Calgary vs. Edmonton: Who has the best river valley parks? 

Recently I tweeted out that Calgary may well have the best urban river public spaces in the Canada - maybe even the world. While many agreed with me, one response from an Edmonton follower shared an excerpt from Wikipedia saying:

Edmonton has the largest urban park system in Canada with 20 major parks and attractions.”  

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 The City of Edmonton's website.

The City of Edmonton's website.

Really?

Quick mental calculations made me think Calgary could easily match or exceed that with our three amazing river valleys – Bow, Elbow and Fish Creek.  And Calgary easily has over 160 kilometres of river pathways. 

So, I tweeted back, "The challenge is on!” 

And I immediately started doing the math to see if Calgary’s river valley could beat 20 parks and attractions.

Bow River Valley Parks

  1. Bowness Park
  2. Bowmont Park
  3. Edworthy Park
  4. Douglas Fir Trail 
  5. Shouldice Athletic Park
  6. Shaw Millennium Park
  7. Prince’s Island Park
  8. St. Patrick’s Island Park
  9. Calgary Zoo and Botanical Garden 
  10. Inglewood Bird Sanctuary/Fish Hatchery  
  11. Harvie Passage 
  12. Sue Higgins Park 
  13. Carburn Park 
 William Hawrelak Park is perhaps Edmonton's signature urban park. 

William Hawrelak Park is perhaps Edmonton's signature urban park. 

 Prince's Island is Calgary's signature urban park. 

Prince's Island is Calgary's signature urban park. 

  Edmonton's North Saskatchwan River Vallery is a place to escape from the city.

Edmonton's North Saskatchwan River Vallery is a place to escape from the city.

  The Douglas Fir Trail is just one of the many places in Calgary's river valley where you can escape the city.   

The Douglas Fir Trail is just one of the many places in Calgary's river valley where you can escape the city.  

Elbow River Valley Parks

  1.   Weaselhead Flats
  2.   Glenmore Reservoir
  3.   Heritage Park
  4.   North & South Glenmore Parks
  5.   River Park/Sandy Beach
  6.   Riverdale Park
  7.   Stanley Park
  8.   Lindsay Park
  9.   Stampede Park 
  10.   Fort Calgary Park

And then of course there is the massive, Fish Creek Park that encompasses the entire creek valley within the city’s boundaries. One of the largest urban parks in North America, it stretches 19 km from east to west. At 13.5 square kilometers, it is over three times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park.

  S.S. Moyie on Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir.

S.S. Moyie on Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir.

  Early morning walk along Calgary's Elbow River. Can you spot the walker?

Early morning walk along Calgary's Elbow River. Can you spot the walker?

  Elbow River Camp at Stampede Park.

Elbow River Camp at Stampede Park.

Attractions along the river

Edmonton’s Kinsmen Centre and Calgary’s Repsol Sport Centre (in Lindsay Park) are probably on par with each other as recreational facilities, but ours is an architectural gem. 

Calgary can’t match Edmonton’s Convention Centre, but our equivalent would be Stampede Park, which includes the BMO Centre.

Edmonton has a baseball diamond in their river valley, Calgary has the Saddledome on the Elbow River. 

While Edmonton has riverboat cruises, Calgary has the S.S. Moyie paddlewheeler on the Glenmore Reservoir.  In addition, Calgary has thousands of floating rafts, kayaks, canoes and paddle boarders something I understand Edmontonians don’t do as much. Oh, and what about river surfing at Louise Bridge and some the best fly-fishing in the world all along the Bow River.

What does Edmonton have to match the Calgary Zoo, Fort Calgary, Heritage Park and Shaw Millennium Park?  Fort Edmonton for sure and the Muttart Conservatory? Anything else? 

Edmonton has the 100th St funicular (an elevator for small groups of people and bikes) that links downtown with the river valley.  Calgary’s river valleys are more accessible so we don’t really need a funicular.  Calgary has the Crescent Heights staircase that we have turned into a unique recreation experience. 

