Happy Hour capital of North America is where?

Bet you can’t guess where the Happy Hour Capital of North America is?  It is definitely not in one of the 23 US states that have banned happy hours. And, it is also not in Alberta where, in 2008, the Alberta Liquor Board set strict pricing guidelines for all drinks limiting Happy Hour pricing to 8pm. So where is it? 

The Sauce magazine waiting for us with some other goodies at Hotel Monaco, Seattle.

Happy Hour Fun

One of the take-away memories of a recent trip to Seattle was the Happy Hour Experience. A magazine called “The Sauce (The Definitive Guide to Eating and Drinking in Seattle)” provided us with a comprehensive list of all Seattle Happy Hours - I stopped counting at 600.

Arriving on a Wednesday at the historic Mayflower Park Hotel we were informed there are two Happy Hours – one in their Oliver’s Bar where there were free appies and one with free wine tasting in their lovely Andaluca Restaurant.  

Mayflower Park Hotel's Oliver's Bar before happy hour. 

Happy hour at Andaluca restaurant in Mayflower Park Hotel is very civilized. 

A few days later, when we moved to the  Hotel Max iknown for its incredible contemporary art collection, we found out they have a free craft beer Happy Hour.  Yes, every day, guests wander back to the hotel lobby (aka living room) to enjoy free draft beer, meet and chat with strangers and watch the wonderful sidewalk ballet on the street outside through the big picture windows.  The early birds get the good seats, as this quickly becomes a standing room only event.

The Happy Hour fun didn’t stop there. The Hotel Monaco with its captivating, comfy guest rooms (ours being like an Andy Warhol installation with lots of bold accent colours, playful art and cloud wallpaper over the bed) was tough to leave. But again, a free wine tasting downstairs was too big a draw. Each day. The concierge picks a different wine to feature; often sourcing wines from boutique Washington wineries. And with very liberal pours he invites you to comeback for seconds. 

Samuel Beckett watches over happy hour at Hotel Max. 

Everyone loves happy hour at Hotel Monaco often moving to the restaurant and their signature cocktail the Sazerac (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, Sugar, Lemon Peel and Absinthe Rinse. photo credit: Evan Johnson

 A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

 A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

YYC Happy Hour Fun

Calgary is not without its Happy Hour culture. Ask around and you will discover Calgary’s after work socializing is on the rise. Hotel Arts, on Thursdays from 4 to 8 pm, offers free live music curated by local singer/songwriter Amy Thiessen paired with $4.99 pints and trendy RAW Bar cuisine. 

Mikey’s Juke Joint in SunAlta offers a Friday Happy Hour with free live music.  A musician from Mikey’s stable of musicians hosts each one, including two of Calgary’s most talented musicians - Tim Williams (winner of the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis) and Steve Pineo (Calgary's entry into the 2015 International Blues Challenge).

Google "Calgary Happy Hour" and you won't find a comprehensive list of 600 happy hours anywhere, the best I could find was a November 4, 2014 list by John Gilchrist, published in Avenue Magazine title "25 of Calgary's Best Happy Hours."  

Calgary is a changing…

For a long time, Calgary’s downtown and surrounding urban neighbourhoods were criticized for not having a robust, after work Happy Hour culture like Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver do.  In the mid to late 20th century, Calgary’s downtown workers were commonly known to quickly flee to the ‘burbs after work. However, this had changed significantly in the past decade with the emergence of Stephen Avenue Walk (SAW) as one of Canada’s best restaurant rows.  The 300 block of SAW, with its 200 floors of offices, is centre ice for downtown GABEters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers, engineers) with the likes of The Metropolitan Grill and Local on 8th. 

The 21st century has also seen the emergence of Calgary’s Beltline as one of North America’s best urban communities with its warehouses along 10th Avenue (replacing 11th Avenue or Electric Avenue as it was known in the ‘80s) as the hangout spot for the “young and restless.” Here, mega beer palaces like CRAFT Beer Market, National Beer Hall and Commonwealth Bar and Stage are bustling places helped by the fact the Beltline is a haven for 25 to 34-year olds in Calgary (a whopping 43% of the communities population falls into that YUPPIE age bracket). It is not uncommon to see a line up waiting to get into their favourite Beltline watering hole at Happy Hour.

Kensington Village is also emerging as an after-work hot spots like the Oak Tree Tavern.  Bridgeland too is now home to the very chic and cool Cannibale cocktail bar.  While Calgary may not have as comprehensive a “Happy Hour” culture as Seattle, it does have a mushrooming “after work” socializing culture.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Beltline: GABEters Capital of North America

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the Urban Tourist's Imagination

Top 10 things the Everyday Tourist learned about Seattle


Calgary's Trans Canada Highway Motel History

This week I received a second “everyday tourist” care package from my third cousin Sally in Los Angeles. In it were more historical Calgary postcards she hunted down at the Vintage Paper Fair, in Glendale, California. This time (last time it was a vintage CANADA Vacations Unlimited magazine from 1951), her big find was a bunch of postcards of Calgary’s mid-century motels, which coincidentally were mostly along the Trans Canada Highway (aka 16th Avenue N) near 19th Street – just blocks from where I live.

It was 1962 when the Trans Canada Highway opened and in Calgary, it went right through the City’s northern inner-city communities.   While today the urban planning buzz term is “urban village,” back in the ‘50s and ‘60s Calgary was famous for its “motel villages” both along the Trans Canada Highway (between 19th and 24th Streets NW, aka Crowchild Trail) long before the University of Calgary existed and the other in Montgomery (between 43rd to 46th St. NW) which didn’t amalgamate with the City of Calgary until 1963. 

After 50+ years, a few of the modest old motels from the middle of the 20th century still exist, although most have had a facelift or two.  Names like Red Carpet Inn, Thriftlodge, Days Inn, and Traveller’s Inn dot the streetscape along the Trans Canada highway in Montgomery. While the Motel Village next to McMahon Stadium includes names like Super 8, Travelodge, Thriftlodge and EconoLodge, as well as hotel brands like Best Western, Hamptons and Ramada.  There is even a funky boutique hotel – Aloft.  However, the classic mid-century modern motels like the Mount Eisenhower Motor Court, the Highlander Motor Hotel and the Cavalier Motel are gone - survived only by these postcards.

The Highlander Motor Hotel located on the Trans Canada Highway at 17th St NW provides ideal connections to Downtown, a multi-million dollar Shopping Centre, Jubilee Auditorium, McMahon Stadium and The University.  Today it is the site of the Home Depot. 

Calgary North, Travel Lodge, 2304 16th Ave NW. Bus at the door.Your Hosts: Ed and Carol Sandor (A member of the world's largest network of hotel). 

The Cavalier Motel, 2304 - 16th Ave NW. The essence of luxury - 50 modern units, equipped with televisions and telephones. Large heated swimming pool, adjoining restaurants, close to the largest shopping centre on the Trans Canada Highway i.e. North Hill Shopping Centre. Yes, the North Hill Shopping Center opened in 1958 and it was not only Calgary's first shopping center, but the largest along the entire Trans Canada Highway. 

Mount Eisenhower Motor Court, 2227 Banff Trail, 20 new units, modern AMA & AAA approved.

Importance of 16th Avenue North

If you drive or even a walk along the Trans Canada Highway today, you still see bits of evidence of how this was once Calgary’s most important vehicular street, long before the Deerfoot, Glenmore and Crowchild Trails or Memorial Drive.  It was, and still is, the gateway to Calgary’s first post-secondary campus – Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

At one point, it was also the gateway to the Calgary Airport located in Renfrew.  The historic Rutledge Hangar (731 – 13th Ave NE), built in 1929, is the only building remaining from Calgary’s first publicly operated airport, commonly known as the Stanley Jones Airport.  It was the first airport in Canada to install runway lights to facilitate twilight landings. It was also home to a short-lived airmail service for the Prairies and served as a training site for the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War Two.  

In addition, to small retail shops and restaurants all along 16th Avenue North, it was the gateway to Calgary's first shopping center - North Hill Shopping Centre in 1958. Calgary’s iconic Peters’ Drive-In (219-16th Ave NE) located on the Trans Canada Highway is another testimonial to 16th Avenue’s mid-century, automobile-oriented history.  Today you will still find numerous Tire, car parts and oil change shops along 16th Avenue. 

Banff Trail Motel is typical of the many modest motels that use to exist all along 16th Avenue North in the mid-20th century. 

Trans Canada Highway at Motel Village looking east with the SAIT residence in the background.

Calgary's Motel Village today is a hub of low-rise motels, an office building and 10+ restaurants. It is walking distance to the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology campus.  It is adjacent to a LRT Station that is just 5 minutes from downtown. 

Other Mid-century Motels

In downtown, while the Palliser Hotel adjacent to Canadian Pacific Railway Station was the City’s signature hotel, the Caravan Motor Hotel with its Steak and Rib House (4th Ave and 4th Street SW) touted itself as Calgary’s finest downtown motor hotel, only three minutes from the city centre. Another reminder of just how much our city has changed over the past five decades.

But for me, the best postcard was of the Bow River Motel (103, 24th Street NW aka Crowchild Trail).  On the back was their motto “It is quiet by the river” and the phone # AT 3-0777.  It was a reminder that not that long ago Crowchild Trail was a tranquil dirt road with no sidewalks and lined with small businesses and homes… a far cry from the speedway with bland, concrete sound barriers that it is today.

Caravan Motor Hotel and Steak and Rib House, 89 ultra modern units, completely air-conditioned, each room thermostatically controlled. TV, Hi Fi, Radio. Complete room service. 

Bow River Motel, 103, 24th St. NW (aka Crowchild Trail). Note the road looks like it is still dirt and there are no trees or sidewalks. This was the edge of the city in the '50s. 

