What should be Calgary's iconic image to the world?

In May Tourism Calgary hosted their annual "White Hat Awards" where they recognized individuals who have made a difference in Calgary's hospitality industry.  Just a few weeks before the ceremony I got a call that I had been nominated for the Media Recognition Award. I was very surprised as my writing is not pure tourism propaganda, rather, I hope, it is a rigorous evaluation of our city's urban sense of place within an international context.  

Over the years I have compared Calgary to places like Paris, Lyon, Frankfurt, Dubai, Perth and Portland sharing with readers the lessons to be learned from those cities with respect to how to enrich urban living in our city.  It is only recently that I have perhaps focused more on Calgary from a tourist perspective.  

However, there is a strong link between tourism and urbanism, if you can make a city centre an interesting place to live then I think you will make it a great place to visit.  Tourist are often attracted to cities that are vibrant places to live - Paris, New York, Chicago, Montreal or San Francisco quickly come to mind.  

One of the other things that tourist cities have in common is that they have iconic images that are instantly recognizable internationally - the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, The Clouded Gate (The Bean)  or The Golden Gate Bridge.    

If Calgary wants to attract more tourists it must develop several iconic images that become it postcard to the world and say "Come And Visit."  In fact the last time I looked it was ihard to find good postcards of Calgary, most of the time if you go to souvenir shop there are a bunch of out-dated postcards of Calgary's skyline hidden amongst the Banff and Rocky Mountain postcards - even in Calgary souvenir shops.  

Fortunately, I suspect postcards are going the way of the dodo bird. With digital cameras and smart phones, who needs postcards in the 21st century?   

While we may not need postcards anymore we still must brand our city with several iconic images that "shout out" Calgary is a fun place to visit.  Currently we probably one iconic image - The Calgary Stampede and it only works for 10 days of the year.

 However, there are several good candidates and new ones being created every year.  I thought I'd share a few with you and then perhaps you can share your ideas and together we can create Calgary's top 10 iconic images. 

Criteria for being an iconic image are:

  1. Must be photo friendlly
  2. Must be memorable
  3. Must have mass appeal
  4. Must be unique to Calgary 
  5. Must be timeless

My picks are:


The Peace Bridge: This is photo of the underside of the Peace Bridge taken by Neil Zeller and was used by Tourism Calgary from my Media Recognition Award.  The Peace Bridge has become one of the most photographed structures in the City.  Like a lot of urban icons it was hated by many but over time has become part of a city's brand e.g. EiffelTower. 


The Trees on Stephen Avenue - the trees are a big bold statement and they are on our signature street Stephen Avenue.  Like all good icons they too were controversial and locals have a love hate relationship with them.  Before The Bow, Wonderland and the Peace Bridge, Calgary Economic Development and Tourism Calgary used them extensively as a statement of Calgary modernism. They are a great link between public art and architecture.  

The Calgary Tower is definitely one of our past icons.  It is not longer the tallest structure in the city, however, it does pop up in the most unexpected places as it pops in and out of view.  It could be our mid-century modern icon with its Jetson like design. 

The Conversation certainly must be consider as a candidate.  It creates the human touch that is so often missing from icons.  I love this image as it also recognizes that we are a winter city which too often we try to push under the rug.  The image also says business which is so much a part of our corporate culture.  Good icons work on many levels.  

There are three potential icons in this photo Suncor Centre, The Bow and Wonderland.  There is an interesting juxtaposition of art, architecture, corporate and culture and the individual.  Wonderland talks about our youth and innocence as a city that aspires to greatness.  

Not sure this is the right image, but the Family of Man sculpture has the potential to be an iconic image.  It conveys a modern caring city which I think is exactly what were are and is the image we'd like to convey to the world.  it will be interesting to see what happen to this piece of art and if it gets moved.  It deserves a signature site it would be a great gateway into the downtown from the northeast where most airport arriving visitors enter the downtown. 

The Saddledome should definitely be on the list as it unique shape and location create a postcard view of both our rivers valley and the skyline.  It will be interesting to see what happens to when a new arena is built.   


The one icon that comes to mind is the Bow River - a timeless icon. It is a beautiful colour and clear water (other than at run-off), is open all winter (unusual for a winter city) and is followed for almost its entire length in the city by walking paths and bike trails. I can think of no other city in Canada that has the same access to their major river.  Perhaps the postcard shot of the Bow is looking south at the downtown at the Centre Street bridge.  Certainly the Peace Bridge and Bow Tower are the new icons.  GG

My vote goes to The Conversation and Wonderland.  The office towers aren't really anything special, there are too many like it in other cities. MW 

Interesting article. For me as a relatively new arrival in the city I find the city has very few iconic structures. I think the Peace Bridge and the Saddledome are good examples but other than that..... Truth is that the city gets its beauty (if you can call it that ) because of its' proximity to the mountains. Most pictures of Calgary show the mountains in the background. If Calgary was located in the bald Prairie it would be no more interesting than Regina.

