right on the Spokane River where you can see and hear the water) next to Riverfront Park, home to Expo 1974.  While wandering their downtown we quickly noticed how much more fun their downtown is on a Saturday morning compared to Calgary’s. 

I share the fun things we discovered as a way of incubating ideas on how Calgary' downtown and for that matter any downtown can become more fun.  and other  can add more fun to our downtown. 

A carousel is common place in many cities I have visited - Spokane, Missoula, Helena and places like Paris and Lyon. Why not Calgary?

Every downtown needs a big red wagon or the equivalent in one of their urban parks!

Looff Carousel / Rotary Fountain

Wandering from the Red Lion’s (a fun name for a hotel) gardens to the pedestrian bridge, you immediately enter Riverfront Park.  Within a few minutes, we were intrigued by the sound of carousel music, then by the sight of a Ferris wheel and finally the sight of the 1909 Looff Carousel itself housed in a building allowing for year round use.  (Note: Lucky for us there was a private function so the area was animated with music, movement and people.)  

While Calgary’s Sheraton and Prince’s Island have some of these elements -especially in the summer when the wading pool is open - it doesn’t have the same playfulness.  In Spokane, not only do they have the carousel and Ferris wheel in their downtown park, but they also have a wonderful summer fountain sculpture that kids love to play in and adults use as a meeting place year-round. 

Boo Raddley's is jam packed with fun things. It has the feeling of a carnival.

Fun Retail

Boo Raddley, a quirky store across the street from the Carousel, oozes fun for young and old alike.  Upon walking in you are surrounded by posters of clowns and plastic lion and unicorn heads.  I loved the display case with the ray guns made out of old drills.

Next door is a unique gift/coffee shop called Atticus. The saying on the large mural “Shoot all the blue jays you want but…it a sin to kill a mocking bird” immediately tells you this place is full of fun. And it doesn’t disappoint.

Around the corner is an "Apple" store. Even at 10 am the place is packed with smiling people - the place bubbles with fun. I am not sure what it is about "Apple" products and "fun" but they seem to go together.  I can't believe downtown Calgary doesn't have an Apple store yet!  

Later in the day we came upon the bright pink Brutties Gourmet Candy Shoppe, with the look and feel of an old tyme candy shop. After seeing their made-on-site selection of candy, chocolates and fudge and tasting soft peanut brittle their invention, I was literally smiling like a kid in a candy shop.

Soon after, we found Annie’s Bookstore - every downtown needs a bookstore like Annie’s with its fun children’s area and separate room for gamer geeks to hang out.  Calgary used to have a signature downtown bookstore – remember McNally Robinson?  

Even the +15 bridges have a sense of fun in their design and colour.

Mobius Children’s Museum

Our spiny senses told us the Riverfront Park and fun retail didn’t completely explain the Saturday morning downtown animation.  Walking along Main Street we soon figured out why – the children’s museum was located on Main Street as part of Riverfront Square (think Stephen Avenue and The Core). 

The entrance right off Main Street was nondescript; you could easily miss it.  However, once you find it, there is a fun quirky design element - it has two doors - one for big people and one for little people (or big people with a sense of play). How fun!

Inside, the place was hopping and it was only 10:30 am.  It is not a big space but it has 7 or 8, regularly changing activity centers at any given time.  By the buzz, it was obvious everyone was having fun.  We were told on a typical Saturday in fall, they have 750 to 1,000 people visit. 

They even have a “drop and shop” program several times of year (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day) where parents can drop off their kids ($15 each for 3 hours) and parents can go play elsewhere.

You gotta give credit to the person who designed this entrance. Talk about fun, a sense of place and authenticity; this is good urban street design.

 Parkade Signage

Outside again, we noticed the signage to the Riverfront Square parkade was colourful and fun, not your usual minimal colourless signage that you can’t find even when you know it is there. 

One of the tallest structures in the downtown, the Parkade sign above the city’s 10-story above ground parkade built for the Expo ’74, is now a mid-century modern architectural icon.

There are also several older neon signs that signify the entrance to parkades built much earlier.  I love the ironic neon “Every Green Parking” sign probably from the ‘30s. 

Downtown signage use to be fun, especially in the neon era when almost all signage was big, bold and flashy - I long for the return of the neon craze.

To me this is the perfect parking garage sign. It is easy to see from a distance day or night and it is whimsical. We need to bring back more neon signs!


Mobius Science Centre

Across the street from the Children’s Museum and Riverfront Square sits the new Science Centre, which opened just a year ago. A shame its entrance isn’t very inviting and there is not attempt to connect it with the Children’s Museum or to say, “science is fun.” However once inside, there are strong elements of fun from a paper airplane challenge to the basketball jump competition.

At the entrance are live snakes, frogs, turtles and tarantulas with a quote the floor “Kissing will not produce princes. Handling will not cause warts.” Again, the Centre is not huge, maybe 15 or so activity area but judging by the squealing, jumping and laughing, there were lots of children and adults have fun while learning.

When was the last time you saw hundreds of kids running around Calgary’s downtown having fun? If downtown is truly the heart of the city, shouldn’t it be attractive to everyone, not just the corporate crusaders? 

Perhaps we made a mistake taking our science centre out of the downtown. Riding the bus or train including walking through the +15 walkway to get to the science centre use to be part of the fun downtown adventure for our visiting nieces and nephews.

This was our new friend showing us how this exhibit worked. She probably spent 30 minutes with us showing us how everything worked and encouraging us to give it a try. Too much fun!


Big Red Wagon and Building Blocks

Wandering back to the Red Lion through Riverfront Park again, we came upon more families milling about the big (and I mean BIG) Radio Flyer red wagon slide.  Standing 12 feet tall, 12 feet wide and 27 feet long and weighing 26 tons, the wagon so big moms and dads can and do climb unabashedly up into it and slide down with their kids.

Next to the wagon, are a dozen or so concrete cubes painted like children’s blocks for climbing and sitting. Even when there are no kids around, I highly suspect the scene generates more than a few smiles from passersby.

Making a downtown an urban playground should be more than just fun things for adults i.e. boutiques, restaurants, pubs, lounge and bars. I love to hang out in our downtown during the International Children’s Festival; too bad we couldn’t make our downtown more child friendly year-round. Or can we?

How fun and creative are these children blocks for kids to sit and climb on?

Even the shoppers were having fun. These one's were laughing so hard my camera couldn't get a clear picture. Everywhere we went people were having fun.

Gondola Ride

Of course, one of the most fun things to do in downtown Spokane is to ride gondola over the roaring Spokane Falls. It drops you 200 feet into the river gorge over the falls and under the Monroe Street Bridge, offering outstanding views of the falls and historic architecture of the downtown.  If you are lucky, you can open the windows and take a close-up picture of a rainbow.

Though in Calgary you can float down the Bow River and maybe even catch a Rainbow trout, it is tough to beat the fun factor of Spokane’s Sky Ride ($10 for 15 minutes), ranked this year by Conte Nast Traveler as one of the top gondola rides in the world.

Red Lion Hotel

Earlier that morning at the Red Lion on the Park, we were surprised at the sheer number of families having breakfast.  Later, as we were leaving for downtown, we discovered why.  The hotel has an outdoor pool area (complete with waterslide, waterfall, hot tub and huge patio – very resort-like), as well as an indoor pool and hot tub we noticed earlier. However it wasn’t until we returned after our day of flaneuring downtown that we found the children’s outdoor playground.  I am not aware of any downtown hotel in Calgary or anywhere for that matter with this big of a commitment to family fun. 

The Red Lion Parkside 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, 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. (photo, Spokane Review).

How about this fun piece of public art? Gives a new perspective on jogging!

Last Word

I have said it before and I will say it again “downtown Calgary is too corporate!”  Why do downtown office buildings have to be so lifeless and visually minimal?  Why can’t they have more color and ornamentation?  Why can’t their entrances and lobbies be more inviting and visually interesting?  

