Rosebud: A Prairie Gem!

Guest blog by Terry Bachynski

Whenever you are looking for a day away from the city, our natural tendencies in Calgary and Edmonton are to look and head west to the Rockies.  A day of hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing or just taking in the beauty of our Rocky Mountains is always a great respite from the city traffic and pace.

However, there is so much more that our province offers.  My wife, Laura, and I like to explore Alberta randomly.  Just get in the car and head in any direction and see what we can find.  Exploring small towns is one of our favourite ways to spend a free day. 

One such day adventure, near 30 years ago, lead us north and east out of Calgary. We headed for Drumheller and the Badlands.  But, we never got there.  Heading east on Highway 9 we came upon a road sign that said “Rosebud 10 km”. Rosebud?  The name was too tempting. 

We had to see it for ourselves. A south turn onto secondary highway 840 and a short trip down a winding, up and down road finally ended (literally) in a small valley along the Rosebud River and the quaint hamlet of Rosebud.

Along the road to Rosebud

Entering Rosebud from atop the valley you first notice a small grouping of prairie town buildings and the ever present grain elevator to the south. As we approached, we noticed that, unlike other isolated and all too forgotten prairie hamlets, this cluster of buildings looked in reasonably good shape and in use! 

We quickly determined that Rosebud was more than what met the eye.  The entire town exists and thrives beyond its history of farming and coal mining.  The town is a hub of artistic creativity.  That first accidental visit found us arriving just in time for the buffet dinner and stage show.  We grabbed a couple of tickets, enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner and then crossed the street to the opera house for the live show.

The economic and creative anchor for the town is the Rosebud School of the Arts and Rosebud Theatre.  Doing a little research for this blog, I discovered that the artistic heartbeat of the town started with a “one-off” summer camp for high school kids in 1977.  Since then, the Rosebud School of the Arts has grown into a post-secondary educational institution focused on development of theatre arts. 

The Rosebud Theatre offers a full year of live stage productions in the restored and renovated prairie opera house as well as second studio stage.  The productions are far ranging - dramas, musicals, comedies - and always family friendly. We’ve seen dozen of shows over the years and we are never disappointed with the production quality and talent on the stage.  These actors have chops!

Over the years, we have come to know many of the people who work and live in Rosebud.  It is always a treat to visit and spend a couple of days in the area.  When you go, you’ve got plenty of options for comfortable and welcoming accommodations. 

Link: Discover Rosebud

B&B Fun....

The Rosebud Country Inn is run by BJ.  She’s a sweetheart and took over the Country Inn 7 or 8 years ago.  It’s a great place to stay with delicious afternoon tea and pie served up most afternoons.

  Rosebud Country Inn. Love the porch!

Rosebud Country Inn. Love the porch!

If BJ’s is full, there are several other options.  The Actor’s Studio B&B is operated by Nathan and Cassia, both excellent actors who frequent the boards on the Rosebud stage.  Nathan also makes a mean apple pancake breakfast that just makes your mouth water.  Delicious!

The Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast is a unique experience every time you visit.  John and Sue decorate the breakfast room in the theme of the current mainstage show at the time.  On our last visit, the entire room was dressed up like a set from Downton Abbey. 

Sue’s home town cooking is delicious.  During our last visit, they invited us to have dinner with them and we were fed a feast fit for a harvest crew.  In fact, that is what it was.  Sue and John also provide hot dinners to the harvest crew of a local farmer every night during harvest season and deliver the meal to the workers in the field.  They invited us to join them. 

Thankfully, for us, the “on location” dinner was canceled because a cold front moved in.  (We didn’t have the right clothes for the field.) So, we just pulled up to their kitchen table and chowed down on delicious sausage, root vegetables, purple cabbage and a spectacular apple crisp accented with a zest of orange.  What a treat!

Link: Rosebud Country Inn B&B

Link: Actor's Studio B&B

  A hearty Rosebud breakfast...

A hearty Rosebud breakfast...

Art Fun.....