Bow River Motel, 103, 24th St. NW (aka Crowchild Trail). Note the road looks like it is still dirt and there are no trees or sidewalks. This was the edge of the city in the '50s. 

Last Word

I couldn’t help but wonder if 16th Avenue North hadn’t become the Trans Canada Highway in the ‘60s, would have it evolved into a more pedestrian-oriented, retail street like 17th Avenue South. Just wondering.

If you like this blog, you might like these:

Flaneuring the Trans Canada Highway

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 1)

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2)

Calgary: History Capital of Canada


Dublin Revisited In 36 photographs!

A year ago we were flaneuring the streets, pubs, museums and shops of Dublin, Ireland. As all good “everyday tourists” do on their one-year anniversary of a trip, I reviewed my collection of photos and revisited the many great memories of Dublin. 

Also this week, I received a lot of positive feedback from my Summer Sunlight photo-essay blog so I thought it would be fun to do a photo-only blog of Dublin.  I have picked 36 photos (there is no magic in the number) that cover everything from art to architecture, food to fashion, parks to plazas and of course beer and pubs.

In no particular order, the photos are in true flaneur-like fashion.  Let the photos aimlessly take you on an off-the-beaten path stroll of Dublin. 

If you want to know more about our Dublin adventures you can check out the links for learn more about the city, its people and places:

Dublin: FAB fun in The Libertines

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem

Dublin vs. Calgary /Apples vs. Oranges

Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green vs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library – Look but don’t touch

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

Everyday Tourist goes to gaol!

Parks: Calgary vs. Dublin/Florence/Rome

the poor

Seattle vs Calgary: Capturing the urban tourists' imagination?

For years now friends and colleagues have been telling me “You have to go to Seattle. You will love it!” In May, we did visit Seattle (we have been there before but it was 12 years ago) and yes we did love it, but I couldn’t help but wonder why people love Seattle so much when Calgary has as much urban culture to offer.

Seattle, like Calgary, is a corporate city - Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks are all headquartered there.  However their downtown doesn’t feel as “corporate” with downtown blocks having a good mix of hotel, residential and office buildings, with some street level retail and restaurants thrown in.  In fact, on Seattle’s downtown neighbourhood map, they refer to it as the downtown retail core.  In contrast, Calgary has 40-blocks filled with two, three and sometimes four office towers per block and no street retail except for Stephen Avenue.

Downtown as a tourist attraction

Perhaps the biggest difference is Seattle’s downtown is perceived as a major tourist destination. Great tourist cities have iconic attractions.  In Seattle, hands down, the icon is Pike Public Market.  But Seattle also has converted their 74-acre, 1962 World’s Fair site into a year-round attractions district, clustering the Experience Music Project, Chihuly Gardens, Science Centre, Children’s Museum, Space Needle, IMAX and Key Arena into an area called Seattle Centre. Calgary’s equivalent would be Stampede Park - if we added the Calgary Tower, TELUS Spark and the new National Music Centre.

To visualize what the Calgary Flames are proposing for West Village, Seattle would be a good place to visit given its side-by-side baseball and football stadiums at the south end of downtown along the water’s edge, next to the LRT and Amtrak tracks.  We explored the area a couple of times (when there were no games going on) and it was like a ghost town. I hope the Flames do better.

From an urban design (architecture, public art and public spaces) perspective, Seattle and Calgary are similar, both having early 20th century historical buildings districts (Pioneer Square vs. Stephen Avenue) as well as many shinny late 20th and early 21st century towers.  Seattle’s free Olympic Sculpture Park along their waterfront includes a who’s who of international public art, while Calgary’s entire downtown is a sculpture park with over 100 artworks. 

The Seattle Art Museum (known as SAM), like Calgary’s Glenbow, is both an art and history museum.  We lucked out on the day we went - SAM is free on the second Thursday of the month. The place was packed – making me wonder why the Glenbow doesn’t offer one day free per month like most museums and galleries in major cities. 

Seattle, with its huge convention centre, makes Calgary’s look very minor league.  I loved that the public areas have hundreds of artworks that are free for all to explore.

Loved the psychedelic reflection of the Seattle Needle in the facade of the futuristic Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project building.

Seattle Convention Centre has a galleria over the road connecting the large exhibition spaces and meeting rooms.  Inside there are hundreds of artworks that create a free public art gallery.  A similar galleria was proposed for Stephen Avenue in Calgary connecting Bankers Hall and TD Square but never got built. 

The Seattle Central Library is an iconic architectural gem that is popular with both locals and tourists.  Hopefully Calgary's new Central Library will have the same popularity. 

Like Calgary Seattle has public art everywhere.  This piece that using water from the roof of the building caught my attention. In addition, Seattle has a massive Art Park with a "who's who" of public art artists. 

Hotel Fun

The hotel culture in Seattle seems very different from Calgary’s, focusing much more on the leisure tourist vs. the corporate traveler.  In “sleeping around” downtown Seattle, we discovered a delightful commonality - a vibrant “Happy Hour scene.” The historic Mayflower Park Hotel (famous for their martinis) offers guests free appies in their intimate Oliver’s lounge. The hipster Hotel Max offered free local craft beer in their lobby/living room (as well as great art and several large picture windows for catching the city’s “sidewalk ballet”). The playful Hotel Monaco offered a wine tasting with very liberal pours.  Seattle could well be the Happy Hour capital of North America, with 600+ happy hour listings in “The Sauce “magazine.

Mayflower Park Hotel is full of historic charm and character.  It is perfectly located for shoppers just a block away from Nordstrom and Macy's. 

Hotel Monaco had the most colourful hotel rooms we have ever stayed in.  The yoga mat was a nice touch.  

Every room at the Hotel Max had a door with a large photograph on the door by a local artists.  On our floor all of the doors had photos of Seattle musicians.  Very cool!

Like Calgary, Downtown Seattle lacks a real Main Street for shoppers.  From a tourist shopping perspective, I was surprised at not only how fragmented their retail is, but also that Nordstrom’s flagship store wasn’t more grand and upscale. Calgary’s The Core shopping center surpasses anything Seattle has to offer shoppers and Holt Renfrew is grander than anything in Seattle.

Urban Living

Urban living is exploding in Seattle - 58 residential projects will add 10,000+ residential units in their City Centre over the next few years. In comparison, Calgary has 7,194 units approved or under construction in its City Centre. Like Calgary, trendy urban communities surround Seattle’s downtown core. 

Dozens of highrise condos dot Seattle's urban landscape.  Seattle's monorail provides a futuristic perspective of the city for tourists, as does Calgary's 20 km +15 elevated walkway. 

Cafe Culture 

Belltown is Seattle’s Beltline with lots of new highrise condos, trendy restaurants and its link to the Seattle Centre (1962 World’s Fair site) i.e. their Stampede Park. 

Capitol Hill and First Hill communities are separated from Seattle’s downtown core by the I-15 interstate. Capitol Hill is the city’s hipster district with several new low to mid-rise condos and restaurants opening weekly.  It is home to Starbucks’ mega new Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room and several other local roasteries. Calgary’s equivalent would be Mission/Cliff Bungalow with its 4th Street restaurant row or Kensington with its abundance of coffeehouses and roasteries.

This Coke machine appeared mysteriously over 15 years ago, outside of the Broadway Locksmith near the corner of John and Broadway in the trendy Capitol Hill district.  Nobody knows who it belongs to, where the money goes or who restocks it.  It seems pretty popular as two people stop to buy a beverage while I was taking photos. 

The Denny Triangle is an extension of the downtown core, much like Eau Claire is in Calgary with a mix of office and condos. Amazon purchased three blocks in the district to create its highrise campus, which will be analogous to Eau Claire’s campus-like collection of dark blue glass oil patch towers - Devon and Centennial towers soon-to-be joined by Calgary City Centre and Eau Claire towers.

South Lake Union, Seattle’s newest urban community, anchored by a Whole Foods store is quickly becoming surrounded by condos, restaurants and shops.  Bridgeland would be Calgary’s equivalent.

Whole Food patio in South Lake district creates a wonderful street buzz. 

Urban Living Test Drive 

For anyone thinking of moving to one of Calgary urban communities and wondering what urban living is all about I’d recommend a trip to Seattle and staying in a couple of different hotels. Our penthouse (12th floor) suite at the Mayflower was equipped with two bathrooms, a lovely living room area with city and sea views and Macy’s and Nordstrom across the street.  If you like old world charm, this is your spot.

If you want some fun new home décor ideas, check into Hotel Max or Hotel Monaco.  At Max, each room door features a full, door-size local photographer’s work. Walk the hallways and enjoy the free photography exhibition. Our room had original art, as well as a record player with local musicians’ records. How cool is that?

Hotel Monaco is like living in an Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein 60s Pop Art artwork with its use of bright colours and bold patterns. It is amazing how big 500 square feet can look and feel when the city lies outside your front door.

Seattle is know for its coffee, what surprised us were the scrumptious biscuits and jam that on many menus. Yum! Yum! 

Last Word

Creating a vibrant city centre is more than just making it a place to “live” (new condos) and “work” (new office towers).” It is about creating a fun urban playground – shops, museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes, concerts, pubs, festivals, theatre, parks, public art and architecture. Calgary’s city centre has much to offer urban tourists as Seattle, Portland or Denver, but for some reason it hasn’t captured the attention of urban tourists. 

It is certainly not from a lack of trying by Tourism Calgary!

Click on links below for Calgary blogs that connect to statements made in this blog about Seattle vs Calgary: 

Beltline: North America's best hipster neighbourhood?

