Stampede Park vs Spruce Meadows vs CalgaryNEXT

Great cities need wealthy individuals with vision and insights to create great architecture, public spaces and collect art that government can’t justify using taxpayer dollars - think of the Rockefellers (New York) or Carnegie (Pittsburg). 

In 2014, I blogged about how Tony Hsieh invested $350M of his own money (Hsieh sold Zappos an online shoe and clothing site to Amazon for $1.2M) to create Container Park in Las Vegas an incubator for new businesses and how Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO of Target, spent $250M of his own money to create the wonderful Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix.

With the recent announcement of CalgaryNEXT and the $200M the five partners are prepared to invest in a new arena and stadium, I think it fitting to look at how Calgary businessmen have helped shape Calgary’s culture over the past century – specificially two signature places - Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows.

Stampede Park

Most Calgarians may know about how in 1912, Guy Weadick came to Calgary with the idea of a world class rodeo, selling the idea to four Calgary businessmen - Patrick Burns, George Lane, A.E. Cross and Archibald J. McLean (who became known as the Big Four). They put up $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.5 million today) to underwrite a rodeo called the Calgary Stampede.  Backstory: All of the Big Four were successful ranchers, with Burns also owning a large meat packing business and Cross a brewery.

The rodeo took place at Victoria Park, 94 acres (another 54 acres were added in 1954) purchased by Calgary’s Agricultural Society from the Dominion of Canada. Back story: In 1908, a whopping (that is the word used by James H. Gray in his book Citymakers: Calgarians After the Frontier, I could find no actual dollar amount in my research) from the government allowed them to build several large exhibition pavilions, a roofed grandstand, a livestock sales pavilion with seating for 1,000 and horse barns.

Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

In 1919, when the original Agricultural Building and Victoria Pavilion were completed, Weadick was invited back to Calgary to produce another rodeo (again backstopped by the Big Four) celebrating the end of World War I. Weadick was hired in 1923 to organize an annual rodeo until he was fired in 1931, but by then the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was part of Calgary’s culture.

Since then, the Stampede Board and government have shared in funding the creation of a world class exhibition and tradeshow festival park that includes the Stampede Corral (1950), Big Four Building (1959), New Grandstand (1974), Saddledome (1983), Round-Up Centre (1981), expanded and renamed BMO Center in 2007 and most recently, the $60M Agrium Western Event Centre with $50M coming from government.  All of these facilities were funded mostly government dollars.

Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

There are many parallels with CalgaryNEXT- the Big Four Building was the world’s largest curling rink; the Corral and Saddledome have hosted hockey, curling and lacrosse games.  The Grandstand and track was the home of Calgary horse racing for many years.

The Calgary Stampede and grounds, truly a shared vision of an individual entrepreneur and four Calgary businessmen, has been fostered over the past 100-years by its Board of Directors, staff, thousands of volunteers and significant funding from all levels of government. In 1944, then Mayor Andrew Davison said the Stampede “had done more to advertise Calgary than any single agency.” I expect Mayor Nenshi would say the same today.

Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede at a Glance

  • 148 acres (city owned)
  • 2,000,000+ annual attendance
  • Stampede Show Band/Young Canadians Home
  • BMO Exhibition Centre
  • Agrium Western Event Centre
  • Stampede Corral arena
  • Scotia Bank Saddledome
  • Big Four Building
  • Grandstand/Rodeo Arena
  • Casino
  • Horse barns
  • Numerous auxiliary buildings

Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows’ mission statement, established in 1975, states: “Spruce Meadows is committed to being the leading venue in the world for the international horse sports with a focus on the organization and hosting of show jumping tournaments of unmatched quality.”  Over the past 40 years, the Southern Family (the owners) have not only fulfilled their mission but admirably and created their legacy - all without any government (taxpayer) funding by investing $80M of their own money. 

Spruce Meadows was officially recognized by the FEI (the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the world governing body for the horse sports), as #1 in the world as both a venue and as an organization until 2010.  The FEI is comprised of 133 member national federations and each year sanctions over 1500 international show jumping tournaments. Since 2010, the North American Riders Group took over the ranking of equestrian shows and facilities and Spruce Meadows has been #1 for the past five years. 

