Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Most of the attention for the renaissance in urban living in Calgary is focused on the high-rise communities south of the Bow River (SoBow) - East Village, Eau Claire and West End, Beltline and Mission. Meanwhile the communities north of the Bow River (NoBow) provide an appealing alternative to highrise urban lifestyle of SoBow. 

The NoBow communities along the Bow River (i.e. Montgomery, Parkdale, Point McKay, West Hillhurst, Hillhurst/Sunnyside) and those just above the river to 16th Avenue N (i.e. St. Andrews Heights, Briar Hill, Hounsfield Heights, Rosedale, Crescent Heights and Bridgeland/Riverside) are all walkable urban communities. 

These urban communities differ from SoBow in that not only do they not have any highrises, but they also are not so downtown-oriented.  NoBow residents are just a likely to walk, cycle, take transit or drive to SAIT, ACAD, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital as to downtown for work.

The common perception of the NoBow communities is that they are just another inner city community. But over the past few years, they have been evolving into charming walkable and diverse communities.  In addition to the plethora of new single-family infills, there are numerous mid-rise condos being built. 

For example, in the Kensington Village area (10th Ave NW and Kensington Road), there are approximately 1,000 condos homes recently completed, under construction or in the design stage that will add over 2,000 new residents. A new condo village is emerging on Kensington Road along 19th Street SW with the 55-unit Savoy project and the redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site.

St. John's condo 

St. John's condo 

Savoy Condo

Main Streets

Bridgeland/Riverside is also emerging as a new urban village with numerous mid-rise condos recently completed or now under construction.  They too have their own funky “Main Street” that just gets better and better each year with the likes of the bobo Bridgeland Market. 

Montgomery’s “main street” captured the attention of one of Canada’s best restaurateurs Michael Noble, who decided to locate the tony Notables restaurant there.

Edmonton Trail is NoBow’s “Restaurant Row” with places like Diner Deluxe, OEB Breakfast, Carino Japanese Bistro, Open Range, El Charrito Taqueria and Boogie Burgers. The Trail is also home to Lukes Drug Mart, a fixture in the community since 1951, which houses Calgary’s only Stumptown Café.

Hillhurst/Sunnyside has both 10th Street and Kensington Road as their pedestrian- oriented streets full of shops, restaurants and cafes, and even their own art house cinema.  The Canadian Institute of Planners has recently recognized it as one of the “great places in Canada.”

Pages bookstore is one of the few independent bookstores left in Calgary. 


Happyland is quickly becoming a micro-commercial hub.  Backstory, the triangular piece of land around Memorial Drive, Crowchild Trail (24th Street) and 4th Ave NW was called Happyland in the early 20th century was it became a new Calgary subdivision.  Recently, Arlene Dickinson’s Venture Communications and new Co-op Liquor store joined nearby Bob Pizza (aka neighbourhood pub), a horse and pet supply store, a three specialty sporting goods stores, Jen Meats, another sporting goods store, Ten Thousand Villages and Cartwright Lighting.

Less than a kilometer down the road is the Parkdale Loop (Parkdale Crescent NW) with a few shops including the popular Lazy Loaf Café, a quilt shop, women’s clothing store and Leavitt’s Ice Cream Shop. Several new boutique condos have recently been built or are in the planning stage near the Parkdale Loop.

Despite having no trendy streets -17th Avenue, 4th Street or Design District - NoBow has lots to offer including what was Western Canada’s largest shopping center in 1958 - North Hill Mall. Today it is evolving into a mix-use urban village with shops, restaurants, condo, library and playing fields right next to the Lions Gate Station.  The Mall’s SEARS site is next up for redevelopment.

Hillhurst Farmers' Market

Hillhurst Farmers' Market

The Plaza is home to Calgary's film community. 

Bob's Pizza has perhaps the smallest patio in the city. 

Dairy Lane has been the 19th St. anchor in West Hillhurst for over 50 years.

Lukes Drug Mart family owned since 1951 has Calgary's only Stumptown Cafe. 

Kensington Village architecture

Kensington Village architecture

Buskers on 10th Street.

Buskers on 10th Street.

Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Great Amenities

NoBow is also blessed with great schools. In addition to several elementary, junior high and high schools in these communities, postsecondary students have easy access to SAIT, University of Calgary and ACAD.  This makes NoBow very attractive to families with adolescents and young adults.  

In addition to schools being one of the key criteria people look for when evaluating a potential community to live is the distance to hospitals. The NoBow communities are just minutes away from Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital. 

Next on the criteria list of sought after amenities is grocery stores. There are three Safeway stores within the NoBow communities and another Safeway and a Calgary Co-op on the edge of the district - that’s five grocery stores.

Recreational facilities too are key to community appeal.  NoBow rates high with the West Hillhurst Recreation Centre, as well as Shouldice Athletic Park.  There are also excellent recreational facilities at SAIT and the University of Calgary that are easily accessible and available to NoBowers. Residents also have access to arguably the prettiest stretch of the Bow River pathway for walking, running and cycling year-round.

NoBow is also blessed with numerous parks including Riley Park with its vintage wading pool and historic cricket field, which has hosted games since 1910.   There is even the historic and bucolic 1936 Bow Valley Lawn Bowling Club at 1738 Bowness Road – lawn bowling is the new golf.  Two curling complexes (North Hill and Calgary Curling Club) are also within its boundaries. 

For those who love gardens, Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden on 10th Street NW at 8th Avenue NW. It is a gem. And, for those who love treasure hunting, it’s hard to beat the Sunday flea market at the Hillhurst Community Centre.

Running along the Bow River at Poppy Plaza.

Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

NoBow is for families

NoBow’s total population is 36,130 (based on 2011 Census figures from City of Calgary, Community Profiles).  This compares favourably with the SoBow communities of SunAlta, Beltline, Inglewood, West End, Downtown, Eau Claire, Chinatown, East Village and Inglewood, whose total population is 40,765.

What really makes NoBow different; as an urban precinct is that it is home to 5,582 children under the age of 19 - almost twice the 3,046 children living in SoBow communities. With 15% of its population under the age of 19, NoBow is not far off the city average of 24%. Healthy urban communities are family-friendly.

Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

NoBow loves seniors

There are also several enclaves of seniors housing complexes scattered throughout NoBow that have been around for years, as well as the funky new Lions Club Seniors complex in Happyland. 

The Colonel Belcher Retirement Residence (175 units) moved from the Beltline to Parkdale in 2003. And the Bethany Care Society has called West Hillhurst home since 1945 when the Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Alberta raised $10,000 to purchase the 4.75-acre Riley Estate at the bottom of North Hill (from 18a St to 17th St, and from 8th Ave to 10th Ave NW). The Bethany Calgary site is home to 400 long-term care residents. On the 2400 block of  3rd Avenue NW Calgary’s Kiwanis Clubs have built and operated for years the Parkdale and Crowchild Manors for years.

Parkdale seniors apartments

Parkdale seniors apartments

Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland .

Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland.

Last Word

NoBow has a Jane Jacobs urban sense of place about it. Specifically, the urban landscape is not dominated by highrise buildings, nor by upscale national and international retailers and restaurants. Rather, it is a nice mix of single-family homes, duplexes, fourplexes and low to mid-rise apartments and condos.  It has everything from 600-square foot early 20th century cottages and affordable housing complexes for seniors to multi-million dollar mansions.  It boasts mostly local independent stores, coffee shops and restaurants. And, there is a charming mix of old, new and renovated homes and commercial buildings.

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section with the title, "Don't count out eclectic NoBow" on Saturday, September 20th 2014.

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Boise vs Calgary / David vs Goliath

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's, Condo Living section on March 22 and 29, 2014.

When I tell people I went to Boise, Idaho for a holiday their immediate question is, “What took you to Boise?”  Our immediate answer is “I’ve always wanted to go to an American University football game and we love small university cities and road trips.  So when it came to a fall road trip – Boise it was!

We discovered this city of about 210,000 (metro population of 600,000) to have a vibrant downtown that could well be North America’s next urban playground with farmers’ market, arts and craft market, “farm to table” restaurants and wineries. Despite the obvious size difference, I thought it would be fun to compare Boise and Calgary as urban playgrounds.

The Boise tailgate party was a sea of blue and orange around the stadium.  I'd estimate the crowd at about 10,000 people. 

