Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

The National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History is located in the massive Collins Barracks built in 1702.  Architect Tomas Burgh, who also built the world famous library at Trinity College, designed this early neo-classical building. 

It makes for a perfect museum.  The four floors wrapping around a huge central parade square (the number of paces associated with the marching soldiers still exist on the walls above the colonnade arches) are easily divided up into over 30-flexible gallery spaces that accommodate exhibitions of silver, ceramics, glassware, weaponry, furniture, folklife, clothing, jewelry, coins and medals.  There is also a museum shop and quaint café with some very tempting pastries.

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

hurdy gurdy panel

Eileen Gray

For us, the highlight of the museum's numerous exhibitions was the Eileen Gray retrospective. It encompassed everything we love about mid-century modern design – its furniture, architecture and art.

Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1878, Gray moved to Paris in 1906 where she spent most of her working life. In Paris, inspired to explore new ideas by the likes of Picasso and Modigliani, she was one of the first artists and furniture designers to employ lacquer techniques as part of her work.  She was interested in all aspects of design from furniture to architecture to interior design.

Gray loved to combine the opulence of Art Deco with the minimalism and clean lines of modernism as well as integrate the use of pure line and colour of the De Stijl artists.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

An example of Gray's use of lacquer in her furniture.

Model of contemporary architectural designed by Gray.


I was also fascinated by the “Beyond Pebbledash” installation, a celebration of domestic architecture and design.  The installation consisted of a single pebbledash house (a common small Dublin home with exterior walls made of pebbles mixed with stucco).  In the mid 20th century, this façade covered up poor construction and kept costs down for affordable homes in both Europe and North America. Back story: The early 1950s home I grew up in had pebbledash walls.  We just called it by it less glamorous term "stucco."

This life-size house sitting in the middle of the huge parade square has a real façade but only a steel skeleton frame of the walls, interior doors, chimney and roof.  The curatorial notes say the installation is intended to provoke questions like:

  • What have we built?
  • Why have we built it here?
  • What is the nature of house vs. home?
  • What makes a great liveable city?

More information at: http://www.dublincity.ie/you-are-invited-launch-beyond-pebbledash

My personal fascination was mostly around how the pebbledash house was rendered almost insignificant in the massive parade square  (the size of about two football fields) and the equally massive barracks building.  To me, the “pebbledash home” installation spoke of the insignificance and temporary nature of most houses versus the timelessness of iconic structures. I also don’t get the link to the liveable city movement as the home is situated in what I would consider the most desolate and inhospitable urban environment one could imagine.

While in the past, a house became a home as most people lived in them all their lives. Often too multiple generations would live in the same house. Today, for most people a house is just a commodity to be bought and sold as part of their evolving lifestyle – they never really become a home.

The pebbledash house located at the far corner from the entrance to the museum is dwarfed in the stark parade square.

While wandering the museum, you get several different perspectives of the house. 

A view of the back of the house and the cafe spilling out onto the plaza gives some life to the parade square.

Close up view of the house. I found the ropes around the installation very distracting. 

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Last Word

Of all the National Museums we visited in Dublin, the Decorative Arts and History Museum was our favourite.  You could easily spend a few hours here.

The National Gallery unfortunately was under restoration and so the building and art did not meet expectations. The National Museum of Modern Art was also a bit of a disappointment as half of the gallery was closed for the installation of new exhibitions. 

On the good side, all of the Ireland’s national museums are FREE!  


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Dublin's Chester Beatty Library - Look but don't touch!

Can you imagine a library where you can’t touch the  books? The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland might just be the only library in the world where you can’t touch any of the books.  But don’t let that stop you from visiting. It is home to an amazing collection of books and book-related artifacts that will have your head exploding with information overload.

About Chester 

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was an Irish-American mining magnate and millionaire. Born in New York City in 1875, he graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. He made his fortune mining in Cripple CreekColorado, and other mining operations around the world. Chester was  called the "King of Copper"

A collector from an early age beginning with stamps, he had, by the 1940s, built up a remarkable and impressive collection of Oriental art and books. He also owned 19 ancient Egyptian papyri that he gave to the British Museum. He moved his collections to Dublin, Ireland in 1950. 

Knighted  by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, Beatty lived his later years in Dublin and was made honorary citizen of Ireland in 1957.  On his death in 1968, he was accorded a state funeral by the Irish government – one of the few private citizens in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Beatty saw collecting as “a great adventure." He obviously had a great eye for quality and loved books where the text and images formed a pleasing composition.  Fun back story: he could be considered an  early adopter of twitter acronyms using DCI for “don’t care for it” and NFE for “not fine enough” in correspondence and his own records.

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

No Touch Library

The Chester Beatty Library is really an art gallery where all the books are in well-lit display cases with  interesting didactic information and stories.  The depth and breath of the collection truly is mind-boggling. It doesn’t take long before your brain is saying “no more, no more!”

Perhaps the first hint that we were in for a brain freeze were the Chinese jade books at the beginning of the Art of Books exhibition; neither of us had seen anything like them. From there, we were presented the Great Encyclopedia commissioned by the Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle in 1403 and completed in 1408 – all 11,095 bound volumes.  Incredible!

Later we encountered Joan Blaeu’s Great Atlas of 1162, which consists of 600 beautifully bound, hand-coloured maps. Each of the bound volumes is about  20” high x 11” wide x 3” in depth; these are serious books.

There was even a small display of contemporary Chinese Ceramics that was definitely rooted in the 8,000 years of ceramic history in China.  Not sure how this fit in with the books but it was interesting nonetheless.

Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)


The collection included a series of Goya etchings from the 1892 edition of Los Desastier de la Guerra and the 1855 and 1876 editions of La Tauromaquia and Los Proverbois.  The pain and suffering portrayed in these works still haunts me hours later as I write this. It made me realize I have never really suffered in my life. 

Back story: when you visit a place like Ireland, you realize what human suffering is all about given  the millions who died in the famine between 1845 and 1852, or those who died in the numerous independence rebellions and senseless religious bombings.  This is a country whose people know suffering.