Spruce Meadows stadium

Spruce Meadows organizes, six world-leading FEI tournaments annually.  Additionally, Spruce Meadows organizes and hosts 16 tournaments under the authority of Canada’s National Sports Organization (NSO), Equine Canada. Athletes from 60 nations have competed at Spruce Meadows since 1976, winning more than $112 million in corporately-sponsored prize money before over 10 million fans. The daily attendance record was set on the final day of the 2011 ‘Masters’ with 89,632 fans visiting the grounds.

Since Spruce Meadows opened in 1975, Canadian athletes have won 24 team or individual show jumping medals at FEI championships including the Olympic Games (3), the Pan American Games (15), World Cup Finals (4) and the World Equestrian Games (2). Much of Canada’s international success in the sport of show jumping is directly attributable to Spruce Meadows as a result of the international experience that Canadians gain at home against the best in the world.

More Than Just Show Jumping

Spruce Meadows hosts over 300 events annually in addition to the Federation sanctioned tournaments.  Included amongst these:  G8 Summit meetings, World Petroleum Congress, Joint Chiefs of Staff, NATO, Changing Fortunes Round Table, G20 Sherpas, Ministerial Summits, Government Caucus and Strategy, Corporate Sector Strategy Conferences & Forums (Automobile, Forestry, Energy, Petro Chemical, Agriculture, Fertilizer, Utility, Technology. Telecom, Transportation, Manufacturing, Retail).

Spruce Meadows’ international success, reputation, and recognition as one of Canada’s official institutional and sport SuperBrands (as is the Calgary Stampede) has, in large part, been achieved through its highly sophisticated and integrated professional media capabilities.

Each year Spruce Meadows issues over 400 individual media accreditations as well as agency and wire service accreditation to Reuters, CP, BBC World Service, Business News Network, IMG/TWI, Fox Sports, CBC, Post Media, Bell Globe Media, CNBC, NBC Sports, QMI, Bloomberg, Sun Media, Radio Canada, and CBC News World

Spruce Meadows Television produces and distributes 130 hours of Tournament, documentary and news production to 108 countries, with a viewing footprint of 2 billion - via the world wide web through the networks and distribution channels of CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, FSN, NBC, British Sky Broadcasting, BNN, Bloomberg, ESPN, EuroSport, CNBC, Fox Sports International, IMG, Rogers Broadcasting, cbcsports.ca and sprucemeadows.com.

Third party economic impact studies (Conference Board of Canada model) confirm Spruce Meadows as a major tourism destination, media entity, economic catalyst and employment centre, contributing in excess of $110 million annually to GNP in direct benefits with total benefits in excess of $300 million.

Spruce Meadows at a Glance

  • 500 acres (120 acres Tournament Grounds)
  • 20 buildings
  • 10 permanent stables
  • 2 indoor arenas
  • 7 outdoor grass rings
  • Community dog walk area
  • 500,000 visitors annually
  • Open 365 days of the year to everyone
  • General Admission $5 with children under 12 and seniorsfree

Last Word

While Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows have evolved over decades, if the proposed CalgaryNEXT plan happens the arena, stadium and fieldhouse will all have to come on stream at once.  As such, it will require a significant upfront investment by the private individuals who have created the vision and government, rather than smaller investments over decades that helped foster Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows.

It will be interesting to see how much “skin-in-the-game” the Big Five Billionaires of the 21st century (Edwards, Libin, Markin, McCaig and Riddell) are ultimately prepared to spend to realize THEIR vision compared to the Big Four Millionaires of 20th century (Burns, Cross, Lane and McLean) or even the Big One (Southern).

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Bridges over the Bow!

Great river cities are often defined by their iconic bridges.  A recent trip to Dublin, Ireland gave me a better appreciation for just how important bridges are - not only as a means of transportation, but also as a means of celebrating local history and a city’s sense of design.

While Calgary lacks the 1,000s of years of history Dublin has, we do have several bridges along the Bow in the downtown with historical and architectural significance.  We have four historic bridges - Centre Street, Langevin, Hillhurst (Louise) and Mewata. Two are brand spanking new multi-million dollar pedestrian bridges by international designers - Peace and St. Patrick’s Island Bridges.  

