Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

By Richard White, December 3, 2013

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

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

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

Where would an urban pioneer hang out in Calgary?

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

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

Wrong side of the tracks?

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

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

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

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

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

Prairie Oysters & Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loft Living

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

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

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

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

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

Centre Ice

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

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

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

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

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

Street Ballet

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

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

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

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

Rolling Stones meets Big Bang Theory

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

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

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

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

Sleeping on the Rail Trail

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

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


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

Camera Buffs

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

 Bring your camera!

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

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

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

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

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

Freakn Fun Funky Quirky (FFQ) Bike Racks

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

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

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

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


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

Do we use the word to loosely today? 

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

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

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

A city is a city…

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

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

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

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

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

Future Dividends?

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

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

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

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

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

Portlandia has FFQ bike racks too…

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

Art / Decoration / Tacky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postcards from cSPACE

By Richard White, December 5, 2013

Soon the majestic one hundred year old sandstone King Edward School, butchered by two ugly square box additions in Calgary’s gentrifying South Calgary community (rather an ironic name given it isn’t anywhere near the southern edge of South Calgary anymore, but rather is an inner city community) will become a bustling arts centre. At least that is the vision and cSPACE is the name!

Last weekend, I checked the space out when I went to Market Collective’s “Christmas Market” show and sale there.  The place was a hopping with Calgary hipsters (or GABEsters as I like to call them – Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) enjoying the music of a DJ, coffee from Café Rosso and browsing the pop-up artisan vendors in the second-floor classrooms. 

It gave me a chance to flaneur the school and take some photos. Wouldn't you know it I got asked three times, “you must have gone to school here?” I smiled and said, “No, I just like to explore interesting places and take pictures of fun, funky and quirky things.” 

It was definitely a fun space to explore. I even found there is supposedly a ghost named Eddy on the fourth floor. I wonder what he thinks of the new tenants and new vision.

I loved the way the space was already being used by the artists in various ways.  Not only was there the “Christmas market” happening, but the 3rd floor classrooms were being used by various groups including one as drawing studio with live models. The old school’s hallway was filled with nude drawings, from floor to ceiling and some on the floor.  I wonder what the teachers and principal back in 1914 would have thought of that!   

This is the entrance to the school which once was a grand entrance, today it has been hidden by a large box addition. I hope the grand entrance will be reclaimed as part of the renovations. 

Found this interesting "still life" composition of two chairs and sign intriguing. Love the retro red, yellow and blue palette. 

Background on cSPACE

After failed attempts by the private sector to purchase the school and its surrounding land for a condo development, the Calgary Foundation and Calgary Arts Development Authority’s cSPACE group bought the land and then raised the funds to convert it into a creative hub. 

What is a creative hub you ask? It is a mixed-use art space including a performance theatre, rehearsal space and studios for visual artists and writers.  A planned hangout for artists of all ages and genres, in theory it should be a catalyst for creativity.  A lot of research has gone into assessing the needs of Calgary’s arts community to continue to evolve and cSPACE is designed to provide some of them.

cSPACE Projects is a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation and is a social enterprise model that will develop spaces for the arts across the city.  King Edward School is the first of what will hopefully be many projects in the future for cSPACE. 

For more info on the King Edward School Incubator project check out the cSPACE website. 

African mask? Monkey mask? Found several of these along a piece of wood that use to have coat hangers on it. 

I thought this window with just one clear pane created an interesting juxtaposition of light and space.

Just one of the many drawings on the third floor that gave the space a salon feel. 

A larger drawing on the main floor is an interesting dream-like collage of images of future uses.

Deja Vu

It is interesting that something similar was tried in the late ‘70s. At that time, the Memorial Park Library was converted into an arts centre with the Muttart Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Calgary) on the second floor, while the lower floor became the home of the Calgary Public Library’s collection of arts-oriented books.  

The vision was to create a place that would be home for artists and art patrons and be a catalyst for creativity.  Unfortunately, the experiment didn’t work. The locals wanted a greater selection of books and the arts community never really adopted the place as theirs. The art gallery lasted for over two decades, but the space never really worked as an art gallery it as too small, inadequate elevator and storage space, on the wrong side of the tracks and too far away from other galleries art spaces to attract a large number of visitors. Location. Location. Location. 

Today, the Memorial Park is again a regular branch library and the second floor houses the Calgary Library Foundation.  

Reader VR writes: "I still mourn the demise of The Allied Arts Centre of the 1960's and 1970's with its great little theatre on 9th Avenue. There I took wonderful classes with Joyce Doolittle and Grant Reddick. Good old Rod Sykes, the then mayor, withdrew city funding and shut it down. I guess it is torn down by now.  (Sigh) So this development shows there is hope. Now if we could just get a proper Civic Art Gallery." 

I had forgotten about the Allied Arts Centre which also was a mixed-use arts facility in Calgary that lasted for a few decades but then died.


Found this image of the Allied Arts Centre when it was in the Coste House.  Calgary has an interesting history of arts development. This is before the 9th Avenue location with is now a bar I believe. Credit: Glenbow Archives 

There were several folk art benches in the school but this one next to a vintage water fountain caught my eye.

I loved the colour, form and composition of these exposed pipes.  

Doors to ? 

One of the artisans was selling these fun architectural frames.  I thought it was ironic that one was a blackboard in a classroom.

This was just too fun not to include as a postcard.

Found this deconstructivist thermostat that looks a lot like a piece of art we just bought in Bosie Idaho that was was constructed out of recycled parts from cameras and other objects. I would have like to of taken this home. 

