Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Preface

It is hard to believe that even in 2015, whites in Memphis and the entire Delta area haven’t embraced the blacks for their wonderful spirit and joie de vivre.  Someone told me (I wish I could remember who) many years ago “we must embrace the differences that define us, not let them divide us.”  After attending the IBC, checking out the museums of Memphis, wandering Clarksdale and attending the First Baptist Church service, I say “vive la difference!”

International Blues Challenge

  Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

In December 2013, a few of Mikey’s Juke Joint groupies (including myself) decided to head to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge (IBC) to support the Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams, both of who would be representing southern Alberta at the January 2014 competition.  It was a truly amazing experience, not only did Williams win the competition as the best single/solo act and best guitarist, but I developed a whole new appreciation for the history of the blues and the culture of the south that produced it.

This year’s Challenge happens January 20 – 24 with Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams again representing southern Alberta.

The Museums

One of the great things about visiting Memphis is their trio of music museums – Stax Museum, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records.

The STAX Museum blew both Brenda (not so much a blues or music keener) and I away with its campus that includes not only the museum, but a charter school and extensive collection.  For anyone interested in the history of 20th century music in North America, this is the place to go. You will learn about the evolution and connections between numerous genres of music – blues, soul, jazz, Bebop, country, gospel, hillbilly, R&B, rock and Pop music.  What I particularly loved about the museum is there is its air of authenticity as much of the history actually happened in Memphis or in the immediate area.  

  STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

The museum starts with a wonderful 20-minute film, after which you wander at your own pace through hundreds of displays that tell the story of the music with lots of memorabilia.  The highlight was when I complemented an elderly, distinguished-looking man on his great tie.  He thanked me and we got chatting about the museum and how he was visiting with his grandchildren who “wanted to see where their grandfather was” in the museum.  Turns out I was talking to Harold “Scotty” Scott of the Temprees, whose gold record for “Dedicated to the one I love” and other band artifacts we on exhibit.

One take away message I got from this museum was how the pain and hardship deeply penetrated the African American culture of the south and how they sought comfort and solace in their music.

I would recommend anyone visiting the museum, also take an explore a few around the museum, it will reinforced the link between poverty, sense of place and blues music.  The predominately black neighbourhood of empty lots, abandon homes, homes with what looked like religious shrines on the porches and numerous churches looked like many of the images we saw in the museum.

In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell.

  One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

  Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institute and located downtown next to the arena provides an excellent overview of the history of Memphis area music from the 1930s to the city’s musical heyday of the ‘70s.  The museum’s digital audio guide offers up over 300 minutes of information including 100 songs that you can listen to while surrounded by artifacts of the time.  It is a total music immersion program not to be missed.

Sun Records, located just outside of the downtown, is easily accessible via the tram and a short walk to the historic building. Like the STAX museum, I think you get a better appreciation for the history and the environment that produced the music when you walk the streets around it.

The lobby of Sun Studio looks like a '50s diner.

What is great and unique about Sun Records is that you get a personal tour led by a local musician.  Sun Records, an American independent record label was founded in Memphis in 1952, by Sam Phillips and financed by Jim Bulliet.  It was here that Phillips discovered and first recorded Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Phillips loved the music of African-Americans and wanted to bring that genre to a mass audience, which changed the world of music, but meant Sun Records struggled to be viable. 

The museum is full of artifacts and your tour guide has amazing stories to tell.  But the highlight of the tour is to stand on in the recording studio where Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny belted out your favourite songs. The building just oozes history - I am sure I heard Roy singing.

The modest entrance to Sun Studio.

One of  the many artifacts from the early days of Sun Studio.

The recording studio is still used today. It looks like a rec room from the '50s. It is hard to imagine that this is place where the legends of '50s and '60s music created their hits here.

Beale Street

Beale Street, truly one of North America’s iconic streets, is home to the International Blues Competition (IBC). The event utilizes 17 different venues along the street for the 250+ entries from around the world.  The street is hopping with music from noon to the wee hours of the morning. 

For me, the highlight of the Challenge were the midnight jams at the Daisy Theatre (every night various musicians from the competition and past winners put on an impromptu concert, the energy was electrifying).   There are certain art experiences that stand out in my life - seeing Baryshnikov dance from the front row of the Lincoln Centre (1984) and the Hermitage Show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1977) - and the IBC jams on Beale Street.

  Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

  The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

Clarksdale

No trip to Memphis for a blues lover is complete without a road trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi (90 minute drive), considered by some as “ground zero” for the blues. The entire city is a living museum complete with numerous historical plaques and a self-guided map. 

Clarksdale is home to the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 where legend has it iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.   You can also visit the McKinley Morganfield’s (aka Muddy Waters) cabin on Stovall Road. There are lots of tiny cabins still inhabited that serve as a reminder of the poverty that begat the blues.  

When in Clarksdale check out The Delta Blues Museum, WROX radio station on Main Street and all of the other historic sites around town, it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the blues was germinated.

Ground Zero Blues Club opened in 2001 in an old warehouse building with “manufactured authenticity” complements of an old couch and other bric-a-brac on the porch and the tradition of graffiti-like visitors writing of their names anywhere they can find space. names of people who have been there on the walls.  We arrived mid day (nothing was happening), but we did manage to get on stage and pretend we were performing.

In chatting with Holger Petersen (veteran CBC and CKUA blues broadcaster), after his talk about the history of the blues at NMC a few years back he told me Ground Zero was one of his favourite places to listen to the blues. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering the streets of Clarksdale, checking out the museum, eating dinner and listening to an act Ground Zero and maybe even book yourself a room at the Riverside Hotel, established in 1944, where the the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williams and Ike Turner had been guests.

