Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

Recently I attended a wedding at the Bow Valley Ranche homestead in Calgary’s Fish Creek Park (one of the largest urban parks in the world at 13 square kilometers or three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park).  Like others, I went gaga over this lovely house, its tranquil setting in the middle of the enormous park and the lovely wraparound porch.

Bow Valley Ranche's wraparound porch creates a "welcoming" sense of place.

History: Bow Valley Ranche

The Bow Valley Ranch site was first settled by John Glenn, who created one of Alberta’s first permanent farms in the 1870s.  In 1877, the federal government purchased the site for $350 to create an instructional farm to teach First Nations people how to farm their land. After several years, the program was phased out. 

In 1896, cattle rancher and businessman William Roper Hull purchased the Bow Valley homestead and built, a lovely two-story yellow brick home with a huge wraparound porch.  Then in 1902, Patrick Burns, one of the Big Four who started the Calgary Stampede and eventually became a Senator, purchased the house.

After Burns passed away in 1937, family members lived in the house until the early ‘70s. In 1973, the Alberta government purchased the entire Bow Valley Ranch site as part of the establishment of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Today it is a popular restaurant.

It was the Bow Valley Ranche’s porch that seemed to impress wedding attendees the most on a lovely sunny afternoon in early September.  I have always loved porches. Our house has a front porch where I often sit and read or watch the world go by.  But I didn’t before appreciate how much others also love them even if they don’t hve one or use the one they have. I have often noticed on my frequent walks, that seldom is anyone sitting on the porches despite them being adorned with comfy chairs and side tables.

This also got me thinking about Calgary’s other historical homes and have huge porches like the Bow Valley Ranch home.  The two I am most familiar with are Riley Lodge (that used to be on Crowchild Trail at 7th Avenue NW, a pitching wedge from my house and is now located three blocks further west) and the Colonel James Walker House (at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary).  

Bow Valley Ranche's grand front yard makes it a perfect spot for weddings. 

History: Riley Lodge

In 1910, Alfred Riley,   son of prominent Calgary pioneer  of prominent Calgary pioneer Thomas Riley, built a farm house of brick and sandstone. Known as Riley Lodge, it was occupied by Alfred and his wife Ada Marie until Alfred’s death; after which Ada continued to live in the house until 1934. It remained in the Riley family until 1968.
In 1987, the house was moved to 843-27th Street NW to allow for the transformation of 24th Street NW into Crowchild Trail. According to City records, it is the last known Riley family residence still standing.

The veranda, which had to be demolished for the move, was reconstructed based on a drawing from a book of house plans, circa 1910.  However, when an old photograph of the house was discovered at the Glenbow Archives in 2007, the veranda was rebuilt and is now an accurate representation of the original.  Future plans include a wrought iron gateway and stone columns at the end of the driveway.

Riley Lodge is built in the Queen Anne Revival style, with some of the key features including the wrap-around veranda, hipped roof, third floor dormer windows and the turret at the corner of the front façade. 

Riley Lodge's porch creates a wonderful sense of grandeur. 

Original entrance to Riley Lodge (photo credit: insomniac's attic)

Source: Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage & Family History

Link: Riley Lodge Story

 

History: Colonel James Walker House

 In 1883, Colonel James Walker settled the land that is now occupied by the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. In 1910, the current brick house - named Inglewood - was built, and the surrounding area was then named for the most prominent property in the area.

In 1929, Colonel Walker's son Selby applied to the federal government to have 59 acres on the west side of the Bow River designated as a Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary. His request was granted and the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary was born.

When Selby died in 1953, Ed Jefferies, owner of a large contracting firm, acquired the property and leased it to the Alberta Fish & Game Association for their new headquarters. In 1970 the City of Calgary purchased the property and has been managing it as a natural reserve ever since.

In 1996, the Nature Centre was built and grassland restoration projects began. The Colonel Walker House is currently both a private residence and serves the administrative and educational activities needs of the Nature Centre.

Colonel Walker house literally sits in the middle of a sanctuary. 

Colonel Walker house literally sits in the middle of a sanctuary. 

Heritage homes remind us of the importance of decorative details. 

The front porch helps to create a welcoming entrance.

Source: City of Calgary website

Link: Century Homes In Calgary

 

Front Porch Culture

Even modest cottage homes had porches in the early 20th century. 

The origin of the front porch is most often thought of as an element of southern American homes -both luxury and modest homes - starting in the mid 19th century.  It was a place where the family could retire to as the outdoor air provided a somewhat cool alternative to the summer heat and humidity.  In most houses, the porch was an extension of the living room taking up the entire front of the house and sometimes wrapping around one or both sides.

Before TV, the porch was the place where parents and grandparents would tell stories. It was also a place where parents would meet or say hello to other parents who were out walking waiting for the house to cool off. It was a place where neighbours could catch up on the news from the community and plan events (there were no phones, no texting or emails).  The porch was the community meeting place!

It was also a place where adults could keep an eye on their children who commonly played in the front yard and street, i.e. pre community playgrounds and parks days.

The porch started to fall out of fashion in the ‘50s with the advent of TV and the introduction of the attached front garage.  By the ‘60s, the fenced-in backyard, commonly included a deck (complete with BBQ and patio furniture), as well as a lawn area (which used to be a vegetable garden, but became space for private swings, slide, sandbox and sometimes a pool). Houses (and people) turned their backs on the street. The backyard became a private family playground!

Can you believe this school built in 1911 had a porch?

Can you believe this school built in 1911 had a porch?

Can we bring back the porch?

By the late 20th century, more and more houses had air-conditioning, which further reducing the need to sit outside at night.  

In Calgary, although most new infills in established communities with back alley garages do in fact have front porches, however, in new communities smaller lots and attached front double garages make it almost impossible to have a porch. 

For the past 50 years, urban living in North America has become more and more private vs public.  People have abandoned public transportation for the privacy of the car, live in larger homes that are more backyard than front yard focused.

Indeed, the porch, which fostered a sense of community and neighbourliness in North America since the middle of the 19th century, is sadly missing on many streets in new communities today.

And, if newer houses do have a porch, it is often “for decoration only” or perhaps a place to store bikes, strollers and lawn mowers, rather than a place to sit and interact with the neighbours.  

Typical suburban home of the late 20th century in North American cities with no front yard and no welcoming entrance.

Over the past decade, developers have been introducing front porches at street level and also overtop of the garage where possible. 

Last Word

 

Pity!

 

My front porch! My favourite place to sit!

My front porch! My favourite place to sit!

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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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