Then there is the lesser-known Jaipur Bridge (named after Calgary’s sister city in India) that links Eau Claire to Prince’s Island.   And, we even have “No Name” bridges – 4th/5th Ave Flyover (three bridges - two for vehicles and one for LRT), the 9th St West LRT bridge with its pedestrian bridge below) and the Prince’s Island to Sunnyside bridge at the Calgary Curling Club.

Five bridges cross the beautiful Bow River at the northeast entrance to downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Jaipur Bridge recognizes the friendship and goodwill between Calgary and Jaipur, India.  In the winter the Bow River lagoon becomes a skating rink.  It is the entrance to Prince's Island Park on of North American's best urban parks. 

Centre Street Bridge

Did you know that the first Centre Street Bridge was built in 1906 by Archibald John McArthur so he could market his subdivision of Crescent Heights? So even 100 years ago, private developers were paying for urban infrastructure to facilitate growth!  The current bridge, which opened in 1916, was under construction when McArthur’s bridge collapsed in the 1915 flood.

 It’s best known for its four concrete kiosks each topped by a stately lion and two bison heads.  Designed by City employee James Langlands Thompson, they were patterned them after the lions in London’s Trafalgar Square.  The bridge offers spectacular views of the Bow River and city skyline, especially the juxtaposition of the Calgary Tower and Bow Tower.

Centre Street Bridge is a popular pedestrian link between upper and lower Chinatown. 

 Langevin Bridge

The current Langevin Bridge, opened in 1910, is named after Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation.  It is a “Camelback” bridge as the framework of structural steel looks like a camel’s back in profile.

Langevin Bridge by day.

Like the Centre Street Bridge, this is the second bridge at this site. The first one, a wood truss bridge opened in 1890 was called the Dewdney Bridge (after Dewdney Street, now 4th Street SW).  It provided more convenient access for settlers who chose to live on the unserviced lots across the river and the brothels along Nose Creek.

Today, it is best known for its 5,600 LED lights that can be programed in 156 different colour configurations to celebrate holidays or charity events.  (Back story: there was no public consultation for this lighting project and it cost just $350,000 – sometimes you just have to do it!)

Langevin Bridge at night. 

Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge

This bridge at 10th Street has connected downtown’s West End to Kensington since 1922.  It replaced the Louise Bridge a steel truss bridge (1906 to 1927), which had replaced the original Bow Marsh Bridge (1888 to 1906). The former was named after Louise Cushing, daughter of William Henry Cushing, Calgary’s mayor from 1900 to 1901. 

The current concrete bridge coexisted with the popular Louise Bridge for five years.  While the original name of today’s bridge was Hillhurst, Calgarians continued to refer to it as the Louise so in 1970, it was officially renamed it the Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge.

Made of reinforced concrete with five 32m wide arched wall spans over its 172m length, the bridge was rehabilitated in 1997, with a design by Calgary’s Simpson Roberts Wappel Architects at a cost of $5.1 million. 

The Hillhurst bridge provides some of the best views of the Bow River and the downtown skyline. 

Mewata Bridge

Built in 1954, the Mewata Bridge (14th Street) was the first major river crossing built in Calgary since the Louise Bridge in 1921.  It helped facilitate post-war suburban growth in northwest Calgary and the establishment of a system of one-way streets in downtown. 

A mid-century modern design, it was inspired by the recently completed Waterloo Bridge in London, England. Built using “box-girder” technology, it uses steel-reinforced concrete beams shaped like a tube with multiple walls. When built, it was the longest box-girder span in North America, the first in Western Canada, and the first in Canada to use the new technique of butt-welded, reinforcing steel.

Backstory.  In November 2016, a year after this blog was posted Norm Reid (now 94 years old and founding partner of Reid Crowther & Partners) contacted me to say he oversaw the design and construction of the bridge. 

St. Patrick’s Island & Peace Bridges

Much has been written about Calgary’s two new pedestrian bridges – Peace and St. Patrick’s Island - each costing about $25M. Both are quickly becoming postcard images of Calgary’s new urbanity. Together, they create a pleasant, circular stroll along the shore of the Bow River offering engaging views of downtown’s modern architecture, Prince’s Island and the new St. Patrick’s Island (opening this summer).

