2018: The Summer of Murals (Beltline)

Do murals enhance neighbourhoods?   Do they foster community pride? Do they make people stop, look and ponder? 

  Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

 Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Do we expect too much?

This summer two major mural projects were undertaken in Calgary - one in the Beltline, the other in Northern Hills (a coalition of four communities), both with the goal of enhancing their community.  The Beltline Urban Mural Program (BUMP) was the more traditional model where professional artists were selected to create murals on blank walls throughout the community. The Northern Hills Mural Project (NHMP) was more community-based with hundreds of community members, as well as others from across the City and beyond helping to paint an 850 meter fence along a section of Country Hills Blvd. 

Both were successful in generating lots of social media and community attention, but how long before the thrill of the new murals fade, just as the murals themselves will?  This is not the first time and won’t be the last where murals and public art have been used to try to enhance a neighbourhood. 

Do we expect too much from public art to transform ugly, boring urban spaces into something fun and attractive?

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  Faith47’s BUMP mural

Faith47’s BUMP mural

  Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

BUMP

“Our vision is to use powerful, awe-inspiring, whimsical, thought-provoking and stunning art to create beautiful places, invoke dialogue, challenge ideas and foster connections,” says the BUMP website. Link: BUMP website

Those are lofty expectations for the 15 murals which range from the decorative to narrative, mysterious to indigenous and fantasy to illustrative.  There was even a BUMP Festival, Aug 30 to Sept 1stwith tours of the murals, artists talks and an alley party.  I participated in two of the tours which attracted about 100 people each and heard only positive comments about the murals and the project.   

One of the murals that stood out for me was Los Angeles, artist Faith47’s huge cougar with the words “Fortes et Liber” on the side.  Not sure I understand the context of the cougar which appears to be ready to pounce on an unsuspecting pedestrian, however, the Latin words for “strong and free” make some sense given Canada’s national anthem. The mural’s scale (10 storeys) and its monochromatic brownish wash gives it a dream-like quality that looks like it is already fading away.  

Montreal’s Kevin Ledo’s mural on the west side of the Calgary Parking Authority’s City Centre Parkade at 10thAve and 5thStreet SW was also well received.  This artwork, with its huge indigenous figure staring into the Beltline community has a look of contemplation. Only later, when I checked the website did I learn the title of this piece is “Sohkatisiwin” Cree for “Strength/Power.”

An interesting choice given Calgary is located in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Nation, not the Cree and the artist is from Montreal. Nor did I realize the figure is a real person - Angela Gladue, an internationally recognized dancer in both aboriginal and hip hop genres.  Not sure how this all relates to the Beltline or Calgary.

Although, BUMP’s website has a complete list of the murals and info on the artists, I found most of the jargon-loaded text not very helpful in understanding the context of the work to the Beltline’s sense of place.

There is a printable map of the murals, which would make for a fun walkabout on a nice fall or winter afternoon.  

The funding for the murals came from the Beltline Community Investment Fund, City of Calgary Parking Revenue Reinvestment Program and mural sponsors - Battistella Developments and Hotel Arts. 

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  Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

  Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Last Word

This is not the first time Calgary’s City Centre communities have tried to use public art to make them a more interesting place to live and visit. 

In the ‘90s, the Uptown 17thBusiness Revitalization Zone (BRZ) organized a series of murals created by well-known Calgary artists on the side of buildings to create an outdoor art gallery.  Unfortunately, after many years, they were removed as “mother nature” had gotten the better of them.

The 4th Street BRZ commissioned sculptures to be located along the street also in the 90s. While many of them are still there, I doubt anyone would say they have become valued community icons.  

I hope the BUMP murals will indeed become an attraction for more people to want to live and visit the Beltine. 

Below are some other murals in the Beltline….

  In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

  Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

  I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

Calgary: Parades Celebrate Cowtown’s Cosmopolitan Culture 

As the saying goes….everyone loves a parade! In Calgary’s case, “everyone” reflects the City’s evolution from being the bastion of Western Canada’s corporate, cowboy conservative culture into Canada’s third most ethnically diverse city.  The city boasts four major annual parades, each celebrating an element of the city’s growing heterogeneity – Stampede, Pride, Nagar Kirtan and Parade of Wonders. It’s spectrum of parades exemplifies Calgary’s dramatic cultural transformation over the past 30 years - from a frontier town to a cosmopolitan city.  

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Calgary is no longer a “one horse town.”