Linen District vs Mattress District

Just to the west of downtown Boise lies an old industrial area that has been branded as the Linen District based on the name of its historic Linen Building.  The building is currently being used as an art gallery and special events space, much like the Simmons Mattress Factory building was.  Made me wonder if perhaps East Village should have been branded as the Mattress District.

While Calgary’s Mattress District is currently undergoing a massive multi-billion dollar transformation, Boise’s Linen District is evolving organically with the introduction of secondhand stores, as well as the upscale  A’Tavola Marketplace, Big City Coffee, salons, home decor and furniture stores. It is also home to Idaho Mountain Touring (similar to MEC) and The Modern Hotel and Bar - an old motel transformed into a chic hotel and funky bar.  Instead of major public art pieces, the Linen District has funky painted utility boxes. 

Jane Jacobs, the ‘60s community activist, who wrote “Death and Life of Great American Cities” once said “urban renewal should be evolutionary not revolutionary.” It will be interesting to see how in 50 years the Linen District compares to the Mattress District.

This is the patio with the fire pits at the Modern Motel and Bar. 

The historic Linen Building at night.

Advantage: Boise

Julia Davis Park vs. Prince’s Island Park

Julia Davis Park is on the edge of their downtown and connects it to their river, as does Prince’s Island Park does in Calgary.  This 89-acre park is home to the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Historical Museum, Idaho Black History Museum, Zoo Boise, a rose garden, Gene Harris Band Shell and a lagoon complete with paddle-boats.   It is a combination of Prince’s Island, Bowness Park and Olympic Plaza Cultural District. Prince’s Island’s 50 acres is home to Enmax Stage, River Café and ChevronTexaco Learning Pathway. Perhaps if you added in Telus Spark and the Calgary Zoo, Calgary might be on par.

Just across the street from Julia Davis Park’s museums is the new main Library! – it is actually spelled with an exclamation point at the end. Turns out that when they opened the new library in 1995, the owner of the local “Flying Pie Pizzaria” thought the simple LIBRARY letters on the side of the building needed some pizzazz, so he approached the City about adding an exclamation point.  After some negotiation, he paid $1,500 to have exclamation points added to the signage and now LIBRARY! has incorporated it into its official name.  Boise is quirky in a fun way!

Advantage: Boise


North End vs North Side

Boise’s North End is a great neighbourhood to wander around (walking or cycling) enjoying the old homes, going for coffee or lunch or maybe some “window licking.” The area is well known for its early 20th century homes especially Queen Anne architecture.  There are several different “chill spots” including the Fort Street Market Place home to the Boise Co-op, the 13th Street strip of bohemian shops and the West State Street market place anchored by Albertson’s grocery store. 

On Boise’s northwest urban edge is the 11-acre Camelback Park, a perfect site for picnicking, or activities like tennis and volleyball or hiking into the foothills.   In 2008, the American Planning Association designated Boise’s North End one of ten great neighborhoods.

The Calgary equivalents would be Hillhurst, Sunnyside and Bridgeland with their early 20th century homes, Riley Park (cricket, wading pool, perennial and rock gardens and playground), Kensington Village as well as Edmonton Trail and 1st Ave NE shops and restaurants.

One of the many historic homes in Boise's north end.

Cafe Vicino is an upscale bistro with the best soups ever.  It is part of small mall with the Boise Coop, wine store and cafe.  

Strolling 13th Street you with find an eclectic collection of restaurants, cafes and shops like this one with some very imaginative art. 

Advantage: Tied

Boise State vs. Beltline

On the other side of the Boise River, south of downtown sits Boise Sate University (BSU) with its 170 buildings including the 37,000-seat Bronco Stadium and the 12,380-seat Taco Bell Arena.  BSU is home to 23,000 students, while Calgary’s south side Beltline is home to 20,000 residents, many of whom are recent university graduates now working downtown.

The similarities continue if you include Stampede Park with the Saddledome.  While Calgary has the 10 days of Stampede, Boise has six days of game day tailgate parties.  If you think dressing up for Stampede is a bit weird, you must experience a Bronco tailgate party. Every Bronco home game is like a Grey Cup celebration.   