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest districts

NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 1)

My, my, how times have changed! Today I received a package of Calgary and Banff artifacts from a 3rd cousin living in Los Angeles who my Mom recently reconnected with. She is a big collector and loves treasure hunting at flea markets and fairs in the LA area.  When my Mom told her about my interest in old Calgary artifacts, she said she’d keep that in mind. 

I really never gave it much thought until very recently my Mom told me to expect a package in the mail from Sally.  Today it arrived - a nice two-page handwritten letter (can’t remember the last time I saw one of those), a dozen postcards and a magazine entitled “CANADA Vacations Unlimited,” all purchased at the Glendale, California, Vintage Paper Fair.  

While the postcards were wonderful, it was the 50-page, 1951, full-colour magazine that immediately caught my attention. Produced by the Canadian Government Travel Bureau (part of the department of Resources and Development), the magazine was aimed at enticing Americans to visit Canada.  It was captivating to see how Canada branded itself as a tourist destination 60+ years ago.

I was immediately struck by the lack of any information about Canadian cities; it is dominated by images of hunting, fishing, swimming, beaches, horseback riding and golf. Everything is family, rural and quaint. Shopping gets only minimal attention and food and dining isn’t even on the radar. 

No advertisements, no hotel listings, no phone numbers and no coupons and about festivals, museums, art galleries 

Branding the Provinces

The first 20 pages area devoted to profiling our 10 provinces – photo heavy and text light. And, nothing on the Territories.

British Columbia is branded as “Canada’s Pacific Province” with “great mountain ranges like Switzerland, deep costal inlets like Norway and valleys with pastoral charm of England’s quiet shires.” There is no mention of the charms of Vancouver except to say “it is the largest city in British Columbia, with more population than any state capital in the U.S. with the exception of Boston.  Images include the Empress Hotel (Victoria), Cathedral Grove (Alberni), Skyline Trail (Yoho Valley) and a generic game fishing photo. 

Cathedral Grove, Alberni (full page photo, quality of this image is similar to the one in the magazine as are most of the other images). 

The Empress Hotel, Victoria / Yoho Valley from Skyline Trail, Yoho National Park 

Alberta is branded as “Canada’s Mile-High Mountain Playground” where “cowhands and reservation Indians still roam Alberta’s grazing lands against the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, and the Calgary Stampede gets more spectacular each year.” The images are of “cowgirls sitting on a fence at Stampede, picnic at Waterton Lakes National Park, lookout on Banff Jasper Highway and Bow River from Banff Springs Hotel.”

Bow River Valley from Banff Springs Hotel (full page) 

Lookout Banff-Jasper Highway / Picnic with a view at Waterton Lakes National Park.

Saskatchewan branded as “Land of the last frontier” is where there’s fishing, hunting, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, golf, tennis and riding.” Images include Qu’Appelle Valley, public gardens (Regina), picnicking (Lake Waskesiu), golf (Prince Albert Park) and boating (unnamed river/lake).

Scene in the North Saskatchewan parklands (full page) 

Golf at Prince Albert National Park 

Manitoba is branded as “Inside the rim of Adventure” (whatever that means). The entire text is focused on fishing and hunting with no mention of Winnipeg as a tourist destination. But, it does point out that “the adventurous, if they have a special licence, can hunt the belugas and great white whales of Hudson Bay – boats and harpoons are supplied at Churchill and the big mammals sometimes weigh up to 2,000 pounds.” Images include ruins of old fortress at Churchill, a couple on the shore of Whiteshell Reserve, beach on Lake Winnipeg and shore of Clear Lake.”

On the shores of Clear Lake (full page) 

Ontario is “Canada’s All-Year Vacation Province” and includes names of the 14-tourist reception centres and how the climate ranges from Arctic temperatures in the north to peach, strawberry and tobacco growing in the extreme south, which by the way is south of northern California.  There are small photos of a Mountie and the Peace Tower in Ottawa, swimming in a quiet lake, sentry at Kingston’s Fort Henry, Niagara Falls and a “Niagara Peninsula blossom queen. No mention of Toronto - how can that be?

Full page image for Ontario 

When autumn paints Ontario woodlands / Summer sunning at a quiet lake

Quebec is “Canada’s French Heritage” that offers “vacation charm with a French-Canadian accent, exhilarating scenery, Scandinavian-type skiing as well as hunting and fishing.  Quebec City is North America’s only walled city and cosmopolitan Montreal is the largest in all Canada, as well as being the world’s greatest inland port.”  Images include a cruise ship passing Chateau Frontenac, looking out over the city of Montreal from Mount Royal, Gaspe Bay fisherman and highway along Lake Massawippi.  What? No mention of maple syrup or poutine!

Montreal lies below the lookout atop Mount Royal 

New Brunswick is branded as “Canada’s Unspoiled Province by the Sea” with more information about fishing, beach colonies and a quick mention of Magnetic Hill and Reversing Falls. Images include a woman sitting on the edge of canoe, salmon fishing in the Miramichi River, fishing smacks at Caraquet, fine game bird shooting and Bay of Fundy. 

Autumn comes to the St. John River Valley (full page image) 

“Canada’s Ocean Playground” is Nova Scotia’s brand, “where every village has a story and usually there is a historic background to the tale.”  Visitors who stay for more than a few days are eligible for the ‘Order of the Good Cheer’ North America’s first social club formed in 1606 by Samuel de Champlain.”  Images are of the beach at Ingonish, landing a giant tuna at Wedgeport and small sailboats in North West Arm in Halifax.

The North West Arm at Halifax (full page) 

A giant tuna is landed at Wedgeport / On the beach at Ingonish, looking towards Cape Smoky

Prince Edward Island is “Canada’s Garden Island Province” with “specialties of potato growing and oyster farming and where a lack of heavy industry have kept it from being better known.” (I am not making this stuff up; this is their promotional material.) There are photos of Parliament Buildings, silks and sulkies, north shore beach, Keppoch Beach and rural countryside.

Two-page spread promoting Prince Edward Island 

Lastly, Newfoundland is “Canada’s Newest Province” which in 1951 was a big deal as it just became the 10th province in 1949. There is a whole paragraph on St. John’s history and the city’s role in the American War of Independence, War of 1812 and World War II. The text ends with “The Canadian dollar has been the accepted currency in Newfoundland since 1894.”  Images include a fishing cove, Gander airport, lumber mill (Corner Brook) and scenic highway on the Humber River. I can’t believe there is no mention of icebergs or a photo of one.

Scene along the Humber River (full page) 

Lumber mills at Corner Brook / S.S.Gulfport nearing Newfoundland shores / Gander Airport

Lumber mills at Corner Brook / S.S.Gulfport nearing Newfoundland shores / Gander Airport

Last Word

If you found this blog insightful, you will definitely want to read CANADA Vacations Unlimited Part 2 (later this week), which will look at how Canada’s Travel Bureau promoted National Parks, Vacation Highways, Fishing, Canoeing, Camping, Swimming, Relaxing, Shrines and Historic Sites to Americans.  You will be surprised, maybe even shocked at how we branded shopping in Canadian shopping.

If you like this blog, you might like:

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2) 

Cities of Opportunity: Calgary/Hamilton 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building

In December 2014, Starbucks opened its “coffee cathedral” in the former circa 1920s Packard automobile dealership building in Seattle’s tony Capitol Hill neighbourhood.  It was designed to roast and showcase Starbucks’ small batch, reserved coffees.   The 15,600 square foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) building has quickly become a mecca for local and international coffee cynics and zealots.

Not to be outdone, in June 2015, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation opened up its “flagship foodie fun spot” in the 1912 Alaska Bedding Company (ABC) warehouse building aka Simmons Building (in 1919 the Simmons Bedding Company purchased the building from ABC).  The 16,000 square foot building has quickly become the epicenter of Calgary’s growing café and food culture and could well be the project that puts Calgary on the international coffee/food map.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle.

Simmons Building facing East Village's Riverwalk. 

Let the competition begin!

As one would expect, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) dwarfs the Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters’ space in the Simmons building.  While both have roasterie machinery, SRRTR has the look and feel of brewpub - lots of shiny machinery, an amphitheater space for viewing and learning about the bean-to-brew process.  Yet there is still a vibrant café atmosphere with lots of seating, huge windows to watch the “sidewalk ballet” that invites you to linger. There is even a library space if a quiet space to read or have a small meeting is what you’re after. We loved the idea that you could get a flight of coffees (three brews for $15) like you might have at a wine bar or craft brewery. 

Compare that to Phil & Sebastian’s café and coffee where the experience didn’t differ significantly from any other P&S café or other Calgary cafes. Advantage: SRRTR.

SRRTR looks like a science lab.

Seattle hipsters tasting the coffee, food and treats at SRRTR.

Calgarians lined up for their coffee at Phil & Sebastians.

SRRTR has its own Coffee Ambassadors – and there were many - young coffee experts from Starbuck cafes around the world who greet you at the door, find you a place to sit, bring you free water, answer your questions and engage you in a discussion.  On the flip side, Simmons Building seems a bit confusing as you have to line up to buy your coffee in one place, then line up again to buy your dessert, salad or sandwich at another vendor in the building.  Advantage SRRTR.

While SRRTR’s focus is definitely on coffee, it does have a Tom Douglas (Seattle celebrity restaurateur) Serious Pie restaurant on site, which is well known in Seattle for its pizzas and desserts.  Similarly, the Simmons Building is home to Charbar owned by Calgary’s celebrity restaurant owners Connie DeSousa and John Jackson.  I would have to award the restaurant advantage to Calgary’s Charbar with its more interesting menu, which offers up ocean, prairie and local garden ingredients.  It also offers a vegetarian small plates options. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Charbar restaurant in the Simmons Building.

