Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Found this church totally by accident when wandering back to my hotel from St. Stephen's Green. I was walking on the other side of the street when I spotted some strange architectural elements in the narrow space between the buildings and then noticed the ornate street entrance. Next thing you know I was running across the street to check it out.  As luck would have it the door was open and I had found another hidden gem.  

  This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

  It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

Wonderful light floods the church as you enter.

The grand altar

altar text

History

cuc
site
porch info

Ornamentation

Every pillar has a different message 

  Ornamentation is everywhere

Ornamentation is everywhere

Found this gem in a dark corner

Ceiling of hallway entrance to the church

  The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

 T he walls of the church are like huge paintings

The walls of the church are like huge paintings

  Close up of paintings

Close up of paintings

Newman Who?

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801 and died in Birmingham on August 11, 1890. He was a major figure in the Oxford Movement which exploited the possibility of bringing the Church of England back to its Catholic roots.

Ultimately his study of ecclesiastical history influenced him to become a Catholic in 1945. He later brought the Oratory of St. Philip Neri to England. He became the first Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin and was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. 

Through his extensive published writings and private correspondence, he created a greater understanding of the Catholic Church and its teachings, helping many with their religious difficulties. At his death, he was praised for his unworldliness, humility and prayer. He was declared Venerable on January 21, 1991 and on September 20, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Last Word

Dublin is well know for its churches, there seems to be on on every other block.  It even has a Cathedral District where St. Patrick's Cathedral is located and the Christ Church Cathedral in the Viking/Medieval area. But for my money (free) the Newman University Church, which isn't on any of my maps, is every bit as interesting and perhaps more unique then Dublin's famous duo.

By Richard White, October 8th 2014.

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An Atheist's Look At Salt Lake City's Temple Square 

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town

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Calgary's Audacious New Library

By Richard White, September 5, 2014 (An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald).

The idea of a new iconic central library has been around for decades (Vancouver got its iconic library in 1995, as did Denver and Seattle in 2004.  In fact, it was acknowledged at the Calgary Public Library Foundation’s preview that one of the reasons Councilor Druh Farrell originally decided to run for council in 2001 was to foster the development of a new central library.

She and others have been championing the idea tireless and today she is Council’s representative on the Calgary Public Library Board. Nobody can say the Library Board or Council has rushed into this project, it has been a slow painful process for some and for others a strategic struggle.

Finally the wait is over. 

  Vancouver's iconic Central Library has been the envy of many Calgarians since it was built in 1995.

Vancouver's iconic Central Library has been the envy of many Calgarians since it was built in 1995.

Think Global Act Local

The new library's design team of Snohetta and DIALOG was announced in November 2013 and since then has been working hard to develop a design that will capture the attention of both Calgarians and the world.  It was a good choice as Calgary’s DIALOG team is headed up by Rob Adamson, who was born in Calgary, got his architectural degree from the University of Calgary and has spent his entire career in Calgary – he can obviously speak to Calgary’s sense of place.  His projects include the impressive TELUS Spark and the new international wing of the Calgary Airport. 

In addition, Fred Valentine one of Calgary’s most respected architects (architect for the NEXEN building) has also been advising the Library’s steering committee and Board with respect to design issues and opportunities. 

Craig Dykers heads up the Snohetta team in New York City who bring to the table a wealth of international library experience including the award winning Bibliotheca Alexandria.

The Design

The design team for Calgary’s new central library make no bones about it they have an audacious (their words not mine) vision: to create the best library in the world.  They were quick to that creating the best library is more than just about design, it is about being “right for this place and time.”  Craig Dykers of Snohetta argued, “Libraries are not about the building, the books or the information but about the people.”  He also noted that the best libraries must evolve with time and Calgary's new library must be able to do just that.

The inspiration and rationale for the design of the new library as unveiled at the Calgary Library Foundations’ Preview September 3rd and again at a sold out presentation (1,200 attendees) at the TELUS Convention Centre on September 4th is very complex.  Everything from the curve of the underground LRT tunnel to the Chinook arch were mentioned as factors influencing the building’s conceptual design.  

  Rendering of the shape and massing of the proposed new downtown Library.

Rendering of the shape and massing of the proposed new downtown Library.

  Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

  Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Drift Boat?

What struck me most when looking at the rendering is that it looks like a boat.  At first I thought of a canoe but then it hit me – it looks like the drift boats that are used by fly fishermen on the Bow River. These boats have a flat bottoms with flared sides, a flat bow and pointed stern. They are designed to handle rough water and to allow fishermen to stand up in the boat, even in flowing water. Whether intentional or unintentional there are some interesting links to Calgary's sense of place (rivers) and culture (recreation).

Rendering of the new library's 3rd Street SE facade.

  Rendering of the 3rd Street SE facade in the summer with the Municipal Building on the left. 

Rendering of the 3rd Street SE facade in the summer with the Municipal Building on the left. 

Yin Yang on 3rd Street SE

I was also struck by how similar the massing is to the Municipal Building that will run parallel to the new library on the west side of 3rd Street SE. Both are block-long horizontal mid-rise buildings in a downtown that is dominated by its verticalness.  Inside both buildings will have a floor to ceiling atriums as their dominant design feature.

The Municipal Building’s design is unique with a stepped façade on the west side, an obvious reference to the foothills and the mountains and a flat east façade, a design metaphor for the prairies. Dykers indicated he thought what defined our city’s unique sense of place is its position between the mountains and the prairies.

While nobody said it, I think there could be a nice “yin and yang” design materializing between the angular Municipal Building and the curved new library. I think there are also links with the design and massing of the new National Music Centre. The synergies between the three buildings could create something special from an urban placemaking perspective.

The façade of the proposed new library has a repeated geometric pattern that is in the shape of a house or shed. It creates an obvious scientific, mathematical or engineering visual impression.

This too might be appropriate as Paul McIntyre Royston, President & CEO of the Calgary Library Foundation announced the new library will have a Research Chair - a first for a public library in Canada.  He spoke of the new library as being an “incubator for research and ideas.” He also went on to say “all great cities have great libraries” and it was the team’s goal to create a great library for Calgarians and he wasn’t afraid to reiterate that vision is to “create the best library in the world”

 

The Municipal Building is a massive blue glass triangle sitting on top of a concrete rectangle. The historic sandstone city hall in the bottom right corner is still used as offices for Mayor, Council and meeting rooms. The building makes obvious references to the foothills, the big blue prairie sky and the powerful forces of faults, folds and shifting tectonic plates that formed the Canadian Rockies. 

The west facade of the Municipal Building alludes to Calgary's sense of place i.e. where the prairies meet the mountains; the triangular shape and stepped facade creates a unique shape. The glass facade creates wonderful reflections of the historic sandstone city hall building to the north east. 

  From the northeast the Municipal Building has an intriguing profile as a result of its triangular shape that will contrast nicely with the propose new library's curved shape at the same corner.

From the northeast the Municipal Building has an intriguing profile as a result of its triangular shape that will contrast nicely with the propose new library's curved shape at the same corner.

  This view of the Municipal Building from the east will disappear when the new library is built. 

This view of the Municipal Building from the east will disappear when the new library is built. 

Last Page

I like the fact the design is not something twisted, cantilevered or cubist, which seems to be all the rage these days. The shape and skin are intriguing with a sense of playfulness without being too silly.  I expect only time will tell if this is the right building for Calgary - today and in the future. 

The design of the Calgary’s new Central Library is off to a good start. I am glad it isn't imitative of other architecture as is so often the case in Calgary.

I hope that as the design evolves it will just keep getting better. Kudos to the design team, the Library and CMLC staff! 

Denver's Central Library designed by Michael Graves, in 1995. 

  Seattle's Central Library designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, in 2004. 

Seattle's Central Library designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, in 2004. 

Calgary Postcards: Things to see & do

By Richard White, June 30, 2014

Summer is Calgary’s busiest tourist season. It is when family and friends love to come to Calgary, not only for the 10 days of Stampede, but for all of July and August. However for most Calgarians’ the top-of-mind place to take visitors is to Banff and the mountains. I would like to change that!

I thought it would be fun to put together a blog of postcards reflecting the many things to see and do in Calgary with tourist this summer and anytime. 

I have tried to find “everyday” things to see and do, not just the obvious attractions – Glenbow, Calgary Tower, Heritage Park, Zoo, Science Centre, Calaway Park, Chinook Centre or IKEA (now that Winnipeg has its own IKEA, you are going to have to find someplace else to take visiting Winnipeggers).

I have tried to identify “off the grid” uniquely Calgary spots versus obvious touristy things.  I have also tried to identify a diversity of things to see and do that will appeal to a variety of interests. And, most of the things are FREE!

I hope these “everyday tourists” postcards from Calgary will be a catalyst for Calgarians to spend more time exploring Calgary with their visiting family and friends this summer, or anytime of the year for that matter.

Calgary's downtown is home to the world's most extensive elevated indoor walkway system - the +15. The name comes from the fact the bridges are 15 feet off the ground.  Over 60 bridges, connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km walkway.  Unfortunately it is a bit like a maze and it is not contiguous, but it is a unique and fun way to explore the downtown especially for kids. Along the way amongst other things you can find a bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of one office building and the skeleton of a bison in another. Download +15 Map

Calgary has several great pedestrian districts - Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street and 17th Avenue. This is the little "no name" plaza on 10th street where buskers are entertaining people passing by - it is always animated and didn't cost a half million dollars to create.   These streets are great places to do some local shopping, sample some of Calgary's great cuisine scene or one of our craft beers.  All of these streets have great patios for relaxing and people watching. 

  This is  Canada's Sports Hall of Fame  at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest  military museum ?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

This is Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest military museum?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

Calgary's Power Hour happens Monday to Friday on nice sunny days when over ten thousand downtown workers head out for a power walk along Stephen Avenue at lunch hour.  This phenomena is something visitors will enjoy seeing and participating in, it is a people watching extravaganza. (photo courtesy of Jeff Trost)

Calgary has one of the world's largest urban pathway system - over 750 km.  While you are walking, running or biking along the north side of the Bow River at the Louise (10th St) bridge you should consider stopping and checking out the new Poppy Plaza - Calgary's newest monument to Canada's war and peace keeping efforts. 

Who needs to go to the mountains when Calgary has over 5,000 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world - Fish Creek Park and Nose Hill.  This is Edworthy Park home to the Douglas Fir Trail - perhaps Calgary's quintessential trail.

Floating down one of Calgary's two rivers is a great way to spend a summer day with visiting family and friends. You could even try your hand a fly fishing as the Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. 

This is just one of hundreds of public artworks in and around Calgary's downtown.  You could easily spend a day wandering the streets, parks, plazas and gardens to see how many you can find. Hint: There are still several of the fun cow sculptures on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  You can also download the City of Calgary's public art tour. FYI...this piece is titled "Ascension" and was made by INCIPIO MONDO and is located in a mini-park at the southwest corner of 4th Ave and 9th St. SW. Download Public Art Tour  

Calgary has many historical buildings and districts in the inner-city, from the majestic early 20th century sandstone schools to old city hall. Stephen Avenue (8th Street SW) from Centre St to 4th St. SW is a National Historic District and Inglewood has a heritage Main Street.  If you have a history buff visiting you will want to be sure to take them to our two historical districts, along with maybe Fort Calgary, Glenbow and Heritage Park.  A great resource to have  is "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders, it offers 10 different self-guided tours of Calgary historical communities in and around the downtown. Or print off the City of Calgary's self-guided tour of Stephen Avenue and you are all set for a half-day of exploring. (Photo credit: George Webber, one of Canada's most respected photographers). 

