Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

I received the comments below from childhood friend Bill Browett and thought that EDT readers would enjoy his insightful perspective on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Human Rights.  I have received many other comments from readers which I have added to the end of the blog.  I hope you will enjoy this revised blog. 

Bill Browett writes:

I have been thinking about this blog since you sent the link out. Rather than focus on whether the money was well spent, I was struck by your subtitle …

“Museum without artifacts …  One of the things I associate with great museums and art galleries is allowing visitors the opportunity to see things you can’t see anywhere else.  “

I too love seeing the artifacts, but mostly when I go to museums and art galleries what I am doing is looking at the stories that are told … the meta messages … Stories that reveal the attitudes and aspirations of the curators, owners, and artisans in both the artifacts and messages. Public institutions tend to tell institutional stories, and institutions pretty much by definition are conservative. Dissenting opinion is often. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is no exception, as noted by “WB”.

Canadians have played pivotal roles in the progress of Human Rights … e.g., the creation of the UN "Universal Declaration of Human Rights” … I am all for celebrating both the positive contributions … However, these celebrations are empty and appear only as propaganda, if the institutions do not reconcile and work to reconcile Canadian failures, and entrenched cultural bigotries whether colonial and tribal [e.g., European biases] histories, e..g, genocidal policies, such as the Residential School program for First Nations children, and failure to include reconciliation in the Truth and Reconciliation process that is on-going.

I will visit the CMHR if I manage to make it to Winnipeg. Nonetheless, if the website is any indication,, this museum has failed to capture not only the rich, and on occasion dark history of the human rights struggles in Canada, but the CMHR has not put into a global context the Canadian struggles and contributions. … We are left with what I call a “happy face” institutional interpretation … sanitized and romanticized versions of the past.

If the CMHR, as the website suggests, has very narrowly defined the history of Human Rights, as I suspect, … then it has done a significant disservice to the many, many Canadians who have deeply sacrificed in these struggles, and worse does a disservice to current and future generations by suggesting that there are not serious conflicting histories of what Human Rights are.

Perhaps the "expressions" section of the website captures my concerns better than most, and illustrates the point of institutional messaging … (

 “Developed by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, this travelling exhibition explores the ways that Canadians have defined, made and kept peace at home and around the world. Peace is examined on three levels: how we negotiate to obtain and protect it; how we organize and demonstrate to demand it; and, sometimes, how we fight to achieve it."

To no one’s surprise, and as someone who has been an active participant in the Canadian peace movement all his adult life, the content in the "expressions” section is a very narrow definition of how "Canadians have defined, made and kept peace at home and around the world."

For many of us, on many levels, Human Rights struggles continue both in Canada and around the world. Appropriately, this is the season for such reflections.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent???????

By Richard White, December 10, 2014

The September 2014 opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg was probably one of the most anticipated, new 21st century buildings in Canada. It is the first new national museum since1967 and the first outside the National Capital Region.  The design is strange, intriguing, and not just a big box museum. In the words of Antoine Predock, the architect, “ the abstract ephemeral wings of a white dove embrace a mythic stone mountain of 450-million year old Tyndall limestone in the creation of a unifying and timeless landmark.”

 Indeed, the building is a new landmark and tourist attraction for the City of Winnipeg and another wonderful new addition to the city’s urban meeting place, The Forks, which is on par with places like Vancouver’s Granville Island.

 On a recent visit to the Winnipeg, I had a chance to tour (two plus hours) the CMHR. And while I was initially impressed by the design and the exhibitions, something seemed to be wrong. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but gradually I began to question whether Winnipeg - and Canada for that matter - got full value for the $350 million cost.

CHRM looking east is a strange juxtaposition of shapes.

The "Welcome Wall" video has a series of shadow figures who quickly enter write the word "welcome" in various different languages and then exit.

The entrance to the first exhibition hall is along this dramatic and sombre hallway. 

Museum without artifacts

 One of the things I associate with great museums and art galleries is allowing visitors the opportunity to see things you can’t see anywhere else.  CMHR has very few unique artifacts consist mainly of text and videos.  In many ways, this museum’s experience is like walking through a huge documentary film at your own pace.  This got me to thinking again perhaps a series of documentaries could have worked just as well.

 I was also struck by the fact there wasn’t much “new” in the museum; most of the information is available to anyone with a computer and Internet.  One really has to rethink the role of museums in the 21st century.

 Interesting to that the museum’s website has no video of the exhibitions – not even a short “teaser “one. I can’t but help but wonder if they realized that if they did a good video tour, there would be no need to go to the museum. 

There are quotes from individuals scattered throughout the museum. 

There are quotes from individuals scattered throughout the museum. 

The first exhibition hall is dominated by a wall that documents the history of human rights on the left and video on the right. The wooden basket at the end is a small theatre space for a video.  

The first exhibition hall is dominated by a wall that documents the history of human rights on the left and video on the right. The wooden basket at the end is a small theatre space for a video.  

Detail of the history wall.

Detail of the history wall.

Several of the exhibition halls are dominated by a large billboard like video screen with words and images. 

Several of the exhibition halls are dominated by a large billboard like video screen with words and images. 

Children loved the interactive floor of colour. As each person stepped onto the floor they were surrounded by a ring of colour and as you moved closer to others your coloured rings joined.  If there are enough people, and you worked together you get the whole floor to light up. 

Children loved the interactive floor of colour. As each person stepped onto the floor they were surrounded by a ring of colour and as you moved closer to others your coloured rings joined.  If there are enough people, and you worked together you get the whole floor to light up. 

Opportunities Lost

Any museum that is focused on human rights is going to be controversial, and if it isn’t, it is not doing its job. This is an even larger issue when it is funded by the Federal government, with the many political considerations and constraints. This museum needs much more in the way of interactive and thought provoking exhibits.  There is no shortage of topical human rights issues in today’s world; it simply takes the freedom and courage to address them.

One of the most memorable exhibits is Jamie Blacks’ The REDress Project (see photo) that looks at violence towards aboriginal women.  Winnipeg and Manitoba have the largest First Nation and Metis population of any city or province in Canada and this population is rising at four times the overall rate of the city and province.  Governments at all levels are struggling with First Nation housing, education, health and crime challenges that are not being addressed. There is no shortage of aboriginal issues that could be dealt with in this museum in a thought-provoking and illuminating way.

Another of Canada’s most pressing current human rights issues is the chronic unemployment or underemployment of disabled Canadians who want to work but can’t find job.  Perhaps the money might have been better spent on job creation programs for the disabled.

And there are many other topical issues of today – violence against women, increasing government surveillance of the general population, the militarization of police forces, the role of women in today’s major religions, abuses of civil rights under the banner of the fight against terrorism, and on. This museum could be a beacon of light if it had some ideas for solutions.

Perhaps some of the space could be utilized for the topical issues of today, and allow outside organizations could develop the exhibits without bureaucratic or political interference.  The museum needed to focus more on how could we move from awareness to action. Now that would be a museum worth a visit.


Jaime Black, The REDress Project, 2010 to present, empty dresses collected by community donation with digital backdrop. The REDress Project is an ongoing public art installation. It is a response to the overwhelming number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. The installation seeks to engage the public in discussion about the sexist and racist nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. 

Jaime Black, The REDress Project, 2010 to present, empty dresses collected by community donation with digital backdrop. The REDress Project is an ongoing public art installation. It is a response to the overwhelming number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. The installation seeks to engage the public in discussion about the sexist and racist nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. 

Photo of residential school.  The information panel included the following quote: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem...Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic..." Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1913 to 1931. 

Photo of residential school.  The information panel included the following quote: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem...Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic..." Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1913 to 1931. 


Big & Bold Architecture

 While the vastness of the building is part of its provocative statement, one can’t help but wonder, why there is so much empty space.  My guess is that less than 50% of the buildings’ space is utilized for exhibitions and offices.  This means incredible cost for heating and air-conditioning the building, especially with Winnipeg’s long cold winters and hot summers. 

One rumour I heard was that it will cost $100,000 a year just for window cleaning.

One of the biggest issues facing most major museums across Canada today is operating cost; this is not going to be efficient building to operate. 

The interior of the museum is dominated by a floor to ceiling atrium that filled with ramps that take you from floor to floor. The luminous walls are an interesting visual metaphor for the "enlightenment" that the museum is trying to foster.

While the ramps and atrium create a very haunting and perhaps uplifting space, it takes up 50% of the museum space.

The glass walls from the inside are an intricate and rhythmic pattern that fragments the visitors view of the city. 

Even when you look up to the tower, the view is blocked by all of the mechanical pipes and girders - there is no sense of awe that you might expect.

It is strange to have a glass wall that is blocked by so many lines.

Last Word

After a few days of mulling my CMHR experience over, I continue to think the $350 million spent to build a human rights museum and probably another $10 million per year to operate it, might have been better spent actually dealing with the human rights issues themselves.

I would highly recommend that if you are in Winnipeg that you visit CMHR and decide for yourself if it was "money well spent!"

If you like this blog, you might like:

The dirt on the Museum of Clean

Phoenix: Musical Instrument Museum

Calgary: Military Museums

Readers' Responses:

CW writes: 

Your blog is written rather mildly. Perhaps the CMHR building could be repurposed as Museum of the Scams We Have to Endure in This Life: the CMHR structure, the Edmonton Oilers & Toronto Maple Leafs, Bre-X, the music industry for the last 40 years, and now the Wildrose Party of Alberta. Blog that one please.

KG writes: 

I asked myself this question as well and I do believe it's money poorly spent. From my perspective, the internet allows us to reach people with almost all the content contained in the museums walls – focussing just a quarter of the money on digital media content, rather than a lavish physical monument could have led to something exciting.  Now, granted that won't bring tourists. But, will the physical museum? I doubt it, especially not repeat visits.And don't even get me started on "starchitects" designing sculptures instead of functional spaces. How many human rights were violated to get all that steel just to tie the glass facade to the actual building.

JR writes: 

I fear that a third of a billion dollars was thrown down a rat hole. Question: what part of the money was raised from private citizens; from public companies; from “we the people”? Question: where does the $10M annual operation cost come from, speculate “we the people”? Question: how are they measuring the gigantic influx of tourists who are surely flying from all over the planet to see the museum?

Anyway the real depressing part is the annual cost. Assuming a “cap rate of 5.5”, I make it that there is a negative valuation ($181,000,000) i.e. to lose $10,000,000 annually“we the people” have to deploy $181,000,000 of capital earning 5.5% return to support it, all that after deploying $350,000,000 that makes no return. Poor bloody taxpayer.

WB writes: 

Great and inquisitive article on the CMHR. Many people I know in Winnipeg have little interest in visiting the museum owing to a litany of issues. You mentioned the $10m in annual operating costs but I believe e the figure is pegged at around $26m give or take a mill.

Why? No mention of Aboriginal genocide. No Palestinian causes represented. Only 4 of the 11 galleries completed? Why? ETC. "Controversial" starts with exclusions and lots of pink slips. The CMHR may be the first politically directed public cultural museum in Canadian history and that story has yet to be aired in public.




BVSA: Still Burning Exhibition

Calgary has a lot going for it. One thing that many may not realize – even those like us who love the visual arts – is the Burns Visual Arts Society (BVAS). Established in 1979, it is the oldest, continuously operating artists’ cooperative in Canada with a mandate focused solely on providing affordable working studio space to professional artists. 

The  current members are currently celebrating their 35th anniversary with a multi-media exhibition, “Still Burning,” at New Urban's PASSAGE, a contemporary art space in the off the beaten path Dominion Bridge Building in Ramsay (803-24 Avenue SE). Just opened today, the exhibition runs until January 15, 2015 and offers up an excellent full-colour catalogue with essays by curator Colleen Sharpe for just $20.  

Bev Tosh discussing her steel wire drawing "Tug of War." 

Still Burning

The exhibition includes the work of 20 artists and includes everything from painting (including one which is best viewed while lying flat on the floor – not to worry - blankets and pillows provided) to a wonderful steel wire figure drawing by Bev Tosh.

For me, one of the highlights was Shona Rae’s “Barbie Beast Wall Sconces” that integrated a found small animal skull, bear fur, wood, lamp and sterling silver cast doll parts.  I loved the shamanistic good vs. evil playfulness of the piece, with one being black and the other white.  

I was also attracted to the late Elizabeth Clark’s eight-foot dress made out of copper pot scrubbers and wire with its humorous title, “Chore Girl.” Sharpe’s essay tells the haunting story of Clark, in 2008, writing on the studio’s white board “I just wanted to let you know I was here.” The following day, she passed away suddenly. 

Shona Rae's "Barbie Beast Wall Scones" 11" H x 18"W X 7"D. 

Another view of "Barbie Beast Wall Sconces". 

Elizabeth Clark, "Chore Girl" 100" x18" x10" copper pot scubbers and wire. 

Close up of "Chore Girl."

Close up of "Chore Girl."

Brenda's Favourites

For Brenda, three works captured her imagination. Cecilia Gossen’s sculpture “Duet” which was inspired by the arches of the churches on a pilgrimage made by the artist to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It appealed to Brenda's love of simplicity and shape.

Jane Packham’s assemblage “ICON II – Daniel’s REFUGE,” inspired by the Old Testament story of Daniel whose prophecies got him thrown in the lion’s den where God saved him from certain death, appealed to her fascination for and love of creating narrative vignettes using found objects.

It was also lust when it came to Kim Bruce’s piece which consisted of three floating book shelves, each crowded with a series of encaustic, paperback-sized books shaped into letters that spelled out three works - Knowledge Empowers Absolutely - the title of the piece. It made her “top three” because of her love of typography.

Cecilia Gossen, Duet, graphite and acrylic on MDG and plexiglas, 30"H x 24"W x 5" D.  

Jaon Packman, " ICON II - Daniel's Refuge," mixed media assemblage, 55"H x 12.5"W x 6.25"D

Close up of "ICON II - Daniel's REFUGE."