Later in another exhibition “Sacred Traditions” (the history of religions around the world), I found a didactic panel about Siddhartha Gautama (563 – 483 BC) with the text “be aware of the human inability to escape suffering.” We are then told Gautama decided to leave his wealthy home to seek the causes of unhappiness and the way to relieve suffering.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find out if he was successful.

Another panel about Buddha states, “the world is a place of suffering…joys are fleeting…life ends in decay.”  

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Last Word

The Chester Beatty Library is a “must-see” for anyone visiting Dublin.  I would suggest you give yourself at least two hours and probably three to explore the art and text.  There is a great cafe on site so you could take a break and have lunch or a coffee and then go back for more.

There is also a tranquil rooftop garden if you wish to take some time to contemplate and absorb the centuries of history.  Outside the Library is a larger green space with a fun narrow brick pathway, as well as a sculpture garden.  

The biggest negative is that you can’t take photos (you can view photos on the Library's website); on the other hand, admission is free. 


Montana aka Nellie: What's in a name?

I always thought the name Montana, for a condo on the 800 block of 15th Avenue near the hub of the 17th Avenue shops and restaurants, was strange.  Perhaps it was called that because on a clear day looking south from the penthouse of this 27-storey condo you can see all the way to Montana. (A reader has informed me the name actually comes from the TV show Frasier, who lived in the Montana condo. Still doesn't make much sense to me, but makes for a more interesting story). 

A more appropriate name might have been “Nellie”, given it sits on the same block as the Nellie McClung house. She was one of the “Famous Five” women who successfully lobbied the federal government in the early 20th century for women’s rights.  In fairness, the developer Pro Cura did recognize Montana’s proximity to Nellie’s birthplace by calling one of the condo designs Nellie. They also donated $1,000 from the sales of some of the units to the Famous Five Foundation.

Calling it “Nellie” might have seemed a bit strange back in the late ‘90s when Montana was conceived, before it became very popular to give condos a person’s name - two recent additions to the Beltline condo line-up being Smith and Drake by Grosvenor. I expect the trend will continue as developers scramble to find curious names with some cache and brand value for marketing purposes.

Montana’s design is an example of modified “wedding cake” architecture made popular in New York City in the early 20th century as a result of a 1916 zoning bylaw that forced developers to reduce a building’s shadows at street level.  To do this, architects created buildings that were narrower at the top than the bottom, by creating distinct tiers stacked upon each other like a “wedding cake.”  This gives the building a taller and slimmer profile so the upper floors casted a much smaller shadow.

The shape also creates a number of interesting corner opportunities which ProCura exploited, creating not one, but 35 penthouse suites.  Granted, the developer was a bit liberal in their interpretation of what is a penthouse, but hey, that’s marketing.  For Montana, a penthouse is defined as just a larger suite with a corner view and expanded balcony - not just the top floor.

Montana’s pyramid-like roof has been nicknamed by one of my colleagues as a “party hat” roof, as it has the same proportions as one of those silly conical-shaped hats people wear at birthday parties.  Personally, I like the roof. I think it enhances the building’s elegant profile and is much more visually interesting than the flat rooftops of most buildings in the Beltline.  I also think it enhances the building’s art deco character.

Designed by Calgary’s own BKDI architects (who recently merged with Zeidler in July to form Zeidler BKDI), Montana’s exterior is composed of brick and limestone, two of the most timeless construction materials. It enhances the building’s link to the past when most of the warehouse buildings south of the CPR tracks were brick with some accent stone, including limestone.  

Last Word:

Good urban design often builds on the past with a modern twist, which is exactly what Montana does. 

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Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful light floods the church as you enter.

The grand altar

altar text


porch info


Every pillar has a different message 

Ornamentation is everywhere

Ornamentation is everywhere

Found this gem in a dark corner

Ceiling of hallway entrance to the church

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

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

T he walls of the church are like huge paintings

The walls of the church are like huge paintings

Close up of paintings

Close up of paintings

Newman Who?

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

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

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

Last Word

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

By Richard White, October 8th 2014.

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Calla: Linking past to future

Too often Calgary’s downtown and Beltline are negatively portrayed as a jungle of concrete and glass when in reality, there are numerous parks and gardens that make it a very attractive place to live.  Sometimes it takes outsiders see this. For example, Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark saw the potential to create something special on a site just east of the historic Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens and just a nine iron from the century old Ranchman’s Club. The result a charming condo called Calla.

Calla looking from Lougheed House.

Located in the heart of the Beltline at 14th Avenue SW and 6th Street SW, Calla is in a residential enclave with a mix of old homes, small walk up apartments as well as mid-rise apartments and condos.  It sits on a quiet, tree-canopied street that could easily be a postcard for idyllic urban living.

It neighbour to the west the 1891 Lougheed House christened with the regal name Beaulieu or Beautiful Place inspired calla’s design.  The home was built on a 2.8-acre site on the southwest edge of downtown as a powerful symbol of Lougheed’s growing prestige and influence that would continue for the next 100 years. By the early 1900s, the estate included the residence, carriage house and stable, as well as a formal garden complete with swan sculpture fountain.

Backstory, Sir James and Lady Isabella Lougheed often entertained royal guests at Beaulieu, including the Duke and Duchess of Connaught (the community around Beaulieu was named Connaught until 2003 when Connaught and Victoria Park communities merged to form the Beltline community) and their daughter, Princess Patricia, as well as the Duke of Windsor (when he was the Prince of Wales). Beaulieu remains one of the finest and last remaining sandstone residences in Alberta.  If you haven’t yet been to the Lougheed house and gardens it is a “must see.”

Unlike most new Beltline condos which 18+ storeys, the 12-storey Calla fits right in with its mid-century 4 to 12-storey neighbour apartment and condos.  At the same time, it makes its own architectural statement, with its terraced massing (Beaulieu Gardens also are terraced), floor-to-ceiling windows and glass balconies, contrasting with the mostly brick and concrete facades of its neighbours.  Vancouver`s Rafii Architects have created a chic, clean, contemporary building that adds a new dimension to the streetscape, as well as the skyline for those living in the heart of the Beltline. It even has park homes (rather than townhomes) that open up right onto a 2.8-acre sanctuary of peace and tranquility in the middle of the Beltline.     