Stampede Parade

When I moved to Calgary in the early ‘80s, the Calgary Stampede and its parade was the only game in town.  The parade is a popular as ever. About 350,000 people come to celebrate Calgary’s rich agricultural, ranching and indigenous cultures each year. It is still Calgary’s premier parade with 116 entries, 32 floats, and 12 marching bands involving 4,000 people and 750 horses travelling along its 4.5 km route through the downtown. 

The Stampede Parade is a celebration of Calgary’s pioneer spirit. 

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Calgary Pride Parade

This year’s Calgary’s Pride Parade took place on the Sunday of the Labour Day weekend, attracting an estimated 80,000 spectators along its 2 km downtown route. The 190 colourful entries included “everyone” from politicians to LBGT groups, from financial institutions to law firms and from kids to dogs.  It is no longer an underground protest march, but a celebration of the city’s diversity.

From its humble beginning in 1990 when a about 100 people many wearing paper bags over their heads or Lone Ranger masks (to disguise their identity in case family, friends or employers might recognize them) protested for gay rights, it has become the City’s fastest growing parade. It became mainstream in 2011 when Mayor Naheed Nenshi was parade marshal and corporations like the Calgary Flames started sponsoring floats.

Calgary’s Pride Parade signifies the city’s growing openness to people of all orientations. 

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Nagar Kirtan Parade

The Nagar Kirtan Parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre happens each May in the northeast community of Martindale. The annual parade is held in celebration of Vaisakhi, one of the most significant holidays in the Sikh calendar. Nagar Kirtan refers to the procession of the Sikh Congregation through the town singing holy hymns. Calgary’s Nagar Kirtan parade featuring lots of singing and floats, invites “everyone” to watch or participate. It attracted of 60,000 spectators in 2018. 

Calgary is not only home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada, but is home to people of 240 different ethnic origins. 

This parade is a celebration of “equality, freedom and justice for all.”

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POW (Parade of Wonders) Parade

POW is part of Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, a cosplay festival that takes place every spring in celebration of pop-culture, fantasy and imagination. The parade, introduced into the Expo’s calendar of events in 2013, attracted over 4,000 participants in 2018. All parade participants – of all ages and backgrounds - must dress up as their favourite character from movies, TV shows, comics, video games or books.  

The 2-km parade winds its way through the downtown from Eau Claire Market to Olympic Plaza at noon on the Friday of Calgary Expo. It attracted over 15,000 spectators from infants to grandparents, many of whom also dressed up as their favourite fantasy character.  It is a riot of colour and the biggest smiles you will ever see.

POW is a celebration of Calgary as a creative, fun and imaginative city. 

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Last Word

Cowtown, as Calgary used to be referred to, is no longer the redneck city that some thought it was (and some still think it is).  And though, it still has its roots in the pragmatic, pioneer prairie conservatism, its branches are full of leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours.  

Every city has it flaws, but over the past 30+ years, Calgary has evolved from a singular small-town sensibility into a diverse cosmopolitan urban playground that “everyone” can enjoy.  Our parades are a testament to that. 

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

Everyday Tourist Does Calgary Expo

Colourful Stampede Postcards

Calgary's 2018 Festival Fun

Calgary’s City Centre: One Of North America’s Best?

Ever since the Calgary Herald published my column “Does Calgary Have The World’s Most Walkable City Centre?” in March, I have been criticized by some urbanists for being a “Calgary cheerleader” who sees my city with rose-coloured glasses. 

Link: Does Calgary have the most walkable City Centre in the world?

Brent Toderian, a former City of Calgary Planner for our City Centre, then Director of Planning for Vancouver and now an international planning consultant even asked his 49,000 Twitter followers “What in their opinion is the most walkable City Centre in the world?” As one would expect cities like Paris, Barcelona and Melbourne topped the list and Calgary wasn’t included. No surprise Calgary flies under the radar for national and international urbanists.

  Rainbow underpass pathway

Rainbow underpass pathway

  The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

Calgary’s City Centre is very cool

Over the past few months I have posted a number of blogs on my everydaytourist.ca website documenting why Calgary’s major City Centre communities, i.e. Beltline, Bridgeland, Downtown, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission, are all very cool places to live, play and visit. 

In each blog, I documented how over the past decade or two, our City Center with the addition of dozens of new condo complexes and thousands of new infill homes, improved public spaces, new festivals, as well as new shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs has evolved to be on par or better than what other North American cities.  These blogs were also dismissed by some national and international urbanists as simply “cheerleading.”

Here is why I think “Calgary’s City Centre is one of the best in North America” and perhaps the BEST for any city with a population under two million people.  The rationale is not based on stats and figures, but on decades of personal observation of various key elements of urban vitality in dozens of cities in North America and Europe.

  Gotta love this life-size Victor Cicansky chair at the Glenbow Museum. I have a much smaller version with a potato! 