Community Impact

The cSPACE block (it takes an entire city block) is located just a “hop, skip and a jump” from the nearby community centre block with its playing fields, outdoor hockey rink and Alexander Calhoun Library. Also the west side of 14th Street SW from 26 to 29th Avenuesis quietly evolving into a local retail district with neighbourhood pub, salons, clothing stores and a soon-to-arrive Starbucks. cSPAC is Not far away is bell’s café bookstore, an established artists’ hangout.

Flaneuring around “South Calgary” you quickly realize that this, like all Calgary inner city communities is under siege with construction with infill projects being built on almost every block.  While many are single family, monster homes, there are also lots of townhouses and small condo complexes.  

They don’t come cheap, so they are no places where young artists could afford to live, but they are definitely places where art patrons would live.  Hopefully there are also plans to also create affordable housing for artists in the community as vibrant communities need people of all ages and backgrounds to call them home.

cSPACE could easily be the catalyst needed to make South Calgary Calgary’s newest urban village.  

GABEsters shopping and selling to each other.

An example of one of the pop-up artisan displays.

Mural next to the large box addition at the school entrance.  Love how the artist has used the Danger sign to mask the face. Is this a Danger Mask? 

The entrance to the school as it exists today with the jail in front and the box addition on the side. Not particularly inviting.

The history of the school.


The future of the school? An artist's rendering of the streetscape to be created with the school hidden in the background.  I hope that the old and the new can be integrated in a synergistic fashion that will capture the public's imagination. 

Last Word

I hope cSPACE works.  The existing old school space is exactly what artists need to create – space that isn't too fancy or too expensive.  Currently, it reminded me of how local artists had converted the Billingsgate Fish Market in East Village into studios, performance and exhibition space a few years back. 

It also had some of the ambience of Art Central.  Both were old buildings with lots of little spaces that could be rented cheaply.

My worry is that the multi-million dollar renovation will sanitize the space. Creativity is messy and spontaneous, not planned and formal.  Too often new art spaces actually inhibit creativity by being too big, too clean, too safe, too expensive and too bureaucratic.

I hope I am worrying for nothing.

Reader TT points out that Toronto has completed a very similar initiative has been completed on Queen Street West.  Shaw Street School has been transformed into a 75,000 square foot arts centre for $17 million compared to cSPACE's King Edward School which will be 45,000 square feet and $30 million including land costs. Read more: Shaw Street School


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Calgary's Million Dollar Communities

By Richard White, December 2, 2013

Forget the million dollar luxury homes, or the million dollar streets; Calgary now has million dollar communities.  Yes there are 14 communities (based on the MLS sales July to September 2013) in the city where the average selling price is over one million dollars.)  In fact, five communities have an average selling price of over two million dollars. 

Who are they? Belaire is #1 with an average selling price of $2.5 million, followed by Britannia at $2.2 million.  Mount Royal, Elbow Park/Glencoe are tied for third and fourth spots at $2.1 million and Eagle Ridge is #5 at just over $2 million. 

Most of the million dollar communities are clustered in the area  north of Glenmore Trail, south of 17th Avenue, west of Elbow Drive and east of Crowchild Trail i.e. the “Oil Patch Executive District (OPED).”  There are only three million dollar communities north of the Bow River – St. Andrew’s Heights, Varsity Estates and Rosedale and they are all just barely over the one million mark. 

This is one of several new homes being build in St. Andrew's Height along the edge of the Bow River's northern bluff. These home offer sweeping views of the city, river valley and mountains. 

Another example of a St. Andrew's Height mansion. 

Britannia: Model Community Development 

One of my favourite million dollar communities in Calgary is Britannia. For 10 years when I lived in Kelvin Grove and worked at the Muttart Art Gallery in the historic Memorial Park Library building I use to drive by this community everyday.  I think what attracted me most was the quaint Britannia Plaza with its angled parking and local shops that looks like an early 20th century prairie Main Street.  What community wouldn’t lust to have its own Main Street with grocery store, bistro, café, bookstore, wine merchant and hardware store?   Funny this is what we are struggling to create in our new communities and yet it was already created in over 50 years ago.   It is even surrounded by small three floor condos and apartments to add some density without creating monster high-rises.  In an ironic twist, the lowest price condo sale in the city from July to September was in Britannia at $125,000.

I am surprise that this model of community development with a single block of retail easily accessibility to Elbow Drive wasn’t duplicated as the city expanded southward.  For that matter it could have also worked along 10th, 14th and 19th Street NW, as well as Centre and 4th St NE. 

An example of one of Britannia's original homes, which would have been quite luxurious in their time, now they are modest. Note the one car garage, there were few two car families in the '60s. 

An example of the large multi-level homes that are currently being built.  Could these become modest homes in 50 years? 

Plaza / High Street 

Mike Keho at Fairfield Commercial informed me that in 1953, the Britannia Plaza was the first purpose-built shopping centre in Calgary and became a template for other small scale suburban retail strip malls at the entrance to other communities like Fairview, Cambrian and Mailand Heights and even the Stadium shopping centre.”   

The creation of outdoor strip malls in the ‘50s and ‘60s was an experiment that worked for 25 or 30 years before falling to mega indoor shopping centers and today’s big box power centers with their huge grocery stores and hardware stores with acres of parking.  Britannia Plaza demonstrates that local small retailers can survive, with good vehicle, pedestrian and cycling access, some density nearby and without a sea of surface parking.   

Britannia Plaza is not what we would call a plaza today but what they call in England a "high street" or "shopping street."  It has the feel of a small prairie town main street with its angle parking.  It is a lovely street with lots of small shops and a Sunterra local grocery store. This is what every community needs or maybe ever second one along the major road like Elbow Drive. 

