Calgary: Back Alley Envy?

One of the buzzwords in urban design these days is “back alleys” or “back lanes. For some, it is about laneway housing, for others, it is the animation of back alleys with murals, cafes and shops as a means of creating a unique urban experience.

Never liking to be left out of any new urban design trends, it was not surprising Calgary hosted a Backyard Alley Party on 17th Avenue SW, the last two September weekends.

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The Red Thread

Will Craig, Senior Associate with Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning, invited me to join him on a sneak-a-peek walkabout of the back alleys on the north side of 17th Avenue SW just before the first Backyard Alley party weekend.  I was shocked to find over 100 empty parking stalls on a late Friday morning just before lunch hour.  Furthermore, I was surprised at how peaceful it was without any traffic. 

However, seeing all the everyday clutter of that alleys with industrial-sized garbage bins, fences, poles and barriers, it was hard to imagine the alley could be turned into a fun people place for patios, games, vendors and movies.  But that is exactly what happened!

On the first Saturday, I was amazed by the amazing transformation of the back alley with artificial turf over most of the asphalt and the addition of picnic tables, bars and BBQs and various equipment for games. There was even a red line painted down the middle (aka red carpet), nicknamed “The Red Thread.” 

However, being a sunny Saturday afternoon, the alley on the north side of 17th Ave SW was in shade while the sidewalk (front yard) was beaming in sunlight.  So, not surprisingly, the back alley yard party was very quiet while the street patios were full of patrons. I understand the back alley animation picked up when the sun went down.

FYI: Craig actually spent some time in Melbourne, studying how that city adapted its alleys for commercial uses and upon returning to Calgary, was keen to pilot something in Calgary.  The 17th Avenue Backyard Alley Party was an experiment and will be tested a few more times as 17th Avenue SW businesses temporarily lose their sidewalk access due to construction. Lessons learned will help identify other City Centre alley experiments that might eventually lead to permanent commercial uses.

  The back alley behind the Ship & Anchor on a normal day. 

The back alley behind the Ship & Anchor on a normal day. 

  The Ship & Anchor back alley parking lot converted into s fun picnic games space. 

The Ship & Anchor back alley parking lot converted into s fun picnic games space. 

  Ship & Ancho's 17th Avenue street patio on the same day as the back alley party. 

Ship & Ancho's 17th Avenue street patio on the same day as the back alley party. 

Melbourne’s Laneways

City Centre back alleys and laneways in Calgary (and most North American cities) are often seen as seedy places where illicit things happen, deliveries take place and garbage and recycling bins sit.  The same is not true outside North America - Melbourne’s City Centre has become a popular tourist attraction because of the fun things to see and do in their back alleys, called laneways.

Australian Tourism’s website describes Melbourne’s hidden laneways as, “ Today you can escape Melbourne's modern-day traffic in these charming backstreets. Let the aroma of good coffee and gourmet outlets tempt you to Degraves Street and Centre Place. Stop in at housewares stores along each. There's more great café culture along Crossley Street, as well as stylish boutiques and small, popular lunch places.”

It doesn’t stop there. “Check out the funky boutiques and flagship stores clustered around Little Collins Street. Hunt down a piece by a local fashion designer in Manchester or Flinders Lane, where the city's rag trade began. For true retail elegance, visit the heritage-listed Royal and Block Arcades, with their mosaic-tiled floors and opulent finishings.”

Melbourne's laneways have also become spaces for artistic expression. “See colourful, constantly-changing graffiti murals in Hosier Lane and along Union Lane. Cocker Alley features the work of graffiti artist Banksy.”

After reading this, it was all I could do to resist immediately booking a flight.

 Melbourne lane way animation. 

Melbourne lane way animation. 

  Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Calgary Back Alley Experiments

Perhaps Calgary’s best back alley hot spot was in the historic Grain Exchange Building where in the ‘80s, the basement Beat Niq jazz club (later it became Wino’s and now vacant) was a popular nightspot. With the entrance from the alley on the south side of Stephen Avenue, it had just the right amount of seediness that you would expect of a New York City back alley jazz club - especially with the Pic Niq restaurant upstairs. 

Metrovino opened in 1996 (and is still open) as part of the redevelopment of a common Beltline warehouse building in the middle of the 700 block of 11th Avenue SW (once known as the Design District). The building included Metovino, The Cookbook Company, Paul Kuhn Art Gallery, a restaurant (currently Decadent Brulee) and offices (CityScope Magazine, now Avenue Magazine and Sturgess Architecture).  It predates the East Village’s mixed-use Simmons Building by 20 years and was a private entrepreneurial enterprise.

  Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Though you can access Metrovino from 11th Avenue SW by walking through the Cookbook Company store, the front door actually is in the alley at the back of the now metal-cladded industrial-looking building.  Most days owner Richard Harvey’s bike sits in the alley on what was once a loading dock, magnifying the urbanity of the alley.

  Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream is yet another success story, opening up in 2012 in an unused space at the back of an Engineering Office at the end of 10th Avenue SE in Victoria Park.  Talk about off the beaten path!  However, it has been so successful, two new locations have since opened – one in Britannia and the other in Marda Loop.

Then recently, I stumbled upon Art of Vintage - in the back alley of a small non-descript commercial building at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 29th Street SW in - of all places - Killarney. It is an intimate space full of curated Western Canadian artifacts – some for sale, some for rent (yes, you can rent them for your next theme dinner party).

I believe it is exactly the kind of place you would find in a Melbourne laneway.

  Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

As is The Brewer's Apprentice a new craft beer store in East village that is located in the alley between N3 condo and St. Louis Hotel.  In fact the entrance of the N3 condo is in the alley so the entire building could be considered laneway housing.  

  It is easy to miss the entrance to the Brewer's Apprentice in East Village. 

It is easy to miss the entrance to the Brewer's Apprentice in East Village. 

Last Word

Calgary has experimented with some back alley establishments over the years, but all have been “one-off” initiatives.  What is needed is a comprehensive back alley plan that would create a critical mass of things to see (murals) and do (cafés, bistros, boutiques) that create a unique urban experience and make living in our City Centre more attractive. 

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on October 28, 2017 titled "Back Alley Envy: City Life In The Lane." 

If you like this blog, you might like these links:

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

Is Calgary Really Ready For Urban Living?

Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

 

FFQing in Nashville: From Cupcakes to Stanley Cup?

This fun photo romp around Nashville is meant to give you a quick introduction to what we saw and recently experienced both on and off the beaten path in Nashville. Future blogs will look at Nashville unique sense of place in more detail.  This is just a teaser!

  Yes, in Nashville you can purchase cupcakes from a vintage ATM machine.

Yes, in Nashville you can purchase cupcakes from a vintage ATM machine.

  Forget hood ornaments, in Nashville you need roof ornaments like this one.

Forget hood ornaments, in Nashville you need roof ornaments like this one.

  I couldn't resist Holler & Dash's biscuit with peanut butter mousse, bacon, popcorn, bananas and maple syrup. 

I couldn't resist Holler & Dash's biscuit with peanut butter mousse, bacon, popcorn, bananas and maple syrup. 

  Found this sculpture made entirely of crayons, the gallery was full of fun, colourful crayon sculpture

Found this sculpture made entirely of crayons, the gallery was full of fun, colourful crayon sculpture

  This little girl's Dad convinced me to get the cherry dipped cone - big mistake, the sprinkles cone was the way to go. 

This little girl's Dad convinced me to get the cherry dipped cone - big mistake, the sprinkles cone was the way to go. 

  Nashville has some quirky mailboxes in its established neighbourhoods.

Nashville has some quirky mailboxes in its established neighbourhoods.

  Can paying for parking be a happy experience? 

Can paying for parking be a happy experience? 

 Vintage is always fun! Pre to Post Modern store on 8th Ave was too much fun!

Vintage is always fun! Pre to Post Modern store on 8th Ave was too much fun!

  The last thing I was expecting when I went into the Savant vintage store on 12 South was this stuffed wild boar.  There was also an albino deer, caribou, skunk and bear.

The last thing I was expecting when I went into the Savant vintage store on 12 South was this stuffed wild boar.  There was also an albino deer, caribou, skunk and bear.

  Stix  is 70’ tall and made of 27 wooden poles. The poles are spaced in an irregular pattern throughout the surface area of the roundabout and the verticality of the poles varies between 0º - 15º from the center axis. The poles are made of red cedar and are painted in stripes of various heights in four different colors: red, orange, light blue, dark blue, and light green. Fifteen up-lights are embedded into the landscaping to light up the sculpture at night, which results in a vibrant display of color, light and shadow.  What is fun to me is that the artist Christian Moeller proposed a very similar piece for the Crowfoot LRT Station.  I was my first choice but I was over ruled by the other jury members who liked "Roger That."     Link:  "Roger That" says 12 year old Matt about public art

Stix is 70’ tall and made of 27 wooden poles. The poles are spaced in an irregular pattern throughout the surface area of the roundabout and the verticality of the poles varies between 0º - 15º from the center axis. The poles are made of red cedar and are painted in stripes of various heights in four different colors: red, orange, light blue, dark blue, and light green. Fifteen up-lights are embedded into the landscaping to light up the sculpture at night, which results in a vibrant display of color, light and shadow.

What is fun to me is that the artist Christian Moeller proposed a very similar piece for the Crowfoot LRT Station.  I was my first choice but I was over ruled by the other jury members who liked "Roger That." 

Link: "Roger That" says 12 year old Matt about public art

  Gotta love quirky signage. 

Gotta love quirky signage. 

  The GooGoo Cluster is an American candy bar created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company in Nashville. The original disk-shaped candy bar contained marshmellow, nougat, carmel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate.  And, yes it was marketed as nourishing lunch treat. 

The GooGoo Cluster is an American candy bar created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company in Nashville. The original disk-shaped candy bar contained marshmellow, nougat, carmel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate.  And, yes it was marketed as nourishing lunch treat. 

  While flaneuring Belmont University campus we decided to check out the Art School when we encountered two students hauling out stacks of artworks to their car.  We asked what they were doing and were told recycling the canvases and stretchers for reuse.  We asked if we could have a look and eventually purchased these two.   

While flaneuring Belmont University campus we decided to check out the Art School when we encountered two students hauling out stacks of artworks to their car.  We asked what they were doing and were told recycling the canvases and stretchers for reuse.  We asked if we could have a look and eventually purchased these two.  

 This was Brenda's choice.

This was Brenda's choice.

After purchasing our new artwork we immediately stumbled upon a noon hour steel drum concert that also featured a dancer.  It all took place in a lovely plaza with a canopy of trees that filtered the light in a magical manner. 

  The Eskimo Brothers were having just too much fun at Layla's on Lower Broadway.

The Eskimo Brothers were having just too much fun at Layla's on Lower Broadway.

  Not sure what these gadgets are, found them in a guitar store...but they struck me as fun, funky and quirky aliens.

Not sure what these gadgets are, found them in a guitar store...but they struck me as fun, funky and quirky aliens.

  8th Ave S is Nashville's Antique vintage district, lots of good ffqing here.

8th Ave S is Nashville's Antique vintage district, lots of good ffqing here.

  In fact I found this juxtaposition of Christ and Superman in the Tennessee Antique Mall - very quirky. 

In fact I found this juxtaposition of Christ and Superman in the Tennessee Antique Mall - very quirky. 

  I loved that the theme of the children's library in the Nashville's Central Library was Nashville's iconic architecture. 

I loved that the theme of the children's library in the Nashville's Central Library was Nashville's iconic architecture. 

  One of many interesting artworks found in 21c Museum Hotel which was hosting a very thought provoking exhibition titled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show."  This exhibition would be appropriate for any major contemporary art museum, to have it hosted in a hotel was very quirky to me.

One of many interesting artworks found in 21c Museum Hotel which was hosting a very thought provoking exhibition titled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show."  This exhibition would be appropriate for any major contemporary art museum, to have it hosted in a hotel was very quirky to me.

  Quirky front yard art?

Quirky front yard art?

  Quirky artwork found in the Union Station Hotel lobby. 

Quirky artwork found in the Union Station Hotel lobby. 

  Found this baby doll buried in a huge bin of shoes at the local Goodwill Store.  Seemed quirky to me?

Found this baby doll buried in a huge bin of shoes at the local Goodwill Store.  Seemed quirky to me?

  Fun little park incorporates folk art figures with bike rim sun screen. 

Fun little park incorporates folk art figures with bike rim sun screen. 