Gotta love this life-size Victor Cicansky chair at the Glenbow Museum. I have a much smaller version with a potato! 

Shopping 

Very few City Centers in North America under two million people still have major department stores and shopping centres. Calgary boasts three department stores – Hudson’s Bay, Holts and Simons and The Core, Bankers’ Hall and Scotia Center combine to create one of the largest indoor shopping malls of any City Centre in North America. 

Our City Centre is also blessed with six major pedestrian streets (Main Streets) – Stephen Avenue, 4th St SW, 10th St NW, Kensington Road, 9th Ave SE and 17th Ave SW, as well as, four secondary ones – First St SW, 11th St SW, 11th Ave SW (Design District) and 1st Ave NE (Bridgeland).  Most City Centres are lucky to have two or three.

It also has four major grocery stores – Safeway (Kensington, Connaught and Mission), as well as Midtown Co-op.  In addition, Sunterra (Victoria Park), Community Natural Foods (Beltline), Bite (Inglewood), Sunnyside Organic Market and Bridgeland Market, Luke’s Drug Mart and Blush Lane Organic Market (both in Bridgeland) serve as niche grocers. And, while Calgary doesn’t have a year-round central market, we do have weekly summer markets in Hillhurst and Bridgeland. 

  The Core shopping centre's skylight is impressive as are the shops, if only they could get the public garden to stop leaking.  

The Core shopping centre's skylight is impressive as are the shops, if only they could get the public garden to stop leaking.  

  Calgary's City Centre has lots of pedestrian oriented streets. 

Calgary's City Centre has lots of pedestrian oriented streets. 

  17th Ave aka Red Mile is a mix of retail, restaurant and residential buildings of all sizes and shapes. 

17th Ave aka Red Mile is a mix of retail, restaurant and residential buildings of all sizes and shapes. 

  It also has great places to browse. 

It also has great places to browse. 

  Calgary's City Centre as several large grocery stores, as well as several boutique ones. 

Calgary's City Centre as several large grocery stores, as well as several boutique ones. 

  Keynote combines a market, cafe, liquor store with an office tower and two residential towers.

Keynote combines a market, cafe, liquor store with an office tower and two residential towers.

Coffee Culture

Calgary has had a strong independent coffee culture long before Starbucks was even thought of.  Kensington has been home to two independent coffee houses - Higher Ground and the Roasterie since the ‘80s.  Café Beano has been a hipster hangout since before the term hipster was popularized in the 21st century.  Mission’s Purple Perk has also been around for decades.

Recently, a plethora of Calgary-based coffee houses have invaded the City Centre – Alforno, Analog, Gravity, Monogram, Phil & Sebastian, Rosso and Vendome to name a few.  Indeed, you are never far from a café in Calgary’s City Centre.

  There are literally new coffee shops popping up ever month.  This one is in the a-mazing 20 km indoor +15 pedestrian system. 

There are literally new coffee shops popping up ever month.  This one is in the a-mazing 20 km indoor +15 pedestrian system. 

  Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Restaurants

Like most North American cities, the restaurant scene has exploded in Calgary’s City Centre over the past 20+ years.  EnRoute Magazine’s list of top new Canadian restaurants list has routinely included one or more Calgary City Centre restaurants including Bar Von Der Fels (2017), while Pigeon Hole was ranked their “The Best New Restaurant” in Canada (2015).

John Gilchrist, Calgary Herald food and restaurant writer and author of “My Favourite Restaurants Calgary and Banff,” had 49 favourite restaurants in downtown alone and over 150 in the City Center in his last book.  He points out Calgary’s City Centre offers both upscale dining -Teatro, Blink and Charcut – as well as many ethnic dining spots – Falafel King, Pure and Jonas. Gilchrist also notes Calgary’s Chinatown is small, but has some great dim sum spots, and Stephen Avenue has an abundance of pubs and restaurant patios. 

  It doesn't get much better than al fresco dining on Stephen Avenue under the Bay's colonnade. 

It doesn't get much better than al fresco dining on Stephen Avenue under the Bay's colonnade. 

  If you are into funky places Re:Grub where you can dine in a barrel...how appropriate is that. 

If you are into funky places Re:Grub where you can dine in a barrel...how appropriate is that. 

  Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Art & Architecture

Over the past two decades, Calgary has upped its game when it comes to urban design. Calgary’s City Centre boasts a major office tower by Norman Foster (The Bow), a mixed office/residential tower by Bjarke Ingles (Telus Sky), a bridge by Santiago Calatrava that is unlike any other he has designed (Peace Bridge) and an iconic new Central Library by Sinohetta. There is also Pickard Chilton’s two tower Eighth Avenue Place and London’s Arney Fender Katsalidis Brookfield Place office tower, both featuring cathedral-like public lobbies. 