The St. Patrick's bridge shines onto the water rather than into the night sky creating an eerie atmosphere. 

The Peace Bridge looks more dramatic at night all light up than it does during the day - just my humble opinion. 

No Name Bridges

The 4th/5th Avenue Flyover at Edmonton Trail are the busiest bridges collectively transporting almost 60,000+ vehicles cars in and out of downtown every day, as well as pedestrians and bikes.  A spectacular introduction to our downtown for many tourists and business travellers, it deserves a name and an enhanced sense of arrival (perhaps they could be lined with the flags of the world as a way of welcoming visitors). 

The 5th Ave flyover (built in 1972), the 4th Ave flyover (built in 1981) and NE LRT bridge (built in 1982), create a brutalistic statement about Calgary as a futuristic city.  Brutalism was a ‘60s design movement focusing on the use of raw concrete as an exterior façade material.

The modern, white, minimalist West End LRT Bridge with its suspended pedestrian bridge underneath creates the perfect yin to the yang of the early 20th Century Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge to its west.   This bridge, opened in 1987, is an important legacy to the 1988 Winter Olympics, linking downtown and University of Calgary venues.  Perhaps “Olympic Bridge” is fitting. 

The Prince’s Island to Sunnyside pedestrian bridge built in 1972 and designed by Chandler Kennedy Architects is a bit like the ugly, older sister in Calgary’s family of pedestrian bridges. It carries the same number of pedestrians and cyclists as the Peace Bridge, but gets no respect.  As part of the Memorial Drive mega-makeover, the ramps to the bridge were improved, but the bridge itself hasn’t changed in over 30 years.  With some modern updating (maybe some LED lighting), it has the potential to be just as spectacular as the Peace or Patrick’s Island Bridges.  Perhaps it could be the “Remembrance Bridge” which would be in keeping with the Memorial Drive theme and it is close to where we celebrate Remembrance Day.

The LRT Bridge built for the 1988 Olympics also serves as a pedestrian bridge connecting downtown's west end with Kensington. It is just a few minutes from the Peace Bridge to the east and the Hillhurst bridge to the west. 

The  4th and 5th Avenue Flyover bridges as seen from Riverwalk.  The City of Calgary informed me that neither bridge has a name, but when taking this photo I notice a plaque tucked up on the concrete beam above saying the 5th Ave Flyover is actually the Henry Kroeger Bridge a former Minister of Transportation. 

The pedestrian bridge links Prince's Island to Sunnyside. A coat of paint with some LED lighting and this could be a signature bridge. 

Dublin bridge bag

Last Word

Doesn’t every bridge deserve a name?  Perhaps we need a public naming contest for our “No Name” bridges? Maybe there are better names than Centre Street or St. Patrick’s Island?

Many river cities have postcards and souvenirs celebrating their bridges. I wonder when this might happen in Calgary.

 

 

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Everyday Tourist goes to gaol

One of the most moving experiences we had in 2015 (perhaps in the last few years) was our tour of the Kilmainham Gaol (KG) in Dublin, Ireland.  Not big fans of guided tours, we decided to take the tour, as it was the only way to get inside. We were glad we did. Our tour guide made the experience so “moving,” sharing real life stories of the hardships and heroics associated with the Gaol.

At the end of the tour, we even both thought she was going to break down into tears when we were standing in the desolate “stone-breakers” yard, the site where several political leaders were executed.  Afterwards, when we asked her if she had any personal association with the events or people in the Gaol she said “No” but she, like most Dubliners, have a deep respect for their history and those who suffered for their beloved Ireland.

Kilmainham Gaol 101

KG opened in 1796 as a one of the most modern prisons in Ireland, yet the conditions were inhumane by today’s standards - no glass on the windows, no lighting, no heat; it was a cold, dark and damp place.  In the early years it was filled with prisoners detained for begging, stealing, assault, prostitution and drunkenness. 

The gaol doors have centuries of grime encrusted on them to create a rich patina. 

During the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1850, many women and children were charged with begging and stealing food and placed in jail.  Our tour guide told one story about a mother who stole a single loaf of bread for her starving children was thrown in the dungeon-like cells with a half a dozen drunks and murders who reeked of their own body fluids.