Edmonton’s Folk Festival in Gallagher Park is definitely more internationally renowned than Calgary’s.  But we do have that world’s “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” happening at Stampede Park which just happens to be along the Elbow River.

What about golf courses within the city limits? Calgary has six: Valley Ridge, Inglewood, Calgary Golf & Country Club, Lakeview, McKenzie Meadows and Blue Devil. Edmonton also has six: Windermere, Royal Mayfair, Victoria, Riverside, Rundle Park and Raven Crest.

  Calgary's International Folk Festival's home is Prince's Island which is located on the edge of downtown in the middle of the Bow River.

Calgary's International Folk Festival's home is Prince's Island which is located on the edge of downtown in the middle of the Bow River.

  Edmonton Folk Festival in Gallagher Park (photo credit: CTV News)

Edmonton Folk Festival in Gallagher Park (photo credit: CTV News)

  Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre is built into the bank of the North Saskatchewan River. 

Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre is built into the bank of the North Saskatchewan River. 

  Muttart Conservatory is one of Edmonton's architectural gems.

Muttart Conservatory is one of Edmonton's architectural gems.

  Repsol Sport Centre is one of Calgary's architectural gems. 

Repsol Sport Centre is one of Calgary's architectural gems. 

  Edmonton's High Level Bridge at night.

Edmonton's High Level Bridge at night.

  Calgary's Reconciliation Bridge at night.

Calgary's Reconciliation Bridge at night.

  Edmonton's new Waterdale Bridge.

Edmonton's new Waterdale Bridge.

  Fort Edmonton Park.

Fort Edmonton Park.

  Calgary's Heritage Park.

Calgary's Heritage Park.

Public spaces along the river

Does Edmonton have the numerous natural pebble beaches along their river valley that Calgary has?  

What about urban promenades like Calgary’s Eau Claire or East Village? Can Edmonton match these urban gems?

Can Edmonton’s downtown workers easily walk to the river and back at lunch hour?

Can Edmonton match Calgary’s iconic river bridges – Centre Street, Peace Bridge and George King Bridge? Yes, Edmonton has the High Level Bridge.

Can Edmonton match Calgary’s Elbow River Camp (formerly Indian Village) at Stampede Park? What about a theatre space like Calgary's Pumphouse Theatre?  

What about river island parks? Does Edmonton have anything to match Prince’s, St. Patrick and St. George’s islands?

  Edmonton's downtown beach.

Edmonton's downtown beach.

  The green beach in Calgary's Stanley Park. 

The green beach in Calgary's Stanley Park. 

 The pebble beach in downtown Calgary's St. Patrick's Park is a popular family spot. 

The pebble beach in downtown Calgary's St. Patrick's Park is a popular family spot. 

  River surfing has also become a popular activity in downtown Calgary.

River surfing has also become a popular activity in downtown Calgary.

  Paddling along the Bow River has become a very popular summer activity in Calgary. (photo credit @surrealplaces) 

Paddling along the Bow River has become a very popular summer activity in Calgary. (photo credit @surrealplaces) 

Second opinions

I decided to send my unscientific analysis to a couple of friends who live in Edmonton but have lived in Calgary to see if I was being fair. Both were adamant I wasn’t.  

Terry Bachynski who had lived in both cities for about 18 years each wrote:

“Calgary has a great river valley, but Edmonton's river valley is spectacular. 

Comparing the two river valleys against one another is not an apples to apples thing.  The two cannot be compared and "winner" identified.   The two valleys are completely different, not only in their geography, but how each river valley relates to and is integral to the respective city.   

Edmonton's river valley is a sharp, well defined river escarpment running through the heart of the city with very little commercial or residential development. Calgary's river valleys are much more tapered.  The entire downtown and beyond is built at the bottom of the escarpment, right on the river flood plain.  You don't even climb out of the south side of the Bow River Valley until you climb up to the green on the first hole of the Calgary Golf and Country Club.  

 Calgary's river valley is integrated into the rhythm and flow of the urban downtown experience because the downtown is in the river valley.  While Edmonton's river valley is more an escape from the city right in the heart of the city.  