Central High School (photo credit: George Webber)

When in Calgary, eat like locals do?  Chicken on the Way and Peter's Drive-In are two of Calgary's iconic eateries. Click here for:  Top Ten Places to eat like a local?

Explore your own neighbourhood, on foot or on bike - you might be surprised what you will find. We love to take visitors to our favourite local spots like this musical fence. 

Calgary has a great cafe culture. Caffe Rosso located in interesting places like the Old Dominion Steel site in Ramsay is just one of the many independent cafes. Learn more: Calgary's cafe scene.

Riding the train can be a fun and an inexpensive way to spend a day, especially with young children. You can buy a day pass and hope off and on as much as you like.  You can combine a train trip with exploring downtown, or perhaps a trip to the Zoo or the Science Centre - both are easily accessible by the train. 

This is the Sunalta LRT station just outside of downtown, from this station you could walk to Mikey's Juke Joint for their famous Saturday Afternoon Jam or to Heritage Posters & Music to browse their  wonderful collection of posters, records and music memorabilia. 

Calgary has a festival pretty much every weekend through out the summer, including Global Fest fireworks completion in lovely Elliston Park, August 14 to 15, 2014. 

  If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the  Swerve Magazine  in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the Swerve Magazine in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into history or reading, bookstore browsing is a fun activity.  Calgary is home to one of the Canada's most unique bookstore - Aquila.  Located at 826 - 16h Avenue, right on the TransCanada Highway it specializes in polar expeditions, Western Canadiana and Canadian Pacific Railway. Yes those are two authentic Inuit kayaks hanging from the ceiling. 

Pages in Kensington is also a great bookstore with lots of readings and FairsFair is a great used bookstore and has several locations. 

If you really want to show your visitors you are "hip" and "tin he know" you might want to take them to Salvage in Ramsay, just down the road from Cafe Rosso and not very far from the Crown Surplus and Ribtor in Inglewood. You could easily spend a day pretending  you are on the set of Canadian or American Pickers TV show. Anyone into retro or vintage artifacts or antiquing or thrifting would love these places. 

Footnotes:

If you are interested in walking tours the City of Calgary’s website has several, including cemetery tours.  You can also pic up David Peyto’s Walking tour books or the iconic "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders.  You can even book your own private tour with Calgary Walks

I am always interested in new ideas and places to explore, so please send me your suggestions for Calgary Postcards and I will add them to this blog or perhaps create another one.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk 

Calgary: History Capital of Canada

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways 


A 24 hour quickie in Santa Fe

Our six-week Spring Break 2013, 8,907 km road trip itinerary called for 24 hours in Santa Fe. Wanting to make the most of our quickie visit, we were up early to check out of the lovely Parq Central Hotel in Albuquerque and hit the road for the 90-minute drive.  We wanted a full day given Santa Fe is a mecca for culture vultures like us.

Though we knew arriving early meant we’d get there before anything opened, the plan was to do some window licking before the shops opened and get a lay of the land before the hordes of tourists invaded the city centre.

The early bird gets the art!

As luck would have it, we saw a Goodwill sign on the outskirts. It was open so we decided to check it out. I quickly found five large (40” by 30’) unsigned abstract colour field paintings on stretched canvas seemingly all by the same artists. It was tough to narrow it down to two, the maximum that would fit into our already treasure-filled Nissan Altima.  We chose the two deep psychotic blue pieces, one with some illegible ghost writing adding a poetic element to the painting. The second painting has an even richer blue background wash with just a few bright white markings that stimulate the imagination to develop and play with different interpretations. Oh yes, there were just $15 each. 

Like O'Keeffe's paintings both of the Goodwill "unknown artist" paintings evoke a sense of the spiritual, sensual and mystery of nature. 

O’Keeffe Museum / Prison

I had been looking forward all trip to seeing the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum collection and comparing her work to Canada’s goddess of art and nature - Emily Carr.  I was surprised at how small the museum was; it seemed just as I was getting into the artist’s work it was over.  I was also not impressed with the number of security guards, it seemed as much a prison as a museum. 

That being said the museum does a good job of telling O’Keeffe’s life story and motivates one to head out and explore the desert.   

The Central Plaza

The central Santa Fe Plaza is not only a National Historic Landmark, but the “heart of Santa Fe.” Many downtown plazas and squares make this claim but in Santa Fe it is most definitely true.  While we were there, a military band was playing played on the bandshell with a block-long row of local artisans selling their art and crafts across the street.  A wonderful array of small restaurants and shops, line the streets around the plaza, as well as museums and the iconic Cathedral making it very pedestrian friendly.

The Plaza block has been Santa Fe’s commercial, social and political center since 1610. Initially a walled fort, over time it has evolved as the city and the economy of the area changed.  Like all good public spaces, it must adapt to changes over time.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

Though the current cathedral was built over a 17 year period from 1869 to 1886, there has been a church on this site since 1626.  Its statuesque Romanesque Revival architecture with rounded arched entrance, Corinthian columns, truncated square towers and large rose window above the entrance stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding low-rise, minimalist Pueblo adobe buildings surrounding it.

The inside the Cathedral has all the grandeur of a great European church with sky-high ceilings, rich stained glass windows and other decorative elements.  As we entered, the beacon of light shone brightly above the altar while the rest of the building was shrouded in shadow yielding a heavenly, resurrection quality that was a little eerie. The church was full of interesting art and artefacts, making it as much a museum as a place of worship.   

These statues have a lot in common with figures in the various exhibitions at the International Folk Art Museum. 

More links between folk art and religious art at the cathedral.

Santa Fe is rich in history and has attracted major artists from around the world to visit and create here.

Kateri Tekakwitha  (1656 to 1680) the first Indian of North America to become a Saint.

Window Licking

One of the most fun things (at least to us) to do in any city is window lick (the French term for window shopping translates literally into “window licking”). Most of Santa Fe’s downtown shops are upscale and to be honest, are out of our price range. We did pop into a few galleries and the two paintings we got earlier in the day at the Goodwill would easily go for $5,000 or more if they were signed and we had some providence.

As a former, public gallery curator, I know our new paintings were done by someone with experience; not the work of some “Sunday afternoon” painter.  The thrill of the hunt is to find great artworks in off the beaten path places.  They will tell you at the upscale galleries “you should buy what you like!” Well the true test of that is buy something at a thrift store and hang it up alongside works of major Canadian artists like Maxwell Bates, Marion Nicol and Bev Tosh or international artists like Miro, Alechinsky or Appel.  It is interesting to integrate “high” and “low” brow art in your home.

window licking 1
  While not technically a window, I found these courtyard sculptures by looking through a glassless opening in a wall next to the sidewalk. 

While not technically a window, I found these courtyard sculptures by looking through a glassless opening in a wall next to the sidewalk. 

Lunch

Based on a hot tip from Calgary friends, we wandered just off the Plaza to The Shed. The fourth generation of the Shed family serves up some of the most creative and authentic Northern New Mexico cuisine.  We opted for the traditional Enchilada Plate and the Pozole and definitely weren’t disappointed.   The Shed is well known for its red and green chilli sauce.  Before we left were had a tutorial on importance of always asking, “Is the red or green chile sauce the hottest today?”  If you want to eat like local, order your “Christmas style” i.e. a little of both.  The Shed was packed with both tourists and locals, making it a fun place for lunch and people watching. 

Lunch

Afternoon on Museum Hill

Located a few kilometers outside of Santa Fe is Museum Hill so named because it is home to four major museums and they sit on a hill with great views.  You could easily spend all day here, but we had only the afternoon.

For us, the museum that held the most interest was the Museum of International Folk Art which houses the largest collection of folk art in the world.  It did not disappoint.

We quickly found the huge Girard Wing (it could be a museum on its own) and the Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, a permanent exhibition with an astounding collection of 1,000s of toys, miniature figurines, complete villages, masks and textiles from 100 different countries.  It is perhaps the most colourful, playful and delightful exhibition I have ever experienced.  It is astounding how much folk art Alexander and Susan Girard collected starting in1939. Brenda had to drag me out!

And it was a good thing she did as there was much, much more to see. The Hispanic Wings Wooden Menagerie: Made in New Mexico (on until Feb 15, 2015) was a much more traditional folk art exhibition with singular, primitively carved animals and people.

The final exhibition, was Tako Kichi: Kite Crazy in Japan (on until July 27, 2014) explored the art of kite making and kite fighting.  The huge floor-to-ceiling (20 foot) kites were impressive works of art with their neon colours and expressionistic designs.  We don’t usually spend a lot of time watching the museum videos, but in this case, it was fascinating learning how the kites are made and the culture of kite-fighting.  Unfortunately, the day we were there, there were no kite-making workshops or kite flying on the plaza; that would have added another dimension to the experience.

The other museums on the hill are: the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (housing 70,000 artefacts from prehistoric to contemporary times), the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (an octagonal building inspired by the Navajos hooghan i.e. their traditional home) and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (3,700 objects from around the world from medieval time to modern world). There is a restaurant and several gift shops, and 

 

Just one of numerous miniature villages in the Girard Wing.

Larger fun folk art pieces.

An entire collection of angels.  There are strong links between folk art and religion. 

Just one of many displays of masks.

Life size folk art from Brasil. 

In the Gallery of Conscience there were a number of hands-on activities that related to home.  One was called "Find your place at the table" where visitors were invited to take a paper plate, draw their favourite meal on it and place it at the dinner table.  Another was for you to take a post-it and write on it as per the above image. The activities were simple to do, fun and thought-provoking.

Some of the I feel at home when...

Several large 20-foot kites were suspended from the ceiling, creating a very colourful and dramatic statement.  

Historic artwork illustrating the kite fighting tradition.

Still image from video that of kite fighting. 

Dinner at Whole Foods

 I am not sure what it is about Whole Foods, but ever since our Lincoln Park, Chicago Whole Foods experience, it seems wherever we go we have to check out the local Whole Foods and often have dinner there.  Perhaps it is because we get tired of restaurants and just want something that resembles a simple home-cooked meal.  Perhaps it is because of their quinoa salad has quickly become our favourite.   For $30, we can enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer, some interesting entrees, lovely fresh bread/roll and mouth-watering desserts. 

Where to stay

Sure, you could stay downtown and pay hundreds of dollars/night for a room. Or you could check out Hotels.com and get a last minute deal like we did at the Best Western Inn at Santa Fe for $70 including breakfast and parking. 

Sacred Places?

Some places, for some reason(s) have become sacred places for humans - both in the past and the present. Some places have an almost spiritual, transcendental magnetism about them. Santa Fe is often placed in this category, as is Sonoma, Arizona. Later in our road trip, someone said Livingston, Montana is their sacred place. I am not sure that Santa Fe is my sacred place, but perhaps 24 hours wasn’t enough time for Santa Fe to cast its spell on me.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Salt Lake City: More Than A Temple!

A-mazing University of New Mexico Campus

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Cowtown: The GABEster Capital of North Amercia

 

 

 

Do we really need all of this public art?

