Discover Calgary's past and present on foot

By Richard White, March 21, 2014

Calgary has a rich history of notable historians Hugh Dempsey, Jack Peach, Max Foran and David Finch; Harry Sanders follows in this tradition.  He has worked at the Calgary Public Library, the City of Calgary Archives, the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, and the Glenbow Library & Archives. Since 1995, Harry has been a self-employed historical consultant, contract researcher and freelance writer.

He is the author of Watermarks: One Hundred Years of Calgary Waterworks (2000), Calgary's Historic Union Cemetery: A Walking Guide (2002). The Story Behind Alberta Names: How Cities, Towns, Villages and Hamlets Got Their Names (2003), Historic Walks of Calgary (2005) and Calgary Transit: A Centennial History (2009).

From 1996 to 1999, Harry continued the late Jack Peach's 'Looking Back' column in the Calgary Sun. From 2006 to 2009, Harry appeared weekly on CBC Radio One as 'Harry the Historian'. In 2012, the Calgary Heritage Authority appointed him Calgary’s “historian Laureate.”

Sanders' 2005 book Historic Walks of Calgary is still the definitive book on our city’s urban history.  The book’s 517 pages contain ten walks that could easily fill out your entire summer.

The ten historic walks are:

  1. Civic Centre and Stephen Avenue
  2. Downtown, Eau Claire and Chinatown
  3. East Village, Fort Calgary, Inglewood and Ramsay
  4. The Beltline
  5. Warehouse District and Victoria Park
  6. Uptown 17th Avenue, Lower Mount Royal and 14th Street SW
  7. Cliff Bungalow / Mission
  8. Mount Royal
  9. Hillhurst/Sunnyside
  10. Bridgeland Riverside Renfrew and Crescent Heights

Each walk has a map with identified places to stop with photos and in-depth historical information about the building, people and events associated with the area. For example the Civic Centre and Stephen Avenue walk has 42 stops over eight blocks.

While the book is almost 10 years old now, most of the information is still accurate.  It is interesting to look at the photos and see how the streets and surrounding buildings have changed.

Even if you don’t use the book to go for a walk, the book is still a fascinating read, for example did you know that when the Kraft Block (now McDonald’s) was renovated in the mid ‘90s the damaged bricks in the façade were simply removed turned around and replaced.  How simple is that?

David Peyto

David Peyto walks under the radar as one of Calgary’s more interesting writers, perhaps because he self publishes his books.  He is the author of six books to date,  two look at walks from Calgary’s south and northwest LRT stations and four look at Calgary’s parks and green spaces.  These books should be in every Calgarians library. You can purchase them on PayPal on his website or pick one up at one of his spring and summer guided walks (see below).

I thought I’d give you my Coles Notes of Peyto’s walks to entice you to get the books and get out and walk around your city, after a long, long winter hibernation.

Walk Calgary’s Escarpments and Bluffs

This book consists of 16 connected walks that range from 8 to 15 kilometers.  Peyto gives you maps, places to park and photos to help guide you along the way.   When I asked him what his favourite walk in this book was, or perhaps a hidden gem he immediately said “I love the Riley Park to Fort Calgary walk.”  The route begins in Riley Park and passes Crescent Park, Rotary Park and Tom Campbell’s Hill before finishing at Fort Calgary. The route is very scenic with spectacular views of the downtown skyline.

Peyto thinks there should be a series of plaques along the top of Calgary’s escarpments describing the history of the area that you can see and also listing current points of interest. Sounds like a good project for communities, corporations and Tourism Calgary to partner on.

Calgary LRT Walks – The Northwest Stations

This book has 36 different walks from the nine stations from Sunnyside to Tuscany.  The walks range in length form 2 to 11 km. Peyto’s favourite walk is the Sunnyside Short Loop that meanders along 9th Avenue where all the houses on the north side of the road had to be removed in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the slope started to slide. You can still see evidence of the old home sites like hedges, part of a picket fence and old sidewalk.

Calgary LRT Walks – The South Stations

Peyto takes you on 38 different walks (2 to 12 km) from Stampede Station to Somerset/Bridal Wood. In addition to giving you information on what to look for along the way, he also provides ideas for food and drink and washrooms.  He thinks of everything.

My favourite walk is from Erlton/Stampede Station which takes you through the scenic Reader Rock Gardens and then meanders through or by five cemeteries; Union, Burnsland, Chinese, Jewish and St. Mary’s.

Discover Calgary’s Parks and Green Spaces

Peyto has three books with this title, one for southwest, southeast and north respectively.  The Southwest book identifies 106 locations including places for a picnic, bird watching and quiet places for a bit of peace and solitude.  The Southeast book has 60 locations including river escarpments, community parks and natural areas.  The North book has 90 special places which includes gardens, ravines and key viewpoints. 

Peyto Guided Walks

Sun May 4th at 1:30 pm      

Peyto will do a presentation about walking for the Calgary Public Library. This will be followed by the Jane’s Walk listed below.

Sun. May 4th at 3 pm. Jane’s Walk – Victoria Park Survivors

The walk starts at Central Branch of the library and finishes at Victoria Park/Stampede Station. He will be looking at some of the old houses and apartment buildings that have survived all the changes as this area gets a mega makeover.

Sun May 11th at 1:30 pm

Sunnyside LRT Walk for Calgary Public Library will meet at Louise Riley Library and ride the train to Sunnyside to the start of the walk.

Sat May 31st at 1:30 pm      

Starting at Memorial Park Library; this walk will look at historic buildings in old Victoria Park area of what is now called the Beltline. 

Historic Calgary Week Walks

  • Sunalta LRT Walk, Mon July 28th at 9:30 am.
  • Victoria Park/Stampede LRT Walk, Wed July 30th at 9:30 am.
  • Sunalta LRT Walk, Friday, August 31 at 9:30 am (different route than July 28th)

Meet at the station for these walks, there is no pre-registration. Remember to wear appropriate clothing and bring some water. All walks are about 1.5 to 2 hours.

Last Word

I love to walk, as every good flaneur should.  I used to walk from Crowchild Trail and 5th Avenue NW to downtown almost every day year round when I was the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association for 12 years.  If you really want to get to know yourself and your community, spend some time walking in your community or maybe in a new community. I love walking alone, it allows me to reflect on the past, the present and the future. Walk alone and I guarantee you will learn a lot!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Treasure Hunting on Grassi Lake Trail

Calgary's Secret Heritage Stroll

Being an everyday tourist 

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways