Jan Morris: Saskatoon: The Wonder, HUB, POW City?

This blog is another excerpt from Jan Morris’ 1990s book “City to City,” subtitled, Canada through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day. The book is a series of essays commissioned by Toronto’s, Saturday Night Magazine. Link: Jan Morris

The title for Morris’ Saskatoon essay is “The happy surprise” and her first sentence is “Saskatoon struck me as Canada’s best surprise,” followed by “I expected the worst.” She said her 10-day visit taught her a lesson not to jump to conclusions.  Having recently visited Saskatoon I was surprised at how her observations rung true even today. 

  I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

Prosaic Names

Morris found Saskatoon in the early ‘90s to be “intellectually vivacious, physically it was invigorating, and aesthetically I thought it, in certain lights as least, in certain moods, very beautiful.”

She loved the name Saskatoon, loved enunciating it, but otherwise she thought Saskatoon and most Canadian cities have “too many prosaic imported names e.g. European saints names that have no reference to Canada or names inherited from Scottish estates or other European places.” She liked that Saskatoon is “allegedly derived from the Cree word for a local berry, misaskwatomin, it is as indigenous a name as one could wish for, besides being euphonious, exotic and slightly comical.” Overall, Saskatoon struck her as the “most thoroughly Canadian of Canadian cities” but doesn’t really say why.

She then lists Saskatoon’s various monikers over time – The Wonder City (in its youth), the Hub City (when the railway arrived), the Fastest Growing City on Earth (which it once claimed to be) and City of Bridges (it has seven). 

It is one city in Canada that “does not seem greatly interested in the affairs of the United States.”  

  The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

Tyranny   

Saskatoon reminded her of Aberdeen, Scotland given its role as the powerhouse of the Saskatchewan hinterland, sustaining the economy of hundreds of thousands of square miles (its own terrestrial ocean) not just for the wheat fields but for potash, uranium, and gold mines. 

Morris acknowledges “while there is a majestic beauty to Saskatoon’s lonely per-eminence, there are cruel oppressions, too.  As artists in particular have observed before me, that infinite horizon is a kind of tyranny – one feels that even trying to challenge it, in soaring art or architecture….would be no more than a senseless impertinence.”

She recognized 21stStreet at an “architectural gem” where you can see a fair cross section of local society, economically and socially. The street is home to the chateau-style Bessborough Hotel, the modernist Canadian National building, the Saskatoon Club and the old Eaton’s store that is now an Army & Navy store.  

“Saskatoon is a patchwork of rich and poor, rough and smooth. Its history has fluctuated from boom to bust and back again, and its social fabric is correspondingly interwoven.”

  Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

  The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

 The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

PhDs

“Nearly all the people, it seemed, rich or poor, scholar or scavenger, Scottish, Russian or Cree by origin, had something specifically Saskatonian in common. During my 10 days in this city, I experienced no single instance of unfriendliness – not a single annoyance.  Saskatoon claims to have more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in Canada, is full of lively theatre, and is a very hive of gifted writers.”  

  Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

 “Saskatoon also has a powerful instinct for communal duty, communal purpose. An almost intimate sense of fellowships seems to characterize the city.

Its public institutions are often named for still living local worthies and its University Bridge built by local engineers.

The Mendel Art Gallery is not only open 363 days of the year, twelve hours a day, but attracts an annual attendance almost as great as the entire population of the city (note the Mendel is now closed having been replaced by the controversial Remai Modern which is not open 363 days of the year or twelve hours a day.)  

If you build a new house, the city gives you two free trees. And everywhere there are commemorative plaques.”  

  The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

  Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

  Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Restaurants

Morris was not big fan of Saskatoon’s restaurants saying “seldom have I eaten more depressingly” even though the city claimed to have more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. She thought the city was cosmopolitan, with its fertile ethnic melange and constant infusion of outsiders, but remarkably introspective.

Saskatoon’s restaurant scene has changed significantly since Morris’ visit with award winning chef Dale Mackay’s three signature restaurants - Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks & Stones. If you don’t believe me check out this link: 17 Bucket List Restaurants You Need To Try In Saskatoon.

The River

  Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

She notes, “Physically the place depends for all of its charm upon the river, and this Saskatoon has used magnificently. The seven bridges do give a noble flourish to Saskatoon, while its river banks have been fastidiously exploited as trail and parkland, unobtrusively equipped with the standard educational displays, and mercifully embellished, as far as I discovered, by only two pieces of sculpture – one depicting a gambolling group of Saskatonian adolescents, some of them upside down, the other depicting a Metis slumped on his horse.”  

Morris observes, “almost everything seems new in this mise en scene, and this is hardly surprising, because Saskatoon is one of the most sudden of all the world’s cities….The thirty-odd blocks of downtown are like the rings of a chopped tree…the solid red-brick emporiums of the early boom years, the years of the Wonder City.

Here is the glass and steel of the 1970s, when a spurt in several of Saskatoon’s industries made it POW City, meaning the city riding the boom in Potash, Oil and Wheat.  And in between these emblems of success are the symptoms of successive relapses, stores that never quite made it, building lots never quite built upon.”  

Later she laments about the removal of the rail yards and train station from the City Centre, “To this day the absence of the yards gives the city centre a sense of lacuna and deprives it of symbolism.”  

  The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

  Splash park along the river.

Splash park along the river.

  Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Verandering?

She also comments about the suburban development “thousands of houses built in the first half of the century create a ring around the city centre with hardly any two alike as they have been embellished with every kind of decorative caprice, equipped with all permutations of gabling, pillaring, shingling and verandering, ranging from mock Tudor to glimmering modernism.”

  There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

Pioneer vigour 

I was surprised when she commented that the boom of the 1970s that created the sprawling malls, industrial estates and housing developments is “where one still feels a sense of pioneering vigour.”  She adds, “If you really want a sensation of the frontier in Saskatoon, probably the best place of all to go is to the big industrial zone in the northern part of town, which looks as though it has just been off-loaded piecemeal from a container train and is remarkably like photographs of pioneer Saskatoon in the earliest days of Wonder City.” 

I love Morris’ sense of urban humour. “Saskatoon is short on bravado, and, in its social being as in its contemporary architecture, seems anxious not to shock, or even surprise…while all this does not make the city feel disappointed, exactly, it does make it feel a little resigned – like a woman in middle age who, contemplating her husband across the dinner table, realizes without rancour that life’s romantic possibilities have come and gone.” 

  This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

  While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

  This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

  This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

  Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

  I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

Heroic to banal

Near the end of the essay she summarizes her feeling about the city, “But then excitement is not what Saskatoon purveys. It is part of the civic genius – part of the Canadian genius, too – to reduce the heroic to the banal.” 

  13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

Last Word

I recently visited Saskatoon and found it was a great long weekend getaway, not sure how I would spend 10 days there.  I am happy to say the restaurant scene has improved, as it has in most Canadian cities since the ‘90s.  Saskatoon, like most North American cities, has caught the craft beer bug with the north industrial area providing some fun beer tasting spots. The City Centre is currently undergoing a slow renaissance with new shops, restaurants, bars, fitness studios and condos popping up everywhere. The river valley continues to be a popular public place for people of all ages with new publics spaces, trails and events.    

From an architectural perspective, the University of Saskatchewan has perhaps the best blend of old and new architecture in Canada. The new Remai Modern art gallery is a definite attempt to create a modern architectural statement with its cubist, container-like design.

The architecture and programming are diametrically opposed to what the Mendel Art Gallery used to offer.  Like it or not, it is a move away from the banal, the prosaic towards the “bravo” that Morris’ said was missing in Saskatoon’s sense of place.  

I agree with Morris that Saskatoon has a lot of commemorative plaques, statues and monuments. However, what impressed me most were the provocative murals and street art - some of the most thoughtful and appropriate images that I have seen anywhere. 

  This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

  The entire mural from across the street.

The entire mural from across the street.

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

I love flaneuring through the books in thrift stores and used bookstores to see if I might find a hidden gem.  That is exactly what happened recently at J.H. Gordon Books on King St. E in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Often, I find books I didn’t even know existed, like Jan Morris’ “City to City” which is subtitled “through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day.” I have a couple of Morris’ books in my collection but had never seen this one.   

A quick check found it was published in 1990 and the cities ranged from St John’s and Saskatoon to Yellowknife and Vancouver, as well as a few cities in between. I thought it would be interesting to see how an outsider saw Canada and our cities almost 30 years ago (a generation). Needless to say, I bought the book.  

  This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

Jan Who?

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Jan Morris, born in 1926, is a Welsh historian, author and travel writer who has written extensively about cities around the world since the ‘60s. She has an amazing ability to observe, ask questions and articulate her thoughts on the underlying character of a city – good, bad and ugly. These are not fluffy travelogues, but urban character studies.   

She first visited Canada in the early 1950s, getting to know its cities and its people better than many Canadians ever do.

Her comments about Canada and Canadian cities are often not very flattering and sometimes I wonder how, in such a relative short visit, she can feel so confident about her ability to capture the pulse and sense of place of a city accurately.  Perhaps I am jealous?

By the end I was amazed at how many times she used the word “prosaic” to describe Canada, and our cities. However, that being said, she does make some very thought provoking observations.

Over the next few months I will share excerpts from her essays that were commissioned for Saturday Night magazine.   

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

Morris’ Toronto essay was written in 1984 when she visited the city for its sesquicentennial. She acknowledges the city has become more metropolitan now (i.e. 1990) more Americanized and more assertive as evidenced by….wait for it… “the increasing number of jay-walkers!” 

In her opinion, Toronto is one the most highly disciplined and tightly organized cites of the Western World.  Morris also notes she had never heard of the word “multiculturalism” or “heritage language” until she visited Toronto.  She writes “Far more than any other of the great migratory cities, Toronto is all things to all ethnicities. The melting-pot conception never was popular here, and sometimes I came to feel that Canadian nationality itself was no more than a minor social perquisite.”

She thought the word multiculturalism is to Toronto, what “ooh-la-la” is to Paris, “ciao” to Rome, “nyetto” Moscow and “hey you’re looking great” to Manhattan. 

But she also noted “Toronto was not all brotherly love and folklore, saying wherever she went she heard talk of internecine (destructive to both sides) rivalries, felt a darkly conspiratorial side to multiculturalism and that one could easily stumble into cafes in which plotters organized distant coups.”  

  Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

One of the main themes of the essays is the role of the transcontinental train as Canada’s iconic experience, as evidenced by this paragraph:

“And best of all, early one morning I went down to Union Station to watch the transcontinental train come in out of the darkness from Vancouver. Ah, Canada! I knew exactly what to expect of this experience, but still it stirred me: the hiss and rumble of it, the engineers princely in their high cab, the travel-grimed gleam of the sleeper cars…the grey faces peering out of the sleeper windows, the proud exhaustion of it all, and the thick tumble of the disembarking passengers, a blur of boots and lumberjackets and hoods and bundled children, clattering down the steps to breakfast, grandma, and Toronto, out of the limitless and magnificent hinterland.”

Oh, how Toronto and Canada HAS changed. The transcontinental train is iconic no more, and Union Station is filled with day commuters, with briefcases, backpacks and coffee cups from edge cities, not people from the hinterland.

Hard to believe the west was still thought of a Canada’s hinterland in the mid ‘80s by outsiders.

  Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Destination

I love the strange and insightful questions Morris asks of cities. In the case of Toronto, it was “What were the intentions of this city?” She then links this question to her observation of the “mural sculpture on the wall of the stock exchange ‘Workforce” by Robert Longo and she begins to contemplate its significance. The mural has eight figures, ranging from a stockbroker to what seems like a female miner, none of which look happy.” Whereupon she exclaims, “the pursuit of happiness, after all is not written into the Canadian constitution.”   She also notes, “Nor do they look exactly inspired by some visionary cause…. they are marching determinedly, but joyously, arm-in-arm, upon an undefined objective. Wealth? Fame? Security?”  Interesting contradiction here, as earlier she says they don’t look happy but later they are “joyously, arm-in-arm.”

Morris then poses the question, “Do cities have to have destinations?” And answers with “Perhaps not, but most of them do, if it is only a destination in the past, or in the ideal. Toronto seems to me, in time as in emotion, a limbo-city. It is not, like London, England obsessed with its own history. It is not an act of faith, like Moscow or Manhattan. It has none of Rio’s exuberant sense of young identity. It is neither brassily capitalist or rigidly public sector. It looks forward to no millennium, back to no golden age. It is what it is, and the people in its streets, walking with that steady, tireless, infantry-like pace that is particular to this city, seem on the whole resigned, without either bitterness or exhilaration, to being just what they are.”

Morris also perceived, “Among the principal cities of the lost British Empire, Toronto has been one of the most casual (rather than the most ruthless) in discarding the physical remnants of its colonial past. In Sydney, in Melbourne, in Wellington, even in Capetown, not to mention the cities in India, where the imperial memorials remain inescapable, sometimes even dominant…

Nobody, could possibly mistake this for a British City now.” “There is no mistaking this for a city of the United States, either….it is not a free-and-easy, damn Yankee sort of city – anything but,” she adds later.

  Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

  Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

  Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Nuclear Attack

Morris observes that while government authority is strong and respected in Toronto you could hardly call it “Orwellian – it seems without malevolence; but at the same time nobody can possibly ignore it, for it seems to have a finger almost everywhere (she hates the Liquor Control Board stores).”

She notes how public art is not only the work of the artist, but has to be authorized and approved by several government bodies before it is installed, or how it is the government that sells you a bottle of scotch and how well-mannered we are addressing criminals in course as “sir.”   

She postulates that if a nuclear bomb was to go off nearby, Torontonians would wait for the lights to change before running for cover.

Later she notes “Only in Toronto, I think, will a streetcar stop to allow a pedestrian to cross – surely one of the most esoteric experiences of travel in the 1980s? (Hmmmm, in Calgary cars stop all the time to let pedestrians cross the street, I wonder what she would make of that) Only in Toronto are the subways so wholesome, the parks so mugger-less, the children so well behaved.” 

She also recognizes Toronto isn’t a “provincial city” describing it as a huge, rich, splendid city, a metropolitan in power, a money centre of universal importance.