We were surprised to learn that women made up a significant portion of the population until 1881 when it became an all male prison. Persons convicted of violent crimes were routinely hanged in front of the gaol for everyone to see.  The last women to be hanged were in 1821.

In 1862, the spectacular east wing (large open space, high ceiling with huge skylight and grand staircase) was added based on the Victorian belief that the quality of prison architecture was crucial to the reform of the inmates.   The prison philosophy became one of silence and separation. Communication between prisoners was forbidden with most of their time spent alone in their cell so they could read the Bible, contemplate and repent their crimes.

In 1958, after years of neglect (prison was decommissioned in 1924) the KG Restortion Society was formed to preserve the Gaol as a monument to Irish Nationalism.  After years of clean up, the eventually turned it over to the state and it has become a major tourist attraction. 

Looking in the peep hole you see the open window which was too high for the prisoners to see out of and let in a only minimal amount of light. 

Political Prisoners

The hallways have a strange haunting glow that magnifies the decaying walls. 

The story of KG really begins with its link to Ireland’s violent political history of rebellions, guerilla warfare, imprisonment, hangings and executions in the mid 1800s. 

Following the failure of the Young Irelanders (inspired by the spirit of revolution in Europe) in 1848 and the Fenians in 1867 (a secret, oath-bound group sworn to overthrow British rule), the Gaol was cleared of common prisoners and security strengthened to accommodate political figures.

In 1881, the governing Irish Parliament Party rejected the British government land act and Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Party and his MPs were imprisoned from October 1881 to May 1882.

Four days after Parnell’s release, two senior officials of the British government were assassinated by members of the group called “The Invincibles,” an offshoot of the Fenians. Five members of the group were hanged at the gaol in 1883 for their role in the assassinations.  

The prison closed in 1910, only to be reopened in 1916 to house hundreds of men and women who participated in the Irish Republic’s Easter uprising.  Between May 3 and 12, 1916 fourteen men were executed by firing squad in the stone-breakers’ yard.  It was while standing in this yard, hearing this story that our tour guide’s voice cracked and many of us were moved close to tears.

When the War of Independence broke out in 1919, KG was used to hold captured Republican Army members, four of which were executed in the same yard.  The War of Independence differed from other rebellions with the introduction of guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army, British forces and Dail (a radical republican party who won a landslide victory in the 1918 general election but refused to take their seats in the British Parliament). This war ended with a truce in July 1921.

However, the truce didn’t last long as tensions eventually erupted in a Civil War from 1922 to 1924.  From February to September 1923 during the Civil War over 300 girls and women between 12 and 70 were housed in KG.  The War ended in 1924 and its last prisoner, Eamon de Valera was released – he later became President of Ireland.

As a mid-20th century Canadian, who has never fought in a war, never fired a gun, never had to physically fight for anything, it is hard to understand the intense passion and pain that was endured over centuries by the people of Ireland as they fought for their independence.

In the museum area there are lots of artifacts, but the most touching were the letters which tell very intimate stories. This one is about Joseph Plunkett who married his wife the night before his execution. 

The cross marks the spot where the prisoners stood in the stone breakers yard waiting to be executed by gun fire. 

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho

One of the highlights of our 2014 travels was the discovery of Boise, Idaho with its vibrant downtown and university campus.  We loved the markets, auctions, restaurants and the neighbouring Snake River wine district.  One of the pleasant surprises of our visit was the Old Idaho State Penitentiary (OISP), which started as a single cell house in 1872.

Like KG, the stories and the conditions the prisoners of OISP endured are almost unbelievable. It housed over 13,000 inmates, including 215 were women from 1872 to 1973. One of the most famous inmates was Lyda Southard (aka Lady Bluebeard) who killed several husbands to collect the insurance money.

The penitentiary closed in 1973 after riots in 1971 and 1973 to protest the horrible living conditions.

The penitentiary is like a campus with 18 distinctive buildings surrounded by a 17 foot sandstone wall that was quarried by the convict from the ridges of the nearby hills (today they are wonderful walking trails).   While the men were kept busy with the construction of new buildings, maintenance and/or agricultural activities (including growing the best watermelons in the state) the women were engaged in repairing clothing, taking classes and reading the bible.

