Winnipeg vs Calgary: The Forks vs East Village

Then it hit me; The Forks isn’t an urban village it is a tourist district. 

Recently I was in Winnipeg for a wedding and had some time to wander their mega urban redevelopment The Forks, which is aptly named as it is located where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet in the middle of their City Centre.

As I wandered around at noon hour on a nice Friday in early October I wondered; “Where are the condos? Where are the office buildings? Where are the people running along the river?” 

I couldn’t help but reflect on how the location next to two rivers and just east of downtown was very similar to Calgary’s East Village and yet so different.

The Esplanade Riel Bridge connects The Forks to the community of St. Boniface across the Red River.  It has a restaurant in the middle that offers spectacular views of downtown, the river and the Human Rights Museum. 

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.


Both sites were meeting places for First Nations peoples long before the pioneer settlers arrived. 

Both sites are about the same size - The Forks is 63 acres (doesn’t include Shaw baseball park) and East Village is 49 acres (doesn’t include Fort Calgary Park).

Both sites were once industrial sites, with The Forks being an old CN rail yard next to their Union Station, while East Village being more of a light industrial area with a rail line running along its southern edge.

Both sites struggled in the middle of the 20th century to find new uses.  CN Rail moved their yards to the suburbs in 1966 leaving the site vacant.  East Village buildings were torn down in the ‘60s to create ugly overflow surface parking lots for downtown.

Both sites lack good connectivity to downtown and neighbouring communities due to rivers and railway tracks.

Winnipeg's Union Station and railway sheds separate The Forks from downtown. 

Today, both sites are managed by a CEO who reports to a government appointed Board of Directors.  The Forks CEO, Paul Jordan reports to The Forks North Portage Partnership Board which was established by the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments.  East Village President and CEO, Michael Brown reports to Calgary Municipal Land Corporation Board appointed by City of Calgary. 

Both sites have a major new museum, Human Rights Museum at the Forks and National Music Centre in East Village.  Both of which are only national museums located outside of Ottawa.  The Forks also has a Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre and skatepark, while East Village has a mega new library and the family oriented St. Patrick’s Island Park.  And each has popular pedestrian pathways, plazas along the river’s edge and an iconic pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Both The Forks and East Village have very active programming to attract people to the site.  The Forks attracts over 4 million visitors to the site and is the City and Province’s number one tourist attraction.

The uniquely shaped Human Rights Museum dominates The Forks. In the foreground is a multi-purpose plaza that can serve as a skatepark, busker/performance space or casual sitting area. 

East Village's National Music Centre

East Village's National Music Centre

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

The Market at The Forks is part food court (main floor), part retail space (second floor). 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

Winnipeg's Children's Museum is one of several cultural facilities located at The Forks. 

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.


The Forks North Portage Partnership purchased all of the land from CN Rail for $66 million, whereas the City of Calgary owned about 50% of the East Village lands at one point. 

Aerial view of The Forks

Aerial view of The Forks

The Forks has no master plan governing how all of its land will be developed eventually, but rather is governed more organically adapting to new opportunities and needs as they arise.  The first thing CMLC did was create a comprehensive master plan with a detailed 3D video to help everyone understand the vision of the new East Village as a 21st century urban village.

The Forks is actively working with developers to convert 12 acres of surface parking lots next to the railway tracks and Union Station into Railside. The vision calls for $500 million to be invested by large and small developers to build 20+ buildings no taller than six storeys with retail at street level and offices and condos above and $50 million in public spaces. (Railside will be more like Calgary’s University District than East Village in that the land will be leased not owned, as The Forks partnership wants to retain ownership of the land).

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

East Village’s development was funded by a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) that was used to upgrade infrastructure and help build new public amenities like St. Patrick’s Island Park, National Music Museum and new Central Library.  The $357 million CRL has resulted in $2.4 billion in private sector development and is expected to generate $725 million in new tax revenues by 2027, which will more than pay back the $357 million levy. 

The Forks is a unique government led partnership with the return on investment (ROI) being shared by the three parties - City receives new property tax revenue, Province provincial sales tax paid on site and Federal Government getting all GST revenues. 