“Toronto is Toronto and perhaps that is enough….it is a city clean, neat, and ordered, built to a human scale, unhurried and polite. It has all the prerequisites of your modern major city – your revolving restaurants, your Henry Moore (today, that might be a Santiago Calatrava Bridge or a Jaume Plensa sculpture or a Norman Foster or BIG building), your trees with electric lights in them, your gay bars, your outdoor elevators, your restaurants offering deep fried pears stuffed with ripe camembert on a bed of nutmeg-scented spinach.”

Yet, by and large it has escaped the plastic blight of contemporary urbanism. 

  The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

  Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

  The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

Futuristic

She adds later “Everywhere has its galleria nowadays, Singapore to Houston, but none is quite so satisfying as Toronto’s Eaton Centre – just like one of the futuristic cities magazine artists like to depict in the 1930s.”

Morris says “Only the greatest of the world’s cities can outclass Toronto’s theatres, cinemas, art galleries, and newspapers, the variety of its restaurants, the number of its TV channels, the calibre of its visiting performers. Poets and artists are innumerable.” 

“What has not happened to Toronto is as remarkable as what has happened. It ought by all the odds to be a brilliant, brutal city, but it isn’t. Its downtown ought to be vulgar and spectacular, but is actually dignified, well proportioned, and indeed noble. Its sex-and-sin quarters, are hardly another Reeperbahn, and the punks and Boy Georges to be seen parading Yonge Street on a Saturday night are downright touching in their bravado, so scrupulously are they ignored.” 

  Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

  Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Escape Tunnels

Morris is not a big fan of the city’s street life, “Toronto is the most undemonstrative city I know, and the least inquisitive. The Walkman might be made for it. It swarms with clubs, cliques, and cultural societies, but seems armour-plated against the individual. There are few cities in the world where one can feel, as one walks the streets or rides the subways, for better or for worse, so all alone.” 

She likes Toronto’s underground PATH walkway better than the streets saying “Among the innumerable conveniences of Toronto, which is an extremely convenient city, one of the most attractive is the system of tunnels which lies beneath the downtown streets, and which, with its wonderful bright-lit sequences of stores, cafes, malls and intersections, is almost a second city in itself. I loved to think of all the warmth and life down there, the passing crowds, the coffee smells, the Muzak, and the clink of cups, when the streets above were half-empty in the rain, or scoured by cold winds; and one of my great pleasures was to wander aimless through those comfortable labyrinths, lulled from one Golden Oldie to the next, surfacing now and then to find myself on an unknown street corner far from home, or all unexpectantly in the lobby of some tremendous bank.” 

She adds, “But after a time, I came to think of them as escape tunnels. It was not just that they were warm and dry; they had an intimacy to them, a brush of human empathy, a feeling absent from the greater city above our heads.” 

  Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

  Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

No Joie de vivre

She later says, “Sometimes I think it is the flatness of the landscape that causes this flattening of the spirit – those interminable suburbs stretching away, the huge plane of the lake, those long grid roads which deprive the place of surprise or intricacy. Sometimes I think it must be the climate, numbing the nerve endings, or even the sheer empty vastness…Could it be the underpopulation; ought there be a couple of million more people in the city, to give it punch or jostle? Could it be the permanent compromise of Toronto, neither quite this or altogether that, capitalist but compassionate, American but royalist, multicultural but traditionalist.” 

When Morris asked immigrants what they thought of Toronto they said the “people are cold…they just mind their own business and make the dollars…neighbours don’t smile and say hullo (sic), how’s things…nobody talks.” 

To this she adds her own observations “in the course of its 150 years of careful progress, so calculated, so civilized, somewhere along the way Toronto lost, or failed to find, the gift of contact or of merriment…even the most naturally merry of the immigrants, the dancing Greeks, the witty Poles, the lyrical Hungarians seem to have forfeited their joie de vivre when they embrace the liberties of this town.”

In the end she concludes, “Your heart may not be singing, as you contemplate the presence around you Toronto the Good, but it should not be sinking either.

Cheer up! You have drawn the second prize, I would say, in the Lottario of Life.” 

  Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

  Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

  Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Last Word

Toronto the “Capital of the Ice Kingdom” is Morris’ term, not mine. However, it would seem to capture her view of Canada and our cities as cold, conservative and controlled places with little merriment. Hence the prolific use of the word “prosaic.”

I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Toronto, but then most Canadians other than those living in the metro Toronto area seem to despise the city that thinks it is the “centre of the universe.”  I am probably even more anti-Toronto than most as growing up in Hamilton we hated “Hogtown!”  I was surprised on a recent visit to Hamilton how much the anti-Toronto sentiment still exists.  

While reading the essay I couldn’t help but wonder what she might think of Calgary with our indoor +15 walkway, our brutally cold winters, beautiful icy rivers and huge parks.  What would she think of Stephen Avenue, the Calgary Tower or our iconic recreation centres? I got a sense of what she might have thought in her essay on Edmonton, entitled “A Six-Day Week!” 

  Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








Hamilton's Corktown Tavern: A Magical Experience  

Hamilton’s Corktown Tavern is probably one of the best small live music venues North America.  I say this based on the numerous live music venues I have visited in music cities like Austin, Memphis, Nashville, as well as Dublin over the past few years.  

My discovery of it was a bit serendipitous.  A recent visit to Hamilton, to visit my mother who happens to live in Corktown resulted in me asking around about live music venues. When someone suggested the Corktown Tavern, I thought “I perfect can walk there.”  I love to listen, drink and walk! 

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Kitchen Party vs Blues Jam

The first time I went was for the Friday night Kitchen Party. But the place was packed and we couldn’t get in. Lesson learned: Get there early or make a reservation. I then went back for the Sunday afternoon Blues Matinee to hear Brent Parker and the Corktown Blues Band.  Again, I got there in what I thought was good time, but the place was again packed. Lucky for me, I found a single seat near the front and was warmly welcomed by the couple already there to join them. Gotta love the friendly atmosphere!

As soon as the band started to play, people were up dancing - always a good sign in my mind as it means people are engaged and enthusiastic.  The music was great as was the people-watching.  The band put on a great show and the acoustics were great – what’s not to like.  

At the break, I struck up a conversation with my table mates, quickly learning they were regulars and that this Sunday matinee was typical of most Sundays. I was impressed.  They strongly encouraged me to also check out the Tuesday Irish Jam.

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Irish Jam 

So, Tuesday night I headed back to Corktown Tavern for dinner with my brother and open mic night presented by the Hamilton Irish Arts.  As we enjoyed the burger and beer (both very good), musicians started arriving and sitting at tables in the dining room and unpacking their instruments.  Over a period of 30 minutes, 16 musicians of all ages arrived and were soon jamming in what was a magical experience.  

It reminded me of a Saturday afternoon jam in Dublin where seven musicians jammed on a Saturday afternoon in a micro pub creating an unforgettable experience.  

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Corktown 101

Corktown, one of Hamilton’s oldest neighbourhoods dating back to the mid 1800s, was home to many of the early Irish settlers in Hamilton. The pub building itself dates back to 1880s and has been a live music venue since 1931.  Over 10,000 bands have graced its stages, including the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Arkells and Tom Cochrane.  It even hosted Jeff Healy’s last show, just 4 weeks before his death in 2008.  

Last Word

If you live in Hamilton, are at all interested in live music and haven’t been, I would highly recommend you go. Or, if you love live music and you are in the Hamilton area it is a “must do!”

And if Corktown Tavern isn’t working for you, check out the Cat & Fiddle a few blocks away it also has live music every night. Corktown is a wee bit of Dublin in Canada.

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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

Bark Art: Calgary & Boise?

After visiting the Basque Museum and Cultural Centre back in the spring of 2014, I have become intrigued by tree bark wherever I go.  

Backstory: Idaho is home to one of the largest populations of Basques outside of Spain. Numbering around 30,000 today, they have inhabited the region since the mid to late 1800s, first coming for mining, then as shepherds. Today the Basque Block in downtown Boise, where the museum is located, is a must visit.  It is in the Basque museum that I discovered "Arborglyphs," i.e. carvings on the bark of aspen trees that tell sheepherders stories and give a unique window into their solitary existence.

Link: Arborglyphs 

  Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

  Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

  This arborglyph was taken from Fisher Creek area of the Stanley basin, in the Sawtooth National Forest.  It is an image of a church carved into the tree. It took about 20 years for this aspen tree to mature enough to reveal the carving when it was alive. The tree had been dead for a number of years when this section was removed for preservation. (museum notes). To me it looks like a angle or  perhaps  even a Thunderbird from North  American   indigenous culture.  

This arborglyph was taken from Fisher Creek area of the Stanley basin, in the Sawtooth National Forest.  It is an image of a church carved into the tree. It took about 20 years for this aspen tree to mature enough to reveal the carving when it was alive. The tree had been dead for a number of years when this section was removed for preservation. (museum notes). To me it looks like a angle or perhaps even a Thunderbird from North American indigenous culture.  

Mother Nature's Art

Ever since my Boise visit I have been photographing interesting tree bark wherever I go.  This summer while wandering the Redwood Meadows golf course (yes I often wander off the fairway) I have discovered some very interesting "bark art." Or at least that is what I call it.

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Last Word

I love the textures, colours and sense of mystery that is evoked in each of these photographs.  I am always amazed at what if find almost everyday by just looking for interesting and intriguing things. 

If you are in the Boise area be sure to check out their downtown it is work a visit and if you do be sure to check out the Basque Block. 

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

Boise vs Calgary: David vs Goliath 

Boise: Freaking Fun In Freak Alley

MBAM: The Human Hand

Staircases as art?

Welcome to the era of neuro-design?

Could it be that in the near future urban designers will be collaborating with neuroscientist and psychologists to design buildings that make people feel comfortable rather than disoriented and encourage socialization vs isolation that is too often the case.

It could happen!  It has happened?

  In fact, the Alberta Children's Hospital was designed based on input from the children who wanted large windows and bright colours.  They wanted it to be a happy looking place.    Perhaps rather than consulting with   neuroscientist and psychologists    the design team shou ld consult with the end users more. To me this is a happy, welcoming place - exactly what it should be.

In fact, the Alberta Children's Hospital was designed based on input from the children who wanted large windows and bright colours.  They wanted it to be a happy looking place.  Perhaps rather than consulting with neuroscientist and psychologists the design team should consult with the end users more. To me this is a happy, welcoming place - exactly what it should be.

 The old children's hospital was a dull, depressing, institutional building.

The old children's hospital was a dull, depressing, institutional building.

Collaboration?

Indeed, the Conscious Cities Conference in London in 2017 brought together architects, designers, engineers, neuroscientists and psychologists, all of whom cross paths at an academic level, but rarely do so in practice, to discuss how they might collaborate.

What did they learn? 

Intuitively we all know the shape, colour and size of buildings affect the mood and well-being of humans. Now scientists have discovered specialized cells in the hippocampal region of the human our brains that processes each individual’s unique sense of geometry and space.  

  More and more architects in Calgary are using bold colours as a key element of the building's facade. Public art is also being use more to create a more varied and interesting streetscape.

More and more architects in Calgary are using bold colours as a key element of the building's facade. Public art is also being use more to create a more varied and interesting streetscape.

 Calgary's City Centre parkade is a good example of late '70s early '80s bland, utilitarian parkade design.

Calgary's City Centre parkade is a good example of late '70s early '80s bland, utilitarian parkade design.

  The Centennial parkade is a good example of how modern parkades are created to enhance the sense of place. In this case the parkade mirrors the warehouse history of the land next to the CPR tracks in its use of brick and its height. 

The Centennial parkade is a good example of how modern parkades are created to enhance the sense of place. In this case the parkade mirrors the warehouse history of the land next to the CPR tracks in its use of brick and its height. 

  The SAIT parkade is also a huge mural that can be enjoyed by tens of thousands of LRT riders everyday. It is a work of art! No more blank walls!

The SAIT parkade is also a huge mural that can be enjoyed by tens of thousands of LRT riders everyday. It is a work of art! No more blank walls!

Rounded vs Rectangular 

Using modern technology scientists have attempted to measure humans’ physiological responses to architecture and streetscapes, using wearable devices such as bracelets that monitor skin conductance (a marker of physiological arousal), smartphone apps that ask subjects about their emotional state, and electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets that measure brain activity relating to mental states and mood. 

A recently published study using visual reality technology concluded most people like curved edges and rounded contours rather than sharp-edged rectangular shaped buildings and rooms. However, the design students among the participants preferred the opposite. This could be a red flag! 

A study in Iceland found participants viewed various residential street scenes and found the ones with the most architectural variation the most mentally engaging. Not exactly rocket science, Jane Jacobs (author book “Death and Life of American Cities” in 1961) and others have been saying this for decades. 

  The curved staircase at Calgary's new Shane Homes Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre is an example of creating more public friendly urban design. 

The curved staircase at Calgary's new Shane Homes Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre is an example of creating more public friendly urban design. 

  The Royal a condo/retail project is an example of the sharp edge rectangular design preferred by urban designers.   

The Royal a condo/retail project is an example of the sharp edge rectangular design preferred by urban designers.   

Surprise! Surprise!

Another study looked at street patterns and found being lost and disoriented creates negative feelings.  Cities with grid-pattern numbered streets like New York are easy to navigate London’s hotchpotch of neighbourhoods all orientated differently is notoriously confusing. Another study documented districts with high-rises are more confusing and unpleasant to walk around than those with low-rise buildings.

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  Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Red Flag 

The fact that design students in the virtual reality study preferred hard-edges and rectangular shapes the opposite to the general public participants is a definite red flag.  

Could it be the brains of those attracted to the urban design professions are wired diametrically opposed to the general publics?  That would be an interesting study!

I know when I was a public art gallery curator it was obvious to me there is a huge gap between what artists and curators  finds interesting and what the public like to see in the way of art exhibitions.  Hence the term “art for art’s sake” i.e. that the chief aim of a work of art is the self-expression of the artist.  

Could the same be said for architects, landscape architects or interior designers? Could that be why they design minimalist buildings, lobbies and public spaces that are often alienating to the public? Are they designing for themselves and their colleagues not for the public? 