The bar at Charbar. 

Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie pizza restaurants are also well known in Seattle for their desserts but my mouth still waters whenever I think of the Sidewalk Citizen’s Bourbon Bread Pudding and Earl Gray Apple cake we had a week ago.  Aviv Fried, owner of Sidewalk Citizen quietly putting Calgary on the map, has amazing sourdough bread and pastries.  Advantage: Simmons Building.

Sidewalk Citizen bakery at the Simmons Building.

From an overall design perspective, I loved the open, transparent, sunlight feel of SRTR over the Simmons Building that seems dark, closed and confined.  Both buildings have their historical exteriors preserved but there is little sense of history in the contemporary warehouse interiors. Simmons Building wins the design competition with its rooftop patio offer spectacular views of the city skyline and river valley. Advantage: Simmons Building.

SRRTR is a bright and airy space with lots of places to sit and chat, people watch or learn about coffee. It is part laboratory and part classroom. 

The Library at SRRTR

If you like to shop, SRRTR offers a small retail area with all kinds of coffee paraphernalia.  Simmons Building has no retail for those would need their shopping fix. Advantage: SRTR.

The retail space at SRRTR with the Serious Pizza in the background.

In the real estate world, it is all about “location, location, location.” While SRRTR has a great urban location at the junction of downtown and Capitol Hill, it is no match for the Simmons Building’s location on the East Village Riverwalk, next to the Bow River, near the soon-to-be best new urban park in North America - St. Patrick’s Island and what is shaping up to be one of North America’s finest early 21st century urban villages – East Village. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Simmons Building roof-top pato with Bow River and East Village Riverwalk below. (photo credit @GiantBlueRing

Simmons Building rooftop patio. (photograph by Colin Way, courtesy of CMLC) 

My Last Word

Yes, as a Calgarian I am biased.  Yes, I did love the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room and would recommend you check it out if you are in Seattle. It is one of the most welcoming and friendly places I have visited in a long time with a great buzz to it.  But when push comes to shove, I feel the Simmons Building offers a more interesting and diverse urban experience for tourists and locals alike.  

My only wish is that by next summer, Calgary’s own Village Ice Cream has a space in the Simmons Building so I can buy a cone while wandering the Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

John Gilchrist's Last Word

In chatting with John Gilchrist (CBC Radio One's Calgary Eyeopener food critic for 33 years, best selling author and international food writer and judge) while I was putting the final touches on this blog - he would argue Calgary is already on the North American coffee/culinary map. He reminded me Calgary baristas have won four of the last five national barista championships and Ben Put of Monogram Coffee just finished 3rd in the World Championships. As well, Phil &Sebastian's coffee has been sold nationally for a few years now and is respected internationally.

On the food scene, he emphatically stated "Calgary has become a culinary destination not only nationally but internationally. One small example is that the US-based Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Association is holding its annual conference in Calgary this fall, the first time it’s been held outside the USA."

Insofar as the Simmons building is concerned, he too would like to see Village Ice Cream join the family. John feels, "the Simmons building showcases three of Calgary’s fine culinary entrepreneurs, exposing them to more than the usual foodie cognoscenti. That’s great but we not always want a full meal or even a coffee in the afternoon. But ice cream is always welcome."

He added, "the Simmons is one of the most notable development in Calgary’s culinary scene I’ve ever seen. The partnership between the City and these three entrepreneurs is a fine example of private and public enterprise. And especially impactful in the development of the new East Village neighbourhood."

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Stanley Glacier Hike

I am always looking to try new things.  For several years now, I have been hinting to Peter Snell, Past President of the ESSO Annuitant (Pensioner’s) Hiking Club that I would go on a hike with him as he is always teasing me about these fun weekly hikes he goes on with his retired buddies.  What he didn’t tell me was that I had to sign a waiver (after reading their 30+ page hiker’s policies and guidelines document), and I could be on a bus with 55 other people, driven by a driver who is really a realtor (who I actually know – what Jonathan Crawford won’t do to get a listing)!

Starting in May, we tried to find a date that would work. Conflicting schedules meant we missed the Porcupine Hills in Longview area hike, as well as the Badlands in Drumheller one. Finally, the Stanley Glacier hike on July 9th worked for both of us (which turned out to probably be the hottest day of the year at +33 on a hike with few trees).

Peter sent me the trail notes ahead of time.  It didn’t look too bad - 10.4 km long with an elevation gain of 650 meters.  How hard can that be?  After all I walk about 7 km 3 to 5 times a week at the golf course and 650 meters is just a long par 5 on a golf course. 

Stanley Glacier with two waterfalls that are the beginning of Stanley Creek.  We hiked up to the top of the first waterfall. Note the loose and uneven rocks in the right corner - I am surprised someone didn't at least sprain their ankle. 

Peter carefully negotiating his way down to the base camp which was the green patch you can see in the distance on the right side half way up the photo.

Peter carefully negotiating his way down to the base camp which was the green patch you can see in the distance on the right side half way up the photo.

At the beginning of the hike there is a wonderful combination of old burnt stumps, new growth and colourful wild flowers.

Sentinels of the past.

Always read the small print

Relaxing at the top of our hike enjoying the vista. 

I should have read the trail notes in more detail. The Stanley Glacier hike is pretty much a straight up and straight down hike.  There is no halfway house and no cart girl.  Yes, they take a short break after every 100 meters in elevation change, but it is at best a 5 minute one (some golfers take that long just to line up a putt) to quickly drink some water and make sure everyone is OK as our old tickers are getting a workout (they even have walkie talkies with them to keep in touch in case there’s a problem).

Though I rarely sweat playing golf even when it is +30 out, I was sweating like I was in a sauna on this hike. Perhaps that is not surprising given there had been a forest fire many years ago and the tallest tree was maybe 4 feet (I am used to Redwood Meadows golf course where lovely tall trees provide shade when we need it (yes they can also get in the way of our shot, but that is another story).  Basically, we were in a sauna for 4+ hours, or maybe hot yoga.

If I had read trail notes, I also would have known that at the 3.4 km point the trail steepens, becomes rocky and leads to an outwash plain below a “terminal” moraine – the word terminal should have been a warning.

I made it to the top (not the first one and not the last) where everyone quickly unpacked their lunches and chowed down. No sooner had I settled down than a woman comes over and says “who wants to scramble over some rocks along a ledge to reach the base of the glacier?” I thought she said, “Scrabble” and said to Peter “let’s do it.”

Seriously, I had a look at where she was pointing and it didn’t look that tough - there was even a faint path and said to myself I didn’t come this far just to wimp out – I’m in!

In the end, only four people of the 20 or so people who made it to the “terminal” moraine wanted to go – that too should have told me something. We got about halfway up where we could get a good view of the glacier and the waterfall below and then turned back.

Nobody told me that scrambling up those loose rocks was the easy part; it is coming down that is hard.  Hey, I am a golfer; I’ve had some tough stances in the bunkers but nothing like this. I managed to get back to base camp where everyone had left without us. So, we jogged back to the parking lot, or at least it felt that way – hey it was all downhill.   I was grateful for my good friend Catherine’s advice to take the walking poles I got as a retirement gift from the Ability Hub in December. 

The base camp was a green oasis with trees, mosses and the raging Stanley Creek.

I couldn't help but wonder what indigenous people thought of this "spirit figure" on the rock wall. 

I love to bring home rock souvenirs from my hikes.  I have rocks from Newfoundland to Haida Gwaii. I was very tempted to bring this rock home, but wasn't sure if that was allowed 

I am always humbled by the raw beauty of the Rockies.

The soothing sound of falling water accompanied us for most of the hike. 

Differences & Similarities between Hiking & Golfing 

Keeping your head down in hiking is critical or you will trip and fall and surely break something (this is not cushy grass and sand; it is lots of uneven different sized sharp rocks). I think our hike was about 4 hours with 99% of the time looking at my feet and making endless decisions on where to step next so I didn’t fall and break my neck.  Did I say I had a great time?

This was my view for most of the hike.


Instead of handicaps like they have in golf, in hiking they rank people as A1, A2, B1, B2 or C based on how fast and far you can hike.  I am thinking golf should adopt this ranking system.  Everyone could be assigned a tee time based on how fast they play with the fastest players going out first.  This would surely end the “slow play” issues.

I think hikers should take a page out of the golfers’ handbook by dividing each hike up into 18 segments and after each segment you get a break to enjoy the vistas, take photos and have a drink.

Speaking of drinks, I think hiking would be more fun with cold beer during the hike just like in golf.  I distinctly heard one of the female hikers post-hike say “beer tastes best when it is cold and the weather is hot.”  If this is true, why wait until the end of the hike?  (Oh yea, maybe it’s because mountain hiking is dangerous, can’t drink and walk on these trails.)

Golf is way better than hiking if you like to look at the clouds, the vistas, reflections in ponds as you have lots of time to look around take photos etc. while you wait for the next foursome to tee off, hit there second shot and line up their third putt from 12 inches.  

Who left this tree stump in the middle of the trail.  Must have been the same designer as Redwood Meadows Golf course, where we have trees on the edge of the fairway and guarding the greens. 


Retirees who hike or golf are both the same in that they joke about looking their skill level, in hiking it is becoming an A2 after years of being an A1, while in golf it is becoming a double digit handicap after years of being a single digit or having to move up from the blue tees to the white tees. 


Hikers like golfers love talk about different courses they have played or would like to play. The Hikers throw out names like Edith Pass, Wind Ridge, Rockbound Lake and Paradise Valley, while golfers use names like Wolf Creek, Paradise Canyon and Shadow Mountain.  Hikers use the term “shit hikes” for those they don’t like, while golfers call courses they don’t like “gimmicky.”


