The Bee's Knees Experience

By Richard White, December 15, 2013

Spent last Wednesday night at 'in lovely downtown De Winton, Alberta listening to local musicians jamming.  It was a true grass roots experience, no egos here?

Perhaps it is the prairie version of an east coast “Kitchen Party” - instead of everyone gathering in someone’s kitchen and playing tunes, people gather at the neighbourhood café or bar and take turns playing for others.

Everyone is invited to participate at the Bees Knees Experience and stay as long as you want.  The lead cycles to whomever wants to play a song.  There is no sound system, no mics and no electric guitars - everything is unplugged.

A blast from the past

One can certainly picture nights and afternoons like this in kitchens of Canada's Maritime provinces or porches in the Mississippi Delta. Musicians playing for the pure enjoyment of it...any skill level is welcomed to join in.  The song selection is all encompassing - country, blues, rock or island music - anything goes. 

You don’t read about these jams in the newspapers or the magazines…they aren't all over social media….yet it is vital to creating a vibrant music scene.

Too often we think of culture as something that only happens downtown… in formal cultural spaces…but in reality much of it is happens in the churches, schools, cafes and bars in the ‘burbs. 

The big city jams are more orchestrate with a full stage and sound system. The performances are more polished as often the musicians have played together for years. Also, there is a formula, you get your three or four songs before its time for the next musicians.  There is lots of fun, often accompanied by dancing and a good bar room buzz.  

A "music city" needs both grass root and professional jams. 

Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Paul's trombone adds a unique sound to the Bees Knees experience. 

It doesn't take long before Merv (Smilie) joins in. 

The Bees Knees Experience

When a buddy suggested we check out the Wednesday jam at Bees Knees Café just off Highway 2 in De Winton I was skeptical, but the “flaneur” in me said “Why Not!”   Back story – for past 20 months three buddies (two play guitars, one gets beer i.e. me) had been getting together to jam in their respective houses and regularly attending jams at Mikey’s, Blues Can and other pubs. 

It was time for a pre-Christmas house jam at GG’s who happen to live in the De Winton area, so why not kick it up a notch by combining our jam and dinner with the Bees Knees jam. 

As we arrived the “OPEN” sign was flashing, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside and there were few cars around.  But, as we got closer we could see one guitar player…opening the door, we were surprise to find four guitar players and a trombone player jamm’n away.  What was missing was the audience?  Was this a private jam? 

We were quickly welcomed to sit and listen or join in - there was even an extra guitar if we wanted to use it.  We sat back enjoyed the music and our bottle of wine for a few songs. The trombone added a nice rich element to the jam that was unique. 

Jay takes the lead on this one...

Smilie loves to let others take the lead. He is life long learner! Take it away Ron and Ron.

GG finally joins in....he loves to pick...

Angry River

Soon Merv couldn’t resist the temptation! He grabbed the extra guitar and joined in. He was quickly assimilated into the group…singing and playing as if he was a BFF.  He was even encourage to play his “Angry River” song he had written about the flood – his first attempt at song writing.  Later GG joined in…the first time he has played in public!!!

As we left we found out the group wasn’t locals from the De Winton area but from Ogden to Okotoks.  Turns out the owner of Bees Knees Café lets them and anyone else who wants to join in use the space to jam Wednesday nights – 6 to 9 pm. There is even a small stage for more formal music events.


It is just me or does it seem there has been an explosion of live music events in Calgary over the past few years.  Seems like every café and neighbourhood pub has some live music one or two nights a week.

Jay's guitar string art...

Tina's artifacts or Bees Knees Still Life

Last Word:

If Calgary is going to evolve into a vibrant music city, the development of places like Bees Knees Café is just as important as the multi-million dollar projects like National Music Centre and cSPACE.  

I encourage all of us to get out and support the local jams, open mic nights and other performances.   

I you like this blog you might like:

Cowtown's Budding Music Scene 

Are we too downtowncentric?

Cafe: Montreal vs Calgary 

Calgary North America's new "music city."

The Bees Knees Experience

Working together to make Calgary better!

By: Richard White, November 5, 2013

Is it just me who hates all those the curved maze-like street design in the new suburbs with street names that are impossible to distinguish because they all sound the same? I think GPS was invented so we could navigate new communities.

Recently I attended a presentation organized by Brookfield Residential, Danube Farming Ltd., Ollerenshaw Ranch Ltd., and Trafford Family where three design teams (two from Vancouver and one from Salt Lake) presented their ideas on how to transform 1,800 acres in Calgary’s southeast next to Seton Town Centre and was SHOCKED that all three proposed a grid-like pattern for the streets. Yahoooo! 

This aerial image show the agricultural quarter section grid that has been used in the area for over 100 years. that served as the inspiration for proposed grid structure for the new Ranchview community. 

You can also see the numerous ponds and creeks which will be integrated into the open spaces and sustainability features.  

The inspiration for the renaissance of the grid was the existing quarter section grid pattern. All three groups went to great lengths to express how they were captivated with the site’s prairie mountains vista. They all talked about respecting the existing prairie patchwork quilt, the sense of agriculture and one group even talked about how to make the community “horse friendly.”  All three wanted to preserve the “rural” sense of place as part the new community tentatively called Rangeview.

ICC: Innovation/Competition/Co-operation

Kudos to the four owners for taking the initiative to organize this “design co-opetition” for the development of Rangeview. The process is a competition in that three urban design groups were asked to independently produce ideas for the development of the land. At the same time is it a co-operative process as the four landowners, the City, Calgary’s design community and public and the design teams will work together to combine the best of all the ideas into one shared vision.  

In established communities the planning process often consisted of the landowner and developer engaging their team of site planners (landscape architects, environmentalist, engineers, planners, urban designers et. al.) to produce a concept plan. This plan is then circulated to the city departments for comments and revisions made.