Kim Bruce, "KNOWLEGE EMPOWERS ABSOLUTELY," encaustc on books, 48"Wx 33"H x 4"D

Close up of "EMPOWERS" shelf

BVAS History

BVAS was formed in February 1979 in Calgary by a group of artists who had studios in the Burns Building on Macleod Trail at 8th Avenue SW. Facing eviction due to the development of the entire block into the performing arts centre, the artists secured the upper floors of the Neilson Building (the first three floors were built in 1903 while the top two floors were added on in 1910) one block west on Stephen Avenue as their new space.

After flourishing on Stephen Avenue for the next 19 years, it, for a second time was faced with the need to find a new home. This time, the City’s plans for the convention centre’s expansion meant the block they were on was being redeveloped.

So, once again, in 2000, BVAS packed up and moved to Ramsay which has become a haven for Calgary’s creative community. Their current home consists of the entire two floors of a building at 828 – 24th Ave SE.

For 35 years, the BVAS has been home to painters, sculptors, photographers, jewellers, installation artists and conceptual creators.  By providing affordable studio space in a safe, stable environment, it has been and continues to be a creative incubator that nurtures artists and enables them to play a significant role in the evolution of Calgary as a major cultural centre.

Over 150 artists have called BVAS home at some point; several have become significant players on the national and international stage. Some alumni include: include: Dennis Burton, Mark Dicey, Greg Edmonson, Marjan Eggermont, Ron Kanashiro, Ron Moppett, Arthur Nishimura, Bill Rodgers, Naboru Sawai and Bev Tosh.

Community Leadership

Members of the Burns Visual Arts Society have taken an important leadership role in the Calgary arts community. Eleven years ago, members Cecilia Gossen and Celia Meade conceived the East Side Studio Crawl, an arts festival that has since become an annual civic arts event created to highlight and spotlight the talents of artists working in the communities of Ramsey and Inglewood. During the Crawl, artists open their studios to the public, providing a behind-the-scenes adventure through this colourful, rising art district. The reputation of the East Side Studio Crawl and its attendance continues to grow each year.

BVAS also hosts several yearly events such as the Studio Stomp in early summer, Alberta Culture Days and a Gem Event in late fall.

Award Winning

In 2012, member Shona Rae received “Best in Show in Superstition,” a national juried art exhibition in Toronto while another member, Louise Chong won the Niche 2008 Students’ Awards in Philadelphia.

As well, Bev Tosh’s many awards include the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Royal Academy of Arts (RCA) designation and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Today, twenty visual artists – from new graduates to seasoned veterans - work in the BVAS’ studios.          

For more information on BVAS or Still Burning, contact Cecilia Gossen ( or Carmen Bellingham (

By Richard White, September 19, 2014

BVAS building today. 

The Burns Building the original home of BVAS.

Edmonton: Borden (art?) Park

Richard White, August 7, 2014

It never ceases to amaze me how a day of flaneuring will unfold.  This time we were checking out the galleries on 124th Avenue (Edmonton’s Gallery District) and Brenda said, “let's wander the next block over and see what the homes are like.” We quickly found the urbanscape had changed from an almost treeless, commercial, noisy street to a calm,  tree canopied street in Westmount with a mix of early 20th century homes.

The homes weren’t huge mansions, but not tiny cottages either. Some had been fixed up nicely, but lots were in need of some TLC and there was one new infill.  Laterthat later day, we read in Avenue Magazine, that Westmount was ranked #5 on their list of Edmonton’s Top 10 Neighbourhoods. 

The house that really caught our attention was the one with about six major steel sculptures on the front lawn.  We knew that Edmonton had a love affair with steel sculpture, but this still seemed a bit strange.  Later, just a few blocks away and back on 124th Street, we wandered into Scott Gallery where we saw a steel sculpture by Peter Hide. So we thought we’d ask what they knew about the house on 125th Street with all the steel sculptures. They knew nothing, but were intrigued and said they would check it out. 

Wonderful tree canopied street in Westmount, Edmonton.

Fun house in Westmount, Edmonton.

Front yard as an Art Park?

They also proceeded to tell us about Borden Park that has been recently revitalized to include several pieces of public art including several steel sculptures.  Sounded interesting, but we had other plans - to meet a friend in Little Italy for lunch.

The idea of checking out an art park intrigued us both, so by about 6 pm we decided we had to check it out. Also, it was kind of on the way back to Urban Escape B&B where we were staying at.

Borden (Art?) Park

The backstory to Borden Park is that it was originally called East End City Park when first opened in 1906, but renamed for Sir Robert Laird Borden, the 8th prime minister of Canada after he visited Edmonton in 1914. It was a popular park with one of the city’s first outdoor swimming pools and included a popular band shell and baseball diamonds. 

Folklore has it that up to 7,000 people would invade the park on sunny Sundays for picnics and other activities in the early 20th century. It was also a fairground with rides - a carousel, roller coaster and the something called “tunnel of love known as the “Old Mill.” It was also home of the first Edmonton Zoo.

Fast forward to the early 21st century and an August Saturday early evening (it had been a beautiful day) and there were probably less than 50 people in the park. Yes, a few picnickers, a dog walker, a few walkers and some families at the playground.  Amazing what a difference 100 years makes – gone are the rides and animals.

In 2006, the City of Edmonton approved a revitalization plan for the park, which included a new uber-chic washroom, new furniture, refurbished bandshell and pathways and modern public art.  The old swimming pool is still there but closed, plans are to convert the old swimming pool into a “natural swimming experience” (i.e. the water will be filtered naturally rather than using chemicals) that can converted into a skating rink in the winter.

As we entered the park the first thing we encountered is this futuristic looking building that turns out to be an elaborate washroom. 

The Artwork

Oh yes, we did check out the sculptures and we were the only ones doing so. Except for two colourful pieces, they were all very modest scale, modernist abstract assemblage steel sculptures. They were all pretty static for my tastes, not very visually engaging and were robbed of any power they might have in a gallery setting, by the expanse of the park and its towering trees.  Even in the smaller more confined space of the contemporary water feature area of the park the four sculptures seemed lost, no synergy with the water or each other.

My favourite piece had no information on the artist or the piece; perhaps it was the newest piece and they just haven’t put up the information yet as all the other pieces were labeled. (Thanks to Allison Argy-Burgess,  I found out the piece is called “Willows” and the artist is Marc Fornes.)  It was a colourful, root-like form that allowed you to walk inside it.  And when inside, you noticed it was full of fun Matisse-like cutout holes that sparkled in the sunlight like a kaleidascope. It had a dream-like quality to it inside and out, like something from a children’s fairy tale.  I like the playfulness of the piece and that there was some engagement of the viewer to come inside and explore it. 

Willows (2014) by Marc Fornes is large and bold enough to capture park visitor's imagination. 

Fornes invites our to go inside the sculpture and look out and up. 

Fornes invites our to go inside the sculpture and look out and up. 

Standing inside the sculpture there is fun interplay of light, colour and shapes. It is like getting inside a children's playground or a kaleidescope. 

