Stampede Park: Calgary's best children's playground?

Call me crazy but I have always thought contemporary public art could make great playground equipment. From time to time I have seen children interacting with public art by climbing, sitting and sliding on it.  Imagine if “Wonderland (aka the big white head)” on the plaza of the Bow Tower was part of a playground and people could climb up and over it. Now that would be exciting public art!

I have talked to some artists and playground designers about my idea of commissioning public art for playgrounds across the city, but always got shot down by them saying, “it would be too expensive and time consuming to get it approved from a safety perspective.”

Until this past Sunday I didn’t realize Calgary already has a wonderful piece of public art that also serves as a playground.  “By the Banks of the Bow” is a giant artwork that includes 15 horses and two cowboys, located in a small park in front of the Agrium Western Event Centre. In the past I have seen families interacting with the piece, but it was nothing like I experienced this year on Family Day at the Stampede.

People of all ages and backgrounds were swarming around what is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Kudos to the Stampede for not posting signs everywhere saying don’t climb on the sculpture or a fence around keeping people out. 

By the Banks of the Bow 101 (Stampede website)

“By the Banks of the Bow celebrates one of mankind’s greatest living treasures; its wildness and spirit, strength, speed and dependability. It supported the people of the First Nations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, farmers, town folk, prospectors and adventurers, cowboys and ranchers.

Today the horse retains a pride of place in the Calgary Stampede. In rodeo, the chuckwagon races, the heavy horse competitions or in the show ring, the horse is as iconic as the Stampede itself and is woven into its cultural fabric.

Created by local artists and ranchers Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, By the Banks of the Bow is a narrative in bronze that depicts our past, present and future, and reflects the Stampede’s many relationships with our community.”

Fun Facts

  •  From inspiration to installation, the sculpture took four years to complete.
  • The piece was cast in a foundry in Kalispell, Montana.
  •  Ten of the horses represented actually competed at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.
  • The lead cowboy, Clem Gardner, was the Canadian All Around champion in the first Calgary Stampede Rodeo in 1912.
  • The total sculpture weighs approximately 14,500 pounds (seven tons).

Last Word

It is too bad this type of public art, i.e. art that invites you to interact with it, stop and take pictures of it, isn’t more prevalent in Calgary and elsewhere. 

I also noticed this week the big bronze sculpture of “Outlaw,” the Calgary Stampede’s iconic bull is back on the plaza of 5th Avenue Place but with a big sign saying don’t climb on it.  Too bad…a missed opportunity to add some fun to the downtown experience!

Hmmm…I wonder how I might get some playground public art for Phase two of Grand Trunk Park. The kids would love it!

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Public Art vs Public Playgrounds

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Putting the PUBLIC back into public art!

Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

One of the oldest Calgary Stampede traditions is the creation of the Stampede Poster.  It began with the very first Stampede in 1912 when Guy Wedick invited iconic Western artist Charlie Russell to provide the artwork for the first poster. Since then, the Stampede poster tradition has evolved significantly from one of advertising all of the Stampede events to becoming a collectors' item.

Calgary Stampede's first poster. Note the first Stampede took place in early September. 

Calgary Stampede's first poster. Note the first Stampede took place in early September. 

If you are interested in starting a collection, Aquila Books’ website lists a 1945 poster for sale at $650 US and a 1961 poster for $525 US.   In addition, they have a large selection of Stampede posters from the ‘70s to the present.

If you are interested, you can see all of the posters on the Calgary Stampede website, or see them paraded in the +15 concourse connecting the BMO Centre to the Saddledome – expect for 1922, 1926 and 1930 which they have been unable to find for their collection. 

(Backstory: The Stampede didn’t develop an archive until 1999 which meant they had to source all of the posters from other collectors.  If you have one of the missing posters or know someone who might, the Stampede would love to talk to you.)

Link: Stampede Parade of Posters

Calgary Stampede Poster 1913
Calgary Stampede Poster 1914
Starting in 1923 the poster format became long and narrow - almost ticket-like.

Starting in 1923 the poster format became long and narrow - almost ticket-like.

Flanuering Fun 

For something different to do at Stampede this year, why not flaneur the posters with family and friends. It is sure to bring back memories.  You will discover lots of fun facts, like what years the 3 Stooges or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were the feature entertainment.  It is fun to see how the admission to the Stampede has changed and discover some intriguing statements like “ Wheat And Meat Will Help Win The War.”