It truly is a sacred place.

  Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Panels like these are located throughout the city, creating an informative self-guided walking tour. 

WROX radio
  Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the  Tennessee Williams historic district  of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the Tennessee Williams historic district of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Barry (another Mikey's groupie) and I on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club. 

Gospel Revelation

No trip to Memphis is complete without attending a Sunday morning Gospel Church service. While many trek to the well-publicized Al Green church service near Graceland, we were fortunate to notice during our wanderings that at the end of Beale Street is the First Baptist Church (built in 1880, it is believed to be the first brick-constructed, multi-story church built by African Americans).  We like authenticity so this seemed like the perfect choice.

So on Sunday morning, when many IBC revellers were still recovering from their Saturday night festivities, we headed to church.   Wanting to be respectful, we tried toquietly walk in and sit at the back, but that was not to be.  We were immediately welcomed like long lost family, hands were shaken, we were given a program, and by the end hugs were shared and we were part of “the family.”  I have never experienced a more friendly welcoming. 

At the beginning of the service, all-newcomers were welcomed by name and where they were visiting from.  We were asked to stand to be recognized and invited to say a few words. Then amateur singers and preachers started to perform building to a crescendo with a large female choir and professional passionate preacher that made both your body and soul shiver. I don’t think I have ever heard so many AMENs in my life. 

Initially planning to only stay for 30 minutes or so, we were mesmerized we stayed for the entire two-hour service.  We were even invited to join them for lunch afterwards.  It was a magical experience. Amen!

insidechurch

Seattle Insights

Guest Blog: Chantal Leblanc, August 9, 2014 

After going to Seattle for the first time in 2009 for a week, we just keep going back. We always find a new tour, neighbourhood or museum to visit.  It’s easy to get there from Calgary with a 90 minute direct flight.

From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you can take the Link Light Rail, similar to our C-train, for $2.75 to downtown Seattle. That includes a transfer to a bus if you are not staying downtown. For us, it’s in the trendy neighbourhood of Capitol Hill. The first time we were in Seattle, they were introducing their ORCA pass. You load it and use it for easy access to public transit. We just calculate that we will spend $5.00 to $6.00 / day per person and since you can re-load on line, you can add to it during your stay. And you can even use it for Washington State Ferries. Now that is convenience!

One of North America's best markets.

Pike Place Market is probably Seattle's most well known landmark attraction. Come for the fish toss, stay for the people-watching.  Lucky for us, we get to actually shop there and cook our food in our apartment. Living like a local is our idea of being an everyday tourist. Besides the famous fish shop, you will find everything there, from produce to cheese, bread pasta and wine.

 

 

On a food tour, we met a couple from Vancouver who told us about SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). The festival runs for almost a month from mid-May to Mid-June. On a one-week stay, we saw four movies, ranging from an animated film from Spain dealing with Alzheimer to a South African movie in three languages. They also have a free (pay by donation) Folk Music Festival on Memorial Day week-end. No matter when we go, there always seems to be something fun happening. 

Recently we checked out the Museum of Flight where everyone from 4 to 94 was just having a great time looking at small planes flying outside on the small air strip and the history of flights from mail delivery and bush pilots to space travel. We got to go inside Air Force One and a Concorde!

Museum of Flight

The Experience Music Project Museum (or EMP) is a must for music lovers of all ages and the entrance fee includes the Science Fiction Museum connected to it.  Back story, prior to moving to Chicago a few years ago, Boeing was the largest company based on Seattle. Today there are still several large aircraft manufacturing plants still in the metro area. 

The Chihuly Garden & Glass is a different type of museum – go if you like colourfull glass work – you won’t be disappointed. You can sit outside and have coffee or a glass of wine in the gardens and just soak up the visual extravaganza. 

Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum

Friendly

More than its museum, Seattle is home to friendly people – strangers talking to strangers on the bus – offering their seats if they think you should sit together, drivers helping riders with wheelchair and elderly women. They even thank you and wish you a nice day when you get off the bus. One driver got off the bus to give direction to an elderly woman who looked disoriented stepping off the sidewalk! And nobody in the bus seems to be upset for the extra two minutes it took.

From our first visit, we felt the city was very community minded. We discovered a well-established community garden set between two houses. Obviously a vacant lot where you could build a house, but the city had given this lot to the community for their garden. The City encourages its citizen to beautify every green space in the city. Traffic circle green spaces are being tendered by people living in the area, not city workers, as well as spaces between the sidewalks and street.

Even in 2009 they had separate garbage, recycling and compost bins pick up!

Art is very everywhere not just downtown. Sculptures can be found along sidewalks in many different neighborhoods,, sometimes in the form of bronzed dance steps or other images right in the concrete. Even the a "manhole” covers become artworks. 

 

Sidewalk art

Sculpture at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Foodies Fun 

The food scene in Seattle is fantastic. Surrounded by water and farm land it has a variety not found everywhere. Seattle offers many great restaurants, Farmers Markets and we enjoyed taking food tours guided by locals. We even took a wine tour that picks you up at your hotel or apartment then drives you back late afternoon. The tour took us Woodinville where many winemakers are making wine or have opened tasting rooms closer to the city.

