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?

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.05.27 AM.png

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


 








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?

West Hillhurst: Portrait Of My Neighbourhood

West Hillhurst is about a 45 to 90 minute walk to Stephen Avenue depending on where you live and how fast you walk.  It is on the edge of the City Centre by my definition i.e. anywhere that is about a 30 to 40 minute walk from the middle of the Central Business District.  

That makes West Hillhurst an inner-city neighbourhood.

  West Hillhurst Park is the heart of not only our neighbourhood but of the entire North Hill district. It has a funky old arena, squash courts, tennis/pickle ball courts, a gym, a day care, seniors' lounge, outdoor swimming pool, community garden, playground and playing fields. It may not be as big or fancy as new recreation centres in the 'burbs but it does the job. It is also home to the The Barn, a quaint pub where you can watch what is happening in the arena.   (photo credit: Ross Aitken Re/Max Real Estate Central)

West Hillhurst Park is the heart of not only our neighbourhood but of the entire North Hill district. It has a funky old arena, squash courts, tennis/pickle ball courts, a gym, a day care, seniors' lounge, outdoor swimming pool, community garden, playground and playing fields. It may not be as big or fancy as new recreation centres in the 'burbs but it does the job. It is also home to the The Barn, a quaint pub where you can watch what is happening in the arena. (photo credit: Ross Aitken Re/Max Real Estate Central)

Hidden diversity

For most Calgarians, the image of inner-city neighbourhoods is one of tree-lined streets with a mix of small, mid-20th century bungalows and large new two story infill homes.  There might be an old school or two and a small shopping plaza and but not much else.

Living in West Hillhurst for 25+ years I have come to appreciate the hidden diversity of my community, which I expect  is true for many other inner-city neighbourhoods in Calgary.

Let's go for a West Hillhurst adventure, as my four and two-year old neighbour boys would say when they want me to take them for a walkabout of our neighbourhood. We always find something new even after over 100 adventures.

  West Hillhurst has strange boundaries. It would seem more logical for the boundary to extend to 29th St on the west and 14th Street on the east? Note the south boundary includes the southern shore of the Bow River, which means we have some great beaches and pathways. 

West Hillhurst has strange boundaries. It would seem more logical for the boundary to extend to 29th St on the west and 14th Street on the east? Note the south boundary includes the southern shore of the Bow River, which means we have some great beaches and pathways. 

  A map from the early 20th century illustrates how the boundaries and names of the neighourhoods have changed.  I love the name Parkdale Happyland, perhaps we should bring it back.  

A map from the early 20th century illustrates how the boundaries and names of the neighourhoods have changed.  I love the name Parkdale Happyland, perhaps we should bring it back.  

Parks & Recreation Amenities 

  A Sunday morning church picnic at Grand Trunk Park attracts all ages and backgrounds.

A Sunday morning church picnic at Grand Trunk Park attracts all ages and backgrounds.

  We have great climbing trees, who needs climbing walls?

We have great climbing trees, who needs climbing walls?

  Our outdoor pool is a great gathering place in the summer. 

Our outdoor pool is a great gathering place in the summer. 

  The Bowview field is one of the best soccer field in the city and attracts some of the best soccer players in the city. 

The Bowview field is one of the best soccer field in the city and attracts some of the best soccer players in the city. 

  We also have numerous other soccer fields for those learning the game. 

We also have numerous other soccer fields for those learning the game. 

  Helicopter Park is one of the most popular parks in the City.  The name comes from the fact that the STARS helicopter takes off and lands at the nearby Foothill Medical Centre.  West Hillhurst has five funky playgrounds, in addition to school playgrounds.

Helicopter Park is one of the most popular parks in the City.  The name comes from the fact that the STARS helicopter takes off and lands at the nearby Foothill Medical Centre.  West Hillhurst has five funky playgrounds, in addition to school playgrounds.

  We have some of the best dressed playground Dad's in the city. 