Broncos stadium before the game.  It is the only football field with blue turf. 

Advantage: Tied

Downtown vs. Downtown

Downtown Boise is an interesting place in that it has few major office or condo towers, no department stores and no mega indoor shopping centre.  So, what is there you ask?

While Calgary’s dense downtown is dominated by mega office towers, shopping centres and corporate hotels, Boise’s downtown is very pedestrian friendly with streets full of locally-owned shops, restaurants, cafes and bistros with just a sprinkling of office buildings, hotels and the majestic Capitol Building.  

While Calgary spends millions on public art, Boise created its renowned Freak Alley for next to nothing. The approach was basically, take an alley, find a curator to invite some artists to paint murals on the backsides of buildings and voila - an outdoor gallery that can be enjoyed free of charge anytime, any day, by anybody.

Both downtowns have created a vibrant pedestrian street, Boise’s is 8th Street, while Calgary’s is 8th Avenue. Both have wide sidewalks and are actively programmed and have become the heart of their downtown.

The centrepiece of Boise’s downtown is unquestionably the State Capitol Building completed in 1912 with its magnificent 208-foot dome. The interior is just as inspiring with extensive use of marble from Georgia (red), Alaska (grey), Vermont (green) and Italy (black) for its floors, pillars and staircases.  There is also a wonderful collection of statues, murals and art, all accessible for public viewing via a self-guided or guided tours. Calgary has nothing to match this historical gem.

Downtown Calgary has nothing to match the Boise’s Capital City Public Market that operates every Saturday from April to December.  In prime time 150+ vendors take over six blocks in the middle of downtown, selling their wares to over 15,000 visitors a day. It creates a wonderful festival atmosphere every Saturday nine months of the year.

On the other hand, Boise has nothing to match Calgary’s Core, Bankers Hall, The Bay, Holt Renfrew retail centres, somehow we didn’t miss all the national and international retailers that permeate almost every mall in every city across North America

This past year, downtown Calgary lost one of its two art house cinemas (Uptown) leaving only the Globe, which has also been rumoured several times to be closing.  Boise, boasts what might be the best little art house cinema in the west. Called The Flicks, it has four movie theatres, a restaurant (that serves up food, great wines and craft beers on tap, inside or on its outdoor patio) and also has an extensive international movie rental room.  The Flicks is funky!

Street performers on 8th Street add fun and surprise to this pedestrian area. 

Downtown Boise's Farmers' Market attracts thousands of shoppers and people watchers. 

The stately capitol building creates an immediate sense of place for the downtown. We were surprised at how easy it was to wander the building and take pictures. 

River Sculpture by Alison Sky, is a 50 foot public artwork on the side of high-rise building in downtown Boise. The artwork inspired by the Snake River includes lights and misters to create a more experiential piece of art. 

River Sculpture by Alison Sky, is a 50 foot public artwork on the side of high-rise building in downtown Boise. The artwork inspired by the Snake River includes lights and misters to create a more experiential piece of art. 

Modern office building under construction in Boise.

Modern office building under construction in Boise.

Advantaged: Tied

Basque Block vs. Stephen Avenue Walk

Calgary is home the Stephen Avenue National Historic District; Boise is home to the Basque Block.  Boise has the largest Basque (the region in Spain on the French border, probably best known for the city of Bilbao, where the famous Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum is located) population in North America. While Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Walk is historically significant in Canada, Boise’s Basque Block is unique in the North America and perhaps the world.

The one block of Grove St. between Capitol Boulevard and 6th St. includes a Basque museum, market, cultural centre, restaurants and bar.  The museum is definitely on the “must do” list for any visitor as it is both a history museum and modern art gallery.  It also includes two original Basque boarding houses that you can tour.

The Cultural Centre fosters the preservation and promotion of the Basque in Boise and Idaho.  Based in the Anduiza building built in 1912, with its original Fronton Court (a huge three-walled court 10 meters high, 30 meters long by and 15 meters wide. It is played with four people (two teams of two) who hit a rubber tennis-size ball with a solid wooden racquet - bit like squash and doubles tennis. Boise is definitely unique!

