Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

By Richard White, February 16, 2014

Just when you thought Ramsay couldn’t get more funky, it did!  Just this past week “Passage,” a quirky new contemporary art gallery opened. 

While still lamenting the loss of Dennis Oppenheim’s upside down church “Device to Root out Evil,” I am excited by the creation of a new FFQ (fun, funky and quirky) art gallery space in the Dominion Bridge building on 24th Avenue S.E. 

The space is a narrow (20 feet at most?) “passage way,” part outdoor and part indoors, making for a very dramatic and inviting entrance to the offices that call the Dominion Bridge site home. 

The current exhibition, “IN DUST: REAL” which opened February 13, 2014 and is curated (this is not just a lets hang some art and call it a gallery project) by Colleen Sharpe a former Glenbow art curator features works by Aran McCormick and Joanne MacDonald.  I love the way the exhibition reflects the space with numerous references to industrial artifacts. 

Unfortunately "Device to Root out Evil" has been removed from the Dominion Bridge site.  It was my favourite piece of public art in the city. 

This was the entrance to "Passage" on the opening night.  How cool is this? Reminded me of the orbs that floated down the Bow River at night a few years back. 

Joanne MacDonald's welded steel sculpture "Community" sets the tone for the exhibition with its fun dancing snowman-like stature. I love the interplay of the object and the shadow, which is another repeated element in the exhibition. 

Aran McCormick's collage/still life with  bucket, rope and wire has a lovely whimsy that appealed to both Brenda and I.  

This is close up of Joanne MacDonald's "Suspended Element 26" also has a sense of playfulness that you wouldn't expect from industrial elements. There is a "nesting" element to the piece that I found intriguing. 

Aran McCormick's "Suspension III" is indeed an old wooden ladder suspended from the wall with a bucket on the end and paint on the floor.  The pop of colour on the floor foreshadows the next piece in the exhibition. 

At the back of the gallery were McCormick's colourful "Fly Wheel Series" digital art on vinyl. 

This is the back door, which provides a context for linking the site's industrial sense of place with the art in the exhibition. 


But Passage is not the only radical thing to happen to Ramsay recently.  Have you heard of or been to Salvage? It is located at the east end of 24th Avenue just down the road from Passage. You go past the Burns Visual Arts Society (named after the Burns building in downtown Calgary where the society was first formed) veer left into the junkyard and there you will discover a huge warehouse full of FFQ things to look at, or purchase.  It is like a scene out of Canadian Pickers.

Calgary interior designer Alykhan Velji along with Kelly Kask owner of Reclaimed Trading Company have a passion for salvaging and reclaiming materials from “off the beaten path” sources - cedar doors from Calgary’s old courthouse, old growth fir from a cannery in BC to name a few. 

They, along with their colleagues, then either rework them into home décor items or make them available to artists and scavengers to work their magic. Never before has the old adage “one person’s junk is another’s treasure” rang so true. 

Last spring, while in Portland, we fell in love with the “The Good Mod” and its amazing collection of reclaimed industrial products.  Our immediate reaction was “Why can’t Calgary have a place like this?”  Now we do! 

The entrance to Salvage is just a hint of what it is to come.

The wall of chairs was impressive. 

The Good Mod in Portland had a wonderful whimsy about it especially in how they displayed their chairs. 

Just one of the FFQ objects that had been created out of various salvaged objects. 

This bench would look good on our deck! 

How cool are these?

This is Salvage as you walk in or look back. 

Calgary’s Industrial District

While Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Inglewood and Kensington seem to get all the media’s attention as Calgary’s hipster communities, Ramsay is just quietly evolving into Calgary’s funky and quirky industrial district.

Caffé Rosso has, for a long time, been the funky foodie hangout in Ramsay. However, it now has competition with the opening of Red’s in Ramsay at 1101 8th Street SE.  

If New Urban Developments (Dan Van Leeuwen, President and CEO founded New Urban in 2008 as real estate development firm focused on inner city urban revitalization projects) can pull off the transformation of the 11-acre Dominion Bridge site into an industrial village (needs to retain a unique sense of place and design that “shouts out “industrial, not just another bunch of generic condos that look like they could be anywhere) for artists and artist wannabees, Ramsay could be the “sleeper” in Calgary’s quest to become a hipster haven.

In the 20th century the creative types converted warehouse streets into hip new communities. It looks like in the 21st century the "creative class" which includes developers is discovering old industrial sites and bringing them back to life. 

I encourage you to grab a coffee at Caffé Rosso and take a walk around Ramsay; it is a very interesting place to explore for anyone interesting in Calgary's history and our sense of place, or in treasure hunting and flaneuring. 

I encourage everyone to be an everyday tourist in your city or town. Get out and walk a different neighbourhood with the curiosity of a tourist. 

Caffe Rosso has the "industrial" sense of place that needs to be retained in any new development of the site.  I am thinking the steel tower could be converted into a signature artwork for the site.  Perhaps we also need to preserve the above ground telephone and utility poles as part of the authenticity factor.  

Old metal drums lids have been transformed into FFQ artwork at Red's in Ramsay. 

Sam Hester has been adopted by Red's as their local artist, commissioning artworks for both locations.  Hester's fun and colourful visual stories makes for a fun and quirky entrance at Red's in Ramsay. 

The Ramsay community celebrates its industrial sense of place which includes the railway the runs through it. This image in on Red's window is an example of how the community continues to showcase its history in fun ways.