We have some of the best dressed playground Dad's in the city. 

  We even have our own stretch of the Bow River, with our own islands.  

We even have our own stretch of the Bow River, with our own islands.  

  We have several lovely natural pebble beaches. 

We have several lovely natural pebble beaches. 

  Our pathways are amazing.

Our pathways are amazing.

  Our dog park is busy year-round. It offers great views of the downtown skyline.

Our dog park is busy year-round. It offers great views of the downtown skyline.

  We have several outdoor skating rinks in the winter, like this one that is shared by hockey players and figure skaters. 

We have several outdoor skating rinks in the winter, like this one that is shared by hockey players and figure skaters. 

  We even have our own luge/bobsled track. 

We even have our own luge/bobsled track. 

  West Hillhursters love to cycle. While we don't have any cycle tracks we do have the highest number of people cycling to work of any neighbourhood in Calgary.  We start them young! 

West Hillhursters love to cycle. While we don't have any cycle tracks we do have the highest number of people cycling to work of any neighbourhood in Calgary.  We start them young! 

  West Hillhurst's multi-use courts are use for both tennis and pickle ball. Inside is a very popular squash club.  

West Hillhurst's multi-use courts are use for both tennis and pickle ball. Inside is a very popular squash club.  

Caring Community 

  Centre 2507 operated by the Calgary Drop-In Centre is a safe place for homeless to sleep. 

Centre 2507 operated by the Calgary Drop-In Centre is a safe place for homeless to sleep. 

  The mega Bethany Care Centre is located at the NE edge of the neighbourhood.

The mega Bethany Care Centre is located at the NE edge of the neighbourhood.

  The Louise Dean Centre (formerly the Kensington School) is for young moms with children. 

The Louise Dean Centre (formerly the Kensington School) is for young moms with children. 

 Crowchild Kiwanis Manor is just one of several senior care facilities in our community. 

Crowchild Kiwanis Manor is just one of several senior care facilities in our community. 

 The Parkdale Kiwanis Manor is located across the street from the Crowchild Manor above. Don't let the name fool you, it is located in West Hillhurst. 

The Parkdale Kiwanis Manor is located across the street from the Crowchild Manor above. Don't let the name fool you, it is located in West Hillhurst. 

  Bow view Apartments is owned by Highbanks Society. It provides shelter and access to education and resources for single moms 16 to 24 years old.  The Dairy Lane operating since 1950, is Calgary's iconic diner. They make a classic milkshake. 

Bow view Apartments is owned by Highbanks Society. It provides shelter and access to education and resources for single moms 16 to 24 years old.  The Dairy Lane operating since 1950, is Calgary's iconic diner. They make a classic milkshake. 

Churches

  The West Hillhurst Gospel Hall is where Paul Brandt began singing as a child.

The West Hillhurst Gospel Hall is where Paul Brandt began singing as a child.

 West Hillhurst has several churches but you might miss them as they often look like houses.  This is the Faith Chapel of Hillhurst. 

West Hillhurst has several churches but you might miss them as they often look like houses.  This is the Faith Chapel of Hillhurst. 

  This is the Parkdale Seventh Day Adventist Church, but it really is in West Hillhurst.

This is the Parkdale Seventh Day Adventist Church, but it really is in West Hillhurst.

  Parkdale Grace Fellowship is also located in West Hillhurst. 

Parkdale Grace Fellowship is also located in West Hillhurst. 

Architecture

  The Girl Guide of Canada building design has a funky juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary elements and materials.

The Girl Guide of Canada building design has a funky juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary elements and materials.

 We have a very cool curvaceous white pedestrian bridge by a "no name" designer. Ours goes over a river of cars not water, but otherwise it is just as beautiful as those famous ones down the road. 

We have a very cool curvaceous white pedestrian bridge by a "no name" designer. Ours goes over a river of cars not water, but otherwise it is just as beautiful as those famous ones down the road. 