Maybe Suncor Centre could have one of the monster oilsand trucks on the plaza in front of their building – wouldn’t that make a fun statement?  Let the kids climb up and play on it.  Maybe make it into a giant slide?

To be fair there are some fun things in our downtown, but that will be the subject of another column.  

Love to hear about what fun things there are to see and do in your downtown! Send me your comments.


If you like this blog you might like: 

 Off The Beaten Path In Spokane 

Discovering Calgary's Secret Heritage Trail 

Calgary's Cafe Culture  

Largest Bike Shop in North America  

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's, New Condos section, November 9, 2013.  

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

The Suburbs Move to City Centre in Calgary

I have lived in Calgary's city centre for over 20 years and observed the evolution of the different communities from cottage houses to new urban communities with a mix of residential homes.  During that time I have also visited many city centres in cities across North America from Portland to Ottawa from Vancouver to Miami. While I have seen some infill homes (the removal of an old cottage home to create one or two new homes) nowhere have I seen anything on the scale of what has been happening in Calgary's city centre.  

In every community within 10 km of the downtown Calgary there is an infill under construction on nearly  every block. Literally hundreds of new homes are being built in the city centre, in addition to hundreds of new condos in mid and high-rise towers. 

The infill homes are on the same scale as the homes in the suburbs starting at  2,000+sf of living space and two car garage.  More and more young families are moving into the communities revitalizing them. I recently looked at the civic census and over 4,500 children and teens live in the north-side city centre communities alone where a lot of the infilling is happening. These communities have great access to elementary Jr highhigh schools  and three post secondary schools, as well as major hospital and children's hospital. 

While Calgary is often criticized for its large carbon footprint is probably the most contiguous urban region in North America with few edge cities and one of the most dense city centres with respect to commercial and residential development.

The following are some photos I took on my morning walk today. 


I had to take a second look when I turned on to this Hillhurst street in Calgary's thriving city centre.  At first glance you would think it is a parade of show homes in a new suburb 20+km from downtown. But no this is just one of many streets with multiple infill homes being built within 5 km of dowtown. 

While most of the old homes get torn down some are recycled and repurposed like this one. 

Further along the same street are some older infills with mature gardens like this one. Reminds me of my recent walks through Chicago's Gold Coast community.  

I love the diversity of design and materials. No cookie cutter homes here. However there is the twin phenomena i.e. when lot divided two homes of similar  design get built so it looks like a series of twins. 

I love the diversity of design and materials. No cookie cutter homes here. However there is the twin phenomena i.e. when lot divided two homes of similar  design get built so it looks like a series of twins. 

Strollers, bikes and trikes are a common site on the front lawns and verandas. There is also often chalk art on the sidewalk. Playgrounds in these communities have all had mega makeovers to become family gathering places. 

Strollers, bikes and trikes are a common site on the front lawns and verandas. There is also often chalk art on the sidewalk. Playgrounds in these communities have all had mega makeovers to become family gathering places. 

There is even a new sense of design emerging that incorporates sloped roof lines that reflect the old prairie grain elevator and the jagged rocky mountains.  This house also has an alley home at the back .  

There is even a new sense of design emerging that incorporates sloped roof lines that reflect the old prairie grain elevator and the jagged rocky mountains.  This house also has an alley home at the back .  

A neighbour's backyard becomes the kid's personal playground just like in the suburbs.

One of the many upgraded playgrounds in Calgary's City Centre.  No home is more than a few blocks from a playground.  

The Bow View pool is one of many family amenities in Calgary's City Centre.  

The Riley Park wading pool is park is a summer oasis for young families.  Calgary has over 5,000 parks and 700 km of pathways with the City Centre being the hub.  

Other blogs that might be of interest: 

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways   

Urban Cottage Living & Gentrification  


Calgary: History Capital of Canada

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

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

#10  Harry The Historian  

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

#9  Atlantic Avenue: The Original Main Street

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

#8  Stephen Avenue: The Current Main Street 

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

#7  Royal Canadian Pacific Vintage Trains

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

#6  Fort Calgary

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

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

#6  Sandstone City 

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

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

#5  Canadian Sports Hall of Fame

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

#4 Heritage Park 

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

#3  National Music Centre 

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

#2  History Museums / Parks / Plazas

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

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

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

#1  The Calgary Stampede

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

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

Last Word 

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

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

#11 Honouring Its First Nations History Everyday

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

Still not convinced? Need another factoid?

#12 Calgary Celebrates its Prairie Town Roots Everyday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wreck City: The Experience of Experimentation

As a recent transplant to Calgary, I’m constantly absorbing, searching and learning, about the city, its offerings and its character. I came here with a blank slate, no expectations (having never been here before) or real understanding of the city's identity. Specifically seeking to understand cultural identity, as a creative worker, I tried to piece together some pillars – the larger art institutions, the creative spaces, the galleries and those making it happen. What is harder to tap into is the essence of the cultural experience in a city – the organic, the happenstance, and the interventions that create a positive, vibrant, rich environment.

Thus, I was excited to visit Wreck City: An Epilogue for 809 – the recent public art installation happening in response to nine houses, including beloved garage gallery 809, set for demolition. With 8 curators (Matthew Mark Bourree, Caitlind r.c. Brown, Jennifer Crighton, Brandon Dalmer, Andrew Frosst, John Frosst, Shawn Mankowske, and Ryan Scott.) inviting over 100 artists to participate, this project was something I had not experienced the likes of before, in my  years of passionate exploration of public art. Some works were responsive to the architectural elements of the house, others were about playful interaction with the four walls, while some touched on the past, previous residents and the lives they lived. 

One of the many notes left by the over 8,000 visitors to Wreck City. Illustrates the importance of engagement in public art.

I felt a genuine joy when swinging on a swing, crossing a wooden footbridge linked between two houses, or lying on the floor to see a room created upside-down. I felt simultaneously sad and inspired coming across a wall of messages from “Wreck City” visitors. Their thoughts, reactions and emotions were revealing what Calgarians from all walks of life are thinking about their city. Comments ranged from -   'I feel like crying', 'More fun public art like Wreck City, unpretentious and accessible...', to  'Make it livable. Walk, bike, local markets not big box', 'There is beauty in destruction'.

Though some spaces and works were more successful than others, it was the overall experience of this project that was invigorating, and we need more of it, not just in Calgary, but in many North American cities. We have not left enough room for active culture – continuous, organic happenings that grow naturally as part of our city, or pop-up unexpectedly. Sometimes the best experiences or memories we have happen when we least expect them, when they surprise us, when our plans change and develop. It is similar with art – it needs room to breathe and grow. In our cities, we have over-planned and over-stipulated, placing value on a controlled outcome, rather than the process of creation. The intrigue, the provocation and the daring are replaced with the safe, the comfortable, and the inoffensive. We have created public art with an 'X' to mark the spot – it will fulfil this need, it will check that box, and poof: uninteresting public art.

The importance of experimentation is that it creates a sense of freedom and magic, and opens up the city. It demonstrates that creativity is valued, that all citizens have a voice in their city, and a desire to be a place that embraces fun, new energy, and a dose of self-criticality. Wreck City was an opportunity for people to see Calgary let its hair down, and trust a group of individuals to change the site as they wanted

Bridge by Alia Shahab

Whatever your opinion of the project, its great success was in its transitory, experimental nature. Turning the city into a lab for creativity is something that allows us to share experiences more democratically – with neighbors, residents, artists, business owners, friends and strangers- because there are no boundaries, and art is everywhere.

Wreck City was playful, provocative, and got people together, from all ages and backgrounds. Such experiences shows what our city looks like underneath, stripping away the boundaries (the gallery wall, the museum doors), the regulations and rules, and participating with others to experience fun, sadness, frustrations, together. 