Too Much Plain Welded Steel

I think the sculptures would benefit by being relocated to a smaller, open gallery-like space where they could play off of each other to create their own sense of place.  As is, they are not large enough to take command of the large expanse of the park space they currently inhabit. there is also not enough diversity of materials and subject matter - 90% of the works a welded steel.  I have included the label text for each piece, which I also think does little to help the public better understand and appreciate the artwork. 


Ace of Wands (2014) by Ken Macklin, welded steel. Ace of Wands is a highly visual work, inviting the viewer to discover complex, intriguing relationships within its structure. The curvy, or rhythmic section is interdependent upon the more angular structural element upon which it leans. The artist evokes imagery found in the mirror arcana of the Tarot. Aces signify beginnings: wands animation and enterprise. The inspiration and sculpture represent an artistic departure for the artist for the artist in the use of repetitive curves. 

Ace of Wands (2014) by Ken Macklin, welded steel. Ace of Wands is a highly visual work, inviting the viewer to discover complex, intriguing relationships within its structure. The curvy, or rhythmic section is interdependent upon the more angular structural element upon which it leans. The artist evokes imagery found in the mirror arcana of the Tarot. Aces signify beginnings: wands animation and enterprise. The inspiration and sculpture represent an artistic departure for the artist for the artist in the use of repetitive curves. 

Gaekwar of Baroda (1999) by Peter Hide, mild steel. Gaekwar of Baroda is particularly inspired by the Indian sandstone reliefs of the Bordon Collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. Sculptor Peter Hide states, "I was attracted by the voluptuous curves of the human body played off against the massiveness and rigidity of architectural forms. I wanted to try and bring some of these qualities into steel sculpture. 

Gaekwar of Baroda (1999) by Peter Hide, mild steel. Gaekwar of Baroda is particularly inspired by the Indian sandstone reliefs of the Bordon Collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. Sculptor Peter Hide states, "I was attracted by the voluptuous curves of the human body played off against the massiveness and rigidity of architectural forms. I wanted to try and bring some of these qualities into steel sculpture. 

Wither and Tome (1993) by Clay Ellis, welded steel. Wither and Tome is one of a series of pieces produced by artist Clay Ellis in the early 1990s. It is made of mild steel with a coating produced through a simple oxidation process. Before embarking on the series, the artist traveled, within an 11-month period to Scotland, northern China, New York City, and led a workshop in Botswana. Ellis states that although he gathered many impressions in his travels, " was the time spent working in a remote village, on the border of the Kalahari...that shaped the work from this period. Starting a sculpture from a place where only the landscape is monumental seemed right...and familiar." 

Wither and Tome (1993) by Clay Ellis, welded steel. Wither and Tome is one of a series of pieces produced by artist Clay Ellis in the early 1990s. It is made of mild steel with a coating produced through a simple oxidation process. Before embarking on the series, the artist traveled, within an 11-month period to Scotland, northern China, New York City, and led a workshop in Botswana. Ellis states that although he gathered many impressions in his travels, " was the time spent working in a remote village, on the border of the Kalahari...that shaped the work from this period. Starting a sculpture from a place where only the landscape is monumental seemed right...and familiar." 

Last Word

We started the day out a plan to check out Edmonton’s Downtown Farmers’ Market and meet a friend for lunch. Who knew we’d end up in the east end of town exploring a park that was no more than a swamp just over a 100 years ago.

For awhile now I have been advocating that public art would better serve the public good if it was installed in its own art park where it could be curated to capitalize on the synergy between the pieces, rather than trying to compete with surrounding architecture and clutter of streetscape designs. Borden Park is an attempt at doing so, but unfortunately missed the opportunity to truly create an art park that captures the public’s imagination – young and old, bohemian and bourgeoisie.  

I understand the plan is to have 11 human scale, temporary sculptures dotting the park’s 23-hectars.  I seriously doubt this will be sufficient to attract the public to venture to Borden Park to see the art.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Putting the public into public art

Public Art: Love it or Hate it!

Famous Five at Olympic Plaza

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 

Stampede Park: Art Gallery / Museum

Richard White, July 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Stampede Park as an art gallery

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

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

This looks like something the surrealists would have done.

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

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

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

Stampede as a museum

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

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

Urban agriculture is not new.

Loved this map from both an art and artifact perspective.

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

Stampede Park as a sports hall of fame

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

There is also some curling history

An everyday tourist reader responded with: 

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

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


This figure skating photo intrigued me.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Public Art & Playgrounds

Graceland Bah Humbug!

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

By Richard White,  June1 , 2014

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

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

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

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

The Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Glenbow from 9th Avenue looking northwest. 

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

Glenbow's entrance from Stephen Avenue Walk.

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

Building Partnerships

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

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

Building Community Support

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Postcards: Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix)

By Richard White, May 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guitar exhibition in the lobby.

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

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

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

A framed collection of harmonicas.

The trumpet call harmonica was probably my favourite piece. 

The evolution of the bag pipes.

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

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

Look from the second floor galleries to the lobby below.


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

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

Here is quick list Phoenix museums: 

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West: A Phoenix Must See

Desert Botanical Garden: Right Place, Right Time

Melrose: Phoenix's emerging vintage district?


Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

Richard White, April 27, 2014

When visiting a new city we always look for things that aren't in the tourist brochures or on the first page of Google.  We call it FFQing (fun, funky and quirky)!

Most often they are not planned; they just happen as we explore the streets and alleys of urban neighbourhoods on foot with our eyes and ears wide open. Sometimes the FFQ experiences do happen at the tourist hot spots, but even if they do happen there, we try to find an offbeat twist.

Here are a few of our favourite FFQ moments from a recent walkabout in 'Colorado Springs, Colorado.  

This is the boys' washroom of the Ivywild School which was an elementary school until a few years ago. The art adds a whole new dimension to learning your ABCs.  

Ivywild is a huge yellow brick 1912 school that was sold to two local young cultural pioneers who have converted it into a multi-use community hub. It now is home to a Bristol Brewery, a bike shop, bakery, charcuterie, cocktail/coffee lounge and an art school. It also hosts many events, including a farmers' market. We will be writing more about this exciting urban revitalization project in the future.

We were impressed by how they retained the fun elementary school character of the space by retaining the wall murals throughout the building. 

We loved walking around downtown Colorado Springs as there were lots of interesting shops, restaurants and cafes.  This storefront dance studio had three painted blue pads on the sidewalk, each showing the foot work of a different type of dance. We loved the "freestyle" dance the most. The black lines are the shadow of a patio fence, which add a quirky sense of perspective.

We love "window licking" (the literal English translation of the French phrase for window shopping is "window licking"). The crazy quilt collage-like imagery is a wonderful reflection of the city's street culture. The Colorado Running Room had one of the best FFQ windows in Colorado Springs.

Downtown Colorado Springs is very pedestrian-oriented with its wide sidewalks, clean streets/alleys and mix of historic and new architecture. It is definitely worth a couple of hours of flaneuring.  

Brenda loved the Blueberry Lemon Streusel pancakes at the Over Easy diner - the best she has ever tasted. The combination of favours was fun and the presentation was funky.  