  The Dave Freeze pedestrian bridge does cross the Bow River underneath the Crowchild Trail bridge.  Backstory: This bridge cost the City nothing as Dave an avid walker paid for it as a gift to Calgarians.  It was designed I believe pro bono by Calgary architect Bill Milne, a good friend of Dave.   

The Dave Freeze pedestrian bridge does cross the Bow River underneath the Crowchild Trail bridge.  Backstory: This bridge cost the City nothing as Dave an avid walker paid for it as a gift to Calgarians.  It was designed I believe pro bono by Calgary architect Bill Milne, a good friend of Dave.   

  The Lions Village our newest seniors complex, by NORR combines an industrial and contemporary look, which is fitting as it is located next to a major ENMAX transformer.    

The Lions Village our newest seniors complex, by NORR combines an industrial and contemporary look, which is fitting as it is located next to a major ENMAX transformer.    

  The Kensington Clinic (abortion) designed by Caglary architect Andrew King is emblematic of minimalist modern architecture.  Backstory: The area around Crowchild Trail and 5th Avenue NW has been home to an abortion clinic for decades . 

The Kensington Clinic (abortion) designed by Caglary architect Andrew King is emblematic of minimalist modern architecture.  Backstory: The area around Crowchild Trail and 5th Avenue NW has been home to an abortion clinic for decades

  This round mid-century building is currently being converted into a medical facility.

This round mid-century building is currently being converted into a medical facility.

  The Grand Trunk School built in 1911 is one of the oldest buildings in Calgary outside of the downtown. 

The Grand Trunk School built in 1911 is one of the oldest buildings in Calgary outside of the downtown. 

  West Hillhurst is also home to the Thomas Riley House built in 1910.  Backstory: It was sold for $1 in 1987, as it had to be moved from its original 24th Street and 7th Avenue NW location to allow for the widening of Crowchild Trail.  Today it is hidden in the back alley of 8th Ave and 28th St NW.     FYI: At one time it was an abortion clinic!

 West Hillhurst is also home to the Thomas Riley House built in 1910.  Backstory: It was sold for $1 in 1987, as it had to be moved from its original 24th Street and 7th Avenue NW location to allow for the widening of Crowchild Trail.  Today it is hidden in the back alley of 8th Ave and 28th St NW.    FYI: At one time it was an abortion clinic!

Small Businesses 

  19th Street NW, West Hillhurst's main street is undergoing a renaissance with new shops like Made by Marcus Ice Cream. 

19th Street NW, West Hillhurst's main street is undergoing a renaissance with new shops like Made by Marcus Ice Cream. 

  The Daylight Grocery store has been operating for over 50 years. 

The Daylight Grocery store has been operating for over 50 years. 

  If you are a camper or a hiker, you probably know about SA Meat Shops as their dried meats are very popular. SA provides a range of meat products, baked goods and grocery items unique to South Africa. We also have Jan's Meats & Deli, an authentic Polish Market offering fresh meats, specialty cheeses and other groceries. I am in love with the apple strudel. 

If you are a camper or a hiker, you probably know about SA Meat Shops as their dried meats are very popular. SA provides a range of meat products, baked goods and grocery items unique to South Africa. We also have Jan's Meats & Deli, an authentic Polish Market offering fresh meats, specialty cheeses and other groceries. I am in love with the apple strudel. 

  The Scout Shop is a hidden gem for campers.  I am told they have great deals on tents.  Fashionistas love their collection of badges.  

The Scout Shop is a hidden gem for campers.  I am told they have great deals on tents.  Fashionistas love their collection of badges.  

  The new Kensington Legion building combines an neighbourhood restaurant with a Legion lounge and office space. It is the first phase of a mega redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site, that will create a mix-use hub at the corner of Kensington Road and 19th St NW.  It is also an example of West Hillhurst's new architectural renaissance.