While Boise was part of the Wild West of the 1800s, the violence and hardship seemed pale in comparison to what the Irish suffered to gain their Independence.

The Idaho State Penitentiary seem charming in comparison to Kilmainham Gaol. 

The sand stone wall, guard house and walkway.  

The women cells were in a separate building. While the conditions were minimal there was some colour and lots of light. 

Last Word

We are not big history buffs and gaols are not usually on our list of must see places, but sometimes you have to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.  Both were pleasant surprises.  One of the ten commandments of an everyday tourist is “Thou shalt never over research or over plan your trip.” 

By Richard White, February 25, 2015.  

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist 

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Tale of Three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Calgary is blessed with almost 1,000 km of pathways (one of the world’s largest urban pathways) used by pedestrians, runners and cyclists year-round.  One of the key elements of the pathways system is its pedestrian bridges which range from “plain jane” functional bridges to multi-million dollar iconic bridges designed by world renowned architects and engineers.  Some have been created with much controversy, while others have flown under the radar.  

This is the story of three recently completed pedestrian bridges that I have been following for several years – Bow Trail, Peace and St. Patrick’s Island bridges.

 Calgary’s “Other Red Bridge”

While the Peace Bridge and St. Patrick’s Island bridges got all the media attention, the new pedestrian bridge over Bow Trail at the western entrance into the downtown just quietly got built. As a minor element in the massive billion-dollar West LRT project, there was no international design completion, nor any elaborate public engagement process. The design was given to two local engineers - Edmund Ho and Monty Knaus of Calgary’s MMM GROUP.

In their 2014 Transportation Association of Canada (Structures Session) Conference presentation, the bridge is described as a “rotated-ellipse arch,” but most people just see it as a representation or interpretation of Calgary’s iconic Chinook Arch. In my mind, there couldn’t be a more appropriate design for one of the downtown’s key gateways, seen by 100,000+ Calgarians and visitors who pass under it, cross over it or by it (Crowchild Trail) every day.

Its Canada Flag red colour helps make it stand out against the dramatic Calgary sky that can range anywhere from pure white to deep blue. Usually I am the guy asking for more ornamentation, but in this case, the simplicity of the design works well. Who says engineers have no sense of urban design? It also offers one of the best views of Calgary’s stunning downtown vista, which becomes visible at exactly this point when travelling east.

This bridge is an important connection in Calgary’s pathway system as it provides a connection to the Bow River pathway for all of the communities west of Crowchild Trail and south of Bow Trail, for both leisure and commuter use. It also provides access to a bus stop on Bow Trail.

The bridge spans all six lanes of traffic as well as the LRT track, with a span length of 50 metres from end-to-end of the half ellipse and another 12 metres of deck supported by steel props on the south end of the bridge. Narrowest of the three bridges at only 3 metres wide; this means it has no room for segregated bike and pedestrian traffic.  It also has no lighting on the bridge itself; though there are street lamps that lights up both the bridge for nighttime use. Note: The City was unable to give me the cost of this bridge as it was buried in the cost of the West LRT project, but in chatting with engineers the thought is the cost would be in the $6M range (this is the smallest of the three bridges).

The Bow Trail Bridge opened in December 2011, if you haven’t visited it, you should check it out for its spectacular view. 

The sky view from the Bow Trail bridge. 

The sky view from the Bow Trail bridge. 

Currently the bridge connects an old seniors cottage village and park, as well as being a key link in Calgary's nearly 1,000 km pathway system.  Plans are currently being developed to transform the seniors site into a more mixed-use urban village with seniors as the focus. 

Currently the bridge connects an old seniors cottage village and park, as well as being a key link in Calgary's nearly 1,000 km pathway system.  Plans are currently being developed to transform the seniors site into a more mixed-use urban village with seniors as the focus. 

The bridge spans the river of buses, trains and automobiles entering and exiting the Downtown along Bow Trail. 

The bridge spans the river of buses, trains and automobiles entering and exiting the Downtown along Bow Trail. 

A Chinook Arch which was the inspiration for the Bow Trail bridge. 

A Chinook Arch which was the inspiration for the Bow Trail bridge. 

The city vista from the Bow Trail bridge is stunning.

The city vista from the Bow Trail bridge is stunning.

