Urban Villages: Calgary defeats Nashville

Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in North America today - construction cranes are everywhere.  Yet Calgary, even in a recession, could easily give it a run for its money when it comes to creating urban villages.  Calgary's East Village blows Nashville's Gulch away as a model 21st century urban community. 

In fact, Calgary's diversity of urban villages surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has to offer. 

Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

The Gulch's Main Street. 

The Gulch's Main Street. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

The Gulch vs East Village 

The Gulch, a LEED Certified community just southwest of Nashville’s downtown, is their most developed urban village with hotels, numerous condos (1,500 homes to date), office buildings, restaurants, clubs and a small urban grocery store.  However, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s East Village.  It lacks the parks, public spaces, natural setting along a river, transit links and the density of development that makes East Village so special.

The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

East Nashville vs Inglewood 

Many consider East Nashville to be the City’s coolest neighbourhood with its bohemian vibe, including numerous old houses converted to record stores, pizza parlours, guitar and vintage shops.  However, the restaurants, shops and clubs are chaotically – there is no real Main Street.  Also East Nashville is cut off from downtown - not only by the river but by the huge NISSAN Stadium surrounded by surface parking lots. 

Calgary’s Inglewood with its historic Main Street, various music venues, Esker Foundation Art Gallery, Recordland, Crown Surplus store and indie shops, is every bit as is cool as East Nashville.

East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Other Urban Villages

Sandwiched between Vanderbilt and Belmont University is the three-block long 21st Ave S Village. This community has much the same feel as Calgary’s Kensington Village. It even has a historic arthouse cinema - the two-screen Belcourt Theatre. What it lacks though is Kensington’s grocery store, drug store, walkability to downtown and transit connections.

Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

12 South is Nashville’s upscale pedestrian area that is perhaps best known for being home to Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James shop.  Indeed it is bustling street with lots of restaurants, cafes and women’s fashion boutiques.

But look a little closer and you’ll see it doesn’t provide the necessities of urban living - grocery store, drug store and professional offices. 

Calgary’s equivalent would be Britannia with its lovely plaza street that does have a grocery store and other everyday amenities that are required to create a walkable community or Mission/Roxboro.

We lived in an Airbnb for 7 days in the 12 South District and our biggest frustration was that it was a 20-minute walk (often without sidewalks) in the other direction to a grocery store. There was no bakery where we could buy bread, bagels or buns (we were disappointed to find out the Five Daughters Bakery was just a donut shop). While I could buy some craft beer, there was no liquor store.  Not even a convenience store where you could get some milk, beer and wine.  We were very surprised to find there was no live music venue along 12 South, although there was a guitar and drum shop.

We found nothing in Nashville has nothing to match the urban lifestyle that Calgary’s Beltline and Mission communities offer, nor did we find any budding new urban villages like Bridgeland/Riverside or Marda Loop.

All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue   is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's Urban Villages

If you haven't guessed already, an urban village has a mix of uses - retail, restaurants, recreation, cafes, pubs, live music venues, galleries, theatres, cinemas, bookstores, grocers, drug stores, financial and medical services all within a few blocks.  It also includes a mix of housing types - single family, duplex/triplex, row housing and multi-family (mid and hi-rises).  They often have one or more employment centres - office, government, school and hospital. Urban Villages are pedestrian oriented often with a Main Street as the meeting place for residents.  

Calgary boasts the following urban villages in various stages of evolution:

Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

City Center

  • Beltline
  • Mission
  • Chinatown
  • East Village
  • Kensington
  • Bridgeland/Riverside
  • Eau Claire/West End

Inner City

Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

  • Marda Loop 
  • Britannia
  • Currie (under construction)
  • University District (under construction)
  • University City/Brentwood

Suburbs

  • Quarry Park
  • West District
  • SETON 

 

Lessons Learned:

I left Nashville with a much better appreciation of the importance of creating long contiguous pedestrian streets like 17th Avenue SW or 4th Street SW as part of urban villages. 

I think Calgary is on the right path with its Main Street program which is looking at ways to foster more pedestrian oriented everyday shopping/services streets throughout the city. 

My Nashville experience also gave me a better appreciation of the importance of providing the "necessities" of everyday living rather than “just the niceties” when it comes to fostering urban villages.  

Thirdly, I have a better appreciation for just how well Calgary is doing in fostering the development of new and existing urban villages. 