Calla streetscape

Calla is like a magnificent greenhouse, which is appropriate given it is adjacent to the beautiful historic Beaulieu Garden. The Garden is noteworthy for its plant material that is historically accurate to the 1891 to 1925 period.  It is no coincidence that the condo was named after the flower Calla Lily, “calla” derived from the Greek word meaning “magnificent beauty.”

Indeed, Calla serves to link the beauty and ambition of Calgary`s past to that of its future.

Calla at night

Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake City

As Winter Olympic host cities Calgary (1988) and Salt Lake City (2002) share much in common. Both cities are young (Calgary’s median age is 36 while Salt Lake City’s (SLC) is 30), both have a population base of just over one million people, both are gateways to mountain recreational playgrounds and both have signature international festivals (Stampede vs Sundance Film Festival). 

At the same time, the DNA of each city is very different. Calgary is defined by its corporate oil & gas headquarters culture, while SLC is defined by its Mormon culture.  For a long time I have been intrigued by the idea of how the two cities would fare in a competition of urban living amenities.  Who would win the gold medal for the best public space, shopping, attractions, urban villages, transit, public art etc.? This spring on our 8,907 km road trip stayed in SLC for six days to check it out.

Salt Lake City’s Gold Medals

Convention Centre

While SLC’s Salt Palace (convention centre) opened back in 1996, it still looks very contemporary with its extensive use of glass and steel. It features a dramatic entrance with 110-foot transparent beacon towers.  Inside, the uplifting drama continues with bright and airy public areas with a lofty ceiling that features specially designed trusses by renowned roller coaster designer Kent Seko.

Nobody would call Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre a palace. And with only a third of the exhibition and meeting space of SLC’s Salt Palace, and architecture that is less than inspiring, Calgary is the loser here.

Aerial view of SLC Convention Centre in the heart of their downtown.


SLC’s Central Library, designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, opened in 2003 at a cost of $84 million ($127 million in 2014 dollars).  It is a five storey triangular building with a sweeping signature curved wall that shares much in common with Vancouver’s Centre Library, also designed by Safdie. Its rooftop garden offers great views of the city and the mountains. The Library, along with its neighbour the Leonardo Museum (the old library building has been converted into a fun and funky hands-on science discovery centre) has become a meeting place for people of all ages and backgrounds.

It will be interesting to see if Calgary’s new Central Library can be as successful in capturing both the public and the design community’s attention. With a budget of $245 million, I sure hope so. Who knows what will happen with our old library – maybe an Energy Museum?

SLC's dramatic downtown library and public plaza. 

Rendering for Calgary's new downtown library.

Art Gallery

A gold medal has to be awarded to SLC for its Utah Museum of Contemporary Art which is part of the 1979 Bicentennial Art Complex.  Admission is free with a suggested donation of $5, making it very accessible.  Though not a large gallery, the exhibitions we saw were imaginative and engaging.  It also doesn’t have a long history (established in 1931); it wasn’t until 1979 that it moved to its current downtown location from the Art Barn near the University of Utah.

Over the same period, Calgary has struggled to find a home for a contemporary art gallery. Let’s hope that Contemporary Calgary will be successful in its vision of converting the old Science Centre into a vibrant civic art gallery.

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is part of a major arts complex. Calgary's EPCOR Centre would be on par with SLC complex except for the art gallery component. 

LDS Temple Square Campus

SLC also takes the gold medal for the Temple Square campus, headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.  The multi-block Campus is home to not only the Temple, but to the original church, an office headquarters, the Tabernacle (housing a 11,623 pipe organ) home of the Tabernacle Choir and the historic Lion and Beehive house. Just north of the Square is their library, the magnificent LDS Conference Centre with its 21,200 seats and the Family History Museum, the largest genealogical library in the world.  The campus is sea of peace, inspiration, beauty and tranquility in the middle of the city, a rarity in this day and age.

The closest thing Calgary has to match Temple Square is Stampede Park our city’s homage to our culture of ranching and agriculture. The BMO Roundup Centre, Saddledome (SLC has a downtown arena on par with Saddledome), Grandstand, Agrium Western Event Centre and Corral are no match for the architecture and atmosphere of Temple Square.  This might change however when the Stampede completes its expansion and enhancement plans.

The Temple is the centre piece of a multi-block campus of LDS buildings that is their corporate headquarters.  

LDS Conference Centre with its roof-top garden/plaza and 21,200  theatre seats is a hidden gem on the hill behind the main campus. 

Calgary’s Gold Medals

Public Spaces / Public Art

Calgary wins the gold for public spaces. SLC has nothing to match our amazing collection of parks, plazas and promenades – Olympic Plaza, Devonian Gardens, Stephen Avenue Walk, Prince’s Island, Riley Park, Fort Calgary Park, Central Memorial Park, East Village RiverWalk, Shaw Millennium Skate Park and Bow River pathway. 

A bocci ball match breaks out in the Hotchkiss Gardens as noon hour in downtown Calgary. (Photo credit: Jeff Trost).

Downtown employees enjoy some sun and people watching along the Bow River Promenade and Prince's Island park.  

Downtown employees enjoy some sun and people watching along the Bow River Promenade and Prince's Island park. 

Other workers enjoy a run or walk at noon hour across the Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. 

Street Life

When it comes to urban villages, SLC has nothing to match the urban vitality of Calgary’s Beltline, Bridgeland, Kensington, Inglewood, Mission and 17th Avenue with their contiguous mix of shops, cafes, restaurants and music venues.

Dairy Lane has anchored West Hillhurst's Main Street for over 50 years.

Dairy Lane has anchored West Hillhurst's Main Street for over 50 years.

Calgary's 17th Avenue aka Red Mile is a vibrant street with its mix of shops, restaurants, patios, pubs and lounges.

Calgary's 17th Avenue aka Red Mile is a vibrant street with its mix of shops, restaurants, patios, pubs and lounges.

We did find one street (Broadway) with some pedestrian oriented shops in SLC. Loved the mid-century modern shops, our favourite was The Green Ant.

