Everyday Tourist 2017 Retrospective: Fun Flaneur Finds

For most people the new year, is a time to reflect on what has happen over the past year and what they would like to happen over the next.  For me it is a time to edit the 20,000+ photos I have taken this year and decide which ones to keep. 

  Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

It is also time to ponder what were my best experiences, adventures and discoveries? What was the best art gallery, art exhibition, artwork or architecture I experienced? Should I create albums of the best pieces of public art, best street art, buildings or street photos?

After much reflection, I decided the life of an everyday flaneur isn’t about the “best of” it is about surprises, chance encounters and the thrill of the unexpected. 

As a result this photo essay while in chronological oder is a hodgepodge of fun flaneur finds discovered over the past year wandering with my eyes and mind wide open. I hope you enjoy....

  Yoga bound, Calgary

Yoga bound, Calgary

  Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

  Keys, Calgary

Keys, Calgary

  Night Rider, Calgary

Night Rider, Calgary

  Tree of Life, Berlin

Tree of Life, Berlin

  Shopping Vortex, Berlin

Shopping Vortex, Berlin

  Circus architecture, Berlin

Circus architecture, Berlin

  Giant Red Tops, Berlin

Giant Red Tops, Berlin

  Bitte Please, Berlin

Bitte Please, Berlin

  Pedestrian, Berlin

Pedestrian, Berlin

 Mannie, Berlin

Mannie, Berlin

  Street Furniture, Berlin

Street Furniture, Berlin

  Recycling Igloos, Berlin

Recycling Igloos, Berlin

  Notes, Berlin  (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

Notes, Berlin (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

 Magritte Lives, Berlin

Magritte Lives, Berlin

  No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

  11 disciples, Berlin

11 disciples, Berlin

  Molecules, Berlin

Molecules, Berlin

  Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

  KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

  Green Eye, Berlin

Green Eye, Berlin

  Confession, Berlin

Confession, Berlin

 Word Search, Berlin

Word Search, Berlin

 Fun School, Berlin

Fun School, Berlin

  Mystery Box, Berlin

Mystery Box, Berlin

  Stripes & Checks, Berlin

Stripes & Checks, Berlin

  Eye Candy, Berlin

Eye Candy, Berlin

  Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

 Hungry, Berlin

Hungry, Berlin

  Living Room, Berlin

Living Room, Berlin

 Escher & Alexa, Berlin

Escher & Alexa, Berlin

   Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

 Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

  Red River, Leipzig

Red River, Leipzig

  Snail's Pace, Leipzig  (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall )

Snail's Pace, Leipzig (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall)