By Richard White, May 16, 2014

It hurts me to say this, but “do we really need all of this public art?” Over the past year, I have visited dozens of cities making a point to always seek out the public art wherever we go.  I have seen literally hundreds of public artworks, big and small, abstract and representational, local and international artists.  I have served on a jury for selecting a public artwork for a Calgary LRT station and I have written several blogs and columns on the pros and cons of public art.

In all of my travels (dozens of cities across North America) I have only experienced four public artworks that I feel have captured the public’s imagination enough to make them stop, look and interact with the art.  Sadly, most public art within a few months quickly becomes just a part of urban landscape.  More often than not, public art doesn’t really add to the urban experience by creating a unique sense of place or a memorable experience.   

 While I love art, I appreciate that I am in the minority; that for many, there is not much public appeal in public art that is being installed around out city (and other cities).  It is therefore not surprising that many Calgarians as well as many in other cities, question the value of spending tax dollars on art that adds little value to their life.

Found this public public art piece in downtown Portland the "Bike Capital of America." What do you think? Does Calgary need more bike art? More horses? You can't please everyone. 

Fun & Interactive 

Of the four pieces of public art that did engage the public, two were in Chicago’s Millennium Park – Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa and Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. These were by far the most successful with hundreds of people actively engaged by their intuitive playfulness.   

In Vancouver, “A-maze-ing Laughter” by artist Yue Minjun in a small pocket park (Morton Park) next to English Bay beach seems to always have people young and old wandering around the 14 (twice life size) bronze cherub-like, laughing figures.  The park is full of laughter and smiles, something urban spaces need more of.

The fourth piece is Jeff de Boer’s “When Aviation was Young” at the Calgary Airport West Jet waiting area. This two-piece, circus-looking sculpture with toy airplanes that spin around when you turn the large old-style key is a huge hit with young children waiting to board a plane.  Like most successful public art, it is fun, and encourages public interaction.

In Calgary’s downtown the two pieces I see the public most often stop, take pictures and interact with are “The Famous Five” on Olympic Plaza and “Conversation” on Stephen Avenue Walk.  Interesting to note that they are both figurative, pedestrian scale and located in an active public space.  Downtown Calgary boasts over 100 public artworks, but none of them are a “must see” attractions (at best they area a “nice to see” and get a walk-by glance).

For all the hoopla over Jaume Plensa’s “Wonderland” (big white head) when it was first installed on the plaza in front of the Bow Tower, today it sits alone attracting only a few visitors a day.  

This is not just a Calgary dilemma. Even in Chicago, major public artworks by the likes of Picasso, Calder and Miro (three of the 20th century’s most respected artists) situated on office plazas just a few blocks from Millennium Park, are devoid of any spectators outside of office hours.

Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" is so popular with the public that it has a nickname - THE BEAN! When the public gives an artwork a nickname you know they like it!

"Root Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza" by Acconci Studio graces the corner in front of the Memphis Performing Arts Center.  It has many of the qualities of Kapoor's "Cloud Gate," it is fun and there are interesting reflections and places to sit, yet it attracts no crowds.  

Juame Plensa's "Crown Fountain" is popular day and night. It is a wonderful place to linger.  It attracts thousands of people most days spring, summer and fall.  

Jaume Plensa's "Wonderland" located on an office plaza in downtown Calgary attracts only a few visitors a day. 

Come on admit it, even this photo of "A-maze-ing Laughter" brings a smile to your face.

Calder's "Flamingo" was unveiled in 1974.  It is fun, colourful and playful piece, but it doesn't invite any interaction. Over the years it has become less and less a magnet for tourist and locals to visit.  

William McElcheran's "Conversation" on Stephen Avenue Walk is very popular with the public.  Often people will place a coffee cup in their hand or add a scarf to one of the figures.  The public loves to have their picture taken with the two businessmen. 

Barbara Paterson's "Famous Five" sculpture in Calgary's Olympic Plaza invites the public to come and sit with them, have your picture taken and some even like to leave a tip.

Big Names / Big Deal 

Commissioning a big name artist clearly doesn’t guarantee the artwork will be successful in capturing the public’s imagination. 

Claus Oldenburg’s “Big Sweep” sculpture in front of the Denver Art Museum or “Roof Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza” by the Acconci Studio on the plaza of the Memphis Performing Arts Centre are both major pieces by established artists, yet they have done nothing to animate the space around them. 

Perhaps we need to thing differently about commissioning public art.  Nashville has a program, which commissions local artists to create bike racks that serve a dual purpose. Some are very clever and some I think are tacky, but at $10,000 each you can afford to have a few duds. 

In the early ‘90s the Calgary Downtown Association initiated the “Benches as sculpture” project, commissioning local arts to create sculptures that also serve as benches. The artwork (benches) have become a valued addition to the downtown landscape, so much so that the Provincial judges lobbied to make sure the “Buffalos” were returned to the courthouse plaza after it was renovated to add a parking lot underneath.

Claus Oldenburg and Coosjevan Bruggen's "Big Sweep" sits outside the entrance to the Denver Art Museum. It is fun, but static, and there is signage next to it with several rules that restrict how you can interact with it. 

This piece sits outside the Tucson Public Library in their Cultural District.  I couldn't find information on the artist or the title.  We passed this piece several times and never saw anyone stopping to look at it. 

The City of Calgary allows office developers to build taller buildings in return for pubic art on their plazas like this one. The developers get more space to rent and in theory the public gets a better quality urban space to enjoy. In reality this space on the southwest plaza at Bankers Hall is enjoyed by only by a few smokers a day. 

Nashville's fun bike racks as art program adds some whimsy to this streetscape. 

Lessons Learned

It hurts me to say this, but Calgary is not being well served by the millions of dollars we have invested in public art, both publicly and privately.  In my opinion, what would be best is if we pool all of the available public art money (bonus density and 1% for public art) and create dedicated art parks.  I am thinking we could have sites in each quadrant and perhaps a couple in the greater downtown that are designated for new artworks. When a new project is approved the public art contribution would be designated to the closest art park. 

The current, “democratic” approach of placing public art of all shapes, sizes and subject matter randomly throughout the city (parks, LRT stations, bridges, plazas) simply fragments and isolates the public art experience.  What was supposed to be a program to humanize and make the urban environment more interesting and attractive, has only served to outrage many and create rifts in our community.

The time has come for Calgary and most cities to rethink their public art policy.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Public Art Love It or Hate It

Putting the public back into public art

Confessions of a public art juror

An Atheist's Look At Salt Lake Temple Square

Richard White, March 26, 2014

As a young child, I was raised a Catholic and was even an altar boy. But I have been a confirmed atheist since I was about 14.  However, I have a Mother who is a devote Catholic and many friends who have strong religious beliefs. Over the years, I have developed an “each to their own” philosophy when it comes to religion.  

You can’t say you have visit Salt Lake City unless you spend some time exploring the headquarters of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) commonly known as the Temple Square. Not only is Salt Lake City's sense of place closely tied to the Mormon Church, but so is its economy. In 2012 Reuters reported the Church had annual revenues of $7 billion from tithing and donations alone, with another $1.5 billion from its business enterprises.  In total, it has assets estimated at $35 billion.

However, the Square is really just a small walled area in downtown. It has five buildings - Assembly Hall, the Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Temple and two Visitor’s Centres (one focused on family and the other Jesus Christ). Outside the walls are the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Lion House, Beehive House, Administrative Building, Office Building, History Library, a massive Conference Centre, History Museum and Family History Library.  Thought, I haven’t been to any Silicon Valley high-tech company campuses, I imagine the Latter-Day Saints campus is much the same.

Throughout the five and half block campus, there are wonderful gardens and fountains that make for a very pleasant place to stroll or sit and contemplate the meaning of life.  It is a very cordial atmosphere with everyone smiling and saying “Hi.”

The only building tourists can’t enter is the Salt Lake Temple; all the other buildings offer free tours or some form of public access.  While the imposing blank stucco walled is not very pedestrian-friendly, I was told it was designed to muffle the sounds and distractions of the cars and people, thereby creating a more peaceful and contemplative place.  It is true the square is very calm and relaxing; for the most part there is no running and no shouting.  Surprisingly, there is also no graffiti on the exterior side of the blank walls. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Office Building at 26 floors, towers over the Temple campus.  Its strong, vertical lines give it an uplifting skyscraper quality that is usually associated with much taller office buildings. 

The Salt Lake Temple makes a dramatic almost heavenly - some might say Disney-esque - statement at night.  

An ugly stucco wall guards Temple Square with just a single entrance on each of the three sides that face the outside world.  The Square, more open on the east side, connects to the other church buildings on the same block.  The remainder of the campus buildings face out onto the street.

The Tour

We entered at the South Visitor Centre and were quickly greeted - no surprise, as all of the Mormons always say “Hi” to you even in the street - and asked if we’d like a tour.  While we are usually the self-guided tour types, we decided this time it might be good to get the “inside scoop” on the place and the people.

After waiting about ten minutes, we were introduced to two young missionaries Sister Asay from Dallas and Sister Lopez from Mexico, our two tour guides.  After a bit of chit chat, we were off to check out the model of the Salt Lake Temple (which we couldn’t go into) to learn about the different spaces inside and what kinds of things happened there. It is not your typical church with a big congregation area, but rather a series of rooms where you study and discuss your religious beliefs with more senior church members. You have to be a “member in good standing” to get in. We did question what that meant, but the answer was ambiguous. 

Then we went outside to the Assembly Hall, which in fact was the first Salt Lake church and built in 1889.  This was followed by a tour of the Tabernacle (built 1875) next door,  where the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir practises and performs.  The building's exterior looks like a mid-century hockey arena with its oval-shape and curved roof. Inside are pews like any church and a balcony like a concert hall, with a huge stage that accommodates a full orchestra and a 300-person choir.  The organ is one of the largest in the world with 11,623 pipes. There is minimal ornamentation in this building - the ceiling is just white plaster and the wall behind the organ is the same.  We attended the free Thursday night rehearsal and the acoustics were great. 

Next it was the North Visitor Center, which houses a series of large paintings about the life of Christ. It reminded me of the Catholic Church’s stations of the cross.  The paintings are competent, but I wouldn’t say they are outstanding; yet when I took pictures, a glow appeared around the head of Christ that was not there with the naked eye – a little eerie. 

You then walk upstairs and into the celestial room or at least that is what I call it. The walls and ceiling are painted like the universe with a 11-foot white sculpture of Christ in the middle of the room.  We were there at noon and the sunlight was streaming in. It was visually stunning; there was a definite heavenly feeling to the space.

This is the end of the tour for the standard 30 to 45 minute tour. But not for our 90+ minute tour! 

This is a  model of the inside of Salt Lake Temple.  You can see the six different spaces on ascending levels. We were told that as you move up the leadership ladder in the church, you get access to higher levels. This adds a whole new dimension to the term "working your way to the top."

The Assembly Building is where church services take place. It has many of the original furnishings, including the pews. 

The Tabernacle building is where the Mormon Tabernacle choir rehearses and performs.  You have to live within 100 miles of Salt Lake City to be in the choir. 

The blank white stucco walls and ceiling become a canvas for the projected light that is the background for the music and singing in the Tabernacle. 

A few of the Stations of the Cross-like paintings in the North Visitor Centre.