Coffee Culture is very strong in Seattle. It is the birthplace of Starbucks and the original location is still open today, located at Pike Place Market. As any American city, they have lots of them. When you take the train link from the airport, you can see the beautiful brick building with the mermaid sign at the top of a tower of their head office. They are serious about their coffee and there are many independent coffee shops throughout the city that are a delight to visit, all with different vibes and personalities. I suggest you forego Starbucks and try a few different neighbourhood coffee shops while you’re there.

Oddfellows Café & Bar, one of our favourite breakfast places in Capitol Hill.

Explore

This year, we ventured to Ballard, another neighbourhood by the water known for its restaurants to see the locks and its fish ladder. In the past, we were under the impression that Ballard was far – wrong - two buses and we were there in about 30 minutes. Many restaurants in the area are not open for lunch but some and coffee shops are open early. Stores open around 11:00 am during the week. Weekend brunch is popular in this area, as well as a Farmers market on Sundays.

Editor note:  Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, built in 1911 and often nicknamed the Ballard Locks, provides a link for boats between the salt water of Puget Sound and the fresh water of the Ship Canal, which connects eastward to Lake Union and Lake Washington.Tourists and locals enjoy watching the parade of sailboats, motorboats, tugs, barges and yachts passing through, as the locks' water levels are adjusted to allow their safe passage. Another popular spot is the fish ladder, built to allow salmon to pass between fresh and salt water, and to navigate the locks. Glass panels below the water line make it possible to watch the fish as they swim through the ladder.

 

Quaint  Ballard

I suggest taking the walking tour of Freemont suggested in Frommer’s guide (available on line) and highly recommend going to Theo’s Chocolate Factory for their $10.00 tour. Organic, Fair Trade and delicious chocolate.

 Encounter with the Troll during the Freemont walking tour.

For a nice day trip out of the “city," take the Ferry to Bainsbridge Island ($8 round trip). You get a great view of the Seattle skyline from the water, as well as an opportunity to experience the island's quaint atmosphere with its hiking trails and restaurants.

View from the ferry coming from Bainsbridge Island.

Last Word

If you like to explore a city, Seattle has it all and you can access it easily without a car, from quaint neighbourhoods to beautiful parks, art, food and friendly people.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Anchorage: West Coast's Newest Urban Playground

Chicago: Staircases to heaven

Salt Lake City: More than just a temple

 

Bowness: Past & Present

Richard White, August 2, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours titled "Busy Bowness rides into prosperous future."

Did you know that Main Street Bowness, now Bowness Road was once called Highway 8?  Did you know there once was a Bowness Golf & Country Club (located just off of the TransCanada Highway near the Greenwood/Greenbriar trailer park) and that Bowness High School site was the Bowness Flying Field from 1914 to 1929.  It always amazes me how much history there is in Calgary and how our neighbourhoods have evolved.

Early 20th century postcard of Bowness Park lagoon.

Downtown mural

Today, Bowness is perhaps best known as the home of Bowness Park and for its cycling culture, both motor and pedal. The 13th Tour de Bowness, takes place the August 2, 3 and 4th.  Saturday is the road race at Horse Creek in Cochrane, Sunday is the hill climb at Canada Olympic Park and Monday is the Criterium (street race, with 7 turns) in Bowness.  However, on any given weekend Main Street Bowness can look like the Tour de France with colourful logoed cyclist stopping at Cadence Café for coffee, breakfast, lunch or a snack.   Cadence is one of Calgary’s hidden café gems and one of our best people watching spots.

Cadence Cafe - super fine coffee.

Downtown Bowness is also home to one of the world’s largest cycling shops – Bow Cycle – with its 24,000 square foot store right on Bowness Road, as well as a 16,000 warehouse.  Bow Cycle has over 800 frames and 500 bikes in stock at any given time. For the road warriors, it has over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and 50 road bikes over $5,000 and 10 bikes over $15,000 in stock.  It is little wonder Bowness is home to Calgary’s cycling community. 

  Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle - something for everyone.

Calgary’s paddling community is also attracted to downtown Bowness to check what’s new at Undercurrent Sports – Alberta’s largest paddling store and school.  This 6,500 square foot store houses more than 200 canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and the gear you need to go with them. 

  Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Another feature that makes Main Street Bowness unique is Hexters Rock’n Roll / Blues Lounge with its signature Sunday afternoon “Motown Revival” hosted by Gary Martin.  If you haven’t been and you like mid-century music and dancing this is the place to go.

If you are a shopper and you like the “thrill of the hunt” the Bowness WINS thriftstore is for you. Located kiddy corner to Bow Cycle is a small boutique store that often has treasures just waiting for you take home.  We found a great still-life drawing by Calgary artist Bruce Pashak.

WINS Thrift Store - where the treasures are.

Absolute Audio is one of Calgary’s leading audiophile spots with staff who are not only knowledgeable but simply love music.  In addition to all of the latest digital equipment, Absolute also offers a great selection of vinyl cleaners including the Audio Deske of Germany’s that involves giving your old records a “bath” and then some sort of “micro fiber drums” thingy – check it out!

Bowtown Music is the new kid on the block. Opening in 2011 it has developed a reputation as the place to go for ukuleles in Calgary.  In addition to lessons (guitar, piano, singing, drums, ukulele, banjo, mandolin and violin), Bowtown is developing a community space for ukulele and drum circles. 

Bowtown Music

Heritage Street Festival

Visiting Bowness is like travelling to a small prairie town with its wide Main Street lined with shops that are mostly one story tall.   It even has angled parking, how authentic is that? Like a small town there is even a hotel that isn’t a hotel, rather a pub and apartments.  There is even a charming branch of the Calgary Public Library on Main Street, located in the old Bow Motorcycle building.