Like East Village, two of the most popular reason for visiting The Forks are Canada Day festivities and summer concerts.  What is very interesting is the Forks has been very successful in creating winter attractions – skating on the river and the Winter Park are listed as the third and fourth most popular activities in a 2015 Survey and not far behind summer concerts the second most popular activity, festivals being number one.   

East Village hosts an ambitious year-round program of events.

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg’s Winter Wonderland

The Fork’s “Warming Huts” is a stroke of genius.  Since 2009, an international competition has been organized inviting designers to submit proposals for shelters to be installed along the river skating rink so people can stop, chat and warm up.  The program has captured international attention including the New York Times with the Travel Section headline “In Winnipeg, a Skating Rink That Doubles as a Sculpture Park.”

It has also captured the imagination of starchitect Frank Gehry who designed an igloo made of clear blocks of ice in 2012.

Winnipeg Ice Hut

Last Word

East Village is an intriguing example of private public collaboration based on an ambitious vision, master plan and implementation with a 20-year return on investment and build out.   It reflects Calgary’s corporate culture and the love of the mega projects.

After 30 years, The Forks is just now completing the return on investment for the three levels of government and is still decades away from complete build out.  It reflects Winnipeg’s government culture and love of grass roots development.

Paul Jordan and his Board of Directors are happy with The Forks’ slower redevelopment timeline as it allows for organic growth and the ability to respond to community needs over time rather than being locked into a fixed master plan.

I guess you could say there is “more than one way to skin a cat.”

If you like this blog, you will enjoy:

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (Part 1) 

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (Part 2) 

Winnipeg's Old World Charm



Hamilton: The Timbit City!

Everyday Tourist says Tim Hortons missed a great opportunity to create a real museum and tourist attraction on the site of their first store in Hamilton, Ontario.

Hamilton has had a few nicknames over the years - the “Ambitious City,” “Steeltown” and more recently, “The Hammer.”  However, I’m surprised the City hasn’t be branded the “Timbit City” given the iconic Canadian coffee and donut empire Tim Hortons was launched in Hamilton, back in 1964.

Today, the Tim Hortons empire has grown to 4,000 stores across Canada. It dominates Canada’s coffee culture much like Starbucks does south of the border. 

The first Tim Hortons was on Ottawa Street North in Hamilton, Ontario was a former ESSO gas station.

The new two storey Tim Hortons on the same corner with a statue of Tim out front and parking at the side.

Tim's Timeline

1964: Tim Horton (an all-star NHL hockey player) opens the first store in a converted service station on Hamilton’s Ottawa Street N, not far from the city’s iconic steel mills. You could get a coffee and a donut for 25 cents and a dozen donuts was 69 cents.

1967: Tim Horton and Ron Joyce, a Hamilton police officer become partners and open the first franchise Tim Hortons. 

1974: Horton dies in a tragic car accident and Joyce purchases Horton’s shares for about $1 million and assumes full control of the then 40 stores in the Tim Hortons empire.

1976: The Timbit is introduced and becomes a Canadian icon in and of itself. Canadians have eaten enough Timbits to stretch to the moon and back almost 5 times.

2014: The original Tim Hortons at the corner of Ottawa Street and Dunsmure Road is torn down and replaced with a two-story modern coffee shop with a museum on the second floor.

If you are Tim Hortons’ junkie, or even in the area and in the mood for a “double-double with a dutchie, or perhaps looking to learn more about this Canadian success story – stop in for a visit.

Read: Horton: A Corporate Ghost

At the top of the stairs, you are welcomed by a replica Tim Horton counter with all of their iconic donuts. 

The second floor's Memory Lane is a showcase of Tim Horton memorabilia and historical photo collage of Tim Horton and Hamilton images. 

The second floor's Memory Lane is a showcase of Tim Horton memorabilia and historical photo collage of Tim Horton and Hamilton images. 

Ron Joyce on the left and Tim Horton on the right.

Ron Joyce on the left and Tim Horton on the right.

Tim is probably rolling over in his grave?

Recently touring the new coffee shop, it still baffles me why Tim Hortons didn’t restore Store #1 back to its original configuration it as a museum and open a new flagship store somewhere near by along Ottawa Street. There are many opportunities as the street is full of empty or underutilized spaces.

Nonetheless, the museum is interesting with its Tim Hortons artifacts and memorabilia, as well as some vintage photocollages of mid-century Hamilton. However it lacks the authenticity that would have come from restoring the original store as a museum. 