The question is: “Would architects, landscape architects and interior designers be willing to collaborate with neuro scientists and psychologist to have they designs tested to make sure they are “people friendly” before they get built.

 Calgary's four tallest buildings illustrate how architecture has evolved from the early '80s (Suncor Energy Tower, former Petro Canada Tower) to the new Telus Sky currently under construction.   

Calgary's four tallest buildings illustrate how architecture has evolved from the early '80s (Suncor Energy Tower, former Petro Canada Tower) to the new Telus Sky currently under construction.   

 Brookfield Place is a good example of minimalist architecture with its monolithic, monochromatic, translucent glass facade from the base to the roof.  Unlike the big box offices of the '70s it has rounded corners to give it a softer appearance more elegant appearance. 

Brookfield Place is a good example of minimalist architecture with its monolithic, monochromatic, translucent glass facade from the base to the roof.  Unlike the big box offices of the '70s it has rounded corners to give it a softer appearance more elegant appearance. 

 The triangular Next Tower, formerly Nova Tower, would be a good example of the hard-edge minimalist architecture of the '80s that some found very confrontational.   

The triangular Next Tower, formerly Nova Tower, would be a good example of the hard-edge minimalist architecture of the '80s that some found very confrontational.   

  Telus Sky is the polar opposite of Brookfield Place with its articulated facade that tapers as the use changes from office for the lower floors to residential for the upper floors, creating an intriguing and unique shape. 

Telus Sky is the polar opposite of Brookfield Place with its articulated facade that tapers as the use changes from office for the lower floors to residential for the upper floors, creating an intriguing and unique shape. 

  Bow Valley Square is a good example of '80s rectangular office tower architecture. 

Bow Valley Square is a good example of '80s rectangular office tower architecture. 

Architect says…

A quick email to a few architects resulted in some interesting comments. Charles Olfert a principle at aobdt architecture + interior design in Saskatoon perhaps said it best, “I do think the education of architects plays a big role in the way we design and perceive beauty in buildings.

We are taught to appreciate clean, modern spaces and the magazines we read reinforce this. The winners of architectural competitions and awards tend to encourage this perspective as well. The result is indeed a disconnect with people who have not had that ‘education’, so I am not surprised the general public would not be excited by what most architects are.”

However, Olfert thinks “to try somehow do a scientific and social analysis of aesthetics doesn’t seem useful. I have come to appreciate much later in my career the experience of a building is really complicated and aesthetics might be a relatively minor factor. Why are you at the building? Does it work for what you wanted? Do you already have some preconceptions because of who owns it, works in it or what it represents? What’s the neighborhood context?

A few years ago I read “The Architecture of Happiness” by AlainDeBotton.  It was pivotal, and changed my approach to the design of projects. Instead of focussing on what the program or client ask for, I now tend to first try make sure the building has at least a few spaces and/or details that make you happy. It’s actually not that hard. It usually involves strategic windows and an opportunity for some “wow” factor, even at a small scale.”

  The new Mount Royal University's parade uses vertical neon green bars to break up what would have been a dull horizontal wall. 

The new Mount Royal University's parade uses vertical neon green bars to break up what would have been a dull horizontal wall. 

  The designers of this is small condo project in the Marda Loop used colour to create not only a playful rhythm but to add the illusion of huge windows.    To me this is a happy building.

The designers of this is small condo project in the Marda Loop used colour to create not only a playful rhythm but to add the illusion of huge windows.  To me this is a happy building.

  Architect Jack Long's 1961, Calgary Planetarium and Science Center was a classic example of  "Brutalist" architecture. 

Architect Jack Long's 1961, Calgary Planetarium and Science Center was a classic example of  "Brutalist" architecture. 

  The colour elements were added later to make it more child-like and playful.  Or as some might say "tarted it up!" 

The colour elements were added later to make it more child-like and playful.  Or as some might say "tarted it up!" 

Are architects doing better job? 

Do we like The Princeton better than Eau Claire 500 condo next door? Do we like the condo towers in East Village better than those built in West Downtown in the ‘90s? Do we like the University City’s bold yellow, orange, green and red towers at the Brentwood LRT Station better than SASS0 and NUERA at Stampede Station? Do we like the new condos being built today at SETON compared to those around Market Mall in the ‘70s and ‘80s? 

  Princeton condo (on the left) is an example of theearly 21st century's architecture with a distinct base, middle and roof-top, softer edges and warmer colours.  On the right, is the '80s architecture of Eau Claire 500 with its hard edges, flat facade and brooding colour. 

Princeton condo (on the left) is an example of theearly 21st century's architecture with a distinct base, middle and roof-top, softer edges and warmer colours.  On the right, is the '80s architecture of Eau Claire 500 with its hard edges, flat facade and brooding colour. 

Do Calgarians like The Bow with its curved shape and diagonal lines, plaza and public art, better than the minimalist Brookfield Place with its rounded edges and public lobby.

Do we like edgy Eighth Avenue Place with its articulated roof top, vertical thrust and cathedral-like lobby versus it neighbour Husky Towers with rounded gold coloured glass edges. 

Do we like new Telus Sky with its twisted articulated façade and strange bottle-like shape versus the oval-shaped reflective deep blue glassed 707 Fifth street office building? How do they compare to  ‘70s TD Square or Scotia Tower and the ‘80s Bankers Hall?

Do we like the oval shaped, patterned façade of the new Calgary Central Library better than the strange shaped, dark snake-like skinned of National Music Centre or translucent glass, crystal shaped TELUS Spark building better? How do they compare with the Glenbow? Do we like the South Health Campus building better than the Rockyview Hospital? 

  Calgary's new central library has many of the elements that neuroscientist and psychologists say make a building more public friendly. 

Calgary's new central library has many of the elements that neuroscientist and psychologists say make a building more public friendly. 

  Calgary's old Central Library opened 1963 as part of an urban renewal project planned for the Downtown's East End. 

Calgary's old Central Library opened 1963 as part of an urban renewal project planned for the Downtown's East End. 

Last Word

Could it be that those big square box office and residential buildings that dominated Calgary’s City Centre in the mid to late 20thcentury actually negatively affect our mood and well-being. 

Could it be Calgary’s cookie cutter suburban homes and boring streets also negatively affect our well-being? What about those big box power centres - are they places where we want to linger and socialize with family and friends?

Just asking?

Reader Comments:

I received several emails in response to this blog.  I thought this one from Art Froese, who was the project manager for the Alberta Children's Hospital was particularly enlightening.  

As usual, you’re on to something but needs more time. Finding the truth & the essence of things takes time. Remember always there are two questions: “ What’s new? / What’s old?”

Round is the world of our historic ancestors. Every aboriginal shelter is round: teepee [really egg-shaped]; igloo; gurt in Mongolia; African homes, crawls etc; Australia - follow the list. Round is harder to build.

The Children’s Hospital gathering space in the middle of the building is round. This is not an accident. The philosophy of the building is three concentric circles: the children; the caregivers; the landscape. It took forever to get the architects to understand the concept. It took seconds for my native advisory panel of Elders from Treaty Seven to understand. 

The biggest price we’ve paid in developed countries is that we’ve dulled our senses. I have many examples of this from my wilderness adventures. Or just read “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger.

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

The Curse Of Minimalism

Calgary: A Pop Of Colour

Urban Design: Does Anybody Really Care?

 

 

Inner City Communities: Future = Past?

While many urban planners are quick to criticize Calgary’s inner-city communities for their lack of walkability, I think some rethinking is in order.

Why? Because these communities were built in the ‘50s ‘60s and ‘70s when urban living and homebuyer expectations were very different from those today. 

Also because the future of urban living could look at lot more like the mid-20th century with home delivery of almost all of our everyday needs. 

  Wander any Calgary established neighbourhood and you are likely to find several new infill residential developments.  

Wander any Calgary established neighbourhood and you are likely to find several new infill residential developments.  

Walkability

One of the major criticisms of Calgary’s older communities is the lack of walkability to everyday amenities like grocery stores, cafes, drugstores, pubs, restaurants, boutiques and fitness studios.  

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However, back then “essentials” like milk, bread, eggs and butter were often delivered to the home.  

And a corner convenience store also supplied other everyday essentials which often included cigarettes.  

And then there was the Fuller Brush Man and Avon Lady….it was a VERY different time.  

There was no need for organic grocery store or farmers markets - many city dwellers used their mid-century big backyards for their own garden; some even had family or friends living on nearby farms who’d share their big garden harvest.

  Marda Loop's farmers' market is just one of the ever increasing number of weekly neighbourhood markets in Calgary. 

Marda Loop's farmers' market is just one of the ever increasing number of weekly neighbourhood markets in Calgary. 

Neighbours often shared the extra tomatoes, cukes and zucchini with those neighbours who didn’t have gardens.

No need for the fancy community garden so popular today.

However, the economics of food distribution, home delivery and corner stores changed dramatically in the ‘70s.  There was also the introduction of the mega-store chain store mentality – grocery stores, drug stores and hardware stores were no longer small, independent neighbourhood stores. 

Ironically, we seem to be returning to mid-century urban living with home delivery of not only of groceries, but almost anything you need. Is marijuana replacing cigarettes? Perhaps we should allow the new marijuana stores to become the new corner store offering all kinds of convenience items.

  Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Home Entertainment

In the middle of the 20thcentury, meeting a friend for coffee didn’t mean going to a trendy café shelling out $4 for a coffee and $3 for a muffin, but rather going to someone’s home for homemade coffee (often instant) and home baked goods.  

So, there was much less of a need for a neighbourhood café.  In fact, even today’s neighbourhood cafés are less a place to meet friends and more a workspace given tiny condos are too small to “live, work and/or play.” 

The same is true for the neighbourhood pub.  When our inner city communities were built, meeting up for a beer or a drink meant going to someone’s home, often to the basement’s rumpus room that had a bar.  Interestingly, there is a return to the basement rumpus room/bar, but now it is called the “media centre.”  

A costly craft beer at a fancy pub with multiple TVs broadcasting sports from around the world didn’t exist when the focus was more local than global.  

Going out to a restaurant for dinner was also not a common activity in the mid 20th century. Rather most families, it was something they did a few times a year, on very special occasions.  

This is why there aren’t a lot of neighbourhood restaurants in our inner-city communities.

  Is the patio the new basement? The new back deck? 

Is the patio the new basement? The new back deck? 

  Will the next generation of Calgarians be so focused on going out to eat and drink versus eating at home.

Will the next generation of Calgarians be so focused on going out to eat and drink versus eating at home.

Playgrounds & Fitness

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The big mid-century backyards were often used as the children’s playground - two swings, a slide and sand box (maybe even a tree fort in a real tree).

No need for those $250,000+ mega community playgrounds.  

In the winter, someone on the block had a backyard ice rink that everyone used.  There was an elementary school within a 5 to 10-minute walk that provided the neighbourhood playground equipment and playing fields.  No need to duplicate school and community amenities. 

  Queen Elizabeth Elementary School playground is just one block away from the West Hillhurst Park playground. 

Queen Elizabeth Elementary School playground is just one block away from the West Hillhurst Park playground. 

Having a local fitness, cycling or yoga studio nearby was also not an issue 60 years ago. I don’t recall my parents or parents of my friends ever working out, doing yoga or wanting to cycle like a maniac to music. Similarly, the need for community fitness centres was non-existent, people were happy with an arena and curling rink nearby. 

  Tuesday morning yoga in the park with kids. You would never have seen this in the '60s. 

Tuesday morning yoga in the park with kids. You would never have seen this in the '60s. 

Besides, fitness for men 60 years ago was cutting the grass, gardening and doing odd jobs around the house. It was a time when the workshop was the man cave, a place where Dad could (and needed to) fix and build things.

It is what we now call “active living.” 

And the same for women. The daily tasks, like cooking, cleaning, canning and laundry (which meant taking the clothes outside to dry) was all the fitness they needed.  Hence the adage, “A women’s work is never done!” Especially when the average family was 6+ people. 

Will the current interest in paying to going to a gym continue or will it be a generational fad?  Will parents get tired of driving their kids all over the city for extracurricular activities?  

Will our mega regional recreation centers become a thing of the past as people return to playing on the street, family walks and playing in the neighbourhood park?   

  Helicopter Park in West Hillhurst is just one of hundreds of funky new neighbourhood playgrounds in Calgary.    Calgary has something like 1,200 city playgrounds for 185 neighbourhoods and that doesn't include school playgrounds. 

Helicopter Park in West Hillhurst is just one of hundreds of funky new neighbourhood playgrounds in Calgary.  Calgary has something like 1,200 city playgrounds for 185 neighbourhoods and that doesn't include school playgrounds. 

Shopping wasn’t a hobby

There was no need for lots of clothing shops in the mid 20thcentury. Have you seen the tiny closets in those mid-century houses! Moms often sewed dresses for themselves and their daughters. There was less shopping for kid’s clothes “hand-me-downs” came from family and friends. Less of a need for consignment and for thrift stores as well.  

Moms would also repair clothes (I wore a lot of pants with iron-on knee patches) and darn socks with holes in them rather than throw them out. Today’s online shopping is not that much different from the Eaton’s and Sears catalogue shopping in the 50s and 60s.  What is old is new again?

  For many the shopping mall is the new Main Street i.e. a place to stroll with friends and doing a little window shopping.

For many the shopping mall is the new Main Street i.e. a place to stroll with friends and doing a little window shopping.

  In the early 21st century, the shopping mall became a second living room with soft seating that often exceeds anything we have at home.

In the early 21st century, the shopping mall became a second living room with soft seating that often exceeds anything we have at home.

Saving vs Spending?

Will the next generation realize they could save a lot of money by adopting the home entertainment culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s? By my calculations, a coffee a day cost about $150/month, drinks and/or dinner once a week could cost another $150/month per person, so by entertaining at home you could easily save $250/month which if applied to a mortgage would make inner-city living more affordable.  

  Trendy cafes like this one in Banff Trail are popping up in every established neighbourhood.

Trendy cafes like this one in Banff Trail are popping up in every established neighbourhood.