Peace Bridge 

The Calatrava (the world famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was the designer) Bridge, which later became the Peace Bridge had very strict requirements because of the environmental sensitivity of the Bow River (one of the great fly fishing rivers in the world), no piers in the water (in an effort to minimize the ecological footprint) and restricted height (due to the nearby  heliport).  The bridge also had to meet the following specifications:

  • Withstand Calgary's one-in-100 year flood cycle (who knew this would happen only one year after its completion)
  • Minimum 75-year life span
  • Barrier free access for people of all mobility types
  • Sufficient light so public felt comfortable and secure at all times

Calatrava’s Peace Bridge is unique in that it is doesn't incorporate his signature asymmetric monochromatic white forms with anchored high masts and cables.

Calatrava's Chords Bridge for pedestrians and trains in Jerusalem. 

Calatrava's Chords Bridge for pedestrians and trains in Jerusalem. 

The candy cane red Peace Bridge name references the fact the bridge’s north side is on Memorial Drive, a boulevard that pays homage to Canada’s war and peacekeeping efforts over the past 100+ years. At the same time as the bridge was being built, Memorial Drive received a major makeover, creating a much more ceremonial street complete with the new Poppy Plaza, public art and ornamental lighting and decorative boulevard.

The bridge was steeped in controversy from day one for several reasons.  The cost ($20M+ was deemed too high by many for a pedestrian/cycling bridge). Why was it sole sourced? Why no pubic engagement? Was it even needed?

And then there were the delays. An independent inspection company was engaged to inspect all of the welds completed in Spain. Red flags were raised about the aesthetics and safety of the welds, which resulted in all the welds being ground down and redone on site. The bridge sat on the riverbank for months - covered in orange tarps like some Christo artwork - while welders redid all of the welds.

Funding for the Peace Bridge was provided through the City of Calgary’s Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (TIIP), which defines the priority and timing of major infrastructure construction projects. One of the key elements of this program is to foster more pedestrian and cycling opportunities in high-density areas where these modes are more efficient at moving people, supporting land use and lessening environmental impacts. 

The final costs were $19.8M for construction, $3.45M for architectural and structural design and specialized and $1.25M in administration, quality assurance and insurance for a total of #24.5M.

The Peace Bridge is 126 meters long and 6 meters wide, making it twice as wide as a normal pedestrian bridge, allowing separate pedestrian and cycling lanes (not that you would know it as pedestrians walk wherever they want).  It is well lit to promote nighttime use.  The bridge originally to be opened in fall of 2010 didn’t open until March 2012.

Peace Bridge looking south into downtown over the glacier waters (green) of the Bow River. To me the bridge dominates the river, creating a bold "look at me" statement that takes away from the natural beauty of the setting and blocks rather than enhances the view of the city skyline and Prince's Island. 

Peace Bridge looking south into downtown over the glacier waters (green) of the Bow River. To me the bridge dominates the river, creating a bold "look at me" statement that takes away from the natural beauty of the setting and blocks rather than enhances the view of the city skyline and Prince's Island. 

The Peace Bridge is a popular place for a noon hour stroll or workout - it is an outdoor gym.  The skeleton-like structure creates interesting viewing vistas for those who stop, while at the same time blocking an expansive view of the river, the sky, park and skyline as you proceed along the bridge.  Visually it seems antagonistic, rather than synergistic with the natural setting. 

The Peace Bridge is a popular place for a noon hour stroll or workout - it is an outdoor gym.  The skeleton-like structure creates interesting viewing vistas for those who stop, while at the same time blocking an expansive view of the river, the sky, park and skyline as you proceed along the bridge.  Visually it seems antagonistic, rather than synergistic with the natural setting. 

Peace Bridge links the north and south side of the extensive Bow River pathways system for walkers, joggers and cyclists. It is like an impromptu parade at noon hour in the summer, which creates a wonderful urban vitality. 

Peace Bridge links the north and south side of the extensive Bow River pathways system for walkers, joggers and cyclists. It is like an impromptu parade at noon hour in the summer, which creates a wonderful urban vitality. 

