Palm Springs: Robolights Mash-Up!

While flaneuring Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood just east of their Design District we suddenly came upon three huge robot-looking creatures amongst the trees - one pink, one yellow and one orange. The pink robot was probably 30-feet high. Quickly the light bulb went on; this is the house with the bizarre Christmas light show I had read about. 

Peering over the bushes and the fence we could see hundreds of strange-looking creatures created out of recycled junk that looked like a surreal  mash-up of characters from Star Wars to Jurassic Park. Did a 21st century Dali or Duchamp live here?

We had to come back at night!

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Robolights 101 / Kenny's World

Basically, Robolights is a giant art installation with millions of lights and hundreds of giant creatures from various folklores and movies, as well as Christmas and cartoon characters that fill a two-acre residential lot in Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood. The work of artist Kenny Irwin Jr., it is billed as the largest, most spectacular residential light display in America, perhaps the entire world.”

What began in 1986 as a 9-year old boy’s dream has become Kenny’s altered reality (he still lives in the family house year-round surrounded by his installation).  He has built on almost every available square centimeter of the homestead – his childhood sandbox, the tennis court, the pool and the even the roof of the house. 

His first piece was a 10-foot tall wooden creature with a 1940s phone coming out of its chest.  Since then, he has continued to work on the display year-round using donated junk from friends and strangers (e.g. when a local casino was upgrading the slot machines, they donated all the electronic equipment and some old machines), as well as purchasing things on EBay.

Ironically while it is called Robolights, there are no real robots in the show and Irwin doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, having converted to Islamic many years ago.

Visitors are welcome year-round by donation, but it really comes alive from Thanksgiving to the first week of January when extra lights are added to make it more Christmassy. During this time it is open from 4 to 9:30 pm, donations are option and you can also donate a toy for children in need. 

Link:  Robolights

Robolights has captured national and international attention over the years, attracting 20,000 people last year. But, Robolights almost didn’t happen this year as the City of Palm Springs was concerned the two enormous inflatables on the roof of the house could blow off and damage houses, cars or people on the streets.

 

Somewhere in this display is the house.

Somewhere in this display is the house.

Enter at your own risk?

Enter at your own risk?

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

What we saw!

From the outside, it looks like a Christmas lightshow “gone wild” with a Santa and his reindeer along the street at the entrance made out of an assortment of recycled materials from old car parts to shopping carts. There are countless lights and the roof of the house is graced with two huge inflatables.  There are lots of people milling about but it was not crowded this Tuesday night (nor was it on the Sunday night when I popped by again).

However, upon entering the narrow passageway you quickly realized this is not an innocent Christmas show for children, but a weird, wacky and sometimes macabre art installation on a scale I have never seen before.  This art exhibition is full of fun, strange and bizarre surprises – a mash-up of Disneyland and the Stampede midway.

Many people were overheard saying, “WOW this is amazing/weird.” Another frequent comment was “Where does he get all this stuff?” Irwin estimates he had incorporated over 1,000 tons of recycled materials into the various displays.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of things for kids of all ages to see and enjoy. There are all the things you would expect in a Christmas light show - Santa Clause, reindeer, snowman, castles, candy canes, but all with a twist.

In fact we know of one family with a two and half year old who went with friends and said they all enjoyed the show for different reasons.  And there were certainly lots of families enjoying the show the night we were there.

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

Lego gone wild?

Lego gone wild?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

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Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

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Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 12.58.00 PM.png

Parents Beware

Parents be prepared to answer some difficult questions like “Why are those people sitting in toilets in shopping carts on the roller coaster?” Or “Why are those naked people painted yellow and have animal horns on their heads?”

There is Santa riding a military tank and hundreds of toilets incorporated into various artworks – what kid doesn’t like some toilet humor. Watch out for the dinosaur clutching a stuffie in its mouth. Fortunately, for the younger children they will be mesmerized by the lights, colour and everything going on to see the “devil in the details.”

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

Why?

Why?

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

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Nothing is sacred....

Nothing is sacred....

Contemporary snowwoman?

Contemporary snowwoman?

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

Last Word

In an LA Times interview in November 2015, Irwin stated  “My main intention is to provide people with immense pleasure through the work that I do. There's not really any deep meaning in my art. It's basically for the whimsy of it." He identifies four themes to his work – robots, extra-terrestrial, holidays and Islamic culture.  He has said publicly “nothing is sacred to him.”