Weaving by Suzen Green

Artist Jeremy Pavka

I think Calgarians are looking for more of these experiences, and want a city that is rich and diverse in interest. There is great power in the unexpected and allowing people to explore and form their own opinions. When we dictate the outcome of the artwork, we are telling people what they should know, how to experience. When there is no room for thought or interaction, it’s a one-way conversation.

Experiments in public space change how we view things and alter our expectations. An un-manufactured experience – raw and genuine- It asks us to be part of something greater, to share, and to learn.


Everyday Art Tourist recently relocated to Calgary from the GTA and works in the creative sector. With over 7 years of experience in both Canada and the US, large museums, small non-profits, and government, Everyday Art Tourist’s focus is on public art and cultural policy. EAT will be a regular guest contributor to EverydayTourist. 

EverydayTourist note: I received the guest blog this week from a new Calgarian and thought it captured some to the ideas that I have been blogging about recently Calgary: North America’s Newest Design City and Alberta’s Dream and Wonderland public artworks.  I think the author correctly points out that most public art in Calgary doesn’t really capture the public’s imagination and is more or less ignored.  Perhaps it is because it is too contrived, too planned, and too safe and too soon becomes part of the urban landscape.  I believe “Wreck City” had over 8,000 people visit in just one week, the same week that Jaume Plensa’s Alberta’s Dream was installed downtown to almost no reaction.  It created a buzz and an urgency that rarely happen with public art. 

Look for more guest blogs from Everyday Art Tourist in the future.

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

ast Word

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderland at night.

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

Wonderland breaks down to almost total abstraction at several points.

Plensa meets Foster in Calgary 

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

Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in North America?

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

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

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

This was my benchmark.  Let the googling begin! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bow Cycle:

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

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

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

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

Calgary: Dog Park Capital of North America

Recently I was cleaning up my file of Calgary Herald articles and came across one I did  on dog parks in 2007.  Since then, while I haven't become a dog owner, I have gained a lot of experience and appreciation for the urban dog culture as a result of dog-sitting for friends - a new form of "friends with benefits!"  In fact, we often house-sit at the same time, which means we get to explore a new part of the city, which is kinda like being a tourist, especially when it is an ultra modern glass-house that looks out to Calgary's River Park - one of our most popular dog parks..  

As a result I have experienced first-hand the socialization that happens not only between the dogs, but with dog owners at dog parks.  In some ways, the urban dog park has become the new patio, plaza or pub, where people gather with their neighbours to share stories and information.  In fact, they are probably even more loyal to visiting the local dog park, than the pub, patio or plaza - at least twice a day in many cases. Who goes to the pub twice a day almost everyday? 

I am amazed at the number of people that are out in the dog parks no matter what the weather and in Calgary that can be -30 degrees.  Sometimes River Park is like a parade with hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds walking the promenade which has been carved from all the walkers over the years.  It is like a playground on the edges of the promenade with dogs running after balls, frisbees, sticks and each other. I love the animation.  I don't think any urban planner or landscape architect designed this wonderful linear park, and I doubt is was originally conceived as dog park.  Good urban planning often just happens?

I have also come to appreciate Calgary has some pretty amazing dog parks - 150 according to the City of Calgary's website.  This led me to do some research on which cities are the most dog-friendly.  

In December 2011, a USA Today feature story "Fastest-growing urban parks are for the dogs" indicated that there were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2010, a 34 percent jump in 5 years, while overall parks increased only 3 percent.  It also indicated that Portland, Oregon has the highest number of dog parks per captia with 5.7  for every 100,000 residents.  And, that there are more households in the USA with dogs than with kids, 43 million and 38 million. Much of the information was very similar to my 2007 Calgary Herald column, which you can read below. 

In fact, Calgary with 150 designated dog parks has 13.6 dog parks for every 100,000 people - 2.4 times Portland.  Does that make us the dog park capital of North America? I also found out Calgary has 122,325 dogs which is about 1 for every 10 people, or about 815 dogs per dog park.  The Calgary Herald even created a map of where the dogs live in the city.  And while there is a significant population of dogs in the suburbs there are lots living in the downtown area. In the 21st century, people love their dogs!

There is even dog-friendly hotels. I know people who plan their vacations around hotels that will take dog.  High-end hotels now have dogs as part of their amenities, so guest who are missing their dog can take the hotel dog for a walk.  

Since 2007, urban planners have also introduce the concept of walkscore and walkable communities.  I am not sure how the dog parks fit into the walkscore, but I expect it should have a very high priority (higher than grocery store and maybe on par with schools) given there are more dogs than kids in the USA and that many dog owners walk their dog twice a day - who goes to the grocery store twice a day, almost every day of the year?

Perhaps we should be ranking communities based on their Dogscore?  (You can read more on my thoughts on dog parks and urban living, and some of the initiatives in other cities across North America in my 2007 column below).  I have also added some additional Calgary dog park pics at the end.

Learn more about Calgary's parks in my blog: Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways.

This is a picture taken at dusk in the winter at Calgary's River Park one of over 150 city dog parks. There is a parade of people their dogs along the promenade from one end of the park to the other all day long, but especially in the evenings and weekends. 

From Calgary Herald Urban Living Column, March 2007 

Downtown needs to be more dog-friendly! 

It always amazes me who is out walking in the coldest, darkest days of winter.  It is largely people out exercising their dog or dogs. Even in the dark at 6 a.m., when I’m heading to work, there always seems to be someone out walking his or her pet.

As a non-dog owner, the increasing importance of dogs in our contemporary urban culture continues to amaze me.

I think this is especially true for groups like the young professional and empty nester cultures — which, coincidentally, are also the primary markets for urban living.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that we are seeing more dogs along our urban side- walks and pathways and in our parks and plazas.

In its 13th annual housing survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, RBC Royal Bank said last year that 56 per cent of Canadians have pets in their homes. Experts say that probably works out to about five million dogs and seven million cats. The total market size of the Canadian pet industry was estimated at $3.8 billion in 2001.

City officials have estimated there are as many as 100,000 dogs in Calgary. As many as 2,000 may use the Southland Natural Park area alone on busy days.

“Pets are the new children. It’s the bottom line,” said Michael Bateman, of Chasin' Tails, a Calgary doggie day-care centre, in a recent Herald story.  Such centers offer everything from overnight boarding to boutique areas.

In some ways, dogs are to urban living what children are to suburban living.

I appreciate that owning a dog in an urban centre presents a unique set of challenges.

How is housebreaking accomplished in a high-rise building?  Where and how can a large, energetic dog be exercised?  How can a dog be taught to ignore distractions such as traffic congestion and noise, crowded sidewalks, bicycles, roller bladers, interesting trash, back alleys, roadways — and, of course, other dogs?

One solution occurring in places such as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix (who knew these were hot spots for urban living?) is the creation of “bark parks.” These differ from “off-leash” areas in that they are parks solely for the use of dogs and their owners. They are often small parcels of land that are too small for development. They are fenced off and self-governed by a set of rules, much like a daycare (for example, dogs must behave, dogs must be accompanied by an owner, dogs must be healthy and owners must clean up after their dogs).  Some bark parks also have playground-like equipment for dogs to jump over, climb up and so on.

Though Calgary has over 300 “off leash” areas — which may be the most of any major city in Canada— it, to my knowledge, has no “bark parks.”  But you have to think someone is working on a “bark park” in Calgary!

Current policy in Calgary is “if there are no signs indicating it is an “off leash” area, assume it is strictly an on-leash only park.”  It is also surprising that I haven’t yet seen a Calgary condo listing that promotes dog- friendly amenities.

I have seen it many times in Vancouver listings, including one, which read, “just steps to George Wainborne Dog Park, Seawall and Granville Island.” It was amazing to me that not only did the dog park have a name, but that it was listed ahead of two of Vancouver’s biggest urban living attractions.

I am wondering when the first Calgary condo will be built with its own mini “bark park” on site — maybe already one exists?  While “bark parks” and “off leash” areas are great, there is still a need for both dog owners and non-dog owners to learn to share our public spaces including sidewalks. As a non-dog owner, I didn’t appreciate the importance of off leash activities until I started to do a little digging (no pun intended).