Detail of one of the paintings in the North Visitor Centre. Note the aura around Christ's head. 

Statue of Christ in the celestial room on the second floor of the North Visitor Center makes a very powerful statement. This 11-foot statue titled "The Christus" is an exact replica of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen's original in Copenhagen, Denmark. We were told a senior church member was so moved when he saw the original that he negotiated with the Church and the artist to commission the replica for Temple Square. 

The Lunch

Throughout the tour we were chatting with the delightful Sisters Asay and Lopez about the Mormon culture, their families and lifestyle, as well as sharing information on our families and religious beliefs.  There was no pressure, no missionary zeal it was more like a first date as we keep asking each other to reveal some tidbit of information so we could get to know and understand each other better.

I asked if they would like to join us for lunch. They said they would, but would have to ask for permission. I was shocked when they said yes they could join us.  So, it was off to the Lion House's Pantry Restaurant for a quick, cafeteria-style lunch and more discussion. 

The conversation continued with the two Sisters being very forthright in answering more questions.  For early 20 somethings, they were both very mature and articulate, moreso than most other young people we know.

Lion House has a wonderful pantry restaurant that is popular with both tourists and workers on the Mormon Temple campus. Best buns in town! In fact, they truly are famous for their buns - soft dinner rolls with just a touch of sweetness. 

Outside The Square

I spent another two hours checking out the other Mormon buildings outside the square.  I had been told the conference centre had a capacity for 21,000 people.  The doubting Tom I am, I had to check this out for myself.  I wandered in and was immediately greeted with the proverbial “do you want a tour?” I said, “ No thanks, I just want to see the seating capacity.” 

I was quickly introduced to a tour guide who said he’d show me inside which he did, and yes indeed there are three tiers each with 7,000 seats. At ten times the size of your average concert hall, it is an impressive sight.

He then asked if I’d like to see the rooftop native species garden and off we went - so much for not wanting a tour! The views of the city and the valley from the rooftop are impressive. He informed me the church owned all of the buildings to the south of the campus which includes several major office buildings and a large residential tower. 

I then wandered the campus taking pictures of the other buildings, not daring to go inside, as I was toured-out. You could easily spend all day taking pictures and people-watching.

The Conference Centre is impressive in its starkness and simplicity of design. 

The Conference Centre's rich red carpet, stage, seats and drapes creates an immediate sense of life, awe and passion, which  I expect is perfect for the events that take place here. 

Stupid Me

It was only when I got back to the hotel and collected my notes and photos that I realized I hadn’t taken a picture of our new best friends.  Lucky me, the same evening we decided to check out the rehearsal at the Tabernacle. While standing in line, who should walk by but Sisters Lopez and Asay, a quick shout and there were big smiles all around.  And, yes I got my picture of them with Brenda. 

Sister Lopez, Brenda and Sister Asay

Last Word

I don’t know what the Catholic Church does at the Vatican in the way of museums and tours, but I can’t imagine it could be any better than what the Mormons do at their Salt Lake Temple campus.  With over 170 young women from around the world studying there, they offer FREE tours in 30 languages year-round.  Everything is free, including the Family Search centre where you can spend as much time as you want. You even get your own personal tutor to assist you with looking up your family history. Did I say it was all FREE?

Throughout the tour, I was surprised at how similar all of the stories and beliefs of the Latter-Day Saints were to Catholicism.  I was shocked there was no attempts to push their religion or beliefs on us.  It was a very non-judgemental conversation about sharing one’s personal values, faith and beliefs. 

My take home message was that the Mormons have very strong commitment to family.   Both Sisters, although only in their early 20s, were definite they would be getting married and having multiple children.  I’ve not heard many early 20 somethings be so sure about getting married and having children.  We even talked about marriage counselling, divorce and premarital relations. 

I couldn’t help but think the importance of family is not a bad thing.  Too often we hear complaits about cities (suburban and urban) being unfriendly, unhappy and alienating places where nobody knows their neighbours.  I can’t help but think part of the reason is that we have lost the sense of community which starts with a sense of family, as that is our first community. Too often the loss of sense of community in modern society is blamed on city design when it probably has more to do with a decline of the importance of family. Based on my limited sample size of family and friends, I have noticed that the stronger the nuclear family bond, the stronger sense of community they have.  

P.S. 

There was never an attempt to ask for a donation and in fact, there are no donation boxes anywhere on campus.  Neither, is there is no requirement to give  your contact information so they can hit you up later. How refreshing! 

If you like this blog, you might like:

San Miguel: A religious Experience of a lifetime.

Downtown Salt Lake: More than a Temple

Revealing Prairie Gothic Photographs

YYC Needs vs Wants: Arena, Convention Centre, Stadium

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, in two parts, March 1, 2014 "The high cost of keeping up" and March 8th, 2014 "City can't be banker for lengthy wish list"

By Richard White, March 8, 2014

I think many of us are guilty from time to time of trying to “keep up with the Jones.”  It seems to be an innate human trait.   This attitude is even more pronounced when it comes to the “group think” of city building.  For centuries, politicians, religious figures and business leaders have been building bigger more elaborate churches, palaces, office towers, libraries, city halls and museums than their predecessors and their neighbouring cities, states, provinces or countries.  

The thinking goes like this - if Winnipeg builds a new museum (Canadian Human Rights Museum), we need one also (National Music Centre).  If Hamilton, Regina and Winnipeg can build new football stadiums, why can’t we?  Vancouver and Seattle have great central libraries so we should have one also. 

Edmonton has a new, uber-chic public art gallery, Vancouver is planning one and Winnipeg has had one for decades so what’s wrong with Calgary? We don’t even have a civic art gallery.

When it comes to convention centres, Calgary’s Convention Centre is one of the smallest and oldest in the country - we must need a bigger one. Cities around the world are building iconic pedestrian bridges so we better build two (Peace Bridge and St. Patrick’s Island Bridge).  The same logic is used for investing more in public art, downtown libraries and arenas - everyone else is doing it so should we!

National Human Rights Museum, Winnipeg, Manitoba (cost: $351 million) 

  Rendering of new Royal Alberta Museum (old Provincial Museum) under construction in downtown Edmonton. (Cost: $340 million).

Rendering of new Royal Alberta Museum (old Provincial Museum) under construction in downtown Edmonton. (Cost: $340 million).

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta (Cost: $150 million) 

Esplanade Riel, Winnipeg, Manitoba (note the restaurant in the middle of the bridge). (Cost: $8 million)

Peace Bridge, Calgary, Alberta (Cost: $25 million)

Needs vs. Wants

Cities are more than just the sum of its roads, transit and sewers.  Imagine Paris, New York or London without their museums, galleries, concert halls, libraries and theatres, as well as their grand public places.

But can Calgary - or any city for that matter - really afford to “keep up with the Jones” when it comes to major facilities like arenas, stadiums, museums, galleries, public art and convention centres? Maybe pick one or two, but not everything!

How do we prioritize our needs vs. wants? Deerfoot and Crowchild Trails both need billion dollar makeovers, the northwest’s sewer system can’t handle one more toilet and we need billions of dollars to build a North and Southeast LRT.  

How can we balance our wants with our needs? Can we identify synergies between existing urban development and future mega projects? Who will champion these big projects?  Are we willing to take some risks? Can we learn to say “No” sometimes?

Do we need a new stadium?

Let’s strike this one off the list quickly.  How can we justify spending $200+ million to build a new stadium, which will host eight home games (attended by 20,000 season ticket holders and another 10,000 to 15,000 people/game who attend depending on the team playing and the weather)? The stadium can’t be used for much else other than the odd concert or two and maybe a major event like the Olympics every 25 years or so.  Yes it is used by university teams and amateur teams from across the city, but these games attract at best a few thousand spectators; this could easily be served by stadiums like Hellard Field at Shouldice Park. Let’s renovate what we have and live with it.

Winnipeg's new Investors Group Field cost $204 million to build. It will only be used to its maximum for 8 or 9 games a year. 

Do we need a new arena?

It is amazing how quickly arenas become out-of-date these days.  I recall someone telling me a few years ago all arenas are out of date in 15 years.  The good thing about an arena is that it is a mixed-use facility used for both junior and professional hockey, lacrosse, ice shows, concerts and other events.  If built in the right location and right design, it can be a catalyst for other development around it.  Many cities have created vibrant sports and entertainment districts in their City Centre.

That being said, it is hard to accept we really need to spend $400+ million to build a new arena that will seat about the same number of people and probably be within a few blocks of the existing Saddledome (which would probably be torn down if a new one is built)– that just seems wrong.   I am also told the post-flood Saddledome is like a new arena with much of the building’s infrastructure having been totally upgraded.

  Rendering of Edmonton's ultra contemporary new arena currently under construction. (Cost: $480 million) 

Rendering of Edmonton's ultra contemporary new arena currently under construction. (Cost: $480 million) 

This is the old Memphis arena on the edge of downtown operated from 1991 to 2004, when it was replaced by a new downtown arena a few blocks away. It is currently being renovated to become a mega Bass Pro Shop with the city taking on $30 million of the cost of renovations. It opened in 1991 at a cost of $65 million.

Do we need a new/larger Convention Centre? Civic Art Gallery?

Hmmmm….this could be a tricky one.  The current facility is significantly smaller than facilities in other cities our size and stature. Studies have shown there is support for a larger facility in Calgary given its strong corporate headquarters culture and regional and international hub airport.

However, one has to wonder in this age of social media and virtual reality, would a large convention center soon a become white elephant.  Convention Centres are also hard to integrate into a vibrant urban streetscape, because they are large horizontal boxes with large entrances for the huge number of people who enter and exit at the same time (not great for street restaurants, café and retailers) and they require huge loading docks and emergency exits are at street level; this means most of the street frontage is doors and docks. 

However, there are examples of downtown convention centres that are not just big boxes, but are part of a mixed-use complex adding vitality to several urban blocks – think Seattle and Cleveland.  Could a large new convention centre be a catalyst for creating something special in Calgary’s city centre?

Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone! The Glenbow is also in need (want) of a mega-makeover.  Could we create a modern convention centre using the existing Glenbow space and the existing convention spaces allowing the Glenbow to move to a new site and new building, becoming both a museum and civic art gallery in the process (something many Calgarians want and some even say we need)?

Conversely, could we expanded the Glenbow and create a Civic Art Gallery using the existing Convention Center spaces and moving the convention centre to another location?  This options lead to the question - Is there a logical site for a new convention centre?  Should it be on Stampede Park?  Are there synergies with the BMO Centre (trade show special event facility), the new Agrium Western Event Centre and the existing Saddledome?  We could create the first downtown S&M District (sports and meeting).

Another idea floating around is perhaps a good use of the huge surface parking lots along 9th and 10th Ave would be a create mixed-use complex over the railway tracks to connect the Beltline with Downtown. Could a new convention centre span the tracks in combination with a new hotel, office, condo buildings and maybe public space development?  Perhaps a private-public partnership would be a win-win for both sides. 

One of the sites being looked at for a new convention centre in Calgary is the 9th and 10th Avenue corridor. It could be combined with an office tower, hotel and condos to create a diversity of uses that would bring 18/7 vitality to the site. 

