Ferrari Fun in Priddis, AB

Richard White, July 21, 2014 

My California T (Cali T, to those in the know) almost didn’t happen.  Brenda brought in our mail and seeing the invitation from Ferrari of Alberta and knowing I am not a big car guy, threw it in the paper-recycling bin (in her defense, I am not a big car guy). A few days later she happened to ask, “do you know why you got an invitation to a Ferrari event?” I didn’t have a clue, but the idea of Ferrari event captured my interest so she retrieved it from the big blue bin. Turns out it was an invitation to test-drive their new redesigned California T at the tony Azuridge Estate Hotel in Priddis.  Too tempting to pass up!

Though I had no idea what a California T was, I thought this could be a fun experience.  As an opportunist, I am always looking for new experience so I signed up. By chance, later that week, while having lunch at Da Guido Ristorante, who do I meet but Carlo Galasso the owner of the Ferrari of Alberta dealership.    When I told him I had signed up for a test drive but was questioning if I should go as I am definitely not in the market for a new car let alone a new Ferrari, he convinced me to go, adding I wouldn’t be disappointed.

When I arrived they had two blue Cali Ts waiting for a test drive. Where was the red one?

Ferrari 101

I arrived early, wanting to check out the Azuridge Estate Hotel.  While waiting, I was introduced to Dante Luciani, Sales Manager for Ferrari of Alberta who was a wealth of knowledge.  Who knew there are 600 Ferrari owners in Alberta and that on a per capita basis, Calgary has the highest Ferrari ownership in Canada.  And, there are half a dozen owners in the city who buy a new Ferrari every year.  I also learned that Ferrari only makes 7,000 cars per year so it is not surprising the waiting list for a Ferrari in Calgary is currently 6 to 8 months.   Not to worry, while you are waiting for your new toy, you can get a pre-owned vehicle - probably one of the vehicles owned by the six guys buying a new one every year. 

He gave me the lowdown on the Cali T (as he called it); the most memorable thing I learned was the car can do 300km/hr.  He also informed me the car has 7 gears, which has more to do with reducing emission controls than performance. The Cali T starts at $239K with no ceiling - there is a tailor made program that allows you and your local dealer to go to the factory in Maranello, Italy to custom design your car.  He told me Ferrari owners have exotic tastes, incorporating things like python leather seats and teak wood into their custom cars.  

I found the red one and jumped in? I think Cali and I make an attractive couple?

The Test

Finally, it came time to get in the car for the test drive with a professional driver in the passenger seat. I jumped in and was immediately confused. Where are the clutch and the stick?  I was quickly informed it was an automatic with paddles.   In fact, you can’t even get a traditional manual transmission.  This just didn’t seem right. One of the great things about driving a sports car is that you get to control the engine, not just steer the car.  You get to feel the power.  This was not a good start for me – damn those computers.

However, when I turned on the engine, the roar didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, I couldn’t peel out of the driveway, as the Azure hotel is located at the end of a gravel road so we had to wait until we got to pavement to let ‘er rip. 

The paddles worked better than I thought, but I really would rather have a clutch and stick, somehow it seems more manly.  And, yes I did managed to get a little tire squeal pulling out onto Highway 22.  Fortunately, there was not much traffic so I was able to test the 300km/hr limit passing another vehicle (later I was told when behind another Sunday afternoon driver getting ready to put the pedal to the metal that I shouldn’t pass; I think I caught the professional driver off guard when I just took off – oops). Though I didn’t get it all the way to 300km/hr, I have no doubt it could do 300km/hr with no problem. 

But seriously, test driving Cali T was a great (but too short) experience. I couldn’t believe how comfortable the ride was – you could definitely take this car on a long road trip.  There certainly was no comparison to my Mustang GT or my brother-in-law’s Mustang Cobra. 

Cali would be very comfortable to drive in the city too – no worries about bottoming out or constant gear change, just pure driving joy.  The seats and ride were as comfortable as any car I have ever ridden in.

Facing Reality

Though not a big car guy, there must be something in a guy’s DNA that makes him love the power of a sports car.   I am already thinking maybe if I buy a lottery ticket every week, I just might get lucky one week and win enough to buy my own Cali T.  Or maybe now that I am on Ferrari of Alberta’s invitation list, I might get another invite. 

Buying an expensive car must be like buying an expensive artwork or bottle of wine – you really have to appreciate what you are buying.  As a modest art collector, I have often wondered what it would be like owning a really expensive piece of art; now I am also wondering what it would be like to own a great sports car.