 Being a veteran of 60 marathons and a dozen ultra-marathons, I have logged a lot of miles in both river valleys.  I have run literally thousands of kilometers in Calgary and Edmonton along the rivers and I have to concede that Edmonton's river path system is second to none.  You can literally run for hours and not even be aware there is a city all around you.  Edmonton's River Valley is a near continuous, uninterrupted park experience. 

Not so with Calgary's trails.  There are constant reminders of the city confronting you all along the trail, from Fish Creek Park all the way to Bowness Park.  Calgary's river valley is urban by necessity and design."  

 Ice Castles in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park. 

Ice Castles in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park. 

To each their own!

Terry continues, "Both work for both cities.  But, if I had my choice, the escape from the city is preferred.  

 In your analysis you kind of skimp on the other pluses of the Edmonton River Valley.  The Muttart Conservatory, three river valley ski hills inside city limits, the sandy beaches that pop up every summer to enjoy, The Edmonton Zoo (granted, it can't hold a candle to the Calgary Zoo, but for a day's outing with a young family, still very rewarding), the Equestrian Centre just down the road from Fort Edmonton, where you can go horseback riding along the river, mountain bike trails (also great for ultra-marathon training), canoeing and the many, many parks offer everything you can think of.  

So, in my mind, both river valleys really reflect the cities and both work for both cities.  Neither wins.  To say one is better than the other is like saying golf is better than baseball.  To each his/her own.  

Chris White (no relation) wrote “I would say your draft is not "fair" but very enjoyable none the lessYour blog talks about "things," but people don't have things, they have experiences. Of course, your challenge is that experiences are subjective. But we shouldn't pretend that "things" are objective. If I were to sum up the difference for me, I would say the Edmonton valley is a more private experience. I’m very glad the two cities don’t try to duplicate each other. I don’t want to sound harsh, but a point-for-point comparison seems misguided, even un-Canadian.”

  Edmonton's spectacular new funicular and stairs is a lovely urban public space.

Edmonton's spectacular new funicular and stairs is a lovely urban public space.

  Roof top patio in Calgary's East Village offers great views of the Bow River. 

Roof top patio in Calgary's East Village offers great views of the Bow River. 

  Likewise, Calgary's new West Eau Claire park with the Peace Bridge is a great place to sit. 

Likewise, Calgary's new West Eau Claire park with the Peace Bridge is a great place to sit. 

 Edmonton's Quarters redevelopment. 

Edmonton's Quarters redevelopment. 

  Calgary's massive East Village redevelopment next to the Bow River.

Calgary's massive East Village redevelopment next to the Bow River.

Best For Who?

Fair enough! One can never say something is the “best” as it really depends on each individual’s perspective and interests. While my friends love how Edmonton’s river valley is an escape from the city, I love to embrace the urban experience.  

Perhaps the Canadian thing to do is say both Calgary and Edmonton have great river valley experiences, Calgary’s being more urban while Edmonton’s is more natural.

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

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Edmonton/Calgary: Let's Plan Together?

Brewery Districts: Calgary vs Edmonton

Delacour: Ghost Town turns Golf Town?

I bet many Calgarians and tourists have whizzed by the Delacour corner at the intersection of secondary Highways #564 and #791 and wondered if the frontier-looking, well-aged tiny wooden General Store building is really still open as the sign says. Or what’s with the Girl Guide building. I know I have. 

  The turnoff to the Delacour Store is well signed, but I have no idea what is the history of Broadway Avenue sign. 

The turnoff to the Delacour Store is well signed, but I have no idea what is the history of Broadway Avenue sign. 

For the past 10+ years, I have played a couple of rounds at the Canal at Delacour golf course across the street from the General Store/Girl Guide site, but have ever gone in. Until this year.

I decided recently to leave a bit early for my tee time and check it out. I am happy to report, “Yes, the Delacour General Store is still open” and as you would expect it offers a little of everything. And ”yes,” the Girl Guide building is still used for meetings and a few other functions each year. 