The new Kensington Legion building combines an neighbourhood restaurant with a Legion lounge and office space. It is the first phase of a mega redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site, that will create a mix-use hub at the corner of Kensington Road and 19th St NW.  It is also an example of West Hillhurst's new architectural renaissance.

 West Hillhust is full of small businesses like this one that are integrated into the community.   

West Hillhust is full of small businesses like this one that are integrated into the community.   

  District Ventures is an accelerator for start-ups in the food and agricultural sector.   

District Ventures is an accelerator for start-ups in the food and agricultural sector.  

  Vintage Cafe is one of the many new small businesses in West Hillhurst. They recently opened a second store in Cross Iron Mills.

Vintage Cafe is one of the many new small businesses in West Hillhurst. They recently opened a second store in Cross Iron Mills.

  St. Lawrence Bagels opened recently at 2638 Parkdale Drive with a wood burning oven.  The owner/baker spent 10+ years working at Montreal's iconic St. Viateur Bagel Shop. 

St. Lawrence Bagels opened recently at 2638 Parkdale Drive with a wood burning oven.  The owner/baker spent 10+ years working at Montreal's iconic St. Viateur Bagel Shop. 

  Amato Gelato is one of many pedestrian oriented shops along Kensington Road.

Amato Gelato is one of many pedestrian oriented shops along Kensington Road.

  We even have some back alley industries . 

We even have some back alley industries

Art & Culture

  Artists make good use of our pebble beaches to create very interesting installations. 

Artists make good use of our pebble beaches to create very interesting installations. 

  We don't have any museums but we do have this very interesting gate .

We don't have any museums but we do have this very interesting gate.

  We do have a big angry cat scultpure? 

We do have a big angry cat scultpure? 

  We have lots of little libraries. 

We have lots of little libraries. 

  We might not have a giant blue ring, but we have lots of little gnomes. 

We might not have a giant blue ring, but we have lots of little gnomes. 

  We also have a classic sculpture garden.

We also have a classic sculpture garden.

  We are also adding to Calgary's growing number of murals/street art. 

We are also adding to Calgary's growing number of murals/street art. 

  We also have a cow from the Udderly Art project. 

We also have a cow from the Udderly Art project. 

Diversity of Housing

  Modern rental apartments.

Modern rental apartments.

  Mid century rental apartments

Mid century rental apartments

  New infills come in all shapes and sizes, from modern to traditional.  

New infills come in all shapes and sizes, from modern to traditional. 

  New townhomes.

New townhomes.

  Post war homes are still abundant in West Hillhurst. 

Post war homes are still abundant in West Hillhurst. 

  Gradually the community is transitioning to early 20th century infills to accommodate more families. 

Gradually the community is transitioning to early 20th century infills to accommodate more families. 

  We are seeing more and more lane homes being built in West Hillhurst.

We are seeing more and more lane homes being built in West Hillhurst.

  We also have walk-up row housing. 

We also have walk-up row housing. 

Future

  Crowfoot Trail Divide? Crowfoot Trail divides West Hillhurst in half - east and west.  Many people think the west half is in Parkdale. It is currently undergoing a mega makeover that will hopefully be more pedestrian, cycling and driver friendly.

Crowfoot Trail Divide? Crowfoot Trail divides West Hillhurst in half - east and west.  Many people think the west half is in Parkdale. It is currently undergoing a mega makeover that will hopefully be more pedestrian, cycling and driver friendly.

  The old Kensington Legion is gone, soon to be replaced by a mid-rise condo with main floor retail.  This will be a game changer for our community. 

The old Kensington Legion is gone, soon to be replaced by a mid-rise condo with main floor retail. This will be a game changer for our community. 

  Hope you had a great day exploring West Hillhurst with me.

Hope you had a great day exploring West Hillhurst with me.

Best Calgary Neighbourhoods?