  Three Sisters, Leipzig

Three Sisters, Leipzig

  Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

  Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

  Street Talk, Leipzig

Street Talk, Leipzig

  Couple, Leipzig

Couple, Leipzig

  Inside! Leipzig

Inside! Leipzig

  Special, Leipzig

Special, Leipzig

  Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

  Follow Through, Leipzig

Follow Through, Leipzig

  Partners, Leipzig

Partners, Leipzig

  Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

  No parking, Leipzig

No parking, Leipzig

  Strings Attached, Leipzig

Strings Attached, Leipzig

  Brutal Beauty, London, ON

Brutal Beauty, London, ON

  Dressing Up!, London, ON

Dressing Up!, London, ON

  Playful, Hamilton

Playful, Hamilton

  Perspective, Calgary

Perspective, Calgary

  Windows, Calgary

Windows, Calgary

  Street Party, Calgary

Street Party, Calgary

  Dance with me! Calgary

Dance with me! Calgary

  My old backyard, Gleichen

My old backyard, Gleichen

  Remnants, Sisika

Remnants, Sisika

  Waiting, Calgary

Waiting, Calgary

  Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

  Hooped, Canmore

Hooped, Canmore

 Really, Olds

Really, Olds

 Blast From The Past, Olds

Blast From The Past, Olds

 Statement, Calgary 

Statement, Calgary 

  Upsized, Calgary

Upsized, Calgary

  Too Much Information, Calgary

Too Much Information, Calgary

  Musical Stairs, Calgary

Musical Stairs, Calgary

  Legs & Pillars, Calgary

Legs & Pillars, Calgary

 Dataport, Medicine Hat

Dataport, Medicine Hat

  Love, Calgary

Love, Calgary

  Rainbow, Calgary

Rainbow, Calgary

  Buried, Canmore

Buried, Canmore

  Happy Hour, Calgary

Happy Hour, Calgary

 Elizabeth, Calgary

Elizabeth, Calgary

  Failure, Calgary

Failure, Calgary

  Stanley Guitar, Nashville

Stanley Guitar, Nashville

 Oxymoron, Nashville

Oxymoron, Nashville

  Euphony, Nashville

Euphony, Nashville

  Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

  Bus Rider, Nashville

Bus Rider, Nashville

  Wisedom, Mesa

Wisedom, Mesa

  Trophies, Calgary

Trophies, Calgary

  Alone, Calgary

Alone, Calgary

  Outer Space, Palm Springs

Outer Space, Palm Springs

 Creative Space, Palm Springs

Creative Space, Palm Springs

  Yard Art, Palm Springs

Yard Art, Palm Springs

  Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

 Whimsical, Palm Springs

Whimsical, Palm Springs

 Corner, Palm Springs

Corner, Palm Springs

  Blue Bird, Calgary

Blue Bird, Calgary

  Juxtaposition, Calgary

Juxtaposition, Calgary

 Twisted, Calgary

Twisted, Calgary

  Fire, Calgary

Fire, Calgary

 Pathways, Calgary

Pathways, Calgary

Thanks for scrolling to the end. 

All the best in 2018. 

Music Cities: Nashville vs Calgary

Great cities have signature streets that reflect the soul of the city. In Nashville (aka Music City), its signature street is Lower Broadway (from 1st to 5th Avenue S) where 25+ honky tonk bars offer free live music (no cover charge, no tickets) from 10 am to 3 am every day.

Lower Broadway “shouts out” Nashville is a Music City!
  Lower Broadway by week day!

Lower Broadway by week day!

  Lower Broadway by week night!

Lower Broadway by week night!

Music Every Day!

  After work fun!

After work fun!

Yes, 365 days of the year you can stroll Lower Broadway and listen to music from the street (stages are at the street windows; and windows are almost always open).

Or, wander in and out of the bars at your leisure to have a drink and listen to music.  I have not encountered anything like it in any other city including Memphis’ famous Beale Street and Austin’s 6th Street. 

But for a music purist, it is not the greatest place to listen to music as the bands are playing almost on top of each other and the audiences (those inside and those strolling by outside) are talking and socializing more than listening.

But there is no denying it is an “Experience.”

Musician Sweat Shop

What was most alarming was to learn the bands (and they are generally very good experienced musicians) are playing only for tips. I was told by several local musicians that on a good night, the late night band members might make $300 each (includes tips and CD sales), while those in the late morning and afternoon might make $100 or $150 each for about 5 hours of non-stop playing.  Most of the musicians are lucky if they get one or two gigs a week.

Given the heat and humidity I experienced in Nashville in the middle of October, I can only imagine what it must be like playing Lower Broadway during their long hot, humid summers. 

It was disturbing to me that Nashville’s Lower Broadway is in many ways a “sweat shop,” with bar owners raking in the money from beverage and food sales, while the musicians work for minimum wage in harsh conditions. 

I am told on good authority that if the musicians complained, the bar owner would simply find someone else - there being over 20,000 aspiring musicians, singers and songwriters living in Nashville waiting for an opportunity to play on Lower Broadway.

  Eskimo Brothers must have been exhausted after their very entertaining and energetic performance at Layla's on lower Broadway.

Eskimo Brothers must have been exhausted after their very entertaining and energetic performance at Layla's on lower Broadway.

Street Photographer Heaven

In addition to the music, Lower Broadway is a fun place to people watch.

Though a grittier version of The Strip in Vegas, it is not without it own glitz and glitter. The sequined clothing, boots and hats make for some unique fashion statements.

It is a popular destination for bachelorette parties - hundreds of young ladies arrive on Thursday and leave on Sunday.  