While it looks like a lot of people heading out for the hike, we quickly thinned out as groups settled into their own pace. 

Last Word

Didn’t somebody once say “golf is a good walk spoiled by a little white ball.” I am thinking hiking is a good walk spoiled by a lot of rocks.  I am not giving up golf, but I am thinking I will add a hike or two to my monthly schedule of summer activities. Variety is the spice of life.

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Redwood Reflections

While wandering onto the 6th green at Redwood Meadows golf course some reflections caught my eye in the pond next to the green.

I putted out, but the reflections continued to haunt me.  Given we were a twosome and nobody was behind us, I quickly walked into the wooded area next to the pond to take a closer look.  The mid-morning spring sunlight that filtered through the trees and onto the water was both playful and magical.

In a matter of seconds, my mindset changed from golfer to artist. I have always been intrigued by the elements of abstraction that exists in nature and in our everyday world.  I love the interplay of eye and the mind in how we see the world. 

For the rest of the round I had my iPhone out almost as much as my driver and putter, looking for other reflections and nature’s everyday artworks. 

Upon getting home I wondered what the images would look like in black and white. The results were eerie, ereathral and exquisite.

Regular “Everyday Tourist” readers know I am fascinated by reflections, be they the multi-layered reflections in shop windows along a street or the abstractions and distortions created in the multi-planed office towers.

It has been said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  I am thinking, “Golf is a good walk for reflecting.” 

I will let the photos speak for themselves. Comments are always welcomed.



Yes I did par the next hole (one of the most difficult on the course) and I had my usual combination for pars, birdies and double birdies for the rest of the round. Who says you have to stay focused to play golf?  

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What is "Maximalism" you ask?

Bet you didn’t guess that “Maximalism” is the catalogue title for Seattle’s Hotel Max’s art collection. Yes, the hotel not only has a wonderful art collection, but also like a public art museum, they have documented all of the hotels artworks (250) reproduced in full colour and each artist has two pages with an artist’s statement and bio. In addition, there is an introduction by curator Tessa Papas and a very readable short essay by Bruce Guenther, Chief Curator at the Portland Art Museum.

In the catalogue, Guenther writes, “This adventurous act of cultural patronage suggests a new, creative ways to bring serious art into the public’s experience and celebrates the plentitude of its practitioners and of aesthetic attitudes at work in Seattle.”

On a recent trip to Seattle, we stayed at the Hotel Max for a few nights and we were most impressed with the art; it was everywhere! And, this art is not just a bunch of pretty pictures; this is hardcore modern art. The hotel has respected the art and the artwork, each of the artworks has its own label and in the catalogue is the email of each artists if guest wished to contact them to comment or perhaps buy one of their works. 

I am sorry I can't reproduce all of the artworks in this blog, you will just have to check out Hotel Max for yourself next time you are in Seattle. 

I loved this haunting image of Samuel Beckett that greets you as you enter the hotel.  It immediately shouts, "This is a cool place!" The artwork is by local artist Stephen Kaluza. 

I was most impressed by the Hotel Max’s guest floor hallway art program. Nine photographers were selected and each given a floor to showcase their work creating nine mini exhibitions with 17 photos per floor. All of the art in the rooms and lobby were also selected from local artists.

What makes the hallway exhibitions really unique is they aren’t in standard fames on the wall but rather large format photographs covering the entire room doors with the doorframe doing double duty as the frame for the artwork.  Dark hallways with lighting focused on the black and white photography create a dramatic and pensive sense of space, in sharp contrasts with the rooms, which have light, bright and full of colourful artworks.

Byan Smith, Upside, mixed media 40' x 24' was the feature artwork in our room.  It would fit easily into our art collection and made us feel at home. We even had a turntable with Seattle indie group records in our room 9as did all rooms on the 5th floor) given the subject of the photographs was Seattle's music scene. How fun is that? 

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

The hallway on the fifth floor as we exit the elevator. 

Amy Mullen, Untitled, photograph, 8th floor 

Paul Sundberg, Mr. Smith #3, photograph, 4th Floor (there was a series of Mr. Schmidt photographs, other titles included: Mr. Schmidt comes home, Mr Schmidt goes to work 

John Armstrong, Dancing Neon Couple, photograph, 10th floor

Charles Peterson, Nirvana, Los Angeles, 1990, 5th floor

Charles Petterson, Laughing Hyenas, Seattle, 1991, 5th Floor

Erin Shafkind, Her head is in the world, photograph, 2nd floor

Joan Broughton, Magical Tom Frank, photography, 3rd Floor

Joan Broughton, Greg Spence Wolf, photography, 3rd Floor 

Lesson learned?

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

I have often thought hotels (Calgary and elsewhere) could do a much better job of selecting artwork that reflects the “sense of place” where they are located. A downtown Calgary hotelier once blasted me when I questioned their choice of art for a new hotel because all the imagery was of the mountains, nothing reflecting Calgary urban sense of place.  

My thinking was this new hotel would enhance the visitors’ stay by providing them with images (realistic and abstract) of the fun things to see and do in Calgary - architecture, parks, plazas, streetscapes and public art that are right in the hotel’s backyard!

I even suggested commissioning several local artists (painters, printmakers, photographers) to explore the city and create a portfolio of images from which the hotelier could create a unique art collection. Kudos to Calgary's Hotel Arts for their commitment to contemporary urban art as part of their brand. 

Hotels across the world - big and small, luxury and economy - could learn from Hotel Max how create a unique hotel experience for visitors.

Even the room keys are mini works of art from the hotel; this was my room key.  It was a reproduction of a photograph from the 10th floor by John Armstrong, titled "Rue Reamumur, Paris."  I keep mine as a souvenir.   

Last Word

If we want to make downtown Calgary a tourist attraction (and I think we do), more must be done to promote our unique urban sense of place.  In addition to hoteliers becoming ambassadors for urban tourism, so too should restaurants and retailers.  Everyone could help by using local art that reflects local spaces and places as part of their interior design or window displays.

Any hotelier interested in creating a unique, special and meaningful experience for their guests should visit Seattle to check out the Hotel Max.  And if you are tourist visiting Seattle, for business or pleasure, Hotel Max is the best place to stay.

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Calgary: Postcards from the sky?


Recently, Keith Walker at Peak Aerials (formerly Peak Experience) gave me access to their amazing library of aerial photography from Calgary.  While we have all seen Calgary from the sky when taking off or landing at the Calgary airport the Peak Aerials images seemed much more intense, dramatic and surreal than the fleeting image you see from a passenger plane.

It was fun to see and study Calgary from a different perspective.  I was immediately struck by how wonderful and unique these images would be as postcards so I decided to choose 10 and share them with the everyday tourist community.  

Choosing 10 was not as easily as I thought, so I have decided I will do a couple of blogs showcasing different perspectives of Calgary from the sky over the next few months.  This blog will look at the strange buildings Calgary has created, while others will look at parks and public spaces and another will probably look at abstract images.

Hope you enjoy!

Postcard Water Centre.jpg

About Peak Aerials

The aerial viewpoint is one that captures the interest and imagination of the viewer.  Peak Aerials, (formerly Peak Experience Imagery), is an aerial photography service company that has completed over 1000 aerial photo missions since 1999.  Their clients are a diverse mix of multi-national corporations, small businesses and government agencies who have found that aerial photos are a valuable business resource for communicating, documenting and promoting with clarity and ease.  While based in Calgary, Peak Aerials has scheduled and custom flights across Canada.   Learn more: Peak Aerials

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+15 walkway: Love vs Hate!

Calgarians have a love-hate relationship with downtown’s +15 system – the public loves them, the planners and politicians hate them. The public (downtown workers) loves them as it means on poor weather days, they don’t have to put on a coat to attend a business meeting, meet a friend for coffee, lunch or a happy hour drink, or find a quiet place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office.

The +15 is also a popular route for those who work in one building but workout in another, be that in the morning, noon or after work.  Another thing downtown workers love about the +15 is you are almost always guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen for years and have been meaning to catch up with.  It is a great place for impromptu networking.

The +15 walkway creates a unique urban design experience especially in the cathedral-like lobbies of the office buildings. 

The +15 walkway creates a unique urban design experience especially in the cathedral-like lobbies of the office buildings. 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Planners and politicians generally hate them because they think they destroy downtown street life.  Funny thing, both Toronto and Montreal have underground pathway systems and nobody talks about how they have destroyed the street life in those cities. The unique reality is Calgary’s downtown is almost exclusively made up of office buildings, which simply don’t generate street life, be that Calgary or New York City’s Wall St. district or Bay St. in Toronto.

The City of Calgary conducted +15 pedestrian counts in January 2011 and again July 2011. They found use of the +15 drops about 70% in the summer. This proves that when the weather is nice, downtown workers love to walk outside but when it isn’t, they are happy to use the +15 as their indoor sidewalk. We have the best of both worlds.

Pedestrian Counts July 2001. The City of Calgary website

Pedestrian Counts January 2012. The City of Calgary website 


Wandering the +15 walkway is bit like negotiating your way through a maze.  However there is an elaborate map and signage program to help new explorers.  At each bridge is an illuminated map with the details of the immediate area are highlighted.  You can also look for a man in “white hat and stairs” to direct you to a staircase that will get you to the street. 

Above the bridges, horizontal signage gives you the name of the building and tells you if you are headed North, South, East or West.

  • North signs have a fish background which means you are heading to the Bow River, which runs along the northern edge of the downtown on its way from the Bow Glacier to Hudson’s Bay. 

  • South signs have a train that represents the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, which form the southern boundary of downtown. 

  • East signs have a fort motif paying tribute to the 1875 Northwest Mounted Police’s Fort Calgary on the eastern edge of downtown.

