Calgary: NE is on the rise!

For many Calgarians, the NE quadrant (east of Deerfoot) is a bit of an unknown. Other than going to the airport, or speeding by on the Deerfoot, we rarely venture into the hodgepodge of residential communities, small shopping centres and business parks that make up Ward 5.

However, the future of Calgary could well be in the NE - Calgary’s Airport City!

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Eye Opener

I first became intrigued with Ward 5 when I went to the annual train show at the Genesis Centre a few years ago. I was shocked at the size and vibrancy of the centre. Then a friend introduced me to Afghan Kabob Cuisine, which he warned was nearly impossible to find. It was. But I enjoyed exploring the area’s maze of shopping centres and back alley shops, the restaurant, which sits next to the Apna-Punjab Sweets & Samosa, as well as several small industrial shops was an eye opener! 

Then earlier this year, when driving to the Canal at Delacour golf course, I was gob-smacked by the residential development - mix of single family, row houses and low-rise condos - along Country Hills Boulevard east of the Deerfoot.  New communities with intriguing names like – Redstone, Skyview Ranch and Cityscape lead me to do some research.  

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Taradale vs Beltline

In Ward 5, only 29% of the population lives in single-family homes compared to 59%, city wide.  I was surprised to learn the density of Taradale is just 15% less than the Beltline, Calgary’s most densely populated community, one that is full of highrise towers. The tallest building in Ward 5 is the 10-storey Homewood Suites Hotel. 

Obviously, you can create dense communities without highrises. While the rest of Calgary is trying to get used to the idea of living in denser communities, many Ward 5 residents are already there.  

For years we have heard about mixed-use master planned urban communities in many other parts to the city – Bridges, Currie, Greenwich, Quarry Park, SETON Trinity Village, University District, West District and Westman Village. But none in the NE.  It begs the question, “Why not?”

Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

The rise of the NE 

While we all know about the fall of downtown, do we know about the rise of the northeast?  Despite the decline in the oil and gas sector, the Calgary International Airport experienced a 3.8% increase in passenger traffic from 2015 to 2017 and it is on pace for a whopping 7% increase in 2018, and cargo tonnage is up 9% since 2015.   

Kent Bacon, a principal at Avison Young says the northeast Calgary and Balzac area is a highly desirable location for warehouses companies because of its location - next to the TransCanada Highway, the CANAMEX corridor (Deerfoot/QE II highway) and the airport. The area is also one of only three foreign trade zones in Canada.  (FYI: foreign trade zones have tax and duty advantages for warehouse distribution centers.) Currently, there are 2.2 million square feet of new construction in Ward 5 - that’s 30% larger than The Bow. 

Ward 5 is also Calgary’s fastest growing ward. Over the past year, its population increased by 6,522 (2018 Census), almost double any other ward. This is amazing given about a third of the ward’s land mass is taken up by the airport and business/industrial parks. 

Recently, I sat down with Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal to learn more about Calgary’s unique NE communities.  Born and raised in Saddle Ridge, Chahal holds a Master’s degree in planning with his thesis titled, “Planning for Ethnic Diversity.”     

Q: What are some of the Ward 5’s hidden gems? 

One would have to be the annual Nagar Kirtan Parade, Calgary’s second largest parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre in the community of Martindale. It attracted about 60,000 spectators in 2018. It features lots of singing and floats and everyone is invited - to watch or participate. 

Another hidden gem is the Country Thunder music festival in Prairie Winds Park. It has become one of Calgary’s signature summer festivals.  Take a walk in Prairie Winds Park and you will find out what the NE is all about. It is a mix of Riley Park, Bowness Park and Nose Hill Park.  

Ward 5 is home to 20+ different religious institutions, with several having architecturally significant buildings. 

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Q: What are the biggest issues facing Ward 5 today? 

A: Bridging Calgary’s cultural gap. Ward 5 is Calgary’s most culturally diverse community with 50+ languages spoken.  It is home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada. We desperately need more programs and services to integrate newcomers our communities are home to about 50% of the City’s new immigrants.  

Diversity is our strength, but we also want to integrate into the broader Calgary community when it comes to working together to plan Calgary’s future. The City of Calgary is working on eliminating communication barriers through multilingual communication and engagement policies, however, there is still lots of work to do.

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Q. Is there a transformative project(s) that you would like to see happen in the NE? 

A: The expansion of the LRT into our northern communities, as well to the airport is critical as Ward 5 residents are one of the City’s biggest users of transit. 

A second major recreation centre, library and multi-use sports fields would also be transformative as the Genesis Centre is currently operating at capacity. 

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

Q. Do you believe religion and family play a bigger role in the lives of Ward 5 residents than in other wards? 

Yes, I would say so - 86% of Ward 5 residents have religious beliefs vs only 68% in the rest of Calgary.  And for many residents, attending a religious institution is a daily, not a weekly experience.  

Family is also important to Ward 5 residents, with more than one generation living under one roof being the norm. The average number of residents per household is much higher in Ward 5 than the rest of Calgary.  

It is critical for the development industry and those at City Hall to understand the cultural and family dynamics of Ward 5 so our communities are designed to meet our unique market demand.

Q. Do you think the NE is under appreciated by Calgarians? 

A. Yes.  Most Calgarians don’t appreciate how Ward 5 is a growing logistics hub for Western Canada. The future of the logistics sector is very positive - with things such as autonomous vehicles, commercial drone deliveries and other artificial intelligence advancements.  Ward 5’s importance as one of Calgary’s economic hubs will continue to grow.  Look for Ward 5 to be home to some ground breaking innovations in the future.

While there are no conventional main streets, our communities are full of small businesses and entrepreneurs.  Ward 5 is home to 100+ small businesses catering to different flavors around the world, from meat stores to local grocery stores, 234 restaurants and 2,200+ businesses in total.  As of November 2018, 318 new businesses were licensed, of which 60% were home based. 

Grant Galpin, who’s lived in Ward 5 since 2000 and led the $35M community fundraising campaign for Ward 5’s Genesis Centre (their $120 million, 225,000 square foot “living room”) agrees with Chahal, saying “the growing entrepreneurial base in the NE is due to the fact the offshore education of newcomers is largely not recognized, so they turn to small business, to establish themselves.  The result is a creative, family-based, small business culture that is largely under appreciated by Calgarians, government, economic and cultural leaders.”

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Last Word 

Could it be that’s Calgary’s NE will take the lead in the diversification of Calgary’s economy over the next 25+ years? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on January 26, 2019.

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