Time to return to reality. I got back into my 2010 Nissan Altima S (“S” for slow) and quietly rode back to the city.  I was missing Cali T already.

Engine as sculpture?

I think I have seen something like this in an art gallery before.

I wonder what just the engine would cost?

I wonder what just the engine would cost?

After the test drive I was presented with this lithography of is probably the only Cali I will ever own :(

PS  Yes, there is room for two sets of clubs in the trunk if you put the back seats down.

PPS Thank you Ferrari of Alberta for a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

PPPS Brenda promised never to again toss out anything from Ferrari of Alberta again.

The Azuridge Estate Hotel is a hidden gem in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  It would make for a great quickie get-away

Reader Comments:

I am always amazed at some of the comments I get from my blogs and how people relate them to other events.

DF writes: Sounds like that was a lot of fun. I’m on a waiting list for one, too – I’m waiting for the Bank of Canada to fall from the sky so I can pay for one.

 I wonder what owning one would really be like, though. Years ago, I read the memoirs of Mike McGear, Paul McCartney’s brother, about the time Mike took a drive during the ‘60s of one of George Harrison’s European sports cars.

 A quick “vroomska,” as Mike put it, and he was suddenly rocketing down the road at more than 100 mph, having barely shifted. Mike parked the car on the side of the road, turned off the ignition and walked back to Harrison’s house.

 Shortly thereafter, socialite Tara Browne, an heir to the Guinness brewing fortune, smashed into the back of a parked lorry in London while driving a Lotus Elan sports car, killing himself (apparently, he was going 170 kmh, or 106 mph). He only had a few months to go before he came of age and could inherit millions of pounds, back when a pound was really worth something.

The accident inspired John Lennon to write A Day in the Life after reading a newspaper that contained a story about a coroner’s verdict on Tara –  and also an article about the infamous holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, that were so many, they could fill the Albert Hall.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Paintball: Game or Cult?

Stampede Park: Art Gallery / Museum

Richard White, July 7, 2014

Today I had a few hours between meetings so I decided to flaneur Stampede Park looking for some fun, funky and quirky things.  I was not disappointed.  I quickly found lots of people climbing and milling about the massive bronze sculpture "By the banks of the Bow."  I loved the fact that people were using the artwork like a playground. 

I also found the children's midway rides bordered on public art and playgrounds with their bright colours, shapes and forms.  It seemed their were historical murals everywhere I looked. Even in the animal barns I found the metal and wooden calf  in the demo roping area to be sculptural. 

Of course, the RoundUp Centre had been converted into a large gallery space, with strong traditional Western Art bent, but I also found some contemporary pieces, as well as some fascinating historical photos, a quilt show and some Stampede Queen fashions from the past 60 years.

The biggest surprise was wandering around the lobby of the Stampede Corral and finding old photos of hockey players, curling and figure skating.  It was like a mini sports hall of fame. 

Before I knew it my 2 hours were up and I had to rush off...but I will be back...I know there are more artworks and artifacts to be uncovered. 

Stampede Park as an art gallery

"By the banks of the Bow" is a massive bronze sculpture that serves as a great meeting place.  It is a popular photo spot and also a wonderful work of art that enhances the sense of place at Stampede Park.

The "Lollipop" ride reminds me of the two public artworks by Jeff de Boer at the Calgary International Airport. 

This looks like something the surrealists would have done.

A close up of horse sculpture which didn't do much for me from a distance, but I loved the shapes, surfaces, patterns and colours up close.

This photo of a First Nation Dancer caught my eye for its colour and movement.

Alberta Blue by Wanda Ellerbeck was completed as part of the Stampede Ranch program where each year artists get to spend time on the range for inspiration. I am always amazed at how contemporary artists interpret their ranching experience.  This would be a good addition to our collection.

Stampede as a museum

It is hard to believe this was Stephen Avenue. Today it is home to billion dollar skyscrapers, convention centres and museum. Today $5 would get you larger latte at Cafe Rosso.

Who knew Calgary had such a long history of playing cricket.  Today Calgary has no passenger train service?

Urban agriculture is not new.

Loved this map from both an art and artifact perspective.

There is an wonderful exhibition of about 20 Stampede Queen outfits from the '50s to present day, each in their own display case.  It reminded me of the Elvis costumes i saw in Memphis at the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio Museum. Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum and Graceland.

Stampede Park as a sports hall of fame

The photos in the lobby of the Stampede Corral is literally a who's who of hockey in Canada.