A short walk out of the downtown through the mansion district lies the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Centre - definitely a FFQ place to visit. Not only is the 1936 art deco building with its 2008 modern addition a fun space to explore, but many of the exhibitions and artworks had FFQ elements.

This is world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly's "Orange Hornet Chandelier" - or as most people call it the red pepper sculpture. It consists of 300+ glass vessels linked together to create it. It will be the centerpiece for the blockbuster exhibition of his work running from May 3 to September 28, 2014. 

This was one of many fun folk art pieces in the gallery. Some were very large like this one while others were more small scale. There was even art made from chicken bones.  

One the edge of the city is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Colorado Springs is the Garden of the Gods.  It is truly a sacred place with it surreal, orange rock formations.  I was intrigued when a young boy asked me "have I had seen the Indian Head?"  When I answered "No" he quickly took me to see it.  I couldn't believe I missed it given how obvious and huge it was.   

The "Balancing Rock" is the signature rock formation in the Garden of the Gods. It is a fun place to walk around and under (if you dare). It is amazing how accessible the formations are to the public and just a 15-minute drive from downtown. You could have spent all day there walking the trails, having a picnic and watching the movie at the Visitor Center. 

Perhaps the quirkiest experience I've had in a long time was feeding the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Barely get in the gate, visitors are welcomed by several hungry giraffes with their long tongues sticking out waiting to be fed. Two dollars gets you a handful of lettuce. 

One of our most fun experiences wandering around downtown was to happen upon a house that had been converted into a funky, landscape architecture office.  Brenda needed a stamp so we went in to ask about the design of the house, as well as where we might purchase a stamp.  We left not only with information on the home-to-office conversion but also with a free stamp (the woman insisted on giving Brenda the postage for her postcard).  Yes, we still send postcards!  

However, the stamp didn't stick very well so then we needed some scotch tape. As we were passing another intriguing street office space with the words "ALWAYS MOVING FORWARD" on the window, Brenda decided to head in and see if they might have some tape.  Inside were four young people with their laptops, two on couch and two at desks.  After the shock of unexpected visitors, they quickly asked how they could help us.  After first bringing some "duct" tape (she should have been more specific), they quickly found the scotch tape she needed.

In the meantime, I was busy taking photos of their street front window, being as intrigued by the words and their juxtaposition with the cathedral across the road.  Once I had finished taking my photos, we started chatting about things to see and do in Colorado Springs and what they did.  Ironically, they develop apps and one is for enhanced photography - VSCOcam.  We quickly downloaded it and they gave me a quick tutorial (more info at VSCO.CO)

Now that was a fun, flaneuring experience! 

Just in case you weren't yet convinced that downtown Colorado Springs is an FFQ mecca, I'll end this blog with an ice cream cone window cartoon character inviting you to a sidewalk peanut butter tasting (Pad Thai, Pumpkin Spice, S'mores etc.) - that was a first for us! 

Saks: Art Gallery or Department Store

Richard White, April 1, 2014

I rarely purchase anything at an upscale fashion store but I do love to wander them as they are more like art galleries than stores for me.  I love the way items are placed with the precision of a curated exhibition. Like an art installation, each vignette is carefully organized to exploit synergies of colour and composition, of line and shape and of passion and sensuality.   

In fact, I often find visiting a high end retailer more interesting than many contemporary art exhibitions. Too often the latter are more cerebral and than visual for my tastes. 

The images below are from a recent visit to Saks Fifth Avenue in the Fashion Show shopping centre on the Vegas strip.  I will let the images speak for themselves.  

Saks shoes 2.jpg

UMCA images

I thought it would be interesting to compare the images from Saks with some that I took just a week ago at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) in Salt Lake City.  

A close up of a mixed media collage.

A still image from a video.

A photo taken of a large drawing on the wall, taken from the side. 

A close up of a didactic display of books and artwork.  

Window Art Exhibitions

Over the years, I have also amassed an interesting collection of retail storefront windows that I also find competitive with public galleries in their visual statements.  All of these images are from a single trip to Europe where the importance of storefront windows as a visual art form is much more advanced than in North America.

Shoe store front window

Eyewear store

Bridal Shop

Last Word

As an everyday tourist, I don't have to go to a museum or an art gallery to get my daily visual art fix. I can find it almost anywhere - from a storefront window or back alley graffiti. Love to hear your thoughts.  Send me a photo your favourite non-gallery artwork and I will post it.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Window Licking In Paris

Rise of public art Decline of public galleries

Window Licking In Chicago 

Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street NW

By Richard White, March 10, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” all too often means we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street, Kensington, the Design District or maybe Stephen Avenue. This is the second of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre. 

19th Avenue NW from Nose Hill Park to the Bow River is a popular bike route from the northwest into the downtown.  Along this corridor are two urban hubs, one in West Hillhurst from 1st Ave to 3rd Ave NW and another at 20th Avenue in Capitol Hill.  Neither are presently on the radar of urbanists, but they should be.

Main Street West Hillhurst, (aka 19th Street NW)

West Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s most active infill communities with construction of new homes on almost every avenue. And now the under construction four-storey Savoy condos at Kensington Road and 19th St corner will bring urban living a step closer to reality for this community.   Rumour has it the Savoy developers are courting Phil & Sebastian for one of its retail spaces.  Another rumour has Starbucks moving into a former restaurant space on 19th Street.  Even without these cafes, Main Street West Hillhurst has all the makings of a great community hub with its dry cleaners, hair salon, florist and hardware store and office spaces.

Dairy Lane (391 - 19th St NW)

Dairy Lane has been a fixture on 19th Street since 1950.  If you like omelettes, burgers and milkshakes, this is the place to go.  Dairy Lane has strong connections to 20 different farm-to-table suppliers.  A very popular breakfast spot; don’t be surprised if people are eating on the patio even in winter as they provide heaters and blanket.  They also provide coffee to those who have to wait in line to get a table either inside or out.  Dairy Lane proves that good things really do come in small places – seating capacity inside is about 20 people. 

Central Blends (203 - 19th St NW)

This is my favourite place in the city for muffins – they are chock full of fruit and fresh out of the oven every morning at 7 am.   And Central Blends is more than just a café; it is also an art gallery with revolving exhibitions of local artists/artisans - you never know what you are going to find here.  This is where both hipsters and GABEters chill in West Hillhurst.

Amato Gelato Café (2104 Kensington Rd NW)

The local retailer for Mario’s Gelati traditional Italian ice cream, Amato Gelato offers over 50 varieties of gelato, sorbetto, yogurt, tofulati and specialty desserts.  Open year round, it becomes especially animated in the summer, when it becomes one of the city’s best places for people and dog watching.

SA Meat Shops (106 - 2120 Kensington Rd. NW)

Located in the strip mall next door to Amato Gelato, it offers authentic home-cured South African sausages, dried meats and groceries. Its Piri Piri chicken was cited in Avenue Magazine’s top 25 things to eat in Calgary.  Looking for a snack? Try the dried beef or buffalo sausage sticks or chewy dried beef biltong (a cured meat that was originated in South Africa, similar to beef jerky but thicker).   