  The Seattle Convention Centre is built over top of a major highway, linking two sides of the downtown. The site has some similarities to CPR rail tracks that divide Calgary's downtown and the Beltline. (Cost: $425 million)

The Seattle Convention Centre is built over top of a major highway, linking two sides of the downtown. The site has some similarities to CPR rail tracks that divide Calgary's downtown and the Beltline. (Cost: $425 million)

Ottawa's new Convention Centre. (Cost $170 million)

Edmonton's new Art Gallery of Alberta is part of the growing trend to weird, wild and wacky architecture, especially for cultural buildings. (Cost: $88 million).

This is Calgary's old Science Centre, it could become the city's first civic art gallery. 

Last Word

Calgary seems to be at a “tipping point” in its evolution.  And let’s face it, with over five billion dollars of debt, the City can’t afford to be best at everything – transit, roads, arena, stadium, convention centre, library, museum, art gallery, public art, recreation centres, parks, pathways, bike paths. What to do? We are already committed to the National Music Centre, $150M, an new central library $245M and looks like plans are proceeding to retrofit the old Science Centre into a public art gallery.  While the project is still the very early conceptual phase the budge could very well be on par with the Alberta Art Gallery i.e. $80 million. 

Can the city really afford to champion any more mega projects? The city already faces a long list of capital projects that clearly are the sole responsibility of the city. We already have a history of significant cost overruns and delays on projects e.g. the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant, as well as projects that seem to cost an excessive amount for what is achieved – the airport tunnel and the Travelling Light sculpture.

The architecture of the San Antonio Public Library has fun playfulness about it.  It opened in mid '90s at a cost of $38 million.

Salt Lake City central library designed by Canadian Moshe Safdie, is monumental in scale and design. It opened in 2003 at a cost of $84 million. 

Calgary's downtown library, which is one of the busiest in Canada will be replace by a new building just a few blocks away. The budget for the new library is a whopping $245 million. 

  The James B. Hunt Library, North Carolina State University, was designed by the international design firm Snohetta who have been engaged to design the new Calgary Public Library. (Cost $94 million)

The James B. Hunt Library, North Carolina State University, was designed by the international design firm Snohetta who have been engaged to design the new Calgary Public Library. (Cost $94 million)

Perhaps now is the time to get back to basics of municipal governance and focus on the little things that will enhance the quality of life for all Calgarians.  I recall a senior urbanist once saying at an International Downtown Conference that great cities, “do the little things right, as well as the big things.”  Have we been too focused on the big things?

It should be the role of individuals, groups, or the corporate sector to champion the projects that they want? And by championing the project, that means finding the necessary funding to build them. It is always easy to develop grandiose plans when using someone else’s money. 

Q: What should the City’s role be in these projects?

A: It should be the facilitator, not the banker.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Does Calgary have an urban design inferiority complex?

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City

Ideas for adding fun to Downtown Calgary

 

YYC: Flaneuring the fringes - TransCanada Highway

By Richard White, February, 26, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban street life means all too often we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street or Kensington, or maybe the Design District or Stephen Avenue.

Nothing against any of them, but I thought it would be fun to flaneur the fringes of urban city centre, beyond the Downtown core, beyond the streets of the Beltline, Mission, Kensington/Sunnyside and Inglewood.  To flaneur where no flaneur has gone before, to off-off-the-beaten path places in YYC’s urban fringes.   

Part One (this blog) will take us along the TransCanada Highway (16th Ave. N), while Part Two will explore 19th Street NW (south and north of the 16th Ave. N) and Part Three will wander the west of the Beltline. 

16th Ave N aka TransCanada Highway

When was the last time you explored 16th Avenue North? Ever wonder why it isn’t like 17th Avenue South in terms of shops, restaurants and cafes?  While the “urban picking” is sparse, there are some hidden gems along the Trans Canada Highway.  If you take transit, grab the LRT and get off at the SAIT/ACAD stop, wander the campus, as there are lots of interesting new buildings and then head to the north side of 16th Avenue at 10th Street and walk east.

Phoenix Comics (1010 16th Ave NW)

Since opening this location in 1994 (it also has a southwest store), Phoenix Comics has evolved into one of the top comic bookstores in Western Canada.  Their goal is to have every in-print volume of every title in stock every day.  They also carry out-of-print comics, graphic novels of all genres, Manga and games like Dungeons and Dragons. Every Friday they host two free “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments.  Selling over 1,000,000 magic cards a year, it’s no wonder Phoenix Comics has been dubbed by some as Calgary’s “Magic Place.”

Don't judge a story by its street presence. Inside this unassuming store is the motherlode of comics and magic cards.  

Phoenix Comics is three floors of nerdy, geeky fun. 

Aquila Books is the opposite of Phoenix Comics. It appeals to the intellectual geeks who love history.  Perhaps we should call 16th Ave N Geek Street!

Aquila not only has lots of hard to find books but also artifacts like two vessels hanging from the ceiling, the furthest one being an Inuit kayak. 

Aquila Books (826 16th Ave NW)

Two blocks east, Aquila Books is possibly one of the best Canadiana bookstores in Canada. Owner Cameron Treleaven is respected as one the most knowledgeable and connected booksellers in the world.  He specializes in books dealing with Polar Exploration, Western Canadiana, Mountaineering, Canadian Pacific Railway and early voyages.  Recently, he published catalogues on Mount Everest’s 60th Anniversary and bios on Robert W. Service and soon Lucy Maud Montgomery.  It is a fun place to flaneur antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards, scientific equipment and bookcases – and yes, books too!    

The Audio Spot (632 16th Ave NW)

Another two blocks away is The Audio Spot. Opening in April 2013 in a house on the highway (a reminder that at one time it was just a regular residential street), it’s owned by Marilyn Hall, owner of The Inner Sleeve in Marda Loop.  It’s 90 percent vintage “two channel” stereos from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a little new equipment mixed in.  There are also lots of records and three separate listening rooms, making it a great place to hear some “blasts from the past” in an authentic setting.

GuitarWorks (602 16th Ave NW)

Established in 1987, GuitarWorks opened this its first store on 16th Avenue.  It has since grown to four stores with this one being its flagship acoustic guitars store – they offer over 18 different brands of guitars.  It is not just another music retail store, as everyone who works here is passionate about music and plays the guitar. They offer free personal (one-on-one) shopping experience with one of their staff.  If you are a picker, this is a fun place to check out.

The Audio Spot offers an authentic '60 / '70s experience. 

The collection of turntables is really quite amazing.  

Guitar works is also in an unassuming building, but once inside it is full of guitars and other string instruments. 

Something for everyone?

The Movie Poster Shop (112 16th Ave NW)

Continuing eastward will get you to this unassuming shop. It is a mecca of posters from original Calgary Stampede posters to those of Star Wars and the Rat Pack movies – 6,000 posters in all.  I am told people spend a whole day here, enjoying this one-of-a-kind experience.

Don’s Hobby Shop (1515 Centre St. North)

Continuing east, veering south off 16th Ave onto Centre Street and you will soon find yourself at Don’s Hobby Shop. Here you will find everything from Superhero toques to magic and juggling equipment.  Maybe sign up for a FX Makeup Class or pick up some joke gifts for your next dinner party. Definitely worth a visit.

Peters’ Drive-In (219 16th Ave NE)

Head back to 16th Ave, continue two blocks east and reward yourself with a milkshake at Peters’ Drive In (maybe a burger and fries too). These are thick, creamy, old fashioned milkshakes (real ice cream, real fruit) that make you work for every swallow. They offer 30+ flavours of milkshakes including Toasted Marshmallow. As they can sell over 4,000 milkshakes on a hot summer day, be prepared for a line up if the weather is nice.  This Calgary icon has been serving burgers, fries and milkshakes since 1964.

You can't miss the kitchy entrance to the Movie Poster Shop. 

Don't be afraid to wander off 16th Ave., the flaneur always takes the path least travelled and is rewarded with places like Sketch.  

Just down the street from Sketch is this hippy house, how cool is this!

Across the street from Sketch in the historic Balmoral sandstone school built in 1913 on 5.4 acres.  They don't build schools like this one anymore.  There is an immediate sense of authority as soon as look at the school.  The power of architecture is evident here. 

In addition to being a popular drive-in Peters' is also a quaint picnic spot for families, construction workers and young adults in the summer.  

Last Word

Even though the 16th Ave N aka the TransCanada Highway is 6 lanes, it really doesn’t seem like a highway as it is divided and you really don’t notice the three lanes on the south side.  It is not much different than Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, which is a successful pedestrian oriented street. 

The fact that 16th Ave shops are all on the north side of the street means you are walking in the sun, even in the middle of winter.  It was -20C the day I flaneured it and I found it very pleasant.  I do think there is an advantage to walking east to west on 16th Ave N facing the west bound traffic as you can anticipate the cars going by.

 What 16th Ave N needs to make it a more attractive pedestrian destination are more condos on the neighbouring blocks to the north. More density and diversity will attract more local retailers and restaurateurs to locate there, which in turn will attract more people to want to live there. It is the old question, which comes first - the people or the shops?

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flaneuring on the Fringe: Calgary's 19th Street NW

Flaneuring the Uptown Plaza 

Flaneuring in Pendleton Oregon 

Top 10 flaneuring finds in Portland 

 

It wouldn't be the TransCanada Highway without at least one Tim Hortons!



Calgary vs Winnipeg as Urban Hot Spots (Part 2)

By Richard White, February, 8 2014 (this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on February 8, 3014 titled "Exchange District is tough to beat.") 

Last week compared downtown Winnipeg vs Calgary from the perspective of museums, galleries, attractions, sports and river developments (East Village/Stampede Park vs The Forks)Overall it was a tie.  Let the play continue…

 Placemaking Fun

Winnipeg’s Exchange District is one of the best collection of late 19th and early 20th century buildings in North America.  It is a walk back in time as you flaneur the area with its old bank and warehouse buildings.  It is fun place to shop for vintage clothing, furniture, home accessories and art.  Together, Stephen Avenue and Inglewood just can’t compete with the Exchange District’s architecture and streetscapes.

Winnipeg's Exchange District has some of the best late 19th and early 20th century buildings in North America. 

Calgary's Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District and one of North America's best restaurant rows. 

Osborne Village is Winnipeg’s equivalent to Calgary’s Kensington Village. Both are separated from the downtown core by the river, have a major Safeway store a key anchor and a “main street” of shops and restaurants. Kensington wins here given its greater diversity and depth of boutiques and restaurants, its vintage Plaza Theatre and funky new condos. 

Winnipeg has two grand classic urban boulevard streets – Portage Avenue and Main Street; Calgary has none.  While Portage and Main is one of the most famous intersections in Canada, it generally isn’t for good reason. It has a reputation as being the coldest and windiest urban corner in Canada. 

Calgary’s downtown lacks a grand, ceremonial street that is so often associated with great cities.  Though charming, Stephen Avenue simply lacks grandeur.

Over the past 10 years, the University of Winnipeg Campus on the western edge of the city’s downtown has blossomed into a major urban campus with some wonderful contemporary buildings, much like Calgary’s SAIT campus - unfortunately it’s not downtown.  Red River College also has a campus in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, similar to our Bow Valley College.

The Buhler Centre is just one of many new University of Winnipeg campus buildings that is changing the face of downtown Winnipeg.  This building is an office building, art gallery and home to Stella Cafe. 

Bow Valley College has just completed a major expansion in downtown Calgary.  The College is  home to an amazing collection of contemporary art. 