From a curatorial perspective I loved the tension created by the juxtaposition of mythical and macabre characters. Given the number of toilets in various contexts, one can help but wonder if Irwin is a modern day Duchamp.  The monochromatic figures from recycled objects recall the sculptural work of Lousie Nevelson. Robolights is an ambitious art installation that builds on the work of the surrealist. It is a mash-up of Halloween and Christmas.

We were there for a good hour wandering the labyrinth of narrow pathways and could have stayed longer, but my camera’s battery ran out of juice. 

I would definitely go back again. 

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Goin' To The Hat!

While most Calgarians head west on the weekend, being the contrarians we tend to be, we headed east, on a recent Friday morning, with our ultimate destination being The ‘Hat (aka Medicine Hat).  Driving the back roads, we quickly wondered why we don’t do this every weekend – I could have stopped a dozen times to take photos.  

Here’s a sampling of what we discovered…

The entrance to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre is both stunning and powerful. 

The entrance to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre is both stunning and powerful. 

Medicine Hat's railway underpass is a provocative street art gallery that would be right at home in Berlin. 

Medicine Hat's railway underpass is a provocative street art gallery that would be right at home in Berlin. 

Gleichen, Alberta

We had to stop in Gleichen for old times’ sake – having lived there from 1981 to 1985. Not much has changed; it is as if time stood still – and a sad reminder of the decline of small prairie towns everywhere. 

Our house is still there, looking pretty much the same, though worse for wear. No evidence remains of the “Street Art For Gleichen” project I initiated – the murals are all faded away or painted over and the art park is now Beaupre Park with the historic water tower, a buffalo sculpture and a few picnic tables. 

Backstory: The “Street Art For Gleichen” project was just as controversial in Gleichen as Bowfort Towers is in Calgary today.  In fact, a key issue was one of the artists used indigenous motifs without any consultation with the Siksika Nation just across the tracks.  I was so naïve.

Who knew the Gleichen water tower is a national historic site? Link    National Historic Sites

Who knew the Gleichen water tower is a national historic site? Link National Historic Sites

Cluny, Alberta

We weren’t planning a stop in Cluny on our way to Blackfoot Crossing but when we saw Pete’s Bakery and the folk art junkyard across the street the car came to a screeching halt.  After ogling the extra large cookies, we chose Pete’s strudel, which we ate while wandering around the junkyard resisting the urge to grab a souvenir for our yard.

Pete's cookies and strudel - WOW 50 cents and a Loonie. How could resist?

Pete's cookies and strudel - WOW 50 cents and a Loonie. How could resist?

Soyopowahko (aka Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park)

Five minutes further south on Highway 842 from Cluny is Blackfoot Crossing (Soyopowahko means Blackfoot in their language), a designated national Heritage Site.  Its interpretive centre not only documents the complexity of the Treaty Seven (which was signed nearby), but the way of life of the Blackfoot people.  The setting is spectacular - on the edge of a cliff looking out over the Bow River Valley.

The building itself is also dramatic with its modern interpretation of a traditional tepee. Its grand entrance has a wonderful overhang that is made of several feather-shaped glass pieces forming a traditional Chief’s headdress that cast a playful and colourful shadow on the wall when the sun shines. The building was designed by Calgary's Rod Goodfellow and is full of references to traditional Blackfoot culture. Link: Blackfoot Crossing Architecture

Upon entering the exhibition area you encounter the entire Treaty Seven reproduced on large illuminated glass panels that form a huge circle in the middle of the exhibition space. (FYI. The original Treaty Seven document is currently located at Fort Calgary). The sheer length and “legalese” language make one wonder if the Chiefs could really have fully understood what they were signing.  It was sobering.

There are indeed some interesting artifacts, however the only interactive hands-on display we found was the display buttons you push and the Blackfoot word for various common words is played, then you repeat it and press “playback” to hear how close your pronunciation matches the correct one. Link: Blackfoot Dictionary 

My biggest disappointed was that photo taking was not allowed in the exhibition area. This  surprised me given most galleries and museums today allow photos without flashes. I realize some of the pieces might be sacred, but a significant free marketing opportunity is lost as people today love to take photos and post them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

We were also puzzled why the Centre is only open Monday to Friday.  With Calgary as their biggest market, you would think being open Wednesday to Sunday would make more sense.  Why not one weekend per month? We were the only ones there during our 90-minute visit. 