The hamlet also swings way above its weight class with the various shops available to theatre patrons.  The Mercantile, Kith and Kin and other shops offer lovely, artistic and unique products, many created by local artisans.  You are certain to find something special that you will not find “in the mall” back home.

We have spent a valentine’s weekend in Rosebud where the entire town pulled together to create a wonderful experience for couples.  We, along with several other couples who flocked to Rosebud for Valentine’s Day enjoyed many special events created by the community for us.

Of course, we took in the dinner theatre and second stage productions.  However, we also enjoyed bonfires, hay rides, cooking classes, coffee tasting classes (just like wine tasting, but with varieties of coffees – we learned so much about the art of coffee making), live music performances and many other special experiences created just for the town’s guests.

Since accidentally stumbling upon this prairie gem, Laura and I have become more connected with the community.  We are both artists and retired actors, ourselves, so, perhaps our connection to the community has something to do with our personal interests.  

This connection, however, has created an opportunity for us as well. The community supports artists.  We currently have our art hanging in the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery through to the end of October.  All proceeds from the sale of our art go to support the Rosebud School of the Arts. 

  Terry Bachynski's playful prairie paintings inspired by trips to Rosebud, Alberta

Terry Bachynski's playful prairie paintings inspired by trips to Rosebud, Alberta

  Laura Bachynski's nostalgic photos inspired by years of exploring Alberta's back roads. 

Laura Bachynski's nostalgic photos inspired by years of exploring Alberta's back roads. 

A Prairie Success Story

Of course, so many people would say there is nothing to do in a small, isolated prairie hamlet.  How could you possibly keep yourself engaged and interested when you can literally walk from one end of town to the other in less than five minutes? I can promise you that Rosebud will surprise and delight you.  

Rosebud is a prairie success story.  A small hamlet that has re-invented itself and has created an oasis of creativity and community generosity.  The entire town thrives because they care about what they have created. 

So, take a couple of days, book a room at a local B&B, take in the current stage production, enjoy dinner, take a walk down the main street and explore the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery.  Get to know Rosebud. 

You’ll come back for more.

Editor's Note: 

"Gentle Scenes Gentle Dreams" is the title of Laura and Terry's exhibition at the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery until the end of October 2016. Below is their artists' statement: 

Laura and Terry Bachynski are both heavily influenced by their daily experiences from their travels within and beyond Alberta’s boarders. The married couple travel often and widely, frequently with paints and canvas in tow, seeking out new experiences. 

Laura is often drawn to the stories of intimate spaces and images that translate to the detailed attention to mood and personal experience in her images. Often you feel that you can sit and rest inside one of Laura’s paintings and become a part of the setting.

Terry looks at the landscape as an inspiration to allow his imagination to create images of flowing skies, rolling hills and distant horizons.  Many of his paintings, although inspired by his experience in the landscape, manifest in an almost abstract interpretation of all that surrounds us.

Laura’s artistic expression is founded in the intimacies of life’s scenes while Terry’s interpretations look beyond the physical space and explore the energy that lies behind it.  Both artists, in their own way, praise God for the beauty around us and endeavor to share their experience of The Great Creation with others through their works.

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Buffalo vs Calgary / Boom vs Bust Cities

Every city has its heyday! Both Buffalo and Calgary have seen their fair share of good times and bad times. Everyday Tourist dissects these two very different cities. 

Strange looks appeared when I told people “we are going to Buffalo!” Even the USA border guard gave us a second look when we said we were spending three days and two nights in the Queen City. 

While many still have the impression of Buffalo as a city in decline, I had read lots of great things about the NEW Buffalo and wanted to check it out. 

Buffalo City planner Chris Hawley’s blog on “Beer-Oriented Development” first caught my attention, but the tipping point for my decision to go was learning their Canalside outdoor skating rink will attract over one million skaters this winter.

This I had to see!

Ice skating at Canalsie (photo credit: Joe Cascio) 

Buffalo 101

Buffalo, founded in 1801, quickly grew to become the dominant city of the eastern Great Lakes.  It became a major headquarters city for the grain, steel and automobile industries because of its strategic location on the Erie Canal and railway between the Midwest and the Atlantic coast. It became one of the wealthiest cities in North America. 