We did find one street (Broadway) with some pedestrian oriented shops in SLC. Loved the mid-century modern shops, our favourite was The Green Ant.


Calgary also wins gold for its Central Business District that combines not only its 35 million square feet of office space (with another 5 million under construction), but also how its offices, hotel, retail, cultural and historic districts are linked both at street level and with the world’s most extensive elevated walkway - +15. 

Norman Foster's Bow office tower viewed from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary's skyline is dominated by highrise office and condo towers.


Calgary also wins gold for its plethora of new condos and new infill single family and duplex homes near its downtown. While SLC has some new condo and infill housing development it is nowhere near the scale of what is happening in Calgary’s inner city communities. The more I visit cities like Portland, Denver and SLC, the better appreciation I have for the incredible inner city revitalization happening in Calgary.  

Alura a new apartment across from the new Barb Scott Park with its Chinook Arc artwork.

Four new high-rise condos line Macleod Trail next to Stampede Park. 

Waterfront project consists of five buildings with 1,000 condo units. 

Dead Heats

When it comes to indoor shopping centres, SLC City Creek (yes, it does have creek running through it, and even a retractable roof) and Calgary’s Core are on par with each other, with its massive three-block skylight and Devonian Gardens.

The same could be said for the LRT systems. Although Calgary’s system carries a lot more passengers, SLC has a bigger and better free fare zone (buses are also free in their downtown).  The two cities are also tied when it comes to their respective downtown arena, performing arts centres, ballet and theatre groups.

Like Calgary, SLC also has both a Zoo and a heritage park located just a few kilometers from the downtown.

Harmon's grocery store in downtown SLC.

SLC's City Creek shopping centre does indeed have a creek running through it that meanders back outside.

The Core shopping Centre links  three city blocks with its massive skylight.

The Core shopping Centre links  three city blocks with its massive skylight.

SLC's transit corridor. 

Calgary's transit corridor.

Calgary's transit corridor.

SLC's capitol building sits on a hill with a magnificent view of the Salt Lake valley and mountains. 

Eight Avenue Place is just one of dozens of office towers that dominate Calgary's downtown sense of place as a major corporate headquarters centre.   

Eight Avenue Place is just one of dozens of office towers that dominate Calgary's downtown sense of place as a major corporate headquarters centre.  

Post Mortem

For those snowbirds who drive down to Phoenix and Palm Springs to escape our winter, it would be well worth your time to plan a few days to explore SLC.  We highly recommend the free personal tour of Temple Square campus conducted by young missionaries. We got a wonderful insight into the Latter-Day Saints culture with no pressure to discuss our religious beliefs.

The LDS Church earns more than $7 billion a year in tithing and other donations. In 1996, Time magazine estimated the church’s assets exceeded $70 billion (banks, radio stations, Utah’s largest newspaper, farmland, and Brigham Young University). In fact, the Church built and owns the $2 billion City Creek Center shopping mall in SLC along with many of the office towers across from Temple Square.  The LDS Church is a unique corporation that creates a unique sense of place in downtown SLC, as does the oil and gas towers in Calgary. It is interesting to note there are more suits and ties in SLC than in YYC. 

Where to eat?

We'd highly recommend checking out Em's (271 North Centre Street, near the Capitol Building). We liked it so much we went two nights in a row and almost went a third night.  I loved the marinated pork chop in a maple mustard and bacon barbeque sauce ($19) and the housemade ricotta gnocchi tossed in basil pesto($9) and Brenda loved Potato Lasagna ($17) one night and the dried fruit stuffed Pork Tenderloin with roasted potatoes in a bacon sherry vinaigrette ($26). Don't get me started on the desserts. 

Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Where to stay?

Our choice was the downtown Red Lion Hotel and we weren't disappointed.  Just off the interstate so easy access and yet still short walking distance to all of the downtown attractions, even a indie cafe across the street. The hotel has been recently renovated so everything was nice and new. 

Great view of the Wasatch Mountain out the window of our Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. 

Great view of the Wasatch Mountain out the window of our Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. 

Comfy bed with the best hotel reading light we have found.

Comfy bed with the best hotel reading light we have found.

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An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on Saturday, September 27, with the title "Salk Lake City has Gold Medal amenities, but Calgary has Gold Medal public spaces and public art."


Calgary's Audacious New Library

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

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

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

Finally the wait is over. 

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

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

Think Global Act Local

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

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

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

The Design

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

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

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

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

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Drift Boat?

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

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

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

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

Yin Yang on 3rd Street SE

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary!

By Richard White, August 31, 2014. 

Since Calgary’s urban living renaissance began in the early ‘90s, Vancouver developers have been instrumental in shaping our city’s 21st century urban condo culture.  Vancouver’s Nat Bosa was one of the first developers to realize that Calgary’s downtown could more than just a place to work before heading back to the ‘burbs’ to live.  Today, his children - Ryan and Natalie Bosa - are championing the revitalization of East Village.

Calgary’s largest single condo development project to date  - Waterfront (eight buildings, 1,000+ condos and 1,200 parking stalls) on the old Greyhound bus barn site east of Eau Claire Market was the brainchild of Vancouver’s Anthem Properties. This developer also has a 5.4-acre site across from Erlton Station that could accommodate a similar scale project.

Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark, has almost single-handedly reshaped the Beltline with five condo projects including sold-out Mark on 10th which is currently under construction.  It just recently announced Park Point, a two-tower (500+ condos) in the heart of the Beltline north of Memorial Park; this means Qualex-Landmark will have built 1,500 new condos over the past 10 years.

The list of Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s urban condo culture doesn’t end there Bucci Development Ltd. is very active north of the Bow with mid-rise projects in Bridgeland and Kensington. Maple Project is responsible for Ten and UNO, both in lower Mount Royal, with plans for a high-rise apartment in the Beltline, as well as the redevelopment of the Highland Golf course.

Mark on 10th will establish a new benchmark for urban design in Calgary. It is fun, funky and quirky without being weird and wacky. 

The Waterfront condo project is the largest condo project in Calgary's history.

BOSA condos built in downtown's West End in the mid '90s. 