St. Patrick's Island Bridge

While the cost of the St. Patrick’s Island Bridge was similar to the Peace Bridge, everything else about this bridge’s design and construction were different.  There was an international design competition attracting 33 local, national and international concepts. All designs were shared with the public - over 2,000 Calgarians participated in the engagement process. Kudos to Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) for managing what has become the public engagement model for major public projects in Calgary.

Eventually, the design of two engineering firms - RFR from Paris and Halsall Associates from Calgary – was chosen.  Their design was nicknamed the “skipping stone” bridge as its three arches reminded people of a child playing at the edge of the river skipping a stone off water - a fitting image for the urban playground image being fostered by CMLC for East Village, Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

In September 2012, construction crews began work, putting in place temporary berms, extending into the Bow River from the north and south banks, to support the base and bridge deck structure. The steel arches were manufactured by ADF Group Inc. in Montreal. The arch sections vary in size (32 to 99-metres long) and weight (70,000 kg to  200,000 kg), were then shipped by truck to Calgary where they were welded together on site and eventually lifted in place with a 250-tonne capacity crane. 

The bridge connects East Village to the charming Bridgeland neighbourhood, as well as provides a new attractive cycling commuter path to downtown from the northeast quadrant of the city.  It is also a key element of the mega-makeover currently underway on St. Patrick’s Island, which is currently being to transform it into a year-round meeting and activity place. It replaces an existing bridge near the west end of St. Patrick’s Island, which did not offer a direct connection to the north bank of the Bow River (all of the materials from the old bridge have been recycled in various ways).

Like the Peace Bridge, St. Patrick’s Bridge has been designed with sufficient width for pedestrians and cyclists, but it doesn't have segregated lanes. It does have purpose-built lighting on the sidewalk of the bridge, but not lighting on the arches which would have been beautiful against the dark river especially in the winter.  The total length of the bridge is 182 metres with a maximum bridge width of 10.7 metres and minimum width of 7.3 metres, making it the longest and widest of the three bridges. 

The St. Patrick’s Island Bridge opened in the fall of 2014 after a one-year delay due to the 2013 flood and with no controversy from beginning to end.

People of ages and backgrounds enjoy the East Village Riverwalk for various activities. The St. Patrick's Bridge is in the background under construction. 

People of ages and backgrounds enjoy the East Village Riverwalk for various activities. The St. Patrick's Bridge is in the background under construction. 

St. Patrick's Bridge has become a popular meeting place for walkers, joggers and cyclists.  It has some similarities to the Bow Trail Bridge with its Chinook Arch shape and great views of the dramatic downtown skyline and the prairie sky. The bridge has an elegance that seems to frame the river, skyline and sky without being overbearing. (Photograph by Mark Eleven Photography, extended in courtesy of CMCL.)

St. Patrick's Bridge has become a popular meeting place for walkers, joggers and cyclists.  It has some similarities to the Bow Trail Bridge with its Chinook Arch shape and great views of the dramatic downtown skyline and the prairie sky. The bridge has an elegance that seems to frame the river, skyline and sky without being overbearing. (Photograph by Mark Eleven Photography, extended in courtesy of CMCL.)

View of bridge from one of the Riverwalk platforms. You can see the three arches aka skipping stones, with one under the bridge. There is an elegance and fluidity in the design that works even in a winter sky. 

View of bridge from one of the Riverwalk platforms. You can see the three arches aka skipping stones, with one under the bridge. There is an elegance and fluidity in the design that works even in a winter sky. 

Last Word

There are many lessons learned from the tale of these three bridges. First, engineers can design engaging urban structures.  Second, it is critical to have local representation on any major Calgary design project, as they will bring a critical eye to reflecting Calgary’s unique sense of place. Third, there must be an effective public engagement process.

As well, a fourth lesson might be that it is not necessary to have an international design competition to ensure high quality urban design. Calgary has a strong, diverse, competent and experienced design community capable of creating great buildings, bridges and public spaces. I am convinced that if we really want to celebrate and express Calgary’s unique sense of place we will have to do it by engaging designers locally who understand and appreciate our urban culture and not import it form elsewhere.  

My personally favourite of the three bridges is the Bow Trail Bridge for its Calgary red colour (think Stampeders, Flames and Calgary Tower), uncomplicated design and subtle reference to one of Calgary’s signature differentiators - the Chinook Arch. 

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