There is a short walking trail near the interpretive centre where you will find more interpretive panels and a high point for viewing. I also found what looked like old sweat lodges nearby. There are longer walking trails but most of the interpretive information was destroyed in the 2013 flood and have not been replaced. You can also book over night stays in a teepee.  

There is a short walking trail near the interpretive centre where you will find more interpretive panels and a high point for viewing. I also found what looked like old sweat lodges nearby. There are longer walking trails but most of the interpretive information was destroyed in the 2013 flood and have not been replaced. You can also book over night stays in a teepee.  

Saamis Tepee

Next stop - the world’s tallest tepee (20 storeys tall), originally constructed for Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics and located at McMahon Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, is now installed in Medicine Hat.  This very impressive structure is located on the edge of the Seven Persons coulee, that includes one of the best Northern Plains archaeological sites – the Saamis Archaeological Site.  It is believed 83 million artifacts are buried at the site. I have no idea how they can make this estimate. 

Backstory: The name “Medicine Hat” is the English translation of Saamis (SA-MUS), the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men.

The white ghost-like tepee with its 10 large storyboards, explains the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present.  Several large circular paintings help create an informative  outdoor museum/art gallery.  We didn’t do the self-guided walking tour of the archaeological site.  Next time.

I couldn’t help but wonder why Calgary didn’t keep the tepee as a legacy of the Olympics. It would have been a great addition to Fort Calgary, which was an important gathering place for First Nations. It could also have been installed on Nose Hill, another important First Nations site.  It would have been a spectacular site lit up at night.  Medicine Hat's win; Calgary's loss.

Bonus: Be sure to check out the Visitor Center near the tepee - they have an abundance of great information, as well as FREE bikes.  Yep, just give them your ID information, leave your vehicle there and quickly you are off exploring the 150+ km of trails in the city.  Next time?

Downtown Fun

Medicine Hats lovely turn-of-the-century historic downtown is a fun place to flaneur.  Two of our stops were thrift stores – but unfortunately, we didn’t unearth any treasures.  However we did find the world’s largest chess set (behind the Library) and if we had more time, we would have played a game. 

We did find the patio at LOCAL (a welcome site given the 30+ sunny day) and enjoyed some local craft beer – Hell’s Basement and Medicine Hat Brewery Company beers were on tap.  My favourite was Hell’s Basement’s “Ryes Against The Machine.”

FYI: The Hell’s Basement name comes from a 1907 quote by Rudyard Kipling, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat. And you don’t even think of changing the name of your town. It’s all your own and the only hat of its kind on earth.” 

Dunmore Road SE

Most regular Everyday Tourist readers know we love finding off the beaten path spots when we visit a city.  In Medicine Hat’s case, it was a small, outdoor shopping mall along Dumore Road SE. Driving by, we spotted a window full of brightly coloured circles.  We had to stop.   Soon we were inside Rings & Things, a funky accessories/gift/home décor shop with the largest collection of UMBRA products we have ever seen. Turns out the quirky display was made of coloured Styrofoam plates – how simple; how clever. 

Also in the mall was McBrides Bakery a Medicine Hat institution, unfortunately it was closed on Friday night when we discovered Rings & Things, so we headed back first thing Saturday morning. It is famous for its giant apple fritters and tasty croissants.  Definitely worth the trip back - and a “must visit” when in The ‘Hat (not far off the TransCanada Highway, it might even be worth a stop if just passing through).

Also in the mall was an interesting home décor store Kerry Jayms Lighting and Décor and (on good authority) Dress Your Lashes Fashion Accessories is also worth a visit. 

Too much to see and do…too little time!

Not Tell Hotel Fun

The ’Hat has retained some of its mid-century motel charm along the TransCanada Highway.  We enjoyed our stayed at the Travelodge with its coloured silhouette running lights that give it a bit of a Las Vegas vibe at night.  It was very popular with families with its pool with a waterslide.

Not sure why but we got the huge family room with two queen beds and a bunk bed with double on bottom, but it would be perfect for a family travelling with a grandparent or two.

I was told the colour of these running lights can be changed to allow them to celebrate special events or to recognize the colours of visiting sports teams staying at the Lodge. 

I was told the colour of these running lights can be changed to allow them to celebrate special events or to recognize the colours of visiting sports teams staying at the Lodge. 

Anybody know what dataport is? 

Anybody know what dataport is? 