I didn’t know “off leash” time is important for dogs to learn to socialize with humans and other dogs. I didn’t know it makes dogs less aggressive and helps reduce neurotic activities such as barking, two benefits which are in the best interests of non-dog owners.

I also discovered dogs are part of urban socialization for humans, especially those who are single or new to the area — as having a dog helps people make friends

There is also research that says dog owners are more physically active than non-dog owners as they are more motivated to get out every day and take their dog (or dogs) for a walk.

I learned there are now “woof and hoof ” outings where dog owners get together on a regular basis to walk their dogs and chat about life (sounds like the Running Room’s programs for joggers and walkers).

It used to be that urban planners were primarily interested in making urban areas more pedestrian-friendly places, but now they also have to ensure they are also dog-friendly.  As a Calgary urbanite for 20 years, I have certainly seen this evolution happening on my street, in the park across from my house and at the “off leash” area a few blocks away.

Entrance to Parkdale dog park which is along the bluff on the north side of the Bow River.  This bluff facing south provides a sunny warm place to walk your dog year-round. It has small aspen woods, grasslands and lots of trails.  At the top is a spectacular view of the river valley and the downtown skyline.  These are significant parks - this one is about 2 kilometres long.  

A group of dog walkers in Upper Edworthy dog park.  This is a very large regional dog park where people from the entire west side of the city come to walk their dog and enjoy spectacular views. 

Along the north bank of the Bow River are a series of bluffs that have become urban dog parks.  At the top is a promenade which offers spectacular views of the City skyline and river valley.    

Calgary's Dog Parks offer some of the spectacular views of the city's skyline. 

Cities of Opportunity: Hamilton/Calgary

Just received an email from a childhood friend with a link to a 1940s promotional film "Portrait of a City" about Hamilton, Ontario (our hometown) that sent shivers up my spine.  

It was a 20-minute marketing film that talked about Hamilton as the "City of Opportunity" with an ambitious and enterprising spirit. How the City was the "United States Industry in Canada." here were shots of Hamilton's amazing parks, recreation and sports activities.  

It painted a picture of Hamilton as a place of incredible beauty, with bustling streets, shops and the largest open-air farmer's market in Canada. Hamilton was a city on the rise both a tourist destination and one of heavy industry. A proud city!  What a difference 60 years can make?  

Hamilton's historic Gore Park in downtown.

Hamilton's historic Gore Park in downtown.

Moving to Calgary

I couldn't help but compare Hamilton in the '40s to Calgary, Alberta today.  A city that is currently Canada's "City of Opportunity" as evidenced by recently being called the #1 destination for U-haul vehicles in Canada (Annual National U-Haul Migration Trend Report). "We're moving to Calgary" has been heard by parents across Canada from their children looking for opportunities to pursue their careers.  

Today, Calgary is often referred to as the most American of Canadian cities with heavy investment from the US oil and gas industry.  It also has the most expats of any city in Canada.  Just this week, the Investment Property Bank ranked Calgary #1 for commercial real estate performance in 2012, beating out San Francisco, Houston, Perth and 28 other cities. 

It is ironic that early this month, Calgary Tourism and Economic Development released its promotional video linking tourism and economic development in much the same manner as the 1940s Hamilton film "Portrait of City."  The only difference being it is shorter and faster paced - a reflection of the times. 

Population Growth

It is interesting to look at where Hamilton ranked with regard to the top 10 ten cities, population-wise, in Canada over the past 60 years (Source: Urban Canada, 2nd Edition, Harry H. Hiller).  

In the 1930s, Hamilton was #5, dropping to #7 in the 40s and 50s, then up to #6 in the 60s and 70s, then down to #9, where it has been ever since.  

At the same time, Calgary moved from #7 in the 30s, wasn't even in the top 10 in the 40s, then #10 in the 50s, #9 in the 60s and 70s, jumping to #6 in the 80s and 90s and then #5 in the 00s and #4 in the 10s.  

The other winners in the "Cities of Opportunity" in Canada over the past 60 years are Ottawa, Edmonton and Mississauga, the losers are Windsor and London.  

Calgary the new Hamilton?

In many ways, Calgary has replaced Hamilton as Canada's "City of Opportunity" since the mid-20th century.  It is Calgary that now has the strong, ambitious enterprising spirit. I had coffee just this week with a young professional (creative class) who moved from Hamilton to Calgary. She liked Hamilton and thought there was lots of potential, but their wasn't the collective ambition, nor the enterprising spirit needed to capitalize on the opportunities.  She commented on how many former Hamiltonians she had met in Calgary since moving here only a month ago. 

I remember attending an International Downtown Association conference in the 90s and one of the senior Downtown managers saying, "every city has its heyday."  Those words have stuck with me.

While I don't believe Calgary has had its heyday yet, we should realize that we need to continue to adapt to an ever-changing world if we are going to remain Canada's "City of Opportunity." Nobody stays on top forever!

Ironically this blog was originally written in 2013, now in 2017 Calgary has fallen into hard times and some are wondering if its heyday was in fact in the early 21st century. 

Link to: Hamilton: Portrait of a City Film 

Link to: Calgary: RightHereYYC video

Killarney is hot and getting hotter....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every urban village needs its own art studio. 

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

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

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

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

Cafe Cafe: Montreal meets Cowtown

Attended my first CUFF (Calgary Underground Film Festival) film tonight and it was great. 

CAFé CAFé is a witty, romantic comedy film about bohemian life in Montreal.  There is great cinematography of the streets of Montreal with some “postcard” shots thrown in for good measure.  Tourism Montreal should be promoting the film as it shows the authentic gritty Montreal that tourists love, not the glitzy Hollywood-sanitized video that Tourism organizations usually produce to impress unsuspecting tourist. 

It was full of graffiti, traffic and construction scenes, as well as fountains, gardens and pedestrian streetscapes. For this everyday tourist it was a $10, 82-minute trip to Montreal (good preparation for our planned trip to Quebec this Fall).

The film is full of twists and turns as the quirky characters that make up the cast struggle to find low paying jobs to pay the bills so they can pursue their passions – art and love.  How trite? How romantic?  However the twists, turns and surprises makes for an entertaining romp.

Downtown's Globe Cinema is home to this week's Calgary Underground Film Festival.  We should do this every month. 

Calgarians take on Montreal 

What is really strange is that the film is “fueled” by Calgarians? It is produced and written by Calgarians who live in Montreal and perhaps see the city in a different light as outsiders tend to do. 

Montreal’s sense of place was a long way from Calgary’s “engineer eccentricism.”  While there are pockets of bohemian life in Calgary (or as we like to call it now, the “hipsters”) we’re no match for Montreal where making art in all its various forms is a major business.  

The film is a bit like Loose Moose meets Ship & Anchor on the way to Café Beano… or maybe Green Fools meets Higher Ground on the way to Palace Theatre. (You have to be a Calgarian to understand these references). 

In an ironic twist, the only French-speaking character in the movie (with subtitles for us Anglophones) is the red neck “marketing manager”/waitress of Café Joe who seems bent to find somebody to go with her to the Monster Truck show (usually the Calgary stereotype).

One of the most memorable moments is when she gives a rant at the end of the spoken word night (titled Brainscapes) basically telling all the lovesick hipsters to get over themselves and grow up. Contrastingly, the Calgary character who has moved to Montreal to do her Masters in Italian studies is portrayed as the hip intellectual.

Interesting there are no Starbuck or Tim Horton jokes, no lattes, no Americanos, no London Fogs, no Double Double references in the movie.

Café Joe (not unlike Central Perk in the TV show Friends) is a throwback to mid 20th century days of Pyrex coffee pots and styrofoam cups. There are no iPads or Apple laptops in any of the café scenes - writers use paper and pens. It paints a picture of Montreal as a “stuck in the ’50 and ‘60s” place where the Beat generation never left.  