Three major factors resulted in the decline of the City’s economy by 1950s.  One was the St. Lawrence Seaway, which created a new and the second was the emergence of trucking transportation as an alternative to rail. Thirdly, suburban living became popular, which meant many people and businesses moved to the suburbs and with them, significant tax dollars. But today after 60 years of decline, Buffalo is definitely on the upswing. I thought it might be interesting to do a Calgary/Buffalo comparison.

Urban Design 

Every city has its heyday - Buffalo’s was from 1880 to 1950.  As a result, it has a wonderful legacy of late 19th and early 20th century architecture and urban design matched only by New York City and Chicago. 

Buffalo’s strong economy resulted in several iconic early 20th century architects - Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson and Fredrick Law Olmstead designing signature buildings and parks.  

Buffalo’s city hall designed by John J. Wade is a masterpiece of Art Deco architecture that is still used today, with the 28th floor’s observatory offering a spectacular view of the city’s radial street pattern.

Buffalo City Hall (photo credit: Nancy Vargo) 

Buffalo The Beautiful 

Calgary’s early 20th century booms didn’t produce anything on the scale of Buffalo’s great architecture and parks. And, Calgary’s heyday started in the mid 20th century, only recently resulting in signature buildings by internationally renowned architects like Sir Norman Foster (Bow office tower), Santiago Calatrava (Peace Bridge), Bjarke Ingles (TELUS Sky) and acclaimed artist, Jaume Plensa (Wonderland).  St. Patrick’s Island Park has the potential to become a classic example of early 21st century thinking on urban park design.

The “City Beautiful” movement was popular in North America in the early 20th century with its principles of creating new urban communities that were more park-like with lots of trees, green spaces, non-grid streets and beautiful roundabouts. And while, Mount Royal is the best example of a “City Beautiful” community in Calgary, Buffalo has an entire “City Beautiful” District.

Richardson Olmsted complex, Buffalo (photo credit: Ed Healy) 

  Heritage Hall, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary

Heritage Hall, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary

Aerial photo of downtown Buffalo, with Canalside and First Niagara Arena in the background

Downtown Calgary Skyline looking over Stampede Park and Scotiabank Saddledome arena

WOW Factor 

We were fortunate to stay at the Inn Buffalo on Lafayette Street, the home of industrialist H.H. Hewitt in the middle of this district.  The Inn Buffalo includes a library, music room, dining room, drawing room and lower level “Admiral Room” in addition to 9 suites on the second and third floors. 

It is a “preservation in progress” which allows guests to see the layers of history of the 115-year old home - from the gold leaf Persian-inspired ceiling to the silk damask wall coverings.

Walk for blocks in any direction and it is one “WOW” after another.  You could easily spend a day exploring the boulevard streets called “parkways” designed by Olmstead (designer of New York City’s Central Park) and an extension of his iconic Delaware Park.

We must go back in the summer! 

The front porch of Inn Buffalo was inviting even in early January.  The entire mansion was a walk back in time. 

Unicity vs. Fragmented City 

Today, the City of Buffalo has a population of 260,000 but its metro population of 1,135,000. The metro area comprises 6 cities, 37 towns and 21 villages, each independently governed with a separate tax base.

The current City of Buffalo is roughly equivalent in size and population to Calgary in 1961 when Fairview, Westgate and Wildwood were new communities, Bowness was an independent town and Forest Lawn and Midapore where newly annexed.

Unlike most North American cities, Calgary’s urban growth was through a series of annexations resulting in contiguous growth into one mega central city (with 90% of metro population) with only a few small edge cities and towns (i.e. Airdrie, Cochrane, Okatoks and Strathmore).

One of Calgary’s biggest economic advantages over almost every other major city in North America is its unicity government, meaning one major police, fire and emergency, transit, parks and recreation departments. Imagine having 60+ City/Town Councils each competing with each other for developments and each having their own City departments, which is Buffalo’s reality.