Community Garden vs Backyard Garden

Will the next generation wake up and realize they could have their own garden, thereby saving significant dollars on buying pricey organic food at the farmers’ market?  

This is already starting to happen with Calgary’s plethora of community gardens (there are almost 200 community gardens in Calgary).

  A backyard vegetable garden in a mid century house in Parkdale. This garden has existed for decades, it is not a trendy new backyard garden. 

A backyard vegetable garden in a mid century house in Parkdale. This garden has existed for decades, it is not a trendy new backyard garden. 

  Parkdale community garden just across the alley from the house in the previous photo.

Parkdale community garden just across the alley from the house in the previous photo.

Death of the grocery store?

Is the mega grocery store destined for extinction, like the department store? soon to become extinct? Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy and associate dean at the College of Management and Economics, University of Guelph said back in 2014 that “the days of the typical grocery store are numbered.” Since then, online grocery store shopping in North America has grown significantly, US online grocery shopping is expected to grow from 7% of the market to 20% by 2025. Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods in 2017 could well signal the beginning of the end for the mega grocery store. 

Link: Death of grocery store

Link: Why Canada is wary of online grocery shopping.  

  Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

The same could be true for other bricks and mortar retailers. Department stores have been dying for decades,  Sears being the latest victim.  While some say the death of retail is premature. Warren Buffett says “that in 10 years, the retail industry will look nothing like it does today.” In May 2017, he sold all of his Walmart shares.  Who would bet against Buffett, one of the most successful and respected investors in the world since the 1960s? 

Link: Death of retail as we know it.

Will there be support for a traditional “main street” in the future? The City of Calgary’s planners are currently focused on how to create or enhance 24 traditional main streets in Calgary’s older communities.  Many of Calgary’s new urban villages are planned around an urban grocery store as its anchor.  

One has to wonder - are we planning for the future or the past? 

Link: City of Calgary Main Street Program

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Futurists?

Planners and politicians need to be futurists. They need to envision the future and build a city with a variety of different communities to meet the diverse and changing expectations of its citizens and market.  

Have we replaced the sea of cookie-cutter single-family houses with cookie-cutter town homes and condos?  

Will the master-planned communities being built today, meet the needs of Calgarians 20 years from now when they are fully built-out? 

  Brookfield Residential's Livingston is just one example of many new master planned communities that employs 21st century urban design principles for creating mixed-use neighbourhoods at the edge of the city.

Brookfield Residential's Livingston is just one example of many new master planned communities that employs 21st century urban design principles for creating mixed-use neighbourhoods at the edge of the city.

Last Word

Calgary’s inner-city communities are in fact much loved by those who live there today - as they were 50+ years ago. They have not become rundown and undesirable communities like in some cities.   They are an oasis for many Calgarians. Hence, the strong desire to preserve rather than develop them. 

Too much of today’s city building is about imitation - planners, developers and politicians borrowing ideas from other cities without understanding the unique nature of their city.  

Calgary is not Vancouver. Nor is it Toronto or Montreal.  And we are VERY different from European and US cities. 

Calgary’s inner-city communities may not require as much change as many planners think given the return to home delivery for food, clothing and other everyday needs. The UPS and FedEx trucks arrive on my street almost every day; often more than once.  Our everyday needs are being delivered to us, rather than us walking, cycling or driving to pick them up.  

Perhaps we should just let them evolve naturally based on economic, technological and market changes with a dash of good urban design. 

  A typical street of mid 20th century homes in West Hillhurst. 

A typical street of mid 20th century homes in West Hillhurst. 

  A typical street of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.  These two streets are literally side-by-side. 

A typical street of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.  These two streets are literally side-by-side. 

  19th Street NW is a good example of a mid 20th century main street evolving slowly into the 21st century.

19th Street NW is a good example of a mid 20th century main street evolving slowly into the 21st century.

  Marda Loop's 33rd & 34th Ave SW are both undergoing mega makeovers with new mixed-use buildings and condos.  

Marda Loop's 33rd & 34th Ave SW are both undergoing mega makeovers with new mixed-use buildings and condos.  

Postcards From Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden 

I can’t believe it took us 25+ years to check out Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden.  In my defense for many years it was more or less abandoned, however that is no excuse. In fact, it would have been fun to explore a deserted overgrown garden.

Enough said!

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Garden & Cemetery

Reader Rock garden first opened in 1913, the brainchild of the City’s Superintendent of Parks, Cemeteries & Recreation (1913 to 1942) William Roland Reader. He lived in a house at the top of the hill just south of Stampede Park, enjoying spectacular views of downtown. 

Over the years, he experimented with upwards of 4,000 different plant species from around the world, many of which ended up in parks across the city, as the City of Calgary’s first nursery was at the base of the gardens. 

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Not Always Rosy

In 2006, it received provincial historical resource designation and this year, 2018, it received national historic designation.  However, things were not always rosy (pun intended). In 1961, maintenance records began to indicate the garden was being neglected, in the ‘70s, trees were being cut down and garden beds removed.  In the ‘80s, the greenhouses were removed for LRT construction.

Then more than two decades later, in 2003, Friends of Reader Rock Garden Society (FoRRGS) was established and in 2004, the garden is fenced off for renovations by volunteers and paid staff.  The garden reopened in 2006, with improvements added each year since then.

Link: Friends of Reader Garden

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Food & Flowers

In addition to the gardens, there is a lovely café in the house at the top of the hill with daily specials (including a pastry special) and a popular Sunday brunch. As well there are special events like the High Tea on Sunday, August 26th 2018 from 3 to 4pm – reservations required.

If you want to bring your own food for a picnic, there are lots of places to have a family or romantic picnic.

Link: Reader’s Garden Café   

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Tips

  • Several historical plaques tell the story of the gardens and the people involved.  It is a mini outdoor history museum as well as a garden.
  • The Garden are not very wheelchair or stroller-friendly.
  • Bring your phone and camera, you will want to take photos.
  • Bring some water if it is going to be hot.
  • Wear good shoes, as there is lots of climbing on rock steps.
  • The Union Cemetery is next to the gardens and makes for some additional strolling and a history lesson as several Calgary pioneers are buried here.
  • Plan on spending one hour exploring the garden, even more if you plan to have something to eat.
  • The Garden is very close to the Erlton LRT Station, or about a 30-minute walk from downtown. 
  • Parking is FREE at the base of the gardens on 25th Ave just east of Macleod Trail.
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Last Word

We spent two hours on a lovely Sunday afternoon strolling the gardens and part of the cemetery.  There is a lovely tranquility in this garden oasis. 

We highly recommend you take visiting family and friends who are in town from May to September.  If they are really into gardens you will also want to take them to see the Silver Springs Botanical Garden and Senator Patrick Burns Rock Gardens.

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Silver Springs Botanical Garden

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

With the completion of the West Eau Claire Park, Calgary now has one of the best urban river shorelines in North America, perhaps even the world.  

  The new West Eau Claire Park is creating a special place to sit and linger along the Bow River Promenade.  

The new West Eau Claire Park is creating a special place to sit and linger along the Bow River Promenade.  

What’s so special about the Bow River as it passes through the City Centre (Edworthy Park to Harvie Passage) is that it is still more or less natural - no concrete, canal-like retaining walls; no theme-park bars and restaurants lining the shore.  You can still walk to the river, throw stones, dip your toes in, go fishing, launch a small water craft or even river surf.  

The Bow River is one of Calgary’s key urban differentiators. 

  Looking east along the Bow River pathway at the entrance into downtown. 

Looking east along the Bow River pathway at the entrance into downtown. 

 The Princeton's interface with the Bow River Promenade creates a lovely garden setting for both residents and those using the promenade. This is how public/private spaces should look like.

The Princeton's interface with the Bow River Promenade creates a lovely garden setting for both residents and those using the promenade. This is how public/private spaces should look like.

Bow River Promenade

Over the past two decades, the City of Calgary has invested over 100 million dollars to create a pedestrian-friendly urban edge to the Bow River – complete with parks, plazas, promenades, pathways, public art and bridges. Today, it has ten bridges including three signature ones - the historic Centre Street Bridge, Peace Bridge and King Bridge. It also links to several parks – Prince’s Island, St. Patrick’s Island, Fort Calgary, Sien Lok, Shaw Millennium and Nat Christie.  

Perhaps it is time to come up with a unifying name for the 4+ km south shore public spaces - at present, it has a collage of names.  In East Village segment is officially called the Jack & Jean Leslie RiverWalk, most people know it simply as RiverWalk.  

From Chinatown to just past Eau Claire Market, it becomes the Bow River Pathway and then changes to West Eau Claire Park for the section west of St. Patrick’s Island at the base of the Peace Bridge till the 10th Street bridge where it becomes Bow River pathway again until you get to the Nat Christie Park just east of the 14th Street bridge. 

 Bow River Promenade snakes its way from Centre Street bridge to East Village. It is kept clear of snow in the winter, making it a popular public space year round. 

Bow River Promenade snakes its way from Centre Street bridge to East Village. It is kept clear of snow in the winter, making it a popular public space year round. 

  In the summer it is a poplar place for people of all ages and background.  It has become a very popular place for those floating the Bow River to take out their rafts. 

In the summer it is a poplar place for people of all ages and background.  It has become a very popular place for those floating the Bow River to take out their rafts. 

  There are numerous spot so sit and linger along the promenade. It has a very vibrant c Canada goose community.  

There are numerous spot so sit and linger along the promenade. It has a very vibrant c Canada goose community.  

  New residential developments next to Sien Lock Park create an attractive link between Chinatown and the Bow River.  

New residential developments next to Sien Lock Park create an attractive link between Chinatown and the Bow River.  

  New condos in East Village with dog park in the foreground are converting what was once a mega parking lot for downtown workers into an attractive new urban neighbourhood. 

New condos in East Village with dog park in the foreground are converting what was once a mega parking lot for downtown workers into an attractive new urban neighbourhood. 

New Name?

From both a local and tourist perspective, the entire pathway should have one name.  I don’t suggest RiverWalk as it would be seen as if we are trying to imitate San Antonio’s famous River Walk – nothing could be further from the truth. 

What about Bow River Promenade? Bow River Stroll? Bow River Parade? Maybe even Bow River Loop (as you can loop back along the north shore and take in Poppy Plaza and get a better view of the Calgary’s ever-changing downtown skyline which is quickly becoming dominated by new condo towers)? 

Urban Living Renaissance

As a result of all the public improvements, the Bow River’s south shore has become a mecca for urban living.  Since the mid ‘90s, new condos on or near the Bow River have been completed every few years creating an interesting urban design history lesson.  

 Eau Claire 500's  is an example of poor urban design as it turns it back onto the public space and allows for no interaction.   

Eau Claire 500's  is an example of poor urban design as it turns it back onto the public space and allows for no interaction.   

The earliest is Eau Claire 500, the two, dark brown brick buildings designed with the enclosed courtyard and completed in 1983 by SOM, one of the world’s most renowned architectural firms.  

The complex literally turns its back to the pathway and river - no townhomes face the promenade, just a blank wall.  This would never happen today.

Neither would the River Run townhome condos completed in 1995 behind Eau Claire Market with no set-back from the promenade.  At that time, the City was desperate to see some residential development in downtown so they approved this low-density project that looks like it has been imported from the suburbs. 

  River Run complex was part of the failed Eau Claire Market urban revitalization project.  A new mega redevelopment plan is currently in the works.

River Run complex was part of the failed Eau Claire Market urban revitalization project.  A new mega redevelopment plan is currently in the works.

  Late 20th century residential development in West Downtown neighbourhood is located on the edge of  Bow River Promenade.

Late 20th century residential development in West Downtown neighbourhood is located on the edge of  Bow River Promenade.

The 21st century has seen the completion of the two Princeton towers on Riverfront Avenue with low rise buildings facing the promenade (which minimize shadowing on the promenade and park) with its timeless red brick façade and sandstone coloured accents.  East Village is home to several contemporary condos facing St. Patrick’s Island Park. 

 The Princeton's (left) early 21st century design creates a sharp contrast to the '80s design of Eau Claire 500 (right). 

The Princeton's (left) early 21st century design creates a sharp contrast to the '80s design of Eau Claire 500 (right). 

The two newest condos are the Concord at the Peace Bridge and the Waterfront at Sien Lok Park, both with glass facades that step-down to the river to maximize views of the river, pathway and downtown. Anthem Properties’ ambitious Waterfront project is the biggest condo project in Calgary’s history with 1000 homes in ten different buildings.  

Today, the Bow River’s south shore is one of Calgary’s most desirable places to live and one of North America’s best examples of the 21st century urban living renaissance.

  The Bow River Promenade is not only home to luxury condos but also a mega homeless shelter that some have nicknames the Hilton Homeless Shelter for its high quality design and materials. 

The Bow River Promenade is not only home to luxury condos but also a mega homeless shelter that some have nicknames the Hilton Homeless Shelter for its high quality design and materials. 

  Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

The postwar oil boom resulted in hordes of head offices moving to Calgary which led to a huge increase in traffic into the downtown.  By the early ‘60s, civic leaders felt part of the problem was that downtown was hemmed in by the Bow River to the north and the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks to the south so they pitched the idea of moving the CPR tracks to the river so downtown could spread out into what is now the Beltline.  

However, by 1964, City Council killed the relocation of the rail lines amid bickering and cost issues and came up with a new Downtown Plan. 

  Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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Then in 1968, a transportation study called for several new Calgary highways - Crowchild Trail, Blackfoot Trail, 14th Street West freeway, Anderson Trail, and the Downtown Penetrator (Yes, that was the name!).  

The Downtown Penetrator was a proposed major freeway that would have extended from Sarcee Trail into the downtown along what is now 2nd and 3rdAvenues SW. 

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The plan called for demolishing 400 homes, many in low-income areas that were considered skid rows. The Centre Street, Louise and Langevin (now Reconciliation) bridges would have been replaced with new bridges. Chinatown would have been relocated and much of East Village, (called Churchill Park then), would have been destroyed.   

Fortunately, the Downtown Penetrator died as a result of public protest (especially from Chinatown) creating the opportunity to rethink our connection to the Bow River.

