Downtown Saturday Farmers' Market: Boise & Edmonton vs Calgary

August 4, 2014

Why doesn’t Calgary’s Downtown/City Center have an open-air farmers’ market on Saturdays from early June to end of September?  Seems to me almost every downtown we have visited over the past few years has had one.

Recently, we were in Edmonton where they close down a block of 104th Street and part of 102nd Avenue to create a very vibrant market. Last fall, in Boise, Idaho, we discovered their two Saturday street markets – a Farmers’ and an Artisans’ one!  Last spring we enjoyed Portland’s Saturday Farmers' Market located in shade of the huge trees of South Park on the edge of the downtown, as well as Chicago’s lovely Lincoln Park Market.

In all cases, the market streets and the immediate area were abuzz with people of all ages and backgrounds buying, browsing and people-watching. The patios and cafes were filled with people having brunch, lunch or coffee.   The streets had a good vibe - they seemed like a happy place where people like to laugh and linger - a great place to meet friend, neighbours and foster a sense of community.

The Saturday market not only benefited the businesses in the immediate area but for blocks away.  In Edmonton, the manager of the Alberta Craft Council’s gallery, about four blocks away from the market said they definitely busier on market days.  We could see that. As frequent Saturday art gallery goers, we were shocked at how many people were in the gallery on Saturday at 11 a.m. Too often when we visit a gallery on a Saturday morning we are the only ones there. And that proved true as we were alone in the galleries we visited on 124th Street (Edmonton’s Gallery District) after leaving the Craft Council gallery.

Boise's Saturday Markets

Boise's downtown farmers' market. 

What is it about root beer and farmers' markets? 

Thank you for our weekend bread!

Boise's Artist Market attracts a crowd of buyers and browsers. 

Boise's Art Market spills out from the street onto Grove Plaza.


Edmonton's Saturday Farmers' Market 

For some reason, people love to sit in the middle of the road.  This might just be the best pop-up patio I have seen this summer. 

The sidewalk ballet on 104th Street on Saturdays is fun to watch.

My mouth is watering just looking at this image. 

How appetizing is this?

Yes Edmonton has a root beer truck at their farmers' market. 

Edmonton's Downtown Farmers' Market along the front yard of these impressive new condos on 104th Avenue.  

Perhaps a Beltline Farmers’ Market?

I know the Calgary Downtown Association has tried to do a Saturday Farmer’s Market on Stephen Avenue and it didn’t work.  It’s not a parking issue – Edmonton’s parking is $1/hr on Saturdays, while in Calgary many downtown lots offer all day Saturday parking for $2. 

Perhaps Calgary’s downtown is the wrong location for a weekend market.  Perhaps it makes more sense to have the market closer to where people live i.e. Beltline. Perhaps the Victoria Crossing BRZ and the Beltline Community association could strike a strategic partnership to create a summer farmers’ market along First Street SW or a side street, possibly 13th Avenue, utilizing the Haultain School Park and Memorial Park.   

I think the east side of the Beltline would be the best location for a market, given these residents don’t have access to grocery stores like those on the west side’s – Safeway, Midtown Co-op and Community Natural Foods.  This location also has a large surface parking lot nearby that would encourage people to visit the market from surrounding communities.

An alternate site might be 11th Street SW on the Beltline’s west side as it has three small parks from 12th to 17th Avenues that could be used for vendors, along with a good streetscape with small shops and cafes.   Another benefit of this site benefit is that it could spill out onto 17th Avenue with all of its pedestrian oriented businesses.

Another site that might work right in the heart of the Beltline is the Lougheed House and the Beaulieu Gardens.  While there are no cafes, patios and shops in the immediate area the park and streets surround the gardens could accommodate a wonderful Saturday market.

Imagine if these cars were replace by vendors every Saturday from June to September.

Imagine if these cars were replace by vendors every Saturday from June to September.

Perhaps the soccer players could give up Haultain Park for a few hours on a Saturday morning for a fun market. 

These chairs in Memorial Park are just waiting for a Saturday Market. 

Riverfront Avenue between Chinatown and Waterfront condos on a summer saturday morning sits empty waiting for a farmers' market to call it home.

One of three public spaces on 11th Street  SW that would make great spill-out areas for a street market along 11th Street. 

What about NODO?

There is a site north of downtown (NODO) away from the office highrises in the Eau Claire district that might work – Riverfront Avenue to be exact.  It could be either west of the Eau Claire (not a) Market near the luxury condos and the expansive surface parking lots (at least for a few more years until they are developed).  Or, east of the Eau Claire (not a) Market in front of the new Waterfront condos where the market would link nicely to Chinatown.  Though this site would be great for cyclists, I expect it is too far away from the Beltline’s 20,000 residents to be attractive. Also it lacks the street ambience of patios and shops that make for a good market site.

What about a site on the other side of the Bow River you ask? Well, with both Hillhurst and Parkdale having farmers’ markets on Wednesday, I focused on a site in the Beltline which has the highest residential population in the greater downtown area as the prime site for a Saturday Farmer’s Market.

The Hillhurst Farmers' Market is a small but charming community market.

Last Word

If ever there was a time to test the market for a Downtown Calgary summer farmers’ market, now is it. Never before have the young GABEsters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) who live in the Beltline and work downtown, been so mindful about what they eat. Indeed, farmers’ markets are hip!

Edmonton as one, Portland has one and Boise has one, Portland has one and Chicago has one – can’t Calgary have one too? 

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