Recently, Avenue Magazine published their Calgary Best Neighbourhoods for 2018 and the results were surprising. The methodology involved surveying Calgarians re: what is important to them (restaurants, cafes and bars, walk and transit scores, community engagement, crime rates and access to parks, pathways and recreational opportunities) and then all 185 neighbourhoods were ranked based on relevant data from various sources.

This was not a popularity contest as is often the case with neighbourhood rankings. 

Link: Avenue Best Neighbourhoods Methodology

The top ten were:

  1. Beltline
  2. Arbour Lake
  3. Hamptons
  4. Signal Hill
  5. Bowness
  6. Edgemont
  7. Crescent Heights
  8. Brentwood
  9. Eau Claire
  10. Downtown

Interestingly, Hillhurst ranked #27 and Inglewood #50, both of which have been ranked as some of the best neighbourhoods in Canada by professional planners.  Hmmmm....what does that say? 

West Hillhurst was ranked #105, just ahead of Collingwood (106), North Glenmore Park (107) and Midnapore (108) and behind the likes of Glendale (102), Southview (103) and Britanna (104).

  Everybody knows what makes a great neighbourhood is having great neighbours. These are mine.

Everybody knows what makes a great neighbourhood is having great neighbours. These are mine.

Last Word

For me is having great neighbours, which we have had for the entire 25+ years we have lived here.  It is also about great accessibility to all of the things like to do, some in walking distance, some just a 5 or 10 minute drive.  We have never been big transit users.

I am not about to question why West Hillhurst was ranked so low.  But, perhaps it is because what makes a great neighbourhood isn't really measurable.  It is personal! 

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

Woodbine is wonderful!

Mount Royal: City Beautiful

Aspen Woods: Home to Calgary's "Nouveau Riche"

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

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

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

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

  Rainbow underpass pathway

Rainbow underpass pathway

  The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

Calgary’s City Centre is very cool

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  It also has great places to browse. 

It also has great places to browse. 

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

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

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

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

Coffee Culture

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

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

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

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

  Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Art & Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

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

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

Fitness/Recreational Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Family fun in downtown.

Family fun in downtown.

Pubs & Clubs 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

Festivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FFQ Elements

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

  Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

  Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

  Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Mission is marvellous

Beltline: Calgary's Hipster/Nester Community

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

Kensington: Calgary's Left Bank is cool!

Downtown Living is cooler than you think!

Staircases As Art

I will let the staircases speak for themselves.....

 Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

  Post Office, Mexico City

Post Office, Mexico City

  Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

  Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

  Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

  National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

  The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

Colourful Staircases

  Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

  Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

  The Twist, Palm Springs, California

The Twist, Palm Springs, California

  Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

  Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Central Library, Seattle, Washington

  Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

  Lions Park Station, Calgary

Lions Park Station, Calgary

  Zion Park, Utah

Zion Park, Utah

  Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Emergency Staircases

  Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

  Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California

 Backstairs, Montreal 

Backstairs, Montreal 

  Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

  The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

Black & White 

  Mexico City

Mexico City

  Mexico City

Mexico City

  Plateau, Montreal, 

Plateau, Montreal, 

  West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

  Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

  King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

  Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

A Place To Sit

  Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

  Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

  Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

  Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Last Word

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay. If you have a favourite staircases photo you'd like to share send it to me at rwhiteyyc@gmail.com and I will add it to the blog. Thanks for reading! 

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

The curse of minimalism

Chicago: Gold Coast Staircases

Calgary: Best Places To Sit

 

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

Downtown Calgary ‘flies under the radar” for most Calgarians when is comes to being a place to live.  However, that is not true for the 9,000 people who live in what the City of Calgary calls the “Downtown Commercial Core” (i.e. from 3rd St SE to 9th St SW and from 9th Ave to 4th Ave SW.

  Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

  It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other . 

