Bow/Crow: There is something happening here?

For many years I have been flaneuring the “no man’s land” underneath the Bow Trail, Crowchild Trail interchange bridges (Bow/Crow).  The idea for a pedestrian bridge below Crowchild was Dave Freeze’s, a Calgary businessman who lived in Eau Claire and walked the Bow River pathways into his 80s. As he got older he thought there should be a river crossing between 14th and Edworthy Park. So he contacted his friend, architect Bill Milne (who was also the architect for the Calgary Tower) about the idea.  Milne came up with a simple bridge, which Freeze decided to fund. No need for city funding and no community engagement – a good idea so just build it.

As an urban street photographer, Crow/Bow it is hidden gem with its view of the river, downtown, prairie sky and the walkers, joggers and cyclists and the dramatic lighting and concrete landscape (I could spend all day here).  It has also become a place for  “pop-up” public art and more recently, a DIY skatepark. 

Link: Calgary Skateboarding: The Bridge Spot DIY

I love this black and white photo of a lone walker on the Dave Freeze bridge that sits on the support columns of the Crowchild Trail bridge just above the Bow River. 

I love this black and white photo of a lone walker on the Dave Freeze bridge that sits on the support columns of the Crowchild Trail bridge just above the Bow River. 

I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have a bench at this location under Bow Trail.  It has to be one of the most brutal urban places in Calgary. 

I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have a bench at this location under Bow Trail.  It has to be one of the most brutal urban places in Calgary. 

Rock Art

Over the past few years, I have regularly encountered mysterious rock formations along the shoreline and in the huge gravel beach just west of Crowchild Trail at the Bow River. 

Backstory: I believe there was an active gravel operation in the river in the ‘50s and maybe ‘60s.  Given its proximity to downtown and the fact that each year’s spring run-off means more rocks naturally gather here due to the sharp turn in the river, it made an ideal spot for a gravel operation.
This huge archimedian spiral was created in the summer of 2015.

This huge archimedian spiral was created in the summer of 2015.

Mini Inukshuks only 6 to 12 inches high and were all over the West Hillhurst beach in the Bow River in 2015. 

Mini Inukshuks only 6 to 12 inches high and were all over the West Hillhurst beach in the Bow River in 2015. 

Pop-Up Public Art

This past spring, I happened upon an unknown artist (there was a hand done sign but no name) who created a temporary art project entitled “Rock The River: harmonizing Calgary’s Shoreline."  It was like a little village of rock sentinels and sticks, something like what a family might build on vacation at a beach.  Later I found out  the artist is Luke Materi who has done numerous rock installations along the Bow River.

Another time I found the words “Love Art” spelled out in rocks along the north bank of the river – like something right out of the ‘60s hippy culture or today’s “new age” culture. 

Link: CTV News Calgary Artist’s Cairns

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

DIY Skate Park?

The latest quirky addition to the no man's land under the Bow/Crow bridges is a DIY skateboard park.  What a great idea? 

Backstory: The first choice for the Shaw Millennium Park skateboard park was under the 4th and 5th Avenue Flyover bridges in East Village next to the Drop-In Centre.  However, the Drop In Centre’s senior staff protested (Yes, more NIMBYism). They didn’t want a skateboard park next to them and felt parents wouldn’t want their children to be near the Center, which was home to many drug addicts, dealers and criminals (their words no mine).  So, it became part of the new Millennium Park in West Downtown in 2000. True story.
Under the Bow Trail bridge is a no man's land that is quietly becoming a DIY skatepark. 

Under the Bow Trail bridge is a no man's land that is quietly becoming a DIY skatepark. 

Quietly, a group of experienced Calgary skateboarders on their own initiative and with their own money and sweat equity have converted an abandon section of a pathway under the Bow Trail flyover for cars and LRT into a small skateboard park. The day I was there six guys ranging age from 30 to early 40s were working building a new jump, cleaning up the site and painting over graffiti.

They looked at me a bit strange when I first arrived with my camera but when I explained who I was and what I was doing, they were most friendly and helpful.  You could tell they were proud of what they were doing and felt they were making a meaningful contribution to making our city a better place.  

They haven’t asked for permission.  They just cleaned up the barren, brutal space and made it into a DIY skate park. Shouldn't that be rewarded?
Welcome to THE BRIDGE signage!

Welcome to THE BRIDGE signage!