In addition to the Criterium road race on Monday, August 4th, (annual event on the August long weekend) the 60+ merchants of the Bowness Business Revitalization Zone also hosting a family oriented Heritage Street Festival from 11 am to 4 pm.  Everyone is welcome to come and discover Calgary’s other Main Street.


Bowness Library use to be Bow Cycle's motorcycle, skidoo, seadoo and ATV store. The wheel with the spokes is still part of the facade and sign. 

Does this not look like something from a main street in a small prairie town?

This has small prairie town written all over it. 

Criterium fun....

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:

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Calgary: History Capital of Canada

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RED: Calgary's Urban Playground

Richard White, July 3, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbour). 

How can Calgary’s 17th Ave BRZ (Business Revitalization Zone) be the newest and oldest at the same time?  It is the newest in that it was rebranded in March 2013 as RED (Retail and Entertainment District), and the oldest as it was the first BRZ formed in 1984 when it was known as Uptown 17th.

Today, the 12 blocks of 17th Avenue between 2nd Street SW and 14th St SW is one of Canada’s best retail/restaurant streets.  It offers a healthy diversity of flaneuring fun with about 70 restaurants and bars (including some great patios), 70 fashion and gift shops as well as 17 salons and spas. 

17th Avenue became internationally famous in 2004 when it was dubbed “The Red Mile” during the Calgary Flames’ run at the Stanley Cup.  After every playoff game win or lose, 50,000 fans in their red Flames jerseys would gathered along 17th Avenue, creating an impromptu street party with a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere.

The RED mile during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Urban Playground

RED is the urban playground of the young and restless GABEsters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) of the Beltline and the rich and famous of Mount Royal and Scarboro. It is also home to one of Calgary’s newest trendy coffee shops (Analog Coffee) and one of its oldest (Café Beano).

This area is also popular with Calgary’s foodies who love to shop at Janice Beaton’s funky back alley cheese shop or meet up for a meal at her restaurant FARM. Brava Bistro is regularly on the top 10 restaurants in Calgary list. For those looking for something more informal, there is Tubby Dog.  Other foodie hot spots include Market, Cibo, Una, Ox & Angela, 80th & Ivy, Borgo and Menchies. And don’t forget Model Milk, was #2 on enRoute magazine’s list of the top 10 new restaurants in Canada, in 2012.

If you are looking for funky eyewear, Brass Monocle, Eye Candy, Eye on 17th and Sol Optix offer the latest international eyewear.  Other popular fashionista spots include Primitive Culture, Gravity Pope, Reid’s and Rubaiyat. 

The Ship & Anchor patio on 17th Avenue is animated even in the middle of March. 

Inside the Ship & Anchor is one of Calgary's most popular live music venues. 

RED’s Storied Past

Tomkins Park has an interesting history. Established in 1915 on land donated by Henry and Eleanor Tomkins on 17th Ave from 7th to 8th Street SW, it was originally approved as “Tomkins Square,” but eventually was developed as Tomkins Gardens and today is officially Tomkins Park.  Tomkins placed some interesting limitations on the park’s use, “for the discussion of political, religious, trade, or social questions, or lectures or addresses or any game or recreation of any kind whatsoever to be played by children or adults on any part of said lot.”

In 2008, 17th Avenue also gained some media attention as Tomkins Park became home to Calgary’s first automated public toilet – an Exeloo Galaxy.   Ranked #55 in Diana O’Meara’s book “Alberta Book of Musts: Places Every Albertan MUST See,” it is used about 40,000 times/year.

RED as a vibrant cafe scene. 

The sidewalk ballet on 17th Avenue SW.

Window licking fun is critical to being an urban playground.

History

One of Calgary’s architectural gems is the Devenish Apartments (908 – 17th Ave S.W.) built in 1911 designed by architect Alexander Pirie. To maximize the number of suites (57), the building originally had no bedrooms – a Murphy bed pulled down from the living room wall.  Amenities included the building’s sunrooms, steam laundry and odorless garbage incinerator.  In 1980, it was sold and renovated into the Devenish Design Centre.

RED’s other historical gem is the Anderson Apartments (804 - 18th Avenue S.W.), once home to Jann Arden and inspiration for her song “Living under June.” As well, her video “Insensitive” was filmed here. The Baroque, H-shaped building was designed by Roscoe B. Witten in 1913 to allow for the maximum number of windows for each of its luxury apartments.   The building boasted a marble rotunda, a grand stairway with 12-foot ceilings, as well as all-night elevator and telephone service.

Most of this information was sourced from Harry Sanders book “Historic Walks of Calgary.” This book is a great read and widely available in Calgary bookstores.

Devenish Design Centre

The Calgary Stampede MEGA Makeover Has Begun!

Richard White, June 11, 2014

After the devastating flood of 2013, the Calgary Stampede had some tough decisions to make as the Board and Management pondered its future. Rather than just fix the place up, the Stampede commenced with its mega-million dollar makeover plan. 

Calgarians won’t recognize this year’s Stampede Park. Almost 50% of the outdoor space has been reconfigured and several major new players are participating for the first time!     

Aerial view of reconfigured Calgary Stampede Grounds (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Nine things to know about Stampede 2014…. 

#1

The Great FUNtier is the name of the Stampede’s new Kids Zone.  It has been moved to the area south of the Saddledome and north of the racetrack.  The space, now 25% larger than the old Kids Zone, will allow for more greenery, easier stroller maneuvering and more seating.  In addition to the kid’s midway, there will also be a mini Grandstand Stage for live entertainment. 