I gave the film a 5 out of 5.  It was fun, entertaining and visually impressive. It was as good as any film I have seen at the Calgary Film Festival and most that I have seen at the Globe over the years.  It wasn’t intellectually pretentious, yet it had its “Bazinga” moments.  It was both a satire and a spoof.  And as Ms. B said, “it was Canadian!”

It was fun to be in a theatre where the audience was fully engaged - clapping, laughing and shouting out. It was more like being at a university football game than at the movies – and that’s not all bad! 

Kudos to CUFF! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several new major skyscrapers have been built in downtown Calgary since the beginning of the 21st century.  The one that gets the most attention is The Bow tower as it was designed by Norman Foster and has a unique semi-circular shape that mirrors the "bow shape" in the Bow River as it passes through downtown.  However, Jamieson Place is the one that I like the most with its strong vertical lines that trust just  slightly above the top of the tower.  It has a 21st century Art Deco feel to me.  However, the Calgary architectural firm of Gibbs Gage who designed the building talk about Frank Lloyd Wright (the father of prairie architecture) as their inspiration. Inside is an amazing winter garden with a huge growing wall and hanging glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. 

Recently Calgary's 100 year old Memorial Park was redesigned adding in fountains, more flower planting and a bistro restaurant to the existing 100 year old sandstone Carnegie Library building and the many war memorials.  It is home to one of Calgary's many Remembrance Day ceremonies.  

I take a lot of flack over the fact that I like this building a lot.  But then i am a sucker for colour and I am a kid at heart.  Yes, it looks like lego design, which is not surprising as children were consulted in the design.  I love the fact that the building shouts "children."

This is the roof of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology parkade located in the centre of the campus. There is a full-size playing field on the roof connect to the recreation centre. The glass ramp is the  dramatic pedestrian entrance to the parkade from campus. 

This photo captures the new Wonderland sculpture by Jaume Plensa on the plaza of the Norman Foster Bow Tower.  In the background is the Suncor Centre (built in the '80s), which consists of two towers the tallest one was the tallest in Calgary until the Bow was constructed.  The Suncor Tower has an interesting slanted roof top and the two towers together make a reference in their design to the iconic prairie grain elevator.

This photo is taken from the Esker Art Gallery which is located on the eastern edge of the Centre City.  The downtown skyline can be seen in the background.  Like the SAIT campus buildings there is a lot of use of neon sticks in the ceilings of the gathering spaces.  Both were designed by the same Calgary architectural firm Kasian.  

Looking down at the cafeteria study area in SAIT's Trades & Technology space.  This building was also designed by the Calgary architectural firm KASIAN. 

This rendering of the Eight Avenue Place office complex illustrated perhaps the best new office building design that is more Calgary centric.  The two towers combine to create a Rocky Mountain ridge-like edge and the glass captures and reflect the luminous big blue Calgary sky.  The lead architects for the project were Pickard Chilton with Gibbs Gage as the local architects. 

This photo illustrates how the skin of the EAP towers capture the electric blue Calgary sky to create a shimmering effect that is analogous to the shimmering sunlight in the mountains with the snow.  The building colour and shape changes through-out the day as the different plans of the building capture the light differently; this is not captured in the rendering.

Calgary's new sense of design extends into residential developments also. The inner-city streets are being invaded by contemporary infills like this one.  One of the distinguishing features is multiple slanted roofs and strong lines both vertically and horizontally, that seem to reflect Calgary's sense of place which is a the transition from the flat prairies to the vertical thrust of the Rocky Mountains.  

Another example of the infills that are on every block of our inner city communities.  In this case a modern duplex has been built where there once was a small cottage bungalow.

This is Calgary's RiverwWalk not to be confused with San Antonio's River Walk.  It is a promenade that extends from Chinatown to Fort Calgary where it will link up with the Stampede Parks promenade.  On the west side it links to the Eau Claire Promenade all the way to Shaw Millennium Park. Downtown Calgary is the hub for an 800 km city-wide pathway system. On nice days winter and summer, thousands of Calgarians with stroll and ride the pathways. 

Another look at our RiverWalk which has several places to sit and contemplate the river's edge.  The Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world.  Even in downtown Calgary, you can walk to the rivers edge and try your hand a fly fishing. 

This is Caglary's Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava, which has been very controversial for a variety of reasons from cost to procurement.  However, since completion it seems to have captured the public imagination and makes a bold statement along Calgary's Memorial Drive which has recently been redesigned as a more ceremonial street. 

Another view of the Peace Bridge and how it links to the pathway on the north side of the Bow River.  It is all part of the Downtown Bow River pedestrian experience.  A second iconic pedestrian bridge is currently under construction at the east end of the Downtown to create a circular urban walking path.  

The Core shopping centre's glass roof is 3 blocks long, creates a unique perspective of the surrounding office buildings.  It also creates a sunny shopping experience even in the middle of the winter. 

The Devonian Gardens (DG) were first created in 1977, but recently were redesign to become a more formal garden.  DG is attached to The Core shopping centre and also includes a full children's playground and Koi ponds that are loved by children.  It is an oasis in the middle of the downtown. 

Hotel Le Germain building is a vertical office tower and hotel tower with a horizontal condo on top.  Each tower has its own design and materials  At street level is the lobby and restaurants.  Truly a mixed-use building and definitely an out-of-the-box design. 

Is Calgary ready to become an "design destination" for tourists and students of architecture and urban design?  Some would say it is premature.  However, I think one could easily spend several days exploring Cowtown's new urban design sensibility.  I have not even touched on our public art or our public spaces, nor have I looked at our new condos.   And then there is also the gems of the past and our two historical Main Streets Stephen Avenue Walk and Inglewood.  Yes, I believe Calgary is ready for those urban explorers!  And just to prove it I have a few more fun / funky cowtown urban design gems to share with you! 

This is an image of the copper underbelly of the Sunalta Station of Calgary's new west leg of our Light Rapid Transit System.  It is the new gateway into the Downtown from the west, offering riders a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. In the evening when the sun is setting, the glass towers can become a symphony of gold and copper colours.  I am not sure if the designers had this in mind when they chose the materials. 

This is the street view of the Sunalta Station, Calgary's first elevated LRT station.  Designed by local architectural firm GEC the elliptical shape works to protect the station from wind, snow and rain.  It was also inspired the Chinook Arch cloud formation which brings warm winds to Calgary in the winter. 

The South Health Campus (hospital) open recently on the southern edge of the city. It will become the hub for a master planned urban village.  It features an prairie mural as part of its design.  The architects for this project is the Calgary firm KASAIN, who also did the Children's Hospital 

Another view of the South Health Campus' distinctive design that is a hybrid of art and architecture. 

Telus SPARK, Calgary's new Science Centre glows at night. Colours can fade in and out to create a light show like the northern lights.  It is the gateway to the Centre City from the east and provides a hit of Calgary's new urban design sensibility for those driving along the Deerfoot Trail (Calgary's busiest freeway).  Photo credit: Leblond Studio Inc. 2011

In 2009, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, installed a state of the art LED lighting system on the 110 year old  Langevin Bridge which is the gateway into the downtown for many visitors to city from the airport.  The lights can be programmed in an infinite number of ways to celebrate various holidays and special events.  The total energy consumption per year is the equivalent of about 3 homes.  Photo credit: CMLC

The Child Development Centre at the University of Calgary is one of several new buildings that are transforming it into a "design" campus.  This building I believe was Calgary's first LEED platinum building.  It is home to a school and The Ability HUB for Autism and several other organizations. 

EEEL Building on the University of Calgary campus i believe just received its LEED Platinum status.  EEL stands for Energy Environment Experiential Learning.