Britannia Plaza/Street from the west side i.e. the community side. 

Smaller than you think

I was surprise to find out how small Britannia is with only 746 people living in the community - it must be one of the city’s smallest communities population wise.  It is also small geographically with its borders being Elbow Drive on the east and Elbow River on the west, 50th Ave on the south and Britannia Drive on the north.

It is also interesting that Britannia Plaza thrives without any high density housing in the area.  A quick check of the City of Calgary’s community profile shows that Britannia is 71% single-family housing and 29% apartments, which is significantly higher than the than city-wide figure of 58% for single-family, but surprisingly also slightly above the city average for apartments which is 27%.  What is missing in the housing stock is town and row housing. When it comes to home ownership and rentals Britannia mirrors the city average of 73% homeowners and 27% renters. 

I expect what makes Britannia so attractive is the abundance of large single- mid-century homes and large lots with great accessibility to Calgary’s many urban playgrounds - Downtown, Mission, 17th Avenue and Chinook Mall.  Easy access to Calgary Golf and Country Club, Riverdale Park and the Elbow River doesn’t hurt.

Britannia is very attractive to Calgary’s young “executive class” and their families as evidenced by the fact 21.3% of the population is between the ages of 5 and 19, significantly higher than the city-wide 17.7% for the same bracket.  It is not surprising that a whooping 49% of adults living in Britannia have a BA or higher level of education, compared to a citywide figure of 25%. Yes it does pay to get a higher education! 

Britannia has numerous small apartment blocks surrounding the plaza to add some density close to the stores and transit. In the '60s this is where seniors would retire to.

British Theme

Britannia was annexed into the city in 1910, but no significant development took place until the 1950s - the bungalow era for North America housing.  If you wander the community you can still see many of the mid-century bungalows, however, they are quickly becoming extinct as the young “executive class” are buying them up and adding a second floor as children today must have their own bedroom and in many cases their own bathroom too.  The mid-century ranch house has evolved into a mini boutique hotel or inn, complete with master retreat, media room and private wine cellar. 

One of the other fun things you notice when wandering Britannia is that all the street names have a distinctly British theme – Coronation Drive, Edinburgh Boulevard and Elizabeth Road.  In fact, “Britannia” is an old Latin name for Great Britain and in the Roman period Britannia was the name of a goddess depicted as a beautiful young woman, wearing a helmet of a centurion with her right breast exposed.

Another example of condos in Britannia that create a more urban sense of place as you get closer to the plaza and Elbow Drive. 

Last Word 

Creating and sustaining estate communities in Calgary to attract and retain the “executive class” is essential to creating a complete city. Just as important as creating “urban villages” to attract the “creative class.” Great cities are attractive to people of all ages and backgrounds.  

A version of this blog was written for Calgary's Domus Magazine, winter 2014 edition.

If you like this blog you might like: 

Country Estate Living 

Be a tourist in your own neighbourhood

Estate Communities vs Urban Villages

Urban Cottages

Reader comments:

GB writes:  I was just a young boy when Britannia was developed but I remember very well my Mom and Dad driving us around the old traffic circle and up Elbow Drive into what would become Britannia.  In about 1955, there was a house built on the East side of Elbow Drive at about Imperial Way or 49th Avenue.  It was known as the Trend House or The Trend Home and I think it was one of a series of houses that were built across Canada to demonstrate new building materials.  All that I can remember from walking through it with my folks was that it had an electric can opener and I think it had a dishwasher which was unheard of at that point.  The house is still there.  Anyway, a story on the Trend Home would be very interesting if you wanted to follow it up.


Woodbine is wonderful!

By: Richard White / November 2, 2013

Calgary is blessed with a wonderful array of communities from estate enclaves to urban villages.  City building is not just about attracting the “young and restless” i.e. “creative class” to your city, it is also about attracting and retaining executives and their families who might want a big house and yes a three-car garage. Estate living is every bit a part of city building as is urban villages in the city centre or at transit stations. 

This estate home in Woodbine backs onto Fish Creek Park offering sweeping views of the valley from the back deck.   

Calgary communities built from the ’60 to the ‘90s (established communities) with their big homes, large lots and front car garages are currently not in favour with City Council and planners, yet they are very popular with citizens of Calgary.  

Did you know Calgary boasts 14 million dollar communities i.e. communities with an average selling price of over one million dollars and five are over two million.  Almost all of the million dollar communities were built in the ‘60s to the ‘80s. What does that tell us?

While current urban gurus are touting the importance of walkable communities using community “walkscores” (a rating system that determines how close you are to things like grocery stores, cafes and shopping, transit service, schools, recreation centers and professional services) as a means of measuring a communities desirability. What they are missing is that these amenities are not as important to everyone. 

Estate homes along the Fish Creek north bluff offer homeowners a tranquility that is very desirable for many executive families or young retirees.  For many retirees there is no longer a need to go downtown everyday or functions in the evening.  More and more time is spent at home.

For many, the access to a dog park is the most important amenity; especially given people are now walking their dog two and three times a day. For others, a quiet place to walk in nature several times a week is just as important as a grocery store. Did you know that bird watching is one of the fastest growing recreational activities? Where better to bird watch than near a major park or natural reserve?

Who needs a café when you can create a crema at home better than most baristas in the city? Who needs a street patio with noisy traffic, smelly fumes and hard chairs when you have a quiet deck with sweeping views and soft seating? 

Imagine having these trails in your backyard for walking, hiking, snow shoeing or cross-country skiing.  Who needs a recreation centre when you have this just minutes away.  