Yes, Calgary's collection of urban villages at various stages of development surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has. 

Currie   is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

Currie is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

University District   a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

University District a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

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

Calgary 24 Main Streets?

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth 

Marda Loop Madness

 

 

 

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?  

Downtown Calgary: The Elephant In The Room?

While everyone seems to be in shock that Calgary's downtown office vacancy rate its 25%  our downtown still has more occupied office space than Vancouver, Portland or Austin. Cities with vibrant downtowns.  

Do we need to panic? Should we offer incentives for companies to move to Calgary? That is the elephant in the room....

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

SWEET DEALS

In 2001, Chicago got Boeing to move its head office from Seattle with a sweet deal - $60 million in tax breaks and incentives. In 2015, General Electric moves its head office from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston thanks to a whooping $145 million in incentives.

There's a general acknowledgement that tax incentives work. That they are a key tool for getting major corporations to bring business to town. But Calgary hasn't used this economic siren song to lure new business.

Is it time we did? Should we offer huge tax incentives to lure Amazon to downtown Calgary? Do drastic times call for drastic measures?

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

Look downtown and you'll see a whopping 10 million square feet of vacant office space.

It's hard to wrap your head around those kind of numbers, but it's the equivalent of 5,000 empty single-family suburban homes, or 10,000 condos, or about seven Chinook Centres.  Yikes.

Now traditionally, Calgary’s oil and gas sector has absorbed an average of 500,000 square feet of office space per year. So, even when (or if ) we get back to the old normal, it could take well over a decade to fill up the existing vacancy.

That being said, I remember planners and politicians in the mid ‘90s saying, that Calgary had so overbuilt, there would never would never be another new office building built in downtown Calgary again.  They were wrong.  We've added over a dozen new towers since then.

Clearly, we aren’t very good at predicting the future.  

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.     Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.

Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS

Over the past year, Calgary Economic Development has hosted numerous Real Estate Advisory Group meetings involving Calgary’s most experienced property owners, managers, leasing professionals and city staff. But where have these meeting got us. 

R. Scott Hutcheson, Executive Chair of the Board of Aspen Properties (which owns several downtown towers, including The Edison aka rebranded Pan Canadian building) is emphatic that “we need both Notley and Nenshi at the table, everybody needs to be working together.”  He adds, “a lot of work has already been done analyzing the situation and looking at many different strategies. We have looked at various case studies like converting office building to residential, but it doesn’t work without some sort of incentives.” 

While he and other downtown building owners won’t say it publically, it is going to take some drastically different thinking (i.e. incentives) to fill up 10,000 million square feet of office space.  

The Alberta government has a poor track record of “meddling” in the economy – failures include MagCan (a magnesium plant), Canadian Commercial Bank, Gainers (a meatpacking plant) and NovaTel (the cellular subsidiary of Alberta Government Telephones). 

In 2005, the City of Edmonton lured Dell to set up a call centre (that would create 1,000 jobs) with a 20-year agreement to waive property taxes, a concession worth $1.1 million over the first five years. The company closed the call centre and left 2008.  

One has to wonder just how wise it is to provide huge incentives to win the Amazon Sweepstakes.

Trevor Tombe, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, “cautions governments against using scarce public dollars to try and attract individual businesses. Such incentives distort economic activity, lower our productivity and require tax dollars be levied elsewhere to pay for them. Cities are also particularly ill-equipped to lean against business cycles. We would be better served to focus on neutral policies that improve the city overall: ensuring taxes are competitive, ease zoning rules, and maintaining a highly livable city to attract young and skilled workers.” 

He points to the paper “Head Office Location: Implications for Canada” by Head and Ries at Saunder School of Business, University of British Columbia commissioned by the Government of Canada’s Competitive Policy Review Panel in 2008, where they concluded, “While it may be appealing to offer inducements to attract head offices, there is no compelling case for promotional policies. Subsidies are likely to be counter-productive, since they can be subject to misallocation based on lobbying and they are likely to serve mostly to attract away headquarters from one Canadian city to another Canadian city.”

Link: Calgary Economic Development Report: Calgary's Economy In Depth

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

DOWNTOWN’S FUTURE

What happens if the oil & gas sector doesn’t come back, how do we back fill 10+ million square feet of office space.  Could downtown Calgary become an “innovation district?”  

