Calgary’s Bowness Park has been a popular place for Calgarians to chill for over a century.
The 74-acre park along the Bow River at the western edge of the City of Calgary was donated by John Hextall in 1911 - as part of a deal to secure the extension of the streetcar into Bowness Estates which he was developing as an exclusive new suburb. The park was also conceived to entice Calgarians or those moving to Calgary to live in the new community of Bowness. It was the Fish Creek or Nose Hill Park of its time.
It is eerily similar to the current push to develop the Green Line today, linking new communities like Livingston and SETON to the City Centre. It also has parallels to the East Village redevelopment where the River Walk and St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment were built first to entice Calgarians to move back to the community after decades of community decay.
The Original Bowness Park
Bowness Park was indeed a gem with an outdoor swimming pool (closed in 1959) and lagoon for canoeing and boating. The lagoon even had an Orthophonic (a phonograph in the middle of the lagoon) that played music which required someone to canoe out to change the records. It stopped working in 1961. There was also a large dance pavilion (closed in 1960) and even a carousel, whose home is now Heritage Park.
It was the quintessential picnic site. Hundreds of picnic tables, some under shelters as well as several playgrounds with swings and teeter-totters. Camping sites and even cabins that could be rented by the week or month (these were removed in 1946) we available for long stays. There was even an informal “lovers’ walk” along the lagoon.
The Park was hugely popular with over 25,000 Calgarians visiting on summer weekends. It was so popular 28 streetcars were assigned to the route on weekends offering 15 minutes service from 1913 to 1950.
Bowness Park Today
Despite the Bow River flood of 2013 which caused extensive damage, the Park has again become one of the gems of Calgary’s City Parks system after extensive clean up and redevelopment the park,
Today, not only are there canoeing and paddle boating in the lagoon, but the Park is popular spot for hundreds of rafters, kayakers and canoers to enter the Bow River for a lovely Sunday day-trip along the Bow River to downtown.
Hundreds of picnic sites (complete with fire pits and BBQs) attract families from all over the city - it is like a meeting of the United Nations.
The modern colourful playground is very popular and loud with kids shouting and squealing with glee.
The redeveloped park also includes the popular mini-train that was introduced to the park in the early ‘50s.
After being badly damaged in the flood, with silt covering the train from top to bottom, it has been restored. It got a new engine and a new silver, burgundy and yellow paint job modelled after the CP Rail’s luxury passenger train “The Canadian” that began cross-country trips in 1955.
Seasons restaurant on the lagoon offers fine dining with a charming patio on the water. It has popular weekend brunch menu. As well there is a take-out café for those who prefer to stroll or sit with a coffee and snack.
And yes, there still is an informal “Lovers’ Walk,” along the creek away from the crowds for those wanting to take a quieter more secluded quiet walk in the park with a special someone.
Bowness Park continues to attract thousands of visitors on a nice Sunday afternoon. While the weekend attendance numbers don’t match the 25,000 of its heyday years, it is still a vibrant urban playground people of all ages and backgrounds. Perhaps the numbers are down due to the fact Calgary now has over 5,000 parks – that’s one park for every 250 Calgarians!
PS…The park desperately needs an ice cream vendor. Packaged, commercial frozen treats on a stick just don’t cut it.
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