International Influence

More recently, Calgary’s new urban living renaissance has captured the interest of the global investment community.  Grosvenor, an urban development company based in London, England that dates back to 1677, identified Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto as the best three cities in the world for investment potential.  Currently, Grosvenor Americas based in Vancouver has three Calgary condo projects – Drake, Smith (Beltline) and Avenue (West End). 

Vancouver’s Concord Pacific (developers of the Vancouver Expo ’86 site), with ties to Hong Kong, recently announced they will be proceeding with their uber-chic Eau Claire condo project west of the Princeton.  Concord Pacific is associated with luxury condo communities with a reputation of choosing only the “best of the best” sites. Eau Claire and Mission are competing to see who will become the “Mount Royal of condo living.”

Toronto developers get some skin in the game

Toronto condo developers, though late in the Cowtown condo game, have hit the ground running.  Both FRAM+Slokker Real Estate Group and Lamb Development Corp. have entered the Calgary market in the past few years.  FRAM+Slokker is focused on East Village with three projects - First will be completed in 2015, Verve in 2016 and a site for an unnamed major retail, office and residential development has also been acquired.

Lamb has acquired two properties for development - one on 10th Ave SW next to the iconic Uptown Bottle Depot and one on 12th Avenue SE next to Stampede Park.  The latter named Orchard will be twin 31-storey towers with a one-acre apple orchard in the middle.

Rafiiville or Little Vancouver

Not only are Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s condo culture, but so are their Vancouver design and marketing teams.  Vancouver architect Road Rafii has had more influence on Calgary’s architectural look than any other architect over the past ten years. In 2001, the Vancouver Sun identified Rafii as one of the 10 architects who shaped Vancouver’s urban sense of place.  In 2014, you could say he has also shaped Calgary’s sense of place as he was the design architect for Calla, Drake, Luna, Mark on 10th, Nova, Stella and Waterfront condo projects. Perhaps we should rename the Beltline “Rafiiville.”

Grosvenor is also using a Vancouver architectural firm - James KM Cheng Architects - for its Avenue condo project in our downtown’s West End while Concord Pacific is using Vancouver “starchitects” Arthur Erickson and Peter Busby for their Eau Claire condo project. In addition, Busby + Will Architects are designing a complete redo of the Eau Claire Market site for Regina’s Harvard Properties.  Could our downtown Bow River condo district become “Little Vancouver.”

One would think the out-of-town developers don’t think much of Calgary’s architectural community. However, it is more a case of being more comfortable dealing with a design and marketing team they are familiar with.  However, Brad Lamb, President of Lamb Development Corp., quoted recently in the Financial Post in conjunction with the announcement of Concord Pacific’s Eau Claire condo project said, “there are a few true luxury, high-rise developments in Calgary, but their architectural styles can be best described as pedestrian.” Ouch!

Obviously, it is not a coincidence that Calgary’s downtown skyline is perhaps looking a bit like Vancouver’s given the number of high-rise Vancouver condo developers who are capitalizing on the residentialization of Calgary’s urban core.

A rendering of proposed Orchard condo with the apple tree orchard between the two towers. 

Fostering a sense of place

From an urban design perspective, I am not convinced Calgary is being well served by out-of-town developers as most of their architectural designs are not breaking any new ground and certainly not contributing to creating a “made-in Calgary” sense of place. However, I am anxiously awaiting the completion of Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th as it has potential to be a signature architectural statement for Calgary.

If I had to choose my favourite uniquely contemporary condo designs, I would pick ones designed by Calgary architectural firms. Arriva is probably my favourite - designed by BKDI. I have also come to admire what I like to call “The Chessmen” on Macleod Trail – SASSO and NUERA, designed by Calgary’s Abugov Kaspar Architects and Alura and Nuera, designed by Calgary’s S2 Architecture.  These condo towers make a modern, robust and masculine statement with their massing and mechanical design elements. To me they have an engineering look that reflects Calgary’s huge engineering community. 

Good architecture doesn’t have to shout out “Look at me! Look at me!” Rather, it just “stands out” over time as something interesting to look at.

These four condos by Cove Properties along Macleod Trail near Stampede Park have started to create a distinctive sense of place with their unique design. 

South of downtown on 17th Avenue red brick is more common as the facade material for high-rises and the design elements are more art deco and Manhattan like. 

The Beltline has an eclectic design sensibility, many of the new condos and apartments area adding an element of colour as part of their sense of place, like the Aura apartments across the street from the new Barb Scott Park. 

Condo living is in its infancy in YYC

“Condo living will soon be the norm in Calgary,” says Michael Ward, Senior VP & General Manager of Grosvenor Americas.  His rationale is that Calgary will have a very robust economy for the foreseeable future (although there will be periodic downturns) given its political stability and the large fixed costs and long-term commitments to the oil sands by both domestic and international firms.  This in turn will attract young professionals, not only from Canada but internationally to work in Calgary’s downtown office towers. He believes “living in condominiums is a preferred choice for an increasing number of young people, looking for affordable housing and centrally located.” 

He even postulates that “as seen in Vancouver, large parts of Europe and Asia, people are choosing to stay in condominiums after they form relationships and have families as they enjoy the convenience of living close to amenities, work and friends.”

Ward notes, “Condominium development has in the past garnered some bad publicity in Calgary, as smaller, opportunistic developers have walked away from half-finished projects through tough times and held on to purchasers’ deposits for years before commencing construction.”  He notes, “the fact Calgary is attracting major experienced national and international urban condo developers, means more condos will be completed on time with quality design and construction, which in turn will make condo living more attractive to more Calgarians.”  

For decades, Calgary has been predominantly a single-family home city, but over the past decade this has changed not only in the inner-city, but in the ‘burbs’ also.  For many the condo is the new ‘starter home.’ There are currently over 7,000 condos under construction across the city. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a- changin.” 

By Richard White. An edited version of this blog appeared in the September 2014 issue of Condo Living magazine, with the title " Cross Canada Connections." 

Condo from the 70s and 80s and 90s along the Elbow River in Mission.

In 1982, the Estate condo was built next to the historic Ranchmen's Club.  It was designed with town homes along the street with a tower above, nearly a decade before the podium and point tower became the Vancouver condo design craze. 