Last Word

Many developers and urban planners in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s said downtown residential would never happen in Calgary.  It was a time when the single-family reigned and most Calgarians turned their noses up at the idea of communal condo living.  

Calgary’s corporate executives lived in houses along the Elbow River in Roxboro or “on the hill” (aka Mount Royal), not along the Bow River.  Eau Claire, Chinatown and East Village were mostly old homes, skid rows and a prostitute stroll.  Eau Claire 500 sat alone for almost 15 years before another condo tower joined it. 

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

The Bow River, its islands and riverbank have gone from a neglected jewel in the ‘70s to a vibrant urban playground in the ‘10s. I can see the promenade extending all the way from Edworthy Park to Harvie Passage in the future. 

It’s time to give our unique collection of urban public spaces along the Bow River a meaningful and memorable name!  In addition to promenade, stroll and loop, perhaps the Makhabn Passage (Makhabn being the Blackfoot name for the Bow River) might be an appropriate name? 

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

Parks: A must for urban living!

After spending 14 days living across the street from Atlanta’s mega 200-acre Piedmont Park, I have an even greater appreciation for the value of urban parks. Twitter is full of urbanists bantering about the value of parks and trees on the quality of the air we breathe, as well as on mental health and well. But seeing is believing.  

  Atlanta's Piedmont Park offers a pastoral setting for passive activities like reading. Sometimes we just need our space. 

Atlanta's Piedmont Park offers a pastoral setting for passive activities like reading. Sometimes we just need our space. 

For some, the urban concrete and asphalt jungle can be depressing, especially for those living in condos with no front or back yards – some don’t even have a balcony.  The medical community has coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe people living in cities who suffer depression because of their lack of contact with nature. 

  Just one of many new high-rise condo towers in Midtown Atlanta near Piedmont Park. 

Just one of many new high-rise condo towers in Midtown Atlanta near Piedmont Park. 

  Small condo balconies are often more ornamental than functional. 

Small condo balconies are often more ornamental than functional. 

  Many of Atlanta's high-rise buildings have huge above ground parkades attached to them that kills the street life. 

Many of Atlanta's high-rise buildings have huge above ground parkades attached to them that kills the street life. 

Studies have shown that when humans are in large parks, their walking slows to a stroll and are more likely to take time to sit, relax, soak in the sun and watch the world go by. Personally, I find people are friendlier when they are in a park than on at street or plaza.

I experienced all of the above living next to Piedmont Park where literally thousands of people walked, biked and jogged along the tree-canopied pathways in my front yard from sunrise to sunset. 

Link: Parks Improve Mental Health and Quality of Life 

  Piedmont Park has not only great pathways for strolling but also a huge area with well-use playing fields. 

Piedmont Park has not only great pathways for strolling but also a huge area with well-use playing fields. 

  Piedmont Park is home to a popular Green Market on Saturdays.  It has great live music.  

Piedmont Park is home to a popular Green Market on Saturdays.  It has great live music.  

I thought Calgary was an active city but compared to Atlanta, we seem just average. I have never seen so many joggers and walkers – perhaps it was just Spring Fever.  I was so impressed I almost went jogging myself. 

 This was a scene one afternoon, on the sidewalk across from our Piedmont Airbnb at the edge of the park. It was a constant stream of joggers (not always topless) on weekends. 

This was a scene one afternoon, on the sidewalk across from our Piedmont Airbnb at the edge of the park. It was a constant stream of joggers (not always topless) on weekends. 

Two Dog Parks!

And don’t get me started about the dog walking.  I used to think River Park in Altadore was the best dog park in North America, until I saw Piedmont Park. It is just one huge dog park.  Not only are there two off leash, fenced-in dog parks - one for larger dogs (with an agility course) and one for smaller dogs - but in reality, the entire park is an off-leash dog park (despite lots of signs saying otherwise) and nobody seems to mind. 

  I am thinking Atlanta must be the dog capital of the USA, maybe the world.  I have never seen so many dogs.  Maybe it was just the Midtown district and our proximity to the park.  

I am thinking Atlanta must be the dog capital of the USA, maybe the world.  I have never seen so many dogs.  Maybe it was just the Midtown district and our proximity to the park. 

Park / Art Park / Playground 

Piedmont Park also offers huge playing fields, lots of funky art, historic monuments, meandering trails, a pub (which servers $1 beer if it is raining)  and a quirky playground design by world-renowned artist Isamu Noguchi.

Who could ask for anything more?

 This slide/sculpture was very popular. Note the dog in the playground. 

This slide/sculpture was very popular. Note the dog in the playground. 

  Looking across Piedmont Park's Lake Clara Meer to the midtown condos. 

Looking across Piedmont Park's Lake Clara Meer to the midtown condos. 

Last Word

It is no wonder there are several major condos going up in Atlanta’s Midtown district next to Piedmont Park as city dwellers clamour to try to be closer to nature.

Park-oriented development (POD) is also happening in Calgary.  There is Qualex-Landmark’s Park Point next to Central Memorial Park (Beltline) and Birchwood Properties’ Ezra on Riley Park (Hillhurst), Anthem’s Water Front and Concord Pacific’s, Concord project next to Prince’s Island and all the East Village condo projects with their proximity to St. Patrick’s Island. 

And in Calgary’s suburbs, Fish Creek Exchange by Graywood Developments and Sanderson Ridge near Fish Creek Park are two POD examples.   

While the City of Calgary is focused on creating or enhancing 24 different “main streets” across Calgary, I couldn’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be spending more time identifying how to capitalize on our 5,000+ parks and 850 km of pathways as catalysts for creating quality urban living opportunities across the city. 

Hot Travel tip 

If you are in Atlanta on a Saturday, don't miss the Saturday morning Piedmont Park free tours compliments of the Piedmont Park Conservatory.  They are about 90 minutes long - very entertaining and very informative.  Link: Piedmont Park Tours

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the May 2018 issue of Condo Living Magazine.

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

Beautifying The Beltline

Dog Parks Foster A Sense Of Community

Calgary's St. Patrick's Park: An Urban Oasis

University of Calgary’s Public Art Gets No Respect!

With 80+ Jane’s Walks to choose from in Calgary, it was tough to decide which one(s) to participate in.  After much deliberation, we chose the University of Calgary’s Public Art tour, as we love exploring university campuses AND we love public art. 

Marina Fischer, Collection Specialist, Numismatics at the University of Calgary was our very personable host.   She has an art history and classics background, specializing ancient art. Fischer has been teaching art history courses for continuing education for over ten years and received an award for Continuing and Professional Education, from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Her tour was more of a layman’s look at the University’s public art collection than academic which was fine with us. 

What I found interesting was her identification of a common theme to the university’s public artworks i.e. a link between art and science. It was an astute observation; one the university might want to focus on when considering future public art pieces.  In my opinion, public art collections benefit when there is a focus to the collection that adds a synergy to the art i.e. when the sum is greater than the parts. 

 Plato, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos, marble, University of Calgary 

Plato, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos, marble, University of Calgary 

 L- Straddle, Marc Mellon, bronze, University of Calgary  

L- Straddle, Marc Mellon, bronze, University of Calgary  

 Nature is an Eternal Mystery (close-up), brozne, Reinherd Skoracki, University of Calgary

Nature is an Eternal Mystery (close-up), brozne, Reinherd Skoracki, University of Calgary

Self-Guided Tour

 I have tried to format this blog so it can be used as a self-guided tour. Our tour started slowly and built to a crescendo….here we go.

 (FYI: I have tried to document the tour in a manner where those interested can use this blog for a self-guided tour.

(FYI: I have tried to document the tour in a manner where those interested can use this blog for a self-guided tour.

Bear / Just outside west entrance Libary

As we left the Taylor Family Digital Library building, our attention was immediately drawn to a huge black bear standing in a small grotto of trees.  Created by local artist Brian Cooley, it became more interesting the closer you got as you could see the etched texture of the surface.  Cooley is well known internationally for his creation of life-size life-like dinosaurs, at 1,600 lbs. and 11 ft. high, this is probably one of Cooley’s smaller pieces.

I immediately wondered, “Why a bear?” Given, the University of Calgary sports teams are called the “Dinos,” and given Cooley’s experience creating dinosaurs, it would have made more sense to have a “Dino” in the grotto.  We were told Don and Ruth Taylor, huge supporters of the University’s current transformation donated the Bear.  Guess I will have to ask them!

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Olympic Arch / Kinesiology Building B

Next stop - Colette Whiten, Paul Kipps and Jack Diamond's 1988 sculpture "Olympic Arch” in front of the Physical Education complex. The arch is a huge plate of steel, bowed up in the center seemingly by the efforts of the four life-sized bronze humans on either side pushing and lifting. The tension reflects the struggles and efforts not only of athletes, but all humans. 

Is there a political statement here? Are the figures competing against each other - or are they cooperating towards the same goal? The piece might even foreshadow the current struggles Calgary’s oil & gas companies are encountering to build or expand pipelines – the arch being the pipeline. Ironically, the piece is also known as the Trans Canada Pipeline Arch, in reference to the company who paid for the commissioned piece.

The arch sculpture has had three homes - originally it was at the entrance to the Winter Olympic athletes’ village on the University of Calgary campus, then it was moved to downtown’s Eau Claire Plaza, before landing at its current location as part of the university’s 25th anniversary in 1991.

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L-Straddle / Kinesiology Building A

Walking from the Olympic Arch to the Kinesiology Building A, we stopped to admire Marc Mellon’s bronze sculpture of a gymnast jumping over a pommel horse. Called “L-Straddle,” the title references how the human figure creates a perfect “L” shape.  Mellon is a well-known American sculptor who is fascinated by the shape and form of the human body in various athletic pursuits, including various gymnastic events.  His work is on 40 campuses across North America.  Backstory: He left a pre-medical studies program to become a sculptor; hence, his interest in the human body as art.

Once inside the Kinesiology Building, we stopped at the easy-to-miss small display case with two modest bronzes of athletes – The Athlete (1903) and The Javelin Thrower (1923). Robert Tait McKenzie, a Canadian physician, educator, sculptor, athlete and soldier, who was a pioneer of physical fitness programs and huge supporter of the Olympic games, created both.  His inclusion in the University of Calgary’s art collection is very appropriate as was the artwork’s location. 

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Brothers of the Wind & Skate Marks / Olympic Oval

I have been in the Olympic Oval many times but before this tour I had never gone up the stairs from the lobby where a 10-foot long bronze relief titled “Brothers of the Wind”- also  by McKenzie created in 1925 is mounted in the middle of the stairwell.  Depicting 8 speed skating athletes drafting behind each other, it is one of McKenzie’s largest artworks and appropriately donated to the University in 1986 by a private donor. 

Note: An image of Brothers of the Wind is engraved on all gold rings given to athletes who have set a world record in the Olympic Oval

But what really impressed me were the two glass windows facing south and north in the atrium by Vancouver artist, Brian Baxter.  Combining both manufactured and hand-blown glass, the shapes and lines are mean to reflect “skate marks on ice.”  On a bright sunny day (which Calgary has many), it creates a bright, contemporary - dare I say “church window-like” abstraction that I found uplifting.

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The Spire / North Entrance, The Oval

The Spire by Charles Boyce was also created for the 1988 Olympics and serves as the grand entrance to the Olympic Oval from its north side.  This huge, 20-meter-high (the equivalent of a 6-storey building) consists of five U-shaped pipes that for many, looks like a twisted paper clip – hence the nickname “The Paperclip.”  Others see it as a dinosaur skeleton or mountains, while Boyce sees it "as a spaceship, symbolizing man's reaching out to explore the galaxy, and a steeple, symbolizing man's discovery of the universe within.” Personally, I love art with the ambiguity to be the catalyst for different people to see and feel different things.

For me, the U-shapes could also be seen as A-shapes, reflecting the “A” in athletes of the Olympics. The piece evokes a powerful thrust as it emerges from the ground much like a skater’s thrust from the ice (speed, figure or hockey skate).  The bright red colour symbolizes passion an athlete must have to make it to the Olympics or a student to become a scholar.

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Le Patineur de Vitesse / South Entrance, The Oval

Rather hidden, tucked away on an unused plaza on the east side of the Olympic Oval is Le Patineur de Vitesse (i.e. French for “speed skater”) by Germain Bergeron, a former Quebec monk turned artist.  This simple whimsical metal sculpture – more a scribble drawing than a sculpture - is playful and graceful and deserves a more prominent location.  It is a great hidden selfie spot.

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Goddess of Democracy / MacEwan Student Centre Lobby

In 1989, Chinese students erected a 30-foot Statue of Liberty replica out of white plaster over a metal armature and styrofoam in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square facing Mao Tse-tung.  A crowd of 150,000 turned out to welcome the statue. It became the symbol of the Chinese people’s desire for democracy and eventually resulted in the death of 10,000+ students when Chinese soldiers tried to remove it. Several replicas of the statue have since been created by university students around the world in sympathy with the Chinese students. 

The University of Calgary’s replica (created by American artist, Thomas Marsh), is slightly larger than life-size and prominently located in the lobby of the MacEwan Student Centre. 

Erected in 1995 by the Chinese Students Society, the Students’ Union, the University of Calgary and the Alliance for a Democratic China, it serves as a reminder of the “power of the people.”

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Nature is an Eternal Mystery / South Entrance,  EEEL Building

The Energy Environment Experiential Learning building (EEEL) is one of the University’s newest buildings and perhaps one of Calgary’s most contemporary and striking buildings architecturally. Located in a prime location at the front entrance is Reinhard Skoracki’s (born in Germany, a University of Calgary graduate) 16-foot tall bronze sculpture titled, “Nature is an Eternal Mystery” is a nude male figure (complete with genitalia) shrouded with two triangular flat planes over his head and torso, leaving only the butt and legs exposed.  The leaves and tree branch sticking out of his head reference man’s needs to think more about nature. The covering of the head is perhaps a comment about humans’ blindness to our impact on nature. 

Until this point, tour leader Fischer spoke very positively (often glowingly) about the university’s art collection. But in this case, she was honest in saying the piece offended her (not by the nudity), but rather she felt the obvious maleness of the figure was an inappropriate representation of humanity as equally male and female especially in relation to the new and progressive interdisciplinary science structure hosted in the Energy Environment Experiential Learning Building.