There is also some curling history

An everyday tourist reader responded with: 

Cool piece, the “Frenchy” D’Amour photo would be from the 1948 Brier that was held in Calgary – probably at the Corral. The advertising was interesting to see on the scoreboard - “Smoke British Consols” which were a brand of MacDonald’s tobacco products.

The Brier playdowns into the 80’s were know as the Consols playdowns. The dude with the raccoon coat was David Stewart son of the owner of MacDonald Tobacco. David Stewart later became a Senator.


This figure skating photo intrigued me.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Public Art & Playgrounds

Graceland Bah Humbug!

How I spent Canada Day – In Rosemary Alberta

Lawrence Braul, guest blogger, July 2, 2014

For many city residents, the way the country folk celebrate Canada Day is a mystery.  We know the city has hundreds of events and we can pick and chose the ones that are nearby or attend the ones that sound most interesting.  How does this differ from what the country folks do on Canada Day?

This Canada Day we celebrated with family and friends in Rosemary, Alberta (180 kilometres south and east of Calgary Alberta on highway #550). We return to our agricultural roots on Canada Day because it is fun and a great time to reconnect with family and friends who are too busy farming during summer to take any time off. We also rekindle what it feels like to be in a friendly rural community that is far “closer” than anything in the city.

When Neil Klassen pulls up with his red 1952 Ford two ton for the Parade, everyone will know that he spent time in the winter developing something new. This year he added a perpetual pump on the back of the flat deck. The pump ran continuously but never filled up the pail!

Zelma, now in her 80’s, is driving the truck that idles down the street in perfect condition. She tosses candies out the window, waves, and shakes her head as if to say, “He is still making me do this wacky stuff!” but she smiles and loves it too. You can just tell that they both enjoy Canada Day. When Neil’s truck isn’t in the Rosemary Canada Day Parade, there will be some sadness too.

The Baerg family has a large tree lot and why not advertise in the Parade? They found a way to build a little forest and put up a picnic scene on their trailer to simply say, “and why are you not sitting in the shade?”

And of course there are restored cars, trucks, and tractors all of which are the product of a winter project over the years. My personal favorite is a big 1950 Diamond T semi truck with a small sleeper that truckers used to use for a quick nap or sleep on the road.  It still looks like it can kick some ass.

The Big Show

As the parade winds down, the cars line the street for the Annual Rosemary Show and Shine. There is a wide assortment of hot rods, antiques, and someone’s 1984 Chevy ½ ton that the owner still thinks looks pretty special.  Nephew, Jason Baerg, has his restored 1973 VW Bug entered in the Show and Shine. He has it in every year and some year he might even win something. That’s why you enter the big show.

The food tents pop up and some are out to raise money for a good cause.  Stars Air Ambulance is featured by one family whose son was ejected from a side-by-side and suffered major injuries including a ruptured spleen and a brain hemorrhage. They have pictures of the lad in the hospital and he is there laughing and talking to folks who are filing by for either chicken on a bun or on a skewer.

Canada Food Grains bank is popular in the area and a local farmer, Erv Dyck, has donated the proceeds of a ¼ section. Everyone is volunteering to do some of the work to bring the crop in. Every bushel donated is matched 4 to 1 so the gift adds up to something pretty substantial.

Rosemary is an interesting village. With a population of less than 700, it is a unique agricultural area that is gaining a reputation for the production of high quality seed, alfalfa, and leaf cutter bees. The Eastern Irrigation District expanded into the Rosemary district after the Bassano dam was built in 1914. Hot summers and less wind mean the farmers here can grow crops that don’t do as well elsewhere.

Bees Knees

If you are driving past a farm and see lots of shelters in the field, chances are that the farmer is raising leaf cutter bees for export. US farmers can’t keep their bees disease free and bees are necessary to pollinate crops.  Farmers in the Rosemary area have been raising leaf cutter bees for 50 years and they are now really taking off as a specialty crop. Honey bees are pollinators too and their population has collapsed in recent years.  

Leaf cutter bees are great pollinators and next week, brother-in-law Rob Baerg is hosting an Agricultural Study tour on his farm for up to 450 farmers who want to know more about this industrious insect. They get their name from the fact that they cut alfalfa leaves to use as nesting material for the eggs that are laid by the female bees. There is no queen bee in a hive and if you saw one you would say they look like a large brown fly. They fill small bore holes in a large tray that the farmer takes inside after it is full of freshly laid eggs. 