Hutterite Culture Market

Entering the Saturday farmers’ market at Medicine Hat’s Rodeo Grounds is like entering a different culture with the presence of Hutterites from several colonies selling their vegetables.  We arrived early and unbeknownst to us, we entered through a side door (we later learned it was for vendors) and had the place to ourselves for about 20 minutes.  We had no idea that there were probably 100 people lined up to get in at the public entrance.  We not only loved the great produce at great prices, but the sellers mostly young Hutterite women, with their charming demeanour and colourful dresses. 

Note: Wouldn’t it be great if the Calgary Stampede could find a way to host a weekend market at Stampede Park from after Stampede to Thanksgiving?  After all, it started as an agricultural fair.

Windmill Garden Centre & Butterfly Garden

This place is huge…would be very fun to be there in the spring when its full of bedding out plants. Still, it was fun to look at the perennials and the garden giftware.  The Butterfly Garden was a bit of a disappointment as there were only a few butterflies when we visited.  I was told they get a fresh shipment of butterflies about every two weeks with the number and variety of varying each time.  Too bad the admission price doesn’t vary with the number of butterflies on view.  If butterflies are your thing, check when they are getting their shipment and time your visit accordingly. 

Medalta Pottery

The Medalta Pottery is indeed an innovative industrial museum, art gallery and contemporary ceramic arts facility.  We arrived Saturday morning, took a quick look around and decided to come back for the 1:00pm guided tour to get a better appreciation for the history of the site.  (Note: Unfortunately, the 60 to 75-minute guided tours are only offered on weekends at 1 pm.) 

Medicine Hat had three things going for it that lead to it producing 75% of Canada’s pottery products early in the 20th century. 

  • First, a ready supply of natural gas provided a reliable source of heat for the kilns.
  • Second, an abundant supply of clay (for centuries the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks. As early as 1885 these clays deposits were tested for their brick-making potential and found to be of excellent quality. 
  • Third, the railway was right there enabling easy shipping across the country.

Though, many of the clay products factories in Medicine Hat were small businesses, two large-scale plants dominated the industry - Medicine Hat Brick & Tile and Alberta Clay Products.

Today, Medalta is the setting for a living, working museum, vibrant education centre, contemporary art gallery and 12,000 square foot contemporary ceramics studio for visiting artists from around the world.

Give yourself at least two hours to take the tour, then explore the museum and wander the site. 

If you happen to be in Medicine Hat on a Thursday in the summer – bonus! A vibrant farmers’ market (4:30 to 8:30pm) on site includes food trucks, artisans, live music and a bar. 

Medalta Historic Clay District History Link

Backstory: One of our reasons for this trip was see if we could get more information on set of vintage “Jill” pattern plates by Hycroft as an exhaustive Google search yielded no information. While we couldn’t get any help from the weekend staff, we were given a name and contact information, who provided much helpful information.
Do we keep them or Kijiji them, that is the question?

Walk In The Park

I took a walk with a buddy at the park-like Medicine Hat Golf & Country Club, with its beautiful century old trees and South Saskatchewan River vistas. While Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” I would argue, “ Golf is a good walk enhanced by 14 clubs.”

For nature walk purists, there is Police Point Park, a 400-acre natural reserve bordered on three sides by the South Saskatchewan River.  One of its signature attractions is its ancient, gnarled (the result of past floods) cottonwood trees. Great for photos and bird watching. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Kestrel, Juncos, House Finches, Bald Eagles, Blue Herons and several types of owls have all been seen.

Where to Eat & Drink

LOCAL - best patio and great beer. Lots of shade - critical when summer temperatures are routinely above 30 degrees in a city boasting 330 days of sunshine.

Inspire – bright charming corner bistro / art gallery.  Good soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.  We are still drooling over the carrot cake.  

Thai Orchid Room - we didn’t make it to the Orchid but we have it on good authority (including CBC restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist) it is outstanding.  He loved the extensive, traditional, authentic menu with an extensive tea list and great service, rating it 8 out of 10.

Heartwood – located in the old Eaton’s store downtown, the soups are to “die for” (signature soup is roasted red pepper and tomato) and staff is very friendly.  Note: Not open weekends.

Station Coffee – best spot for a coffee, popular breakfast spot, good vibe, gluten free and vegetarian options - get there early.  Hot tip: try the caramel latte.

Last Word

If you live in Calgary, next time you are considering a (long) day road trip or weekend getaway, consider The ‘Hat. If you are passing through on the TransCanada Highway, give yourself some time to explore the city.