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Inside EEEL Building

Once inside the EEEL building, you could easily miss the public art as they are hung in obscure spots.  For example, Angela Leach’s two colourful rainbow-like paintings titled “AR Wave, Yin Yang) are hung almost at the ceiling on either side of the doorway, two floors above the ground, making it really difficult to appreciate them.

Then, there were Marjan Eggermont’s soaring steel panels etched with a delicate tree formation that hug the corner of the 3+ floor high open grandstand-like lecture hall incorporated into the building’s grand lobby.  Titled “one-way ticket,” it is made up of 12 panels that combine to create a 48 ft. tall and 16 ft. wide site-specific elegant artwork that cleverly covers the elevator shaft.  Though its mysterious black and white presence from the lobby floor invites you to climb the stairs to get a better look, you can never seem to quite find a good viewing point. Frustrating, but perhaps intentional given humans are always struggling to find the “right perspective” to view the world we share with each other and nature. 

There is a third piece inside, David Burdeny’s two large back-lit photographs titled “Icebergs Generating Fog, Antarctic Sound,” (2007/2011) hung at the top of the wide staircase which depicts the isolation, beauty and fragility of Antarctica.  Because of its location, most visitors to the building will never see it.  In fact, it was not even included in our tour.

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The Unknown Artist(s) / Earth Sciences & Math Sciences Buildings

Our tour then headed over the hallway on the main floor where the Earth Sciences building meets the Math Science building where a floor to ceiling artwork wraps around the corner.  The wooden elements reminded me (and at least one other of the tour participants) of pieces of picnic tables.  The deconstructivist, perhaps cubist arrangement of wooden elements could be a metaphor for the shifting of totemic plates of the earth over time.  The spherical ceramic elements not only echo earth in colour and texture, but also seem to serve as a microscope’s eyepiece inviting one to look more closely at the art and earth.   It is thought that some students made and installed the piece back in the ‘80s, but nobody knows for sure its origin.

  After posted this blog, Wanda Rottenfusser contacted me to say this piece was created by John Crate and Bog Spaetgens and it was the wining entry for a Student Art Competition in 1976.  

After posted this blog, Wanda Rottenfusser contacted me to say this piece was created by John Crate and Bog Spaetgens and it was the wining entry for a Student Art Competition in 1976.  

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Zipper / Lobby Science Theatres Building

Katie Ohe's "Zipper" has been a mainstay on the University of Calgary campus since 1975.  This kinetic art sculpture consists of two, zipper-like cylinders that revolve around each other merging and separating at they spin, similar to how a zipper does up and undoes as you move it up and down.

"Zipper” has become a good luck charm for students since its placement in the foyer of the Science Theatres over a quarter of a century ago. Rumour has it that the it is brings peace to the students, allowing them to concentrate on the ever-important studies or test writing that takes place in the adjacent classrooms. The Zipper has been stolen twice, disassembled once, coated in plastic wrap and had a car constructed around it. 

 

Porcelain Mural  / Social Sciences Building

Further along the hallway we discover a porcelain mural by Edward Drahanchuk, an Alberta College of Art and Design grad who became one of Canada’s leading ceramic artists of the late 20th century. It blends into the dark brown, earth-like brick wall it is hung on. From a distance the artwork has a primal feel with a primitive human figure surrounded by birds and other imaginary animals, but as you get closer the artwork is like a jigsaw puzzle made of hundreds of pieces. 

The wall plaque says “This Wall Mural donated to the University by Hudson Bay Oil & Gas in 1976.”  A little digging and a call to Drahanchuk who now lives on Quadra Island, B.C. and it turns out the piece was originally commissioned by Hudson Bay Oil & Gas for their downtown Calgary office.  I was told it would have had a title, but the artist couldn’t remember what it was.  In doing this research, there was also a reference to Drahanchuk being commissioned by the University in 1970 to create a piece called “Rhythm One.” I am still trying to track down where that piece might be. 

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Untitled (aka Prairie Chicken) / Swan Mall

Unfortunately, we did not get to see one the University’s other signature artworks, as it has been temporary removed for restoration.  “Prairie Chicken” by George Norris, (a well-known Canadian artist who also did the “Crab” outside the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver) has been located on a hilltop in Swan Mall since 1975 in what was then the center of campus. The 18-foot high, 4.5-ton, stainless steel sculpture is officially “Untitled” but most everyone calls it the “Prairie Chicken,” as it has the look of a prairie chicken ruffling its feathers.  

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Atrium Awkwardness / Administration Building

Lastly, as we ended our 2-hour tour, Fischer treated us to a private viewing of the Administration Building’s Atrium (the building is normally closed on weekends) where we discovered a lush topical oasis.  One of the University’s oldest buildings, it has a lovely garden atrium with funky places to sit and at the far end, a mini sculpture park with three larger-than-life statues of Socrates, Plato and Crito by Greek sculptor, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos. The plaque says “a symbol of the continuity of ancient wisdom and modern learning dedicated to the Canadian students by the Greek Canadians Jimmie and Maria Condon.”  The ghost white marble figures stand proudly looking at each other as if in conversation.  

The Atrium has an awkward sense of place with the modern, playful, colourful seating contrasting with the sober classical philosophers and pastoral plants.  But perhaps a fitting end to our 2-hour tour given the sometimes awkward juxtaposition between the University’s art, the architecture and site selection. 

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There is more...

While we were on our tour, I noticed several other artworks that could have been included in our tour.  The yellow structure was very interesting, but probably isn't considered to be part of the public art collection, as the plague stated it was by Calgary Steel Fabrication Association, Canada Institute of Steel Construction (Alberta Region) and Iron Workers Local #725 not by an exhibiting artist.  I could not find any information on the other two pieces nearby.  

Wanda Rotterfusser also identified the abstract painting in the middle photo as those of Gerry Hushlak who still teaches at the University.  

Last Word

Indeed, after 50 years, the University of Calgary is still trying to define its sense of place.

Backstory

Throughout the tour, Fisher often apologized for the lack of documentation on the University’s Collection.  While we were told an art committee has been formed to try to document the collection, it is surprising that a university in this day-and-age would accept artworks without getting all available documentation.  It is also disappointing that often there is no information panel with the artwork - a common problem with many public collections - and disrespectful to the artist and the donor. 

Documenting the art collection would be a great summer student project - or perhaps senior thesis project for an art history major. We were told a self-guided walk brochure has been in the works. Hopefully it will be completed soon.   

While the University of Calgary has some interesting public artworks, my most vivid memory of the Jane’s Walk 2018 will be how poorly the University of Calgary has treated and still is treating its public art.  

Below is a short video of University of Calgary's art, architecture and urban design the summarizes our tour. 

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

Old Course St. Andrews vs Augusta National Golf Club

At first glance you probably couldn’t get two golf courses more different than the raw, rustic (almost primal) Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland (the birthplace of golf) and the pristine, pastoral Augusta National Golf course, in Augusta, Georgia.

After attending a practice round for this year’s Masters Tournament, hosted every year at Augusta National, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast the two most famous golf courses in the world. I played the Old Course at St. Andrews back in 2007.

  Reflections at Augusta

Reflections at Augusta

Perhaps the biggest link between the two courses is the fact they each host one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world – the Masters and The Open Championship. For non-golfers The Open Championship is sometimes called The British Open to distinguish it from tournaments like the US Open and Canadian Open.  The Old Course at St. Andrews hosts The Open Championship in a rotation with other several other British courses, while The Masters is always hosted at Augusta National Golf Course.

  Memories of the Old Course, St. Andrews

Memories of the Old Course, St. Andrews

Public vs Private

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two courses is you can play the Old Course as it is a public course (you do have to have an authorized handicap under 24 for men and 36 for women) and you can’t play Augusta. In fact, the Old Course is built on common land held in trust by The St. Andrews Link Trust under an act of Parliament. Along with tee times for the general public, several golf club members also have playing privileges including the oldest and most renowned club, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

Augusta National is very exclusive members-only club.  You can only play if you are invited -good luck with that! They are very protective of who is a member as membership is by invitation only. No official list of the membership is published and the criteria for membership is not known. It said “if you have to ask, the answer is no.” 

  On Sundays The Old Course becomes a public park.  Families love to have a picnic and play on the course which has the best sand boxes. 

On Sundays The Old Course becomes a public park.  Families love to have a picnic and play on the course which has the best sand boxes. 

What’s In A Name?

The most obvious link (pun intended) between the two courses is the #10 hole at The Old Course is named for Bobby Jones, who was not only the best golfer of his time, but the co-designer of Augusta National.  

The first time Jones played The Open Championship at the Old Course, he ended up in the infamous Hell Bunker on the 11th hole during his first round and took four shots to get out. Some say he ripped up his scorecard immediately; others say he simply just didn’t turn in his scorecard - either way, he disqualified himself. 

He returned a few years later to win The Open Championship and over time, The Old Course became his favourite course. He has been quoted as saying “if I could only play one course for the rest of my life it would be The Old Course.”  

Many have said The Old Course is “an acquired taste, like a good whiskey.”
  Hole names at Augusta National Golf Course. 

Hole names at Augusta National Golf Course. 

Another link between the two golf courses is that all of the holes have names.

In the case of Augusta each is named after a flower, while The Old Course hole names have no theme, some are descriptive e.g. the Road Hole is played to a green by the road.  

The 18th hole, is named after Tom Morris are in recognition of the famous greenskeeper, club maker and four time Open Champion. 

At The Old Course, each of the 112 bunkers (sand traps) also have a name, while that isn’t the case for Augusta.  Personally, I love the names of the Old Course bunkers eg. Principal’s Nose (#16). I wish naming holes and bunkers was a more common practice at more golf courses.

  Hole names, St. Andrews Old Course

Hole names, St. Andrews Old Course

Religious Experience

  Hell Bunker, on the treeless, Old Course, St. Andrews

Hell Bunker, on the treeless, Old Course, St. Andrews

The most famous bunker at The Old Course is aptly called “Hell Bunker” because it is 10 feet deep. You can almost see “hell” from the bottom and often the word “hell” is often heard coming from down below. 

Not only was it the demise of Bobby Jones’ first Open Championship, but in 1995 Jack Nicklaus took five attempts “to get out of hell.” 

Another religious reference at The Old Course is the depression at the front of the 18th green called the “Valley of Sin,” which has punished more than one pro golfer trying to win The Open Championship and many amateurs. 

A third link with religion at The Old Course is the fact it was Archbishop John Hamilton, in 1552 AD who gave the townspeople of St. Andrews the right to play on the golf course.

Augusta’s religious connections begin with its famous “Amen Corner” which comprises the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, which put the fear of God into even the most experienced golfers because of the tricky wind and Rae’s Creek. 

The name actually isn’t a direct religious reference as Herbert Warren Wind coined it in a 1958 issue of Sports Illustrated story.  He referred to the three holes as “Amen Corner” based on a jazz song called “Shoutin’ in Amen Corner.” The reference to jazz music is appropriate given Amen Corner often requires golfers to improvise shots they wouldn’t normally play.

  Augusta's 12th Hole in the middle of Amen's Corner is both beautiful and bewildering. 

Augusta's 12th Hole in the middle of Amen's Corner is both beautiful and bewildering. 

For avid golfers visiting The Old Course or Augusta is a sacred experience. It is like a pilgrimage. Both courses evoke a sense of awe, a feeling of reverence and respect for tradition and are full of rituals. For avid golfers, the clubhouses at the Old Course and Augusta are like cathedrals. And the term term “cathedral of pines” has been used to describe the pine trees at Augusta. 

  The Cathedral of Pines at Augusta National. 

The Cathedral of Pines at Augusta National. 

The Greens

The Old Course is unique in that it has 7 double greens which allows the course to be played clockwise or counter clockwise.  Today, the course is played counter-clockwise expect for one day a year or for special tournaments. (Note: In the past it was reversed several times a week).  As a result of the double greens, the Old Course has huge greens, which means you can sometimes find yourself with an extremely long putts with huge swales and breaks if you end up on the wrong side of the other green. FYI. So you know which hole to aim at, the flags on the outbound 9 are white and the inbound are red.

Augusta’s greens are known not so much for their size but for their speed and undulations.  I recall one pro golfer practiced in his putting on his garage floor to prepare for The Masters. Some say the greens at Augusta are the fastest on the planet. Some even swear there are “VW Beetles” buried under the greens, given the severe undulations. Ironically, at the Masters the pros make more 3 to 10 foot putts than at any other tournament, but make the least number of 10+ foot putts.

So, for both courses the ability to read the greens and make putts is critical to playing well. 

  The massive double green shared by the 3rd hole (white flag in the far distance) and the 15th hole (red flag) with the Cartgate bunker in the middle of the green. Photo courtesy of   Talking Beautiful Stuff

The massive double green shared by the 3rd hole (white flag in the far distance) and the 15th hole (red flag) with the Cartgate bunker in the middle of the green. Photo courtesy of Talking Beautiful Stuff

  The Augusta greens are not only fast but the severe humps and bumps guarding the greens add another layer of difficulty. 

The Augusta greens are not only fast but the severe humps and bumps guarding the greens add another layer of difficulty. 

Design Changes

Both golf courses have undergone many changes over the years, often as a result of technology changes.  The original Old Course, established in 1552 with just 11 holes, was expanded later to 22 holes and then reduced by Old Tom Morris in 1764 to 18 holes, which then became the standard for all championship golf courses.  In 1904, 13 bunkers were added to The Old Course in response to the new livelier Haskell ball. Hallet’s Bunker, on the 18th hole halfway between the Swilcan Bridge and the Grannie Clark’s Wynd has also removed. 

Look close and you can actually still see the “March Stones,”(small grave-like markers) in middle of the 5th and 7th fairways and the 2nd and 11th tees that marked the original golf course boundaries.