The location is also convenient to the family-oriented agricultural programming at the new Agrium Western Event Centre and the RCMP Musical Ride tent.

Did you know that park admission is free for kids under 6?  There is also free admission for children aged 7 to 12 on specially marked Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero in stores now.

Lollipop Swings (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

  The new FUNtier slide (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

The new FUNtier slide (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#2

The Grandstand Show is getting a makeover by new Creative Director, Dave Pierce who was the Musical Director for Vancouver’s Winter Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies. Pierce, an Emmy Award winner, brings a new vision and energy to Grandstand extravaganza. The theme for this year’s show is “Barnburner.” The opening segment features Tom Glass (one of Alberta famous chuckwagon families) telling his family’s story using a series of mega comic book action figures.   

The costumes for Barnburner have been designed by Genvieve Cleary and built by Marco Marco Studio, famous for designing the costumes of Katie Perry and Britney Spears. 

The permanent stage is also being completely redesigned by Paul Bates who was responsible for Cirque Du Soleil’s “O” stage.  It includes the latest in pyrotechnics and amazing stage effects capacity. The new stage will be one of Canada's most technologically advanced theatrical stages. 

Sample of mega action figure comic book visual. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#3

The new $62 million Agrium Western Event Centre (AWEC) with its dramatic rotunda entrance designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage Architects, is just the beginning of rebuilding Stampede Park.  The new building which opened recently adds much needed, year-round event and trade show space as well as a classroom for hands-on school programs.  AWEC has already hosted Canada’s largest ever 4H club gathering.

  Agrium Western Event Centre (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Agrium Western Event Centre (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#4

Nashville North has moved “north,” closer to Cowboys Dance Hall tent and the Stampede Casino to create a “party zone” - some have already dubbed it the adult entertainment zone (good clean fun of course)! This could be an interesting precursor to the creation of the year- round Stampede Trail – a pedestrian entertainment-oriented street of retail, restaurants, pubs and clubs along Olympic Way (4th Street SE) linking it with East Village.

Nashville North is a mega dance hall (capacity 1850 people) with live bands all day and into the wee hours of the morning! (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#5

“Sneak a Peek!” Paul Hardy has been engaged to procure some uber-chic 2014 Stampede merchandise, some of which is already available at Hardy’s Inglewood studio tucked away at Bay#5, 2510 Alyth Rd. SE. in Calgary's funky Inglewood/Ramsay community.

Paul Hardy's cowgirl fun fashions. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

More Paul Hardy's fashions! (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#6

“Go Big or Go Home” could be the theme of this year’s Stampede with the introduction of the 777-pound burger ($5,000) and the 125-pound hot dog ($1,000).  Juicy’s Outlaw Grill is bringing the world’s largest grill (the size of a transportation truck) to this year’s Stampede. This is a first in Canada.  Check out the video.

 #7

Biggest Pop-up Patio? Triple B (Barbecue, Bulls, Beer) is also making its first visit to Canada creating a patio for you and 999 of your closest friends. With two mechanical bulls on site, it should make for great people-watching.   

Mechanical Bull Riding at the new Triple B patio. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#8

WWW Food!  Every year the Stampede brings some wild, weird and wacky food combinations to Calgary. This year is no exception.  The Scorpion Pizza has to be the weirdest, followed closely by Deep Fried Cheezies, Polish Poutine, Porcupine Corn Dog, and Vicious Fish on a Stick. 

Yikes! Scorpion Pizza. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#9

Did you know the Calgary Stampede is one of North America’s biggest music festivals? For the first time, the Dome is fully booked with shows every night by the likes of Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and Calgary’s own Paul Brandt. In total Stampede 2014 includes over 340 musical performances at 15 different venues. 

Canada's sweetheart. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Yahoo!

2012 was the Stampede's 100th birthday, 2013 was the year of the Great Flood and 2014 will be remembered as the beginning of the new 21st century Calgary Stampede.  The Calgary Stampede is truly one of the best annual festivals in the world. It is six major events all wrapped up into one mega extravaganza - Grandstand Show, Rodeo, Chuckwagon Races, Midway, Agricultural Fair and Music Festival.   

Stampede Park is not only one of North America's best and oldest urban Agricultural Fair sites, but also one of the largest, busiest and most authentic SHED districts (Sports, Hospitality, Entertainment District) in North America.

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Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community

Ramsay: Calgary's Industrial District

Best Places to like a local in Calgary 

Calgary's Best Cafes

 

 

 

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

By Richard White, May 29, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, May 29, 2014, titled "Cool Inglewood perfect for life, work and play).

Inglewood has the distinction of not only being Calgary’s oldest community (established in 1875), but also one of the most desirable urban communities in the City. And, while there are many fine historical buildings and relics from the past -including two old barns and an old brewery - still in the community, what makes its future particularly exciting are the many new private investments.

Two of the biggest additions to the community are George Brookman’s West Canadian Digital Imaging headquarter building at the east end of 9th (Atlantic) Avenue and Jim Hill’s Atlantic Art Block at the west end (the very modern 4-storey red brick building with the wavy roof).  These commercial anchors, combined with the existing shops, restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs are critical to making Inglewood a perfect “live, work, play” community.