  • West signs have a mountain motif in the background reflecting the majestic Canadian Rockies dominate the downtown skyline to the west. 

Still, it is easy to get lost in the +15 system, but that is half of the fun. Newbies should not be afraid to admit they are lost and ask for directions - Calgarians are more than willing to point you in the right direction.

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure


Most of the bridges are designed to connect buildings mid-block, but that is not always possible when you are connecting an older building to new building.  Older buildings have to be retrofitted on the 2nd floor to create a pedestrian walk through building and sometime two or three smaller buildings have to connect to one large new building; this is what results in the maze-like routes, rather than a linear grid like the streets below.

The idea of creating an elevated walkway system was not only based on climate but also on public health and safety.  The thinking was that by removing pedestrians from the street, the City would reduce the number of pedestrian/vehicle interactions, resulting in fewer accidents.   From a health perspective, the enclosed walkway also meant downtown workers and visitors not only wouldn’t have to breathe in the pollution of cars, but can also enjoy a healthy brisk 10-km walk at lunch even when it is -30C, snowing or raining.

The early bridges were simple rectangles without much thought into creating an urban design statement. However, that began to change with the Bankers Hall double decker bridges over Stephen Avenue, which makes its own architectural design statement. 

Since then, many bridges make their own unique design statement. For example, the +15 bridge connecting Eighth Avenue Place and Centennial Parkade and looking out to the CPR’s main rail line uses a traditional trestle bridge design popular for early prairie railway bridges.  

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall.  

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

Bankers Hall double decker +15 bridge over Stephen Avenue at the 300 block.

Bankers Hall double decker +15 bridge over Stephen Avenue at the 300 block.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

Interior of the +15 bridge connecting Municipal Building and Arts Commons.  Kids love looking out at the urban landscape from the +15 vantage point. 

Walking the +15 system early in the morning as downtown workers arrive is a surreal experience. 

Walking the +15 system early in the morning as downtown workers arrive is a surreal experience. 

+15 Highlights 

The +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is home to the Udderly Art Pasture, a celebration of the very popular Colourful Cows for Calgary art project that saw over 100 fun cow created by artists installed around the downtown in 2000.  Today, over 10 cows have found a permanent pasture in the +15.

Devonian Gardens, a 2.5-acre indoor park/garden created in 1977 and underwent a $37 million renovation in 2012, is integrated with The Core shopping center.  It is an ideal place to meet a friend, have some alone time or take young children to run and play in the playground area.

The Core Shopping Center is perhaps the epicenter of the +15, especially for shoppers.  It links the historic Hudson Bay’s department store with the contemporary Holt Renfrew store with four floors of shops. Its claim to fame is the German-engineered skylight the size of three football fields, making it the largest in the world.

 The Jamieson Place Winter Garden wins hands down as the most tranquil spot in downtown, with its infinity ponds, living plant walls and its spectacular hanging David Chihuly glass sculptures, each weighing 500 pounds.

The Suncor Place’s +15 lobby is home to an authentic Noorduyn Norseman Plane hanging from the ceiling. Used extensively in early oil and gas exploration as it could land on snow, water or land - very fitting given downtown Calgary is home to most of Canada’s oil & gas companies.

DAYDREAM Derek Besant’s public artwork in the +15 connecting West Alberta Place with Petro Fina is a hidden gem.  It consists of 24 etchings on the +15 windows accompanied by thought-provoking text like “WHERE DOES HE FIT INTO MY LIFE?“

If travelling along the +15 walkway in the Arts Commons building (formerly the EPCOR Centre) be sure to look in the window where, down below, you can watch the designers working on the next set design for a Theatre Calgary or Alberta Theatre Projects play.

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

The Core retail complex connects directly with three office towers, +15 walkways on two levels and Devonian Gardens.

The Core retail complex connects directly with three office towers, +15 walkways on two levels and Devonian Gardens.

The +15 walkway functions like outdoor pedestrian street with buskers, patios, cafes, shops and services. 

The +15 walkway functions like outdoor pedestrian street with buskers, patios, cafes, shops and services. 


Exploring Calgary’s +15 system is our city’s most unique urban experience.  While New York City is famous for its High Line (an elevated linear park on abandoned railway line that meanders through Manhattan), Calgary’s +15 walkway preceded it by 40 years. Calgarians should be proud of their +15 walkway.

In fact I am so proud of our +15 I will be wearing my  Frontier Metropolis.com  +15 shirt when I host a Jane's Walk through the +15 at 10am on May 2, 2015.  If you want to join us we are meeting on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 

In fact I am so proud of our +15 I will be wearing my Frontier Metropolis.com +15 shirt when I host a Jane's Walk through the +15 at 10am on May 2, 2015.  If you want to join us we are meeting on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 


Fun Factoids

  • Harold Hanen a Calgary urban planner championed the +15 system in ‘60s.

  • Named +15 because the bridges are 15 feet above ground.

  • First +15 bridge connected Calgary Place to Westin Hotel in 1973.

  • 62 bridges create 18 km of walkways – the longest elevated enclosed walkway in the world.

  • 22,000 people cross the +15 bridge between Centrum Place and Energy Plaza over 6th Ave every weekday making it the busiest bridge in the system.

  • 150+ buildings are connected by +15 bridges.

  • Eighth Avenue Place is home several masterpieces of Canadian art including two Jean-Paul Riopelle paintings.

  • Calgary will never have double decker buses, as they won’t fit under the bridges.

  • Calgary’s +15 was the focus of Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns’ movie “waydowntown” in 2000.

  • The +15 is home to seven shoe shine chairs.

One of eight shoe shine stations in the +15 walkway.  

One of eight shoe shine stations in the +15 walkway. 

Nanton's Bomber Command Museum

We have probably driven by the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta well over 50 times since moving to southern Alberta in 1981. We have visited Nanton many times to wander its quaint Main Street with its many antique stores and café.  I have even played golf there a couple of times. But we have never ventured into the museum, until recently that is. 

With my mom visiting from Hamilton, we were looking for fun and new things to do. Nanton came up as a great day trip.  Backstory: Last summer, it was Calgary’s Military Museums, which I had passed by thousands of times on Crowchild Trail SW but had never visited until my Mom came in August. We decided to check out the Museum and WOW what a great surprise. Though not a big history or military buff, Museum blew us away.  Learn more: Everyday Tourist visits Calgary Military Museums.

While the day was ugly (weather-wise), our trip to Nanton was great.  The Bomber Command Museum of Canada exceeded our expectations. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside (its just a big metal warehouse building - no $100+ million architectural icon here), but once inside, the volunteer-run museum is most attractive.

Admission is by donation, which I think is great; this way visitors can give based on the value they received.  I have always thought that this is the best way for a museum or art gallery to really judge the value they are giving their visitors, as well as remove any barriers to visiting for those who aren’t sure it worth the cost and for families who just don’t have the money to spend on museum visits.

At the entrance to the Museum, sit several display cases packed with artifacts and wonderful facts and stories about them.  What makes the museum authentic and special is that most of the artifacts are from the people of southern Alberta; these items are truly part of the area’s history and culture.

The well-stocked Museum gift shop had the usual shirts, hats and knickknacks, as well as some great books and some fun fashions, including cute bomber jackets for kids. 

Canada Kid
Nanton display case
Story of a tire
Lancaster Tire evokes memories
Lady Pilots

 The Hanger

After exploring the entrance area, you enter the main exhibition space, which is a humungous hanger space full of airplanes.  My camera was soon overheated and its battery drained, as I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  It was a real feast for the eyes. 

One of the main attractions is a preserved Avro Lancaster bomber, which doesn’t fly but they do start-up the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines every once in awhile.  You can also check out the RAF Bomber Command aircraft including a Bristol Blenheim Mk IV. 

In addition there are many intriguing artifacts and displays  - from engines to bicycles to local stories about those who flew in the various wars. As a former visual art curator, I was very intrigued by the Nose Art i.e. the art painted on the nose of the aircraft.  I love the erotic, playboy, comic book-like art works.  It was obvious these were lonely, frustrated young males.

There was sadness about it all, as the museum tells the stories of how 10,659 young Canadian men lost their lives flying bombers. I will let these postcards from the museum share some of the stories and hopefully entice you to visit.

The Hanger
Hanger 2
restoration work
There is an entire room devoted to engines.

There is an entire room devoted to engines.

Cheetah IX
Cheetah info

Nose Art 

Nose art info
Willie The Wolf From The West
Notorious Nan
Seven Dwarfs


Nanton at a glance

While in Nanton, there are many fun things to see and do.  Dressing Up, the not-for-profit thrift store on Main Street is an opportunity to find your own historical artifact or treasure.  There are several antique/vintage/retro stores, which are fun to explore. Brenda’s find this trip was an early 1900s vial of French perfume talc - still with it contents, for $1.  Tres chic; tres vintage!

Nanton is also home to the Ultimate Trains and Big Sky Garden Railway, which we have been told is great family fun.  It is an outdoor large-scale model trains in a garden setting that is open from May 1st to Thanksgiving long weekend.  Sounds like another road trip in the making. Big Sky Garden Railway 

The Main Street Café is our go-to spot for lunch – good home food.  This time we each had a bowl of tangy hamburger soup, I had a sandwich loaded with chicken, bacon and lettuce, we shared a slice of homemade Boston Cream pie and we all had one of their gooey cinnamon buns (cream cheese added to order at no extra cost) - all for $29. The Cafe is definitely a walk back in time, as Glenn Andrews one of the owners came over and asked us how our meal was.  We said how wonderful the Hamburger soup was and then got chatting about soups and he gave us a taste and history lesson on the new "soup of the day" Mulligatawny (the popular Hamburger soup had run out).  Nicely rested we headed out to explore the shops. 