Augusta has been a constantly evolving golf course since its beginning.  Immediately after the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934, the nines were reversed and each year since the course is altered - sometimes more subtly than others.  It is not uncommon to add mature 50 foot or taller trees to alter the tee shot by narrowing the fairway and reducing the ideal landing area.  Tee boxes have been enlarged to make holes longer as a result of new club and ball technology allowing golfers to this the ball further.  Over the years the length of the course has grown by 500+ yards.

Mother nature has also caused changes at Augusta, the most famous being the ice storm of 2014 that damaged the famous Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole and ultimately led to its removal.

  Bobby Jones hitting shots as means of testing out the progress in the design of Augusta National. 

Bobby Jones hitting shots as means of testing out the progress in the design of Augusta National. 

Architects

The Augusta National’s co-designer was Alister MacKenzie, born near Leeds, England but with strong Scottish roots, spending his summers near Lochinver. 

  Alister MacKenzie, co-designer of Augusta National.

Alister MacKenzie, co-designer of Augusta National.

While his earliest golf experiences were based on Scottish link golf courses (like The Old Course), he was the originator of many of the modern golf course design principles – undulating greens, long and narrow greens angled from the centre of the fairway, fairly large and free-formed bunker shapes and substantial additional contouring of the course. 

In 1924, he completed renderings of the Old Course that are thought by many to be some of the best documentation of the course at that time. 

He relocated to the United States in the late 1920s and completed the Augusta National in 1933.

The design of both The Old Course and Augusta National involved the participation of a famous golfer. Old Tom Morris, the best golfer of his era, was the designer The Old Course, transforming it from 22 holes to 18.  Bobby Jones, the best golfer of his era, worked side-by-side with MacKenzie to design the original Augusta National Golf Club.

 Old Tom Morris, architect St. Andrews Old Course 

Old Tom Morris, architect St. Andrews Old Course 

Vegetation

  In the spring the gorse plant is a pretty yellow, but for most of the year it is just a thorny bush. 

In the spring the gorse plant is a pretty yellow, but for most of the year it is just a thorny bush. 

Both golf courses are well known for their vegetation. 

In the case of The Old Course, the signature vegetation is the “gorse.” Gorse is a yellow-flowered thorny shrub that gobbles up golf balls and is impossible to play out of – even the name has a nasty ring to it. 

Heather another hearty shrub with a mixture of subtle colours commonly grows in rocky areas around the golf course - not a good thing for golfers. “Au natural” pretty much sums up the vegetation at the Old Course.

  Good luck hitting out of the tangled web of gorse branches and roots. 

Good luck hitting out of the tangled web of gorse branches and roots. 

Augusta National is the polar opposite. It is like walking into a botanical garden, with its signature vegetation being - magnolia trees and the azaleas.  The entrance to Augusta is called Magnolia Lane, with 60 magnolia trees planted from seeds in the 1850s, which now create a magical 330-yard (or a short par 4 in golfer lingo) canopy.

Rumour has it that in warm years or when the Masters is later in April, the azaleas are frozen to make sure they bloom at the right time.  Also, the course superintendent isn’t afraid to use a bit of green paint to cover up some of the brown or bald spots on the course.

  Augusta is part golf course, part botanical garden. 

Augusta is part golf course, part botanical garden. 

Famous Bridges

Both the Old Course and Augusta are known for their famous arched stone bridges. The Swilcan Bridge is a small bridge that spans the Swilican Burn (creek) in the fairway between the 1st and 18th hole on The Old Course.  It was originally built 700+ years ago to help shepherds get livestock across the burn. 

  It is hard to resist taking a photo standing on Swilican Bridge when you play the Old Course. 

It is hard to resist taking a photo standing on Swilican Bridge when you play the Old Course. 

Today, it provides a great backdrop with the grand Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and Hamilton Hall in the background. It is customary for The Open champions to publicly pay homage to the bridge. 

In 2010, Tom Watson, a five-time winner of The Open Championship, was captured kissing the bridge by a photographer.

Augusta has three iconic bridges – Hogan, Nelson and Sarazen. The Sarazen Bridge (15th hole) was the first to be dedicated.

In 1955, the 20th anniversary of Gene Sarazen’s famous double-eagle (a two on a par five) that helped him win The Masters in 1935.  Both the Hogan and Nelson Bridges were dedicated in 1958 - the Ben Hogan Bridge (12th hole) in recognition of his record low 72 hole round to 274 (-14) in 1950 and Byron Nelson Bridge (13th hole) in honour of Nelson’s 1937 Masters win where he made up six strokes on Holes 12 and 13.

  All three bridges at August have a similar look....

All three bridges at August have a similar look....

Last word

Personally I found it very interesting to gather these factoids that compare two famous golf courses.  However in sharing a draft of this blog with a good friend, and golfing buddy he offered a very different, insightful and valid perspective.

“Frankly, the comparison doesn't make a lot of sense to me. To me, the story of the two courses centers around the philosophy and accessibility behind them.  St. Andrews is golf for the masses, owned by a public trust, with guaranteed and highly affordable access to all residents.  Golfers from everywhere in the world are welcomed with open arms. The course is closed to the golfing public on Sundays and opened to strollers, picnickers, wedding pictures, dog walking, etc.  The course is not walled off from the public, and pedestrians can stand along the fairways on the Road Hole and 18 to watch play anytime.

Augusta epitomizes the exclusivity, privilege, and power that golf assumed in North America.  Other than a few handpicked members (multi, multi, millionaires as a starting point) and their guests, no one will ever play Augusta. You cannot even drive onto the grounds.  And with the exception of the Masters coverage, you cannot even see the course.  And in today's world, it likely best explains why golf is failing in North America.”

Last Last Word 

After researching and writing this blog, I have come to the conclusion the Old Course at St. Andrews is a masculine course (raw, scruffy, and natural) while Augusta is more feminine (beautiful, curved and manicured). More on this male, female thing in a future blog. 

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

Redwood Reflections 

Irish Golf: The Bold, The Beautiful, The Beer And The Bad

 

Hamilton: Atelier Vsaint A Timeless Hidden Gem

We were just walking along minding our own business, when for some unknown reason we noticed the sign in the window said “OPEN.”  We could have easily walked by this tired two storey brick building in downtown Hamilton with its modest window display in an otherwise dark-looking interior.

But there was something intriguing about the surrealistic-looking poster in the Atelier Vsaint shop window saying watch repair that drew us in, despite not having a watch needing repair.  

Perhaps it was the curiosity of being an everyday tourist calling?

  Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

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Time Machine

As we opened the bright red door into the dimly lite space a bell rang and a friendly voice said “Come in.”  Quickly looking around the minimalist space, it looked as if it hadn’t changed for over a 100 years.  The well-dressed man behind the antique counter introduced himself as Vincent Cino, asking, “How can I help you?” 

We must have looked a bit puzzled as he quickly began to explain us that in addition to fixing watches he also makes custom watches and began showing us some of his impressive work.   

Really! Who knew there are people who actually still make watches by hand? It was like we were in a time machine that had taken us back 100+ years. 

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Backstory:  The first wristwatch was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868. Although it was the first timekeeping device to be designed specifically for use on the wrist, it was intended primarily as a piece of decorative jewelry.
It has been claimed that pocket watches were adapted to be worn on wrist bracelets prior to 1868, perhaps as early as the 1570s, though there is no concrete evidence to support this. Wristwatches were a natural progression from pocket watches, but men did not initially take to the idea, preferring to rely on the larger, more traditional and “masculine” timepiece.
The practicalities of the wristwatch, which could be operated with one hand rather than two, eventually won over popular opinion, appealing especially to those in the military, who needed to be able to monitor the time while also operating machinery and weaponry. Consequently, the first wristwatches to be produced in large quantities were those manufactured specifically for the German military in the 1880s by Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux. (Source: Guinness World Records)
  Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Putting It Back Together

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Back to our adventure

Vincent then told us the story of the building. It dates back to the 1820s and has been home to a watchmaker since the 1870s when Edwin K. Pass first leased the store and later bought the building. The Pass family operated their watchmaking business out of the building for 100+ years. At one time they were so busy they employed five full-time watchmakers.

He still uses the original 18th century safe to lock up the watchers and materials every night.

That was in April of 2017. Fast forward to February 2018.  

As I was planning my trip to visit my Mom, I began thinking  about my Hamilton Automatic Estoril watch that wasn’t keeping good time and wondering if Vincent could fix it. 

I did a Google search - his shop didn’t come up. I checked Google Maps - it wasn’t there.  Wondering if he was still in business, I asked my Mom to check and she said she went by on the bus and it looked like he was.

So I took my watch with me and on the first morning I headed to his shop. Sure enough, he was there.  I showed him my watch and he assured me he could fix it.  Said he have a look and see what the problem was and give me a call.  He called the next day saying it just needed a good cleaning, so I gave the “go ahead” and was to pick it up three days later before I left for home.

By chance, on next the next morning I happen to be walking by and the “Open” sign was on so I tried the door and sure enough he was there. Vincent asked, “Do you want to see your watch?” Sure….so he pulls out a small, Tupperware-like container with various compartments with all of the tiny pieces of my watch sorted. I didn’t say anything but I was thinking “I sure hope he knows how to put this back together.” 

Tuesday morning the watch is waiting for me and he says it is keeping good time.  As I am leaving he says, “it might lose a few seconds a day!” I smiled and said, “that would be OK.”

It has been keeping perfect time ever since.

  Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

About Vincent Cino

Born in Hamilton, Vincent became interested in watchmaking in 1974 when visiting family in Turin, Italy. There a he saw his cousin working away at his watchmaker’s bench fixing watches and became fascinated with the world of micro-mechanics and horology – the science of watchmaking.  Upon returning home, he signed up for the British Horological Institute’s online learning program and as they say, the rest is history.

Today, Vincent is an expert at building Swiss chronograph watches.  He sources all of his materials for creating custom Vsaint Timepieces from Switzerland, so one could say “there are Swiss watches made in Canada.” As well, all of the parts he needs for watch repairs are also Swiss. 

I had to ask…Vincent himself owns only two watches - one is his own creation and the other is a Rolex Submariner. 

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Last Word

I also learned my Hamilton Estoril watch was from the late 1960s. It wasn’t until 1964 that Seiko invented the automatic (self winding) chronograph and unveiled it at the Tokyo Olympics.  Later Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton and movement specialist Dubois Depraz developed the technology for the first automatic chromatics like mine. 

Now the dilemma is, do I want him to make me a custom watch?  He showed me one I really like that he was working on that was $1,250.  Really isn’t that expensive considering the cost of a watch battery these days. 

Full Disclosure: I paid full price for the cleaning of my watch, it was only afterwards that I decided to do this blog. 

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

Calgary: Art of Vintage: A hidden gem

Hamilton's James Street North is a hidden gem

Turner Valley Gas Plant: A Hidden Gem

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

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) all cool depending on your perspective.

  You know a neighbourhood is cool when you find kids playing on a mini plaza in front of retail store along its Main Street.    This is 9th Ave aka Atlantic Ave in Inglewood. 

You know a neighbourhood is cool when you find kids playing on a mini plaza in front of retail store along its Main Street.  This is 9th Ave aka Atlantic Ave in Inglewood. 

What makes a cool neighbourhood?

My template of what I think are the key elements of a cool neighbourhood is:

  1. Festivals/Events
  2. Shops
  3. Cafés
  4. Restaurants
  5. Art/Architecture
  6. Parks/Plaza/Pathways
  7. Fitness/Recreation
  8. Pubs/Clubs/Beer
  9. Fun/Funky/Quirky
  This is one of two barns that still exist in Inglewood - how cool is that.  

This is one of two barns that still exist in Inglewood - how cool is that. 

Inglewood

Inglewood’s boundaries are difficult to share in words as you can see by this illustration from the City of Calgary’s website.  It is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and was once known as Brewery Flats as it was home to the mammoth Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site which is now closed and waiting for redevelopment. Given the rise in popularity of craft beer around the world, Inglewood might want to use Brewery Flats as part of its branding.

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Festivals/Events

Inglewood is home to not one but three signature events every summer.  The Inglewood Night Market will take place on June 8, July 13, August 10 and September 14 this year.  The Calgary Fringe Festival takes place from Aug 3 to 11, while Sunfest happens Saturday August 24.

Shops

Inglewood has an ever-changing array of eclectic shops from exquisite Circa Vintage Art Glass to bibliophile’s Fair’s Fair Books’ with its 7,000 used books. 

  Fair's Fair and Galleria share a building on the western edge of Inglewood. 

Fair's Fair and Galleria share a building on the western edge of Inglewood. 

But wait. It gets better.

Two "must visits" are Crown Surplus store where you can find some very interesting outdoor and tactical gear (maybe even a surplus military tent) and Recordland where you can hunt for that elusive vintage record you have always wanted (one of the largest collections of used records in North America.) 

  Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles.  

Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles. 

  Tea Trader's has the charm of an old world warehouse.

Tea Trader's has the charm of an old world warehouse.

Teetotallers will want to check out Tea Traders’ large selection of teas that they import directly to Calgary their world headquarters.

Foodies won’t want to miss The Silk Road either for its huge collection of spices, herbs and seasonings from around the world.

Knifewear offers Canada’s largest selection of Japanese knives - $2,500 is their most expensive knife; it is a work of art.  And, Kevin Kent (aka El Presidente) is one of North America’s leading authorities on knives.

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Kent of Inglewood (El Presidente’s other store) is a walk back in time, as not only is the building over 100 years old, but the products are a “blast from the past.” 

This is a “man’s man” shop where their “passion is classic shaving equipment, cocktails, axes, and all things fantastic.”

It even has an in-house barbershop.

When in Inglewood you must stop in “espy” women and men’s fashion boutique.  They are well known for their selection of denim jeans (1,000 jeans in stock) and for their professional denim fitting i.e. they are 100% honest about what looks good on you and what doesn’t!

The espy experience is not to be missed.
 Cira Vintage Art Glass with its mid century modern glass pieces is a one of kind gallery in Canada. It is an engaging kaleidoscope of colour and light.  Great for souvenir or gift shopping. 

Cira Vintage Art Glass with its mid century modern glass pieces is a one of kind gallery in Canada. It is an engaging kaleidoscope of colour and light.  Great for souvenir or gift shopping. 

  Now doesn't this look tasty....