Yes, the new buzz term in city-building and economic development is “innovation district” but there is no recipe on how to create one. Most happen organically rather than by design.  Usually, two or more synergistic businesses that are on the cusp of new technology locate near each and become huge successes, so others flock to be near them hoping the success will rub off.  

Could downtown Calgary become a green energy innovation district?  Could Calgary attract major Canadian and international solar and wind energy research companies to locate downtown. In fact, Suncor has operated six wind farms since 2002? Alberta and Calgary is rich in solar and wind power opportunities - could this be our downtown’s future.

A hundred years ago, the Robin Hood Flour Mills dominated the downtown skyline where Gulf Canada Square now stands. Perhaps it isn’t too far fetched to think that in the future the names of our downtown office towers might be Alberta Wind Energy Company or the Calgary Solar Power Corp.  

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Last Word

Do we let downtown Calgary evolve naturally based on market demand and entrepreneurial forces? Or do we try to manipulate the office market by providing incentives for select businesses like Amazon?

That is the elephant in the room...

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

Office-To-Residential Conversions: Won't Save Calgary's Downtown

The BIG IDEA that arose from the City of Calgary’s “Downtown Economic Summit” this past March was the need to convert some of our downtown’s vacant office space into residential. Doing so would help create a more vibrant downtown in evenings and weekends when it tends to become a ghost town when the 150,000 downtown office workers leave.

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

Feasibility?

This idea is not new. In the early ‘90s (also a time when Calgary’s downtown office vacancies were very high), Paul Maas, an architect and urban planner at the City of Calgary championed the idea that Calgary’s downtown core needed more residential development.  He advocated for residential above the shops in the historic buildings along Stephen Avenue. He also thought old office buildings would make for ideal conversions to residential. His ideas fell on deaf ears, partly because at that time, there was no market for residential development in the core or surrounding \ communities.  

The Calgary Downtown Association even had an architect on staff for a time, researching the feasibility of office conversions to residential.  His conclusion - conversions were too costly, complex and there was no market for residential in the core.

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Have Times Changed?

Fast forward to today. There has been an incredible renaissance in urban living, not only in Calgary but in major cities across North America for more than a decade now.  Today, new residential buildings are routinely under construction in the communities surrounding our downtown - West Downtown, Eau Claire, East Village, Bridgeland/Riverside, Inglewood, Victoria Park, Beltline, Mission and Hillhurst. 

But in the downtown core itself (9th to 4th Ave SW and 8th St SW to Centre Street), there has only been two buildings with any residential component built since the ‘90s - Germain hotel, office, condo project and the TELUS Sky, currently under construction.

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Office Conversions Are Difficult

Over the years, numerous studies have documented the difficulties of office-to-residential conversions - building code issues, costs, lack of market and parking requirements being the key ones.

To get a current picture of the feasibility of office conversion in Calgary, I spoke with decided with Bruce McKenzie, Vice President, Business Development, NORR Calgary office as they have probably designed more urban residential buildings in Calgary than any other architectural firm.

He was quick to agree - office conversions face many challenges including:

  • Inability to control construction costs due to unforeseen extras (renovation / code extras).
  • Lack of parking means most likely these properties will remain rental (and probably should as people aren’t apt to take the risk of an old building and the potential future condo fee escalations).
  • Mechanical systems are totally unusable from office to condo/rental so a total gut job is usually needed.
  • Never able to achieve National Energy Code of Canada for buildings’ envelop requirements.
  • Floor plate sizes are too deep to create usable residential space at appropriate scale i.e. smaller units, which are typically what the market wants in conversion buildings.

That being said, NORR Calgary is currently doing several conversion studies, with one downtown Calgary project in working drawings.

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Criteria For Conversion

I also connected with Strategic Group who owns a number of older buildings in downtown Calgary and are doing an office-to-residential conversion of the Harley Court building in downtown Edmonton.