Calgarians: Where is your happy place?

Guest Blog: John Lewis, Intelligent Futures, a Calgary-based firm focusing on urbanism, sustainability and community engagement. 

What if we looked at our city from a perspective of what makes us happy?

Most of the time, discussion about the evolution of Calgary is focused on the negative and the controversial. While this kind of debate and dialogue is essential in a democracy, we also think it’s important to reflect on what is working well.

That’s why we created the #happyyc project.

We initiated #happyyc to find out what places make Calgarians happy. We think that by understanding the places that people love, planners, designers, architects, citizens and community organizations alike can help make more happy happen. For the last few months, we have been out on the streets of Calgary and online looking to find out what places make Calgarians happy. 

The idea of taking happiness seriously has been gaining traction in a number of fields – from Alberta economist Mark Aneilski’s book The Economics of Happiness to psychologist Martin Seligman’s work on authentic happiness to the Bhutan’s measurement of Gross National Happiness. At their core, all these examples are focused on what really matters to people and how to structure systems to enable these good things to occur. In the realm of cities, Charles Montgomery recently wrote Happy City, which investigates the linkages between urban design and happiness.

We wanted to take a look at our own city and hear from Calgarians about what places matter most to them. Using a simplified map and a single direction (“Map the spaces that are your happiest places!”) citizens are able to express the places that make them happy. We’re intentionally leaving it open – we’re not restricting the kinds of places that people can choose.

Could your happy place be window licking and dancing in the sidewalk ballet of one of Calgary's many animated streetscapes? 

Could your happy place be along the 700+ km of pathways?

Could it be Fish Creek Park or the new Greenway?

Could your happy place be one of our live music or theatre spaces?

What we’ve seen so far is both fascinating and beautiful. Natural spaces like the rivers, Nose Hill and the pathways are definitely treasured by our participants so far. And before we go into the in-depth analysis of responses, one thing is clear: Calgarians love to eat. The city’s eating establishments are very well represented. Neighbourhoods like Kensington and Inglewood are showing up very often as well.

We want to hear from YOU!

But we’re not done yet. We want to hear from as many Calgarians as possible – ideally, from at least one person in each of our communities across the city. Until October 1, we’re going to keep asking Calgarians to map their happy places. Once all the maps are in, we’ll analyze the responses and share the results with the community. This will give us all some great insights about the places in our city that matter most to us, along with some clues about the commonalities between them.

Perhaps you like shopping? Maybe you love our historic districts - Stephen Avenue and Inglewood?

Perhaps you have a secret spot in your community?

Could the local playground be your happy place?

Maybe you love one of our 5,000+ parks? Dog park? 

To share your thoughts, go to the HappyYYC and follow the three easy steps.

The more responses, the more insights we’ll all gain.

Step 1: Download and print a map by clicking here.

Step 2: Get our your pencils, pens, markers and/or crayons and map your happiest places.

Step 3: Send your map to the #happyyc project.

  • Option A: Mail it to us at: #happyyc  1221B Kensington Rd NW   Calgary AB   T2N 3P8
  • Option B: Scanning and emailing it to us at: info@happyyc.ca
  • Option C: Uploading it to our site by clicking here
If you aren't a Calgarians, I still love to know where is your happy place. Just email me your happy place and perhaps a photo and I will add them to this post.  

If you aren't a Calgarians, I still love to know where is your happy place. Just email me your happy place and perhaps a photo and I will add them to this post. 

Mount Royal: City Beautiful or Man vs Nature?

Calgarians have a long history of being in love with building mansions. Long before there were Aspen Woods or McKenzie Lake Island, there was Mount Royal.

Back in the early 1900s, Mount Royal was just a treeless hill southwest of city limits, like many of the hills in today’s edge communities.  The land belonged to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) part of the 25 million acres of land granted to them by the federal in government in 1885 as an incentive to build Canada’s transcontinental railway.

 It wasn’t until 1905 that the CPR decided to subdivide the “yet to be named” land into huge (some an entire city block) lots to attract the wealthy and make a healthy profit.  By 1907, seven mansions had been built on Royal Avenue and Hope Street for wealthy American businessmen attracted to Calgary by its bustling ranching and agricultural opportunities. As a result, the new community got the nickname “American Hill.” 

The first Mount Royal Homes were built on land devoid of any trees. This home was built by D.J. Young in 1910 at the corner of 8th Street and Durham Road. 

Mount Royal becomes American Hill and you can see some of the early trees. 

Mount Royal early 20th century. 

By the 1916, homes like the Coste House were starting to be more park-like with substantial trees. Credit: Vicky Williams " Calgary Then and Now" (1978) 

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

If this is what Calgary looked like 100 years ago, imagine what it will look like in 2114. 

If this is what Calgary looked like 100 years ago, imagine what it will look like in 2114. 

CPR: Calgary's Past & Present

The CPR executives in Montreal (CPR’s corporate headquarters) and Calgary lawyer R.B. Bennett (future Canadian Prime Minister) were none too happy with the nickname, so they lobbied to have Calgary’s newest suburb named after the exclusive community of Mount Royal in Montreal (the home of William E. Van Horne, president of CPR).  CPR even went as far as to give the new community Canadian character street names like – Wolfe, Sydenham and Durham, as well as French-Canadian names like Champlain, Frontenac, Joliet and Vercheres.  Local folklore has it that the Montreal executives joked “let them damn Yankees try to pronounce those names when they tell their friends where they live.”

Mount Royal developed rapidly during the 1910 to 1912 Calgary boom, becoming the home of such notables as Colonel James Macleod and the A.E. Cross family.

In an ironic twist of fate, by the end of the 20th century - 1996 to be exact - Calgary businessman David O’Brien orchestrated the relocation of CPR’s head office to Calgary, much to the shock of the Montreal business community.

Today, many of the early 20th century mansions still exist in Mount Royal alongside many contemporary new ones.  In local historian Harry Sanders’ book “Historic Walks of Calgary,” there is a great self-guided walking tour of the community with lots of interesting insights.