The Arts

Buffalo’s downtown theatre district boasts 10 theatre spaces including the iconic 4,000-seat Shea’s Performing Arts Centre, built in 1926 and 20 professional companies. Buffalo has a rich jazz history with the “Coloured Musicians Club” being the equivalent of Calgary’s King Eddy Hotel and its connection to the blues.

When it comes to the visual arts, Buffalo’s Albright Knox Museum (AKM) houses not only one of the best collections of abstract expressionism and pop art in North America, but also a representative collection of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Constructivism art.  AKM’s galleries are a “who’s who” of modern artists – Monet to Motherwell.

Albright Knox Art Gallery is a gem both for its architecture and collection. 

They arguably have the world’s best museum/art gallery front desk receptionist. Gretchen, clearly very proud of the museum and its collection, was friendly and full of insights, like how Seymour Knox was an early adopter of modern 20th century art, noting many of the iconic artworks were added to the collection within a year of being created. She also pointed out AKM has a great bistro.

In addition, Buffalo has the shiny zinc and cast stone clad Burchfield Penny Art Centre (across the street from the AKM) on the campus of Buffalo State College which is devoted to local artists while down the road is the Buffalo History Museum. An Architecture Museum is slated to open later this year at the renovated Richardson Olmstead complex (a magnificent 140-year old Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane) just a few blocks away.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, Art Commons, Contemporary Calgary, Fort Calgary and new National Music Centre don’t quite match up to Buffalo’s Museum district’s art, artifacts and architecture.

Buffalo's Theatre District becomes very vibrant when Shea Theatre is hosting a major event.

Shopping

Buffalo's Market Arcade Building, 1892

Buffalo has little downtown shopping - all the department stores have closed and they never did build an indoor shopping mall like Calgary’s TD Square and Eaton’s Centre (now The Core).  But they do have three vibrant pedestrian streets – Allentown, Elmwood and Hertel Street would be on par with Calgary’s Inglewood, Kensington Village and 17th Avenue.

While Calgary has Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall as its historic downtown street, Buffalo has the Market Arcade Building. Built in 1892, it is a stunning example of early 20th century architecture with its elaborate terra cotta ornamentation and Corinthian columns.  Calgary’s equivalent is the historic Hudson Bay building with its colonnade on Stephen Avenue.

Calgary's The Core shopping centre, renovated in 2010 boasts a 656 foot long point-supported glass skylight that is the longest in the world. 

Urban Renewal 

Buffalo’s Habor Centre, Canalside and Riverworks redevelopments sites are noteworthy (Calgary Flames might want to look at Buffalo as a model for its Calgary NEXT project in West Village). 

Collectively, this waterfront redevelopment includes a new NHL arena, two new hotels, waterfront parks and pathways and the huge winter ice rink (size of 3 NHL rinks and morphs into paddle boat feature in the summer) as well as four other ice rinks for everything from curling lessons to a college hockey tournaments. Plans for a Children’s Museum are currently being finalized.

The area has many similarities to Calgary’s West Village as it lies in the shadow of the elevated Peace Bridge and major highways at the entrance to downtown.

Canalside Carnival...looks a lot like Calgary's East Village and potentially West Village (photo credit: Joe Cascio) 

Healthy Food Trucks?

On downtown Buffalo’s east side Larkinville, once home to the Larkin Soap Company’s (the Amazon of the early 20th Century) and many other major warehouse buildings (some 600,000 square feet) has undergone a mega-makeover thanks in large part to the passion of the Zemsky family who formed the Larkin Development Group (LDG) to buy, renovate and lease historical buildings.   Today, over 2,000 people work in buildings redeveloped by LDG.

The Zemsky family also created Larkin Square, a modest public space that they actively program mostly from April to October. Their signature event “Food Truck Tuesdays,” routinely attracts over 7,000 people and 30 food trucks not only from Buffalo, but as far away as Rochester.

Opened in 2013, Larkin Square programming attracted over 130,000 people last summer.  Backstory: I was told the success of the Food Truck and other programming was free parking, liquor licence that allows people to wander the square with their drinks and the corporate sponsorship of First Niagara and Independent Health. And, as a result of Independent Health’s participation, all of the food trucks must provide a “certified healthy” menu option.

