Calgary: Field of Crosses

Great cities have great visionaries.  Drive along Calgary’s Memorial Drive or by Memorial Park on 12th Avenue SW and you realize Calgary has benefitted in many ways from its early 20th century visionaries. A hundred years later today's visionaries are building on their vision. 

Calgary loves to celebrate its history?

Too often Calgary has been and is criticized for not preserving and celebrating its history.  Yet, when it comes to war memorials, we have done more than our fair share, including being home to the second largest War Museum in Canada.

What sparked this blog was the annual “Field of Crosses” that sprouted up last week along Memorial Drive almost like magic.

It is one of the most recent additions to Calgary’s evolving Memorial Drive which has payed tribute to the men and women of the Calgary region who have fought in various wars over the past 100 years. It first started with planting of trees and continues with the temporary placement of 3,200 crosses, each bearing the name of a fallen soldier from Southern Alberta.  

The crosses, lined up row-by-row, create our own “Flanders Field.” 

Link: Calgary: History Capital of Canada?

The crosses are planted in an unused patch of grass along Memorial Drive just west of the historic Centre Street Bridge on November 1st each year leading up to Remembrance Day (November 11th). Like an annual art installation the white crosses with red poppies and Canadian Flags (there are also a few American flags) weave their way along the narrow grassy field like military regiments on a maneuver. 

It dramatically changes the Memorial Drive experience.

Over the 11-day period, over 10,000 people will visit the site to pay their respects. On the afternoon I was there, there were about 100 people milling around including a busload of junior high students. - all were very respectful.

The “Field of Crosses” was the vision of Murray McCann a prominent Calgary businessman who witnessed something similar along a USA highway.  An epiphany for him - he was so overwhelmed he had to pull over and stop.

With the help of a $100,000 contribution by the McCann Family Foundation and with tremendous support from the City of Calgary Parks department and hundreds of volunteers his vision of a Field of Cross in Calgary was realized in 2009 and every year since.

"The City annually makes the park available across the Bow River from Calgary’s dynamic downtown.  The Field of Crosses committee prepares the park for housing over 3,200 crosses during the month of October and up to November 12th when the crosses are removed.  All city departments, which are impacted, have been super cooperative and supportive of the Field of Crosses project.  This demonstrates their recognition and appreciation of the role the military played in allowing us to live the lives we live today," says Susan Schalin with the McCann Family Foundation.

A Brief History of Memorial Drive

After the First World War the City of Calgary decided to plant a tree for each fallen soldier along Sunnyside Boulevard (now Memorial Drive). The first trees were planted on May 11, 1922 by Mayor Samuel Adams.  The planting continued until 1928, creating a spectacular boulevard with a grand total of 3,278 trees as living legacy. 

  It is hard to believe that this was Memorial Drive a one time. 

It is hard to believe that this was Memorial Drive a one time. 

Backstory: Many of the poplar trees (Populus Wobbstii) that now line Memorial Drive are nearing the end of their life cycle. However, the City has been taking cuttings from the original trees and today more than 1,500 offspring are growing in Grand Forks, BC to be used as part of a regeneration program. The original trees are thought to have come from Drumheller to Calgary by miners. It is hard to believe that Calgary was once almost treeless. All of the trees but one along Memorial Drive are female (female poplars bear the cotton which provides food for ducks, carries seeds and provides nesting material for birds and animals along the river.

Mega Facelift

Memorial Drive got a mega facelift in 2010, with new planters in the median to allow for more trees and poppies and decorative lampposts and banners. In 2011, The Calgary Soldiers’ Memorial designed by Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative was unveiled a few blocks west of 10th Street next to the Bow River. It lists the names of over 3,000 soldiers who died in various wars and conflicts on massive white marble slabs thrusting out of ground.   Illuminated from below, at night the memorial becomes a to pensive, eye-catching sculpture.

The Calgary Soldiers' Memorial

Poppy Plaza located along Memorial Drive at 10th St. NW is another Boutin design.  It is dominated by two menacing-looking rusted steel sculptural shapes (some say bomb-like) and eight large letters that spell “MEMORIAL.”  Quotes about war are water jet cut into the steel and backlit to remind visitors of the hopes and sacrifices involved in wartime activities. There are also two illuminated sentinels the Bow River on the south bank, which at night shimmer on the endlessly moving Bow River suggesting a connection with the constant movement of time.

Poppy Plaza driving east along Memorial Drive. 

Collectively the war memorial elements along Memorial Drive are called “Landscape of Memory,” a City of Calgary project funded by the ENMAX Legacy Parks Fund.  

Last Word

To me, the “Field of Crosses” is not only a memorial but a very significant piece of public art as it is so visual (public art doesn’t have to be permanent). This is the kind of meaningful public art we should foster - something that captures the public’s attention and motivates them to come and see it again and again.  Something that clearly speaks to the public rather than being obtuse.