Across the street is the Basque Market, which is home to the biggest Paella pans I have ever seen.  They are stored hanging from the ceiling and it takes two people to bring them down. Wednesdays and Fridays at noon it is a “paella frenzy” on their street patio or you can check out the Thursday Paella dinner.  There is also the Bar Gernika at the end of the block, which is a “must do.” If you want to hang out with the locals and try some Basque food, beer and wines this is the placed to do it.

While Stephen Avenue has lots of restaurants, patios, squash courts, the Glenbow Museum and EPCOR Performing Arts Centre, it lacks the Basque Blocks’ uniqueness.

The Fronton Court.  Nobody asked me if I wanted to play. Darn!

Paella pan is being removed from the ceiling to get ready for the evening feast. 

A modern work of art in the Basque Museum. 

Advantage: Boise

Potato vs. Beef

Calgary, with its “corporate expense account” restaurants, has been making a name for itself with some of the best new restaurants in Canada. When it comes to eating local, Idaho has one of the most diverse agricultural industries in North America – 25,000 farmers produce over 185 crops.  Everyone knows Idaho is a major potato producer in the USA, but did you know that 70% of the commercial trout produced in the US comes from Idaho and that it is a major onion producer?

You gotta love a restaurant named “Bacon” and its tagline “bacon, bistro and bloody marys.” John Berryhill, who owns Bacon and two other downtown restaurants expects Bacon will serve 150,000 strips of bacon this year, some of which will be delivered free of charge downtown via the “bacon bike.”

Another popular Boise “farm to table” restaurant, “Fork” is located in a historic bank building on vibrant 8th Street and would fit right in with Calgary’s Stephen Avenue cuisine scene.  Add to that the northern Spanish restaurants on the nearby Basque Block, as well as Bardenay, a distillery/restaurant and it’s clear Boise offers a wonderfully diverse cuisine scene. And, yes, Boise also has a vibrant café culture with plenty of street patios. 

What Boise has that Calgary doesn’t is its own wine region.  Just 30 minutes away lies the Snake River Valley wine region where over 40 wineries (many with tasting rooms) can be found. 

Fork is one of many creative and charming places to dine in downtown Boise. 

As you might imagine the restaurant Bacon, serves up some very interesting strips of bacon.  No plain old Canadian back bacon here! Great sandwiches and quiche also. 

Advantage: Boise

Final Score

After all is said and done, despite Calgary’s billion dollar office towers, billion dollar urban renewal schemes and multi-million dollar public artworks and pedestrian bridges, Boise kicks our butt.  As the old saying goes “bigger isn’t always better.”

I have not included any photos of Calgary in this blog as I have many Calgary images in my other blogs.  If you'd like to see Calgary images check out these blogs.

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Trail 

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

The Flicks: Best little art house cinema in the west!

By Richard White, January 8, 2014

We stumbled upon The Flicks while flaneuring the Julia Davis Park Cultural District after checking out BAM (Boise Art Museum) – can’t believe we didn’t know about this place given all of our research.  It is tucked away off the beaten path in a bit of a park-like setting at 646 Fulton Street.

Next to the Main Auction (every Saturday), The Flicks has to be the biggest surprise of our Boise adventure.  It has an inviting canopy entrance with a small ticket wicket at the end.  We were immediately welcomed and asked, “How can I help you?” As it wasn’t yet show time, we were welcomed to go inside and explore. 

The Flicks is located off the beaten path with the entrance even more hidden from the average downtown pedestrian. 

The lobby is awash in the red glow of the huge Rick's Cafe American sign, creating a sense of nostalgia. 

Electric & Eclectic

The immediate response was “electric and eclectic” as we were washed in the neon glow of the “Rick’s Café American’ sign.  Still a bit in shock from the glow and the fact the lobby is a coffeehouse meets bistro meets lounge.  The baked goods looked yummy and the selection of beer and wine was very civilized.

We were also taken aback by the dabbling sun on the interior courtyard patio that would be a great place for lunch, meet-up for a coffee anytime of the day, perhaps a happy hour drink or two. And yes, it is a great spot for dinner before or after the movie.  It is a place that invites you to linger and ponder on life’s little details.   

It’s all about the art!