You often hear them before you see them, as they seem to love to hoot and holler as they meander the streets on “pedal taverns” i.e. bars on wheels that use pedal power to move along the street.   

They are in full party mode, love to say “Hi” as hey pass by and are not camera shy.

  Pedal Taverns like this one are popular not only on Lower Broadway but throughout the City Centre. 

Pedal Taverns like this one are popular not only on Lower Broadway but throughout the City Centre. 

  Every picture tells a story...I wonder what the story is here?

Every picture tells a story...I wonder what the story is here?

  Nashville is more than just live music, it also has a plethora of museums, musical instrument, books and record stores, as well as recording studios, music publishers and managers.  Even on a Monday morning, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is busy with hundreds of visitors. 

Nashville is more than just live music, it also has a plethora of museums, musical instrument, books and record stores, as well as recording studios, music publishers and managers.  Even on a Monday morning, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is busy with hundreds of visitors. 

Hallelujah at the Ryman

Just off Lower Broadway sits the Ryman Auditorium, first known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle (1892), then becoming the home of the Grande Ole Opry House (1943 to 1974).  It was vacant for almost 20 years before Emmylou Harris, in 1991, performed 3 concerts in the then dilapidated building (while the auditorium’s capacity is over 2,000, her concerts were limited to 200 people). Harris’ concerts spearheaded a movement to restore the building. By 1993, renovations began, converting it into a world-class concert hall, while retaining as much of the historical architecture as possible, including all the original oak pews. 

It is true to its moniker, i.e. the Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of country music.

  Ryman tours allow you to explore the building which is home to many artifacts, displays and photo ops. 

Ryman tours allow you to explore the building which is home to many artifacts, displays and photo ops. 

The Ryman offers daily back stage tours, which I highly recommend. 

In the evening, the auditorium hosts concerts by various headliners, which I would also highly recommend.

Many describe it as a religious experience and I can believe that.

While we were there, local Americana singer songwriter Jason Isbell was performing several nights but all were sold out.  However, we decided to check just before show time to see if they might have any tickets and were lucky to get seats just 10 rows from the stage.  We didn’t know who Isbell was, but the crowd sure did. The young people in front of us were singing along with him like they were gospel singers at church on Sunday.  There was more than one standing ovation in the middle of the concert not just the end. 

I was half expecting some Hallelujahs at the end.  
  Jason Isbell performing at Ryman Auditorium.

Jason Isbell performing at Ryman Auditorium.

Off (Off) Lower Broadway

For a better music experience, I suggest heading off Lower Broadway.  The Sunday Night Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in The Gulch is definitely worth checking out – note the line up starts an hour before the 7 pm start. The Bourbon Street Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley and 3rd & Lindsley also have curated music programs that are highly respected. 

Personally, I also enjoyed the bands at Barlines in the Omni Hotel.  They played lots of cover tunes to an attentive audience and there is lots of room for dancing if that is your thing.  The beer is better than Lower Broadway too…my favourite being Nashville’s own Jackalope’s Bearwalker Maple Brown Ale. 

If you go even further “off, off” Lower Broadway, Douglas Corner Bar is an interesting spot.  The music is a bit hit and miss, so do your research, but the space and sound is great.  We happened upon a fun wedding party concert that was open to the public.  The band, Yo’ Mama featured Jonell Mosser (who has done back up vocals for the likes of B.B. King, Etta James, Waylon Jennings and Bruce Cockburn to name a few) along with Cathy Stamps and Kathy Mac.  Mosser has great pipes and all had great stories from their university days back in the ‘70s – well worth the $10 cover for the 2-hour concert.

  Every Sunday night people line up to get into the Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in Nashville's Gulch district, their equivalent to Calgary's East Village.  

Every Sunday night people line up to get into the Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in Nashville's Gulch district, their equivalent to Calgary's East Village.  

Music Mile Madness

Suffice to say Calgary, we have a long, long way to go before we can legitimately call ourselves a music city.  Music personifies the city of Nashville; it is infused into its everyday life. Guitar stores in Nashville are as common as bike shops are in Calgary.

  Nashville's 16th Ave South aka Music Row is lined with music related businesses including managers, marketing and publishing. 