Perhaps one of the keys to help accomplish this is to make public art more of an event; something temporary, a pop-up exhibition, so there is an urgency to come and see it before it gets taken away.

  Geroge V. Bittman bench sits in the trees above the field offers a pensive place to reflect on the Field of Crosses and what they mean. He was co-creator and chairman of the Memorial Drive "Field of Crosses" project.  He died in 2011.  

Geroge V. Bittman bench sits in the trees above the field offers a pensive place to reflect on the Field of Crosses and what they mean. He was co-creator and chairman of the Memorial Drive "Field of Crosses" project.  He died in 2011. 

Wouldn’t it be lovely too if the “Field of Crosses” become the catalyst to create more ways to celebrate our history?  Perhaps it will inspire someone creative way to celebrate Calgary’s tremendous "sense of community" with an annual flood memorial each June in memory of great floods of Calgary?

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Poppy Plaza Revisited

BL writes: "Excellent blog Richard. We arrived back in the desert last night and took a taxi home, about ten minutes. Most of the drive is through Cathedral City, the mostly Hispanic bedroom community between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage. Along the roadside they have a flag display every year in memory of the young kids from Cathedral City who gave their lives for "their" country. It is a shame that most of these kids came from the families of illegal immigrants and the number of Hispanics is unusually high because the Hispanic army units are given some of the highest risk assignments. Sobering when you drive by."

Fun With Photos!

As most of you know I love to surf through my photos almost everyday.  It is a fun way to relive your “everyday” experiences, as well as your travel adventures. 

Recently I discovered an app called “Union,” which allows me to combine photos to create interesting collages.  You can grab a public art photo from Chicago and combine it with one from Calgary.  You can overlay one iconic building with another or juxtapose an old building with a new one. 

It is “TOO MUCH FUN!”  

As a former public art gallery curator I thought it might be fun to curate an exhibition of the these artworks and share them with you.  

  This piece combines a sunset over Grand Trunk Park across the street from my house with seating in a small plaza along Edmonton's Stoney Plain Road. 

This piece combines a sunset over Grand Trunk Park across the street from my house with seating in a small plaza along Edmonton's Stoney Plain Road. 

  Over the years I have taken a number of photos based on the theme "best places to sit." This is a view of Calgary from the Foothills Medical Centre juxtaposed with a photo from a front garden that had a small figure sitting in a bird-bath. 

Over the years I have taken a number of photos based on the theme "best places to sit." This is a view of Calgary from the Foothills Medical Centre juxtaposed with a photo from a front garden that had a small figure sitting in a bird-bath. 

  Calgary's St. Mary's Cathedral juxtaposed with couples sitting in the historic Memorial Park just a few blocks away, creates a lovely narrative. 

Calgary's St. Mary's Cathedral juxtaposed with couples sitting in the historic Memorial Park just a few blocks away, creates a lovely narrative. 

  Jaume Plensa's "Crown Fountain" from Chicago's Millennium Park meets "Wonderland" his public artwork on the plaza in front of Calgary's Bow Tower. 

Jaume Plensa's "Crown Fountain" from Chicago's Millennium Park meets "Wonderland" his public artwork on the plaza in front of Calgary's Bow Tower. 

 Calgary Tower, Stephen Avenue, the historic Hudson Bay department store and Wonderland all mesh together in this image. 

Calgary Tower, Stephen Avenue, the historic Hudson Bay department store and Wonderland all mesh together in this image. 

Let's Just Have Some Fun!

Enough of the explanations, I will just let you browse the images and let you have fun interpreting them for yourself. Hope you enjoy!

 Mexico City 

Mexico City 

 Sadko & Kabuki, Calgary 

Sadko & Kabuki, Calgary 

  Shadow, Calgary

Shadow, Calgary

  Under Crowchild Trail, Calgary

Under Crowchild Trail, Calgary

 Skateboarding, Calgary  

Skateboarding, Calgary  

  Old vs New, SAIT, Calgary

Old vs New, SAIT, Calgary

  Florence

Florence

  Florence

Florence

  Calgary

Calgary

  Winnipeg

Winnipeg

 Calgary 

Calgary 

  Chair Toss, Calgary

Chair Toss, Calgary

  Hand-holding, Calgary

Hand-holding, Calgary

  Overpasses, Calgary

Overpasses, Calgary

  Sitting along the Bow, Calgary

Sitting along the Bow, Calgary

  Calgary

Calgary

  Chicago

Chicago

  Chicago

Chicago

  Calgary

Calgary

Calgary / Edmonton: Let's Plan Together

With the release of the City’s review of the real costs of CalgaryNext proposal for a new arena, stadium and fieldhouse in West Village, the plot thickens on how Calgary’s professional sports facilities will evolve over the next decade.

Is it just me or has anyone else wondered why Calgary, Edmonton and the Province aren’t working together to develop a master plan for the provinces major sporting facilities in both cities and look for synergies.