  BIG's Telus Sky but it is quickly becoming known as The Twist. Can't wait to see Douglas Coupland's light show on the side of the building.  

BIG's Telus Sky but it is quickly becoming known as The Twist. Can't wait to see Douglas Coupland's light show on the side of the building. 

  Stephen Avenue an eclectic mix of shops, office towers, pubic art and architecture (both old and new).

Stephen Avenue an eclectic mix of shops, office towers, pubic art and architecture (both old and new).

Calgary also has an early SOM architects residential tower (Eau Claire 500 built in 1979) and a new SOM office tower (707 Fifth Street, built in 2017). SOM, one of the largest and most influential architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world designed the iconic Birj in Dubai, the tallest building in the world.

When it comes to public art, Calgary boasts 100+ artworks in its City Centre including “Wonderland” by internationally acclaimed artist Jaume Plensa. Some of Calgary’s best public art is by local artists like Ron Moppett’s huge mosaic “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER” made up of 956,321 tiny glass tiles and Joe Fafard’s stampeding horses titled “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do.”  

  New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

  Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. This mural has held up well given it is 20+ years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society (helping people in need) when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. 

Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. This mural has held up well given it is 20+ years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society (helping people in need) when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. 

  Calgary also has a budding street art culture. This piece "Eyes on the Street" was done by a teenager who lives in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. 

Calgary also has a budding street art culture. This piece "Eyes on the Street" was done by a teenager who lives in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. 

Calgary’s City Center is also home to many historical buildings including dozens of early 20th Century sandstone buildings. Stephen Avenue is a designated National Historic Site with its collection of early 20th century buildings.  Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Avenue SE - Calgary’s original main street - also has an important collection of early 20th century brick buildings. Other important historical sites include the Lougheed House with the Beaulieu Garden, Reader Rock Gardens and Senator Burns Rock Gardens.

When it comes to the arts, Arts Commons is one of the larger performing arts centres in North America (3,200 seats in 5 performance spaces), Glenbow is one of Canada’s largest museums and Lunchbox Theatre is longest running noon-hour theatre in North America.  There is also Theatre Junction Grand and Decidedly Jazz dance studio offering diverse programming while two arthouse cinemas – The Globe and Plaza offer alternative and main stream films. Yes, I know we don’t have a major contemporary art gallery -  you can’t have everything!

  The Glenbow has developed a very insightful curatorial program linking past and present. 

The Glenbow has developed a very insightful curatorial program linking past and present. 

Public Spaces

Calgary’s City Centre boast an impressive best collection of parks - from the 100+ year old Memorial Park to the new St. Patrick’s Island park complete with pebble beach. Few City Centres can boast a park with an active cricket pitch (Riley Park) or one with a family toboggan hill (Murdoch Park).  Prince’s Island has been called one of the best music festival sites by many Calgary International Folk Festival performers.  

And then there is Stampede Park. It hosts not only “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” but also is home to a major arena (hockey, lacrosse, ice shows and concerts), a major trade and convention facility as well as numerous other buildings that host hundreds of events year-round.

When it comes to pathways, Calgary’s Bow River promenade from 14th Street Bridge to Fort Calgary is truly in a class of its own.  The enhancement of the West Eau Claire section of the promenade this year will make it truly one of the great urban strolls in North America. 

The +15 system with its 60+ bridges connecting 100+ buildings helps make our City Centre one of the most walkable in the world.  Not only does it make walking more attractive in poor weather, but it also means you can walk without worrying about crazy drivers and cyclists.

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  Calgary's Olympic Plaza is a colourful oasis in the summer.  

Calgary's Olympic Plaza is a colourful oasis in the summer.  

 Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

  containR Park in Hillhurst Sunnyside is home to numerous planned and unplanned events. 

containR Park in Hillhurst Sunnyside is home to numerous planned and unplanned events. 

Fitness/Recreational Opportunities

The Repsol Sports Centre, opened in 1983, is one of the busiest recreation centers in North America today. It is interesting to note its pure white translucent Teflon roof – shaped like a turtle - predates the current obsession for creating strange-shaped public buildings by 20 years. 

Shaw Millennium Skateboard Park is not only one of the largest free public skate parks in the world, but also offers beach volleyball and basketball courts.  Haultain Park has a tennis courts, a playing field and popular children’s playground. 

The Bow River pathway system is a very popular running route morning, noon and night, evenings and weekends year round. 