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

You ne ver know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

You never know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

 Last Word

One of the great things about being an “everyday tourist” is that you are always open to and looking for fun new things to do - be that checking out a new community in the city you live in or taking a road trip to a small town nearby.

 Why is the tendency to always wait for visiting family and friend to explore our own city?

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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.



If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

Calgary the City of Parks & Pathways

Architecture River Cruise in Chicago 


One night in Florence

There is something magical about wandering the streets of Florence as night.  No it isn't just the gelato!  Partly it is the vibe of the thousands of tourist and students wandering the streets aimlessly. But mostly I think it has to do with the sense of past, when humans were much more into mythical figures, the spirituality of gods and less focused on earthly pursuits.  

This is a photo tour of "One night in Florence." 

One of several fountains in Florence where people can take a drink - if they dare! We saw a young student fill up his water bottle in this one and take a drink. I believe it was a bit of a dare.  Later we found out these communal drinking fountains have been used for centuries and are a wonderful reminder of the how urban life has evolved from one of sharing to one of privacy (they are perfectly safe to use).

David by Michelangelo was completed in 1504 and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance. At 17 ft high it is three times life size, which creates a monumental impact on the viewer. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

The rape of Polyxena, Pio Fedi, 1865 takes on a whole new meaning in the 21st century. 

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.

The fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, 1565, has a wonderful surreal blue in the evening light (this iPhone image has not been altered).  

Many of the churches are open in the evening offering a surprisingly different spiritual and surreal experience than during the day. 

You can even enjoy an free evening organ concert, that spills out onto the street. You may even feel like you have died and gone to heaven. 

Forget twitter, leave a note for God. 

Twitter notes? 

Even if you are non-religious you can't help but be impacted by the sense of life and death that engulfs you in ancient cities like Florence.

Calgary's Downtown Night Lights Revisited

One of my greatest laments is the decline in the use of large flashing blade sign neon lighting as part of urban placemaking.   Neon lights added so much colour, animation and playfulness to the downtown streets of most North American cities in the middle of the 20th century; today they have all but disappeared. Even in Vegas the iconic mega neon signs have been laid to rest in a graveyard. (Learn more: Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard) 

In the '50s and '60s bright, bold, flashing lights were synonymous with the nightlife fun that downtowns used to offer. Today, most of our downtowns are visually sterile, corporate and just plain banal for my taste.

While LED lighting is bringing some of the colour and a bit of the animation back to urban placemaking, they are not as playful as neon - at least not Calgary.  In some cities, there are amazing light shows on the sides of buildings, but they are usually temporary in nature.  

The Calgary Tower and Langevin Bridge changing LED lights are a nice decorative feature, but the show isn’t bold enough to add a WOW factor.  Neon lights flashed quickly off and on, like an excited heart beat, while Calgary's LED lighting fades in and out slowly.  

Fort Calgary and East Village lighting adds some colour at night, but doesn't light up the sidewalk and create any electricity in the air like Neon lights can.  Even in the daytime the cartoon like neon images added a playfulness that is simply missing from our modern urban streetscapes. 

LED lighting Centrium Place

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

Langevin Bridge lights add colour at night to a dull grey bridge by day.

Langevin Bridge lights add colour at night to a dull grey bridge by day.

Fort Calgary's sentinels look like burning iron ingots at night, but the sidewalk and park are covered blackness.  

Fort Calgary's sentinels look like burning iron ingots at night, but the sidewalk and park are covered blackness. 

Jamieson Place LED lights.

How charming is this? 

Camera Fun

Recently, by accident, I discovered I could create some pretty surreal and abstract lighting effects by very quickly moving my new Sony RX100 III camera as I took a picture.

My “learning” happened one evening when I wanted some night photos of the LED lights on the Langevin Bridge for a Condo Living Magazine feature titled “Bridges Over the Bow.”  For some reason, I moved while taking a picture, which resulted in streaks of coloured lights across the sky over the bridge. It looked kinda cool so I kept it.  The image haunted me and the idea of creating my own downtown light show intrigued me, so I headed downtown a few nights later to experiment.

It was fun to see what would happen as I jerked the camera different ways to see what kind of image I would get (I hope nobody was looking as my technique undoubtedly made me look a little deranged).  It was also frustrating, as I didn’t have any control over the images. Definitely hit or miss.

But in the end, I love the playfulness of these images with just hints of Calgary’s architecture. There is diversity of light is delightful - to my eye anyway.  The images are a wonderful combination of fireworks, neon lights and northern lights.  There is a surreal narrative at play in some, while others look like something from a '60s acid dream (not that I would know anything about that).

I need some feedback, so I thought I’d share some of the images with you and invite your candid comments.

Richard White, March 15, 2015  

Langevan Bridge accident.  

Langevan Bridge accident. 

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Lights on trees in corporate plaza 

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

West End condo light show.

West End condo light show.

Centre Street Bridge. The visual complexity of this photograph is astounding - the various qualities of light, the etching like lines, the  billowing white clouds contrasting with the electrical wire lines.  

Centre Street Bridge. The visual complexity of this photograph is astounding - the various qualities of light, the etching like lines, the  billowing white clouds contrasting with the electrical wire lines.  

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Peace Bridge  or Peace Train?

Peace Bridge or Peace Train?

Grain Exchange Building

Light waves 

Light waves 

Downtown temples?

Downtown temples?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

An acid dream I'm sure....

Barclay Mall

Love to get your feedback. 

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

The Ponte Vecchio is a stone three-arch pedestrian bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. A bridge at this location dates back to Roman times, first appearing in documentation in 996AD, with bridges being destroyed in floods of 1117AD and 1333AD.  The current bridge, built in 1345AD and was spared destruction by the Germans in World War II, allegedly by an expressed order of Hitler.  And, more recently, it miraculously survived the massive flood of 1966.

Close up view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio from a little further back with reflection in Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio with garden-like river bank and on the right you can see the tourists lined up to enjoy the view of the river, buildings and bridge.

Tourist Trap

If you've seen one vendor shop window you have seen them all.

The bridge has always hosted shops and merchants (butchers, fishmongers, tanners etc.) but by 1442AD it was monopolized by butchers and the bridge stank from centuries of industrial waste. So in 1593, the Medici Grand Dukes, in an effort to enhance the prestige of the bridge prohibited butchers from selling there and decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have their shops on the bridge – a tradition that continues today.

To say the bridge is teeming with tourists is an understatement.  It is also, in my mind an understatement to say the place is a tacky tourist attraction with hucksters selling everything from bad art to kitschy trinkets (not much different than panhandling) in front of the permanent shops on the edge of the bridge.

This was early morning when the hucksters had not set up yet and the throngs of tourists had not arrived - still a popular place.

The bridge’s exterior design is also tacky with its ramshackled collage of protruding house-like shops in need of a good coat of paint.  It is an awkward mix of stone, stucco and wood (shutters). While some might see it as quaint, it doesn’t have the wonderful decoration, ornamentation and quality craftsmanship of the historic stone buildings and sculptures that dominate Florence’s urban design. It looks like a tired stucco bridge from the 1960s.The shops along the bridge could also use some tender loving care.  One usually associates goldsmith and jewelry with upscale shops and elegant presentations, not flea market stalls.

Above these shops is the Vasari Corridor, a walkway that runs over the shops and houses built by the Duke of Florence in the 16th century so he could commute between his two residences (Uffizi and Pitti Palace) without having to mix with the public.

Everything about the bridge didn’t fit with our design sensibilities.  We avoided it as much as we could (and with other bridges nearby, it was easy to do).

Pedestrian bridges should be designed to offer great vistas of the river and the city. 

This is one of my postcard images of Florence. 

Last Word

My immediate thought was “this is the world’s ugliest pedestrian bridge”.  I even tweeted that out.  Immediately I got people retweeting me that they liked it.

And, since coming back, several people have asked “Did you like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge?”  When I said, “I hated it!” they were shocked.  I guess if you are into history and can overlook/see past the tacky jewelry shops and the obnoxious souvenir sellers (who place their product on the ground so you almost trip over them), it could be an attractive place. We just avoided it!

In reading others’ blog post it seemed the bridge is a popular, romantic river evening stroll. Could the Everyday Tourist be wrong!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tale of Three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Window Licking in Florence

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Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Editor's Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and published as a guest editorial on Saturday, February 21st in response to City of Calgary Councillor Peter Demong's pending motion to suspend the City's spending on public art for 2015.) Photos and photos and reader's comments have been added to create a more engaging read. 

Downtown Calgary has hundred's of public artworks scattered throughout the streets, parks, plazas, lobbies and +15 elevated walkway. It is a huge art park! 

Reader's Comments: 

BL writes: With respect to public art. I am a great lover of art and a believer that art enhances life. The city's public art policy fails because it is arbitrary and because it is poorly implemented.

There are many great examples of public art in Calgary and around the world; so the debate should not be about the value of art, rather the debate should be about how to encourage and implement a public art policy which enhances our built environment instead of causing people to say WTF is that!? 

To date, most of the art projects funded by the city's policy have been of questionable quality. There are those who believe that art is of value for the simple fact that it incites a reaction, but let's face it, a piece of crap is still just a piece of crap even if you call it art.

We should be asking why the public art funded by many private donors and companies, is usually successful, while the "art" commissioned by the city often turns out to be so poor.

My simple answer to that question is that artists working for private benefactors are likely more motivated to ensure that they please those benefactors; while artists working for a public committee made up of volunteers and bureaucrats, none of whom have any "skin in the game" are less likely to produce a high quality result.