One hidden gem for estate living in Calgary is the southwest community of Woodbine. While Woodbine is not anywhere near the being a million-dollar community, there are numerous homes along the northern bluff of Fish Creek Park that definitely qualify as a “millionaires row” with spectacular backyard views of the park and mountains. 

In particular, Woodpath Estates in the extreme southwest corner of Woodbine is a county oasis in the city.  I am told rarely do these large three-car garage homes each with million dollar backyard views of Fish Creek Park come up for sale.  Why? Because they are very desirable to Calgarians who want a country-like home in the city.   

Not only do the Woodbine estate home owners have access to Fish Creek but they will also have the 131 km Calgary Greenway at their backdoor. 

While urban gurus would look at Woobine’s walkscore of 27 (best score is 100) and rank its desirability very low.  Woodpath Estates with no sidewalks and further from Woodbine’s great amenities -schools, parks, playing fields, a local shopping centre with a Safeway and a pub – would rank even lower.  However, for some it is the ideal place to live.

City building is about building a diversity of homes and communities that reflects the different values and desires of its citizens.   We need to embrace the development of “estate living” like Woodpath Village, as much as we do East Village. 

Estate living.....

Beltline: North America's best hipster/gabester community?

By Richard White / October 31, 2013 

This blog is from my White House column in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section. It was published on October 31, 203.

 Upon returning from a recent trip to Chicago and Portland, where I explored several urban villages including Wicker Park and Bucktown (Chicago) and Pearl District (Portland), considered two of the best hipster communities in the USA (Forbes, September 2012), I couldn’t help but reflect upon Calgary’s Beltline community. Shouldn’t it be on the list of best hipster communities in North America? I might even venture to say it may be THE best!

If you don't believe me, perhaps you will believe Josh Noel travel writer for Chicago Tribune who recently wrote: "Calgary pedal to the metal."

Beltline hipsters (GABEsters) hanging out on 17th Ave in March. 

New condos Portland's Pearl District are very similar to what you see in Calgary in massing and design.

Eight High Streets

For one thing, the Beltline has not just one, but eight pedestrian streets. First, Fourth, Eighth, Eleventh and Fourteenth Streets all have funky local shops, cafes, pubs, galleries and restaurants as do 11th 12th and 17th Avenues. 

And numerous ones are signature spots - O’Connors (First Street), Rose and Crown, REDS, Boxwood and Sony Store (4th Street), Bonterra, Trepanier Baer Gallery, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Modern Jelly Donut and Kawa Café (8th Street), Gallaxy Diner, Good Earth Café and Katmandu Grocery (11th Avenue) and Heritage Posters and Music and Boyd’s Lobster Shop (14th Street). 

Each of these streets has a very Jane Jacobs (1960s champion of urban street life) feel - lots of little shops, owned and operated by locals.

In addition, the Design district along 10th and 11th Avenues with Bo Concepts, Heavens Fitness, Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zones galleries, Metro Vino and Cookbook Company as its anchors.  

The district also is home to three grocery stores – Calgary Co-op, Safeway and Community Natural Foods (a magnet for hipsters). Lastly, Calgary’s premier urban street, 17th Avenue the Beltline’s southern boundary, is home to Calgary icons like Ship & Anchor pub, Brava Bistro, Café Beano, Rubaiyat and Reids Stationers. 

The Beltline includes five districts - Warehouse district, Victoria Park, Design District,  Gear District anchored by Mountain Equipment Co-op and 17th Ave. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue's "GABEster" corner is a popular place for Calgary's "young & restless" to hang out.  It is full of bistros, cafes, boutiques and new condos.  It is sometimes referred to as the RED Mile for the sea of red shirted sports fans that gather here for hockey celebrations.  It currently has be re-branded as RED which stands for Retail Entertainment District.  

Haultain Park in the Beltline is a busy place with a very active playground and sports field.  Old and new condos surround the park. 


Walk 2 Work 

There are very few urban villages in North America where you can walk to 160,000 jobs as easily (10 to 15 minutes) as you can from the Beltline. Separated from Calgary’s dense downtown office core by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main TransCanada tracks, Beltliners make the grungy trek through the underpasses to and from work.

While plans are in place to beautify the underpasses, part of the charm and history of the Beltline is the urban grit and patina that comes from decades of use.

The 8th Street underpass linking the beltline to the downtown core is a good example of the urban grit that is part of hip urban living. 

New Condos On Every Block

It seems like every block in the Beltline these days have a new condo being built. However, if you walk the streets, you find there is an amazing array of different types of housing – high, mid and low-rise condos, townhouses and single-family homes. 

Every street is a patchwork quilt of old and new, small and large residential structures of different designs and materials, combining to create a rich, residential visual impact. In addition, most of the avenues are lined with mature trees, creating a delightful canopy that is synonymous with quality residential communities in North America.

 One of the benchmarks of a good urban community is diversity of housing which in turn attracts a diversity of people of all ages and backgrounds.

The pool at Hotel Arts is a gathering place for GABEsters in the Beltline.  Does it get any hipper than this? 

The Ship & Anchor is the Beltline's signature hang-out for people of all ages and backgrounds

Density & Diversity 

Today the Beltline is home to 20,000 Calgarians, 40% of whom are between 25 and 34 years of age (more than twice the city average) and 60% have never been married.  Unquestionably, the Beltline is where Calgary’s young hip professions “live, work and play” (36% have a university degree or higher vs. 25% city-wide). 