Larkin Square's Food Truck Tuesdays (photo credit: Rhea Anna) 

Tower Power 

When it comes to residential redevelopment Buffalo has nothing to match Calgary’s urban tower boom that turns five or six surface parking lots into vertical residential communities every year.  In fact I didn’t see one new condo tower. However over the past 15 years, 58 properties have been renovated to create 880 residential units the equivalent of about 4 condo towers.

And I certainly couldn’t leave before seeing for myself Buffalo’s “Beer Oriented Development” (a tongue-in-cheek analogy to the transit-oriented-development so commonly talked about by urban planners). It all began with Community Beer Works, a craft brewery which opened in 2012 in an area full of abandoned industrial spaces.

Today, the area has a name “Upper Rock” and a growing cluster of hip businesses - Resurgence Brewing Co., two galleries and this summer, an upscale restaurant.  Area homes, which could be had for a little as “one dollar” (no lie!) just a few years ago, now have value and are now being renovated and valued sold at prices over $100,000. 

Today, the City and its urban pioneers are now turning their attention to the redevelopment of their Belt Line, a 15-mile continuous rail loop circling its city centre with its 12 million square feet of largely vacant or underutilized industrial space prime for mixed-use redevelopments.

Buffalo's cement grain elevators have been turned into a unique screen for a nightly light show, that can be viewed from shore or by kayak. (photo credit: Joe Cascio) 

Wall of condos and apartments in the west end of Downtown Calgary. 

Last Word 

There seems to be an incredible sense of community pride in Buffalo. Everyone we met oozed a passion and excitement for their neighbourhood revitalization.

Today, Calgary struggles with some of the same challenges that faced Buffalo 60 years ago with major economic changes wrecking havoc with our prosperity.

If your travels take you anywhere near Buffalo, it is definitely worth checking out.  

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Calgary's CBD is unique!

Recently I did a piece for CBCNews Crossroads about Calgary’s downtown being an office ghetto.  The two criticisms I received from several urban planners were: 1) what I was really talking about was not Calgary’s downtown, but its “central business district” (CBD) and 2) all CBDs are office ghettos and therefore ghost towns after office hours. 

CBD is an urban planning term that refers to the place near the centre of a city that is predominantly a place to conduct business. To confuse things, some cities like Toronto, called it the Financial District, as it is where the major national banks have their headquarters.

Calgary's CBD includes several blogs of early 20th century buildings that have been declared a National Historic District as well as several other historical buildings. 

Calgary’s CBD (Downtown Commercial Core, is City of Calgary’s official name for it) is defined as the area from 9th St SW to 1st St SE (behind Municipal Building) and from 9th Ave SW to the 4th Ave SW.  It is about 1.3 km by .6 km in size and excludes Eau Claire, Chinatown or East Village.  For most Calgarians, I expect this is also their definition of downtown give or take a few blocks.

Read: Fixing Calgary's downtown ghost town

All CBDs are ghost towns?

The critics were quick to point out, “in Toronto, the Bay and King Street area is dead outside of office hours; the same is true for the blocks around Manhattan’s Wall Street.”

I agree with their observation CBD’s are typically ghost towns outside of office hours, because they basically have nothing else but offices towers. 

However, Calgary’s CBD is different.  While it is 80% office buildings it also includes major shopping, entertainment, cultural, historic and residential elements, on a scale that most other major city CBDs don’t include.

For example, Toronto’s CBD, at about 2 square kilometers, though about the same size as Calgary’s, doesn’t include Toronto Eaton Centre, The Bay, their theatre and entertainment districts. Their major tourist destinations, Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum and CN Tower are also not in their CBD.  The same could be said for Vancouver or Seattle, their tourist are not hanging out in their CBD.

Calgary's CBD has over 3 million square feet of retail space, twice that of Chinook Mall.  The Core shopping mall links the historic Hudson's Bay department store with a flagship Holt Renfew store.  It is connected to 9 office towers and to Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall and the 7th Avenue transit corridor.  It is also connect to a major indoor public garden.  It is one of the most dense and mixed-use three-blocks in North America. 