West Hillhurst Recreation Centre (1940 - 6th Ave NW)

For those into vintage, you may want to slip into the West Hillhurst Recreation Centre.  This recreation block dates back to the ‘40s when “The Grand Trunk Hot Shot League” needed some playing fields.  In 1951, a clubhouse was built on this corner, the arena followed in 1971.  On hot summer days, the adjacent family- friendly outdoor Bowview Pool is a welcome throwback to the ‘50s. 

One of literally thousands of new infills that are redefining urban living in West Hillhurst and all communities north of the Bow River within a 45 minute walk, 20 minute cycle or 10 minute drive of downtown Calgary. . 

One of literally thousands of new infills that are redefining urban living in West Hillhurst and all communities north of the Bow River within a 45 minute walk, 20 minute cycle or 10 minute drive of downtown Calgary.

Bowview Pool is part of West Hillhurst's recreation block which includes the pool, arena, playing fields, playground, gym, squash courts, tennis courts and meeting rooms.  

Bowview Pool is part of West Hillhurst's recreation block which includes the pool, arena, playing fields, playground, gym, squash courts, tennis courts and meeting rooms.  

Amato Gelato Cafe is popular with the young families who are moving into West Hillhurst. 

Amato Gelato Cafe is popular with the young families who are moving into West Hillhurst. 

Central Blends Cafe has an "everyday" Mexican charm to it. 

Central Blends Cafe has an "everyday" Mexican charm to it. 

Dairy Lane is very popular summer or winter. 

Dairy Lane is very popular summer or winter. 

Capitol Hill Corner, (aka 20th Avenue at 19th Street NW)

 Just up the hill from West Hillhurst, across the TransCanada Highway (aka 16th Avenue North) at 19th Street and 20th Avenue is Capitol Hill Corner – a collection of old and new shops and small offices buildings for various professional services and a drug store. 

Edelweiss Village (1921 - 20th Ave NW)

Edelweiss is like entering a little European village complete with café, cheese shop, butcher shop, bakery, grocery and gift shop all under one roof. Though not very big, it packs a lot of product on it shelves with food and home accessories from Swiss, German, Ukrainian and Scandinavian suppliers – only in Canada!  

Weeds Café (1902 - 20th Ave NW)

Established in 1964, this bohemian corner café serves a wide selection of handcrafted food, beer, wine and 49th Parallel coffee.  The walls are covered with local art and there is live music on weekends.  It is a “chill space” for many students from University of Calgary, SAIT and Alberta College of Art & Design.

Ruberto Ostberg Gallery (2108 - 18th Street NW)

It’s one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets with its eclectic exhibition schedule of local artists’ work on the main floor and artists’ studios in the basement.  Exhibitions change monthly featuring everything from glass and ceramics in various genres realism and expressionism.  Kitty-corner to Weeds and just a block east of Edelweiss, it’s worth checking out.


Edelweiss Village is a bit of Europe in the middle of Capitol Hill. 

Edelweiss Village is a bit of Europe in the middle of Capitol Hill. 

Weed's Cafe is a charming bohemian hangout.

Weed's Cafe is a charming bohemian hangout.

Glass work by the Bee Kingdom collective at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery.

Bee Kingdom's opening night at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery in early March. 

Bee Kingdom's opening night at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery in early March. 

Last Word

While the City of Calgary officially considers Calgary’s City Centre to be on the south side of the Bow River i.e. downtown and the beltline I think it is time to rethink those boundaries. 

In reality our City Centre should encompass the north side from 20th Avenue south to the Bow River and from 19th Street NW east to at least 11th Street NE in Bridgeland. 

Doing so would include Kensington, Edmonton Trail, Centre Street and Bridgeland, all of whom offer local residents a walkable urban living experience with their cafes, restaurants and shops. 

Calgary's urban experience is more than just downtown and the Beltline.

Winnipeg vs Calgary Urban Hot Spots (Part 1)

EDT Note:

Comparing Calgary to other cities is very popular with the readers of my Calgary Herald column. An edited version of this blog was in the Calgary Herald as a two piece column so I have kept the same format.  It should be noted that Brenda grew up in Winnipeg and I lived there for 14 months while I did a MSC in Agriculture at the University of Manitoba.  We hope enjoy our look at Winnipeg vs Calgary (where we have lived the past 30+ years).

Urban Hot Spots

Winnipeg wouldn’t be on too many people’s radar as one of North America’s urban hot spots. In fact, for many years, it has been brunt of cruel jokes like the “We’re going to Winnipeg” punch line from the 2005 Fountain Tire commercial that suggested Winnipeg was the Canadian equivalent of Siberia.  However, that wasn’t always the case. Early in the 20th century it was a boomtown, rivaling Chicago as the major mid-west city in North America and beating out Vancouver as Western Canada’s largest city (it had three times the population of Calgary).

Every city has its heyday.  Calgary shouldn’t get too smug about its current “flavour of the month” city status.  Cities can also rise up from the decay and baggage of their past and I believe Winnipeg is ripe for such a renaissance.  I thought it would be fun to compare Calgary and Winnipeg’s downtowns. The results might surprise you!

The Rivers

Both downtowns are blessed - and cursed - with being situated at the junction of two rivers that provide wonderful recreational opportunities but also are subject to mega flooding.  For both cities, their two rivers have become a focal point of their sense of place and play with major museums, parks, pathways, riverwalks, promenades, plazas and bridges located on or near the rivers. 

While Calgary’s Bow River is considered one of the best fly-fishing rivers in the world and a great place to float, Winnipeg’s Red River is a major catfish river and allows for major motor boating activities.

Winnipeg boast the longest skating rink in the world along their rivers. The colourful "pom poms" called "Nuzzels" are actually warming huts on the Assiniboine River - they add fun, colour, charm and functionality. (Photo credit: Raw Design).

Calgarians love their river also be it floating, paddling, fishing or swimming. 

Advantage: Tied

The Forks vs East Village/Stampede Park

While Calgarians are gaga about the potential of East Village’s mega makeover and Vancouverites’ Granville Island is the envy of the world, Winnipeg has quietly surpassed both of them with the development of The Forks on old railway land on the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers). 

The Forks boasts an upscale boutique hotel, a market, Johnson Terminal (boutiques, café, offices), Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre, Explore Manitoba Centre, one of North America’s best small baseball parks and the soon-to-be-completed Canadian Museum for Human Rights (arguably Canada’s most iconic new building of the 21st century). Not bad, eh!

Winnipeg's Human Rights Museum will add another dimension to The Forks, one of North America's best urban people places.  


An artists rendering of the The National Music Centre at night. The museum is currently under construction. 

The baseball park at The Forks is a very popular place in the summer. 

It also has perhaps the best winter city programming with the world’s longest skating rink (yes, longer than Ottawa’s) in addition to the plaza skating rink, Olympic-size skating rink, 1.2 km of skating trails, snowboard fun park, toboggan run and warming huts designed by the likes of world renowned architect Frank Gehry.  They even have Raw: Almond the world’s first pop-up restaurant on a frozen river featuring the hottest chefs including Calgary’s Teatro.  Take that, Calgary!