Similarities also exist between Calgary’s Bridgeland (once called “Little Italy”) and Winnipeg’s St. Boniface (the largest French-speaking community west of the Great Lakes).  Not only are both communities across the river from their respective downtowns, but both were home to a major hospital. In Calgary’s case, the hospital has been replaced by condos, while the St. Boniface Hospital is still very much a part of its health care facilities.

Advantage:  Winnipeg

Architecture / Urban Design

Winnipeg boasts better historic architecture with its large buildings like the Beaux Arts-style Manitoba Legislative Building (1920), considered by many as one of the finest public buildings in North America. Other large historic buildings include Union Station (1911) that still serves as a passenger train station, the Vaughan Street Jail (1881), Law Courts (1916), St. Mary’s Cathedral (1881), St Boniface City Hall (1906) and the iconic Bank of Montreal (1913) at the corner of Portage and Main.

Winnipeg is home to a number of major historic buildings including the beaux arts architecture of the Manitoba Legislative Building.  In addition to being big, bold and beautiful, there is a mystery around some of the architectural elements like the sphinxes that has lead to a Hermetic Code theory. 

Courthouse Building 

Most of Calgary’s historic buildings on the other hand are smaller structures, with the only large-scale historic building being Mewata Armoury.

Calgary’s architectural forte is its modern office architecture, which makes sense given most of Calgary’s growth as been in the last 50 years, while Winnipeg’s was pre-1960s.  It might interest Calgarians to know that there is a proposal floating around Winnipeg to build a mixed-use, 55-story building that will build on the strength of the recently completed Manitoba Hydro building, a 22-story building that received LEED Platinum certification and deemed as the most energy efficient building in North America in 2012.

Manitoba Hydro building was one of the first LEED Platinum office building in North America. 

The twin towers of Eight Avenue Place are one of several mega office towers recently completed or under construction. Downtown Calgary is home to one of the largest concentration of corporate headquarters in North America.

Yes, Winnipeg even has a bridge to match Calgary’s Calatrava Peace Bridge.  Its locally designed Esplanade Riel (2003) pedestrian bridge connects downtown to St. Boniface in unique ways.  It is attached to the Provencher Bridge for vehicles with an upscale restaurant in the middle that offers outstanding views. The bridge with its 57-meters high spire (20-story high pole) has cables that stretch out in teepee- like fashion. It is bold, beautiful and elegant night and day.

Esplanade Riel Pedestrian Bridge over the Red River in Winnipeg with restaurant in the middle. 

Calgary's Peace Bridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava. 

Rather than building a new central library, Winnipeg opted for a mega-makeover of its existing Centennial Library as a millennium project.  Rebranded as the Millennium Library, it is a wonderful contemporary glass building with commanding views of the Millennium Library Park completed in 2012. 

The Library Park has an artificial wetland, wooden walkway, a stand of birch trees and two significant pieces of public art, that combine to make it a wonderful urban space.  The Park’s centerpiece is Bill Pechet’s “Emptyful,” a playful Erlenmeyer flask-shaped fountain illuminated by four bands of LED lighting, that in the summer, illuminate the water and fog from the flask in blue, green and purple hues.  In the winter, when the water elements are not operational, the artwork is lit up in reds, organs and yellows.

Winnipeg's Millennium Library and Park. 

Bill Pechet artist and Chris Pekas of Lightworks 35 ft high and 31 ft wide sculpture "Emptyful." 

Jaume Plensa's sculpture "Wonderland" on the plaza in front of The Bow office tower designed by Norman Foster. 

Calgary’s closest equivalent is the “Wonderland” artwork by Jaume Plensa on the plaza of the Bow office tower. Though attractive, it lacks the same fun factor that “Emptyful” has and there are no benches or other elements to invite you to sit and linger.

Advantage: Tied

Condo Living

Winnipeg simply can’t compete with the diversity and density of condo development that Calgary offers. While there is some condo development along the Red River near the Exchange District, it is nothing like Calgary’s Bridgeland, West End, Eau Claire, Mission, Beltline or Erlton developments.

New condos along the Red River in Downtown Winnipeg. 

New condos on First Street SW one of seven districts with new high-rise condo development in the city centre.

What Winnipeg does offer is some amazing loft living in the old buildings in its Exchange District warehouses. There are also many attractive condos and apartments along the Assiniboine River in the Osborne Village area right along the river.  I used to think they would be great places to live when I lived in downtown Winnipeg in the mid ‘70s while attending the University of Manitoba. And I still do.

Advantage: Calgary

Last Word

If you look at the three big variables for downtown vitality – live, work and play Calgary would seem the clear winner.  It has more contemporary condos, and more jobs for the professional GABEsters (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers). But if you were a young hipster (creative type), Winnipeg offers more appeal with its affordable and attractive studio loft living.

Winnipeg’s downtown is also much more attractive to small businesses as real estate prices and rents are significantly lower.  REITs and Pension Fund landowners, who are not interested in the “mom and pop” start-ups, dominate Calgary’s downtown. 

Looking a little further afield, Calgary is just one hour away from its mountain playgrounds and Winnipeg is just one hour to cottage country. Take away Calgary’s downtown office towers and there is not much difference between Calgary and Winnipeg (as evidence by the tied score when comparing seven elements of urban vitality).   

It seems to me almost everyone I know in Calgary has some connection to Winnipeg…perhaps we should be sister cities.  Next time you are in Winnipeg visiting family or friends or on business, I recommend heading downtown to flaneur the Exchange District and The Forks, maybe take in a baseball game, an exhibition at the WAG (Winnipeg Art Gallery) or tour the Legislature building. There is more to Winnipeg than first meets the eye.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary vs Winnipeg as Urban Hot Spots (Part 1)

Embracing Winter 

Las Vega Neon Boneyard 

Downtowns need to more fun

 

 

Travels in small towns in North America

By Richard White, February 9, 2014

It is ironic that in December I picked up Stuart McLean’s 1991 book “Welcome Home: Travels in small town Canada” in a Maple Creek SK thrift store and the first story is in fact about his stay in Maple Creek.  It was also ironic as 2013 turned out to be “Year of Small Town Travel” in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, Idaho and Washington for Brenda and I.

For us, visiting a small towns is mostly just pulling off the highway and taking an hour or so to flaneur the streets, take some pictures, maybe grab a bite or a coffee and chat a bit with one or two locals.

McLean, much more strategic, carefully researched his small towns – Maple Creek (Saskatchewan), Dresden (Ontario), St. Jean de Matha (Quebec), Sackville (New Brunswick), Foxwarren (Manitoba), Naksup (British Columbia and Ferryland, (Newfoundland).  He chose carefully to ensure that collectively, the towns would reflect that diversity that is Canada’s sense of place.  

He also went and lived for a couple of weeks in each town, so he could meet the residents and truly understand the psyche of the people and place.  This all happened in early ‘90s over 20 years ago.

What I loved about the book was the great insights - his and others - that he quotes into understanding the ongoing evolution of our cities and towns, as well as better sense of our collective history as Canadians and North Americans. There are also amazing character sketches for those interested in people.

I thought I would share some of these insights with you accompanied by an image from one of the small towns we visited that related to the McLean’s observations.

From the introduction:

“If there is one aspect of towns and villages that we find remarkable, it is their persistence, their refusal to die out, their staying power.” G.D Hodge and M.A. Qadeer, 1983

“Eventually, I decided that we all live in small towns. Mine happens to be in the heart of a big city.” S. McLean

This is a house on our block just a few doors down.  Like McLean we live in a Calgary, a big city, however it is composed of over 200 small communities of about 5,000 people, each with their own parks, playgrounds, schools, recreation and community centres. Not that much different than the small towns McLean visited. 

Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

“Asians didn’t get the right to vote in Canada until the late 1940s.”

“When she was twelve, Pansy rode (horseback) five and half miles across the fields every day to a one-room schoolhouse…there were lots of deer, antelope and coyotes.” (And we complain about kids taking long bus rides to get to school today)

McLean talks about a Chinese restaurant in his book; this might be it.  Had a great soup and grilled cheese.  GA writes: "you may want to add the nearby winery, yep I do mean winery.  Most of the wine is made from berries and Rhubarb, but they also grow grapes.  The wines are certainly drinkable and it is fun to produce for visiting guests. Their wine tastings are professionally done."

Dresden, Ontario

“Dresden is where Aylmer manufactures all of the ketchup they produce in Canada.”

“Canada is not merely a neighbor to Negroes. Deep in our history of struggle for freedom Canada was the North Star. The Negro slave, denied education, de-humanized, imprisoned on cruel plantations, knew that far to the north a land existed where a fugitive slave, if he survived the horrors of the journey could find freedom.” Martin Luther King Jr., Massey Lectures, 1967

Did you know that Josiah Henson a slave who escaped to Canada and settled in Dresden was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s influential novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“The bell at the firehall used to ring at noon and at nine in the evening to signal curfew for all those under the age of fourteen.  The bell at the old McVean factory rang at starting time and quitting time and, like all the other bells in town, at the noon break.  You don’t hear town bells the way you used to. It is too bad. A bell lends a certain orderliness to a town – anoints the noon meal with righteousness, resolves the end of the work day with dignity, infuses dusk with a sense of purpose.”

“There’s also a certain continuity that you don’t get anywhere else. Everyone in school knows everyone else. Most of the parents come from here. The continuum is passed along.”

While I didn't travel to Dresden, I did get to Clarkesdale, Mississippi which is home to the Delta Blues and to Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Both are cities in decline, but with a  proud history that they celebrate vigorously. 

This is the J.W. Cutrer Mansion in Clarkesdale.  The Cutrers and their home inspired the character names and settings in several works by playwright Tennessee Williams. This small town is an interesting study in contrasts between the rich and the poor that has existed for decades - it is not something new. 

Just one of many homes that are slowly peeling away. 

This is the entrance to Ground Zero Blues Club, one of the most authentic and famous blues bars in the world.  The entire inside of the club is like this with people signing their names on every wall, everywhere.  It is a work of art. 

Who knew when I picked up this used book in the spring of 2013 that I would be in the Mojo Man's home turf early in 2014.

St-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec

You can see winter in the architecture wherever you look – the old houses small because they were easier to heat; the brightly painted roofs, pitched steeper here than anywhere in the country, because if you let snow accumulate all winter your roof would collapse before spring.” 

We discovered the ghost town of  Washtucna, while on our way see the off the beaten path Palouse Falls Washington.  We don't usually seek out natural wonders, but we were encouraged to do so and in the process we found Washtucna. I did not realize the potlatch culture extended this far south or east, I had always associated it with Pacific Northwest first nations. Every small town has a story to tell. 

We tried to get into Sonny's but despite the sign it wasn't open. 

 

Ted's Garage has become the town's post office. In "Welcome Home" you will read how important the post office was in small towns even in the early '90s.

Sackville, New Brunswick

“This is a town that understands tradition…Mrs. Helen C. Beale wouldn’t think of going downtown to mail at letter without putting on a dress, white gloves and a hat.”  “the driving factor behind the new clock tower is that public’s displeasure with not having a clock in the downtown core.”

“Like all small towns, Sackville’s greatest export is her people.”