Read: Hamilton’s James Street North: A Hidden Gem

Service with a smile.

One of the many window displays. 

Game misconduct?

To add insult to injury, as part of Tim Hortons 50th Anniversary celebrations in May 2014, a temporary replica of Store #1 complete with its original Toronto Maple Leaf blue colours (Tim Horton played for the Leafs from 1952 to 1970) - was created, but oh no not in Hamilton, but in front of Young & Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.  I call a “game misconduct.”  

The least they could have done was have two simultaneous pop-ups Store #1, one in Toronto and one in Hamilton.

Read: Cities of Opportunity: Hamilton/Calgary

Last Word

Shame on you, Tim Hortons!  Yes, I know you are good to Hamilton in other ways (like sponsoring the new Tim Hortons Field for the Ticats) and your Tim Horton camps for children, but you missed a golden opportunity to honour your “roots” by creating a real tourist attraction for the City of Hamilton and Tim Hortons. 

It would seem in the eyes of Tim Hortons leadership team, Toronto is the donut and Hamilton is the Timbit! Tim Hortons could have created something special in Hamilton like Starbucks has done in Seattle.

Read: Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building

TELUS Spark sparks reflection

Shame on me! Why? Because until today (January 26, 2016) I had not visited the stunning TELUS Spark building which opened in October 2011.  In my defense, I have no children. Nor had anybody said to me “you must see TELUS Spark.”  

That is until Erin Christensen, TELUS Spark’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator emailed me an invite last week to ask if I might be interested in doing a blog about their new exhibition, BODY WORLDS Vital.

I jumped at the chance. 

Close up image of the incredible intricacies of the human body. It will be a long time before we forget this exhibition.  Yes in some ways human flesh does  look like bacon.


On a grey winter day TELUS Sparks blends into the sky and the parking lot.

I do love the tension created by the various angular shapes of the building’s exterior seemingly piled on top of each other.  The steel grey skin seems a little dull by day but becomes a wonderful canvas for the nightly illuminated colour show that makes the building look like a brilliant gemstone to those travelling by on the adjacent Deerfoot Trail.  

Once inside the building, it is very bright, open and very functional, not distracting like so many contemporary, “weird & wacky” buildings.  The entrance is spacious and inviting without being overwhelming. I loved the fact that immediately upon entering, the joyous voices of children playing and having fun could be heard.  It was alive.

The gallery spaces also seem spacious and synergistic with the programming and exhibitions.  As a former public art gallery executive director and curator, this is exactly what you want. Kudos to Calgary’s DIALOG architects.

At the entrance I found this strange juxtaposition of shapes, colours, angles and letters. 

Body WORLDS Vital 

TELUS Sparks bills Vital as “One of the world's most ground-breaking travelling exhibitions at Calgary's science centre. BODY WORLDS Vital celebrates the living human body in its optimal state - healthy, vibrant, vigorous and in motion. The exhibition presents the leading health concerns of contemporary times, the causes of these conditions and diseases and ways to prevent or manage them.”

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

Upfront, they caution visitors this exhibition is not for everyone given the exposure of complete, real bodies including genitalia, prenatal development, (including embryos and foetuses) and on Thursday nights “a representation of sexual intercourse.”

Erin explained that, “we do have a coupling exhibit at BODY WORLDS Vital. It’s open on Thursday evenings starting in February. This includes the Thursdays we have Adults Only Night as well as the Thursdays we are open for extended hours from February to May for all ages.


The exhibit is placed in its own room with a door that can be closed. There is carefully placed signage noting that this is a discretionary section. We wanted to make the coupling exhibit available, while also being mindful of our regular family visitors and school groups. We do not have any photos of this exhibit as there is a photography ban put in place by BODY WORLDS on this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition consists of real human bodies that have been skinned allowing viewers to see every bone, muscle, nerve, organs etc.  In many cases, parts of the body cavity have also been “peeled back” so one can see deeper inside.  The end result in many cases is a very abstract perspective on the human body.

This head reminded me of some of the Inuit sculptures I have seen. 