Every year there is something new in the Parade. This year someone decided to build a model of the Bassano dam. The dam was threatened in the historic June 2013 flood of the Bow and Elbow River. The combined force of these two rivers almost knocked out the dam and without a dam, you don’t have an irrigation system. In appreciation, he made a model complete with running water and water means alot to the farmers in the EID.

On this warm July day, many are running back and forth to check the sprinklers and pivots they have running. Live, work, play takes on a different meaning in rural communities. 

Everyday Tourist Footnote:

There is an old saying "everyone loves a parade" and it is certainly true in small towns everywhere.  On Canada Day, I was golfing in Redwood Meadows, 35 kilometres west of Calgary and about 11 am we heard the fire engine tooting its horn and dozens of kids following behind on their bikes decorated with Canadian flags.  

It is true, there is a different sense of "community and country" in rural communities than urban ones.  While their is a strong pioneer spirit across the prairies, it is much stronger in small towns and villages where "everybody does know your name" is not just a moniker for some TV bar in downtown Boston. Life is not as abstract in rural communities.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Revealing Prairie Gothic

Travels in small towns in North America

Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek, SK 

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town?




Paintball: Game or Cult?

By Richard White, June 8, 2014

Reader response: "I read your blog re paint ball and it made me sick.  I cannot understand how intellegent people could even think about using guns for pleasure (nevermind hunting) No wonder there are so many shootings in the US especially some people just don't know the difference between shooting paint at one another and using real bullets hense the shootings. I know none of you will agree with me and that is alright I just had to let you know how I feel."

EDT: I too had a similar thought, but tried to focus on the fun people seemed to be having, however, the whole experience was too real for me. 

Paintball: Game or Cult?

When we asked my nephew what he wanted to do for his 17th birthday, he quickly said “Paintball!”  Yikes…this could be interesting for his two 60-year old uncles (another uncle was going to be in town and he wanted to do a joint gift). We were thinking (even hoping) golf, maybe even zip lining.

But being good sports, we decided to “man up” and go paintballing.  It couldn’t have been easier. Bragg Creek Paintball is just down the road from Redwood Meadows Golf course where the two uncles would be playing golf in the morning.

We arrived at 3 pm and the parking lot was packed; who knew paintball was so popular.  I was a bit intimidated by all the people, male and female, some in full fatigue gear all carrying guns. But in some ways, it is not much different than golfers with their custom-fitted clubs and their matching designer shirts, shorts and shoes.   

A large group of players head out to one of the many different themed fields at Bragg Creek Paintball. 

This guy was covered in welts and was showing them off to everyone.  I think he played without any coveralls or protective clothing.  

Game On

We rented the standard gun, overalls, helmet and 200 balls. I had been told to wear lots of clothing to cushion the blow of the paint balls and to expect to get some welts before it was over. Really, people like paying to do this? Indeed they do!

Since there were only three of us, we were paired up with others to play a game.  It was all very well organized; everyone was friendly and there was even a guy who explained the rules and signalled, “game on.” 

The first game entailed a group of about a dozen people trying to flush out six people in a tower (I was not one of the tower people).  We had to hit the tower people in the head to eliminate them from the game (this meant they could absorb as many body hits as they could stand). They had to hit us in the head or vital organ area twice to remove us from the game.

This photo is taken from outside the screened-in playing area. Here, two people are strategizing how to flush out someone behind an old school bus.

The paintball field was full of repurposed items like school buses and cars.

The Town

I couldn’t believe how serious these people were. It was intense gunfire continuously for about 20 minutes – no wonder everything in The Town (that is the name for the area we played in) was covered in an inch of paint (all colours) that looked like something Jackson Pollock might have painted back in the ‘60s.

People were running around shooting what seemed like randomly.  I pretty much stayed in the same place and said, “I will cover you!” Not really knowing if I could, but it sounded good and I think they believed me. I later found out the other uncle had pretty much the same strategy; maybe we do get smarter with age. 

I think our team won the first game, but it took forever to flush the guys out of the tower. The last guy standing seemed very proud that he would have several welts to show off to his friends the next day.

We played a second game where there were two teams of 8 each defending a tower at opposite ends of the field. It was pretty much the same as the first game – CHAOS!  Again, I just stayed behind a wall and fired long distance, while my nephew crawled along the grass and up into the trees like some Navy Seal.  Who knew speed skating training (his real passion) is transferable to military maneuvers!

A map illustrating the many different themed playing fields.  

I managed to get inside the playing field between games to get this photo of The Town.