Live

Inglewood offers a diversity of housing options - from early 20th century cottages and Bow River mansions, to new infill homes  and low-rise condos.  At the far east end of Inglewood along 17th Avenue, almost at Deerfoot Trail, lies the 15-acre SoBow (south of downtown) condo development by Calgary’s M2i Development.   While Bridgeland, Beltline and East Village tend to get all the attention SoBow offers arguably the best amenities and accessibility of any new urban village Calgary. 

In minutes, you can be on the Deerfoot, Blackfoot or Barlow Trails, or an easy cycle or walk into downtown if you live in SoBow.  From an amenities perspective, the Zoo, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the shops on 9th Avenue are basically in your backyard.

This large development has six phases and when complete, will consist of approximately 700 units, effectively creating a new “village” of 2,000+ people. (Click here for aerial views).

Heritage apartment blocks like this one make for great artists' live work spaces. 

Work

The Atlantic Art Block not only offers office space, but at street level there are retail shops, a restaurant and the uber cool 15,000 square foot Esker Foundation Art Gallery in the penthouse. At street level, the building is home to the popular Gravity Café and Bite Groceteria - both have been an instant hit with foodies. It is a great example of a mixed-use building. 

West Canadian Digital Imaging 60,000 square foot building is a more tradition office only space. It employs not only his  250 workers, but another 90 Travel Alberta employees.  

Creating a “live, work, play” community is more than just about densification by building more condos and adding grocery stores, restaurants and shops.  It is just as critical that business owners like Brookman and Hill decide to locate their businesses in Calgary's established communities and not just downtown or suburban office parks.  Workers are critical to the survival of the shops, cafes and restaurants as they provide weekday customers, while the residential spaces fill the “customer” role evenings and weekends.

The Atlantic Art Block combines both contemporary architectural design (wave roof and glass walls at the corner) with more traditional brick three storey warehouse massing mid-block to create an exciting architectural statement as you enter Inglewood from the west. 

West Canadian Digital Building is a  more traditional modern interpretation of early 20th century warehouse architecture. 

Play

Inglewood could be branded as Calgary’s music district as it is not only home to Recordland, Festival Hall, Ironwood and Blues Can, but also many of its old cottage houses and walk-up apartments are home to local musicians. 

If you haven’t been to Recordland, you should go. It is one of the largest privately owned record stores in Canada with over two million records.  The Festival Hall is the new year round home of the Calgary Folk Festival, as well as concert space for local and touring musicians. Ironwood and Blues Can offer live music seven days a week.  

Tim Williams at the Blues Can jamming with friends from around the world.

Recordland is just one of many local shops in Inglewood that makes it a fun place to flaneur.

Inglewood is a great place for window licking with lots of unique window installations. 

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

In 2004, EnRoute Magazine identified Inglewood as one of the Canada’s top 10 “coolest neighbourhoods.”  Over the past 10 years, it has gotten even cooler. 

The Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club (established in 1936) has become a tony place for Calgary hipsters.  The Club is so popular they have just completed a shiny new clubhouse.

In 2006, Inglewood’s Rouge restaurant placed 60th on the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. Rouge, is located in the A.E.Cross house, built in 1891.  (Back Story: Cross was one of the “Big Four” investors in the Calgary Stampede).  The restaurant boasts its own vegetable garden that covers six city lots. How cool is that?

Every Saturday afternoon, Calgary’s own “cool cat” Tim Williams hosts a Blues Jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood.  Williams is the winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition in two categories: best solo and duo artist and best guitarist. 

Inglewood’s boundaries are the Bow River (north) to the CPR Yard (south) and the Bow River (east) to Elbow River (west).

Last Word

With everything from lawn bowling to Saturday jams; from the sounds of the Zoo animals to the sounds of trains and planes; from one of the world's best restaurants, to Canada's best used record store; Inglewood is definitely, Calgary’s most unique community. 

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Don't be too quick to judge

Yes, Inglewood does still have two barns. I believe the red barn serves as storage for Calgary's own Canadian Pickers.

This is the historic Stewart Livery constructed in 1909 at 806 14th St. SE. Livery stables were integral to the daily life of frontier cities. They served many functions - hire of horse and vehicles, sale of horses and vehicles as storage of hay, coal and wood.  

Postcards: Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix)

By Richard White, May 6, 2014

I had no idea the world’s largest museum of musical instruments (15,000 instruments from over 200 countries) was located in Phoenix when we arrived there.  It was only by chance that I found a mention of it while surfing the net.  It looked interesting so I took a chance and after a "too short" visit I can safely say it is very impressive. 

What is just as impressive though is that Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and Chairman of Target Corporation, was able to accomplish the feat of building this world-class museum in just five years from its inception. 

The story goes (according to one of the museum’s gallery educators) that Ulrich was in Europe in 2005 looking to purchase some major artworks when he got the idea to create a major new museum focusing on musical instruments.  Using his Target store opening experience, he set a very ambitious goal of having the museum open in five years.  This is unheard of in museum circles where even planning and fundraising for a museum expansion or renovation can take decades, let alone one that had no land, no collection and no staff.

Ulrich immediately hired Rich Varda (who oversees Target’s team of store designers) as the main architect to create the building and exhibition displays.  He also hired Bille R. DeWalt, a cultural anthropologist (University of Pittsburgh) as the founding president and director to guide the development. 

True to his word, the Musical Instrument Museum opened five years later, in April 2010. The $250 million dollar museum has five huge galleries devoted to Africa and Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and the United States and Canada. There are almost 300 vignettes, each with historical instruments from the country, related artifacts and a short video about the people and the instruments.