The Flicks established in 1984 was once a single cinema, but over time it has evolved into four cinemas – 192, 96, 55 and 45 seats respectively.  While The Flicks doesn’t have stadium seating, who cares every seat is a good seat.

The audience is knowledgeable and respectful - no chatter, no phones, no texting and no annoying ads. Just a few movie trailers and then get on with the show. 

Wine by the glass, bottles of beer and note there is also draft beer. 

Fireside chats are common place.

Fireside chats are common place.

The Food

When was the last time you were in a cinema complex that offered crème brulee, or the best burgers in town (some consider The Flick’s burgers the best in Boise).  Of course, the best benchmark for a movie house is the popcorn – The Flicks offers three toppings, real butter or tamari or brewers’ yeast.

But there’s more

The Flicks is not just a fun place to watch foreign, independent and art films, nor is it just a coffeehouse, bistro and lounge.  It is also a movie rental store.  Tucked away along the walls as you go to one of the small theatres is one of the best selections of foreign language movies I’ve ever seen. You could spend hours hunting through the titles – it would be like taking a trip around the world without leaving Boise.   

When was the last time you were in a movie rental store that had a good selection of foreign language films.

The interior patio enhances the sense of place. It is like walking into a work of art.

Last Word

We liked it so much that we went back that night to see a movie and liked it so much we went back the next night too!  While many cities have art house cinemas, few are as fun, funky and quirky as The Flicks.

If you are in Boise, it is a must see, must do place.

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Cowtown: The GABEster Capital of North America

By Richard White, January 2, 2014

Given my love of acronyms, I created the term “GABEster” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) as a bit of a joke in my Calgary Herald Neigbours column (titled White House) where I profiled Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

"Calgary’s hipsters are unique as they are more likely to be clean shaven, Armani suit wearing, geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers, than bearded, skinny jeans and plaid shirt artists, writers and musicians.  But let it be understood they definitely love their Saturday music jams, bowling alley, craft beer drinking, gallery strolls, food trucks and festival fun as with any hipster. Perhaps we need to coin a new term  “gabesters” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers/Brokers and Engineers)." Calgary Herald Neighbours, October 31, 2013.

The column reflected on my recent trips to Chicago’s Wicker Park and Bucktown, as well as Portland’s Pearl District – all three considered to be amongst the best hipster communities in the USA and how Calgary’s Beltline district was as good if not better than not only those three trendy urban villages, but also ones in Vancouver, San Francisco and San Diego.

I pointed out while Calgary has lots of hipsters (counter culture or bohemians types), our urban villagers are more likely to be professionals i.e. geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers than bohemians. 

Since then I have used the GABEster in various social and business circles, getting very positive responses suggesting that indeed the term is very useful in helping understand and articulate Calgary’s unique urban culture.


Calgary's GABEsters take over Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour to stroll the street, grab some lunch or people watch. Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

The pocket protector is history!

 For several generations, Calgary’s oil patch has been a magnet for attracting the best young GABEsters from across Canada and more recently internationally.  A quick check of Calgary Economic Development’s website finds that Calgary currently has 22,500 engineers, 16,700 accountants and 5,300 geologists (though I couldn’t find any numbers for bankers and brokers, it has to be at least as many as the engineers i.e. 20,000+more) - and there is a critical need for lots more. 

 The Hill Strategies Research Inc. study of “Artists in Large Canadian Cities” (March 2006) identified that Calgary had 4,575 total artists based on 2001 census figures.  This number had increased by 46% since 1991 so the number today might be 7,000+ range, about 1% of the workforce.  

Obviously, Calgary’s GABEsters, outnumber hipsters by about 10 to 1.

Many of Calgary’s young GABEsters live in the residential communities surrounding the downtown core where the majority work in the 40+ million square feet of office space.  The common stereotype of engineers and high tech workers is that they lack social skills, have no fashion sense and are pragmatic loners.

Bankers, brokers and accountants may have a little more fashion sense with the suits and ties, however, more and more the tie has been lost and the suits are more trendy that traditional. 

They may all be right brain thinkers by day, but many of the current generation of GABEsters are just as much into fashion, music and street life as the so-called creative class. And yes, they are also just as likely to be wearing skinny jeans and funky glasses – maybe not at work, but after hours.