City Beautiful

Like master-planned communities today, Mount Royal is a product of the urban thinking of its time.  The “City Beautiful” movement was very popular in Canada in the early 20th century, with its principles of creating urban communities that were less grid-like and more park-like. This meant curved streets, irregular lot shapes, boulevards, an abundance of parks and architectural controls; this is not dissimilar to what we saw in Calgary’s late 20th century communities.

Just one of the many curved streets of Mount Royal. You can see the proximity to Downtown with the office towers in the distance. In the early 20th Century, Mount Royal was on the edge of the city. 

Many of the homes have huge lots that are like private parks. 

Many of the homes have huge lots that are like private parks. 

Many of the homes are located at top of a hill, giving them an enhanced sense of grandeur. 

Many of the homes are located at top of a hill, giving them an enhanced sense of grandeur. 

R.B. Bennett House was built in 1912.  Canada's 12th Prime Minister owned this home from 1917 to 1947, but never lived in it.  The rounded corner tower with its octagonal roof, it not typical of Georgian Revival homes (Calgary Walks, Harry Sanders, 2005).

R.B. Bennett House was built in 1912.  Canada's 12th Prime Minister owned this home from 1917 to 1947, but never lived in it.  The rounded corner tower with its octagonal roof, it not typical of Georgian Revival homes (Calgary Walks, Harry Sanders, 2005).

A carriage house that is now modest Mount Royal home.

Architecture 101

Sanders points out that while most of Mount Royal fits the “City Beautiful” mold, there is one exception. At the top of the hill between Prospect and Dorchester Avenues, from 10th Street to Carlton sits a grid-like development. This was the 10-acre site sold to Dr. Ernest Willis in 1904 for his hill-top sanatorium before the CPR’s design controls were in place.

Today, walking the streets of Mount Royal is like walking through a history book of home styles – English, Georgian and Revival, Art & Crafts, American Foursquare and more.  You will also see modern designs influenced by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright.   

One example is the Katchen residence at 800 Prospect Ave. SW.  Built in 1954 it was the home of Mire Katchen, a successful cattleman who, with his brother Samuel, founded Canadian Packers. The house, designed by Clayton, Bond & Morgridge, is an excellent example of the International style with its post and beam wood construction, flat roof, open floor plan and private outdoor spaces that integrate with the interior living spaces.   

Katchen Residence.

Katchen Residence.

Another of the mid-century modern homes.   Note that there is no sidewalk on this side of the street and no massive driveway, creating a nice balance between man and nature. 

Another of the mid-century modern homes. Note that there is no sidewalk on this side of the street and no massive driveway, creating a nice balance between man and nature. 

One of the few homes in Mount Royal with an unobstructed view of the street. You don't get set-backs like this in new subdivisions, even on an estate lot. 

One of the few homes in Mount Royal with an unobstructed view of the street. You don't get set-backs like this in new subdivisions, even on an estate lot. 

It is hard to tell if this is a new house or a modernized turn of the century home. 

It is hard to tell if this is a new house or a modernized turn of the century home. 

What's in a name?

One of the things I love about the mansions of the early 20th century is that they took on the names of their owners.  Sanders’ book is full of names like Davidson Residence and Coach House, R.B. Bennett House, Coste House etc. each with their own story to tell. 

A quick scan of current MLS listings shows that you can still buy a modernized piece of history, i.e. a 1910 Mount Royal home on a one-acre lot complete with a heated 6 car garage and a Carriage House.  The average Mount Royal home sells for about $2.5 million for a 3,000+ square foot home.  It is also interesting to note there are lots of families living in Mount Royal - not just empty nesters.  In fact, 25.5% of Mount Royal’s residents are under the age of 19, which is higher than the city average of 24%.

If you are a gardener, Mount Royal is a great place to wander and see what survives in Calgary, as many of these gardens are 100 years old.  It truly is like walking in a park as the huge lots allow for many huge trees and shrubs, something that isn’t possible on the tiny lots in Calgary’s new subdivisions with all their underground services.

Back story: Developers and urban planners in the late 20th century buried the ugly overhead wires to make new suburbs more beautiful. However, the unintended consequence was that large trees could not be planted near the underground services making tree-lined streets in new suburbs a thing of the past. As you wander Mount Royal, you get the feeling of a nice balance between man and nature, something missing in new suburbs where the house, driveway and road dominate. 

As you wander Mount Royal you will discover historical artifacts like old fieldstone fences and old coach houses that have since become separate homes. Many of the huge lots have been subdivided allowing for new infill homes to be built. 

Yes even Mount Royal is being densified! 

One of the many river rock walls from the early 20th Century that add charm to the community. 

Coste House mailbox

Not everything in Mount Royal is conservative and historic, found these blue trees that have a wonderful luminous quality that is ver contemporary.  Could this be an environmental statement?

Just one of many infills in Mount Royal; this house could be in any one of a dozen or more inner city communities in Calgary. 

Just one of many infills in Mount Royal; this house could be in any one of a dozen or more inner city communities in Calgary. 

By Richard White, August 23, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Fall edition of Domus Magazine.) 

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Historic Calgary Postcards: St. George's Island

While Central/Memorial Park and Bowness Park were the showpieces of Calgary’s early parks, the Bow River Islands - St. George, St. Patrick and St. Andrew have an interesting history as parks.  The Islands were first leased by town council for development of parks in 1887.  The three islands were named for the patron saints of the United Kingdom - St. George of England, St. Patrick of Ireland and St. Andrew of Scotland.

In the late 19th century, there was no Prince’s Island. It was merely a shifting gravel bar and more of an isthmus. That’s until Peter Prince created a channel in the river (now the lagoon) to allow logs to float to Eau Claire Lumber Mill at the site of the current Eau Claire Market.  The St. Andrew Island was created by a lagoon between it and St. Patrick Island which has since been filled in to create one island. 

Back in1892 through to 1900, a ferry service connected St. George's Island to town, increasing its popularity as a weekend playground. In 1900, a foot bridge was constructed.  Construction of the existing St. George’s Island Bridge for cars and pedestrians ridge in 1908 cost of $25,000. At the same time an old Elbow River Bridge was moved to the island’s north side providing a link to the then new Calgary General Hospital and the new communities of Bridgeland and Riverside. In 1910, the federal government gave the islands to the town, on the condition they remain parks.