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

You gotta like it when a plan starts coming together - that is exactly what is happening in Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R).  It was back in 1999 that Sturgess Architecture completed The Bridges Masterplan for the City of Calgary after the controversial implosion of the Calgary General Hospital on October 4, 1998.  Today, Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R) is enjoying an amazing rebirth as a vibrant 21st century urban community.

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

The Bridges Plan

The Bridges is the land made available for development by the implosion included the 10 acre hospital site as well as existing city owned open space to allow for a more comprehensive 37-acre (just a little bigger than St. Patrick’s Island) redevelopment in the middle of B/R community. The ambitious plan was not only Calgary’s first Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan, but Calgary’s first attempt to transform an established early 20th century community into a contemporary 21st century urban village with a higher density and diversity of residential dwellings with ground floor retail or townhomes. The plan consisted of three phases.

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Phase 1

This phase included eight parcels for condo development, as well as the new Murdoch Park and the General Avenue Plaza. Three of the four parcels along 1st Avenue N.E. are mixed use development with retail at street level and residential units on the upper levels. The fourth parcel, on 1st Avenue N.E. accommodates residential, live-work units and commercial uses.

The other four parcels are located on the north side of Centre Avenue N.E. between 7A Street N.E. and 9A Street N.E. are mid-rise residential developments with building heights ranging from 4 to 6 storeys. The buildings emphasize a street-orientation with townhouses at street level and apartments on the upper levels.

Phase 1 is now complete and included these condos:

  • The Piazza by Townscape Properties Ltd. 
  • Olive by Homes by Avi 
  • Bella Citta & Bella Lusso by Bucci Developments Ltd. 
  • Acqua & Vento by Windmill Developments Ltd. 
  • Pontefino I and II by Sandelwood Development Ltd. 

Phase 2

This phase includes four sites located between McDougall Road N.E. and Memorial Drive. Two sites are now complete, one is slated for completion in 2017 while the fourth site is under review for a land use amendment and expected to be released for sale in 2018.

Three of the sites are designated for multi-family residential development with building heights being five to six storeys. The fourth parcel, adjacent to Memorial Drive, is slated for affordable multi-family housing development.

Phase two is not yet completed, it includes these projects:

  • Steps Bridgeland by Assured Developments Ltd. and Guistini Bridges Inc. (under construction)
  • Bridgeland Crossing I by Apex Cityhomes 
  • Bridgeland Crossing II by GableCraft Homes and Apex Cityhomes 
  • McPherson Place by Bridges Attainable Housing Society and New Urban Development (affordable housing) 

Phase 3

This last phase includes three parcels of land situated east of 9th Street N.E. between Centre Avenue and McDougall Road.Radius by Bucci Development Ltd is under construction. The City’s Real Estate & Development Services is currently working on plans to bring the three parcels of The Bridges to market in the near future at 1018 McDougal Road NE, 70 & 90 9A Street and 950 McPherson Square NE. (source: City of Calgary)

The Bridges Plan was approved after extensive community consultation and if memory serves me correctly, was enthusiastically endorsed by the community who could foresee the benefits not only of a new park, new community centre and new shopping, dining and professional service amenities, but of new residents who would hopefully revive the community.

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.    Link:   Bucci Developments

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.  Link: Bucci Developments

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

Bridgeland Today

Fast-forward to 2017.  The Bridges has indeed been the catalyst to transform Bridgeland/Riverside into one of Calgary’s most desirable communities.

In fact, it was chosen as Calgary's #1 Community in the Calgary Herald's 2017 Readers' Choice Awards. 

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.   

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.  

As an avid Twitter reader, I am constantly impressed by what is happening in B/R. Bridgeland Betty is always tweeting out the fun things to do in her community, things like their Tool Lending Library, evening walks to learn about the community’s amazing array of churches and the Vegan/Gluten-Free Stampede Breakfast.   

Lukes is just too cool...

Lukes is just too cool...

Today, B/R is home to some of Calgary’s coolest places – Cannibale with its barbershop in the front and cocktail lounge in the back, Bike and Brew where coffee and bike cultures meet and Luke’s Drug Mart that is a drug store/post office/ grocery store/record store/general store/café. 

Lukes is one of three grocers in B/R, the others being Bridgeland Market and Blush Lane Organic Market, a sure sign hipsters and YUPPIES have invaded this once sleepy community.

The most interesting B/R project I learned about on Twitter recently was their 4th Avenue Flyover Project. So intrigued by the photos of children painting the roadway under the flyover, I had to check it out myself.