Game Over

After ninety minutes, the two uncles had had enough so we gave our nephew our extra balls (we were snipers) as he had run out.  Off he went to play a couple more games with strangers who seemed delighted to have another player to shoot at.

I couldn’t believe how keen he was to keep playing. There used to be an old saying “you won’t be happy, until someone has poked out an eye.” At paintball, it seems “nobody is happy, until they have a few welts to show for it.” One guy came in with a swollen hand that wouldn’t stop shaking as it had been hit several times.  He was in obvious pain, but seemed proud that he would have a swollen hand in the morning.  These people’s brains are definitely wired differently from mine.

Thirty minutes later, my nephew ran out of paint balls signalling it was time to go home.  Later that night, he too proudly showing us his welts (legs, groin, chin and belly) not once, but several times. It was like they were medals of honour.

It will be a birthday I (hopefully he too) will not soon forget. I am pleased to report that both uncles managed to escape welt-free - old guys rule! 

Nephew walking off after being hit in the head - there was a big smile under his helmet. 

Last Word

Paintball seemed very cult-like to me.  Yet, I remember when I attended my first major bingo (fundraiser for a public art gallery) and was surprised by the bingo culture - people wearing lucky hats and sweaters and surrounded by multiple bingo cards and an assortment of daubers (when one would do). It seemed cult-like! I had the same feeling when I worked my first casino.

Since then, I have realized many have a religious-like zeal for hobbies and/or activities that seems irrational to others - quilters, golfers, cyclists, runners and gardeners to name a few. I know my passion and that of my small group of summer binge golfers could easily be perceived by some sort of cult by some.

Merriam Webster Dictionary has several definitions of a cult:

  • a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous
  • a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much
  • a small group of very devoted supporters or fans 

Perhaps it is human nature to belong to a cult!


Reader response: "I read your blog re paint ball and it made me sick.  I cannot understand how intellegent people could even think about using guns for pleasure (nevermind hunting) No wonder there are so many shootings in the US especially some people just don't know the difference between shooting paint at one another and using real bullets hense the shootings. I know none of you will agree with me and that is alright I just had to let you know how I feel."

EDT: I too had a similar thought, but tried to focus on the fun people seemed to be having, however, the whole experience was too real for me. 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

FFQing in Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture

A flaneuring quickie!

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

By Richard White,  June1 , 2014

(An edited version of this blog appeared in the New Condos section of the Calgary Herald, titled "Vibrant vision fires up Glenbow fans" on Saturday, May 31, 2014)

Great cities have great museums! New York City has several - Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Paris has the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musee d’Orsay and Rodin Museum.  Everyday tens of thousands of locals and visitors invade the city centres of London and Paris to be entertained, educated and enlightened by a museum experience.  The diversity and quality of the museum experience is critical to understanding of a city’s history and sense of place, both for locals and tourists.  The importance of museums in defining a city was reinforced during our recent 6-week US road trip, where we toured 24 different museums and art galleries in places like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Denver and Helena.

In Calgary, the Glenbow Museum is both our art and history museum.  For many years now it has struggled with this dual role.  Attendance and membership have not grown over the past 25 years despite the city’s doubling of population, as well as the number of its downtown workers.  

Recently, Donna Livingstone celebrated her one-year anniversary as Glenbow’s President & CEO. I thought it was timely to check in with her learn about her plans for the Glenbow.

The Building

Livingstone was quick to say the Glenbow has no plans to move out of the downtown. In fact, the current Glenbow building is in very good shape and what is needed is just modest renovations to the exterior and interior exhibition spaces.

She reminded me that when the Glenbow was designed and built (in the mid to late ‘60s), 9th Avenue was THE place to be with its new Calgary Tower, Convention Centre and hotel, as well as the train station and the grand Palliser Hotel. Today, 8th Avenue has become Calgary’s signature street so the museum needs to re-orient its entrance to the northside.  Her vision includes a new welcoming Stephen Avenue Walk entrance with an enhanced gallery shop, cafe and bold new signage.

Livingstone would also like to see the second floor look like a contemporary art gallery, not a convention centre space. This could be accomplished with a new ceiling and lighting, as well as the removal of the carpet to allow for a polished concrete floor, a relatively “mini-makeover” so to speak. 

Livingstone is looking at a mega-makeover of the third floor, which, in the past, has always been reserved for a major history exhibition that is on view for 10+ years without any changes (often leading to the comment “nothing ever changes at the Glenbow”).