Nashville's 16th Ave South aka Music Row is lined with music related businesses including managers, marketing and publishing. 

What makes Nashville a “music city” is the army of music-makers, a supportive audience, a diversity of live music venues and a sense of competition to discover and be discovered.  

In the same way as Calgary has an army of engineers and geologists looking to discover the next oil and gas reserve.

  Nashville has dozens of specialty shops like Manuel Couture Clothing & Accessories that focus on fashions for musicians. 

Nashville has dozens of specialty shops like Manuel Couture Clothing & Accessories that focus on fashions for musicians. 

Studio Bell is nice, but the heart and soul of any good music city lies in its live local music venues and audience, not its museums.  

  Ironwood Stage & Grill along with Blues Can and Festival Hall and numerous old houses and apartments make Inglewood and its sister community Ramsay an ideal place for artists to work, live and play.  

Ironwood Stage & Grill along with Blues Can and Festival Hall and numerous old houses and apartments make Inglewood and its sister community Ramsay an ideal place for artists to work, live and play. 

While some have tried to brand 9th Avenue (between the National Music Centre and the Blues Can) as the Music Mile”, the concept is premature and misleading in my mind. 

In reality, only two venues along that stretch provide live music seven days a week – Blues Can and Ironwood Bar & Grill

What would make more sense would be to foster Inglewood as a Music (or artist’s) Village - a place where musicians live, work and play.  A place filled with private live music venues, record stores and recording studios.  

Inglewood need to create affordable housing for artists in the community, not just upscale condos and infills.
  Recordland in Inglewood is home to one of the largest collections of used records in North America. 

Recordland in Inglewood is home to one of the largest collections of used records in North America. 

Not Nashville North

In the past, Calgary has been called Nashville North, but today Calgary is nothing like Nashville - historically, culturally or economically.

Calgary has some great music festivals, but it is what happens in the non-festival periods that is  critical to creating a 365-day musical buzz.

We should be determining how we make the Calgary Folk Festival’s Festival Hall in Inglewood, new King Eddy in East Village, new Big Four Roadhouse at Stampede Park and the Palace Theatre on Stephen Avenue sing every night of the week.  

And, how can we capitalize on Studio Bell’s incredible collection of musical instruments as a catalyst for making Calgary a must place for musicians to record. We need to attract musicians from across Canada to come to Calgary to play and make music. It is not about building a new Saddledome for mega concerts. 

If Calgary really wants to stand out in the music world, it must invite and integrate the music of Calgary’s diverse ethnic communities. We have to go beyond classical, country, blues, rock and roots. We must go beyond City Centre bars, pubs and coffee houses. We must foster what is happening in community centres, and churches in the suburbs.

One of the things we learned from Nashville’s museums is that music is a collaborative, grassroots process and the best music comes from the fusion of different genres of music. A good example of this would be Calgary's Sled Island Festival that happens every June and has become one of Calgary's signature festivals.

We also learned great music was not created by iconic public buildings, meaningless government policies and white papers, or by politicians, but by passionate individuals willing to risk everything to make music and to see and hear things in new ways.  

Link: Alberta Music Cities Initiative

Question?

Does Calgary’s have the music mavericks who can transform our City into a music city?  

Joane Cardinal-Schubert: The Writing on the Wall

If you go to one Calgary art exhibition this fall, I recommend the Joane Cardinal-Schubert exhibition at the Nickle Galleries in the Taylor Family Digital Library, at the University of Calgary. It is on until December 17th. This exhibition brings together 60 artworks from private and public collections across Canada.  

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Joane and I had many long and lively conversations about the contemporary art scene when I was the Executive Director/Curator at the Muttart Art Gallery (1984 to 1994) located in the Memorial Park Library building, now Contemporary Calgary.  Adamant she didn’t want to be known as a “Native Artist” but as a contemporary Canadian artist whose work comments on current Canadian issues, which just happened to be about racism, ethnicity, colonialism and residential school experiences. These were the things, she knew best.

And, in a 2002, article in Galleries West magazine, Joane said “I started on this road to paint about my personal experiences: but because I'm Aboriginal, my work has been considered political. I don't think of it as political:  I think of it as personal.” 