Now doesn't this look tasty....

  I really wanted this clothes peg bench at Le Belle Arti, but I don't have a house big enough for it.  Wouldn't it be great in a children's playground? 

I really wanted this clothes peg bench at Le Belle Arti, but I don't have a house big enough for it.  Wouldn't it be great in a children's playground? 

Cafés

Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar, opened in 2012, has quickly established itself as the Inglewood hangout spot, not only for the espresso and wine but for its live music featuring local musicians every Friday and Saturday evening. 

The new kid on the block - ROSSO Coffee Roasters, named the ATB Small Business of the Year in 2017, by Calgary Chamber of Commerce is also worth a visit.

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Restaurants

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While restaurants come and go, Rouge Restaurant in the historic 1891 Cross House has been rated one of Calgary’s top 10 restaurants since 2001.

In fact, in 2010, it was ranked #60 in the world by San Pellegrino Awards. 

In 2014, Michael Noble (one of Canada’s leading chefs) opened The Nash and Off Cut Bar in the historic National Hotel (1907).   And in 2016, Sal Howell (one of Calgary’s best restaurant owners) reopened the Deane House (1906) next to Fort Calgary complete with an edible garden. 

If you are into dining in historical settings, Inglewood is definitely your place.

If you are looking for an authentic Calgary dining experience, you can’t do much better than Spolumbo’s family restaurant (owned by three former Calgary Stampeders players) using old world family recipes to create the perfect sausages. 

No community can be cool without a “go to” pizza place. In Inglewood’s that would be Without Papers Pizza.

  Funny Story: Kevin Kent a former chef started his Japanese knife importing business to sell knives to Calgary chefs our of his backpack.  It become so popular he opened up a store in Inglewood, which also became successful and today he has Knifewear stores in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Some of the knives are like works of art, that you could hang on the wall, which in fact he as done in Inglewood store. 

Funny Story: Kevin Kent a former chef started his Japanese knife importing business to sell knives to Calgary chefs our of his backpack.  It become so popular he opened up a store in Inglewood, which also became successful and today he has Knifewear stores in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Some of the knives are like works of art, that you could hang on the wall, which in fact he as done in Inglewood store. 

Art/Architecture

Inglewood is Calgary’s live music district, home to the Blues Can, Ironwood Stage & Grill (both have music 7days a week) and Festival Hall (operated by the Calgary Folk Festival).  

Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition for best solo/duo and best guitarist, hosts a blues jam every Saturday (no cover) at the Blues Can.

  The Blues Can has just the right amount of grit to be an authentic blues bar.

The Blues Can has just the right amount of grit to be an authentic blues bar.

  The Garry Theatre aka Ironwood Stage & Grill offers everything from blues jams to Big Band brunches.   

The Garry Theatre aka Ironwood Stage & Grill offers everything from blues jams to Big Band brunches.  

  Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Inglewood is home to the Esker Foundation/Contemporary Art Gallery, a privately funded, non-commercial, free gallery that curates three exhibitions per year – fall, winter and spring/summer. Challenging yet accessible, they are accompanied by educational programs and publications.

It is on the third floor of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, an architectural work of art in itself with its wavy roof and how it integrates the historic red brick warehouse architecture with contemporary urban design. 

  Esker Foundation Art Gallery is a "must see" when you are in Inglewood. (photo credit: screen shot from website)

Esker Foundation Art Gallery is a "must see" when you are in Inglewood. (photo credit: screen shot from website)

Other art galleries in the neighbourhood include Galleria, Van Ginkel Art Gallery, Inglewood Fine Arts and Collector’s Gallery.   And, just a short walk up 12th St SE under the rail tracks lies the Artpoint Gallery and Studios Society with its three galleries and 23 studios.

History buffs will love walking along Inglewood’s New Street and you will discover a charming mix of heritage and contemporary homes.  One of the reasons Calgary’s City Center neighbourhoods are so vibrant is the hundreds of new infill homes being built every year.

Link: Calgary is the Infill Capital of North America

  Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

With the northern boundary of Inglewood being the Bow River, Inglewood has a lovely walking and cycling pathway to downtown, St. Patrick’s Island, the Calgary Zoo, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Harvie Passage. 

Inglewood is also home to Calgary’s original Main Street, aka 9th Avenue (as it is now called) aka Atlantic Avenue (its original name). The three blocks from 11th St to 14th St SE is a charming collection of early 20th century red brick buildings that house an eclectic array of shops today.   

Inglewood is also home to Bow Passage Overlook artwork by Lorna Jordan located along the Bow River pathway at the Harvie Passage where the Bow River takes a sharp turn south.  This large artwork looks like a typical log jam along the shore of the Bow River, except it has been carefully constructed so you can walk up to the outlook viewing platform or explore and sit amongst the rocks and rectangular man-made logs. 

  The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a delightful place to meander, reflect and take photos.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a delightful place to meander, reflect and take photos.

  Inglewood is home to a small art park at the corner of 9th Ave & 8th St SE across from the Dean House. 

Inglewood is home to a small art park at the corner of 9th Ave & 8th St SE across from the Dean House. 

Fitness/Recreation

For those looking for adventurous water sports you can float, canoe or kayak on the Bow River.  Harvie Passage is currently closed but will reopen in this summer (it was severely damaged in the 2013 flood) is one of the best urban kayaking spots in North America with channels for beginners and experts.

Lawn bowling in Calgary dates back to the late 1800s and is enjoying a resurgence today. The patch of grass at the corner of 8th Ave and 12th St. SE has been home to the Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club since 1946.  Don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of hipsters lawn bowling as you walk by.  And yes you can work up a thirst lawn bowling.

Heads Up: Watch out for cyclists as 8th Ave SE can be a busy cycling street.
  A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

  The Bow Passage Overlook, in Pearce Estate Park, by Lorna Jordan offers a spectacular view of the Bow River with lots of places to sit and climb. 

The Bow Passage Overlook, in Pearce Estate Park, by Lorna Jordan offers a spectacular view of the Bow River with lots of places to sit and climb. 

Pubs/Clubs/Beer

In addition, the Blues Can and Ironwood, Inglewood is home to one of Calgary’s best pubs -  The Hose & Hound Neighbourhood Pub located in a 1906 firehouse.  

Inglewood is also home to two of Calgary’s best craft breweries. Cold Garden Beverage Company Tasting Room since January 2017 has become a popular place for locals to chill, as has High Line Brewery that opened in December 2016. .

Fun/Funky/Quirky Factor

The Nest is a funky, 500-square foot meeting space that not only looks like a nest but it is suspended from the roof in the middle of the main gallery space of the Esker Contemporary Art Gallery.  Very cool!

Not only is Nerd Roller Skates a quirky niche shop that specializes in roller derby skates and equipment, is also the hub for Calgary’s roller derby community.

And the long standing Friday Night Circles of Rhythm drum circle at the Inglewood Community Hall regularly attracts over 100 participants (no experience needed, they supply the drums, perfect for everyone from 5 to 95). Drop-in are welcome.

If you have a chance you must experience Carly’s Angels the riotous drag show in the quaint Lolita’s Lounge that has been entertaining Calgarians and visitors for 10 years.  Some shows sell out 4 to 8 weeks in advance and no minors allowed as it can get more than a little raunchy.

Last Word

Inglewood has just the right mix of old and new, highbrow and lowbrow things to see and do.  No wonder Inglewood was crowned “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2014 - and it has only gotten better since then. 

The ultra chic new AVLI on Atlantic condo (currently under construction) designed by Calgary’s own Jeremy Sturgess could be just what makes Inglewood not only one of Calgary’s coolest neighbourhoods, but North America’s.

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs examining Calgary’s City Centre Neighbourhoods.

Note: My apologies to Calgary’s 200+ other neighbourhoods. While you may have a cool park or playground, a great recreation centre, maybe even a lake with a beach, or a few special shops, you don’t have the history and diversity of walkable things to see and do that makes for a cool urban neighbourhood from a tourist’s perspective. And after all, this is an every day tourist blog. That being said, I am open to changing my mind. So feel free to contact me and tell me why you think another neighbourhood(s) should be on my list of cool Calgary Neighbourhoods. 

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Importance of Cultural Philanthropists

I was intrigued to learn while recently shopping at a Bashas’ grocery store in Mesa, Arizona, that this family-owned grocer not only has its own public art gallery, but houses the largest collection of Western American & American Indian Art in the USA.

Eddie Basha Jr. began collecting art as a hobby in the ‘70s under the guidance of his Aunt Zelma.  The hobby quickly grew into a passion that combined his keen interest in the history of the American West, his admiration of the American Indian and appreciation of art.  The official name of the gallery is the - Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery - in honour of his aunt.

Visiting this gallery reminded me of the important role philanthropists play in shaping the culture of cities.

  Alberta's first library, Calgary's Memorial Park Library built in 1912 was funded in part by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.    More info at:  Memorial Park History

Alberta's first library, Calgary's Memorial Park Library built in 1912 was funded in part by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  More info at: Memorial Park History

The Importance of Philanthropists

The Andrew Carnegie philanthropic legacy is legendary – he helped fund 2,509 libraries around the world from 1883 to 1929, including Calgary’s Memorial Park Library.

In Seattle, Paul Allen funded the entire cost of the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project) and its Frank Gehry signature building in 2006.

In Mexico City, Carlos Slim did the same - building the striking Museo Soumaya in 2011 to house his 70,000 works of art including hundreds of modern masters. These two iconic museums have been the catalysts for creating urban vitality in their immediate neighbourhoods. The free admission helps the Museo Soumaya attract over 1 million visitors a year.

Then there’s Robert J. Ulrich, former CE0 & Chairman of Target. He funded the creation and operations of the world-class Musical Instruments Museum in Scottsdale and the acquisition of 15,000 instruments from 200 countries. Using the Target design and construction team, it took just five years from conception to completion.

  Museo Soumaya is an outstanding building inside and out.    Link: Museums of Mexico City

Museo Soumaya is an outstanding building inside and out. Link: Museums of Mexico City

  The facade of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture is an ever changing work of abstract art. 

The facade of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture is an ever changing work of abstract art. 

Calgary’s Cultural Philanthropists

Perhaps Calgary’s greatest cultural philanthropist is Eric Harvie who helped establish the Glenbow Museum when his Glenbow Foundation donated 200,000 artifacts and $6 million (the equivalent of $45 million today and matched by the Province) to create the museum, which opened in 1966.

  Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall is part of Arts Commons complex, which is one of the largest performing arts complexes in North America with four theatres and one concert hall. 

Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall is part of Arts Commons complex, which is one of the largest performing arts complexes in North America with four theatres and one concert hall. 

In the ‘80s, Max Bell and Martha Cohen each donated $1 million towards the construction of the Calgary Performing Arts Centre (now Arts Commons) for naming rights to the two theatres, while Jack Singer donated $1.5 million to get the concert hall naming rights. 

In 2006, the Taylor Family became Calgary’s biggest cultural philanthropists with a $25 million donation to the University of Calgary to build the Taylor Family Digital Library and Quadrangle (total cost $206 million). This was followed, in 2010, by a $21 million donation to Mount Royal University to build the Taylor Family Performing Arts Centre and Bella Concert Hall at a cost of $90 million.

There are also a number of Calgary philanthropists – past and present - who donate to cultural endeavours without attaching their name to a building.

  Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University is one of Calgary's newest cultural gems .  Link:  TCPA Profile

Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University is one of Calgary's newest cultural gems. Link: TCPA Profile

For example, Ron Mannix’s support of the arts began in 1987 with the $750,000 purchase of the Carthy Organ for the Jack Singer Concert Hall. 

That was the genesis for his support of the International Organ Festival and Competition from 1990 to 2002, as well as building a collection of over 1,000 keyboard instruments. In 2003, he funded the creation of the Cantos Music Foundation in the historic Customs House building to house his growing collection and offer music programs. Cantos was the catalyst for the development of the National Music Centre, which houses his now 2,000+ rare instruments and artifact collection.

One of the most unique and ambitious examples of cultural philanthropy in Calgary is that of Jim and Sue Hill who not only built Inglewood’s Atlantic Avenue Art Block with a 15,000 square foot public art gallery on the top floor, but also fund operating costs and the curation, shipping and installation of three impressive contemporary exhibitions each year.  FYI: Admission is free!

  Esker Foundation Art Gallery is located on the top floor of the Atlantic Avenue Arts Block in Calgary's historic Inglewood community.    Link: Esker Foundation Art Gallery    

Esker Foundation Art Gallery is located on the top floor of the Atlantic Avenue Arts Block in Calgary's historic Inglewood community. Link: Esker Foundation Art Gallery 

WANTED: More Cultural Philanthropists

The Basha Gallery got me thinking there should be a similar museum at Stampede Park, a “must-see” museum showcasing the Stampede’s 100+ year connection to western art, cowboy art, indigenous people and rodeo culture. An IMAX theatre attached would allow visitors to enjoy the “spills and thrills” of the Stampede experience (rodeo, chuckwagon races, midway, grandstand show) year-round.  You would think in Calgary there would be a few philanthropists who would be all over this idea. 

In reality, there aren’t many cultural philanthropists in our city. Both the Glenbow and Arts Commons have struggled for 15 years to find the funds needed to update spaces to meet 21st century expectations. One cultural champion told me there are probably only a dozen individuals in Calgary who are million dollar plus cultural philanthropists.

The philanthropy world has changed significantly since Eric Harvie’s day. Cultural groups now have to compete with schools, hospitals and illness groups (which used to be fully funded by governments) as well as newer groups (e.g. environmental) that didn’t exist in the 60s.

  Free First Thursdays at the Glenbow have become very popular. 

Free First Thursdays at the Glenbow have become very popular. 

Last Word

Great cities have several thriving museums, galleries, libraries, concert halls and theatres, each helping to manifest a sense of the city’s unique past and present.

Great cultural places are critical not only to creating an attractive City Centre for Calgarians to work, live and visit, but are also key to a successful economic development and tourism marketing and branding initiatives.  

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

Postcards From Musical Instruments Museum

Glenbow: Strokes of Genius

Rise of Public Art, Fall of Public Art Galleries