She sees this floor becoming a multi-purpose space for art, artefacts, readings and performances that explore both the new West to the old West from multiple perspectives, genres and artistic practices. Using in-house expertise, combined with guest curators and other cultural groups locally, nationally and internationally, she wants to aggressively program the space to tell Calgary, southern Alberta and Western Canada stories. It is an ambitious and compelling vision that integrates and hybridizes modern art practices with historical documentation. It is the beginning of what she calls “a new kind of art museum.”  

As the fourth floor doesn’t have the high ceilings needed for today’s contemporary art and history exhibitions, her vision is to transform this space into a “hands-on” educational gallery for people of all ages and backgrounds.  In addition to the educational activities, it will include display cases filled with art and artifacts from the Glenbow’s collection that will rotate on a regular basis so “there will always be something new at the Glenbow!”

The Glenbow from 9th Avenue looking northwest. 

Many many years ago I attended a visioning workshop on Downtown Calgary and the group I was in looked at how the Glenbow and the Calgary Tower might look in the future.  This is the image we create of the future Glenbow.  

Glenbow's entrance from Stephen Avenue Walk.

While regular passenger train service not longer exists in Calgary, Downtown's 9th Avenue is home to the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion, which houses the vintage early 20th century passenger cars.  

Building Partnerships

One of Livingstone’s greatest assets is that she is a Calgarian; she knows the community and key players. Over the past year, one of her priorities has been to foster the Glenbow’s relationships and build new community partnerships. So, in addition to working with art gallery and museum groups like Alberta College of Art, Military Museums, Fort Calgary, University of Calgary and Contemporary Calgary (formerly the Art Gallery of Calgary, Triangle Gallery and Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art), she has also reached out to theatre and literary groups to let them know the “new Glenbow” is open and keen to work with them to bring its exhibitions and collection to life.  She is also working with the Calgary Stampede to create something celebrate our cowboy and western culture year round.

One recently example of a new partnership was with Calgary’s Verb Theatre who perform “Of Fighting Age” right in the gallery space containing the “Transformation: A.Y. Jackson & Otto Dix” exhibition (an exhibition of war art on loan from the National War Museums). For Livingstone and those who attended, the synergy of the visual and performance art was illuminating.

Building Community Support

The Glenbow’s signature fundraiser, SCHMANCY, has been recognized by Maclean’s magazine as one of the top five power galas in the country.  This year’s raucous evening of art and culture featured the likes of Bryan Adams, Rebecca Norton (Kung Fu Panties) and George Stroumboulopoulos. This is the new Glenbow – young, cheeky and schmancy. Oh yes, it also raised $280,000!

Exhibitions like “Made in Calgary: The ‘90s at Glenbow” by guest curator Nancy Tousley - with its 100 artworks by 55 artists - are critical to fostering the support of the local visual art community, something the Glenbow and most major Canadian art galleries struggle with. 

From June 7 to August 24, 2014, the Glenbow will feature Calgary’s young (under 40 years of age) whimsical glass art collective Bee Kingdom in an exhibition titled “Iconoclast In Glass.” To enhance visitors’ appreciation of glass art, the Bee Kingdom’s exhibition will be paired with an exhibition showcasing the Glenbow’s collection of historical and contemporary glass (which happens to be the largest in Canada).

In the past, the emerging and established local artists would often complain the Glenbow was ignoring their work.  This is no longer true!

The Bee Kingdom have exhibited their tiny, fun colourful creatures internationally and are now  at the Glenbow.

Last Word

For Livingstone, the duality of the being both art and history museum is something she wants to capitalize on, not complain about. With the largest, most diverse collection of art and artifacts in Western Canada (three times more art than the Vancouver Art Gallery), one of the largest collection of corporate head offices in North America in her backyard, as well as one of the strongest and most diverse cultural communities in Canada, she feels the Glenbow is well positioned to become the “new type of art museum” she envisions.

That is, a museum that tells the story of Calgary’s “sense of place: past, present and future” to Calgarians and visitors.  A museum that integrates historical and contemporary multi-discipline story-telling experiences which speak to everyone.  And, a museum that offer programs at noon hour, happy hour, weekday and weekends!

The fact Livingstone has no money to do any of the physical and programming changes she envisions doesn’t seem to faze her. She is confident the Glenbow will become Calgary’s the great museum (my words not hers) that Calgary deserves. It will be very interesting to watch the Glenbow’s transformation over the next few years. 