At the same time, it is also home to two of Calgary’s major social services agencies (Mustard Seed and Alpha House) and a smattering of seniors’ residents. The net result is the Beltline has a wonderful mix of people of all ages and backgrounds who call it home - exactly what an urban village should be!

Just to the north of the Beltline is Calgary's downtown core with over 40 million square feet of office space. It has one of the highest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America. It is where the GABEsters work. The building in the foreground is the MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) which anhcors the Gear District as there are several sporting goods and bike shops in the area. 


The Beltline is one of Calgary’s newest communities formed in 2003, when the Connaught (west of 4th Street) first established in 1905 merged with the Victoria Park (east of 4th Street) established in 1914. As such, it lays claim to some of Calgary’s best heritage sites - Central Memorial Library, oldest library in Alberta, Haultain School, Calgary’s first school, Memorial Park, one of the oldest urban parks in Canada and Lougheed House one of Calgary’s first mansions. 

The Beltline name comes from the No. 5 trolley which in the first half of the 20th century circled back and forth on the avenues the Beltline and connected it to downtown in belt-line like manner in the first half of the 20th century. For more information on Beltline history go to

New +/- 20 storey condos are popping up on almost every block in the Beltline. 


Calgary’s hipsters are unique as they are more likely to be clean shaven, Armani suit wearing, geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers, than bearded, skinny jeans and plaid shirt artists, writers and musicians. 

But let it be understood they definitely love their Saturday music jams, bowling alley, craft beer drinking, gallery strolls, food trucks and festival fun as with any hipster. Perhaps we need to coin a new term  “GABEsters” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers/Brokers and Engineers).

Future GABEsters also love playing in the Beltline. Does it get any better than this?  

Not only are there 8 pedestrian streets but there is also alley shopping.   

The Beltline's Design District is a fun place to flaneur on weekends.  

Chicago's Bucktown is much older and as a result has much more urban grit than Calgary's Beltline.

The Beltline's Victoria Park district has a mix of old and new, high-end fashion shops and funky pubs and clubs. There 100+ historical buildings and sites in the Beltline. 

Inn from the Cold is just one of several major social agencies that call the Beltline home.

No hipster village would be complete without at least one thrift store.  The IODE thrift store has been in the Beltline for a long as I can remember 20+ years?

The Beltline's warehouse district is getting a major makeover with old buildings being renovated and expanded and new ones being built.  What hipster wouldn't want to work in the Biscuit Block? 


 HH writes: "I like the way you describe the beltline but here is a question for you- why doesn't this area have the reputation some similar areas have in other cities?  What does it need to have a place identity that attracts visitors?  The Red Mile was developing that kind of identity but then of course they shut it down because it was too uni-dimensional.  What is needed to make it a true gathering place and destination for residents elsewhere in the city or tourists?  I think you uncover very interesting stuff that most Calgarians either take for granted or do not even recognize but the place has no identity that is widely recognized.  We need more people like you to point all this out to us."

JM writes: "Great read! It's got some interesting perspective to it, one that probably eludes lots of folks."

CW writes: "I remember Beltline when I moved to Calgary from Ontario in '81: there was a diner intact from the 40s, but not celebrated as retro, called the Lido, I think; a couple of used record shops; the IODE thrift shop that sold vintage western clothing that I could no longer fit into (if I still had the items); the Muttart Gallery, of course; and a bit later an artists' co-op where they showed godawful art videos, as well as a folly of a record store 100% devoted to jazz. It was all good enough for me to buy a condo alongside the Beltline three years later.

I don't know if you're correct to say that Beltline doesn't have the past of the Chicago district, it would be correct to say that a good part of it has been diminished - the folly part of it. I think your column nails it when it says the it's professional population distinguishes this district. There's no reason that Calgary should be the same as Chicago or Portland, and I am looking forward to seeing the "place identity" (sought by the commentator) that this population produces."

GG writes: "I like the term Gabesters."  

ST writes: "Not sure about Beltline being the hippest in N. America, but it feels good when I read your stuff...and yes, most people do not have a clue what good stuff we have, so keep reminding the public with your good blogs.

Was wandering in the Beltline today and came across this sign which I thought illustrates just how hip the Beltline is.   The neighborhood is full of historic churches which have become community centers for various ethnic and arts groups including Calgary Opera. Jane Jacobs would have loved the Beltline.

During the 1988 Winter Olympics 11th Avenue was branded as "Electric Avenue" for its concentration of bars.  Today it is a mix of bars, shops, restaurants and galleries.   It is a GABEster hang-out!

GABEsters love their bikes even if it means hanging them over the balcony! 

Does Calgary have an "urban inferiority complex?"

By Richard White, September 11, 2013

This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on September 7, 2013.  There have been a few revisions and the photos and captions are different. 

The recent flurry of announcements of new office buildings for downtown Calgary has me wondering if these are all just more nails in the coffin of our downtown’s urban vitality? The goal for a vibrant, healthy downtown is to have the streets animated with people from early morning to midnight seven days a week i.e. 18/7.  This is very difficult when over 80% of your buildings are offices. 

While the addition of new office buildings is great for the 7 am to 7 pm weekday vitality of the downtown, it does nothing for the evening and weekend animation.  I don’t blame the developers as office buildings generate the most return for shareholders. And kudos to Shaw and Telus who are locating in buildings, which will have both office and condos spaces; this should generate some non-office hour vitality.  Unfortunately our downtown continues to evolve into an “office ghetto” a place where people come to work during the day, but few live or play there in the evening or weekends.

Show me the jelly... 