In February 2016, Edmonton completed a study to look at the future uses of Rexall Place on their exhibition grounds, while Calgary has just put out a Request For Proposals to look at future uses of the Saddledome, also located on our exhibition grounds.  While there are differences between the two buildings, sites and markets, there much overlap. 

The same could be said for Alberta’s two football stadiums, which are both past their best before date and in need of a mega makeovers - Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1978 and McMahon Stadium in 1960.

Edmonton's Rogers Place is nearing completion, along with numerous other buildings including the Stantec office tower which will be 69 floors including mechanical making it Canada's second tallest office tower.  The streets around Rogers Place are being branded as the Ice district. 

CalgaryNext is a proposed arena, stadium and fieldhouse at the western edge of Calgary's downtown. 

Arena: Demolish vs. Repurpose  

In the case of the two arenas, Edmonton has already built its new arena and completed a 244-page report on the potential repurposing of Rexall Place.  Rather than spend $8.3 million to demolish the arena, Northlands has floated a plan to spend $85 million to convert it into multi-plex with six or seven ice surfaces on two levels with seating for 3,000 spectators, that would be used for various hockey, curling, lacrosse, ringette and other tournaments, as well as potential replacing some of the city’s aging community arenas for recreational activities.

The plan is linked to a $160 million makeover of Northlands that includes closing the racetrack and converting it into an “urban festival site” for audiences between 30,000 and 140,000 people.  Plans also call for converting the Expo Centre’s current Hall D into a 5,000-seat space for smaller concerts and sporting events.

Rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Northlands Park in Edmonton. The Rexall arena is the circle building at the bottom, the old race track is the new "urban festival site" at the top of the image. 

The Edmonton report researched 17 other North American NHL cities that have introduced new arenas since 1994, and found that 11 of the replaced venues were ultimately demolished.  Maple Leaf Gardens is now a Loblaws grocery store, Joe Fresh boutique and a LCBO liquor store as well as the Ryerson University athletic facility, which includes an ice rink on the third floor, which is used by university teams, as well as for other activities by outside users.  The Montreal Forum, is now a mixed-use building that includes a Cineplex Theatre complex, a bowling alley, sports bar, Tim Hortons and Montreal Canadian’s gift shop.

The Montreal Forum today.

Calgary’s situation is very different as there are no firm plans for a new arena, however, The City of Calgary and The Saddledome are in the process of engaging consultant to look at future uses of the Saddledome and the economic feasibility and community benefits of each option.

Ironically, this comes at the same time as the Calgary Stampede has announce it wants to expand the BMO Centre to create a major convention and tradeshow centre, by tearing down the Corral a 6,475 arena built in 1950 that is across the street from the Saddledome and attached to the current BMO Centre.  It has been postulated by some that perhaps the Saddledome could be reconfigured into a convention centre/trade show facility. 

It will be very interesting to see what ideas the consultants generate for the Saddledome and how that links with the Stampede’s master plan.

The Saddledome is one of Calgary's few iconic buildings.  It provides a postcard view of the City's stunning skyline.  

Football Stadium

In the case of the two football stadiums, Edmonton is again ahead of the game having just appointed MTa: Urban Design/Architecture (offices in Calgary and Edmonton) to review the future of Commonwealth Stadium. Given it looks more and more, like Calgary’s City Council is favouring renovating McMahon stadium, doesn’t it make sense to engage MTa to review both stadiums and their sites to determine how best to invest the taxpayers dollars. 

It is hard to justify a new stadium 30,000+ seat stadium that gets filled for 8 home games, perhaps a playoff game and a Grey Cup every 10 years.  Ideally the new stadium if designed with noise reduction acoustics could also be major concert venue in the summer.

If it is determined a new stadium makes the most sense, one possibility in Calgary would be to build a new stadium north of the existing one, perhaps in a way that could include a baseball stadium and fieldhouse to maximize its use.

The current site of McMahon Stadium includes an outdated baseball park, as well as running track and other playing fields.  Could this site be redeveloped into a multi-sport complex that would serve professional sports (football, soccer, baseball), university athletics and recreational teams city-wide. 

An interesting twist would be to plan any renovations so that one is completed before the other e.g. while Calgary’s McMahon Stadium is being redeveloped the Stampeders could play in Edmonton and then Calgary could return the favour when Commonwealth Stadium is being renovated. 

There would be some cost saving to doing the two renovations in tandum and creating two similar stadiums, just like the Jubilee Theatres.  

Last Word

It will be very interesting to see how these urban renewal sagas play out over the next few years.  What lessons Calgary might learn from Edmonton, who have already built a new arena with a very controversial funding structure that was debated for many years.

In Calgary the debate is only getting started.  

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Calgary: Needs vs Wants - Stadium, Arena, Convention Centre

Linking Stampede Park & East Village

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