The 4th Street Flyover plan now approved by the City of Calgary will see the development of a fun park (McDougall Rd NE and Edmonton Trail) under the concrete flyover complete with a rain garden, public art, sidewalk patios and colourful painting of the concrete abutments.

It will be a unique urban, all ages PLAYground developed as a result of an amazing collaboration between the community’s Grade 6 Langevin School students and Landscape Architect students at the University of Calgary.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

Flyover Plaza Fun

Flyover Plaza Fun

Future new pocket park site

Future new pocket park site

Success or Failure?

Greg Morrow, who held the Richard Parker Professorship Metropolitan Growth and Change position at the University of Calgary from 2015 to 2017 (and who now is the Fred Sands Professor of Real Estate and Executive Director of the Sands Institute at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles) when asked his assessment of B/R’s transformation said, “It's still infilling, so it's unfair to look at how it is today and judge it on how it will eventually perform. I think it will ultimately be a success but I think there are also a few things the City could do to improve it.”

When probed further, he added, “First, it's not a traditional Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). It's a retrofit condition, so we shouldn't judge it on whether it ticks off all the TOD boxes. First, no development is possible on the entire south half of the LRT station area (St. Patrick’s Island). And since there is a pre-existing main street not far away, the area right around the station is not going to be ground-floor retail. And it suffers from the typical Calgary problem of having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, which is less than ideal for access/walkability. You lose a hundred metres just getting over the roadway.”

When asked how The Bridges can be improved he quickly remarks, “It was a big mistake not to rezone the north side of 1 Ave. A one-sided main street is always a handicap. Moreover, the north side is the sunny side, which works best for outdoor patios. So, I suggest re-zoning the north side of 1 Ave for mixed-use, mid-rise buildings, with appropriate lower heights at the rear of the buildings to transition to the single family housing to the north.”

Morrow also believes “the park is a good move, although it will take some time before it makes sense. Right now, you have a lot of vacant parcels so it makes the park space seem underutilized and unnecessary. But the idea is to create some decent density in the parcels around the park, so as that fills in more, you will see why the park in the middle makes good sense. Just give it some time.”

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

Last Word

A check of the City of Calgary’s Community Profile demonstrates the community’s population is growing again, after years of decline and stagnation.  It grew by 8% from 2012 to 2016, vs City of Calgary’s 10% increase.

It has become a very cool community for young families. In fact, 7% of the B/R’s population is under 4 years of age, the same as the City of Calgary’s.  However, only 6.5% of B/R’s population is between ages 5 to 19, significantly lower than the 18% City average.

It will be interesting to see if today’s young families remain in B/R and embrace the urban living lifestyle or do they migrate en masse to the outer suburbs for cheaper, bigger homes to raise their growing families as previous generations have done.   

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Sunday in Bowness Park

Calgary’s Bowness Park has been a popular place for Calgarians to chill for over a century. 

The 74-acre park along the Bow River at the western edge of the City of Calgary was donated by John Hextall in 1911 - as part of a deal to secure the extension of the streetcar into Bowness Estates which he was developing as an exclusive new suburb.  The park was also conceived to entice Calgarians or those moving to Calgary to live in the new community of Bowness.  It was the Fish Creek or Nose Hill Park of its time.

Sound familiar? 

It is eerily similar to the current push to develop the Green Line today, linking new communities like Livingston and SETON to the City Centre.  It also has parallels to the East Village redevelopment where the River Walk and St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment were built first to entice Calgarians to move back to the community after decades of community decay. 

The Original Bowness Park

Bowness Park was indeed a gem with an outdoor swimming pool (closed in 1959) and lagoon for canoeing and boating.  The lagoon even had an Orthophonic (a phonograph in the middle of the lagoon) that played music which required someone to canoe out to change the records.  It stopped working in 1961.  There was also a large dance pavilion (closed in 1960) and even a carousel, whose home is now Heritage Park. 

It was the quintessential picnic site. Hundreds of picnic tables, some under shelters as well as several playgrounds with swings and teeter-totters.  Camping sites and even cabins that could be rented by the week or month (these were removed in 1946) we available for long stays.  There was even an informal “lovers’ walk” along the lagoon.

The Park was hugely popular with over 25,000 Calgarians visiting on summer weekends. It was so popular 28 streetcars were assigned to the route on weekends offering 15 minutes service from 1913 to 1950. 