Our equivalent to McLean's Sackville was Moscow, Idaho, also a university town and this was one of our favourite breakfast spots. Check out the Huckleberry Zucchini Bread or the Lemon Poppy Seed french toast.  We will be back!

The students loved Bucer's Coffee House and Pub....we did too.  Great ambience

Every college town needs a quirky bike shop - Paradise Bikes was Moscow's. 

Yes there is a new clock tower on campus. It also has a great indoor football stadium and one of the world's best climbing wall facilities. Of the 9,000 students, 6,000 live on campus with an 18 to 1 student to teacher ratio. 

Our dinner at the Sangria Grill may well have been our best meal of 2013.  We could show you an image of our plate but the ceiling is way more exciting. Loved the circus dolls. The menu is very interesting e.g. Macadamia coconut halibut mango salsa fried banana rice.  Desserts are to die for e.g. sweet potato creme brulee or coconut bread pudding with lucuma ice cream. Yum Yum!

Foxwarren, Manitoba

“In western Canada, prosperity is calculated in units of verticality. Oil rigs, grain elevators and silos measure the land.”

“first grain elevator in Canada was built in Gretna, Manitoba, in 1881.”

“you hate to see your home town go. But there is nothing you can do to stop it going. You can’t survive on a small farm anymore.”

“Donna Hodgson is the postmistress, and she is the sixth person (three men, three women) to hold the job since the post office opened on August 1, 1889.”

The Foxwarren arena illuminates Foxwarren the way the Roman Catholic Church used to illuminate Quebec. Hockey in Foxwarren is a faith, a theology and a creed. In Foxwarren you don’t go tot eh game as much as you give yourself to The Game. You don’t enjoy hockey. You believe in it… if you live in Foxwarren you can’t escape the arena’s gravity.”

“Like many old men, Andy has become the embodiment of a better era – living proof that the stories everyone has heard actually happened. With his old age he blesses everyone else with youth.”

“At the turn of the century and for thirty years after that, the tracks on these prairies were haunted by the most romantic train in Canadian history – the silk train. Silk that arrived in Vancouver by boat had to be shipped to the Lakehead quickly… they were given priority over all other trains on the tracks.  Once a train carrying Prince Albert (later George VI) was shunted onto a siding to wait while a silk train burned past.”

Meeting Creek, Alberta was our encounter with the great spirit of the prairie Grain Elevator.  It was surreal to just be able to explore this perfectly preserved elevator and station with nobody around. 

You can't make something like this up.

Nakusp, BC

“Left alone in a museum, it doesn’t take much to make a grown man twelve. Wondering vaguely what I will say if someone walks in, I climb into the saddle and lean on the saddle-horn as I read the typed note pinned to the wall. The horse that Tom Thee Persons rode to fame was known as Cylcone.”  Who knew this piece of Calgary’s Stampede history is housed in the Nakusp Museum?

While we didn't have a saddle to sit on.  Brenda has a similar experience when we were exploring Twin Falls, Idaho and she found this pencil dispenser in the library.  She had to try it. Not once but twice.  It doesn't take much to make a grown women twelve. 

We also found this display of Red Rose Tea figurines at the library.  There were several series but the Canadian Series caught our interest. Who knew the Mongrel was a Canadian animal? 

These dolls were fastened to posts throughout the city, at first it was cute then just strange. 

Twin Falls is one of the few places in the world that you can BASE jump without a permit.  We had to wait around for a bit but we did see several guys jump.  If you look carefully you can see a speck of blue where the bridge shadow meets the steel arch at about two thirds of the way to the top of the image - that is a jumper. 

Ferryland, Newfoundland

“Maybe when death is all around you, maybe when everyone’s children are dying, maybe when the winter blows cold and the nights are dark and your ten-year-old daughter gives a little cough and your heart seizes and you look at your husband with frightened eyes and then the priest comes and then she dies, maybe you find a way to make sense of things. But how, after five have gone, could you have a sixth? And how, when your last boy dies, could you plant a crop, go to church, milk a cow, eat a meal, smile, laugh and carry on?”

“Essentially Albert Lawlor drives the Popemobile up and down highway 10 every day.” Yes the same popemobile Pope John Paul II used when he toured North America in September 1984.

“It was a big change. The more people got TV’s, the less you saw of them. Before the TV, everyone depended on everyone else…you visited. You helped each other.”

“If you really want to understand a place, you can’t do it from an automobile.”

One of our best small town experiences of 2013 was when we decided to park our car and walk the streets of Buhl, Idaho. Within seconds I looked over and saw this warehouse with something interesting in a bucket and  on the ground.  Wandering over, we found the warehouse was full of all kinds of antlers and mounted animal heads that were to be shipped all over the world.  We spent over an hour chatting with the guys with the owners.  The street art was the head and part of the carcass of an elk that had been shot by the owners son. Their trailer is perhaps the equivalent of the popemobile.  

Over 150,000 pounds of antlers are collected in this Buhl shop and then sorted and shipped to pet food plants, used for home decor objects etc.  All of the antlers are naturally shed, only the mounted heads are from animals that are shot with permits. 

The Clover Leaf Creamery was another find in Buhl, Idaho.  It is a fully operational dairy that uses the old glass bottles and has a wonderful old fashion ice cream parlour.  It is amazing what you find if you get off the inter-state highways and take the scenic route.  Buhl also had a great thrift store with mid-century artifacts from the community's past.  There was also a theatre converted into a Mexican restaurant which told the story of the present  economic realities. It is amazing what you find if you get out of the car. 

Brenda is in her happy place. 

Last Word

In “Welcome Home” over and over again you read stories about why people love their small towns - the common denominators being everybody knows everybody, nobody locks their doors, shopkeepers work on credit and lamenting the loss of jobs.

Full of everyday stories of everyday people, it is a fun read of what life used to be like whether you lived during that time or not.  I loved McLean’s comment when he was reflecting on the changes in the way hockey is played today vs 50 years ago, “somehow the game seemed purer when I was young.” I expect that applies to everything in the game of life.

We would like to thank the following for their assistance with our small town flaneuring in 2013:

If you like this blog, you might like:

Postcards from Moscow

Meeting Creek Ghost Town

Flaneuring Maple Creek 

Be a tourist in your own neighbourhood 

Winnipeg vs Calgary Urban Hot Spots (Part 1)

EDT Note:

Comparing Calgary to other cities is very popular with the readers of my Calgary Herald column. An edited version of this blog was in the Calgary Herald as a two piece column so I have kept the same format.  It should be noted that Brenda grew up in Winnipeg and I lived there for 14 months while I did a MSC in Agriculture at the University of Manitoba.  We hope enjoy our look at Winnipeg vs Calgary (where we have lived the past 30+ years).

Urban Hot Spots

Winnipeg wouldn’t be on too many people’s radar as one of North America’s urban hot spots. In fact, for many years, it has been brunt of cruel jokes like the “We’re going to Winnipeg” punch line from the 2005 Fountain Tire commercial that suggested Winnipeg was the Canadian equivalent of Siberia.  However, that wasn’t always the case. Early in the 20th century it was a boomtown, rivaling Chicago as the major mid-west city in North America and beating out Vancouver as Western Canada’s largest city (it had three times the population of Calgary).

Every city has its heyday.  Calgary shouldn’t get too smug about its current “flavour of the month” city status.  Cities can also rise up from the decay and baggage of their past and I believe Winnipeg is ripe for such a renaissance.  I thought it would be fun to compare Calgary and Winnipeg’s downtowns. The results might surprise you!

The Rivers

Both downtowns are blessed - and cursed - with being situated at the junction of two rivers that provide wonderful recreational opportunities but also are subject to mega flooding.  For both cities, their two rivers have become a focal point of their sense of place and play with major museums, parks, pathways, riverwalks, promenades, plazas and bridges located on or near the rivers. 

While Calgary’s Bow River is considered one of the best fly-fishing rivers in the world and a great place to float, Winnipeg’s Red River is a major catfish river and allows for major motor boating activities.

Winnipeg boast the longest skating rink in the world along their rivers. The colourful "pom poms" called "Nuzzels" are actually warming huts on the Assiniboine River - they add fun, colour, charm and functionality. (Photo credit: Raw Design).

Calgarians love their river also be it floating, paddling, fishing or swimming. 

Advantage: Tied

The Forks vs East Village/Stampede Park

While Calgarians are gaga about the potential of East Village’s mega makeover and Vancouverites’ Granville Island is the envy of the world, Winnipeg has quietly surpassed both of them with the development of The Forks on old railway land on the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers). 

The Forks boasts an upscale boutique hotel, a market, Johnson Terminal (boutiques, café, offices), Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre, Explore Manitoba Centre, one of North America’s best small baseball parks and the soon-to-be-completed Canadian Museum for Human Rights (arguably Canada’s most iconic new building of the 21st century). Not bad, eh!

Winnipeg's Human Rights Museum will add another dimension to The Forks, one of North America's best urban people places.  

 

An artists rendering of the The National Music Centre at night. The museum is currently under construction. 

The baseball park at The Forks is a very popular place in the summer. 

It also has perhaps the best winter city programming with the world’s longest skating rink (yes, longer than Ottawa’s) in addition to the plaza skating rink, Olympic-size skating rink, 1.2 km of skating trails, snowboard fun park, toboggan run and warming huts designed by the likes of world renowned architect Frank Gehry.  They even have Raw: Almond the world’s first pop-up restaurant on a frozen river featuring the hottest chefs including Calgary’s Teatro.  Take that, Calgary!

Calgary’s East Village, after numerous false starts, is trying very hard to match Winnipeg’s eastside redevelopment with its National Music Centre, new Central Library, Bow Valley College, St. Patrick’s Island Park and bridge as well as Fort Calgary improvements. Stampede Park also has notable attractions with the BMO Centre, Saddledome, new Agrium Western Event Centre and plans for Stampede Trail shopping street, as well as the best festival in Canada i.e. Calgary Stampede.

Advantage: Winnipeg

GMAT Fun (Galleries, Museums, Attractions, Theatres)

Winnipeg’s Manitoba Museum is a large history museum on par with Calgary’s Glenbow from a visitor’s perspective with major permanent and temporary exhibitions.  The Glenbow also functions as our major public art gallery, while Winnipeg boasts one of Canada’s oldest public art galleries, which is located in an iconic contemporary building.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery was one of the first architecture as public art buildings. It The city has a wonderful diversity of old and new architecture. 

Both cities have major new museums with contemporary “weird & wacky” architecture slated to open in the next few years - Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights ($300+ million) and Calgary’s National Music Centre ($130+ million).

Calgary’s major downtown attraction would be the mid-century modern Calgary Tower, while Winnipeg’s would have to be historic Provincial Building with its intriguing Masonic Temple design.

In Winnipeg, the MTS Centre (arena) is a major attraction. While many cities (Edmonton) are building new downtown arenas, Winnipeg has a “Main Street” arena, literally right on Portage Avenue; this would be like the Saddledome being where the Glenbow is on Stephen Avenue. The MTS Centre has placed in the” top 10 busiest arenas in North America” list in the past, regularly selling more tickets to more events than Saddledome. 

The MTS Centre is located right on Portage Avenue aka Main Street Winnipeg.  It is one of the busiest arenas in North America. 