Our city center is like a jelly donut, with the downtown offices being the “jelly” in the middle. There is also a flurry of condos being constructed around the downtown in Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Inglewood and Kensington. Each of these communities have their own “Main Street” with restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and shops, which means people living there have no need to come downtown to play. What downtown needs is its own live-in population if it is going to become an 18/7 community


Even in Downtown's Eau Claire district the office towers dominate the few condos in the area.  The Eau Claire Market (entertainment retail) has failed to become the hub of  vibrant 18/7 community.  

Unfortunately, the density of downtown office towers is already too unfriendly to pedestrians especially in a winter city.  More and more no sunlight will reach the downtown sidewalks from October to April and this is only going to get worse.  The chilling wind tunnels will also increase with each new building.  And while the new developments will try to be more pedestrian friendly at street level, in reality the main floor will be an elevator lobby as all the retail will be on the +15 level. 

Sure you can place a sculpture on the street and make it look clean and neat but that isn’t enough to make people gather and linger as a café or restaurant patio could do.  Sorry, nobody wants to live and play on streets that are “chock-a-bloc” full of office buildings.


In the 50 block Central Business District there is nothing but office buildings which means there is no one there after 7 pm and on weekends.  The smaller office buildings block the views of the good contemporary office architecture like Jamieson Place.  

Bring back the "Mom & Pop"

Great streets have lots of little pedestrian oriented shops at street level, not corporate glass canopies and lobbies.  Stephen Avenue has some of these elements but none of the other streets or avenue in the downtown have any contiguous pedestrian oriented retail.  Stephen Avenue is great in the summer with the patios, but in the winter it becomes a dark, dreary place with no sun, no patios and mostly “expense account” restaurants.  Kudos to the Calgary Downtown Association for all of its work to try and make it more colourful and cheerful, but I am afraid it is a losing battle. 


Downtown Calgary needs more "mom and pop" shops like this rather than glitzy towers if it is going to be vibrant 18/7.  

Dare to be different!

Perhaps we need to accept reality!  Our downtown is our central business district and it will always just that - a business district and nothing more.  The reality is our downtown (from 9th Avenue to Bow River, from Macleod Trail to 8th Street SW) will never be a major tourist attraction and it will never attract a lot of people to live there.  However, it will be one of North America’s leading downtown office parks!

Every city centre is different - we are not Vancouver, Chicago or Portland. Every city evolves differently due to numerous different factors and influences.  We should never strive to be like other cities, we should focus only on being Calgary and being the best we can be given our inherent strengths and weaknesses.  

As such we must understand and accept that as a major corporate headquarters city, with downtown as the hub of our LRT system, we need to continue to foster a strong central office core that will be vibrant 12/5 (12 hours a day, five days a week). 

We can then use our vivacious office core as the catalyst for expanding our existing live/play urban communities (Beltline, Bridgeland, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission), which are as good as anything in Chicago, Vancouver or Portland.  As well, we must create new ones along the LRT – East Village, SunAlta, University Village and Westbrook Village and along 16th Avenue NW next to next Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.


Two new modern office towers in Chicago demonstrate how they are situated in a synergistic manner and you can see the entire building with all of its articulations and textures.  

Be Brave

Recently, I attended the d.talks (conversations about design and built environment) panel discussion on “Bravery” as it relates to urban design planning and development in Calgary.  One of the key messages was delivered by Sonny Tomic (Manager, Centre City Planning and Implementation, City of Calgary) which was we need to be patient, that Calgary’s evolution into a more interesting urban city is happening more quickly than most people think – SETON, Currie Barracks, Calatrava Bridge, RiverWalk, Memorial Park redevelopment and the East Village public art.  He thinks we are close to the “tipping” point where all of a sudden Calgary will have a very exciting urban Centre City.  

Perhaps the “bravest” thing we can do is to lose our “urban inferiority complex” and become proud of our Centre City, as one of the best in North America for a city of a million people


The Calgary Tower no longer dominates the skyline. more often than not it looks more like a UFO amongst the numerous office towers.  

New Downtown Office Towers:

  • Brookfield Place, 56 floors
  • Calgary City Centre, 36 floors
  • GWL Tower, 28 floors 
  • Manulife Tower, 27 floors
  • Telus Sky, 58 floors (office/condo)
  • 3 Eau Claire, 48 and 43 floors (office/condo)

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Dogs as a catalyst for healthier happier city?

By Richard White, September 9, 2013

Dog Parks and Disneyland

I am again dog sitting for friends and learning more about the how cities need to evolve to the every changing needs of the people who live in them.  I am not a dog owner, but I am fascinated about how dog ownership has changed since I had a dog 50 years ago.  

Just had a wonderful conversation with a man who told me getting a dog has significantly improved his and his wife's life as they get out and walk more.  Another couple told me how they love coming to the dog park every night just to watch the animation.  The lady said "it is like Disneyland for dogs."  

A summer evening stroll in the dog park is enjoyed by people and dogs of all ages and sizes. 

Catalyst for healthy living

Indeed, the dog park is as important to the humans as it is to the dogs.  In our urban mostly sedentary lives we need a reason to get out and walk.  Every time I dog sit I find myself saying "I must get up in the morning and just go for a walk to my neighbourhood dog park - I don't need a dog." But, I never do it!  

The dog as a catalyst for healthy living will become even more important with our aging population.  Seniors perhaps benefit most from walking a dog, not only for the physical exercise, but the people contact.  It is not very often that I go to the dog park that I don't chat with someone.  It isn't a long conversation, and I don't think I will meet my next "new best friend," but it is a nice friendly chat.  