At the end of the presentation all of the members of the three design teams were invited up to the stage for questions.  This is just half of the brain power that was applied to identifying ways to best develop the raw land that will become Rangeview.  I couldn't help but notice it was all male and all middle-age to older.   I have heard it said that one of the issues facing city building is that there is not enough diversity in the urban planning and design profession.  

Only after spending thousands of hours and millions of dollars and having the city on-side does the developer go public with the proposal. I have heard more than one person call it the “design and defend” model because the plan is pretty much complete by the time they conduct an open house.   This means they are reluctant to make any major changes based on community input i.e. they will defend it as the best possible plan.  This is why you get all of the controversy over new developments in places like Brentwood transit station development and Shawnee Slopes golf course.

However, in new communities the City’s Engage Policy means the City, the landowners and the neighbours collaborate to create the concept plan that then forms the Area Structure Plan (ASP), which will govern any new development.  What is new is that in the Rangeview engagement process and ASP development the landowners are paying for all of the costs including the salaries of city staff.  


Extraordinary Community Engagement  


Brookfield Residential’s Doug Leighton, VP Planning and Sustainability along with the other owners decided to take a different route with Rangeview by selecting from a list of nine respected international firms, Design Workshop (Salt Lake City), Perry + Associates (Vancouver) and CIVITAS (Vancouver) to help them determine how best to develop the land.  Each out-of-town design team was first asked to pair up with a local firm to provide a local prespective before coming to Calgary to meet with the landowners and the city, as well as tour the site in mid September. The teams were then asked to generate ideas on how to best develop the Rangeview lands based best urban design practices.

Six weeks later, each of the groups were back in Calgary to present their visions not only to Brookfield Residential and the landowners, but to the City, Calgary’s urban design community and at a weekend public open house in Auburn Bay.  At each of the presentations the audience was given an evaluation sheet to share what they ideas they thought were best. It was all very open and transparent!

As I understand it Brookfield Residential and the landowners now own all of the collateral material from each team and can pick the best ideas from each, as well as ideas from the greater Calgary urban design community and the public to create their vision for Rangeview. 

This shows one of the linear parks with the retail activity area at the end with space for farmer's market and a village square. Diversity of uses and activities is critical to successful public spaces. And you can see the GRID! Yahoooo!


Calgary is innovative!


Indeed, this is community engagement at its best.  Calgary Municipal Land Corporation undertook a similar process to develop the master plan for East Village. “Community engagement first” is also the mantra of James Robertson, President and CEO of the West Campus Development Trust who is leading the transformation of 205 acres on the west side of the University of Calgary into a new inner city “live, work, play, learn” community.  However, both of these projects are in established neighbourhoods where community engagement is a must.  Brookfield Residential is the first to my knowledge who is doing it for a green field development on the edge of the city. 

Calgary is too often criticized for not being innovative when it comes to new community development. In fact Calgary’s development community has been one of the most innovated in North America over the past 25 years. Projects like McKenzie Towne, Garrison Woods, Quarry Park, Seton, East Village and now Rangeview are all benchmarks for new urban development.

Another team designed this linear park that they called Vista Park as they wanted to preserve a space that would celebrate the current vista of prairie and mountains.  Again you can see how they have incorporated existing ponds, connected them with storm water creeks and added several activity amenities. Again you can see the grid! Yahoo!


Key ideas for Rangeview



Wetlands/ Linear Park



All of the presentations looked at how the preservation of existing wetlands could be integrated into valuable open space and create as unique sense of place for each of the distinct neighborhoods which will comprise the larger Rangeview community.

Similarly each vision prosed a linear park running roughly east to west that would maintain the prairie/mountain vista that currently exists by taking advantage of an existing high spot in the middle of the property. The linear park would be used to create connectivity - connect the wetlands, connect the neighbourhoods and connect to the region pathway system. 

One proposal included an urban beach, skating ring, adventure playground, small farm or large community garden and retail node as a means of animating the park year-round.  Another proposal had a spreadsheet with dozen of activities that should be accommodated in the public spaces year round.

To me the parks and open spaces proposed would combine some of the best attributes of Prince’s Island, Confederation Park, Shouldice Park, Glenmore Park and the new St. Patrick’s Park.  

Here you can see how CIVITAS has proposed the creation of four villages each with their own charm and each with their own density which can be seen by the density of roads with the Hamlet being the least dense. Here you can see the grid of Rangeview vs the maze-like street design of the community north of Seton.  Yahooo for the grid!


Community Retail Hub


All of the plans developed several retail nodes strategically located so everyone is within 400 meters or 5-minute walk to a High Street with a grocery store and 10+ shops.   Think Britannia Plaza with its Sunterra Market, bistro, bookstore, wine merchant, café and hardware and small apartments and condos surround it.




All three presentations had a mix of housing types.   In fact one presentation listed 17 different housing products, everything from single family to laneway housing.  I didn’t see any high-rise (over 20 floors). Most of the medium density was clustered near the new Seton Town Center, the hospital, the BRT (future LRT) transit routes and retail hubs, as you would expect.  

Wouldn't it be great if Rangeview could have several of these one block angled parking Main Streets that we so popular in the early 20th century in small towns across the prairies.  That fact that Britannia is still viable 50 years later tells me that it can work in today's market place. 

Last Word

Rangeview reeks of innovation, collaboration and cooperation on many levels. This is great to see after years of developer/city friction. I hope this community planning process is evidence of a new willingness “to work together to make a great city better.”

A public open house in Auburn Bay was organized to give the public, especially those in the neighbouring communities a chance to respond to the ideas being presented and to share their ideas on what a new 21st century community should look like.  Public engagement first, then vision and master planning.