I understand the police have visited several times and love the idea that they have taken an abandoned space and given it life. I really hope the City won’t shut down the place or take over the space, spend a couple of million dollars and try to make it into a formal park.  There is something authentic about a “guerrilla warfare” approach to this skate park that makes it attractive to skateboarders. 

It seems to me the DIY skatepark is the equivalent to any one of the hundreds of DIY outdoor skating rink the City allows in their parks. Yes one is year-round and the other is temporary, but they are both the result of Calgarians wanting to invest their own time and energy to enhance the recreational opportunities for others. Perhaps all the City needs to do is put up a sign saying, “Play at your own risk!”

Besides, I am told by skateboarders part of the fun of skateboarding is to skate where you are not suppose to.  It is about thrill of new places that create new challenges to do their tricks. It is about creating their own place. 

Link: Forest Lawn DIY skatepark

Everyone is invited to enjoy THE BRIDGE skate park. I was even asked if I wanted to give it a try.  I declined.

While was there people came and went, some were helping to build and fix up the park, others were there to try it out.  There was a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie. 

Last Word

While places like Shaw Millennium Park and other sanctioned parks are great, there is still a need for the true “underground” (or in this case “underbridge”) skateboard experience.  The same is true for Materi’s artwork, which like street art, seem more real than sanctioned public art, which too often seems contrived and out of context. 

I am thinking Calgary should be fostering these kind of DIY (tax free) initiatives, which help make our city more attractive and interesting. Indeed something special is happening under the Bow/Crow bridges. 

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The End of The Grand Trunkers' Playground Envy

In Calgary, communities are defined by their playgrounds.  There is even a website devoted to reviewing and ranking Calgary’s playgrounds (Calgary Playground Review). Given there were new playgrounds all around Grand Trunk Park  – Helicopter Park, Westmount Park, West Hillhurst Recreation Centre Park – the neighbours living near the Park with its ‘80s playground were silently suffering from a serious case of “playground envy.”

As you can see, Grand Trunk's old swing set required some creativity to make it fun for older kids. 

I have lived across the street from West Hillhurst’s Grand Trunk Park (west side of 23rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues NW) for over 25 years.  For many of those years, I didn’t even know it was called Grand Trunk Park as there was no sign a few years ago, then a one magically appeared a few years ago.  I began doing some research and realized the old house next to the park (which was the Maritime Reunion Hall in the ‘80s and ‘90s) began its life in 1911 as the Grand Trunk Cottage School.  I have a sneaking suspicion that 100 years ago the park served as the schoolyard for its students.

Fast forward to 2016. Grand Trunk Park is getting worn out and tired looking.  This is not surprising as the streets around the park are literally being taken over by young kids playing street hockey, skateboarding and shooting hoops.  I am told the 2300 block of 6th Avenue alone has over 25 children under the age of 16.  

Over the past year or so, the park has become a wonderful gathering place for the neighbours and the parents whose children go to the Honey Bee Daycare located on the northwest corner of the Park.  Families from blocks away mix and mingle at the park, getting to know each other while older kids play in the park unsupervised, just like in the 50s and 60s.  No helicopter parents here!

The old slide was good for practicing your snowboarding skills. 

Kubb Anyone?

We have never seen the Park used by more people for more activities. One day I counted eight different activities in the park - everything from kite flying to lacrosse, to some guy doing sprints. There were even some young adults throwing wooden blocks at wooden blocks - a poor man’s version of bocce perhaps?  When I asked what they were playing, they said “Kubb.” Turns out it is a Swedish lawn game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks by throwing wooden batons at them; kind of a combination of bowling and horseshoes.

Kubb could be the new darts

And I have seen as many as five different activities in the Park at one time – a mother hitting a baseball to her son, two young boys taking shots on each other using the soccer goal posts, young families playing in the playground, a dad and his son kicking the soccer ball around and me practising my chipping by hitting golf balls from one tree well to another.

Like Kubb, some other activities have me puzzled.  A couple of times I ventured out into the park to ask people what they are doing. In March, three people with long, large ropes attached to the soccer posts with a backpack attached to the ropes told me they were practising mountain rescues. Not sure if I should believe them but they came back a few times, so who knows. Another time, a guy also with huge ropes also attached to the soccer posts (yes, the posts are used for soccer too) was waving them up and down practising for some iron man competition.

Even with big trees and telephone poles and wires, Grand Trunk Park can be a fun kite flying spot. 

