Calgary: A Few Hidden Gems

Every city has their hidden gems - cafes, bookstores, pubs or shops - tucked away off the beaten path, that even some locals aren’t aware of.  Here are five Calgary hidden gems for locals and tourists who like to explore off the beaten path. 

Aquila Books, 826, 16th Avenue NW

Who would think the little building with the blue awning on the Trans Canada Highway (aka 16th Ave N) is home to one of North America’s - if not the world’s - great antiquarian bookstores?  Aquila specializes in books dealing with Polar Expeditions, Western Canadiana, Mountaineering and the Canadian Pacific Railway. As much a museum as a bookstore with antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards and scientific instruments, it even has an Inuit kayak hanging from the ceiling.

Recently, owner Cameron Treleaven published Mount Everest’s 60th Anniversary book of George Lowe's letters written to his sister while climbing Everest in 1953. The book is signed by Jan Morris, Huw Lewis-Jones and Peter Hillary and includes a cutting of Lowe's sleeping bag used during the expedition, making this an extraordinary addition to any book collection.

Note the Inuit kayak hanging from the ceiling - very cool!

More info: Flaneuring The Trans Canada Highway

Café Rosso, 803 - 24th Ave SE

Every city needs a signature café. In Calgary Café Rosso in Ramsay’s industrial district is one of ours.  Yes, they have other locations but this is the original Rosso with its own Probat L12 roaster, Marzzoco machine and Anfim grinder. They arguably serve up the city’s best espressos and lattes. It is also a great bakery for those craving a muffin, banana bread, scone or a tangy sandwich.

Located in the 1927 Riverside Iron Works complex whose roots were as a small machine repair shop, which grew into a major steel manufacturer. Today, the site is home to many funky businesses including Ladacor Ltd., a sea container construction company and F&D Scene Changes fabricators of public art, parade floats, theme park structures, theatre and film set designs. Ramsay, one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods, is a great place to explore on foot.

Everyone loves Caffe Rosso in Ramsay!

More Info: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

Heritage Music, 1502 - 11th Ave SW

For music collectors, Heritage Music is THE place to be. Before going inside be sure to check out the wall of records on the north side of the building with remnants of the iconic Rolling Stones’ Tongue.

And don’t let the 1927 quonset-style former service station building fool you. Inside you will find not only vintage vinyl, but new and out-of-print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, photos, movie posters and just about anything “music” you can think of. Holger Petersen of Stony Plain Records says, “Heritage Music has the best collection of Blues, Folk, Roots and Jazz records in Canada.”

More info: Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Heritage Music's fun, funky and quirky street art facade.

Louche Milieu,3401- Spruce Dr. SW

Midcentury modern maniacs will adore this little shop authentically located in the mid-century Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre. “Louche” is a French term for decadent, flashy, sketchy, dubious, shady and disreputable and “milieu” means an environment or setting, but there is nothing shady or decadent about Louche Milieu.  Full of well curated treasures it’s a “must visit.” Plan around its limited hours, Friday and Saturday 12:30 to 6 pm or call to make an appointment 403-835-1669.

Next to Louche Milieu is Little Monday Café, which serves up tasty homemade muffins and cookies with a full range of caffeine drinks.  It is very popular with young families as evidenced by the chalkboard artwork.

More info: Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre Revitalization

Lots of hidden gems here.

Crescent Heights Steps

Memorial Drive at 2rd St. SW parking lot.

For those looking for a uniquely Calgary workout, try climbing the McHugh Bluff stairs. Not only will you get a great workout, but you will be rewarded with an amazing view of Downtown skyline, mountains and river valley from the top. 

With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the net, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top.

<17        minutes = Olympian

17 – 20 minutes = Professional, top amateur

20 – 24 minutes = Very athletic

24 – 28 minutes = Athletic

28 – 35 minutes = Average

35 – 37 minutes = Somewhat out of shape

>37        minutes = Out of shape 

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the company of one or more Calgary Stampeders, Flames or a Canadian Olympic athletes working out. Bring your phone or camera as you are definitely going to want to take pictures.