This is why dog parks are better for socialization (dog and humans) than just walking your dog on the street, as there is a much greater probability that you and your dog will interact with others.  And, isn't that what is great about urban living i.e. interacting with others.  Not sure if it is just me, but people at the dog park seem happier and friendlier than people in the streets.  What's with that? 

Below is an article I wrote back in 2007.  I am now thinking it is not just downtown that needs to be more dog-friendly but the entire cities.  In fact, I am now thinking that all new communities should have a dog park as a key element of their master plan.  It is a great way to meet your neighbours in the new urban world.  

The dog park is the the new town square - all urban villages should have a dog park!  The dog park is used seven days a week year-round, unlike playing fields and many non dog parks. The dog park is as important to many, as the recreation centre or library is to others.  

Everybody needs a drink after a long day and a good walk.

Downtown needs to be more dog-friendly.

This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Living section March 3, 2007.  

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.

Literally thousands of Calgarians are in dog parks every evening walking their dogs and chatting with fellow citizens.

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).

Last Word

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.


RJ writes: 100, 000 dogs in Calgary alone huh? I can believe it, maybe even more....I'd say at least one in every ten homes has a dog. Now what we need is playgrounds built within a dog park (none that I have found)....if I could run both my four legged and two legged children at the same time that would be awesome!

Ann Toohey, PhD student, Community Health Science, University of Calgary writes:  My MSc research indicated that older adults (+50) who walk their dogs 4 times/week or more had a higher sense of community than those who walked their dogs less frequently, or non-dog owners. And of course they were much more likely to get 150 min/week of moderate, neighbourhood-based physical activity (as per public health recommendations). For more information on Tooley's MSc research

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Who needs Bermuda, Barbados or Bahamas when you have Bowview?

By Richard White, September 4, 2013

When walking to yoga recently, I passed by the Bowview Pool in West Hillhurst. People of all ages were enjoying the water and sunning themselves along the grassy edges.   I was immediately struck by how this scene resembled that of a pool at a swanky hotel in some Caribbean or Mediterranean hotel (ok, so I have a good imagination).

As I continued walking, I began to think of other fun things nearby that would be touristy.  Milkshakes and ice cream are something that I associate with vacations.  Dairy Lane, located just a few blocks away on 19th street has been serving up old fashion milkshakes for over 60 years.  Or I could wander a bit further to Amato Gelato on Kensington Road where I’d have a choice of over 72 different gelato flavours. 


Bowview Pool is a hangout for babes of all ages.  It is a great family spot.  

Dairy Lane has been an institution in the Bowview Pool area for over 60 years.  It is a very popular breakfast spot. 

Amato Gelato is a little bit of Italy in Calgary.  Yum Yum!

Sure, I couldn’t walk a white sand beach in the morning or evening, but I could walk the nearby Bow River with its crystal clear, every changing turquoise water.  In the evening, I could walk along the Bow River Bluff, which offers spectacular views of the river valley and a Downtown skyline that glitters like gold at sunset.  It doesn’t get more romantic than that.  Looking for a hike instead of a walk, the Douglas Fir Trail is an authentic forest trek in the middle of the city.  Yes there are no banana boats or skidoos, but I could go rafting, canoeing or kayaking on the river – there is a rental shop no far away.  I could easily have a river adventure everyday for a week.

And maybe there isn’t a hotel spa nearby, but there is the lovely Bodhi Tree yoga studio that certainly is spa-like. Tennis, a typical tropical vacation activity, is available at the West Hillhurst Recreation Centre.  Deep-sea fishing, common another hotspot vacation activity can be replaced by fly-fishing in the Bow River (one of the best fly-fishing rivers in the world).


Rafting along the Bow River has become a very popular summer activity for Calgarians and tourists.  On a hot summer day hundreds maybe thousands of rafters enjoy one of the world's great urban rivers. 

While parts of the Bow River north-side bluff walk are open offering spectacular views, other places are more forested and offering a more intimate and contemplative space. 

Downtown skyline from the Bow River bluff with the iconic Calgary blue sky. 

People of all ages love to walk and cycle along the Bow River from one end of the City Centre to the other. 

Want to sit and relax with an espresso or latte? Central Blends not only serves up some of the best coffee in the city, but their morning muffins are to die for.  Try the cranberry oatmeal, my favourite.

If seeking some shopping and a little bartering with the locals, the Sunday morning flea market at the Hillhurst community centre is just the ticket. 


Central  Blends has a wonderful tropical feel. It is not hard to imagine this being next to a beach in Mexico.  

So who needs Bermuda, Barbados or Bahamas when you have so many vacation-like things to see and do in and around the Bowview Pool.  If only our summers came earlier and lasted longer. 

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BH wrote:

Richard. I’m pleased to see that someone is interested in and writing about urban villages. They do contribute to the quality of life at the neighborhood or community scale. Yet so  much of planning is focused on other  issues , residential land uses, parking, density, development charges, growth management etc. I’m not sure planners or developers  really understand what makes an urban village successful. While planners and architects  may have drawn some pretty pictures of streetscapes, they have not really studied how urban villages developed, and how they survive.

The City of Victoria has some excellent examples of urban villages, particularly in the older areas-Cook Street, Oak Bay Village, James Bay, Cadboro Bay Village, as well as locations for big box retail in the Greater Victoria area. The ingredients are small scale, service businesses-usually a restaurant or pub, coffee shop, food and flowers, bank, pharmacy, wine store, etc. Contrary to popular belief, while they are surrounded by residential development it is not high density. Indeed the infrastructure required for high density development-major streets, parking structures, security etc, would probably overwhelm their profile , compromise their image, and frustrate their success. The City of Victoria Official Community Plan has a focus on encouraging and supporting urban villages and town centers. (Growth Management is not a major concern for the city).