  You can hear them before you see them. These party bikes are popular with the dozens of bachelorette parties that invade downtown Nashville every weekend.  

You can hear them before you see them. These party bikes are popular with the dozens of bachelorette parties that invade downtown Nashville every weekend.  

  What were they thinking?

What were they thinking?

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  I expected to see lots of different guitars in Nashville, but never expected anything like this.   

I expected to see lots of different guitars in Nashville, but never expected anything like this.  

Last Word

Not sure what it is but some cities are just more fun, funky and quirky than others. I am thinking I should create criteria for a FFQ Index as another measurement of a city's vitality. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

FFQing in Montreal

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

Nelson BC: Fun, Funky, Quirky

 

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. 

Art of Vintage: A Hidden Gem!

Sometimes you just stumble upon a hidden gem! This happened to us this past Saturday when we checked out the “I Am Western” art exhibition at cSPACE in the renovated King Edward School (both the art and renovated school are outstanding).

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Off The Beaten Path 

Heading back, a lime green sign saying “Vintage Shop” with an arrow, caught our attention! I thought it rather strange given there were no retail buildings in the direction of the arrow, i.e. 23rd Ave S.W.  

With the curiosity of a tourist and the wanderlust of a flaneur, we decided to investigate.

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Who Knew?

Sure enough. At the corner of 30th Street and 23rd Avenue SW sat a small commercial building that I had never noticed (probably because I have never been down this residential street) with a sign saying “Art of Vintage” and arrow pointing to the back alley.

Who knew there are two little commercial businesses facing the back alley - one being a vintage store?  I pride myself in being in the know when it comes to funky and quirky places in Calgary, but this one had escaped me…til now.

A great display of vintage wares out front, an open door and a friendly welcome made for a great first impression. We immediately fell in love with this quaint shop (maybe 800 sq. ft.). While the place was packed with vintage artifacts, the pieces were beautifully curated and displayed in lovely vignettes. It had a definite museum/art gallery feel to it without being highbrow.  We also loved that all the items had clearly marked prices, which could be easily seen even on items on the top shelves.  And some of the price tags even had “rent me” prices (think movie props, weddings, dinner/cocktail parties).

We also liked the variety of items. If you are interested in vintage suitcases, this is the place for you.  There were also some lovely vintage typewriters, radios and clocks too.  One of the most interesting pieces was a 1880s medicine glass kit consisting of two small beakers (a shot glass-size one and a tiny cylinder one) in a leather case – very cool.   

I personally liked that they had lots of “manly things,” from old baseball gloves to pipes.

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Saskatchewan Connection

Soon we were chatting with Lori Oliphant, Co-owner/Master Picker of the store (the other Co-owner is sister Heather who was combining at the family farm in Saskatchewan). This Saskatchewan connection was evident with the vintage Saskatchewan licence plates and we quickly realized this was a key source of artifacts. 

Lori told us they have been open since the beginning of 2017.  How had I not heard?

She also introduced us to Andrew Holmes, the go-to guy responsible for all of the lovely vignettes. It turns out he has professional window display experience with plans to create a wonderful window display for those wandering the back alley. 

That could be an interesting night walk!

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Last Word

Andrew promised to let us know when the window display is up and also to invite us to one of his vintage tea parties using many of the treasures in the shop and hosted in private homes. That would be very fun.  I hope they serve Lapsang Souchong tea!

For a fun, off-the-beaten-path place to go, we highly recommend “Art of Vintage.” Whether you’re in the market for an interesting piece of furniture, a unique collectable from your past, or an unusual gift for a friend, you may just find it here.  Link: Art of Vintage

It is now on our list of “hidden gem” places to visit regularly.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Louche Millieu: Catalyst for SCSC revitalization?

Calgary: A few hidden gems!

Turner Valley Gas Plant: A Hidden Gem

Sunday Night R&R

One of the things we love to do on nice summer Sunday night (not sure why even in retirement we are still fixated on the Sunday night as the end of the weekend) is to head to another inner city community and flaneur its streets and alleys. 

  Loved these colourful front yard birdhouses.

Loved these colourful front yard birdhouses.

Why do we choose Calgary’s inner city communities? To us they are all in an interesting transition period - new infill homes (some spectacular, some “not so much”) mixed with charming (sometimes tired) older homes. 

We also love the urban surprises that we almost always encounter - could be sculpture on the front lawn, a lovely front garden or a century old vegetable garden in the backyard or maybe a porch swing, a unique door or a folk art mailbox. 

You never know what you might find when you flaneur an older community.

R&R????

Our most recent Sunday night R&R took us to the two of Calgary’s oldest communities – Roxboro (est. 1923) and Rideau Park (est. 1911).  However, you would be hard pressed to find many homes from that period still standing today.  Two of the wealthiest communities in Calgary, most of the homes have been replaced by mega modern mansions – some look like boutique hotels, others are just plain tacky - IMHO. 

  New vs Old

New vs Old

Highlight Of The Night

On this 2-hour Sunday night flaneur we were hoping to find some interesting gardens that might inspire us with new ideas for our own garden.  What we found was little is the way of new or different plants or landscaping ideas. We didn’t even see any real exotic planters, which you might expect in an upscale community. I am guessing these communities’ conservative politics extends to its garden design sensibility.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the lack of people anywhere – it was like a ghost town.   

Yes, for the most part we were disappointed by the gardens - except for one in Rideau Park.  It was truly spectacular; there was a dead blossom to be deadheaded or a weed anywhere in the grass. It was truly immaculate.

It was amazing.  We have never seen anything like it in Calgary or any other city for that matter. Located at the corner of Rideau Road and 33 Ave SW. It was the highlight of the night as they say on TSN.

Here are some postcards from our restful and relaxing Sunday Night flaneur of Roxboro & Rideau Park. Yes there were a few surprises and fun finds. 

Hope you enjoy.

  This little guy was very friendly and allowed me to get very close and never did fly away. 

This little guy was very friendly and allowed me to get very close and never did fly away. 

  This was not a pink flamingo....

This was not a pink flamingo....

  Two door knockers?

Two door knockers?

  Folk art fun...

Folk art fun...

  Dirty laundry?

Dirty laundry?

  Every picture tells a story????

Every picture tells a story????

  How fun is this?

How fun is this?

  Designer mail boxes?