  Lets make this challenging and carry my bike up the stairs also.

Lets make this challenging and carry my bike up the stairs also.

Last Word

Calgary is full of hidden urban gems...happy exploring.  Love to hear from both locals and tourist what are your favourite!

PS...no I have not taken up the Crescent Heights Stair Challenge.

 

 

Port Angeles: A 24 hr quickie?

On a recent trip we were trying to figure the most interesting way to get from Seattle to Victoria.  The easy way would be to just jump on the Victoria Clipper, which takes you from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria.  However, our good friend Pam Scott at Red Lion Hotels suggested we take the bus to Port Angeles and experience the historic Black Ball Ferry from downtown Port Angeles to Victoria.  We decided to check it out and we are glad we did. 

The trip is a bit more convoluted as you have to get to the Greyhound Bus Station in Seattle, catch a mini-bus for a scenic drive to Port Angeles and then catch the Black Bull ferry to Victoria.  

As we did more research we realized that Port Angeles would make for a great over night stay so we contacted Pam to see if there was any room at the Inn. Sure enough she got us a room, but it wasn’t easy as the hotel was hosting a Transgender Conference, which made for an even more interesting experience. The fun never stops.

If you are in Seattle or Victoria and are looking for a fun day trip or perhaps an overnight quickie, Port Angeles should be on you list. 

Here is quick photo essay of the fun things to see and do in PA without a car and without leaving town. 

Port Angeles' Main Street has lots of little shops for those who want to shop and window lick, especially if you like antiquing or people watching from places like the Next Door gastropub patio. 

Great towns have fun surprises.  We loved this huge rubber ducky that was in the Safeway Parking lot. 

We couldn't pass up Port Angeles' Goodwill store where we found this "Twist Board" made by Donco Products Corporation in Lakeview Oregon and Innisfail, Alberta.  I had to have it! Thought it would be a good exercise while watching the Flames on TV this winter!  Brenda also found a few gems at this well stocked thrift store. 

Jasmine Bistro meal

After a quick walkabout to find a place to eat we settled on the Jasmine Bistro and we were glad we did.  The staff were extremely friendly and helpful. The food was as good as it looks.  We loved the names of the dishes e.g. Crowd Pleaser and Seducer.  The menu is extensive, something for everyone. 

Swain's General store was a walk back in time with lots of fun things from upscale outdoor fashions to hardware, housewares and hunting goods - something for everyone.  The wall of fishing lures was mesmerizing for a non-fisherman like me.  

Next door Gastro Pub

Lunch was at Next Door gastropub. We could have stayed there all afternoon.  We immediately struck up a conversation with a young couple at the bar who had just moved to the area and were loving it.  The beer menu is extensive so a tasting board is the best way to go.  The ale battered Albacore fish & chips were probably the best I have ever had. Brenda ordered a second helping of the citrus slaw and I had a second order of the homemade potato chips.  A ten out of 10. 

Port Angeles has perhaps the most amazing art park that we have ever experienced.  It is a delightful 1 to 2 hour discovery experience for people of all ages and backgrounds.  It is about a 20-minute walk from downtown.   More information at: World's Best Art Park

There are many lovely gardens in the spring if you wander into the residential areas, which makes for a lovely stroll on the way to and from the art park.

A short walk from downtown is the blackbird coffee house, definitely worth the walk. Good coffee and treats - I had the pecan tart.  We found the blackbird on our way to the art park.  A perfect spot to stop after exploring the art park or the residential gardens in the neighbourhood. Also a great place to mingle with locals. 

Downtown Port Angeles has several murals and lots of sculptures that make for a fun artwalk. This mural is of the 1946 Black Ball Line's Art Deco ferry, the Kalakala, which was the first to employ commercial marine shipboard radar on its Bainbridge to Seattle route. 

The Ferry Terminal in Port Angeles is a mini-museum with lots of photos and information about the interesting history of the Black Ball Ferry Line.

You should definitely get off the beaten path to find some of the fun local retailers not on Main Street.  Red Goose Shoes is like a shoe museum, with lots of artifacts and a fun children's area.  It is also a walk back in time.