COO Randy Ferguson, indicates his firm is a big proponent of conversion when certain criteria are met: 

  1. Design efficiency.  (Note: Not as many office buildings are designed in a way that facilitate repurposing as many people would think – side core; offset core; odd rectangular buildings; oversized floor plates all drive inefficiency and quickly are eliminated as they can’t meet this requirement. Also must be able to accommodate built-in amenities - rooftop terrace, fitness, community space.)
  2. Location. Must have urban living amenities nearby - grocery, street life, churches, arts facilities, sports facilities, cool restaurants, bars and shopping
  3. Near major employment districts
  4. Close proximity to high speed public transportation
  5. Walkable 24/7 streets
  6. Rental demand in the neighbourhood
  7. A mix of architectural expression and affordability in the neighbourhood
Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.   

Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.  

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

  1. Inefficiency of design
  2. Zoning
  3. Lack of demand for residential

Ferguson says Strategic Group “is currently studying the assets they own in Calgary to ascertain which may be appropriate for conversion and whether or not office or residential are the highest and best use” adding “some office buildings are too successful to convert.”

When asked how the City of Calgary could foster more office conversions his response is plain and clear - “We believe the call to action is not to provide incentives, rather to facilitate the approval process by expediting matters such as zoning, permitting and plans examination. This would outweigh any incentive a municipality is at liberty to provide.”

Recently, while surfing Twitter, I learned Winnipeg-based Artis REIT has proposed the redevelopment of Calgary’s Sierra Place (7th Ave and 5th St SW) office building to residential. Zeidler BKDI architects have recently submitted a development permit on their behalf, proposing to convert the ten-storey, 92,000 square foot building into a 72-suite residential building. 

Obviously, while converting old office buildings to residential is difficult, it is not impossible.  

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

Calgary’s downtown office space vacancy problem is not with its older buildings, but rather with its tall shiny new buildings.  Some quick math shows older office buildings (C Class) make up only 6% of the total downtown office space (or about 2.3 million square feet) of which 630,000 square feet is vacant.  The conversion of three or four older office buildings will not solve our downtown office vacancy problem.

On the other hand, Class A and AA office space (newer buildings, best location, best amenities) make up 72% of the total downtown office space.  Currently, there is about 7 million square feet of vacant A and AA space (or about 65% of the total current vacant space – becoming higher with the completion of Brookfield Place and TELUS Sky).   The reality is Class A or AA office buildings are not good candidates for conversions from both a design perspective and location, as well the owners (pension funds) have deep pockets and for them the best return on their investment is still as offices. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Last Word

Also let’s not forget a healthy downtown needs older office buildings. They offer the cheaper rent and funky character spaces that are often very attractive to start-up business, i.e. the exact businesses we want to attract downtown to help diversify the economic base.

Today’s start-up in a tired older office building could be tomorrow’s Amazon, which by the way, has created a funky, new multi-new building campus (9 million square feet in all) in downtown Seattle, for its 25,000+ employees.  

Office-to-residential conversions will not save our downtown!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on September 30, 2017.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Calgary's CBD is unique?

All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

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. 

2026 Winter Olympics Bid: Insights From Holmes & Parker

I received two very informative emails in response to the blog Calgary 2026 Olympics: To Bid or Not To Bid?” from two, very respected and knowledge able Calgarians.

Parker’s Insights…

The first was from Richard Parker, former Head of the City of Calgary’s Planning Department from 1988 to 2003. He wrote:

“I enjoyed your article on the Olympic Bid but I think you missed two very important points.

We won the 1988 Games in September 1981. The boom was still going strong although signs of trouble were beginning to appear. As I used to say we won the bid in a construction boom but built it in a bust, hence coming in under budget on a number of construction projects. (Everyday Tourist’s Note: Let’s hope our current bust doesn’t last until 2026.)

Also, the 1988 Olympics were the last time the local Organizing Committee got the TV revenues. I may not have the figures correct but the order of magnitude is right - we budgeted to get around $200 million and got that from outside the USA and got over $350 million for the US rights.

Our timing was perfect; we put out the bid just after Los Angeles, often referred to as the first true TV Olympics.”

Parker also cc’d his email to me to Bob Holmes who was on the Board, the Executive Committee, and the Finance Committee of the Calgary Olympic Organizing Committee (OCO’88).  

Holmes’ Insights….

Holmes confirmed the US TV rights were sold for $309M in 1983, far and away the largest ever for a winter games. And shared additional insights:

“The US Men’s Olympic Hockey team won gold in Lake Placid in 1980. It was referred to as the “Miracle on Ice.” This heightened the interest in the US TV rights for the Calgary games, as did the fact Calgary was in a “good time zone” for US TV.