Bowness Park Today

Despite the Bow River flood of 2013 which caused extensive damage, the Park has again become one of the gems of Calgary’s City Parks system after extensive clean up and redevelopment the park,

Today, not only are there canoeing and paddle boating in the lagoon, but the Park is popular spot for hundreds of rafters, kayakers and canoers to enter the Bow River for a lovely Sunday day-trip along the Bow River to downtown.

Hundreds of picnic sites (complete with fire pits and BBQs) attract families from all over the city - it is like a meeting of the United Nations.

The modern colourful playground is very popular and loud with kids shouting and squealing with glee.

The redeveloped park also includes the popular mini-train that was introduced to the park in the early ‘50s.

 

Toot Toot!

After being badly damaged in the flood, with silt covering the train from top to bottom, it has been restored. It got a new engine and a new silver, burgundy and yellow paint job modelled after the CP Rail’s luxury passenger train “The Canadian” that began cross-country trips in 1955. 

Seasons restaurant on the lagoon offers fine dining with a charming patio on the water. It has popular weekend brunch menu. As well there is a take-out café for those who prefer to stroll or sit with a coffee and snack. 

And yes, there still is an informal “Lovers’ Walk,” along the creek away from the crowds for those wanting to take a quieter more secluded quiet walk in the park with a special someone.

Sunday  Postcards

Last Word

Bowness Park continues to attract thousands of visitors on a nice Sunday afternoon.   While the weekend attendance numbers don’t match the 25,000 of its heyday years, it is still a vibrant urban playground people of all ages and backgrounds.  Perhaps the numbers are down due to the fact Calgary now has over 5,000 parks – that’s one park for every 250 Calgarians!

PS…The park desperately needs an ice cream vendor. Packaged, commercial frozen treats on a stick just don’t cut it.

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Canada 150 Reflections

This year we spent Canada Day with friends in Canmore, Alberta (26 km from Banff or 95 km from Calgary) an old coal mining town that has become a lovely international recreational resort town since the 1988 Olympics.  

While many cities and towns endeavoured to create a special Canada's 150 anniversary celebration (for example Calgary's fireworks was 10 minutes longer than Ottawa's), Canmore has a long tradition of celebrating Canada Day. This year's celebration included a block-long artisan market, parade, live music in their Centennial park and fireworks in Millennial Park.   

One of the first things that impressed me while flaneuring downtown Canmore before the parade were the unique and intriguing storefront window reflections. 

The (Candy) Canada Day Parade

We were treated by our friends to ring-side patio seats at Mountain Mercato for the colourful Canmore Canada Day Parade, which allowed us to enjoy lunch and beverages while watching the parade.   The 45-minute parade was perfect with lots of kids dancing and riding decorated bikes, a few bands and event a float by the local thrift store (pick-up truck with lots of stuffies). It doesn't get more authentic than that. 

One of the features of the parade was lots of candy being handed out to the kids - often by older kids.  There was a lovely sense of play near the end as almost every float had young adults with super soakers playfully shooting at the audience on a warm summer day.  

The parade was fun for everyone.....

Fashion Fun 

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 4.24.15 PM.png

Last Word

In Calgary, Canada Day is like a pre-season game for the "Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" the Calgary Stampede, which starts with one of the largest parades in North America and ends every night with fireworks.  Every year, the 10-day Stampede starts the Friday after Canada Day.

In fact, the Calgary District and Agricultural Society (precursor to the Stampede which still includes a major agricultural exhibition) held the first exhibition in 1886, making it almost as old as Canada.  

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.

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Berlin Cemetery: Etchings & Cafe

It is the classic example of how as a tourist you do things you never do at home.  In Calgary we have often said we should take an afternoon and explore one of our inner city cemeteries.  We have even threatened to meet up with friends and do one of the guided tours. But alas, we have never done it. 

Luisenstadtischer Friedhof

Early on in our wandering of the streets of Berlin's Kreuzberg district, we discovered what looked like a lovely cemetery.  We quickly agreed it would be a great place to flaneur on a nice day when we wanted some solitude from the animated streets and plazas. We also noted there was a charming cafe where we could have a coffee and cake - something that would become a become a daily ritual.  

Sure enough, 10 days later on a nice sunny morning, we headed back to the what we eventually figured out was not only a failed vineyard but four cemeteries. 

We pretty much had the place to ourselves except for the chirping birds and the occasional cute red squirrel.

The Etchings

The light was amazing as the huge trees had not yet leafed out. It created a heavenly glow on the graves, some of which have been etched by the elements for over 100 years.  Others had a lovely green patina from the moist Berlin winters.