The Calgary tower is no longer remarkable, the Bow river valley is ordinary  ( eg compared to Edmonton) the Encana (Bow) tower is impressive but not very architecturally unique. There are no Churches or schools of much interest and the University has very utilitarian boring buildings with no efort at continuity. For example the University of Saskatchewan is iconic (also Queens) because of the theme that runs through the buildings and the association of beautiful stone buildings with an important academic function. Who would waste time taking a tour of the university of Calgary campus? JM

Each of these makes a connection at a certain level. I personally like the big white head, but for a city Image to the world i guess it has to be the calatrava bridge. CO (from Saskatoon, world traveller).

I don't know that any single image really works. Maybe we, as Calgarians, are too close to the city to choose one representative icon. Every one of these images says SOMETHING about Calgary, but doesn't say "Calgary" in a way that would make a visitor or newcomer feel familiar with the city's style, personality and "feel" upon arrival. If we just picked the most stunning image, it would be the Bow/Wonderland or Calatrava's bridge — or perhaps one of the new west C-train stations. But do these really represent what the city is? Do they oversell Calgary in one sense, and undersell it in another? I'd like to ask a visitor who has spent a few weeks here to describe Calgary, then choose an image based on that. One that shows our "good side," of course! MD

Here's a nod to one of our earliest icons, Calgary City Hall, one of the exemplary buildings that earned Calgary the nickname,  The Sandstone City.  (George Webber (Calgary photographer).


George Webber's reminds us that Calgary is home to some iconic sandstone buildings from the early 20th century that should be considered as one of our postcards to the world.  

From Reddit got some interesting comments:

Ha, I actually think the nearly endless rows of manufactured homes is more Calgary than a view of the mountains. Me too, but you'll always hear something like "Only an hour away from the mountains!" in every promotion of Calgary tourism.

I thought this image actually did convey a lot of what Calgary is in some ways. The attractive parts of nature, of the vast wilderness that once characterized this land a century ago, the cowboy days of making a go of it in a virgin territory; all things said about Calgary as something people want to and claim to take pride in. In reality they are real, but obscured by distance or time, as you can see from the haze obstructing the view of the mountains.

In the foreground, the stark contrast of hundreds of thousand of identical vinyl cubes with the same black asphalt roofs are clear in focus, representing the sprawl that is the reality of life in Calgary here and now. The only thing I would have liked in the picture as well is something representing the beltline/downtown core area, which is where the pockets of culture in Calgary that actually do exist are.

The downtown skyline from Crescent Heights with mountains in the background and Bow River in the foreground is my iconic image of Calgary.  


Stephen Avenue at lunch hour when thousands of office workers migrate to the walk the street is a unique phenomena that could be an iconic image of Calgary. 

Good discussion. Another iconic image whose heyday has now sadly passed is the main ski jump tower at COP. It is still eye-catching, but was once quite breathtaking, standing out against the sky with the Olympic rings on the side. Talk about a symbol of Calgary's coming of age as a world city! Now, the ill-conceived dirt pile WinSport has built up beside it detracts from its visual impact, but it's still worthy of acknowledgement MD.

"Missing from the images is my suggestion - Calgary's first public library opened in 1912 in the grounds of what was then known as Central Park.  It was a Carnegie funded library now called Memorial Park branch. Many cities decommissioned their Carnegie libraries in fact some have been demolished and I'm proud of Calgary for continuing to operate ours as a library. I would also include the memorial to the fallen in both world wars and other wars in the picture as it too is located in Memorial Park on the same grounds as the library." Says GW

"Another unusual iconic image often overlooked is Western Canada High School with a memorial in the school grounds fronting on to 17 Ave.  I included the history of that memorial and the original private boys' school, the first in Calgary - Western Canada College - in the book I compiled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Western Canada College a decade ago in 2003.  The war memorial is unique in that it is the only city school that has one. It was erected in 1927 to honour the old boys and masters of Western Canada College who died defending their country. Although the buildings that formed WCC were torn down years ago, the school's namesake, Western Canada High School continues to connect the past to the present." Say GD 

If you like this blog you might like: Beautiful Bowness  or Poppy Plaza or

Calgary History Capital of Canada

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)

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!