The next Winter Olympics after Lake Placid were in Sarajevo, located in a much less desirable time zone for live broadcast back to North America, thus making the 1988 Calgary Olympics the first real opportunity for US television networks to capitalize on the “Miracle on Ice.”

In fact, the bidding for the US TV rights to the Calgary games was deliberately – and strategically - conducted in 1983 before Sarajevo. The timing of the bidding, the memory of Lake Placid, Calgary’s time zone, as well as the US hockey games being strategically placed on the schedule for the US audience, all led to very high bids by all three US networks for Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics.

Los Angeles in 1984 set a new standard for corporate sponsorships, and the revenue derived from this source, as well as TV rights. Their sponsorship program was at an international as well as national level, attracting worldwide corporations like Coca Cola and Visa to pay millions for the rights. Calgary benefitted greatly from this. By contrast, Lake Placid in 1980 had the official potato chip sponsor, and dozens of other small categories, generating small revenues.

After the financial success of Los Angeles and Calgary, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the cost sharing formula between the Host City/Organizing Committee’s share and IOC. The IOC also took over both the TV rights and worldwide sponsorship program and gave a share of these revenues to the host city/organizing committee.

More recently, there has been a shortage of bidding cities - many have considered but backed out because of cost and uncertainty of revenues. Sochi is mentioned as an example of this although I think the costs in Sochi were driven as much by the Russian government as the IOC. The IOC is apparently concerned about the lack of interest and has recently said it was going to streamline the bidding process and also take steps to reduce the costs of staging the games.

It is absolutely critical that before any bid takes place, Calgary understands as much as possible how the IOC intends to streamline the bidding process and staging of the games as well as what will be the total revenue projections and how they will be shared.   

As well, before any bidding decision is made, Calgary must determine the cost/benefits of the infrastructure legacy opportunities. How much would Calgary benefit from having a new, state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena, a new convention centre (media centre for Olympics) and renovated or replaced McMahon Stadium for opening ceremonies paid for by all three levels of government and corporate sponsorships that we would never be able to access without the Olympics? As well, maybe an LRT link to the Airport and/or to Canmore and Banff could be added bonuses.

Nor should we underestimate the value of the publicity and civic pride benefits that comes with an international event like the Olympics. 

Last Word

“Indeed, the world has changed since 1988, but it is too soon to dismiss the idea of the hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics. I commend the City for taking the time to do their due diligence before deciding ‘Yes or No’ to what could be a great opportunity to kick-start the next phase in Calgary’s evolution as a city,” says Holmes. 

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CalgaryNEXT: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future

Given 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, I think every Canadian should read a book about Canada – past, present or future. This idea occurred to me when I recently found the book “Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future” in a Montreal thrift store. 

Inside back cover artwork

True confession

I admit I was originally attracted to the book by its lovely coloured reproduction of historical paintings of Canada.  Then I became more intrigued when I noticed the author was none other than Stephen Leacock.  I had always thought of him as humourist, never as a historian.

Upon closer look, it turns out the book is “a private and limited edition” copy published by The House of Seagram in MCMXLI (yes, they used Roman numerals in the old days). 

Ironically, the 1941 publishing date is almost exactly in the middle of Canada’s history, i.e. 76 years from today and 74 years from Confederation.  

Painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

painting by Frederick H. Varley, A.R.C.A., Vancouver, B.C. 1941

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Better Perspective

Written in a reader-friendly manner (not even once did I fall asleep), the book is a wealth of information. For this baby boomer, it brings back memories of what I learned (forgot) about Canadian history decades ago in history classes at school.  It was so much different reading Leacock’s stories now having since visited every province in Canada and one territory, as well as internationally. Consequently, a much broader perspective of Canada and the world, enables me to understand and appreciate the history of our country.

The older I get, the more interested I am in history. Funny how that is.

Charles W. Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto, Ont., 1941

Lessons Learned

painting by Charles W Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto., 1941

What is amazing is how relevant the book is to the plethora of issues facing Canada today – First Nations poverty, Arctic Sovereignty, Immigration Policy, Natural Resources, Climate Change, Religious Persecution, Economic Change, Booms & Busts and Technological Change.