The City Centre is also home to dozens of private fitness centers and yoga studios including the busy Eau Claire Y.

  Calgarians are good at improvising when it comes to recreational infrastructure. 

Calgarians are good at improvising when it comes to recreational infrastructure. 

  Family fun in downtown.

Family fun in downtown.

Pubs & Clubs 

Calgary, has a budding music scene with Mikey’s, Ironwood, Palomino and Blues Can offering live music seven days a week.  The new National Music Centre with the King Eddy enhances Calgary claim to be North America’s next music city.

Every Calgary City Centre community has its signature pub, from James Joyce on Stephen Avenue to Kensington Pub in Kensington, as well as the Ship & Anchor to Trolley Five on 17th Ave SW. 

  The Ironwood Stage & Grill is just one of several music venues in the City Centre. 

The Ironwood Stage & Grill is just one of several music venues in the City Centre. 

  There is a sense of authenticity at the Blues Can in Inglewood.

There is a sense of authenticity at the Blues Can in Inglewood.

  17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

Festivals

Another defining element of a good City Centre is its signature festivals. Here is a list of Calgary’s major festivals that take place in our City Centre with a national or international component.

  • High Performance Rodeo (January)
  • Big Taste (March)
  • Calgary Expo (April)
  • Calgary International Children’s Festival (May)
  • Lilac Festival (May/June)
  • SLED Island (June)
  • Calgary Stampede (July)
  • Calgary International Folk Festival (July)
  • Beakerhead (September)
  • Calgary International Film Festival (September)
  • Wordfest (October)
 The Calgary Stampede is the mother of all Calgary festivals. It is more than just a rodeo, it is an agricultural fair, chuckwagon races, a midway, a music festival, a grandstand show and mega fireworks show. 

The Calgary Stampede is the mother of all Calgary festivals. It is more than just a rodeo, it is an agricultural fair, chuckwagon races, a midway, a music festival, a grandstand show and mega fireworks show. 

  Prince's Island and the Calgary International Folk Festival is a magical experience.

Prince's Island and the Calgary International Folk Festival is a magical experience.

  Calgary hosts one of the biggest and best cosplay festivals in Canada.

Calgary hosts one of the biggest and best cosplay festivals in Canada.

FFQ Elements

Great City Centers have fun, funky and quirky things to see and do.  Calgary’s offers Friday Night Drumming Circles in Inglewood, to Sunday afternoon cricket matches in Riley Park, to three Saturday afternoon blues jams Calgary’s City Centre. Family fun can be had at Canada’s second largest Zoo on an island in the middle of the Bow River and next door is the quirky looking TELUS Spark science center.  Wander the lobbies of downtown’s office buildings and you will find a real bush plane hanging from the ceiling of an office building (Suncor Centre), or a bison skeleton in the Sun Life Plaza or lobby full of masterpieces of Canadian Art by the likes of Shadbolt and Riopelle (Eighth Avenue Place).  Need I go on?

  Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

  Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

  Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Last Word

I am not alone in thinking Calgary has a great City Centre.  In 2014 the Canadian Institute of Planners chose Inglewood as “Canada’s Best Neighbourhood,” with Kensington being one of the runner-ups.  Both have gotten better since then with exciting new condo projects.

While I recognize our City Centre isn’t perfect, I stand by my observation that it is one of the best in North America. In fact, based on the City of Calgary community profiles, over 75,000 Calgarians (6% of overall city population) live in our City Centre and 5,600 (7.5%) are children under the age of 14 (based on 2014 Census). These are healthy numbers on a per capita basis and are on par with Vancouver, considered by many urbanists to be one of the world’s best places for urban living.

Every time I visit another North American city, I develop a better appreciation for Calgary’s City Centre as a clean, safe and interesting place to live. While it is hard for Calgary to compete with larger and older cities like Montreal, Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, I would put Calgary’s City Centre communities up against those of Vancouver, Portland, Austin, Nashville or Denver anytime. 

Oh, and if you still want to call me a “Calgary cheerleader,” I am OK with that.

If you want to learn more about Calgary City Centre checkout these links:

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Mission is marvellous

Beltline: Calgary's Hipster/Nester Community

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

Kensington: Calgary's Left Bank is cool!

Downtown Living is cooler than you think!

Saskatoon Stories: Picasso Birdhouses & Gory Puppets 

Everywhere we go, it’s “eyes wide open!”  We are always on the lookout for something different, something off-the-beaten path, something you won’t find (at least not easily) online. Saskatoon didn’t disappoint. 

  You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

  The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise.  

The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise. 