Where to stay?

If you want to stay overnight the Red Lion Hotel is our pick.  It is right on the water, close to the ferry terminal and two blocks from downtown.  It is a perfect spot for your 24hr quickie in Port Angeles. They even have bikes for you to explore the waterfront or cycle around town. 

Art / Fun / Airports

Jeff deBoer, When aviation was young, artworks in the WestJet boarding lounge.

I love flying WestJet for many reasons, not the least of which being able to see Calgary artist Jeff deBoer’s two giant art works, “When aviation was young” in the WestJet boarding lounge.  I love watching kids and their parents using the giant key to wind up these retro ‘50s tin toys on steroids, which then starts the giant toy planes twirling around and around.  This usually results in smiles on the faces of both the kids and adults, and even some dancing around the art.

For years I thought the pieces were just fun and decorative, creating a bit of a midway-like distraction for families with their bright colours and cartoon-like graphics. It was only recently when I took a closer look, that I discovered they are full of fun factoids. 

I love it when art is fun and informative at the same time. 

Calgary’s Aviation History

Did you know that Clennel “Punch” Dickins, back in 1928, piloted the first prairie airmail circuit from Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg in a Fokker Super Universal aircraft?

Or that in 1956 the City of Calgary named its new airport McCall Field after Fred McCall a World War I flying ace and barnstormer who pioneered a mountain air route linking Calgary, Banff, Fernie and Golden?

Bet you didn’t know Tom Blakely and Frank H. Ellis, were Calgary’s early aeroplane builders. In 1913, they purchased the remains of a Curtiss-Type biplane, rebuilt it, named it Westwind and used a field west of Calgary as their take off and landing strip. That field is now Shouldice Park.

And what about the story of how two deHavilland Twin Otters, flown by Kenn Borek Air of Calgary made history in 2001 by being the first aircraft to land at the South Pole in the middle of winter? 

So, next time you are waiting for your in the Calgary International Airport, walk around and explore, you never know what you will learn – there is lots of art to discover!

 

What children see when they look up at "when aviation was young." 

One of the story boards  on the side of the artwork.

Anchorage Airport Art Gallery

A few years back, we jumped at the chance to do a house exchange with friends who lived in Anchorage.  One of the more memorable experiences of that trip was the fabulous art at its airport.  We are not talking about a mural here and a piece of sculpture there. Someone had clearly realized airports make great art gallery spaces.  Kudos to them!

The Anchorage Airport art collection is extensive - murals, light shows, stained glass works, folk art, historic First Nations art, contemporary art, fabric pieces, masks and paintings.   Many of the smaller pieces are organized in display cases like you would see in a museum or art gallery.

In fact, when we were returning home, I made sure we got to the airport really early to give us as lots of time to explore the art. When was the last time you really wanted to get to the airport early? 

Hallway with art display cases and light show artwork on the ceiling makes for a dramatic entrance.

Stained glass artworks are both contemporary and traditional with their references to aboriginal design elements. 

  One of many contemporary masks made out of everyday objects that link traditional mask-making with today's consumer culture. It was interesting to compare these with other displays of traditional masks.

One of many contemporary masks made out of everyday objects that link traditional mask-making with today's consumer culture. It was interesting to compare these with other displays of traditional masks.

Brenda checking for more information on the Art at the Airport program. 

Last Word

I understand Jeff deBoer is working on two new pieces for the Calgary International Airport.  I hope they are as playful and pensive as these two.  It will be a tough act to follow.

The Calgary International Airport is already full of art and artifacts and I expect there will be even more with the opening of the new International Terminal.  It would be great if the airport had an app, map and/or online site that would allow visitors to know the locations of the art, who the artists are and some background information on each piece.  It could make for a fun treasure hunt for families and art lovers and provide a welcome diversion when facing a long wait.

Come on Calgary, if Anchorage can do so can we!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Saks: Art Gallery or Department Store?

Edmonton: Borden (art) Park

Do we really need all of this public art?

Putting the public back into public art