The days of the pocket protector have long disappeared! 

GABEsters are big bikers...Bow Cycle in Bowness is one of the largest bike shops in the world. 

Definition of a hipster (Urban Dictionary)

“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively.”

“Although "hipsterism" is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store and local boutique-inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick- rimmed glasses.”

“Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hairstyles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. Such styles are often associated with the work of creative stylists at urban salons, and are usually too "edgy" for the culturally-sheltered mainstream consumer.” 

Calgary is home to 60+ live music venues.

GABEsters checking out CUFF! Cowtown's Underground Film Festival. 

Cowtown's Counter Culture / Indie Activities 

Calgary’s downtown supports a café culture superior to both Portland and Chicago with independent cafes on almost every corner.  While some are upscale, tony places, others are more grass roots with some being off the beaten path.  Café Rosso, located on an old industrial site next to a chicken-processing factory in the southeastern edge of Ramsay, is perhaps the best example of Calgary’s GABEster coffee klatch culture.   

Calgary is also quickly becoming North America’s next great “music city” with numerous weekend afternoon jams, 60+ live music venues, one of North America’s best international folk music festivals and the increasingly popular Sled Island indie-music festival.  Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams  will be participating the Memphis International Blues Competition in Jan 2014.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

Calgary is also home to the world’s second largest collection of keyboard instruments including one of Elton John’s first pianos and the first MOOG synthesizer. And our city will soon be home to Canada’s National Music Centre - 2015.  How cool is that.

Shaw Millennium Park’s was one of the first big outdoor skate parks in North America. Today, it is still one of the largest (75,000 square feet of skateable surface) and best. It doesn’t get more counter-culture than that.  

Inglewood’s Recordland houses between 500,000 to 1,000,000 records and is a regular stop for visiting DJs and bands. Just a block away, the Crown Surplus store has supplied equipment to the film industry for over 45 years – Little Big Man, Superman, Brokeback Mountain to name a few. Cher has also been known to shop there. It doesn’t get more hipster (whoops GABEster) that this. 

If looking for some music memorabilia, look no further than Heritage Posters and Music in Calgary’s newest trendy district SunAlta.  It is an easy spot to find, as the back wall is a mural of the Rolling Stones tongue logo made with actual records.

Flea Market 

The trendy Hillhurst Sunnyside community just north of the downtown core is not only home to many traditional hipsters given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design, but is also home to an experimental container village. It is also home to a Sunday flea market, which has been operating for over 40 years.


If yoga studios are a key indicator of hipsters, Calgary’s may have one of the highest concentrations in North America. Within 5 kilometers of downtown, there is an estimated 30 to 40 yoga studios.  

I saw way more yoga mats being carried on the streets of Calgary than I did in either Chicago or Portland. 

GABEster fashions Cowtown style.

Lukes Drug Mart is part cafe (Stumptown Coffee), part record store, part grocery store and a post office.

Last Word

Cowtown has been called “a city built by engineers” in reference to the fact that much of our architecture and urban design from the ‘70s to the ‘90s was dominated more by function than form. 

Recently however, the tide has changed with projects like the Calatrava Peace Bridge, The Bow and Eight Avenue Place office towers, as well as the redesign of 7th Avenue LRT stations and the futuristic design of the West LRT stations. 

Cowtown's city centre has indeed become one of North America's gabest places to "work, live and play."

Don't believe me - check out Josh Noel's travel piece on Calgary in the Chicago Tribune: Calgary: Pedal to the metal Poutine at 3 am!!!

Pictures below don't lie...Calgary has a very vibrate GABE community. 


GABEsters playing Bocci Ball at lunch at the Courthouse Park. How cool is that? Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

GABEster climbing Plensa's "Wonderland" scultpture at lunch...public art as urban playground for adults? 

Amy Thiessen and friends at Ironwood.  GABEsters love their local music scene. 

GABEsters at the folk festival.

GABEsters love their patio culture even in the winter. 

GABEsters heading to work...

GABEsters love Shaw Millennium Park and the new condos just across the street....

GABEsters love indie films...and festivals.

GABEsters love yoga...

GABEsters love to paddle! Undercurrents in Bowness is just one of many paddle shops.