It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other

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Downtown vs Beltline

While the Beltline, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington get all the attention as Calgary’s urban living hot spots, when you combine Downtown West End, Commercial Core, Downtown East Village (the City’s official names for these three communities), Eau Claire and Chinatown (together they are roughly the same geographical size as the Beltline) there are over 18,000 people living downtown vs. Beltline’s 21,357 and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s 10,345). 

While downtown's shiny office towers get all the attention – good and bad – downtown (using the broader boundaries) is definitely a cool place to live.

Here’s why!

  Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

  Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

  Chinatown is a   fun place to shop for groceries.

Chinatown is a fun place to shop for groceries.

  Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Festivals/Events

There is a festival or major event in downtown almost every weekend. Everything from the High Performance Rodeo to major international festivals (Children, Film, Folk and SLED) Downtown also hosts Calgary’s largest single day event - The Calgary Stampede Parade the first Friday every July. 

Major outdoor concerts and music festivals also happen at Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park every summer.

  The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

Shops

An amazing diversity of shopping opportunities exists in Downtown – department stores (Hudson’s Bay, Simons and Holt Renfrew) to the uber chic Core and grassroots Chinatown.

In addition there are shop at Bankers Hall, Scotia Centre and Bow Valley Square.  Calgary’s downtown shopping not only surpasses anything Portland, Nashville or Austin have, but also rivals Calgary’s Chinook Centre (one of Canada’s top malls).

There are also off-the-beaten path shops like Map World with its incredible collection of wall maps, globes, travel and topographical maps.  Or, if you are into fly-fishing, Hanson’s Fishing Outfitters in the Grain Exchange building has everything you might need. Bonus: you can walk from Hanson’s to fish in the Bow River in just a few minutes.  How cool is that?

  The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

 Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

  Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Cafe Culture

Downtown Calgary is blessed with an amazing array of coffeehouses. Alforno Café and Bakery is arguably Calgary’s coolest café. Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters has two locations Simmons Building and on Stephen Avenue.  Calgary based, Good Earth Café also has two locations Eau Claire Market and 7th Avenue at 5th Street. Caffe Artigiano has two locations along Barclay Mall. Calgary’s Monogram Coffee can be found in Fifth Avenue Place.  

Downtown also has a very unique Starbucks in Eighth Avenue Place with its  minimalist open design with long communal tables rather than individual small tables for two and four. 

  Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

  Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Restaurants

Downtown Calgary offers both high and lowbrow dining.  It includes four signature Calgary restaurants, the rustic River Café, classic Teatros, Murietta’s West Coast Bar & Grill, and Sky 360, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Calgary Tower.  The new kid on the block is Charbar in the Simmons Building, its roof-top patio offers spectacular views of the Bow River and RiverWalk.

There is a kaleidoscope of ethnic restaurants downtown, Anatolia (Turkish), Atlas (Persian), Jonas (Hungarian), Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar to name just four.  And of course, there is no shortage of Asian restaurants in Chinatown. 

If you love Alberta beef, downtown offers five signature steakhouses – Buchanan’s, Caesar’s, Hy’s, The Keg and Saltlik.  Buchanan’s Chop House is known not only for food, but for its its selection of more than 300 malt whiskeys from around the world.

The Fairmont Palliser offers a themed afternoon tea by reservation.  The theme at the time of this blog posting was a Mad Hatter Tea Party that included Tweeledum Tweedeldee Yuzu tarts and Queen of Hearts red velvet cupcakes – very cool.

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s renowned food and restaurant critic has called downtown’s Stephen Avenue Walk one of the best restaurant rows in Canada. 

  The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

  Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

  Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Art/Architecture

There area few places in Canada let alone Calgary that can match downtown for its combination of architecture and public art all within a few blocks of each other.  From the historic sandstone buildings (old City Hall and McDougall Centre) to the glittering glass office towers (Bow Tower, Eighth Avenue Place, Nexen Tower and 505 7th Avenue) to the three iconic bridges (Peace, King and Centre Street) and the National Music Centre. 