From a performing arts perspective, Winnipeg has its Centennial Concert Hall (home to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra), the historic 1914 Pantages Playhouse Theatre, Burton Cummings Theatre, Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre, Rachel Bowne Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange.  As well, their Royal Winnipeg Ballet complex is not only located right downtown, but also performs downtown, unlike the Alberta Ballet, which is off-the-beaten track and performs outside the downtown.

Winnipeg is home to three iconic Canadian rock and rollers - Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and Neil Young. 

Winnipeg though has nothing match our three festival spaces - Prince’s Island Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Olympic Plaza.  And, while Winnipeg has a well-renowned folk festival, it doesn’t happen downtown. Winnipeg’s major festival Folkarama attracts over 400,000 people each year to over 40 ethnic pavilions that are located around the city.  The ‘Peg also boasts the second largest fringe theatre festival in North America (Calgary’s fringe struggle to survive) and their Royal Manitoba Theatre is Canada’s flagship English-language regional theatre company (you can’t just call yourself  “Royal”).

Calgary probably has the more impressive line up of theatres - EPCOR Centre with its five spaces, as well as the Grand, Pumphouse and the two theatres at the Calgary Tower (but rumour has it that the latter spaces will be closed, to accommodate a new office tower).

Calgary boasts the High Performance Rodeo as its only major theatre festival now that playRites is history.  However, downtown Calgary is also home to numerous live music venues including several weekend afternoon jam (WAMJAM) sessions at places like Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s and Ship & Anchor that Winnipeg can’t match. In addition, YYC’s downtown is home Fort Calgary, which is has ambitious plans to become a major attraction.    

  Calgary boasts a very active music scene with numerous venues like Mikey's offering live music seven days a week.  

Calgary boasts a very active music scene with numerous venues like Mikey's offering live music seven days a week. 

Advantage: Tied

SDC Fun (Shopping, Dining, Café)

Winnipeg’s Portage Place doesn’t hold a candle to Calgary’s The Core with its shiny new $200+ million renovation and mega glass roof.  Nor does Winnipeg have the wealth of restaurants that populate Stephen Avenue, 4th Street and 17th Avenue or the mega pubs – CRAFT, National or WEST.

Summer "power hour" (lunch hour) on Stephen Avenue Walk aka Calgary's Main Street. 

Winnipeg's Osborne Village is their bohemian quarters. 

Calgary's Design District offers great restaurants, galleries and design shops. 

Calgary’s downtown restaurants regularly make the in Top 10 List of new Canadian Restaurants by EnRoute Magazine, while Winnipeg’s restaurants have not. A quick check of Vcay’s Top 50 Restaurants in Canada lists eight downtown Calgary restaurants including Charcut Roast House #5 and Model Milk #7 in the top 10.  Winnipeg has only one on the list Deseo Bistro at #36.  This might be due to fact downtown Calgary is home to over 100 corporate headquarters with their healthy “expense account” dining. 

Winnipeg's Exchange District is full of fun, funky and quirky shops. 

Winnipeg boasts one of the most ethnically diverse cultures in North America. 

Both Calgary’s and Winnipeg’s historic Hudson Bay stores are in need of major exterior washing and interior renovations.  Calgary’s Holt Renfrew is definitely in a class of its own when it comes to upscale shopping.

The Hudson Bay Company is the oldest retailer in the world est. 1670, while Winnipeg's store is not that old, it is in need of a major makeover. 

Winnipeg's Portage Place is the hub for downtown shopping as is The Core for downtown Calgary

Calgary's signature Hudson Bay store on Stephen Avenue Walk, a pedestrian mall in the centre of the downtown linking the Financial District with the Cultural District. 

Winnipeg boasts the Stella Café (named after one of the owner’s cat) with its signature Morning Glory muffins in the uber chic Buhler Centre, as well as the unique News Café (owned by the Winnipeg Free Press, it hosts live interviews with Canada’s top newsmakers).   However, Calgary’s café culture has more depth with dozens of local independent cafes with multiple locations throughout the downtown.

The Winnipeg Free Press Cafe is a unique concept that allows for reporters to interview newsmakers and  file stories from their corner offices in the cafe. 

Advantage: Calgary

Intermission:

So far the score is tied. Next week: a look at Winnipeg’s and Calgary’s successes and failures in placemaking, architecture, urban design and downtown living. Also a look at how Calgary's GABEsters differ from Winnipeg's hipsters in what they are looking for with respect to urban living.

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Best Canadiana pub is located where?

By Richard White, January 31, 2014

You would think Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa would have the best Canadiana Pub in the world, maybe even St. John’s or Halifax.  But no, it may well be in one of the most unlikely places - Memphis, Tennessee.  

Yes across the street from the iconic Peabody Hotel (famous for their resident ducks who spend the day in the lobby fountain) is Kooky Canuck.  We were introduced to this Canadian gem when attending the Polar Bar Jam, part of the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, January 21 to 25, 2014. 

Polar Bear Jam

The place was packed (I don’t think they have fire code laws in Memphis, it is amazing how many people they can pack into their bars) for the Polar Bear Jam – it was like a Maritime kitchen party, with Canadians from across the country partying up a storm and it was only 11 a.m.

As soon as we arrived, a beer was handed to us. It wasn’t just any beer; it was a Don De Dieu (the name of Samuel de Champlain’s ship, which translates in English to “gift of god”) from Chambly, Quebec’s Unibroue brewery.  Our Western Canadian travel companions thought it was too sweet, which meant more for us given the first 200 people got a free beer.  The wait staff were warning patrons it had more alcohol than American beer, but nobody told them it was 9%, times the light beer alcohol served up in the 34 oz. jumbo mugs.

The Décor

But I digress.  What makes the Kooky Canuck a great Canadian pub is the décor.  When you walk in, you are immediately confronted by a long log cabin-like wall where not one, not two, not three, but a series of mounted horned animal heads including buffalo, elk, caribou, deer and a bighorn ram– I couldn’t identify them all.  I think the only thing missing was a musk ox.

Down the middle of the room is what everyone referred to as “the forest”. In reality, it was a jail-like wall of birch tree limbs that created a nice separation between the bar and restaurant. The back room truly was like a log cabin with more mounted animals, birds and fish including an iconic Canada Goose. Overall, the décor oozed of Canada’s great outdoors.

The feature wall of mounted animal heads is impressive.

What would a Canadian pub be without an Canada Goose. 

A forest of birch tree limbs separating the bar from the dining room. 

The Logo / The Characters 

The logo is a cartoon of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police like officer carrying a large burger with the words “Big Food! Big Fun!” underneath.  You can’t get much more Canadian than the RCMP. The addition of the beard or is it a goatee makes it even more hip. 

Kooky Canuck attracts at wonderful cast of characters from across Canada and beyond.  It is a great people watching place.

Love at first sight?

This guy is wearing what was referred to by many as the Maritime Tuxedo! 

Kooky Canuck owner Shawn Danko welcomes everyone to the Polar Bear Jam.

The BIG beer guy just couldn't stop smiling. He wasn't alone!

I gotta get me one of these t-shirts.

The Challenge

Kooky Canuck is also infamous for its Kookamonga (sounds Australian to me) Challenge.  The challenge is to eat the Kookamonga burger in less than 60 minutes. 

What is a Kookamonga burger? It is four pounds of fresh ground chuck inside a two- pound bun and 1.5 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and cheese. Seven and a half pounds of fun! Fries are optional.   FYI - that is a whopping 12,000

Eat the burger in 60 minutes and it’s free (if you don’t eat it in an hour it is $32.99 US), plus you get your picture in the Hall of Fame.  Eighteen people have eaten the Kookamonga burger all by themselves in the required time, some more than once.  Matt Stoney has the record for fastest consumption - 4 minutes and 45 seconds – how is that possible?  As of December 29, 2013, 3,950 attempts have been made and 18 people have been successful.

Shawn holding up the Kookamonga burger.

Only in Canada eh!

Yes there are larger bars, pubs and lounges that have a Canadian theme.  Yes there are places that serve more types of Canadian beers and better Canadian microbrewery pubs.  Fro me, Canadian cities are filled with too many Irish or English pubs and not enough that celebrate their local sense of place.  Too many of our sports bars are full of American sports memorabilia.  When it comes to capturing Canada’s sense of place I think Kooky Canuck nails it. 

If you find yourself in Memphis, be sure to check out Kooky Canuck and see if you agree that it is best Canadiana pub in the world is not actually in Canada. Only in Canada would you find our signature pub in another country!

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Calgary Tower Playing "Peek A Boo"

By Richard White, 

While the Calgary Tower is no longer the tallest building in Calgary or the tallest in Western Canada, which it once was, it is still a part of the Calgary psyche and is very much a part of our urban sense of place.  

However, if you take into account that Calgary is 1,048 meter above sea level, the Calgary Tower has the highest 360 degree observation deck above sea level in the WORLD! Don't believe me check out their website: Calgary Tower

Peek A Boo

While searching for a specific  photo in my hopelessly organized collection of over 15,000 images, I began to notice I had a lot of photos of the Calgary Tower.  I began to move them to my desktop to see what they might look like as a collection.  After studying them for awhile, I thought this collection of glimpses of the Tower from the streets of downtown to be the most interesting. 

IMG_3942.JPG

Calgary Tower History

The Calgary Tower was originally conceived by Marathon Realty to celebrate Canada's Centennial in 1967.  The original cost was $3.5 million (approximately $24 million in today dollars) and at 191 m it was the tallest structure west of Toronto.  It was the tallest structure of its type in North America and was the first observation tower in Canada - CN Tower wasn't built until 1976.

The tower was designed by Calgary based architects  W.G. Milne and A. Dale and Associates. The concrete base was an "amazing feat of technology and physical workmanship at the time" as it required a 24 day continual pour of concrete i.e.24 hours a day for 24 days. 

Originally it as named the Husky Tower, after one of Marathon Realty's sister companies which were all part of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)  conglomeration. CPR once owned all the land along the CPR tracks in Calgary as part of the 25,000,000 acres of land they were granted by the government of Canada to build a trans-continental railway for Canada. 

It was sold and renamed the Calgary Tower in 1971.

towerreflection2

Calgary Tower Carillon

In 1975, the Calgary Dutch community donated a carillon to be installed in the Calgary Tower to celebrate the City of Calgary's Centennial. 

A carillon is a unique keyboard instrument that, when played, sends bell voices soaring from the tops of towers. Every day at noon, the electronic carillon in the Calgary Tower plays music that can be heard throughout downtown Calgary.

Did you know?

The original cost to ride the elevator up the Calgary Tower was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

That it takes 762 steps to climb the Calgary Tower.

That the restaurant revolves every 45 minutes during the day and 60 minutes at night

That the natural-gas cauldron on the top of the tower was donated by Canada Western Natural Gas as a gift to the 1988 Winter Olympics.

That the Calgary Tower weighs 10,900 tons.

In 2005, a glass floor was added so you can look down on the downtown, as well as out to the Rockies and prairies. 

photo[6].JPG

I hope that you have enjoyed this Calgary Tower photography exhibition as much as I have putting it together. 

I love the way the tower interacts with the early 21st century office tower architecture (Palliser South and Bow Tower), the mid-20th century architecture (Palliser Parkade and PanCanadian office tower) and the early 20th century architecture of the Palliser Hotel, the Hudson Bay Company department store, Memorial Park Library and the churches. 

Everybody loves to see the Calgary Tower poking its head out amongst the other towers.