With the videos using the latest Wi-Fi technology, you don’t have to press any buttons. As soon as you get near the videos, the headphones you are provided with pick up the sound and all you need to do is listen. The museum also has a theatre for concerts, a conservation lab and an “experience gallery” where visitors can play the instruments.  You could easily spend all day there. They even have a two-day pass to allow you to come back if you haven’t given yourself enough time to digest everything in one day.

My only complaint is the museum is located at the edge of the city, making it accessible only by car. It’s unfortunate it wasn’t designed as an anchor for a new urban village or perhaps closer to some of the other Phoenix museums to create a museum district.

The guitar exhibition in the lobby.

Lyre guitar, France, c. 1815. I loved the mask, folk-art quality of this guitar

Harp guitar, Germany, 1994 (replica of 1920 harp-guitar by W.J.Dyer % Bros.)

The integration of the local costumes relating to the music and culture was impressive.

A framed collection of harmonicas.

The trumpet call harmonica was probably my favourite piece. 

The evolution of the bag pipes.

Binzasara (rattle), 20th century, wood and rope

One of the five exhibition gallery spaces each the size of a Target store.

Look from the second floor galleries to the lobby below.

Footnotes:

The Musical Instrument Museum is impressive not only as a music museum, but also as an art museum and a cultural history museum.  It is definitely a must see if you are in Phoenix.  

When you think of Phoenix you don't think of it as a cultural mecca.  However after spending six days in the Phoenix and area my image of the city changed significantly because of the impressive museums we visited. And we only visited a few.

Here is quick list Phoenix museums: 

  • Phoenix Museums
  • Phoenix Art Museum
  • The Heard Museum
  • Arizona State University Art Museum
  • Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology
  • Arizona Science Centre
  • Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright's School of Architecture)
  • Desert Botanical Garden  

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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?

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



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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Graceland Bah, Humbug!

By Richard White, January 28, 2014

Graceland has never been on my bucket list. But when in Memphis, it seems like the thing one ought to do and we got caught up in the hype.  We, along with thousands of others, including bus loads of elementary school kids (shouldn't they be in school to learn real important things anymore?) arrived at the same time we did, which made for a long line up to get in.  In Disneyesque fashion, we were channelled into holding pens where we waited our turn be herded through like cattle - 20 or so at a time on to shuttle buses.  Not a good start!

Let the tour begin. 

Poor Boy's Taste

The mansion was not as grand as I expected. In fact, it isn’t as grand as many acreages or mansion in many cities in North America including Memphis. I was expecting some extravagant and futuristic home like something from a James Bond movie or a Jetsons cartoon. It is a stark reminder of just how our lifestyles have changed.  What was luxurious 50 years ago is commonplace or even archaic today. As well, I need to keep in mind the house and décor reflected the tastes of a poor boy’s rapid rise to fame and fortune. 

The living room.

The Billiard Room is completely draped in the cloth. Not my taste.

Tacky Tacky

The Jungle room was tacky, the kitchen was primitive and the bedroom would not be considered extravagant by today’s standards.  It certainly lacked the castle-like sense of scale or opulence of a real King.

How many gold records can you look at or how many outfits with flashy buttons/sequins with deep V-neck shirts and bell-bottom pants do you need to take pictures of?

There is a whole room full of gold records. 

Just a few of the costume displays that you will encounter during your Graceland tour. 

There are lots of movie posters in the Graceland tour.

Waste of time

Once out of Elvis’ Graceland homestead you are invited to view his Car Museum, Tupelo (his actual birthplace) History Gallery, two planes and several (surprise, surprise) gift shops at your leisure.  There is also a diner which serves Elvis’ favourite sandwich - grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich, which I must admit, is very tasty.

The Car Museum is good for a 10-minute walk through – what is it about rock and roll stars and their cars, especially Cadillac.  The museum also has golf carts and a tractor - boy toys! The planes are a waste of time in my mind and in that of several others who we befriended on and after the tour. 

Yes this is the pink Cadillac.

Some of Elvis' toys in the Car Museum.

This is the inside of the Elvis plane.  It is dark and drab with plastic over everything...nothing to see here folks, move along. 

Surprises 

Seems like you really should be an Elvis fan if you go to Graceland.  One Chicago woman who was part of our tour, a self confessed Elvis worshipper, said she was moved to tears a couple of times.  A friend who had done the tour a couple of days earlier and who is also a BIG Elvis fan was gaga about the experience.

There were some surprises. Like I didn’t know he had a twin brother Jessie who died at childbirth and I wasn’t alone in this gap in my Elvis trivia knowledge.  I was also not aware of the extent of his philanthropy.  And who knew he had his own racquetball court? 

The racquet ball court with the horse pasture behind.  

Hands-on

As a former museum/art gallery professional, it struck me strange there are no real hands-on or interactive experiences.  Where is the Elvis impersonator (or Elvis tribute artist as they like to be called) performing for you? What about a place to listen to his music and maybe a dance floor? What about “dance like Elvis” lessons?  What about a karaoke opportunity to make you own video? 

What about a pink Cadillac with Elvis in the driver’s seat where you can sit next to him and get your picture taken?  Maybe a place to dress like Elvis and take pictures? There is a tacky mural you can get your picture taken, as you line-up waiting for the shuttle but really, this is the 21st century.

Interestingly, the tour also doesn’t tell the tragic story of the last years of Elvis’ life, which, while sad, should be part of the story.  

Elvis' is buried at Graceland along with some of his family.  If you want to pay your respects, you have to come here. 