The Winter Garden at Jamieson Place offers a tranquil place to sit, relax and reflect.  The Green Wall in the background is 22 ft hight and 100 ft wide and has over 20,000 plants.  It was designed by McRae Anderson of McCaren Designs who chose plant types, leaf shapes, sizes and textures to  mirror the topographical changes in the land around Calgary as you move from prairie grasslands to foothills to mountains.  

In the foreground is one of three Dale Chihuly glass sculptures that hang over the infinity ponds.  

The Water Center presents a dramatic gateway into the Center City via an industrial area on the south east edge.  In shape and materials it suggests a huge culvert from the road side.  It is also home to a major public art projects as part of the City's 1% for public art program.  

Calgary also has some "design" condos in the Center City like "Colours" by local developer Paul Battistella.  In this case the podium is a parking garage but it is nicely designed with random colour panels  that add a bright and youthful sense of place along the emerging First Street promenade area. 

This is an older photo of the Arriva condo which was the first condo to be built in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It was designed by local architects BKDI and was suppose to have 3 towers but went bankrupt.  However, it has been bought out of receivership and a new tower is planned next to it, however, it won't be a sister design. 

Currently under construction the St. Patrick's Island Bridge is designed to look like a skipping stone.  It will link Calgary's East Village to St. Patrick's Island which is being redeveloped as a mixed-use recreational area.   When combined with the historic Centre Street bridge and the Peace bridge it will create a wonderful figure 8 walking tour of the majestic Bow River.  The bridge was designed by RFR from Paris.   

Tim Williams: Cowtown's Adopted Bluesman

By Richard White, January 26, 2014

Tim Williams won the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis on Saturday, January 25, beating out seven other solo/duo finalists.  To get to the finals, Williams had to perform twice in the quarterfinals and once in the semi-finals before a panel of three judges.  

Playing a combination of traditional blues songs by both well known and obscure bluesman, as well as his own compositions, Williams demonstrated he was the most well versed bluesman in the challenge (both solo/duo and band categories).  

Telling stories that only he could tell about the blues and picking on his well traveled mandolin and guitars, Williams impressed not only the judges, but the over 1,000 international blues fans who attended this year's Challenge. Williams carefully curated each of his performances with a focus on the Delta Blues which showcased his talents as passionate blues guitar player and historian. 

After listening to Williams play the first night, at the Jerry Lee Lewis bar's upper salon, the folks next to us from Springfield, Illinois quickly turned to us and said "Wow, he is very unique."  As the challenge continued we heard words like "authentic," "traditionalist" and "a true bluesman" used to describe Calgary's adopted bluesman. 

In presenting the 65 year old Williams with a new cigar-box guitar as the winner in the solo/duo category, Jay Sieleman, President & Chief Executive Office said "it's been a long time coming!"  In the Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper) Sieleman stated "I joked that our finals show was seven hours long and Tim Williams could do old blues songs for the whole seven hours. This guy is steeped in it big time." 

There were 250+ entries into this year's International Blues Challenge organized by The Blues Foundation.  Williams had very strong competition in the solo/duo category.  Erik Ray from the Granite State Blues Society put in a strong performance with his cowboy blues set.  Eighteen year old Matt Tedder is a rising star moving from Texas to Nashville in the past year to focus full-time on his music, rising from busker to winner of the Nashville Blues Society's competition this past year.  Wendy DeWitt and Kirk Harwood from The Golden Gate Blues Society presented the judges with a strong vocal and keyboard performance of original songs.

And, the runner-up Lucious Spiller from the Ozark Blues Society of the Northwest has a haunting blues voice that was captivating from the first note. In total Williams had to beat out 101 acts to win this years 2014 International Blues Challenge solo/duo performer. 

Note: Calgarians can enjoy Williams wit and guitar playing every Tuesday night at Mikey's Juke Joint starting at about 8:30 p.m. 

Tim Williams plays Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale Street to get into the finals. 

Tim Williams: Cowtown's Adopted Bluesman

By Richard White, April 2, 2013

Mother &(*(&^

Yes he does like to use the word “mother&#^*%” in his shows and loves to chat about the role drugs and sex play in blues music.  He like to tell the story of growing up in a small desert town in southern California next to the Mexican border listening to Wolfman Jack.  How small was the town? Tim says "when I was growing up you didn't lose your girlfriend to another guy, you just lost your turn!"

Last night I attended Tim’s launch party for his new CD “Blue Highway” at The Ironwood in Inglewood (Calgary’s funky historic and arts district) along with about 200 of his family and friends.  I felt a bit like a party crasher as my interest in the blues and Calgary’s indie music scene is only in its infancy – yes I am a late adopter (just got a PVR and don’t have a flat screen TV). 

YYC Blues Tribe

Over the past few years I have become fascinated by Calgary’s underground blues tribe and Tim seems to be its leader!  He is not only a great blues guitar player, but also good storyteller and a comedian.  His shows are very entertaining be it his regular Tuesday night at Mikey’s and Saturday afternoon gigs at the Blues Can or jamming’ with others when they are in town.

Last night he must have rattled off the names of 200 bluesman from Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters to friends like Big Dave Maclean.  He shared with us personal stories about singers, songwriters, guitars, family, friends and even some politics. 

Tim Williams kick of his "Blue Highway" CD launch party.

Wit & Cynicism

His mix of wit and cynicism has a bit of a Robin Williams skit to it. One minute he chastising people like Dylan who claim songs are theirs without recognizing they really originate in traditional folk and blues tunes – he seems to know all the lineages.  The next time he is telling us about why he had to learn Spanish i.e. so he could get invited to dinner at his Hispanic friends house and not get beaten up by the brothers of his Hispanic girlfriend. And then he breaks into a story about Pacheo music he learned growing up in a Mexican community in southern California.

Tim is encyclopedia of blues music history and always gives a short blues 101 before every song he performs.

Williams meets Johnson

On his website, it says “imagine, if you can, a front porch where Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Hula Hattie, Flaco Jimenez and Bob Marley meet often and discover just how much they have in common.  Tim’s music would fit right in.”  I can imagine this to be true.  I have a nice front porch maybe I should invite Tim to invite some friends over for drink and debate – could be very interesting. 

When was the last time you saw two accordion players on the stage at the same time at a blues concert.


I encourage you to check out his blogs on facebook, as they are full of humour and insights into the life of bluesman living on the edge at 64. For example, here is what he says after he had to cancel at tour of Spain in the Fall of 2012 that was going to be an economic disaster - “But, by producing 2 other cds while working on mine, playing every gig that came along in Southern Alberta, and touring with Big Dave Mclean I’ve returned things to their normal, shaking footing.” 

Somebody needs to document Tim’s stories and experience they would make a great book or film.

Last night was bit of mind trip as Tim took us from the real Delta Mississippi blues to the Mexican Pachuco music he learned growing up in southern California, as well as his current live in Calgary and the prairies.  Interestingly on his website he doesn’t refer to himself as Calgary-based, but prairie-based.

I have often wondered if at some point the Canadian prairies or Calgary might produce a “place” inspired school of music, architecture or art like the Mississippi delta. Perhaps something that builds on the  "Wheatfield Soul" coined by the Guess Who, but could also apply to other Canadian prairie musicians - Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.  

When I recently suggested this idea to a buddy I was quickly told, “the American South still has music-making locked up. I wonder why Calgary or Alberta would even bother?  I realize with my kind of attitude, Bob Dylan would have never left Minnesota. But my question remains, WHY? How is it distinctive authentic to a time and place - that's what I want to understand in your blog - Tim Williams and onward.”

Cover of Blue Highway CD.

Place & Time

As an everyday tourist, the night was a wonderful trip back in time and yet I do have to wonder in this global world where everyone is listening to everyone else’s music will there ever be a distinctive sound that reflects a sense of “place and time.”

Tim can paint a picture, a sense of place and time, with words and music like nobody else I have every seen perform – but it is not our “time and place.”  However, it was an inspiration to move a road trip along Highway 61 up on my bucket list.  I need to see and understand what Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans has that we don’t.  I am off to Chicago – hope to get some insights there.