Donna Livingstone showing off her lassoing abilities.  A new kind of art museum, needs a new kind of President & CEO! (Photo credit: Calgary Herald)

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


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



International Blues Competition 2014

By Richard White, January 23/24, 2014

Where to go? Who to see? When to see them? The schedule for the competition was finally published yesterday at noon and everyone was quickly scrambling to figure out where and when their favourites were playing.

Tim Williams plays for the judges on Day 1.  Williams successfully moves to the semi-finals. 

Sure enough, the two Calgary participants were playing within a few minutes of each other at different venues – Mike Clark Band (MCB) at 7:20 and Tim Williams at 7:30. Even though the venues are only a block away, it wasn’t really possible to see them both.  Most of the Calgary contingent went to see MCB, but when we got there early, we found the room very loud so decided to check out the single/duo acts at Jerry Lee Lewis (JLL) venue to catch Tim Williams.  Good decision. 

JLL is like a big old southern mansion, with big square rooms on the second floor that are very comfortable for intimate performances.  Good place for one scotch, one bourbon and one beer and to listen to some amazing performers.

The competition was strong and Tim’s set was very good. As one of the people at our table said, “he is unique,” which is so true. Of all the performers so, far he is perhaps the most traditional, playing songs deeply rooted in delta blues history.  However, it was strange to see Tim in a jacket and tie with his fancy saddle shoes.

The three blocks of Beale Street were hopping from late afternoon until after 1 am, with people popping in and out of venues trying to catch as many acts as possible. It was a tough call - do you just settle in someplace or do you want to frantically run around like a chicken with your head cut off?

Ghost Town Blues Band is a spiritual experience. Voodoo anyone? GTBB successfully move to semi-finals.

Pop-in / Pop-out Flaneuring

After a while it is tough to sit any longer and needed some fresh air, so I adopted the “pop-in/pop-out” technique.  I went up and down the street and dropped into a venue when I heard something interesting, stayed until the end of the set and then popped back out to flaneur down the block some more.

This worked very well as I got to see each of the venues and was able to catch a lot of good music. 

By the end of the evening the street was full of guitar cases. 

Highlights of the Night

The two bands that stood out for me were the Ghost Town Blues Band and the Randy Oxford Band.   I am a sucker for high energy and both these bands played their hearts and souls out.

The Ghost Town Blues Band, from Memphis, was a finalist in 2013 and it showed.  The six members have a synergy of the sound and visuals that includes a cigar-box guitar with trombone, sax and fun horn section that results what the program describes as “21st century blues at its best.”

The Randy Oxford Band (South Sound Blues Association) also features a trombone player i.e. Randy Oxford.  Maybe there is something about the trombone and me that I didn’t know.  Reading the program, I learned that the trombone was one of the original blues instruments featured in W.C. Handy’s band in Memphis in the early 1900s.   While Randy is the leader, all of the band members contribute equally to what was a highly entertaining performance – it makes you want to shake and smile!

The surprise performance of the night was Monica Morris and Josie Lowder (Central Illinois Blues Club) who are both from musical families. Monica is the voice and Lowder the fingers.  Together, they created great vocal harmonies.  The svelte Josie effortlessly made her guitar bend but not break and Monica sang with her heart on her sleeve. 

The After Party Jam

At about 11ish, after the competition was over, the after party jams broke out.  I headed to the New Daisy Theatre where the All-Star Jam hosted by John Richardson and Sean Carney.  It was an all-star night with three sax players and two keyboardists who were joined by an ever-rotating number of guitar players and drummers lined up back stage waiting to get on.

The evening was magical with almost everyone crowding the stage for an “up close and personal” experience that would be hard to beat anywhere anytime I expect.

Earlier in the day, we had been to Sun Studio and while no doubt it was a special time in Memphis’ history when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were all playing and recording at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel the 2014 edition of the International Blues Competition (30th anniversary) may become another great moment in the city’s long musical history. Maybe it is just the newbie in me talking?

The crowd at the New Daisy Theatre are luvn the energy, music and comaraderie at the midnight jam.

Calgary's Mike Clark wows them at the Thursday night All-Star Jam. 

If you like this blog you might like:

International Blues Competition: International Showcase

ON the beaten path with Yaktrax

By Richard White, January 4, 2014

What started off as a snowshoeing adventure turned into a Yaktrax walk.  Plans for a four-hour mountain snowshoeing expedition for three virgin snowshoers began to fall apart when everyone warned us that “maybe it isn’t a good idea to go for a four- hour walk your first time out.” Then one of our group had a bit of a health issue and we quickly decided maybe a regular walk in the mountains would be a better idea.