It is also enlightening to see how graphic design has changed over the past 100+ years in typography, colour, paper and printing quality.  The early posters are very busy, full of information with a matte finish, while the modern posters feature a large glossy image with just the name and dates.  It is also interesting to see how the people of the First Nations were featured on many of the early posters, while modern posters focus on the cowboy and his horse.  

In 2007, the Calgary Stampede began commissioning an original artwork for the poster as a means of supporting Western artists and elevated the status of the posters as a work of art in its own right.

Calgary Stampede Poster 1954

Often the Calgary Stampede posters included images and information about other things for tourists to see and do.

Poster History 101

The history of posters, which begins with the invention of lithography in 1798, is a very interesting one. It wasn’t until 1891, that Toulouse-Lautrec’s extraordinary Moulin Rouge posters elevated the status of the poster to fine art and started a poster craze.  The early Stampede posters have much in common with the late 19th early 20th century European Poster culture. At that time, French posters focused on the café and cabaret culture, Italian ones on opera and fashion and Spanish ones on bullfight and festivals, so it is not surprising Calgary’s early poster culture reflects its largest festival and Western heritage and hospitality.

Link: A Brief History of the Poster

Last Word

The concourse area where the posters are displayed is available to visit free anytime of the year, (many of us have passed by rushing too and from the LRT Station to the Saddledome). Bonus: At Stampede time the concourse provides panoramic views of the Stampede grounds with all its colour and pageantry. 

Calgary Stampede Parade of Posters

View of Calgary Stampede from the +15 Concourse.

The Next Step: Linking East Village & Stampede Park

The recent announcement that Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) and Calgary Stampede have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together is very exciting from an east side City Centre urban revitalization perspective.   

Stampede Park entrance on 4th St SE, aka Olympic Way.  

Stampede Backstory

Since the mid ‘90s the Calgary Stampede has been working hard to implement an ambitious master plan that would to transform Stampede Park into a mixed-use, vibrant year-round gathering place for Calgarians AND a “must see” tourists destination. 

Calgary Stampede Master Plan showing the new Agricultural Building, Youth Campus and several new buildings along 4th Street SE will need to be significantly revised to integrate new develops like Green Line LRT, BMO expansion and Saddledome changes. 

To date, some progress has been made to fulfil the vision - the BMO Centre, Agrium Western Event Centre and ENMAX Park (opening June 2016). Plans for the creation of a Youth Campus that will include a new home for the Young Canadians, as well as the addition of Calgary Arts Academy School to the Park are just now coming together with construction set to begin this year.

However, The biggest disappointment has to be the failed attempt to transform Olympic Way (aka 4th St SE from 10th Ave to the Saddledome) into Stampede Trail with shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, saloons etc. It was a good idea, but perhaps 20 years premature as the Trail needs too be surrounded by a mix of other uses to make it work.

Attendance at the ten day Calgary Stampede plateaued in the ‘90s, largely because there are only so many people the site can accommodate in a day and still offer a quality experience.   At about 120,000 per day, the Calgary Stampede attracts three times as many people per day as Disneyland.  There is a relationship between the size of a venue and attendance and Stampede’s sweet spot is about 100,000 people. 

Stampede Park growth is challenged because it is hemmed in by Macleod Trail on the west, Cemetery Hill to the south, Scotchman’s Hill to the east and CPR tracks to the north, making expansion of the site impossible.

As such, the Stampede has wisely turned its focused over the past 20 years to becoming more of a year-round events centre.  For example, the number of events at the BMO Centre has increased from 191 in 1994 to 550 in 2015.  It has also become home to many major annual events like the Calgary Expo, which attracts over 100,000+ Calgarians each year, making it one of Calgary’s largest annual events.

The Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (AKA: Calgary Expo) is a four-day pop-culture convention held each spring  at Stampede Park. Attendees can shop hundreds of vendors and exhibitors, check out panels and workshops, meet their favourite stars and creators, and celebrate what makes them geeky with thousands of other fans in cosplay.  Calgary Expo takes place April 26th to May 1st 2016.

At its March 15th, 2016 annual general meeting, Stampede CEO Warren Connell announced the organization is working on plans to significantly expand the BMO Centre as the next phase in the evolution of Stampede Park.