Calgary’s East Village, after numerous false starts, is trying very hard to match Winnipeg’s eastside redevelopment with its National Music Centre, new Central Library, Bow Valley College, St. Patrick’s Island Park and bridge as well as Fort Calgary improvements. Stampede Park also has notable attractions with the BMO Centre, Saddledome, new Agrium Western Event Centre and plans for Stampede Trail shopping street, as well as the best festival in Canada i.e. Calgary Stampede.

Advantage: Winnipeg

GMAT Fun (Galleries, Museums, Attractions, Theatres)

Winnipeg’s Manitoba Museum is a large history museum on par with Calgary’s Glenbow from a visitor’s perspective with major permanent and temporary exhibitions.  The Glenbow also functions as our major public art gallery, while Winnipeg boasts one of Canada’s oldest public art galleries, which is located in an iconic contemporary building.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery was one of the first architecture as public art buildings. It The city has a wonderful diversity of old and new architecture. 

Both cities have major new museums with contemporary “weird & wacky” architecture slated to open in the next few years - Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights ($300+ million) and Calgary’s National Music Centre ($130+ million).

Calgary’s major downtown attraction would be the mid-century modern Calgary Tower, while Winnipeg’s would have to be historic Provincial Building with its intriguing Masonic Temple design.

In Winnipeg, the MTS Centre (arena) is a major attraction. While many cities (Edmonton) are building new downtown arenas, Winnipeg has a “Main Street” arena, literally right on Portage Avenue; this would be like the Saddledome being where the Glenbow is on Stephen Avenue. The MTS Centre has placed in the” top 10 busiest arenas in North America” list in the past, regularly selling more tickets to more events than Saddledome. 

The MTS Centre is located right on Portage Avenue aka Main Street Winnipeg.  It is one of the busiest arenas in North America. 

From a performing arts perspective, Winnipeg has its Centennial Concert Hall (home to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra), the historic 1914 Pantages Playhouse Theatre, Burton Cummings Theatre, Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre, Rachel Bowne Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange.  As well, their Royal Winnipeg Ballet complex is not only located right downtown, but also performs downtown, unlike the Alberta Ballet, which is off-the-beaten track and performs outside the downtown.

Winnipeg is home to three iconic Canadian rock and rollers - Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and Neil Young. 

Winnipeg though has nothing match our three festival spaces - Prince’s Island Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Olympic Plaza.  And, while Winnipeg has a well-renowned folk festival, it doesn’t happen downtown. Winnipeg’s major festival Folkarama attracts over 400,000 people each year to over 40 ethnic pavilions that are located around the city.  The ‘Peg also boasts the second largest fringe theatre festival in North America (Calgary’s fringe struggle to survive) and their Royal Manitoba Theatre is Canada’s flagship English-language regional theatre company (you can’t just call yourself  “Royal”).

Calgary probably has the more impressive line up of theatres - EPCOR Centre with its five spaces, as well as the Grand, Pumphouse and the two theatres at the Calgary Tower (but rumour has it that the latter spaces will be closed, to accommodate a new office tower).

Calgary boasts the High Performance Rodeo as its only major theatre festival now that playRites is history.  However, downtown Calgary is also home to numerous live music venues including several weekend afternoon jam (WAMJAM) sessions at places like Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s and Ship & Anchor that Winnipeg can’t match. In addition, YYC’s downtown is home Fort Calgary, which is has ambitious plans to become a major attraction.    

Calgary boasts a very active music scene with numerous venues like Mikey's offering live music seven days a week.  

Calgary boasts a very active music scene with numerous venues like Mikey's offering live music seven days a week. 

Advantage: Tied

SDC Fun (Shopping, Dining, Café)

Winnipeg’s Portage Place doesn’t hold a candle to Calgary’s The Core with its shiny new $200+ million renovation and mega glass roof.  Nor does Winnipeg have the wealth of restaurants that populate Stephen Avenue, 4th Street and 17th Avenue or the mega pubs – CRAFT, National or WEST.

Summer "power hour" (lunch hour) on Stephen Avenue Walk aka Calgary's Main Street. 

Winnipeg's Osborne Village is their bohemian quarters. 

Calgary's Design District offers great restaurants, galleries and design shops. 

Calgary’s downtown restaurants regularly make the in Top 10 List of new Canadian Restaurants by EnRoute Magazine, while Winnipeg’s restaurants have not. A quick check of Vcay’s Top 50 Restaurants in Canada lists eight downtown Calgary restaurants including Charcut Roast House #5 and Model Milk #7 in the top 10.  Winnipeg has only one on the list Deseo Bistro at #36.  This might be due to fact downtown Calgary is home to over 100 corporate headquarters with their healthy “expense account” dining. 

Winnipeg's Exchange District is full of fun, funky and quirky shops. 

Winnipeg boasts one of the most ethnically diverse cultures in North America. 

Both Calgary’s and Winnipeg’s historic Hudson Bay stores are in need of major exterior washing and interior renovations.  Calgary’s Holt Renfrew is definitely in a class of its own when it comes to upscale shopping.

The Hudson Bay Company is the oldest retailer in the world est. 1670, while Winnipeg's store is not that old, it is in need of a major makeover. 

Winnipeg's Portage Place is the hub for downtown shopping as is The Core for downtown Calgary

Calgary's signature Hudson Bay store on Stephen Avenue Walk, a pedestrian mall in the centre of the downtown linking the Financial District with the Cultural District. 

Winnipeg boasts the Stella Café (named after one of the owner’s cat) with its signature Morning Glory muffins in the uber chic Buhler Centre, as well as the unique News Café (owned by the Winnipeg Free Press, it hosts live interviews with Canada’s top newsmakers).   However, Calgary’s café culture has more depth with dozens of local independent cafes with multiple locations throughout the downtown.

The Winnipeg Free Press Cafe is a unique concept that allows for reporters to interview newsmakers and  file stories from their corner offices in the cafe. 

Advantage: Calgary


So far the score is tied. Next week: a look at Winnipeg’s and Calgary’s successes and failures in placemaking, architecture, urban design and downtown living. Also a look at how Calgary's GABEsters differ from Winnipeg's hipsters in what they are looking for with respect to urban living.

If you like this blog, you might like:


A flaneuring quickie!

Yesterday I had 10 minutes before my meeting at 4 pm and thought that is just enough time for a quick flaneur on the north-end of Calgary's 4th Street SW.  The sun was radiant and it felt warm even thought the temperature was -15C.  

It didn't take more than a minute for my first flaneur find - an artwork on the side of the K&W Audio building.  I wish I knew sign language as I suspect there is a message here.  A quick check of the 4th Street Public Art Society website didn't help as it looks like this fun work of art isn't part of their collection of sculptures.  Guess I will have to do some more research.  (A reader emailed me with a link to the Beltline website with the information. The sculpture is by Calgary artist Derek Besant, whose work has and is widely exhibited in Calgary and internationally. The five hands spell the word "DREAM" and was installed in 2003.)