Picasso Birdhouses

On our first evening, we were invited to a friends’ house for dinner where we enjoyed a great evening, highlighted by their quirky art collection and great backyard.  Yes, the one with the amazing pavilion! But what impressed us most were the Picasso-inspired birdhouses.  We had to have one. Well, maybe two.

Turns out we could – and did. And so can you!

They are made by John Remai (if the surname sounds familiar, it could be because his brother’s wife donated big bucks for Saskatoon’s controversial new Remai Art Museum, but that is another story) and he makes them in his parking garage studio in the downtown Saskatoon riverside residential tower where he lives.  

  John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

Once a builder always a builder?

Remai, now in his ‘80s, was one Saskatoon’s biggest developers before retiring a few years ago. As a philanthropist, Remai has been a big supporter of various Saskatoon charities, as well as the local Children’s Hospital.  However, he wanted to not only make personal donations but help encourage others to also give back to their community.  As a result, he decided in retirement to design and build birdhouses to sell to the public with all proceeds going to the Saskatoon’s Children’s Hospital.  Who could resist buying one or perhaps four (our host now has four) birdhouses, three at home and one at work?   

The public can buy a Remai birdhouse Monday through Thursday in the basement of the office building at the corner of Spadina and 20thStreet.  Depending on design, the birdhouses sell for $75 to $100, which is great value given the craftsmanship and complexity of designs.  

Given we were in town on a weekend, we were fortunate our host knew Remai and was able to arrange a downtown studio visit to see the birdhouses actually being built and meet Mr. Remai, a very cordial host and unassuming gentleman.

Indeed, the Remai’s huge workshop (probably the size of quadruple car garage) is located in the underground parkade of a residential tower.  It is neatly divided up into three spaces, one with all the While we were there, two volunteers from the building were painting pieces of his latest design, a “parrot birdhouse” in preparation for assembly.

A lovely sense of order and calmness filled this windowless, grotto-like studio.  Here are some photos, which I hope will convey the scale of the operations and the diversity of the birdhouses being produced.  

  JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

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  Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

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  The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

  JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

For more information: JR's Designer Birdhouses 

U of S: Timeless

  The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

Whenever we are in a new city we make a point of exploring the postsecondary campuses.  They are often full of interesting, under-the-radar places.

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is no exception as it is home to an Antiquities Museum, a Natural History Museum and three art galleries.  

The campus is an architectural gem as the facades of almost all of the buildings have been built with sandstone or Tyndall stone facades giving it a timeless quality I have not experienced anywhere else. 

From a design perspective, it may well be the best campus in Canada! 

  The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

A-Mazing Campus

The U of S, like most campuses, is a maze of seemingly randomly placed buildings.  Note: I often wonder why postsecondary campuses never used the grid street system, which is so much easier to navigate. The grid street design has been around since before Christ for heaven’s sake, you’d think one or more universities would have used it. However, the good thing about the maze system is you often get lost and in doing so, you see things you might not have if you knew where you were going.  For us, getting lost lead to finding artisans making puppets for this summer’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (River). 

  The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

Gory Puppets 

While trying to find our bearings, we noticed some quirky-looking objects in the basement windows of a building we had no intention of going into. However, they became the impetus for us to head in. Once inside, we immediately peeked into a large studio with three people working away making puppets. We were invited in come in dozens of puppets at various stages of completion.  Turns out they were making all of the 44 puppets for this summer’s production of TITUS A. Puppet Revenge, July 12 to August 19th.

Backstory: TITUS A. Puppet Revenge will tell the story of the most violent and bloody tragedy ever performed at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival.  Dismemberment, disembowelment and cannibalism will all play out with an amazing set of carefully crafted rod puppets in a small tent tucked into a corner of the site.  It is billed as a delightfully disturbing romp for mature audiences. Due to the detailed nature of puppets, I recommend attendees bring opera glasses or binoculars. 

Turns out we were welcomed by Kristi Friday of Stumped Productions who along with some hired hands were building all of the puppets. After looking around and chatting a bit, she asked if we wanted to come with her to the basement where they had set up a small rehearsal stage to test out the puppets and we could see the finished puppets.  We said “Hell Yes!” It was fun to get a behind the scene tour and an up close and personal look at the puppets.  

  Puppets in various stages of completion.  

Puppets in various stages of completion. 

  An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

  The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

  Taking a break....

Taking a break....

  Hanging out....

Hanging out....

  The rehearsal stage...

The rehearsal stage...

Secret UofS Museum

Next door to the rehearsal stage, was the basement room that attracted us to go inside the building in the first place. Here we were rewarded with the opportunity to see some of the fun stage costumes other production from bubble wrap dresses to vintage hat boxes.