It is ironic that her personal artistic statements are probably more relevant and more political today than at the time of our discussions 30 years ago.

For me, the love of Joane’s work was immediate…I loved the intensity of the colour, the use of colour, images and words to communicate to the viewer.  I loved the narratives in her paintings and installations. 

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I share these images of the exhibition with you as a teaser, as a catalyst to encourage you if at all possible to see the exhibition for yourself.  Joane, who passed away in 2009, is one of Alberta’s most important artists. While she is a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, she deserves to be a household name among the likes of Lawren Harris, Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt.

I will let the art in “The Writing on the Wall” speak for itself.

Note:

  • You may (or may not) be aware of Joane’s work as she has a major sculpture at the Calgary International Airport in the domestic terminal immediately after you check-in. 
  • For those of you who don’t live in Calgary, unfortunately you will have to make due with these images.
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Olds: The Fastest Town in Canada?

We’d been hearing good things about Olds for awhile, including the fact it was Canada’s first “gig town.”

  The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

Backstory: One gigabit per second is super high-speed Internet that only a few North America cities have.  With that kind of bandwidth, you can stream at least five high-definition videos at the same time (allowing multiple people to watch and download different things in different rooms of a house or busines.  The Olds Institute’s Technology Committee conceived the idea back in 2004 as one of its economic development strategies to attract new businesses to locate there.   Called O-NET, it not only offers residents and businesses the fastest internet in Canada but also free community WiFi in dozens of public places across town – pretty much everywhere.   

Link: Gigabit Broadband in Olds

Then, a few weeks ago, a visiting young couple from Olds (they were picking up a bed that we were storing in our garage for friends) enthusiastically shared with us why they loved living in Olds and some of their favourite things to see, do and eat.

We decided we must go.  So we did, the next weekend.

  We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

Six good reasons to visit Olds

#1 Garden & Butcher

Olds College started as a demonstration farm back in 1911, followed by the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1913.  Today, it has a wonderful park-like campus and yes, the farm is still there.  A relatively new feature is the Botanical Gardens (started in 2001) has evolved into 13 specialty gardens including – Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Iris Collection, Wetlands, Water Garden, Alpine Garden, Apple Orchard, Conifer Bed, Heritage Grove and Perennial Border.  Visit the garden several times a year and get a different experience each time. 

A popular spot for weddings, they added some pageantry and colour on our Saturday visit.

Link: Visit the Gardens

You also won’t want to miss the Olds College National Meat Training Centre.  The College has the only facility in North America where students have the opportunity to learn everything from humane animal slaughter to retail meat cutting. 

For the public, this means there is a retail store on site that carries a wide variety of beef, pork, lamb and poultry cuts. They also have smoked sausages and ready-to-eat meals. Time your visit accordingly as they are open Monday to Friday (noon to 5 pm) and Saturdays (10 am to 4 pm).  It is located in the Animal Science Building. (Note to self: bring a cooler and ice packs with you.)

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 Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

#2 Pandora’s Boox and Tea (PBT)

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No, that isn’t a typo! The rationale for the name is that every time one opens a book, a new realm of possibilities opens up which is play on the Greek myth, Pandora’s box.

The name is very apropos for this unique shop.

Located in an early 20th century CIBC bank building, PBT is a lovely urban-esque surprise - it combines a bookstore, games entertainment hub and teashop.  For Calgarians, think Sentry Box meets Pages bookstore meets Tea Traders.

A lovely hour was spent browsing the shelves (full of books, games and cards), sipping tea and watching some board gamers play. This would be a good place to check out just how fast this “gig town” is.

  We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch.  

We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch. 

  Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

   eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

#3 Shoe Shopping

If you are looking for a new pair of shoes, you might want to think about heading to Olds.  They have a couple of great shoe shops. Our favourite - Henry’s Shoes - had over 15,000 pairs of shoes (we were told their Trochu store is even larger…hmmm a future road trip).  A great range of quality brands and sizes, and second-to-none service and fitting to boot (pun intended). 