Coming soon are two new architectural gems – the new Calgary Public Library and Telus Sky office/residential tower. The Library was designed by internationally renowned architectural firm, Snohetta from Oslo while Telus Sky’s was designed by the esteemed Bjarke Ingels Group from Copenhagen. 

Downtown has literally hundreds of artworks along its streets, in its parks and plazas and along its pathways.  You could easily stroll around downtown all say enjoying the art - from the Famous Five tea party at Olympic Plaza to the Wonderland on the Bow Tower plaza to the Conversation on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Did you know that there are artworks in almost every downtown office lobby?  The Eighth Avenue Place lobby includes works of renowned Canadian painters Jean Paul Riopelle and Jack Shadbolt.  There are also some fun contemporary paintings in relatively new Calgary Centre office tower.

Downtown Calgary is one huge public art gallery waiting to be discovered.

 The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

  I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

  Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

  Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

  Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

  The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

Calgary’s downtown is also blessed with some of the best public spaces of any city its size and age in North America.  Any city would be hard pressed to match Prince’s Island (one of the best festival sites in Canada) and St. Patrick’s Island parks.

Add Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park to the mix and you have four major downtown urban parks. Let’s not forget about Century (soon to get a mega makeover), Devonian and Hotchkiss Gardens, as well as James Short, McDougall and Sein Lok Parks. Impressive!

Downtown also boasts Eau Claire and Olympic Plaza, both with wadding pools in the summer, with the latter becoming a skating rink in the winter.

As for pathways, downtown offers easy access to people of all ages wanting to walk, run, board, blade or bike along the Bow River pathways.  In addition, there is the a-mazing 20 km +15 elevated walkway.

  St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

  The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

  The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

  Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

  The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

Fitness/Recreation

The Eau Claire Y has been a very popular family fitness center for decades.  Its proximity to the Eau Claire Promenade and Bow River pathway system has resulted in creating a busy year-round outdoor running track.

There is also Shaw Millennium Park's mega skateboard park and river surfing on the Bow River under the Louise Bridge. 

Downtown also has several private fitness centres – Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Club and two Good Life Fitness Centres (including one in the historic 1931 Bank of Montreal building with its gold leaf ceiling on Stephen Avenue).

  River surfing is become more and more popular on the Bow River.

River surfing is become more and more popular on the Bow River.

  The skateboard part has three separate areas - beginners, intermediate and experts. It is one of the largest free public skate parks in the world.

The skateboard part has three separate areas - beginners, intermediate and experts. It is one of the largest free public skate parks in the world.

  Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Culture/Nightlife

Downtown Calgary is home to Arts Commons with its 3,200 seats in five performing art spaces, as well as the Theatre Junction Grand, Palace Theatre, Lunchbox Theatre, Vertigo Theatre (two spaces). If you stretch the boundaries a bit, there is also the Pumphouse Theatre way on the west side.  It is also home to the Globe Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire for movie buffs. 

Live music venues include The Palomino Smokehouse and Dickens Pub, as well as three churches – Knox United, Anglican Church of the Redeemer and Central United Church.

Downtown also is home to The Glenbow Museum, National Music Centre, Fort Calgary and Contemporary Calgary, as well as several private art galleries.

Culture vultures love living downtown as theatre, concerts and exhibitions are all within easy walking distance.

  Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

The James Joyce pub on Stephen Avenue is downtown’s quintessential pub, followed closely by Dickens, Fionn MacCool’s, Garage Sports Bar and Unicorn. In the summer the patios along Stephen Avenue Walk create one long beer garden.

Downtown is home to Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey Store with its 850 different varieties of whiskey.  It is located on the +15 level at 333-5th Avenue SW.  In East Village’s N3 condo, the Brewer’s Apprentice offers up 48 craft brews. Not only can you sample a few, but you can take home a freshly poured growler or crowler of your favourites.