Stampede Park is at a tipping point. A mega-makeover is needed to allow better utilization of the land, existing and new LRT stations as well as links to new developments in East Village.

Stampede Grandstand is full for Rodeo, Chuckwagon races and Grandstand show during Stampede. 

Stampede's Macleod Trail entrance is now being crowed by condo development which is creating new opportunities for Stampede to become a year-round sports, entertainment and educational district. 

East Village mega-makeover!

At the same time as Stampede Park has struggled to realize its vision, East Village, under the guidance of CMLC, has undergone a multi-billion dollar makeover with Riverwalk, St. Patrick Island redevelopment, George C. King pedestrian bridge, National Music Centre, Central Library, new hotel, Simmons Building restoration and several new condos.

While, time will tell if the vision of East Village as vibrant urban village is realized, it sure off to an incredible start.  Since 2007, CMLC has invested $357 million into East Village infrastructure and development, which has attracted $2.4 billion of development taxable development – new condos, hotel and retail.

However, one of the keys to East Village’s ultimate success will be to ensure 4th St SE becomes a vibrant pedestrian zone. It takes more than just two anchors (library and museum) to make a great pedestrian street.  It takes a diversity of things to see and do - daytime, evening and weekends - for locals and tourists alike.

It is in the best interest of both CMLC and Stampede to work together to make 4th St SE a great street that connects the two communities.  The fact that they have agreed to work together bodes well for the success of both visions.

The new National Music Centre will become a grand entrance to East Village for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers exiting Stampede Park along 4th St. SE. 

Opportunity Knocks?

It would appear now is the perfect time to make something special happen on 4th St SE given the following major developments and decisions:

  1. National Music Centre (aka Studio Bell) opens this year on 9th Ave at 4th St SE.
  2. Green Line will have a LRT station at 4th St and 10th Ave SE.
  3. RioCan and Embassy BOSA are getting ready to start construction of their shopping/condo complex just off of 4th St. SE.
  4. New residents are now moving into the Guardian’s twin condo towers on 3rd Street between 10th and 11th Ave. SE, as well as into several East Village condos.
  5. New Central Library currently under construction opens in 2018.
  6. Stampede’s Youth Campus construction begins this year.
  7. ENMAX Park, Deane House and Hunt House (Fort Calgary Park) reopen this spring.
  8. The Calgary Flames have announced plans to leave the Scotiabank Saddledome for greener pastures in West Village.  If they stay or go, the Saddledome will be a key site in the future of 4th St SE.
  9. Stampede is ready to expand the BMO Centre, one of the busiest trade centres in Canada with an occupancy rate of 72% (the average occupancy in Canada is 55%).

Perhaps, given Calgary TELUS Convention Centre is looking for a new site and new building, it is the time to bite the bullet and create a major convention and trade centre at Stampede Park. It is the logical next step to transform Stampede Park into a vibrant 21st century Sports Entertainment, Education District that compliments what is happening in East Village.  

Another idea now surfacing for Stampede Park redevelopment is to allow vehicular traffic on 17th Avenue to pass through Stampede Park and then along 4th St SE to East Village.  

Wouldn’t it be great if the Stampede Park’s guardhouses were removed it became a place where Calgarians and tourists could freely walk, bike and drive through. What a great way to link the City Centre communities of East Village, Erlton, Victoria Park, Stampede Park, Beltline and Mission.

What is needed is a 4th St SE master plan that creates more opportunities for human scale developments (under six stories) with pedestrian-oriented sidewalk shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs.  The key will be lots of smaller and shorter buildings (think Kensington, Inglewood, Mission and 17th Avenue SW) that don’t dwarf the pedestrians.

The 4th St. SE underpass presents a major challenge for linking Stampede Park and East Village. 

Stampede Park uses every possible space on site for the ten days of Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Over the past 20 years, Calgary's downtown, East Village and Beltline communities have been expanding closer and closer to Stampede Park making it much more a part of the City Centre. 

Last Word

I hope CMLC and Calgary Stampede  (with the cooperation of the City Council and Calgary Convention Centre) can work together to capitalize on the full potential of East Village,  Beltline and Stampede Park in creating a unique sense of place for locals and tourists, on the east side of Calgary’s City Centre.

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