For some, I can imagine this could be very disturbing, hence their wise warning, but for me, I was simply left wondering what all the fuss was about. And, I did not hear anyone gasping in horror at what they saw.  Because of the process called plastination everything looks plasticized; there is no sense of the messy blood or guts, and it all seems very sanitized.  As a former artist and contemporary art curator, it looked more like art than science.  This is not a bad thing.

I loved the athletic shapes the bodies were placed in - from ballet dancer to soccer player – giving them a sculptural sense of shape and form. Some of the cut-aways looked like something by Picasso or his cubist colleagues or works by one of the surrealists artists or maybe the work of an Inuit carver. 

The first full figure you are confronted with is this jumping male ballet dancer in mid-air. The piece is held up by the peeling back of the spinal cord to reveal all of the inner organs and muscles. It is a very powerful piece. 

I spent about 90 minutes in the exhibition and could have spent more.  We’d recommend getting the audio guide as we found many of the information panels a little light on information. However, there is a roving educator on site to answer questions that enquiring minds might have.

Though I am not sure of the scientific or educational value of the exhibition (most of the information being readily available and with videos much more explicit and realistic).

At the same time, it does provide a unique and amazingly 3D visual look at the almost infinite intricacies and complexity of the human body.  






Up Close And Personal

This close up further documents the astounding/mindboggling complexity and fragility of the human body. 

It was enlightening to see how all of our internal organs fit together so neatly and compactly.  

This is the body of a female gymnast on the pommel horse.

Other On-site Fun

While on-site, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly explore other parts of TELUS Spark.  I loved the other exhibition areas. And we weren’t alone as there were many enthusiastic (some squealing with delight) children both with their parents and school groups. I was pleased to see lots of Calgary/Alberta-centric information especially on our oil, gas and wind power industries. 

This climbing object is full of climbing "holds." It is very sculptural and can be used by kids of all ages, as well as adults.

What really surprised me was the space and content devoted to young adults and adults.  It was nice to see so many young couples in the galleries on a Tuesday afternoon.  I had been told by parents that TELUS Spark really only appealed to children aged 4 to about 10 and while would agree that is the “sweet spot” for visiting, there is something for almost everyone. 
Erin told me, TELUS Spark routinely attracts 2,000 visitors for their Adult Only nights! We did not take in the films in the Dome Theatre, which would have no doubt added another dimension to our experience.

I love the Top Ten Tips for Saturdays on TELUS Spark’s website which outlines an entire day of activities.  Though it was posted November 2015, I expect it is still valid and might even work for a Sunday.

I was also impressed by the unique outside playground for kids aged 5 and up. It has none of the traditional equipment and seemed a lot more challenging than the colourful, cookie-cutter playgrounds you see around town. I liked the fact that while it would interest toddlers, it would also be challenging and fun for teens, something missing from most playgrounds.

Love this contemporary teeter totter. 

Value For Money

I think you might need a science degree to figure out all of the pricing for TELUS Spark. I have two science degrees and I am not sure I understand it.

Regular Price

Adult (18-64) $19.95 | Senior (65+) $17.95 | Youth (13-17) $15.95 | Child (3-12) $12.95 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I believe there is normally and additional charge for films in the Dome Theatre but couldn’t find the price online.  I believe that if you want the “full meal deal” and see two films (they are short), the cost for an Adult would be in the $30 range, Senior $25, Youth $20 and Child $18 depending on the film.

BODY WORLDS Vital + other exhibitions + one Dome show

Adult (18-64) $30.00 | Senior (65+) $28.00 | Youth (13-17) $26.00 | Child (3-12) $23.00 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I won’t even try to explain how the membership works and what is included in the various options. But I expect it is the best deal if you have kids and plan on visiting on a frequent basis.

For context purposes, the regular prices are pretty much in line with similar Calgary venues such as the Calgary Zoo and Glenbow. Scotiabank Theatre Chinook charges $16.25 for a regular film and as much as $24.25 for a D-Box UltraAVX movie (whatever that is).

Gas Exchange - Cross Section of the Thoracic Cavity. 

Last Word

Upon reflection, the best lesson learned from this exhibition is an appreciation for how well my old body works given all the things that could go wrong. 

Erin tells me TELUS Spark is hoping to attract 100,000+ to this special exhibition. If you are into science or art, you are in for a treat.  Body WORLDS Vital is on exhibit at TELUS Spark until May 31, 2016.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: Military Museums

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