Better Tours 

I wouldn’t recommend the Graceland Tour unless you are a diehard Elvis fan and that is not just me talking, I heard this same comment from several others.  Take another look at the images in this blog and you have pretty much taken the tour.  

If you really want to understand the evolution of music in the 20th century the Sun Studio, Stax Museum and Rock and Soul Museum tours are well worth the investment of time and money. You will even get a good appreciation of Elvis' role in the shaping modern music and see lots of Elvis artifacts.

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International Blues Challenge Showcase

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City

Don't let the modest entrance to Sun Studios fool you, inside is wonderful tour with some of the best tour guides we have seen in awhile.

The STAX Museum tells the most comprehensive story of 20th century music in a fun and engaging manner.  

Reader Comments:

CW writes:  You made it to Memphis and face to face with the Elvis Conundrum - the beauty of rock and roll and the mess of his home are all the same piece. I believe the way into both is through his relationship to his mother, which you hint at when you mention his twin. Congrats on the visit. I hope to do it someday.

I'm surprised that you were surprised by your visit. I think you were victim to the dictum: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Tell me, were they selling the Guralnick bio volumes there?

FYI, a really fun essay on the tackiness of Graceland and Elvis memorabilia is found in the book the Elvis Reader, where the author visits people digging through a metaphorical mountain of the stuff. Of course it's the people who are significant, not the stuff - just like the real Graceland. 


Memphis Blues Competition: International Showcase

By Richard White, January 21, 2014

The Calgary boys - Tim Williams and Mike Clarke Band - are going to have to "kick-it-up-a-notch" if they want to win the International Blues Competition that started today at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis.

The Brat Pack from the Philippines set the bar high with a young keyboardist who could be this generation's Jerry Lee Lewis with his flying fingers and infectious smile and enthusiasm.  The entire four person band was on fire, especially the keyboardist and drummer.  The Brat Pack was the only group to get a standing ovation - not bad for a band where all the members are in their early  20s.  The Brat Pack was one of two bands from the Philippines in this year's International Showcase. 

RJ Pineda enjoys the spotlight. His fingers were literally a blur to the naked eye.  He didn't miss a note!

The audience sat attentively.  It was sitting on the floor room only.

From the Brat Pack's Facebook page: 

It is the uncommon blend of old and new that ultimately sets The Brat Pack apart from their contemporaries. Armed with their own unique style, a fusion of blues, jazz, soul, and pop, they can put their own unique spin on modern tunes, and slip comfortably into the tried-and-true standards of yesterday with ease.

Bassist David de Koenigswarter, an Eric Clapton enthusiast whose family tree attests to the fact that music literally is in his blood, being the grandson of the famous Nica Rothschild de Koenigswarter, Pianist RJ Pineda, who you might remember as one of Promil’s Gifted Children, a child prodigy whose repertoire spans from Rachmaninoff to Ray Charles; Allan Abdulla, a St. Scholasticas Conservatory of Music, also a part of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra who really takes his drumming to the next level at every performance and Christine Mercado, a spunky/charismatic vocalist who finished Music Production at the College of St. Benilde and has been singing jazz and blues since the tender age of 4. 

The Blues Powder Band from France was ranked second best by the guy from Kansas City sitting in front of us.  He was more than willing to share his rankings with us. This was his second IBC and he said he was hooked after last year's experience.

Lead singer Joe Elbaz and his Blues Angels from Israel put on a great performance also.  The best band competition is going to be tough. 

Surprises

Kicking off the festival was the International Showcase with 12 groups (solo, duo, bands) playing short sets over a three hour period.  As expected, the quality of the music was very high; however the quality of the showmanship was a big surprise. The Blues truly has evolved into an international cult.

What was even more surprising was the audience was almost totally white.  I could have been in Calgary's Blues Can, Ironwood or Mikey's based on the skin colour of the audience.  I couldn't help but wonder "What would Robert Johnson think about the international scope of the 21st century blues scene, if he was still alive?" 

The festival has been going on for 30 years, but it seems to have taken off only recently.  I overheard someone say, "I have never seen so many people in this building." 

Canada is well represented this year. In the International showcase, Tracy K and Jamie Steinhoff from Thunder Bay represented us well, paying homage to Winnipeg's Big Dave McLean as their mentor and one of the most influential blues performers in Canada's blues history.  

Tracy K and Jamie Steinhoff represented Canada well. 

Flex Slim from Barcelona, Spain was a true blues traditionalist.  

Polar Bear Blues

We have also met lots of Canadians while flaneuring the streets of Memphis - Chatham, Winnipeg and Kitchener.  On Thursday, the Ottawa Blues Society is presenting the Polar Bear Blues Showcase (great acts from the north), with the first 200 guests getting a complimentary "Canadian" beverage.  

The competition starts tomorrow, but already the event is a huge success in the eyes of the dozen or so Calgarians who are here ready to cheer on the Calgary Boys! 

The Jan Galach Band from Poland mixed strong vocals and violin harmonies. 

International Showcase program:

  • Herbie & Guitarguy (Netherlands)
  • Kingpin Trio (Philippines)
  • Tim Lothar & Holger Daub (Germany)
  • Tracy K & Jamie Steinhoff (Canada)
  • Joe Elbaz & Blues Angles (Israel)
  • Zamba (Croatia)
  • Naffis & Massarutto (Italy)
  • Brat Pack (Philippines)
  • Felix Slim (Spain)
  • Jan Galach Band (Poland)
  • Chris O'Connor (Australia)
  • Blues Power Band (France)