Grand Trunk Park Happy Hour

At about 10 o’clock on weekdays, the preschoolers attending the adjacent Honey Bee Daycare make a beeline to the playground. At about 4 pm on weekdays, Grand Trunk Happy Hour starts - parents pick up their children and many head to the playground, break out the juice boxes and snacks. The Park again becomes animated.  At Happy Hour, the 2400 block of 6th Avenue becomes a gridlock with cars; we love it. 

Happy Hour at the Grand Trunk playground!

Lottery Winners!

Where is this going you ask? Well, late in 2015, the City contacted the West Hillhurst Community Association informing them that they were going to replace the playground equipment (it had come to the end of its lifespan) and wanted to engage the neighbours. Word spread like wildfire (a “good” wildfire) - you would have thought we’d won the lottery.

A neighbourhood meeting was quickly called.  Enthusiasm for making Grand Trunk Park the envy of the inner city was high. But wait, we had no time to fundraise; no time to create a grand plan for our historic park as the City wanted to replace the playground equipment in June and so we had just over a month to “hurry up and agree on what equipment we wanted and get it ordered.”

Just another day at Grand Trunk Park

Community Catalyst

It’s unbelievable how the City’s decision to replace the aging playground equipment has been a catalyst for creating a real sense of community for families for blocks around the park. Some families are even from the other side (west) of Crowchild Trail (CT), which surprised us as most people think of CT as a barrier.

The outpouring of support for the playground revitalization was amazing. When the equipment quote came in higher than expected, a quick email soliciting donations exceeded expectations. When a call went out for volunteers to help with the two-day installation, there was no problem getting the bodies needed.

Even the Park & Play installation supervisor said we were great – in fact, the second best group of volunteers he said he had ever worked with on the 200+ playgrounds he has done! (A group of Martindale volunteers were  “best” because of special circumstances associated with their playground.) No big egos; no bickering when we had to re-dig the hole for the swings on Day 2 (it was two feet too high).  No panic or annoyance when we figured out late on Day 1 (after we re-dug the hole for the slide thinking the hole dug by the backhoe was in the wrong place) that they had sent us the wrong slide.

The aftermath of unpacking the playground equipment looked like we had just been to IKEA. 

Ladies at work!

Men at work!  In this case we found that in preparing the site one of the cement foundations from the old playground had not been removed. 

Measure twice dig once?

It is all coming together now!

Even with all of our team work, the 8ft slide wouldn't attach to the 7ft climbing wall structure.

The "Water Test!" Who knew you have to pour water down the slide to see if it would run off to know if it was installed correctly? We do now!

Just a few more inches!

Check out this video of the Grand Trunk Wheel Barrow Ballet

Kids Again

Perhaps the funniest thing about Day 1 of the installation was that while everyone really craved a cold beer by mid afternoon, we all quite happily settled for freezies.  The sight of 15 adults all eating freezies was very humourous. On the second day, we settled for watermelon as our refreshment.  Oh so appropriate for a children’s playground install!

Ironically, the second (final) day of the installation was Neighbours Day in Calgary so once done, we gathered for an old fashioned house party hosted by one of the neighbours.  Dozens of kids and adults had a grand time on the street in front of the house (using the basketball net bought by a neighbour who has no kids but thought a street with 25 kids needed a basket net), on the front porch (which was turned into “buffet central”) and in the big enclosed backyard that became a sports field. 

I overheard one parent say, “I imagine this must have been what it was like in the ‘50s when neighbouring families played together.” 

Ready for the gravel, inspection and then reopening of the playground.

Last Word

Calgary has over 5,200 parks, big and small.  I am pretty sure Grand Trunk Park will never be the best park in the city, but already the proud Grand Trunkers (what we are now calling ourselves) are talking about plans for more improvements.

In the meantime, we are working to expand our informal Tuesday Night “Drop By The Park to Play” and “Sunday Morning Madness” drop ins. A park toy box is now on our front porch so families can borrow balls, Frisbees, a tug of war rope and limbo stick as desired. 

It’s back to the future in Grand Trunk Park this summer.

It was a real team effort to get the Grand Trunk Park installed in two days. 

A Big Thank You To: 

  • City of Calgary
  • Parks Foundation Calgary
  • Donors 
  • Park & Play 
  • Leigha Pidde
  • Grand Trunker Voluteers