Calgary's CBC has two pedestrian oriented streets with wide sidewalks, planters, banners and other enhancements. 

Why Calgary's CBD is different?

In Calgary, our CBD includes the city’s largest concentration of retail shopping. At 3.6 million square feet it is more than twice Chinook Centre’s. It includes the flagship Hudson’s Bay and Holt Renfrew department stores, as well as the-uber cool The Core shopping center with the mammoth glass ceiling.

Calgary’s CBD also includes two major tourist attractions the Glenbow Museum and Calgary Towers, as well as our Convention Centre. While the historic districts in Toronto and Vancouver are outside of their CBD, Calgary’s Stephen Avenue (a designated National Historic District) and a major restaurant row sits at centre ice in our CBD.

Calgary is also unique in that eight performing art spaces with over 4,000 seats and an art house cinema are located in our CBD.  It is also home to two significant public spaces (Devonian Gardens and Olympic Plaza), over 100 public artworks and two enhanced pedestrian-oriented streets (Stephen Avenue and Barclay Mall). 

Our CBD is home to some of Calgary’s best restaurants, albeit many of them have “expense account” prices, making them more for special occasions only.  It also includes major nightclubs like Flames Central and smaller music venues the Palomino Room or Wine-Ohs.

And, it I home to major festivals like Calgary International Children’s Festival and High Performance Rodeo, as well as the Stampede Parade and Stampede’s Rope Square.  

Indeed, Calgary’s CBD is unique in North America offering a greater diversity and great concentration of things to see and do for tourists and locals than a typical CBD.

Read: Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Calgary's CBD comes alive at noon hour in the summer when workers and tourist love to stroll Stephen Avenue Walk aka 8th Avenue. 

Calgary's 7th Avenue LRT station at Holt Renfew, opens to a lovely park that is popular with workers at noon hour.

Stephen Avenue is a major restaurant row, that is lined with patios from May to September. 

Calgary Telus Convention Centre is located in Calgary CBD.

Olympic Plaza is another public space located in Calgary's CBD. The red brick building is part of the Arts Commons complex that includes that entire block.  it includes four theatre spaces and one concert hall.  On the next block is the Glenbow Museum and the Telus Convention Centre with Hyatt and Marriott hotels. 

Thousands of people live in our CBD

Our CBD also has a significant residential population of 9,000 residents. In fact it is one of Calgary’s largest residential communities ranking 52 out of our 250+ communities in population. It is also includes 10 major hotels with over 3,000 rooms.

In comparison, Toronto CBD’s residential population is only 2,239 (Toronto Financial District Business Improvement Area).

Read: Calgary new downtown office towers catalyst for inner-city densification

One of several residential buildings in Calgary's CBD. 

Facing Reality 

Our CBD is our downtown in the minds of most Calgarians.  And it is generally perceived as a place to work - not live or play.

Calgary’s CDB downtown has not captured the imagination of Calgarians as a place to play, dine, shop, be entertained, wander, linger or hang out except on special occasions. Neither, has it captured the imagination of Calgarians as a “must see” place for visiting family and friends except for special events.  

Nor has it captured the imagination of tourists as a weekend urban playground – music, festival, events, food, pubs, clubs, gallery/museum browsing, shopping, theatre etc.

9th Avenue is a typical Calgary CBD street with office buildings lining the street allowing little to no light to the sidewalk creating an unfriendly pedestrian environment. 

Another example of a street in Calgary's CBD that is just a wall of glass from office buildings. 

Last Word

In theory, Calgary’s CDB/downtown has many of the ingredients urban planners say you need to have for a vibrant urban place – shopping, public spaces, pedestrian- oriented streets, museums, art galleries, iconic architecture, public art, cafés, restaurants and festivals. 

Despite the tremendous efforts (think billions of dollars) by the City of Calgary, the private sector and the Calgary Downtown Association to create a CBD that is attractive to office workers during the weekday and tourists and Calgarians citywide in evenings and weekends, it is still a ghost town after office hours.

Unfortunately, office buildings are urban vitality exterminators and they trump everything else.

Full Disclosure: I was the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association from 1995 to 2006.