It was like finding a buried treasure or an unknown museum. 

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Lessons Learned

#1 Always travel with your eyes and mind wide open.  

#2 Always leave extra time to explore unexpected opportunities. 

#3 Don't be shy!

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

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Footnotes: University of Arizona 

University of New Mexico: A-Mazing 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Beltline

Locals and visitors often ask me “what is Calgary’s coolest neighbourhood?” My reply is, “It depends on what you like to do.”  Just for fun I thought I would do a series of blogs on what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods (Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Eau Claire/Downtown West, Downtown Core, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission) are all cool.

This blog explores the Beltline community. 
  You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening.  

You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening. 

Beltline

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Calgary’s Beltline community boundaries are from the Elbow River west to 14th St SW and from 17th Avenue SW north to the railway tracks.

In reality, it is three distinctly different neighbourhoods – East Beltline (EABE), which includes everything east of 4th Street SW with 1st Street SW as its pedestrian corridor; North Beltline (NOBE), which is the 10th & 11th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (at one time this area was known as Electric Avenue for all of the bar signage) and South Beltline (SOBE), which is the area next to the 16/17th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (was nicknamed The Red Mile as ten of thousands of Calgary Flames jersey fans took over the street during the Flames Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2004).

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Festivals/Events

As Stampede Park is within its boundaries, the Beltline could claim everything from Calgary Expo to Calgary Stampede as its signature event.  It doesn’t get much better than that.    

  The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

  Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Shops

  Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip.  

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip. 

Gravity Pope is arguably Calgary’s coolest retail store not only from a design perspective but also for their amazing footwear and fashions.

It is a “must see” for anyone visiting Calgary.

Long-time 17th Ave anchor shops like Reid’s The Stationery Store (this is not your typical stationary store) Rubaiyat (jewellery, art glass, home accessories) and Mona Lisa Artist’s Materials are unique and fun places to browse.  

Mountain Equipment Co-op’s flagship Calgary store at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th St SW has been a citywide destination for decades. Across the street is Atmosphere -another outdoor wear store.

    Metrovino's   front door is in the back alley . 

Metrovino's front door is in the back alley

Cork dorks won’t want to miss Metrovino and its carefully curated selection of wines.  Bonus – double your fun here as it is located at the back of the Cookbook Company retail store with its 2,000+ cookbooks in stock (largest in Western Canada) as well as cookware. 

 

 

The Beltline is also home to some funky designer stores like Roche Bobois, Kit Interior Objects, Shaun Ford & Co. and Chintz & Company flagship store.

    MEC'  s colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

MEC's colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

  Every time I go to the    Camera Store    is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

Every time I go to the Camera Store is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

  17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

    Heritage Posters and Music   is a must see for audiophiles. 

Heritage Posters and Music is a must see for audiophiles. 

Cafés

The Beltline is blessed with numerous independent cafés including the iconic Caffe Beano, where artists and hipsters have been hanging out for decades. Other notable cool coffee spots include Kawa Espresso Bar, Analog, Bumpy’s Café and Good Earth Cafe.

  The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

Restaurants

There are a plethora of good restaurants in the Beltline, some of my favourites being Yellow Door (yes, it really does have yellow doors), Foreign Concept and Model Milk for their innovative menus and cool interior design.  Bonterra Trattoria, a traditional favourite has arguably Calgary’s best al fresco patio.  Beltline offers several great pizza parlours – Cibo, Posto Pizzeria and Bar, Una Pizza + Wine.

If you are looking for some late-night dining, Ten Foot Henry is a good bet. The cuisine is “new North American,” i.e. creative, vegetable focused and built for sharing. Currently on their menu is a “Crispy Pickerel” with almond purre, brussel leaves and pickled grapes.

Then there’s a Beltline hidden gem - the Mermaid Inn Restaurant located in the mellow yellow-coloured Danish Canadian Club building built in 1964.  While the club is for members and their guests, they will happily sign you in as a “special guest.”  The food is great as is the price.  Note: it is closed Sundays; the Saturday brunch is outstanding.

  You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.   

You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.  

  RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

 Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

  Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

  Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Art & Architecture

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The Beltline lays claim to most of Calgary’s major commercial galleries, which are clustered in and around the 700 block of 11th Ave SW. There you will find Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zone Galleries.  Other galleries nearby include Gibson, Lattitude, Gerry Thomas, Trepaneir Baer and Webster Galleries.

Loch Gallery, over on 4th St SW is definitely worth checking out.

And if you are walking by Hotel Arts, pop in and check out the art in the lobby and beyond as there is lots of it and it is very good.  Be sure to look up at the glass installation on the ceiling in the entrance. 