Upon entering the General Store, I was greeted enthusiastically by the new owners and given a little history and tour of the building.  I was then encouraged to wander the site which was a unique walk back in time.  Indeed, it was as if time has stood still on this site.  The old baseball backstop had me hearing kids screaming with joy as they played ball a hundred years ago. I wish I had brought a bat and ball. I also wondered how long will still be here.

  Yep, the store looks like something out of a Hollywood western movie from the '50s. 

Yep, the store looks like something out of a Hollywood western movie from the '50s. 

  The porch has these lovely tables for anyone wanting to sit and have a coffee or perhaps a Coke and sandwich and enjoy the big prairie sky. 

The porch has these lovely tables for anyone wanting to sit and have a coffee or perhaps a Coke and sandwich and enjoy the big prairie sky. 

  The inside is bright and cheerful.  This area use to the post office space. 

The inside is bright and cheerful.  This area use to the post office space. 

  Recent renovations converted the living quarters at the back into store space. 

Recent renovations converted the living quarters at the back into store space. 

  You can get the staples - milk, eggs, meat, juice and pop. 

You can get the staples - milk, eggs, meat, juice and pop. 

Delacour’s History

The Delacour was named after the foreman of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction crew. It was originally believed Delacour was a French name meaning “of the heart,” however; recently this has come into question as Mr. DeLacour was from Denmark.

The line became part of the Canadian National Railway in 1914, the same year Delacour was incorporated as a hamlet. The first passenger train went through on February 28, 1914, the same year a small store was established in the community. Yes, the same General Store that is still there today. The store also became the local post office in 1915.

As the railway moved west, Delacour was built around one of many prairie grain elevators connecting the agricultural community to the railroad. At the same time a canal was built to allowed agriculture to thrive.  

Though the grain elevator has long since been demolished, an active community is still centred around the Delacour Community Hal in the hamlet of Delacour. The Community Club was incorporated by early residents in 1928, followed by the Agricultural Society - both are still thriving today.

  The Girl Guide House is still in good shape and used today. 

The Girl Guide House is still in good shape and used today. 

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  The old baseball diamond looks like it hasn't been used in many many years. 

The old baseball diamond looks like it hasn't been used in many many years. 

Delacour’s Future

Today, Delacour has a few old homes as well as some large acreage homes located along the railway tracks and a community center just down the road from the General Store.  However, plans to sell residential lots on the golf course could be the catalyst to convert what looks like a ghost town (to the casual observer) into a thriving golf town. 

The Canal at Delacour, which officially opened for play in 2005, is one of Alberta’s premier championship golf courses. This link style course is one of the first to open in the spring and last to close in the fall.  The greens are fast and challenging and the course is always in good shape.  It offers perhaps the best golf for the money in southern Alberta. 

With Delacour’s easy access to the Calgary International Airport, Stoney Trail and CrossIron Mills Mall, Costco, Walmart and Lowe’s Home Improvement, as well as the Horizon Mall set to open this summer, it could easily become a mecca for Southern Alberta retirees. 

  The Canal at Delacour Golf Course is perhaps the best links golf course in Western Canada and one of the top courses in Alberta.  

The Canal at Delacour Golf Course is perhaps the best links golf course in Western Canada and one of the top courses in Alberta.  

  Concept plans for the proposed Fairways at Delacour residential development. 

Concept plans for the proposed Fairways at Delacour residential development. 

Last Word

Next time you are out and about (on foot, on bike or in a vehicle) and think “we should stop and check out this out,” don’t just think about it, DO IT! You will be glad you did. 

  You gotta like the Hurst gear shifter that has been converted into a door handle for the store.   

You gotta like the Hurst gear shifter that has been converted into a door handle for the store.  

Augusta National Is Bootylicious?

Yes, bootylicious is the word that best describes Augusta National Golf Course, with its fairways and greens having the bumps and curves of a voluptuous woman.  While spectators (oops patrons) like me couldn’t get on the greens, you could tell they were as smooth as the skin of a Paris model.  In addition, the golf course has had more “facelifts” than an aging movie star.

  Lipstick on the collar...