The Everyday Tourist

P.S. Want to learn more about Tim Williams check out Mike Bell, Calgary Herald Music writer's story about Tim's journey.

P.P.S.  I don’t know if Tim has a nickname, which all good bluesman must have. I have never heard one. I am throwing out Tim “Tequila” Williams even if he did drink red wine last night as I know from his stories that Tequila has been influential in his life. 

Tim Williams and friends jammin' at his party!

The Little Blues Joints on the Prairies

By Richard White, April 3, 2013

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

TICKETS: $10 in advance at or $15 at the door

Double Header with TIM WILLIAMS and the MIKE CLARK BAND

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

YYC: Music City?

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

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

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

Piano Competition

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog you might like these blogs:

Calgary: North America's newest music city


Tim Williams: Calgary's Adopted Bluesman

Beltline: North American's best hipster/GABEster Community

inks to websites listed in this blog:

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



Are we too downtown-centric?

Interesting discussion this morning at the Manning Centre in Calgary regarding city building. David Seymour, Senior Fellow at the Manning Foundation interviewed me about the key issues facing municipal policy, planning and development with Calgary as the case study. Below are some of the ideas and issues some introduced by myself others by the audience.

The key idea that came out of the discussion in my mind was how can we make/keep our city "affordable, attractive and accessible" for the many different publics that call Calgary home today and will call it home in the future. And in fact if I had to pick one it would be “housing affordability” is top of mind for all Calgarians and for that matter probably 95% of Canadians (for some high net-worth people affordability isn’t an issue). The problem is the more successful a city or a neighbourhood is the less affordable it becomes.

Is Calgary too downtown centric? At best 20% of Calgarians work downtown and 10% will live downtown. More and more people have no need to go downtown on a regular basis! Even in Vancouver, less than 5% of the metro residential population lives Downtown - Toronto about 7%. In Calgary depending on where you draw the boundaries, between 50,000 to 70,000 live in the City Center, which are about 4 to 6 % of metro population. Downtown is not for everyone! Most Calgarians don't work or play downtown so why would they want to live there?

Need to recognize Calgary is in fact several cities of 250,000 people each with their own character and charm. The Airport City in the NE, the Learning City in the NW, and the Corporate City in the centre are the obvious ones. There is also an emerging SE City with Quarry Park and SETON as the employment hubs. Aspen Woods area in SW is quickly becoming Calgary's new Mount Royal of the early 21st century. Need to think how we can make each of these city's self-sufficient places when it comes to "live, work and play."

Will Calgary's Airport City, takeover from the Downtown as the city's largest economic engine in the future? Transportation and logistics is Calgary's second largest employer? Recently the NE passed the downtown with respect to number of hotel rooms. The NE is home to several mega building projects that are on par with downtown office buildings. The current airport expansion is the largest and most expensive development project in Calgary's history. Over 50,000 people use the airport every day (staff and users) about a third of the Downtown's. Mississauga, Richmond and Calgary's NE are Canada's three largest airport hubs - only Calgary’s is not an independent city?

How can we create TOD villages that have live, work and play elements in almost equal terms? Need to focus recreation and entertainment uses at TOD sites as much as residential and office. Why are we not planning for TOD villages in the NE, the focus seems to be on NW, West and South leg TOD sites?

Can we really expect to have a 50/50 split in between suburban and established community develop in the future, as Calgary’s Plan It envisions. This would mean that if 20,000 people move to Calgary in 2025 that 10,000 of them would have to live in established neighbourhood developments. To accomplish this we would have to create one new East Village every year, or have 10 East Village-like developments under construction at any given time. Projects like these take 10 to 15 years before we see any construction. So we would have to have 10 in the planning stages today for 2025? We are lucky if we can manage 2 or 3 major urban projects at a time. While there is some low hanging fruit for established community urban development e.g. old shopping centres like Stadium or Brentwood, the assemblage of large areas of land for urban village-type development will take years before the planning can even start.

Is spending billions of dollars on new LRT lines that are busy for 1.5 hours in the morning and evening the best use of OUR money? What if we were to spend the money on building schools in every community and that children were required to walk to the school in their community? Perhaps a "Schools First" policy should be explored? Would we need more transit or roads if we got the school buses and parents driving kids to school off the road (4 trips/day)? Should we start to foster a generation of children who know how to walk places, know the neighbouring kids and can think and act for themselves? We know that behaviours developed in childhood become life-long habits.

Can we create a more effective and efficient school system? What if all new schools were container schools that allow for them to expand and contract with community needs? Could the schools be converted to seniors / affordable housing in the future as the community ages? Could schools have residential development above them rather than being single-story buildings and single-use blocks. School blocks should be the community gathering place 18/7, with gym, library, classrooms and playing fields use weekdays, evenings and weekends by the community.

Can urban housing ever be affordable for average families in Calgary? Downtown inner-city communities close to Downtown are not in demand because of their walkability, but because of their accessibility to Downtown for high net-worth individuals, the majority of who work downtown. These communities are very attractive places to live because they offer great access to Downtown by car, as much as by walking, cycling and transit. Living in the inner-city offers many different options when it comes to accessing amenities, it is not just the “walkability score.”

There was even a quick discussion of whether Downtown's are even needed in every city. Is there a new 21st century model of a decentralized city? Should the new city building model look at creating “live, work, play” hubs strategically throughout the city based on the geographic assets and economic engines of the city rather than trying to create a single vibrant downtown. Calgary is unique to have such a large concentrated high paying downtown workforce.

Thanks for reading. Appreciate getting your thoughts and feedback. I think we all want the same thing i.e. to create a better city for everyone to live, work and play! We just need to recognize that there is no one solution - we all want different things. That's why we need to foster different communities that meet current and future needs.

Calgary: City Of Parks & Pathways

The Douglas Fir Trail just west of downtown is a magical place. This is the furthest west the Douglas Fir tress grow. The trail is on the south side of the Bow River escarpment, offering a mountain experience inside the city. 

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The Curse of Minimalism

Does anyone other than architects and interior designers really like minimalist design?  Yes, minimalism looks great when you are flipping through a magazine, but it doesn’t really invite the eye or the feet to explore looking for details and decorative elements.  The goal of minimalism is to use the fewest number of elements to get the maximum visual effect.  In Calgary, we have a Minimalist District – 48 blocks of mostly minimalist office buildings from 9th to 3rd Avenue and Centre Street to 8th Street. Minimalist buildings mean minimalist street life.

It wasn’t always like this.  Look at any early 20th century picture of downtown’s 8th and 7th Avenue and you will see what I mean. The streets are full of people, horses, wagons and cars. Signage is plastered everywhere. It is a total “gong show.”  When it comes to urban living and urban spaces I think the really interesting places are blessed with the clutter of people, signs, banners, buses, cars and bikes. They are not places where we segregate pedestrians, transit and cars to different streets.  It is not where bike paths skirt the outside of the city centre.

I was reminded of this recently when I visited Trepanier Baer Gallery to see the Fred Herzog’s images of downtown Vancouver in the ‘50s and ‘60s. (You can see Herzog’s “Street Photography” exhibition until April 28th at the Glenbow Museum). These photos are visually stunning and intriguing with their cacophony of colour from the multitude of signs to the people that inhabit the street.  It made me think “Where have all the blade signs gone?” Blade signs are the ones the stick out over the sidewalk so you can look ahead and easily see what stores lay ahead. Blade signs work well both for pedestrians, cyclist and cars.  They work much better than signs flat to the building’s façade which you can’t see until you are at the store and/or building.  It is not the cars that are enemy to street vitality; in fact they are an integral part of it.  We need less segregation and more integration.