 As for public art, the Beltline’s signature piece is “Calgary Scroll” by David Rokeby, a huge S-curve that spans from one side of the 8th Street underpass to the other looking a bit like a monorail track. 

The “track” is actually an LED screen that displays bits of old Calgary news from the early 20th century that pedestrians can read as they stroll from the Beltline to downtown. 

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Or is it “Chinook Arc” by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock in the Barb Scott Park. This is an interactive, illuminated sculpture that glows in the dark.  The shape was inspired in part by the Beltline street cars and Chinook arch cloud formation that periodically forms in the Calgary sky.

A mural program was launched in 2017 at various locations on the sides of buildings and in alleys with several more murals to be completed in 2018.

Beltline is home to the new Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre that includes dance studios and offices as well as 230-seat space for performances.  DJD’s performances are nothing but cool and at night, you can check out the colourful mural of dancers that adorns the rooftop of the building.

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In 2005, the 1911, Tuscan style Wesley United Church was converted into the Calgary Opera Centre (now called the Arrata Opera Centre).

It is used for rehearsals, wardrobe shop, education programs, offices and even the occasional performance by Calgary Opera.

When it comes to architecture the Memorial Park Library is a “must see.”  This majestic Edwardian Classicism building opened in 1912 and is surrounded by a lovely, two-hectare park/garden. It is one of 150 libraries built in Canada with funding from the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and is still a functioning library so be sure to go inside.

When it comes to modern architecture, the Beltline is home to several new condo towers, with Mark on 10th being perhaps the most distinguished with its playful use of a yellow tinted glass atrium at the corner to the pastel-coloured panels on the exterior that draw the eye up to the roof-top resident lounge projecting over the edge of the building.  

 Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

  Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

  Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

  Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Parks/Plaza/Pathways

The Beltline is blessed with three historic urban parks - Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens (1891), Central Memorial Park (1912) and Tomkins Park (1915).  It is also home to a new urban dog park in Connaught Park, the new Barb Scott Park and the brand new Thomson Family Park, the latter replacing the Calgary Lawn Bowling club facility.

The Beltline is part of Calgary’s City Centre Cycle Track program with a dedicated bike lane along 12th Avenue, from 11th St SW to 4th St SE and 5th Street from 3rd Ave SW to 17th Ave SW.

  As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

  Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

  Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating.  

Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating. 

  Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

  Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Fitness/Recreation

The Beltline lays claim to the oldest the oldest purpose-built social service building in Calgary - the Beltline Y.W.C.A. opening in 1911.  Today, the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre (its current name) is a busy place as over 23,000 people live close by.  Two other major fitness centers include Heaven’s Fitness and Yoga Passage. There is also a winter skating rink at the new Thomson Family Park.

  The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

  In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

Pubs & Clubs

The Ship & Anchor is Calgary’s iconic pub. Even in the middle of winter its sunny patio can be packed with hipsters enjoying Calgary’s brilliant winter sunshine.  On weekend mornings it becomes a popular spot for soccer fans to congregate while the Saturday afternoon jams are packed with Yuppies.  A close second would be the Rose & Crown pub on 4th.

If your idea of a good time is sampling beer (and whose isn’t) you have to visit Craft Beer Market’s original beer hall with its 100+ beers on tap.  Or, visit Trolley 5 Brewery Restaurant where the 400 seats await you to try out their craft beer brewed on site.

If live music is your thing, a good bet would be Broken City and Hifi Club who have both been hosting live music since 2004 and 2005 respectfully. While Mikey’s on 12th is a new location, Mikey has been curating live music shows for decades and his Saturday afternoon blues jam is very popular with locals.

  17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

Fun/Funky/Quirky 

Enjoying a couple of maple bacon doughnuts at Jelly Modern Doughnuts (you can’t eat just one) is perhaps the quintessential FFQ Beltline experience.  Or, is it enjoying an “A-bomb” hot dog at Tubby Dog at 2 am?

Some might even say it doesn’t get any cooler than enjoying an ice cream cone at the Beltline’s two signature ice cream parlours - Made by Marcus or Village Ice Cream -when it’s -30C outside.

  Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

  On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

  It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store.  

It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store. 

  You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

  Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Last Word

Even the Beltline’s name is cool.  It is named after the Calgary Municipal Railway’s Route #5 that was nicknamed the “belt line” as its route used to wind its way back and forth from 17th Ave SW to downtown like a conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant.

I have only scratched the surface of the cool things to see and do in the Beltline. 

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

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Beltline: North America's Best Hipster/GABEster Community

11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street