Lipstick on the collar...

Augusta is well-manicured, even the pine needles under the trees have been combed so they are neat and tidy. The reds and pinks of the flowers resemble the lipsticks found in an upscale cosmetic boutique.

The untouched white sand traps that dot the fairways and guard the greens look ornamental, like a broach or necklace.  The smooth mirror-like ponds add a definite narcissistic element to the golf course.

  The greens are well guarded by huge bunkers. 

The greens are well guarded by huge bunkers. 

Vixen or Siren?

Some might even call Augusta a vixen, with holes that can be both seductive and ill-tempered. Others might say she is a siren for her seductive beauty that entices men to go for shots they shouldn’t. 

  The fairways are generous but there are few flat spots. 

The fairways are generous but there are few flat spots. 

Bikini-waxed?

In 1994, pro golfer and CBS commentator Garry McCord got banned from Augusta for saying “Augusta's 17th green was so fast it could have been bikini-waxed.” Ironically, when I first arrived and walked on the fairways they looked and felt like artificial turf so I immediately reached down to feel the grass. Indeed, it had a very waxy, plastic feel.  McCord’s comment rang true to me.

After spending a day at Augusta National for a practice round and then watching The Masters the next weekend I have a much greater appreciation for the sensuality and seductiveness of the golf course.  Augusta is drop-dead gorgeous; definitely eye-candy.   

I expect I too will be banned for life, if any of the Board Members read this blog.

  Augusta National is drop dead gorgeous. 

Augusta National is drop dead gorgeous. 

Practice Round Surprises

The crowd was overwhelming for me; it was like Disneyland for golfers. It took me awhile to get use to the masses of people swarming everywhere (40,000 I think).  I found it difficult to really appreciate the course with so many people on it. 

I also found it hard to appreciate the fairways looking at them from the sides. To me you have to walk down the middle of the fairways and onto the greens to really understand the golf course terrain.

Unlike a tournament day where most patrons would sit and watch, on practice days it is chaos as people walk all over the golf course. The same was true of the players - they wandered all over the course hitting balls from different spots on the fairway and greens. 

There wasn’t the intensity I expected - I saw players bouncing balls up and down off their club as then walked down the fairway.  For me there was more intensity on the driving range as players worked with their coaches on their swing. I was also intrigued by all the swing aides used on the driving range and putting green. 

The pro shop was an amazing experience.  Patrons were herded through a maze to get into the shop as they control how many people are inside at any one time.  Once in, it is a feeding frenzy as people are literally running around grabbing things and throwing them into their shopping bags.  I heard the average person spends $700 US buying hats, shirts, balls etc etc etc., which means the course takes in about $25 million per day just in souvenirs. 

  There are patrons everywhere...

There are patrons everywhere...

  It just another tournament?

It just another tournament?

Practice Makes Perfect

I watched several of the players routinely miss 4 footers on the practice green. I didn’t see anyone sink 10 in a row like you often see on TV. I would also say most of the players spent little time on the chipping area, which surprised me.

While I knew the rough was short at Augusta I was surprised at how little difference there is and that is what makes the fairways look so wide open. 

I was also surprised that the shots off the tee boxes are not as narrow as they look on TV. Jordan Spieth might not agree with me.

However, the elevation changes along the fairways and into the greens are more severe than what you see on TV. I tried to capture the changes on camera but could not.

And don’t let them tell you how hard it is to hit off the pine needles under the trees! They have been raked and cleaned so that golfers are almost guaranteed a good lie.  As well, the lower tree branches have been cut to allow room for a good swing. 

  I was impressed that Jordan carried his own balls to the driving range. He was one of the few players who hit two bags of balls.

I was impressed that Jordan carried his own balls to the driving range. He was one of the few players who hit two bags of balls.

  The elevation changes are gradual rather than dramatic.

The elevation changes are gradual rather than dramatic.

  My biggest surprise was how the fairway grass looks and feels like artificial turf -  so green and dense like nothing I have seen before.  Perhaps that is because there are never any golf carts on the course, very limited play and heavy use of herbicides and pesticides. The rough is on the left side.