Designer mail boxes?

Highlight Of The Night

  Could this really be Calgary?

Could this really be Calgary?

 Did I say immaculate?

Did I say immaculate?

  Dare I say it again?

Dare I say it again?

  No sidewalk, no problem.

No sidewalk, no problem.

  Enchanted pathways?

Enchanted pathways?

  Perfect hostas

Perfect hostas

Past Perspectives 

  How welcoming is this?

How welcoming is this?

  Is it just me or does yellow just shout out "cheerfulness." 

Is it just me or does yellow just shout out "cheerfulness." 

  A few charmers from the past.

A few charmers from the past.

 Fredric Sara brought scouting to Calgary. The Sara Scout Hall built in 1927, was heavily damaged in the 2013 flood, but has been restored. Link: History of Sara Scout Hall 

Fredric Sara brought scouting to Calgary. The Sara Scout Hall built in 1927, was heavily damaged in the 2013 flood, but has been restored. Link: History of Sara Scout Hall 

Street Trees

  Calgary's older communities have some amazing trees. It hard to realize that 100 years ago these communities where part of the treeless prairies. 

Calgary's older communities have some amazing trees. It hard to realize that 100 years ago these communities where part of the treeless prairies. 

  You can't see the house for the trees.

You can't see the house for the trees.

  The perfect grass on this boulevard looked almost artificial. 

The perfect grass on this boulevard looked almost artificial. 

Reflections

  Window Reflection I

Window Reflection I

  Window Reflection II

Window Reflection II

  Mission bridge (1915) over the Elbow River

Mission bridge (1915) over the Elbow River

  Reflections from setting sun on the Elbow River

Reflections from setting sun on the Elbow River

  Even young adults love their funny rafts.

Even young adults love their funny rafts.

  Calgarians sure do love their rivers.

Calgarians sure do love their rivers.

  Found this old photo of the Elbow Boulevard Park along the Elbow River on the edge of Rideau Park. This is almost the same spot as the photo above. 

Found this old photo of the Elbow Boulevard Park along the Elbow River on the edge of Rideau Park. This is almost the same spot as the photo above. 

  The Oarsman by Robert Spaith.

The Oarsman by Robert Spaith.

Last Word

Next time you are feeling like going for a walk, or want a change of scenery, try exploring a community in your city that you have never explored on haven't explored recently.  It is like a mini-vacation. 

Looking for more information on Calgary's history and guided walks checkout this link to:  Chinook Country Historical Society Calgary Historic Week happens the first week of August each year.  It includes some very interesting guided walks and talks.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Banff Trail Postcards

Forensic LRT Station Walks 

Garden Flaneuring: Try It, You Might Like It

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Why are birdhouses called “birdhouses?” Think about it. The birds don’t live there year-round, or even all summer in our climate? In fact they only use them as nesting sites. Hence, the correct term should be “Nest Boxes.”  I learned about this recently when I was “schooled” on the science of birdhouse (whoops, nest box) building.

  My new nest box hanging in the studio.

My new nest box hanging in the studio.

Back Story

Shortly after posting my blog “White House Garden: Up Close & Personal,” I got an email from Cecila Gossen, an avid “Everyday Tourist” reader and visual artist who not only noticed from the photos that I was missing a signature nest box in my garden, but offered to give me one of hers. She was obviously not impressed with my three-storey backyard one that is literally falling apart. 

We arranged for me to drop by her studio, located in the funky Burns Visual Arts Society building in Ramsay. Not only did we catch up on what was happening with her art (a future blog) and at the BVAS (the oldest artist's cooperative in Canada), but I was schooled on the rationale for calling her funky folk art inspired birdhouses“nest boxes” and all of the dos and don’ts of building and positioning them.

I was doing it all wrong.  It was the stuff of a horror movie, given sparrows yearly use ours.

  Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

  Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.   

Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.  

Nest Boxes 101

  • My birdhouse was in full sun, which would bake the young babies. It should be in the shade, ideally hung from a tree. 
  • I had only cleaned the house once in probably 20 years. You are supposed to clean it out every year.  If you don’t, fleas invade and eat the young. 
  • You should have an open area under the roof to allow for air to circulate. Mine didn’t have that.
  • The floor should also have some open space to allow water to drain out.  “Oops” again.
  • You also shouldn’t have a perch under the entrance hole as it allows other birds and squirrels to perch there and snatch the babies.  Mine did. Who knew?
  • If you don’t get any birds to nest in your box after two years, I was told to move it to a new location.
  Label that accompanies each nest box.

Label that accompanies each nest box.

Back Back Story

Turns out it all started after Gossen entered the Calgary Herald's "For The Birds" birdhouse contest in 1995. While she didn't win her friend and fellow University of Calgary art student Linda Hodgin saw the popularity of the contest and potential to make some money.  So too did the owner of Nichrista House and Garden shops and soon they were flooded with requests for funky nest boxes. They named their business ICARUS who, in Greek mythology, was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus.  It became so successful that it paid for tuition and parking for both of them. That’s entrepreneurship!

Today, she knows the measurements by heart. Each box has 14 parts, and they used to make 30 at a time, which meant 420 pieces had to be cut, painted and left out to dry before assembling.  Today, she makes six at a time as it takes almost as much time to make six as to make one.

Gossen still makes a few nest boxes each year and donates them to fundraisers.  Funny thing – the bidding always stops at $120 she says regardless of what the charity is.  Her nest boxes can be found as far away as Virginia, Florida and London, England.

My New Nest Box

My colourful and cheerful new “nest box” is now proudly hanging from a tree in our front garden (actually it is on the neighbour’s tree) where it can be enjoyed by all the children being dropped off and picked up at the Honeybee Daycare across the street, as well as our four young neighbours.  FYI, is sent Gossen, a photo of her nest box it in the garden and she approved its location.

I wonder how long it will take the neighbour kids to discover it.  Will I get any nesters this year?  And yes, I promise to clean it out in the fall and every fall, if I get tenants.

I also wonder if the nest box qualifies as public art, as it was created by an artist, is a unique design and has been installed in a public space?

Last Word

As for my old nest box, I am in a quandary. A family of sparrows (the second this season) is still using it.  Do I take it down, clean it out and retrofit it now, to meet the new “nest box code” or wait until the fall? I can’t imagine what it is like in there in 30+ degrees temperatures.  Or, should I simply retire this nest box after this year?   