It was interesting to re-read the history of arctic exploration, specifically the search for the Northwest Passage in the context of today’s climate change.  A hundred years ago, the shrinking of the polar ice caps would have been good news.  It also made me wonder about Canada’s claim to arctic sovereignty given we have so little settlement there.

I now have a much greater appreciation for the longstanding and entrenched French vs. English duality of Canada, which is still influences Canada politically, culturally and economically even today.

painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Leacock’s stories about the violence and injustices between the early settlers and First Nations.  Having lived next to and worked on the Siksika Reserve near Gleichen Alberta in the early ‘80s, I now have a hands-on appreciation of both sides. Indeed, one of Canada biggest issues today has to be the well-being of our First Nations people.  I wish I had answers!  

I was also reminded of the everyday hardships faced by early Canadian settlers – a far cry from the comforts and conveniences of our everyday lives today.  How easily we forget!  We really should focus more on being grateful than griping.

Then there is a reminder of the important role immigrants (mostly poor) played in shaping the identity and development of Canada since Day One.  Immigration issues are still top of mind today.   In 1913, a whopping 400,870 new immigrants came to Canada, which then had population of 7.5 million. Leacock states, “There were more foreign-language newspapers in the Canadian West than anywhere else in the world.  Immigrants were exchanging European poverty for a new chance…we have to remember that their energy and industry and their new patriotism towards their new home played a large part in the making of our Western Dominion.”

Perhaps the biggest enlightenment was how our attitude towards nature and the exploitation of natural resources has changed over the past 150 years.  Leacock constantly references the importance of exploiting our natural resources as the key to Canada’s future.  It is amazing how that attitude has changed. 

It was interesting to also be reminded how Canada’s economy has evolved from one of fur trading, to fishing, to forestry and then mining. There was no mention of oil and gas.

Oh, how much the world has changed and yet how it is still the same.

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Samuel Bronfman’s Preface

“It is no magic fiat which achieves this: it is the people of Canada who have made and are making Canada. The coureur de bois; the merchant-adventurer; the explorer; the colonist; the homesteader; all who came early, wrestled with Nature; and won – these are the precursors who made our country.”

artwork by Ernest Neumann, Montreal, P.Q., 1941 

“Certainly the future decades of this century, which in the words of the late Sir Wilfred Laurier “belong to Canada,” will see Canadians zealously dedicating themselves to the further development of the boundless resources of our country, and will see, too, those resources flowing to the farthest corner of the world – a Canadian contribution to the welfare of humanity.”

Nor can we leave unmentioned the part which Canada is playing and will continue to play as intermediary between the two greatest forces for good that exist in the world to-day.  Because of our geographic location upon this continent, and our spiritual location with the Empire, we are destined – as we indeed, have already seized that destiny – to bring closer together the best of the Old World and New.

Leacock’s Libations

Canadians instinctively think more of what is still to come in their country than of what has happened in the past. People of older lands typically and commonly look back. They think of their thousands of years of history…majesty of the past.”

“The emigrant ship….was the world’s symbol of peace and progress…”

“Then came the discovery of gold and quickened the pace of life.”

“Life received a new wakefulness from the arc lamp and the electric light bulb…”

“Many came in caravans of prairie schooners – children, chattel and all.”

“Calgary was non-existent at Confederation. When the Canadian Pacific was built it was just a poor place, a few shacks. They moved it a mile or so, on ropes, rather than move the railway line.”

painting by T.M. Schintz,  High River, Alta., 1941

painting by W.J.Phillips, R.C.A., Winnipeg, Man., 1941

Last Word

I leave this to Bronfman wrote in the preface, “To encompass them the vision of the early pioneers must still be with us still, for where there is no vision, the people perish. It is the vision of a free Canada, a united Canada, a mighty Dominion…are manifested the various groups of different origins and separate creeds, working together in harmonious unison, each making its own contribution to the complete achievement which is the Canadian mosaic.” 

Does Canada have a vision today?  

It would be an interesting 2017 project for the Globe & Mail, Postmedia or Maclean’s Magazine to ask our Prime Minister, Premiers and big city mayors to independently submit their vision for Canada’s future.  It would be interesting to see how much they have in common? 

Maybe we should also ask corporate CEOs too (perhaps one from each province and territory). Why stop there - lets ask social agency, cultural and postsecondary CEOs also.

I wonder, "Is it realistic in today’s world for any democracy to work in harmonious unison?”