It was the natural beauty St. George's Island that captured the attention of Calgarians and Park Superintendents.  The Island was enhanced with the planting of more trees, cinder pathways, fireplaces for picnickers and the Biergarten dance hall band shell.  By 1911, the island was home to over 200 weekend picnic parties and the Sunday afternoon band concerts drew an average of 1,500 to 2,000 people (note the population of Calgary was only 43,704).

The two-story German Biergarten, built on the site of today’s Calgary Zoo’s Conservatory at a cost of $4,560 in 1912 became a well-known Calgary architectural landmark.   Much to the embarrassment of Parks Superintendent Richard Iverson and the City, it was illegal to sell beer on City property so the building was converted to a teahouse.  However, this didn’t work well either as the noise from the bands on the top floor drove the tea drinkers from the main floor.  It became known as the “old bandstand.”

Several attempts were made to create a zoo in Calgary early in the 20th century.  The zoo at St. George’s Island began in 1917 when two wayward deer found in the park and were corralled in cages by the dogcatcher near the Biergarten. The deer were so popular, the zoo began to grow under the direction of parks superintendent William Reader. By 1929, the Calgary Zoological Society was formed which was the beginning of St. George's Island as the home of the Calgary Zoo Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park. 

This postcard reminds me of George Seurat's 1984 painting a Paris Park titled "A Sunday at La Grande Jatte (see below).  Calgary's sense of place was more closely linked to European at the turn of the 20th century than it is today.  

Calgary was once called "Paris on the prairies." 

A Sunday at La Grande Jatte, George Seurat, 1884

The explosive growth of Calgary, in the early 20th century prompted a need to put some serious thought into long-term city planning. In 1912, British Landscape Architect Thomas Mawson was commissioned by the city to prepare a master plan to address the rapid growth of the city. Mawson's proposal was an ambitious plan on par with Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.  The focus of Mawson's plan was on the Bow River, not the CPR railway line.     

The explosive growth of Calgary, in the early 20th century prompted a need to put some serious thought into long-term city planning. In 1912, British Landscape Architect Thomas Mawson was commissioned by the city to prepare a master plan to address the rapid growth of the city. Mawson's proposal was an ambitious plan on par with Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.  The focus of Mawson's plan was on the Bow River, not the CPR railway line.


The biergarten, dance hall and eventually tea house on St. George's Island. 

St. George Island summer amusement park. 

St. George Island summer amusement park. 

Prince's Island early 20th century. 

Eau Claire Lumber Mill at Prince's Island

Eau Claire Lumber Mill at Prince's Island

A landscape designer by profession, Reader emigrated to Canada from England in 1908 when he was 33. He became parks superintendent in 1913.  He was responsible for the planning and implementation of establishing Calgary's first parks - Central/Memorial Park, Riley Park, Mewata Park, St. George Island and the Memorial Drive trees to commemorate soldiers killed in World War I. During his 29 year rein as parks superintendent he transformed Calgary from a dusty prairie town to "the garden city of Western Canada." 

Turner Valley Gas Plant A Hidden Gem!

Richard White, July 27, 2014

While the others played follow-the-leader with David Finch, our tour guide, I was busy flaneuring the Turner Valley Gas Plant (TVGP) – southern Alberta’s secret national and provincial historical site.  While the history of the birthplace of Canada’s oil & gas industry is interesting what fascinated me immediately was the untouched industrial design of the buildings and the equipment. 

Careful not to wander out of earshot of Finch (yes, I did get some dirty looks – mostly from Brenda - for wandering off), a human equivalent of “Google” with his wealth of knowledge not only of the TVGP but of Alberta history.  Who knew the Turner Valley Field continues to produce oil and gas using enhanced recovery methods? 

I learned the town of Royalties (that should be Calgary’s nickname, or maybe Stock Option City), at its peak in the late 1940s, was home to nearly 1,700 people. Today the only indication the town even existed is a monument 5.6 km from Hartell (3.2 km south of Naphtha, which has only four home remaining).  Royalties’ nickname was “Little Chicago” as the wheeling and dealing paralleled that the Chicago mafia and Al Capone.  And in the mind of locals, if Royalties is “Little Chicago,” then Longview must be “Little New York” especially given the high prices charged by the stores.  Other nearby town names included Snob Hill, Dogtown and Mortgage Heights – we need more fun names.

Another interesting factoid was that the “liquid” that gushed out of the Dingman #1 well in 1914 was so pure you could (and they did) put it directly into your car - a good thing as Calgary had no refinery back then.  Listening to Finch is like listening to a gusher; the stories and information just flow out of him. 

I would recommend the TVGP weekend tours to everyone – locals and tourists.  I am thinking it should be a mandatory school trip for children across southern Alberta. Tours happen Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays until the end of September from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is by donation.

For more information on the history of TVGP, check out the 100th anniversary You Tube video hosted by David Finch. 

David Finch reciting a poem

David Finch reciting a poem

Gas plant as art gallery...

I have chosen just a few of the many images that allude to different schools of modern painting, ceramics, photography and sculpture that I found at TVGP.  The visual stimulation was equal to anything I have experienced in major contemporary art galleries and museums around the world.  I have given each piece a title, just for fun! 

Industrial Patina 

Fire Blanket 


Eye Balls

Yellow Red Orbs

Yellow Red Orbs


Architecture & Industrial Design 

I think these images speak for themselves. 


The Doors...

I was fascinated by the rusted, battered industrial doors.  I learned the red dot means their is a fire extinguisher nearby.  I did not learn what the green dot meant, perhaps I should have listened better. 

door red green
door half circle

Last Word

While David was a bit annoyed by my flaneuring at the beginning, I was able to partly redeem myself when I found some sulphur chunks on the ground. And just when he thought I wasn’t listening, (I was hidden from view taking pictures of some hidden gem I had found) I was able to repeat his Hitler story back to him.  By the end of the tour, he trusted me to lock the doors behind us.

Thanks David – you are the best tour guide ever.

If you like this blog you might like:

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Meets Art Town

Travels in small towns in North America

The Ten Commandments of a Flaneur