Stay tuned….

  My death trap nest box.

My death trap nest box.

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BVSA: Still Burning

The Art Of Gardening

Garden Flaneuring: Try It! You Might Like It?

Colourful Calgary Stampede Postcards

Yahoooooo! Its Stampede time in Calgareeeeee!

These postcards have been curated to document the Calgary Stampede's sense of place and pageantry.  They are meant to show the Stampede is more than the rodeo, chuckwagons and pancake breakfasts. Rather it is a unique Calgary cultural statement that includes a multitude of music, dance, arts and crafts programming.  While the Stampede doesn't appeal to everyone, nor should it, it does appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

They are also curated to document Stampede Park is indeed a park with a river running around it and various pathways, green spaces and plazas.   Enjoy....

 The sky is the limit....

The sky is the limit....

  Not everybody at Stampede is doing the two-step. 

Not everybody at Stampede is doing the two-step. 

  Stampede Park is home to one of the best and most unique children's playgrounds in Canada. Link:    Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

Stampede Park is home to one of the best and most unique children's playgrounds in Canada. Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

  You can never have enough stuffies. 

You can never have enough stuffies. 

  Wish you were here.....

Wish you were here.....

  Not everybody at Stampede wears a cowboy hat!

Not everybody at Stampede wears a cowboy hat!

  Fashion fun is everywhere at Stampede. 

Fashion fun is everywhere at Stampede. 

  You can get up close and personal with the animals.

You can get up close and personal with the animals.

  There is a rare history lesson in the parade of posters (100+) along the elevated concourse (+15) from the LRT Station to Saddledome. It is fun to look at how the Stampede has evolved over the years and the famous people who have performed.  Link:      Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

There is a rare history lesson in the parade of posters (100+) along the elevated concourse (+15) from the LRT Station to Saddledome. It is fun to look at how the Stampede has evolved over the years and the famous people who have performed. Link: Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

  Stampede Corral built in 1950 may not last until 2020 as the Stampede has plans to tear it down to make way for an expanded BMO Trade Show & Convention Centre.  Inside is a modest sport museum that is not to be missed.    Link:  Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Stampede Corral built in 1950 may not last until 2020 as the Stampede has plans to tear it down to make way for an expanded BMO Trade Show & Convention Centre.  Inside is a modest sport museum that is not to be missed. Link: Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

  Calgary Canadians?????

Calgary Canadians?????

  The Calgary Stampede has a distinct sense of place, history and pageantry. 

The Calgary Stampede has a distinct sense of place, history and pageantry. 

  These symbols represent the Five Nations who signed Treaty 7 on 22 September 1877: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee).  Link:  Stampede's Iconic Entrance

These symbols represent the Five Nations who signed Treaty 7 on 22 September 1877: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee). Link: Stampede's Iconic Entrance

  Just one of the many murals that grace the walls of several Stampede Park buildings. (link: Calgary Stampede Public Art)

Just one of the many murals that grace the walls of several Stampede Park buildings. (link: Calgary Stampede Public Art)

  This is suppose to be fun right??????

This is suppose to be fun right??????

  Stampede foot fun...

Stampede foot fun...

  Does it get more colourful than this?

Does it get more colourful than this?

  Stampede still life...

Stampede still life...

  The judges gave this budding cowboy a 7.6

The judges gave this budding cowboy a 7.6

 Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!

  Stampede is more than just mini donuts...

Stampede is more than just mini donuts...

  I never miss getting my $2 milk & cookies.   

I never miss getting my $2 milk & cookies.  

  Pageantry preparation...

Pageantry preparation...

  Form meets function...

Form meets function...

  Contemporary western art showcase...

Contemporary western art showcase...

 While it may be crowded around the midway, there are quiet spots like this at the edge of the Stampede Park. 

While it may be crowded around the midway, there are quiet spots like this at the edge of the Stampede Park. 

  Yes Stampede Park is indeed a park at Stampede time.

Yes Stampede Park is indeed a park at Stampede time.

Last Word

I have taken thousands of photos while flaneuring Stampede Park over the past six years.  I pride myself in finding the strange, the absurd and the everyday as I wander streets, parks and festival sites around the world.  The Stampede is truly a one-of-a-kind community festival.  It combines an agricultural fair, with a music festival, contemporary art show, midway, musical grandstand show, rodeo and horse racing. 

For those of you who have attended the Stampede many times I hope this will give you different perspective on the "Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" and for those who have never been, I hope it will motivate you to add it to your bucket list.

If you like this blog, you might enjoy:

Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

Jeff de Boer: Art with beauty and meaning

 

White House Garden: Up Close & Personal

In celebration of the end of spring, I thought I would do a blog about the White House's spring garden.

I love spring time. It is not only the beginning of another golf season, but also the beginning of the gardening season.  I love watching the snow melting and the perennials struggling to come to life.  

Also it is when the days get longer...

One of the things I love to do in the spring is grab my morning coffee and wander the White House garden and see what has changed over night. Yes, sometimes it seems that while I am sleeping mother nature is at work.  

I also love saying Hi! to the kids who are being dropped of a the Honey Bee Daycare across the street.

It might only be 10 or 15 minutes, but it is a lovely way to start the day....

The White House garden is not that big as we live on a 30 by 120 foot lot, so most of the space is taken up by the house and the garage.  

However, the neighbours have been very generous and allowed us to let our garden grow onto their property.  You could say we are invasive gardeners.

So we have a front garden that spans three homes, a patio garden in the back yard and the secret garden between two garages.

The garden is also not very diverse as Calgary's climate is limiting in what will grow here.  

But even so, springtime brings some brilliant colours, beautiful shapes and strange juxtapositions.  

Mother Nature is the best artist!

I also love taking photos of the garden and then manipulating them into artworks.  

I am always amazed and surprise when I take close up photos and then magnify  them even more what interesting forms and colours come to life.  It is like a different world.

Back Story: Perhaps my interest in magnification is a result of many years as a university biology student looking down a microscope.   

Painting vs Photography

I love the softness that happens as the focus of the photographs begin to breakdown and the foreground and backgrounds blends. I see parallels with the art of Claude Monet, Lauren Harris,  Georgia O'Keeffe  and Emily Carr or any of the Fauvists.  I often wonder what kind of art they would produce in the 21st century, given new technologies.  