It was all we could do to resist buying a pair. 

   Shoes or folk art?

Shoes or folk art?

  A blast from the past!

A blast from the past!

Not to be outdone, Jensen’s Men’s Wear also has a large selection of men’s and ladies’ footwear worth checking out, as well as a huge collection of western wear.  You are in the heart of cowboy country after all!

And then there’s Craig’s, serving Olds and community with quality fashions, fabrics, yarns and giftware for 119 years. 

To celebrate Canada 150, they have created several displays using vintage store artifacts from their collection 

I was even invited to check out the historic vault in the back room. 

Craig’s is fun a walk back in time

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#4 Retro Fun

Rockin’ Retro is a huge antique, retro, vintage shop.  While there is some rock and roll memorabilia (as the name suggests), there is a diverse selection of artifacts including one of the best collections of old tins that I have seen in a long time.

The Nu2U Thrift store located nearby is also worth a visit. You never know when or where you will find a hidden treasure!

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#5 Aggie & Old Skhool

Don’t leave town without a visit to the Olds College Teaching Brewery and Tasting Room established in 2013 (exactly 100 years after the school opened, wonder what took them so long). Attached to the Olds Pomeroy Inn & Suites, it offers tasting of seasonal brews as well as four commercially branded beers – Aggie Ale, Old Skhool, Hay City and Prairie Gold.  I came home with a 6-pack of Aggie (amber) and Old Skhool(brown), which may well become my new “go to” beers.

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#6 Mountain View Museum & Archives

Housed in the Olds AGT building (1920), this museum has a collection of 7,000 artifacts, 14 meters of textual documents and 2,000 photographs.  Group and guided tours are available.  Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday (it is only open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 pm).  We were told it is worth a visit. Next time.

Where to eat?

Our pick for lunch was the Black Forest German Bakery where everything is made from scratch and baked on site in their stone ovens, which keeps in the moisture and gives their breads a beautiful golden crusty exterior and a soft, tasty interior. They use local flours when possible, including spelt and rye and crack their our own grains for their multi-grain loaves. The European‐style bacon used in their famous Bacon Bread is sourced locally.

The daily lunch special immediately caught my eye. Who could resist Schnitzel & Spaetzle with salad, your choice of soup and dessert for $15.  We loaded up with some yummy cinnamon rolls and a huge piece of apple strudel (only $5) to enjoy at home. 

The Bakery and restaurant is part of a larger space that includes a mini marketplace with locally grown/made fresh foods and food products. 

  The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

Last Word

From Calgary (or even Edmonton or Red Deer) you could easily combine a trip to the Torrington Gopher Museum and Olds to create a kickback, fun rural day trip. We did and we plan to do it again - perhaps on a Thursday so we can check out the Olds Farmer’s Market, hit the museum and and maybe even play a round a of golf at Olds Golf and Country Club. 

But most likely we will visit again on Victoria Day when Torrington has its longstanding annual community-wide yard sale.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

Nanton: Bomber Museum 

Torrington: The Kitsch Capital of Alberta

We’re Going to Medicine Hat

 

Torrington: Kitsch Capital of Alberta

Finally! We made the trek to the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. And, we weren’t disappointed. 

For years, friends have been saying this quirky museum would be right up our alley.  The museum has attracted lots of media attention - including Huffpost calling it “Alberta’s Most Insane Hilarious Destination” to Calgary’s Avenue Magazine proclaiming, “You must see it to believe it.”

  Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

  Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Summer Only!

And, we weren’t disappointed.  Since 1996, this grassroots museum has been attracting 6,000+ visitors every summer (it is only open from June 1st to September 30th, when the gophers go into hibernation). 

Arriving shortly after it opens at 10 am on a recent Saturday, we were the first to arrive, but by the time we left, there were several visitors and a motorcycle caravan was expected later in the day as part of a scavenger hunt. 

So popular with visitors, a great unofficial website guide to the museum was created by fans as a tribute.  Very professional and comprehensive, the website has lots of fun information. I loved the “Meet The Team” link.

Link: Gopher Hole Museum

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Gopher Hole Museum 101

The museum is located in Torrington, Alberta on Highway 27 just 15 minutes east of the QEW II highway, about an hour’s drive north of Calgary. 