The blog originally appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours publication on August 29, 2013 as part of a series of community profiles.  Some of the text has been changed and additional images have been added. 

I’m guessing you don’t know where Shouldice Terrace is; I didn’t - until I did some digging into the history of Montgomery and uncovered that that was Montgomery’s original name.  The “Terrace” part of the name makes sense given the entire community is built on the south facing Bow River escarpment.  The gradual slope offers almost everyone in the community a view of the majestic Douglas fir tree forest (the most eastern stand in Canada, with some being over 400 years old) on the other side of the Bow.

The “Shouldice” part comes from James Shouldice who purchased 470 acres west of the Calgary city limits in 1906 so he could farm. After farming he land until his death in 1925, the land was slowly developed as its own town. Fifteen years before he died, he donated 100 acres along the Bow River for a park (land today that would be worth multi-millions of dollars for condo development), obviously thinking that someday Calgary would grow and need more park space. 

A view from the north side of Montgomery looking across to the stand of Douglas Fir trees.  

Montgomery's Main Street with new condo development, just one of the many new infill projects that will transform this community into an attractive inner-city urban village. 

But why the name change to Montgomery? In 1943, the post office had an issue with the name as there was also a town in Alberta called Shouldice (it still exists today, as a hamlet about 85 km SE of Calgary). They requested a name change to prevent confusion.  Montgomery was subsequently chosen to celebrate Bernard Law Montgomery of Alamein a celebrated Great Britain military leader who played an important role in WWI and WWII.  Montgomery annexed into the City of Calgary in 1963, is celebrating its 50 anniversary this year.

Today, Montgomery’s boundaries are Shaganappi Trail to the east; 32nd Avenue and Market Mall to the north and Bow River to the south and west.  Like many older inner city communities, it has seen its ups and downs, but today it is on an up swing! It is one of the city’s top 10 infill communities with numerous new houses and condos being built.  It is also home to Calgary’s newest Business Revitalization Zone, an indication that local businesses are working together to create a sense of place and a brand for the community.  Montgomery’s population rose to 3,860 people in 2012, a 4.7% increase compared to 2011, an increase twice the city’s average. A very healthy sign!

Montgomery's new town square.  It is a modest beginning, but this space could become a wonderful pocket park. 

Shouldice Athletic Park consists of several football, soccer and baseball fields.  It is used by people from across the city. 

Montgomery is the gateway into Calgary as you drive in from the west on the TransCanada Highway. It is here you see the funky Alberta Children’s Hospital on the bluff, the cluster of new buildings at Foothills Medical Centre and your first good look at downtown’s shiny skyline.  It is not surprising then that Montgomery has its own motel village along the TransCanada highway, as mid-century travellers would have been looking for a place to stay as soon as they entered the city.

Montgomery has some of the best recreation facilities of any community in the city with Shouldice Park offering football, baseball and soccer fields, a batting cage, tennis courts, indoor pool and a wonderful picnic area on the Bow River.  It also has its own shopping center anchored by a Safeway grocery store – Bridgeland, Inglewood and East Village can’t match that.  And then there is Market Mall, its neighbour to the north.  From a shopper’s perspective, it doesn’t get much better. From an employment perspective Montgomertonians can walk, cycle or drive in minutes to two hospital complexes, the University of Calgary and downtown.

Looking at the community’s demographic it’s clear to see Montgomery is in transition.  Seniors over 75 make up 11.2 percent of the population, almost 3 times the city average of 4.3%; this it the result of several seniors’ lodges in the community.  At the same time, 26.7% of the population is between 20 and 34 years old (vs. Calgary’s 24% average). This is a very healthy sign as they are the one’s who will give the community the energy and investment needed to transform it into a 21st century urban village.  

Notable is one of Calgary's premier restaurants and the fact that it is located on Montgomery's Main Street is a testimony that the community is becoming more trendy. 

This is Montgomery's Safeway mall, but I decided to use this image as it speaks to the smaller mom and pop shops that are indicative of an urban village i.e. a sushi bar, liquor store, Donair shop, Loonie Store and Massage Therapy.  Around the corner is a Vietnamese Sub shop and hair salon. The mall also has the neighbourhood pub.  

One of the young newcomers to Montgomery is Kristina Groves, former Olympic speedskating medalist and now a University of Calgary grad student who, is in the process of building a small, affordable, sustainable home on a “tear down” lot she purchased.  “I love the charm and character of the community. It has history, is affordable and is located close to both the Oval and Canada Olympic Park,” exclaims Groves.  She also notes that several other current and former Olympians are living in Montgomery.  Hmmm….maybe the name should be changed to “Olympic Village?”

Montgomery, like Bowness has its own Main Street, currently experiencing signs of beautification with new banners, a pocket park and the recently completed four-storey condo building with retail at the street. Montgomery is home to over 100 businesses including its own lumberyard (Timbertown), its own boat dealer (Hyperactive Watersports – what a great name – in 2010 it was the largest Tige Boat dealer on the planet) and one of Calgary’s top restaurants (Notable).

Montgomery has all of the ingredients to become one of the city’s top ten inner-city communities in the not too distant future.  



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Off The Beaten Path in Spokane

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

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

Frank’s Diner

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

Located at 1516 West 2nd Ave.

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

Parkade Tour

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

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

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

More information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nordstrom’s Fitting Rooms

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

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

The briefcase was the companion piece to the hat.   

Browne’s Addition

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

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

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

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

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

Riverfront Park

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

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

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

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

Garland District

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

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

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

More information at:

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

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