Would they still be painters?

I also think of Calgary photographer Neil Zeller and his stunning sky photographs, especially the northern lights and wonder what he might create if he was to turn his attention to gardens. 

Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful

I thought I would share some of these up close and personal images from the White House garden and get your feedback.  I hope you enjoy this exhibition titled "Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful" from the White House garden and have a great summer....

 

Elysian

 Mysterious 

Mysterious 

 Eerie

Eerie

 Plume

Plume

 Lavish

Lavish

 Emerging 

Emerging 

 Crinkle 

Crinkle 

 Reaching 

Reaching 

 Chroma

Chroma

 Nebula

Nebula

 Dichotomy

Dichotomy

 Celestial 

Celestial 

 Voluptuous 

Voluptuous 

 Purity 

Purity 

 Passion

Passion

 Ethereal 

Ethereal 

 Tinge

Tinge

 Bleeding

Bleeding

 Ruche

Ruche

 Emerging

Emerging

 Mystic 

Mystic 

 Enchanted

Enchanted

Last Word

After posting this blog, I had a request for a photo of the White House Garden.

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst!

When asked by visitors, “what is there to do on a Sunday in Calgary?” I often suggest a walkabout in Calgary’s tony Hillhurst community.  

  All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

Established in 1914, Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and still has a small town atmosphere with quaint cottage homes mingling with new infill homes with a few mid-rise condos thrown into the mix. As well, it boasts two Main Streets – 10th Street NW and Kensington Road – both lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.

But what I love about wandering Hillhurst are the things that are a bit off the beaten path – up the hill, across the park and down 5th Avenue NW.

  The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

  Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Hillhurst Flea Market (13th Street and 5th Avenue NW)

Early birds can check out the Hillhurst Flea Market, which opens every Sunday between 7am, (but doesn’t really get bustling until about 9 am) and 2 pm.  Located in the Hillhurst Community Association building, vendors fill two gymnasiums, the small food court and even spill outside in the summer. 

Like any good flea market, you will find a hodgepodge of things to see, touch and potentially take home.  It is mostly smaller household items, records, books and collectables that are easy for tourists to pack in your suitcase. There is a good chance you might find a piece of authentic Calgary memorabilia as a unique souvenir of your visit.

Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes 

  One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

 A flea market collage. 

A flea market collage. 

Riley Park / Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Just east of the flea market is the lovely Riley Park with its popular summer wading pool.  It is also home to one of Canada’s oldest (1908) cricket pitches in the middle of the park, don’t be surprised if there is a game going on or some guys practising.  And on the east side, sits a small garden with benches for contemplation while just and then just up the 10th Street hill is the Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden.

The rock gardens were created in the 1950s and named after Senator Patrick Burns who was a successful businessman (Burns Foods), rancher, politician and philanthropist. He was one of the four investors in Calgary’s first Stampede.  The gardens incorporate over 20,000 pieces of fieldstone taken from his 18-room mansion that was across the street from Memorial Park (4th St SW and 13th Avenue) when it was torn down.

Plan for 30 to 45 minutes to wander the park and gardens, unless you decide to watch some cricket.

  The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

  Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

  You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

  An oasis in the middle of the city.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

SAIT Campus

  Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

It is a bit of a hike up the hill to SAIT Campus, but you are amply rewarded with spectacular views of Calgary’s stunning skyline.

The SAIT campus itself has a wonderful mix of old and new architecture.  The signature building, Heritage Hall completed in 1922, is an excellent example of the Collegiate Gothic architecture - twin towers with parapet, gothic arches and gargoyle stonework. (FYI: The twin towers of this building are repeated in both the Stan Grad Centre and Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre.) If you can get inside, check out the stairwell with its collection of vintage murals and the terrazzo flooring. 

The Johson-Cobbe Energy Centre, with its goblet-like entrance, is perhaps one of the most futuristic looks of any building in Calgary.  Not to be outdone next door is the Aldred Trades and Technology Complex with its massive wavy roof and glass façade.

  SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

Speaking of glass, seek out the entrance to the SAIT Parkade (Vancouver’s Bing Tom Architects and Calgary’s Marshall Tittemore Architects) with its intersecting acute triangular glass shapes that seem to be taking off like a futuristic plane.

In reality, the glass “sculpture” functions as a huge sunroof, allowing sunlight into the parkade. This unique parkade even has a playing field on top and the façades on the east and south sides are an incredible work of art (modern mural) by Vancouver artist Roderick Quinn. 

Backstory: The parkade’s metal façade, with its thousands of holes resembling opened tabs of a beer can, each strategically punched, create a giant (560 feet long for the east wall and 260 feet for the south wall) landscape artwork titled "The Ombrae Sky" inspired by the dramatic prairie clouds and skies. The “functional artwork” not only changes throughout the day with the changing light, but also allows natural light into the parkade.  

Give yourself at least an hour to tour the campus. Bring a camera as it is very photogenic.  Link: SAIT Campus Map

  SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

Kensington Village

Just south of Riley Park and Burns Rock Gardens is Kensington Village, one of Calgary’s best pedestrian-oriented streets with shops, restaurants and cafes along 10th Avenue and Kensington Road. It is home to two of Calgary’s oldest cafes - Higher Ground and The Roasterie if you want to experience Calgary’s café culture.

It also home to Calgary’s signature art house cinema, The Plaza. While it isn’t an architectural gem, the place has lots of charm and a great schedule of movies.  I totally recommend a Sunday matinee.

Right beside The Plaza is Pages, perhaps Calgary’s best independent bookseller with a great selection of books on Calgary’s history and by Calgary authors. 

  Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

  Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Food For Thought

Kensington offers a wide spectrum of cuisines from a Ramen Bar to classic Italian. Here are a few recommendations.

  • Best Brunch: Vero Bistro Moderne
  • Best Pizza: Pulcinella
  • Best Burger: Flipp’n Burgers
  • Best Patio: Container Bar
  • Best Pub: Oak Tree Tavern
  • Best Takeout: Chicken On The Way (a Calgary icon)
  Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Street Art

It ‘s also worth a visit to Calgary’s grittier side – the alley behind the shops on the east side of 10th Street. It’s numerous street artworks combine to create a fun outdoor art gallery.  Don’t miss the most ambitious piece under the patio deck of the Oak Tree Tavern, near where Kensington Road meets 10th Street NW.