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Housed in an unassuming, cottage-like former house just off of Main Street, it is not an iconic building designed by a star international architect as we have become accustomed to in big city museums. 

Murals on the west side of the building let you know you have found it.  You can park right next to the museum at no charge. Try that in the big city.

Speaking of cost, the museum admission fee is $2 for adults and 50 cents for children under 14. How good it that?

  Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

  This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

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Very Welcoming!

  Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Once inside, the friendliest person we have encountered at the front desk of a public museum or art gallery in a long, long time welcomed us.  

Dianne Kurta, the museum’s curator since it first opened in 1996, greeted us. She seems as proud and enthusiastic today as if the museum had just opened.

After a hearty welcome, you are free to explore the single exhibition room that houses the 47 dioramas with 77 mounted gophers.

They look like old box televisions, with the innards replaced by miniature scenes from early 20th century rural life in a small Alberta town, the “twist” being the humans are represented by (real!) stuffed gophers. 

The result is hilarious; there is a clever tongue-in-cheek sensibility to each of the scenes. 

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  This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale.  

This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale. 

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Gift Shopping!

Local artist Shelley Barkman who lives on a farm west of Three Hills painted the murals for each of the dioramas.  She had become well known in the community for her work painting animal portraits as well as farm scenes.  When asked if she was interested in painting the murals for the Gopher Hole Museum, she jumped at the chance. Working inside a box was a bit more challenging that painting scenes of the flat surface of a canvas but she was up for the challenge. And she did a great job!

You will probably spend 20 to 30 minutes looking at the dioramas, depending on how many photos you take and there is lots of documentation on the history of the museum to read as well.

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Like all good museums, you exit (you also enter) through the gift shop which is full of a wide variety of souvenirs, hand crafted by the volunteers. It has the feel of a good old-time church bazaar.

No mass-produced, made in China junk that ends up in garage sales here! They even have their own postcards.

Whether you buy or not, make sure you vote on your favourite diorama and also make sure your town or city has been identified with a pin on the world map hanging on the wall.  This is truly an international tourist attraction.    

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Kitschy Fire Hydrants?

As you leave the museum, you are invited to tour (an easy walk) the town to check out the 12 kitschy fire hydrants, all painted to look like a gopher, each with a name and story. 

Grab a copy of the Torrington Tourism Action Society’s map to guide the way.  You can easily spend another 20 minutes or so wandering the town, taking selfies with the likes of Butch, Gramps, Tubby and Peggy Sue and reading their life stories. 

You will also pass by the huge Clem T. GoFur statue at the entrance to town – great family selfie opportunity.

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  Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Why A Gopher Museum?

The museum idea was in response to the decline of the small agricultural towns in the late 20th century, as large-scale agricultural farms gobbled up the 100-year old family farms across Prairies, including Torrington.

Many once thriving small towns with a post office, school and a few stores became almost ghost towns.  In Torrington’s case, it couldn’t compete with larger towns nearby – Olds, Trochu and Three Hills. Soon, the gophers began to take over the town and local folklore says a town council member suggested, “we should stuff them and put them on display.” 

While the museum and fire hydrants are fun, there is a sadness that permeates the town as you enter and wander the hamlet of about 200 people. Many homes lack a pride of ownership and there are only a few businesses left. Gone are the school, post office, general store, bank and other businesses you would expect in a bustling community.

Like lots of towns and cities, down and out on their luck Torrington looked to tourism to rescue a declining economy.  (Perhaps the most famous example being Bilbao, Spain who hired Frank Gehry, a famous international architect to create an iconic art gallery for them. It captured the world’s imagination and today, what was a dying city is a mega tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, Bilbao is the exception not the rule.)

  Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Last Word

After 21 years, the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum is still going strong, but as you wander around the hamlet you have to wonder about its long-term future. Will anyone have the same passion for the museum as Kurta? While she has endless optimism and pride in the town, will there be a next generation to carry the gopher torch?

I really hope so. The world needs more kitschy fun that everybody can enjoy!

  Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery.