While 2nd, 4th and 8th Streets SW get most of the attention as the Beltline’s trendy pedestrian corridors, for my money 11th St SW wins hands-down. It is home to the historic sandstone Connaught School, the charming Kalamata Grocery Store and Calgary Co-op’s Midtown store. It also has Good Earth Café’s flagship store, as well as the historic Galaxie Diner.
Deadending at 17th Avenue SW, it gets limited vehicle traffic, making for a pleasant pedestrian experience. And with four green spaces – the Connaught schoolyard, Connaught Park, Thomson Family Park and Shaw Millenium Park – we should all be green with envy!
In the early 20th century, 11th Street was the main street for those living on the west side of Connaught community that extended from 4th to 14th St. SW and from railway tracks to 17th Ave. SW (today’s Beltline was formed in 2003 by the merger of Connaught, founded in 1905 and Victoria Park, founded in 1914).
The red brick 1912 Brigden Block is a nice reminder of the mixed-use buildings (retail at street level and residential above) that lined 11th Street a century ago. Walter James Brigden was a London-born grocer and butcher and the building has been home to a neighbourhood grocery store since it opened.
In 1978, Jim Kokos opened the Kalamata Grocery store, (named after the olive-rich region in Greece where he was from) and today his two sons operate it.
And yes, they carry a wide array of olives.
New Parks / New Art
This past June, 11th Street’s appeal increased significantly with the addition of Calgary’s first off-leash urban dog park. Designed by Calgary’s Studio 818 in the existing Connaught Park, the east half of the park now has separate fenced areas for big and little dogs, seating for owners and a water fountain for the dogs.
The Beltline is home to 650 licensed dogs and who knows how many unlicensed ones. Like all dog parks, it is a popular community hangout for humans and canines summer and winter.
Then just four months later, Thomson Family Park, designed by Calgary’s Ground3 Landscape Architects opened to much fanfare.
This park space dates back to 1923 when it was the home of the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club, which recently moved to Spruce Cliff.
Today, this welcoming contemporary urban park for all ages includes a contemporary playground, a hill with a slide, a promenade, picnic area, grass playing field, winter outdoor skating rink (with overhead lighting for night use) summer water feature and public artwork.
It might surprise some that 750 children under the age of 4 and 1,200 under 14 (2014 Civic Census) call the Beltline home.
One of the parks highlights is neon-coloured mural created by Calgary artist Sergey Ryutin with help from young people as part of the “Painted City Street Art Program for Youth.” Look carefully and you will see the words “The Readiness is All” which is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2.
This is an interesting choice for a “family park” given it refers to Hamlet’s “readiness to die.” The City of Calgary’s website explains “Throughout the play, Hamlet constantly debates the meaning of life… this line demonstrates Hamlet’s new thinking and that he is at peace with the inevitable. In a general sense, this line is a good reminder, to everyone, to always be ready for anything. Everyone will face either a difficult situation or decision at some point in their lives, and being prepared for that can make a significant difference.”
Most park visitors just glance at the art and think, “that’s colourful and playful.” Others will notice the words, but have no idea of the meaning and forget about it. And a few others might know the meaning (or go home and look it up as I did) and think about what it might mean in the context of a public space and the diversity of people who hang out there.
Good streets, parks and public art should appeal to citizens of all ages and backgrounds on many different levels - 11th Street SW does just that.
An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, April 8, 2017. White is an avid urban flaneur. Follow him on twitter @everydaytourist or read his blogs at everydaytourist.ca