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.17.13 AM.png
  Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Streets of Hillhurst

Fun can also be had by wandering the residential streets of Hillhurst and its sister community Sunnyside (east of 10th Street), where you can still find quaint 75+ year old cottage homes, side-by-side with contemporary two storey infills.

FYI: Calgary might just be the “Infill Capital” of North America.  Each year hundreds of older 20th century inner-city homes are replaced by modern single-family and duplex homes.  In some cases the 50-foot lots are divided into two lots for the new houses, in other cases the 600 square foot cottage homes are replaced by 2,500+ square foot mini-mansions. Either way, the new infill homes help to revitalize Calgary’s inner city communities, as they are very attractive to young families.

Too me, the interesting juxtaposition of old and new, reminds us of just how much urban living has evolved over the past century.  

  Tiny, tony cottage home.

Tiny, tony cottage home.

  Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Where to Stay:

For visitors looking for a recommendation on where to stay or perhaps Calgarians wanting a romantic weekend, I recommend The Kensington Riverside Inn with its luxury rooms with fireplaces, patios or balconies that overlook the Bow River and views of the Calgary’s stunning downtown skyline. Homemade cookies are served all day and Callebaut chocolates are part of the turndown service. 

It is also home to the Oxbow restaurant serving up a creative menu with things like rhubarb ice cream-topped shortcake and duck wings with crushed cashews and Saskatoon berries along with a carefully curated wine list. It is no wonder this boutique inn has the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation.

Last Word

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities, each with their own distinct charm and character. One of the things I love about Calgary is that we all live in “small towns of 5,000 to 15,000 people.”  It truly is a big city with small town charm.   

Calgary: Everyday Stills (May 2017)

If every picture tells a story, what do thousands of photos say?  I thought it might be fun to share 31 street photos (out of the over 1,000 taken this month) i.e. one for each day from the past month. All of the photos were taken during everyday activities in Calgary and they are not in any particular order. 

Too add another dimension to the blog, I thought I'd play a little word association for the caption for each piece.  I'd love it if you'd play along and send me your word association for each photo and I will add them to the blog captions.  

Here we go....

   uplifting. smiling.

uplifting. smiling.

   billowing. shadowing.

billowing. shadowing.

   patina. bronzes.

patina. bronzes.

   wrinkles. cracks.

wrinkles. cracks.

   feet. waiting.

feet. waiting.

   telephone. red.

telephone. red.

   floating. peaceful.

floating. peaceful.

   swan. floating.

swan. floating.

   head. technology. 

head. technology. 

   landing. steel.

landing. steel.

 eye. clouds.

eye. clouds.

   perspective. boxes. 

perspective. boxes. 

   twins. heritage.

twins. heritage.

   trap. fedora. 

trap. fedora. 

   mom. searching. 

mom. searching. 

   build. island.

build. island.

   follow. listening. 

follow. listening. 

   impromptu. squares. 

impromptu. squares. 

   hidden. wheel.

hidden. wheel.

   pieces. manifest.

pieces. manifest.

   queen. collage.

queen. collage.

 crossing. blues.

crossing. blues.

   Klee. cubism. 

Klee. cubism. 

   journey. path.

journey. path.

   under. buildings. 

under. buildings. 

   flaneur. meander. 

flaneur. meander. 

   innocence. fun.

innocence. fun.

   vanishing. journey. 

vanishing. journey. 

   challenge. night.

challenge. night.

   oasis. tranquility. 

oasis. tranquility. 

   beauty. heaven.

beauty. heaven.

The Art Of Gardening

For many Canadians, the May long weekend is when you can safely plant your favourite frost-sensitive annuals in pots and the garden.   And like many Canadians, I am always guilty of trying to push this deadline. How can you resist when you see those cheerful pansies smiling at you as you enter and leave almost every store - from Costco to Canadian Tire – starting in early May, even late April.

For the past few weeks, I have been flaneuring my garden photos from last year and also photographing the perennial flowers as they begin to burst into colour in my garden.

It is my rite of spring. 

Fun With Union

I have also been using the Union app on my phone to create vibrant colour collages. You just choose two or more photos and almost instantaneously a new image magically appears.  You can then manipulate the image to fit you personal aesthetics. I can do this for hours, just to see what happens.  Yes, you could say I am addicted to colour. 

As a former visual artist and art gallery curator, I thought it would be fun to organize an exhibition of my new garden artworks and share it with you.

Feel free to have fun with the images - crop them, enlarge them - play with them. 

I have also been experimenting combining flower images with public art....here are a few examples....

I hope you found these artworks as fun to look at as I had in creating them.

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Berlin: Humana Thrift Store Gone Wild?

One of the best ways to find off-the-beaten path gems in a new city is to visit thrift stores, as they are often located in up-and-coming communities.  When we heard Berlin has a five floor thrift department store we had to go. 

I wasn't disappointed. Brenda was!

Upon walking in you immediately encountered a wonderful hat display, yes Berlin is the "City of Hats." But what was even more impressive was the circular staircase with artwork along the wall.  

A bit Guggenheimish!

Also on the main floor were some huge vintage ceiling light fixtures, like nothing I have ever seen. A very elegant use of fluorescent tubes. Those Germans are so clever when it comes to simple designs.

More Mannequins

The first impression was this is definitely like a department store as the racks were well organized and there were fun vignettes every where, as well as some exquisite miniature mannequins. Boy once this guy gets on a theme it is hard for him to let go.

There were also some fun vintage posters - too bad they weren't for sale.

However, the piece de la resistance was the vintage clothing floor at the top. It was a definitely a walk back in time.  Maybe not a walk everyone wants to take. Some of us might want to forget the tacky, wacky clothing we use to wear. The mannequin displays were very strange indeed. 

Brenda Struck Out

After being all excited to visit the mega thrift department store, Brenda went home empty handed.  While the store was clean, well stocked and well organized, the prices were much the same, or higher than at home. There were no bargains to be had. 

I did manage to find some fun wooden children's toys that I will add to my collection - all for 1 Euro. 

Oh yes, the thrift store is called Humana, and is at the Frankfurter Tor station. It is part of the Oxfam charity shops and there are several outlets in Berlin.  

Stalin Architecture

Across the street are twin mega horizontal office blocks built in the Stalinist style according to the plans of Hermann Henselmann, in 1953 and 1956. On one level, they evoke a sense of intimidation, power, and authority, while on another level they serve as a gateway into the city. The two sentinel-like domed towers looking down on the street further add to sense of intimidation and being watched. 

Who Knew?

Just down the street from Humana we lucked out to find the Cafe Tasso bookstore. I loved the outside book bins that enhance the pedestrian experience and frame the patio.  Inside is a charming cafe with more books.  As we had our lunch we couldn't believe the number of people coming and going buying books.  

We decided to checked out the small room of books next to the cafe and while everything was well organized there were no prices. Strange?  When we asked we were told all books were 1.5 Euros.  Then when I went to the washroom I discovered the bookstore continued in the back and downstairs.  It was wonderful rabbit warren of treasures.  Who knew? I wish I could read German as there were some good bargains.  

Oh how I miss McNally Robinson Bookstore and Bistro on Stephen Avenue. Every pedestrian district needs a good bookstore cafe. 

Last Word

If you are into vintage, especially vintage clothing you have to go to Berlin, it is the "vintage capital of the world."

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Berlin: City of Hats?

Upon arriving in Berlin one of the first things I noticed was there seemed to be a lot of hat boutiques, more than I recall seeing in other cities. I saw them not only along the main pedestrian streets, but also on off-the-beaten-path ones and at flea markets.  

They seemed to be everywhere.

Even though I don't wear hats, unless you include a golf visor, I do love them.  Especially the vintage ones that my grandmother use to wear that are like precious works of art designed to sit on a woman's head.

Then I hit the motherlode of hat shops - Fiona Bennett.  We were just aimlessly flaneuring back to the Kurfustten Train Station along Potsdamer Str. when I was stopped in my tracks by the amazing windows of the Fiona -  a hand-made hat store.

I had my camera out faster than you can say "so many hats and only one head." FYI. I borrowed that line from her website.

The windows were like mini-exhibitions with the hats as the works of art. As I moved from window to window I discovered that one of the windows allowed you to look into the studio where they make the hats.  I also loved the dozens of hat forms all piled up along the window - like wooden skulls.

Fiona's was a great ending to a fun day of flaneuring.  For background information on Bennett click here: Fiona Bennett: A Hat Is The Icing On The Cake

I hope you like this photo essay: Flaneuring at Fiona's

Fiona, Berlin

Last Word

And if this isn't enough to convince you that Berlin is truly the city of hats, how about the fact that their walk and don't walk traffic figures have hats. And not only that, the figures have a name Ampelmann and have become such a hit with the tourists there are three Ampelmann boutique stores. 

Postdamer Gallery District 

Fiona is part of the Postdamer Gallery District (see map below).  We visited several galleries during the day but Fiona was far and away the best. 

If you find yourself in Berlin, be sure to drop by Fiona's and perhaps order yourself a custom hat - Postdamer Str. 181-83, open Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm.  More information at: Fiona

Berlin: Boxhagener Flea Market Fashion Show

I was shocked when I learned Berlin's motto is "we are poor, but sexy!" But after a few days flaneuring the city, it is starting to make sense to me. It is a city of grit and glitz.  While there is lots of upscale shopping we love the fact the city is full of flea markets on the weekends, making it very attractive to those of us who love the "thrill of the hunt."  

 You never know who you might meet at a flea market.

You never know who you might meet at a flea market.

One Weekend Four Markets

On our first weekend in Berlin, we hit four flea markets and each was very different. The Marheineke Platz Flea Market on Saturday was great, the RAW flohmarket in an abandon railway repair yard was more interesting because of the site, which looked like it had been bombed and the Hallen flohmarket is a huge warehouse packed with junk from floor to ceiling.  

However, the market with the best "poor to sexy" cultural statement was the Boxhagener Platz Flea Market.  After only a few minutes I quickly realized this wasn't your typical flea market as many of the shoppers were dressed very fashionably - no wonder the New York Times recommended it a few years back. 

  Yes there was also some fun artifacts to be found at the market. 

Yes there was also some fun artifacts to be found at the market. 

Hommage to Bill

I have long toyed with the idea of doing a blog in the style of the famous New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who died at the age of 87, in 2016 (Link: NYT Remembering Bill Cunningham).  

Each week Cunningham would produce a full page collage of curated photos of the fashions he saw New Yorkers wearing on the street. He was often credited with identifying new fashion trends before anyone else.  I will not pretend I am a fashionista, but I do love the flair they add to street life.

So her is my Cunningham inspired curated collages and some stills of Berlin's Boxhagener Platz fashionistas. 

 And yes Brenda did find a buried treasure, this 1940s made in Germany scale to add to her collection of scales.  She has also found two others so far.

And yes Brenda did find a buried treasure, this 1940s made in Germany scale to add to her collection of scales.  She has also found two others so far.

Last Word

Now that you have scanned the images go back and have another look not just at the fashions but also at the narratives. As they say, "every picture tells a story." Or as they said in the 1950s Naked City TV show "There are eight million stories in this naked city; this has been one of them."

In the case of Berlin that would be 3.5 million stories; these are just a few.

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Calgary: Mannequins As Public Art?

On a cold Sunday afternoon I decided to go "chinooking," i.e. flaneuring at Calgary's Chinook Mall (Calgary's largest and one Canada's top malls, home to Nordstrom and soon Saks Fifth Avenue).  

I have to admit it had been years since I have been to the Chinook, but as I had an hour before my Apple store  "iPhone Photography" workshop (how to take stunning photos), I thought why not give my new iPhone7+ a workout.  

As soon as I walked in I was immediately reminded how much I love store windows as fun, funky and sometime provocative art installations.  I was also reminded how surrealistic-looking mannequins are used to make eerie and strange narratives. 

It never ceases to amaze me, what you see when you look closely at the windows. 

Then the light bulb went on - why not do a photo essay focusing on mannequins and womannequins!  So I did....

Womannequins?

Last Word

As I flaneured the mall, from hallway to hallway, from window to window; it was very much like being in a large public art gallery wandering from gallery to gallery. 

While I realize a shopping mall is not a public space, it felt like the mannequins were the equivalent of public statues and installations a form of public art. They were free for everyone to see as part of their everyday experience as much as downtown's Family of Man, Conversation, Famous Five or Wonderland.  

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