My biggest surprise was how the fairway grass looks and feels like artificial turf -  so green and dense like nothing I have seen before.  Perhaps that is because there are never any golf carts on the course, very limited play and heavy use of herbicides and pesticides. The rough is on the left side.

  The pine needles under the trees is carefully groomed as are the lower branches. 

The pine needles under the trees is carefully groomed as are the lower branches. 

  Another use for your Sharpie.

Another use for your Sharpie.

  They definitely take their putting seriously. 

They definitely take their putting seriously. 

  Nobody is smiling for the camera.

Nobody is smiling for the camera.

  Three hands are better than two.

Three hands are better than two.

  Jordan having fun with Rickie on the range...

Jordan having fun with Rickie on the range...

Cemetery Corner

Amen Corner is just as pretty as it looks on TV.  I found out it used to be called Water Loop, before the term Amen Corner was coined.  I am thinking a better term might be Cemetery Corner as it is where many a golfer’s dream of winning The Masters dies. All the beautiful flowers reminded me of a funeral home.

FYI. The $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches are disgusting and unless you have a special pass the best you can do is cafeteria food.

  Funeral flowers?

Funeral flowers?

  Yucky!

Yucky!

Media Slut

The strangest experience I had was, while standing on the 18th fairway watching Tiger, Phil and Freddie walk by I heard the camera guy in front of me say “We’ve got this shot. Now, let’s get some footage of the flowers.” I asked “Do you have a secret spot? I love flowers.” Then another guy behind me says “Can I chat with you?” I hadn’t realized it was a local TV crew doing a story about the flowers at Augusta. I ended up doing an interview.  Once a media slut, always a media slut.

The most unique experience was having an Augusta member (yes, one of those guys in the infamous green jackets) kindly ask me, “Do you want me to take a picture of you?”  I happened to be taking a picture the Eisenhower cabin (one of several houses on the course, this one was where President Eisenhower stayed when he played Augusta) and he saw me and thought I’d probably like a selfie.

There are no cell phones allowed on the course and taking a selfie with a camera isn’t easy. Though not a big a fan of getting my picture taken, it was kinda cool to be asked by an Augusta Member to take your picture. We chatted a bit, he told me that normally going even on the front yard is out of bounds for the patrons, yet he allowed me to go up to the porch.

  Me toasting August National and The Masters at Eisenhower Cabin, thanks to a member.

Me toasting August National and The Masters at Eisenhower Cabin, thanks to a member.

Happy Place...

I should also mention there were many young people in green golf shirts asking if we were having a good time. Indeed, for one week of the year, Augusta is a welcoming place for those lucky enough to win the lottery.  Yes, they hold a lottery to issue tickets to the public each year. 

I would like to thank my golf buddy RS who won the lottery last year and asked me if I wanted to join him and two other buddies from our home course Redwood Golf and Country Club. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime for me, although RS only ranked it #4 of his lifetime golf experiences. 

  Rory McIlroy spent a long time signing autographs.   

Rory McIlroy spent a long time signing autographs.  

  One happy patron...

One happy patron...

  Another successful Masters....

Another successful Masters....

Golf Lesson Learned

Forget the drives; forget the putting. I am going to work on my swagger this year. All of the young players have very cocky, confident swagger as they move around the golf course.  It has got to be easier than trying to emulate their swings.  Isn’t golf a game of confidence?

Last Word

On the back of my day pass, I noticed a quote from Bobby Jones co-founder of Augusta National that reads “In golf, customs of etiquette and decorum are just as important as rules governing play. It is appropriate for spectators to applaud strokes in proportion to difficulty but excess demonstration by a player or his partisans are not proper because of the possible effect upon other competitors.” 

So, if the term “spectators” is good enough for Jones, I wonder why the Augusta Board demand they be called “patrons.”  

  Everyone gets a guide to the golf course and history when you enter. Why don't they call it the PATRON GUIDE?

Everyone gets a guide to the golf course and history when you enter. Why don't they call it the PATRON GUIDE?