Sidewalk Ballet

 Jane Jacobs called it the “sidewalk ballet” - people moving around each other, jumping out of the way of a sandwich board or twisting to miss the lamppost that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.  It is not only the pedestrians, but also the bikes, cars, taxis and buses.  Others have talked about  the importance of  “messing  urbanism”  i.e. good urban places are not the result of master plans, but happen over time and are a hoge- poge of activities and design elements.  It is organic, not pragmatic.

The enemy is “minimalism.” It is minimalist design that results in buildings which are visually lacking anything over a minute.  It is the “signage Nazis” who doesn’t want signage to be too visible, to attract too much attention away from the building’s design.  Signage should “stand out” not “fit in.” Minimalist design means minimal street life.

Similarly we have internalized all of the street shops and placed them on the second floor out of sight of the street. This creates a nice clean look at street level; we don’t want any of the clutter of doors, shop signage and windows and people walking in and out at street level.  It is minimalism that favours the one entrance to an austere lobby with nothing in it.   Imagine what the streets and avenues of downtown would be like if some of the food courts vendors were move to the street.  Even when the shops are on street level, like Bow Valley Square they are not allowed to interact with the street i.e. the entrances are all internal.  

You look down the streets and avenues of Calgary’s downtown and there is nothing to visually engage the eye or the mind, nothing to capture your imagination, nothing to say “I’d like to walk down that street to see….”  Why, because for the most part it is a wall of homogeneous wall of glass, concrete and granite in various shades of grey, beige and blacks. 

Bring Back The Past

We need to bring back some detailing, textures and design at street level.  The colour that canopies and awnings (Holt Renfew use to change a specific awing for each season) that use to mark the various entrances to the shops along the street.     

Walking down the streets there is none of the texture and details that use to be part of a building’s design.  Don’t believe me.  Check out the wonderful intricate iron canopy over the Burns Building on Macleod Trail at Stephen Avenue; this is urban beauty. Notice the detail of the colonnade of the historic downtown Bay Store vs. any of the office building colonnades of the late 20th century.  Too often the pillars of modern office buildings that populate the sidewalks are simple cylinders with no ornamentation.  No longer does the pedestrian’s eye enjoy the rich decorative details of columns like those that distinguish the grand entrances of the historic Federal Public Building and Bank of Montreal built on Stephen Avenue both completed in 1931.  No longer do the facades have subtle details like the Bank of Nova Scotia’s Art Deco carvings of prairie wild flowers, Mountie and First Nation figures, as well as horses, buffalo, guns and arrows.   Yes these are subtle street design details, but they are part of the urban fabric that made wandering the streets of downtown interesting in the past. There were critical to creating urban beauty, something that has been lost with the “rise of minimalism” in the ‘70s. 

The modern office building is set back from the sidewalk in a manner that is kind of “stand-offish.” They remove themselves from the “street ballet.”  While the Bow offers a wonderful piece of public art, it doesn’t really create any “ballet.” The same for the southwest plaza of Bankers Hall, it is full of public art, but there are never any people there, except the smokers. 

One of the best places for experiencing the “street ballet” I have ever seen is the Kowloon District in Hong Kong.  There is a great mix of street types from Nathan Road a neon main street (think Las Vegas without the huge hotels), Cheung Sha Road and Apliu Street and numerous street markets.   These streets of Kowloon are cluttered. There is no sense of a unifying design. There are no bike lanes, no pedestrian cross walks.  Yes, it is a “free-for-all.” Yes, there is signage of all shapes and sizes.  And yes, the streets area always full of people, cars, bikes, carts and vendors mixing and mingling.  I doubt there is/was a master plan? No architectural guidelines. No minimalism here.

Last Word:

I sometimes think we over plan, over analyze and over design our streets, plazas and buildings to the point where we have designed the life out of them.  This is not just a Calgary problem.  It is the same in Dubai or Toronto.  Perhaps we need less planning not more?

In Short: Fred Herzog

Fred Herzog was born in Stuttgart Germany in 1930 and immigrated to Canada in 1952.  He is best known as a photographer who documented the street life of “working class” people in Vancouver.  He worked primarily with slide film which limited his ability to exhibit and also marginalized him somewhat as an artist in the 50s and 60s when most work in vogue was black and white.  However, his work has been increasingly recognized in recent decades as his work has appeared in numerous books and galleries, including the Vancouver Art Gallery

Fred Herzog photo of Downtown Vancouver sidewalk in 1950s.  The sidewalks were full of people.  Example of sidewalk ballet. 

Fred Herzog Downtown Vancouver at night.  As Petula Clark sang "the lights are much brighter downtown." This is no longer true! 

Example of decoration and ornamentation of early 20th century buildings. 

Another example of attention to detail at street level I early 20th century buildings.

Another example of attention to detail at street level I early 20th century buildings.

Wonderful attention to detail. Even the sidewalk is decorated. Lots of textures and details to attract the eye. 

Minimalist streetscape design of late 20th century. 

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

One of my favourite things to do is to explore other parts of the city I live in.  Bowness for example was an independent town until 1963 when it was amalgamated with Calgary.  Consequently it has its own Main Street, which has seen very little changes over the past 50 years. It has the quintessential 20th century North American town Main Street - extra wide to allow for diagonal parking and eclectic mix of one and two store shops in all shapes and styles.  No architectural guidelines here!

Bowness is an authentic prairie town, situated in the middle of one of North America's fastest growing and most contemporary cities.  It is like time has stood still.  There is a car wash and lawn mower repair right out of the '50s.  Cadence Cafe is a wonderful meeting place but today rather than farmers you are more likely to see cyclist or artisan having a chai tea.  The library has recently moved to Main Street into what once was an iconic motor cycle shop building that still has the neon spinning wheel on top. 

Bowness has a rich history.  It was home to Calgary's first airport and it has one of Caglary's signature parks - Bowness Park on the south shore of the mighty Bow River. In the winter the park is home to a wonderful outdoor skating rink that is one of the best in Canada, maybe the world. 

The anchor tennant for the street is Bow Cycle - mega bike shop with literally thosands of bikes. This is where Miss B got her Black Beauty bike that she rarely uses - that is a different blog. Bowness' Main Street is also home to a WINS thrift store, which is the busiest of their four stores. 

Bowness is a great mix of mega million dollar homes along the river to quaint mid-century bungalows.  It is home to many Calgary artists and olympic athletes as it has some of the most affordable housing and is in close proximity to Canada Olympic Park home to many of the 1988 winter olympic events.

Bowness reminds me of Clements St. in San Francisco which we discouvered when we were wandering about Haight Ashbury.  In our usual fashion we saw a church that caught our attention, which then lead to stroll by an interesting tree and next thing you know we begin to feel the street change with some retail shops.  Soon we are on Clement Street and we both looked at each ogther and said "This is what we have been looking for!"  We both loved the Green Apple bookstore - but that is a story for another blog! 

Hope you enjoy the pics below of beautiful downtown Bowness.


Beautiful Bowness mural on the side of an auxiliary building next to arena.  Great community pride!

Beautiful Bowness mural on the side of an auxiliary building next to arena.  Great community pride!

WINS Thriftstore hidden gems for everyone. Main Street Bowness.

WINS Thriftstore hidden gems for everyone. Main Street Bowness.

Bow Cycle building one of Canada's best bike stores. Anchor tenant for Main Street. 

Bow Cycle building one of Canada's best bike stores. Anchor tenant for Main Street. 

Thousands of bikes on display at Bow Cycle.

Cadance Cafe Main Street meeting place especially for the Tour  de Bowness cyclist. Good buzz! 

Currents everything with paddles - canoes, kayaks and boards. 

Paddles at Currents!

Pick a colour any colour!

Bowness Library located in former motor cycle, ATV shop on Main Street.

Retro Carwash. Cars Bikes & Canoes all found on Main Street.

What's a mid-century Main Street without a garage?

Everyone loves "Snapper" a lawn mower repair shop. 

Everyone loves "Snapper" a lawn mower repair shop. 

I Love Bowness mural. Community pride project by youth. 

I Love Bowness mural. Community pride project by youth.