However, not wanting to be “expedition escapees” we opted to take a hike in the mountains without snowshoes.   Our fourth member, who is the hiker and beginner snowshoe guide for our group, suggested we all get Yaktrax and then find a “beaten path” somewhat “off the beaten” path so we could at least experience some of that “Rocky Mountain” high we had been hoping for.

A quick trip into lovely downtown Canmore and we were all equipped with our Yaktraxs.

Canmore is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and a mountain playground for international tourists, Albertans and especially Calgarians. 

Illustration of Yaktrax and how they work. 

Yaktrax yak!

Yaktrax, named after the sure-footed “Tibetan yak” are light-weight ice grips worn over your regular walking shoes, winter boots or running shoes when walking on packed snow and ice in the winter.  Or as our witty teammate said: “These are kinda like the old rubbers my Dad use to wear!”  Not quite – yes they do pull over any shoes - but they have coils on the bottom that provide hundreds of biting edges that sink into the snow or ice to give you traction. 

Yaktraxs were originally conceptualized when an outdoor adventurer, exploring the Himalayas, encountered a seasoned Sherpa striding confidently across the slick, icy surface using metal ice grips attached to his boots.  

Our companions got the PRO model with the Velcro straps…nothing but the best for our big spender friends. We opted for the cheaper Yaktrax Walkers model being the frugal flaneurs we are.

One option was to ditch the snowshoeing or walking and go skating as Canmore has a great skating pond.  However, we were looking for some adventure - we did go skating the next day.

The Canmore Nordic Centre was a winter wonderland for cross country skiers but we were just looking for a place to go for a walk. 

Let the Flaneuring Begin

We then headed to the Canmore Nordic Centre to see what suggestions they might have for a walk “ON” a beaten path in mountains. We quickly realized we could walk the service road around the nearby TransAlta hydro reservoir to the base of the Grassi Lakes Trail, a walk we had done this past summer.  The info guy at the Nordic Centre confirmed that we could walk around the reservoir in about 2 hours – perfect for us.

We really didn’t need the Yaktrax for the first 10 or 15 minutes, but soon we were in the snow and ice and yes, they do work.  It was almost as if we had been transformed into Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, i.e. the Canadian version of the Tibetan Yak, as we trekked into the base of the mountain trail.

The flaneuring took us to the TransAlta Hydro plant with the cascading waterfall and icefalls.  We saw some ice climbers that we would have liked to check out more closely but the path was “unbeaten,” and we weren’t up for testing the Yaktrax’s vertical climbing coefficient - horizontal and hilly traction was good enough for us. 


Near the end, two members of our expedition ventured “off the beaten path” (feeling confident the Yaktraxs would work even in powder snow) to check out a dead Simca.  How did a European vehicle end up in the bush in the Rockies?  Guess we will never know. After some oohing and aahing over the still shiny chrome bumpers and door handles it was time to move on.

Just minutes later they were off the beaten track again, this time to check out the tree house in the woods… a lovely two-story home, with wall-to-wall carpeting, a nice ladder, great views of the forest and no neighbours. A little further on, we encountered up close and personal two deer crossing right in front of us.

The walk was a photographer's dream with lots of material to work with, from realism to abstraction.  I wish I had a good camera. 


The service road almost looked too easy, but the vista was calling us. 

Soon we were scrambling in the mountain forest with babbling brooks.  

Soon we were scrambling in the mountain forest with babbling brooks.  

The ice formations were like abstract sculptures.  

The ice formations were like abstract sculptures. 

The man-made Simca seemed totally out of place in the park. It definitely needed to be inspected. 

The shiny door handles looked brand could that be given the shape the rest of the vehicle was in. 

The trunk lock was in perfect condition. It was very surreal!

Definitely a handyman's fixer-upper!

The trail has some great photo ops! 

It doesn't get any better than this.

Stay on Trax

The two hours went by quickly and the Yaktrax passed their test walk with flying colours.  We are all now keen to test them out on urban walks.

As for the Everyday Tourists, we are now ready for our two-week dog sitting assignment in early January that will include two - sometimes three walks - a day along the icy promenade at River Park. 

Yes, sometimes it is perfectly OK to stay “on the beaten path.” 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Grassi Lakes Treasure Hunting

Why Don't Calgarians embrace winter? Or do we?

A 1600 km shoe shopping weekend!

Meeting Creek Ghost Town meets Art Town