I immediately switched the camera to black & white mode to create what I hoped would be some very intense and dramatic images.    

The Shadows

RRP...

Cafe Strauss is a lovely spot to relax, reflect and ponder. I couldn't help but ponder what it must have been like for artists living in Berlin 50 or 100 years ago.  I wondered about how cities shape artists and artists shape cities and why are some cities more attractive to artists than others.  What makes Berlin so attractive to young artists today?  Is it in the city's DNA? Why is Berlin a haven for artist and not Winnipeg, Edmonton or Hamilton?

More Cafe Strauss Info: I Ate My Cake In A German Cemetery 

Last Word

I remember going (being dragged) to cemeteries when I was young to visit the graves of grandparents, but I wonder if anyone does that anymore.

Do cemeteries have any relevance in contemporary life? Compared to previous generations, are we more focused on the future, rather than the past? Are we too focused on the future?  What role have cemeteries played in fostering a sense of family, a sense of continuity and a respect for the past?

Berlin makes you think!

While some love to explore the museums and art galleries of Berlin (there are 175 of them) after 18 days I am still fascinated by the everyday life of the streets of Berlin.  To me the street seem more authentic less contrived than museums. 

And, yes I am definitely going to flaneur Calgary's cemeteries this spring or summer or fall. 

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Calgary's Downtown GLOWS with fun!

You gotta go!

I am giving GLOW Calgary's new family-friendly interactive light festival an 8 out of 10. I hope these photos and videos will tell you why.

It is just too much fun for everyone. 

GLOW light shows happen 6:30 to 11:00 pm Saturday Feb 18, Sunday 19th and Monday 20th.  

GLOW maps and more information at DowntownCalgary

"Nibbles" by Australia's Amanda Peer, is an installation of cuddly illuminated bunnies that appeals to the toddlers and anyone who is young at heart. Hotchkiss Gardens

Canada 150 glowing tricycle was going up and down Stephen Avenue. 

Canada 150 glowing tricycle was going up and down Stephen Avenue. 

"Chopsticks + Chandelier" by Toronto's Jeremy Tsang is located at James Short Park near Chinatown.   

"Chopsticks + Chandelier" by Toronto's Jeremy Tsang is located at James Short Park near Chinatown.  

Even the people were glowing at Olympic Plaza. 

Even the people were glowing at Olympic Plaza. 

Rabbit Down? 

Rabbit Down? 

Top Three Picks:

  • Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is centre ice (Festival Hub) for GLOW with a fun family of glowing bunny rabbits, TROPICALGARY (a dancing light show with music), "Light Shower" booth and warming igloo (for kids only).
  • The Door at Eight Avenue Place's (9th Ave plaza) was a fun surprise for kids of all ages.
  • Olympic Plaza’s PRISMATICA should become a permanent winter installation on the plaza or somewhere in the downtown. 

Other Downtown Delights!

Downtown Calgary's other public art came alive with young children exploring them. 

Downtown Calgary's other public art came alive with young children exploring them. 

Downtown's glimmering and shimmering glass towers become jewel-like at night. 

Downtown's glimmering and shimmering glass towers become jewel-like at night. 

A stain glass window that is almost invisible by day glows at night. 

A stain glass window that is almost invisible by day glows at night. 

Wonderland, aka The BIG Head, on the plaza of the Bow office tower is transformed into a ghostly image at night. 

Last Word

I have to admit I was jealous, of Montreal’s amazing winter light shows, outdoor movies, interactive playgrounds scattered throughout their city center when we visited this past December. Montreal's En Lumiere festival takes place Feb 23rd to March 11th, 2017. 

Link: Montreal En Lumiere

However, I was very pleased to learn in January that the Calgary Downtown Association and Canada 150 had teamed up to produce GLOW a free family-friendly winter light festival for our Family Day Weekend. It didn’t disappoint. 

Now if only we can make GLOW an annual winter event and grow it into a major North American winter event. 

I’d love to see more use made of the making our spectacular office buildings GLOW in the night.

This image a photo of PRISMATICA was combined with the reflection of Eight Avenue Place on the facade of 707 Fifth office tower using the app "UNION."      I am thinking there is technology that could transform our downtown office buildings into unique colourful glowing artworks all winter long. 

This image a photo of PRISMATICA was combined with the reflection of Eight Avenue Place on the facade of 707 Fifth office tower using the app "UNION."  

I am thinking there is technology that could transform our downtown office buildings into unique colourful glowing artworks all winter long.