DREAM by Derek Besant, 2003

Just a few steps away, I encountered a big bold bronze sculpture in front of Loch Gallery. I had seen this piece many times driving by, but never up close.  There is an intriguing dichotomy with the bird-like helmet hiding the human head.  The folded arms, combined with the shirt and tie give the piece an powerful businessman sensibility.  Yet, the squatting position recalls an aboriginal or yoga posture.  I had to go inside.

Bird Wrap, by Ivan Erye, bronze, 96" x 45" x 50.5", 2010

Immediately, I was presented with numerous Ivan Erye sculptures, paintings and drawings. However, what really caught my attention were not one, but two lush Jean Paul Riopelle paintings at the back of the gallery.  These were not small studies for a major painting, they were the real deal - museum quality pieces.  

Port Coton, by Jean Paul Riopelle, (1923 - 2002), oil on canvas, 51" X 64", 1959

Untitled, by Jean Paul Riopelle, oil on canvas, 35" x 45.5", 1975

While on the same day, the Glenbow was announcing they were going to focus more on being an art museum, here was a private gallery offering FREE viewing of two masterpieces of Canadian art.    

It never stops amazing me how everyday, in just a few minutes, you can experience so much if you just slow down and look around.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Iconic Canadian Art Hidden in YYC office lobby

Flaneuring Bow Valley College 

FFQing in the Udderly Art Pasture 

King Edward Village?

By Richard White, January 12, 2014

Note: An edited version of this blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, on January 9 2014 with the title, "Sewing the seeds that will help a community grow."

Community Development vs Urban Development?

All too often planning professionals and the media use the term “urban development” when referencing everything from new residential, retail, recreational and office developments, when they should be using the term “community development.” 

While the difference may seem subtle, it is important to remember the end goal of any new development should be to enhance the sense of community felt by the people who will live, work and play around it. I am guilty as any; my title at Ground3 Landscape Architects is Urban Strategist when in fact it should and from now on will be from now on “Community Strategist,” to best reflect my passion to foster a stronger sense of community - be that downtown, inner-city, established communities or new suburbs

This is one of the additions to the sandstone King Edward School that will soon become part of a new 21st century arts incubator. 


The light bulb went on when early in December when I checked the 100-year old King Edward School in South Calgary that is about to be transformed into a multi-purpose arts centre called cSPACE King Edward (1720 30th Ave SW).  cSPACE (“c” stands for creative) is being touted as an arts incubator, with 45,000 square feet of production, exhibition and rehearsal spaces for dozens of small arts organizations.  The vision is to create a flexible space where artists of all ages and genres will collaborate to create exciting and interesting experiences for everyone (both artists and public).

cSPACE Projects, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation that is using a social enterprise model to develop spaces for the arts across the city.  King Edward School is the first of what will hopefully be many future projects. For more information on the King Edward School Incubator project, check out

Market Collective took over the space from hallways to classrooms and made it like one giant art studio.  How fun is that?

Pop-up Community Building

What I found was an old, tired majestic sandstone school with two “big box” ugly additions.  But once inside, the place was full of largely young Calgarians participating in a Christmas market-like event by Market Collective (a co-operative of artisans).

There was a wonderful community buzz (a reinvented old church bazaar buzz if you will) that shouted out “COMMUNITY.”  

The main floor housed a pop-up café with Café Rosso (possibly testing the area for a new location?) offering coffee, as well as a DJ playing music.  On the second floor, local artisans had converted the classrooms into pop-up retail outlets selling everything from art to jewelry, clothing to artifacts. 

The third floor was like an art gallery with figure drawings pinned from floor to ceiling (some even on the floor) from the life drawing classes held there. Once could already see how Calgary’s arts community was taking over the dying space and creating life. 

Figure drawing from floor to ceiling give the space a studio/school sense of place.

DJ cranks out the tunes 

New condos next to the King Edward School that will be home to GABEsters who are infiltrating the community.

GABEsters are taking over?

Wandering around the South Calgary where the King Edward School is located, you would think you were in a new suburb based on the amount of construction on every block.  Residential neighbourhoods must evolve; if they stagnate, they die. 

South Calgary’s new community development is a nice mix of new homes, townhouses, and small-scale condos that will make this a very attractive place for Calgary’s next generation of young professional GABEsters (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers, Engineers) to live.   In fact, this is already true as 33% of the community’s population is 25 to 34 years old - twice the City’s average.

Over the next 10 years, these GABEsters will start having families and then look out. South Calgary will blossom into a vibrant urban village.  cSPACE will provide a wonderful diversity of classes, workshops and performance for both the children and parents, as well as become a regional art centre for all the southwest inner city communities.  

Think of if it as a recreation centre for those who love the arts.


Diagonally, next to the cSPACE block, is South Calgary’s existing recreational block that contains the community centre building, playing fields, an outdoor hockey arena and the Alexander Calhoun Library. 

If the synergies between arts and recreation activities are capitalized on, South Calgary could become a model for community redevelopment across the city, given Calgary has many old and under-utilized school sites just waiting to be transformed into new community activity hubs. Not all will be arts centres.  

This is an artist's rendering of what the renovated sandstone school and its two additions will look like once renovated. 

Upper 14th Street shops are a mix of consignment stores, hair salons, liquor stores, salons and barber shops.  There are even two old fashion gas stations and a mechanic making this an authentic mid-century Main Street. 

Two High Streets

South Calgary is also blessed with two emerging pedestrian streets.  On its southern edge along 33rd Avenue lies the trendy Marda Loop shopping district (the name being a combination of the street’s old Marda Theatre and the fact the Calgary’s early 20th century street car used to go to 33rd Ave and 20th St. SW before looping around to head back downtown) with its growing list of popular restaurants, diners, cafes, yoga studios, record store and wine shops. Including one of Calgary's signature coffee joints - Phil & Sebastians Coffee Roasters. 

And on its eastern edge, is the Upper 14th Street district (29th to 26th Street SW), which is slowly evolving into a new community hangout with a neighbourhood pub, shops, salons, a soon-to-open Starbucks, as well as two gas stations and a mechanic’s garage.


Marda Loop is full of pubs, diners, yoga studios and shops including the very popular Phil & Sebastian coffee house.


South Calgary, established in 1914 (when it actually was the southern edge of the city) has recently linked up with Altadore (1945), CFB Calgary (1945) and Garrison Woods (1998) Community Associations to form the Marda Loop Communities Association. 

The old boundaries for just South Calgary were Crowchild Trail on the west, 14th Street S.W. to the east, 34th Ave to the south and 26th Ave to the north. 

Last Word 

Who knows…perhaps sometime in the future, they might even rebrand themselves the King Edward Village.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Postcards from cSPACE

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City

Calgary: The GABEster Capital of North America 

Iconic Canadian Art hidden in office lobby

The Green Bug has been an icon on 14th Street for as long as I can remember, it has to be at least 30 years old.  You gotta love a community with something this fun, funky and quirky!

The addition of new young professionals to established communities results in new pubs, cafes and diners.