The whole selection process is also questionable since the private benefactor can use whatever sourcing manner he may wish, including very simply sole-sourcing the artist based solely on his merit; while the public process of judging and evaluation may even ensure that the very best artist may not be selected, and might even be discouraged to participate.

Like many good public policies, the concept may be sound but the devil is in the details.

Blog: Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Let the debate begin yet AGAIN? Is public art a luxury? Does it add any real value to the everyday lives of everyday Calgarians?

Before the current same old Council debate on public art goes any further, somebody on Council should say, “let’s stop the micro managing and act like Board of Directors and not like a working committee!”  Can you imagine the Board of Directors of an major oil company saying to their senior staff,’” I think we should start the cost cutting with the art acquisition budget!”

If Council really wants to save - or delay public art spending - in 2015, it would be wiser to look strategically at the City’s $22 billion dollar capital and operating budget for the 2015 to 2018 period.  It should really be asking Administration to provide them with a couple of scenarios that would result in say a 3% and 6% savings in 2015.

What would make even more sense would be to ask Administration to determine how they can better manage its capital projects to bring them in on budget. It is not unusual for the City’s capital projects to be tens of millions of dollars over budget. That is a luxury we can’t afford going forward.

Any budget cuts for 2015 should be strategic, not a “knee-jerk” decisions.  At this point we don’t even know how much money will be saved - Demong estimates $2 to $4 million, a pittance in multi-billion dollar budget. As some of my corporate board member friends like to say, “that is just a rounding out error.”

Value of Public art

One of the things I love about the City’s “1% for Public Art Policy” (1% of the budget for all capital projects up to $50 million must be set aside for public art and .5% for projects over $50 million) is that it places public art in our suburban parks, LRT stations, recreation centres and yes even bridges. 

For some young Calgarians, it will be their first encounter with “real” art. It will be an opportunity for the child to say, “What’s that?” and for parents or grandparents to begin a discussion that could go on for years. Priceless.

Sure, I could go on and say things like public art is important for creating a sense of place, celebrating local history, adding character and charm, creating community pride or heaven forbid, “beauty.”

This little guy seems to be quite intrigued by the ghost-like figure made up of letters from different languages by Jaume Plensa. 

Importance of a Creative Culture

It is not easy to quantitatively measure the value of public art. In 2010, Calgary Economic Development’s 76-page profile of our City’s Creative Industries provides some facts and figures that relate to the significance of creative individuals in our city.

Did you know?

  • 67,000 Calgarians or 8% of the workforce work in creative industries, everything from artists to architects, from website developers to CEOs.
  • Calgary ranks 3rd of Canada’s major cities for attracting cultural migrants. Yes, people move to Calgary for reasons other than to work in the oil patch!
  • There are 19,000 creative establishments in Calgary – everything from artists’ studios to recording studios, from major architectural firms to private art galleries.
  • 7,000 students graduate each year from a creative industry program at one of Calgary’s post-secondary schools.
  • Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing and lucrative segments of the North American travel industry.  
  • In the profile, Calgary Economic Development also recognizes the importance of fostering a creative (out-of-the-box thinking) culture as a critical to generating new ideas.  Great cities are incubators for new ideas!

While it is hard to say any one public artwork is critical to fostering a creative and critical thinking city, collectively, they make our city an attractive place to work for the creative class, as well as others.

Families love interacting with this public art piece in Vancouver's English Bay. 

Last Word

Over the past 30 years, I have sat on several selection committees for public art. Without exception the community representatives shared with the other jurors how excited the community is to be getting public art.

Brookfield Residential has already created a major piece of public art for its new community of SETON. Why? Because Brookfield gets it, recognizing the value of public art as one of the pillars of a great community.

The 1% for Public Art Policy, initiated in 2003, is just over 10 years old – a very short time in city building.  Calgary has over 200 communities; I don’t think we should stop creating public art until there are several pieces in each of these communities. 1% is a pittance to invest in making a good city GREAT!

By Richard White, February 21, 2015

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Calgary: Preservation vs Prosperity Predicament

Though never been a big history buff, after spending almost two months in Europe, I now have a much better appreciation of the importance of preserving historical buildings and sites. They are critical to telling a city’s story and creating a unique sense of place.

Calgary is often criticized for focusing too much on the prosperity of the present and future at the expense of the preservation of the past.  For many (including me) our philosophy is “we are creating Calgary’s history today.”  But cities really are built over decades and centuries, not years. To me, Calgary is just a young teenager striving to find its own identity, its own personality.

Now with my new European adventure enlightenment, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what buildings we have lost over the past 100 years that we might like to have today.

The Mawson Plan presented to City Council in 1914 would have dramatically changed the look of Calgary with its river centric vs railway centric orientation.  Calgary would have truly become "Paris on the prairies."  More information http://caa.ucalgary.ca/mawsonreportfull

Hull Opera House (606, Centre Street South)

Imagine it is the early 1890s. Calgary rancher, entrepreneur and philanthropist William Roper just commissioned a 1,000-seat opera house be built at 606 Centre St. South (known as McTavish Street until 1904) by architects Child and Wilson at a cost of $10,000.  One of Calgary’s first major sandstone and brick buildings, it hosted opera, theatre, school concerts, and community dances.  It is hard to believe a frontier city with a population of only 4,000 people could support such a large opera house.  But it did, for 13 years anyway.

In 1906, it was renovated to accommodate street level retail, residential on the upper floors and renamed the Albion Block. Then in 1960s, George Crystal bought the building and demolished it to create parking for his adjacent York Hotel.  The York Hotel was demolished to make way for the Bow office tower, (its façade brickwork is now safely numbered and stored so it can be integrated into a new building on the corner of Centre Street and 7th Avenue SW sometime in the future). So, we lost one icon and gained another in the Bow Tower.  If we still had the Hull Opera House, it would have made a great public market, along the same lines as the Centro Market in Florence, Italy.

Hull Opera House


CPR Train Station (115 – 9th Avenue SE)

Yes, Calgary had a downtown train station, but I have been told it wasn’t anything as grand as say Grand Central Station or Penn Station in New York City. It wasn’t even as grand as Winnipeg’s train stations given that in the late 19th century, it was Winnipeg that was going to be capital of the prairies and the rival to Chicago.  It was a time of Winnipeg’s heyday – it boasted the most millionaires per capita in North America.  Calgary on the otherhand was still a frontier town with a population 4,000 people.  My, my, how times have changed! 

Calgary’s CPR station was demolished in 1966, making way for the Palliser Square and Calgary Tower (then called the Husky Tower) as part of a Calgary’s first modern urban renewal project that included the Convention Centre, Marriott Hotel (the Four Seasons Hotel) and the Glenbow. 

I now think our historic train station would have made a great modern art gallery like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. 

Central (James Short) School (Centre Street South between 4th and 5th Ave)

James Short School was Calgary’s first large three-story square sandstone school. It proudly opened as Central School in 1905 and was noted for its impressive cupola above the entrance.  When, by the late ‘60s, the school-age population in downtown wasn’t sufficient to keep the school open, all but the cupola (now located on the NW corner of Centre Street South and 5th Ave) was demolished to make way for redevelopment.

Today, James Short (a pioneer teacher, principal of the school and later a School Board Member, he was also the lawyer for the Anti-Chinese League) is best known as a park and parkade. If it were still around today, what a great boutique hotel it would make.

Southam (Calgary Herald) Building (130 7th Avenue SW)

The Southam Building was touted as the “finest home of any newspaper in Canada” when it opened its dors in 1913.  It was well known for its terracotta gargoyles (made by Doulton Lambeth of England) that adorned the roofline and depicted various newpaper trades.

Built in 1913, this magnificent Gothic structure was occupied by the Calgary Herald until 1932, when the paper needed more space. In the 1940s, the building was sold to Greyhound who used it for 30+ years as a bus depot, gutting the main floor to allow for the buses to drive through. Eventually demolished in 1972, it made way for the Len Werry Building. All of the gargolyes were rescued when the building was demolished in 1972 and some can now be found on the second floor of the north building of the Telus Convention Centre.

Today, it would have a phenomenal character office building integrated into the new Brookfield Place glass tower currently under construction. The contrast of the old and the new would have been spectacular. 

Burns Residence (501, 13 Avenue S.W.)

Patrick Burns, a rancher, businessman and one of the “Big Four” who founded the Calgary Stampede, built his grand mansion with ornate sandstone carvings in 1901.  Designed by the famous Victoria, BC architect Francis M. Rattenbury, the mansion and English garden rivaled the still-standing 1891 Lougheed House and garden two blocks west on 13th Avenue.  It is hard to imagine that 13th Avenue SW was Calgary’s millionaires’ row a 100 years ago.  The Burns mansion was demolished in 1956, replaced by the Colonel Belcher Hospital, which in turn got demolished to build the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, which opened in 2008.

The Burns Manor restaurant and lounge would have a nice ring to it, a bigger version of Rouge (in the Cross House) in Inglewood.

Stephen Avenue East

Calgary historian Harry Sanders would like to have back the entire east end of 8th Avenue all the way to 4th Street SE. It was all demolished in the ‘70s and ‘80s clearing the way for the Municipal Building, Olympic Plaza and the Epcor Centre (Calgary’s second attempt at modern urban renewal).  Sanders imagines a lively pedestrian street full of small shops, cafes and restaurants all the way from Holt Renfrew (the façade of the current Holt Renfrew building is that of Calgary’s old Eaton’s department store) to East Village. 

Indeed, downtown Calgary lacks a grand boulevard or wide prairie Main Street that typical of most major cities.  For all of its charm and character, Stephen Avenue still lacks a WOW factor (expect perhaps at lunch hour in the summer).

Stephen Avenue early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue middle of the 20th Century.