I recently heard Caesar’s Lounge described as nearest thing to time travel in Calgary – think Mad Men. This family-owned Calgary institution hasn’t changed since it opened in 1972.  It is known for its “Emperor” size cocktails, i.e. 3oz of your favourite spirits.

  Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

For some, POW (Parade of Wonders) is the best FFQ event in Calgary.  Every spring as part of Calgary Expo, hundreds of Calgarians of all ages get dressed up in their favourite fantasy character and parade from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza.  It is literally a sea of vibrant colours and characters.

For others, Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade each August ranks as the best FFQ event in the City. It attracts thousands of colourful participants and tens of thousands of spectators. 

Downtown Calgary’s “Power Hour” (term coined by a former downtown Hudson’s Bay department store manager in the mid ‘90s for the thousands of downtown workers who power shop at noon hour) is like a parade as tens of thousands downtown workers parade up and down Stephen Avenue.

It doesn’t get much quirkier than having an authentic bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of the Suncor Centre.  Or does it? The Udderly Art Pasture on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is definitely FFQ.  Here you will find a herd (10) of life-size cows with names like Chew-Choo or Moony Trader who have been put out to pasture.

  Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Last Word

Downtown Calgary is a hidden gem when it comes to urban living and it is only going to get better with several new residential developments in East Village, Telus Sky and the new West Village towers under construction. 

I can’t wait to see the “Northern Lights” light show on the façade of Telus Sky developed by Canadian artist, Douglas Coupland.  I have been advocating a Northern Lights inspired light show for a downtown office building for over 20 years.

  The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

 Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Note: This is the second in a series of blogs examining what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods so cool.

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Downtown Calgary Glows With Fun

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in parkades

Palm Springs With A Twist

If, from the title, you are expecting a blog about Palm Springs’ cocktail culture, you are in for a surprise. The “twist” refers to the delightful “Twist” Airbnb where we stayed AND our “twist” on how to get around when visiting Palm Springs.

  Yes that is beached whale in the distance. 

Yes that is beached whale in the distance. 

Twist Design

First off, neither the Twist owner nor Airbnb sponsored our stay so we are not “obligated” to say nice things. But we will because it is true.

  Loved this view as we headed out for an adventure everyday.  

Loved this view as we headed out for an adventure everyday.  

Upon our arrival, as were getting out of our Uber car, we immediately loved its ultra clean, two-story white mid-century motel-like architecture.  Our love was heightened when we opened the gate to see the crystal blue water of the pool with funky orange lounge chairs and giant unicorn, swan and whale pool toys floating in the pool inviting us to come play with them. 

Then when we opened the door to our apartment, we immediately loved the space, colours and playful furniture and art. 

The large west-facing windows gave the spacious, open living room, dining room and kitchen lots of light (often desert architecture, because of the heat, avoids letting the sun shine into the house, resulting in interior rooms often feeling dark and dingy). The windows and generous balcony offered a great view of the mountains.  I immediately thought I could live here and as the week progressed that thought was confirmed over and over again.

  Comfy couch...

Comfy couch...

  Mellow Yellow...

Mellow Yellow...

  And a beer or glass of wine....

And a beer or glass of wine....

  Flower power....

Flower power....

Hot Tip #1

Our apartment #207 was at the back of the building so it was super quiet.

  Yep, that's me relaxing on the balcony...

Yep, that's me relaxing on the balcony...

Twist Location

The fact we could walk out the door and be immediately in the Design District with its mix of new and vintage furniture and home accessory stores as well as art galleries, was great. 

We did a window walk-by the first afternoon, then a stroll the next day and another walk-by at night as some of the well-lit windows are like art installations. 

A 15-minute walk via the Design District gets you downtown with more boutiques, restaurants, cafes, museum and art galleries. 

  This was Brenda's favourite shop...gotta like those mail boxes.

This was Brenda's favourite shop...gotta like those mail boxes.

  Museum or home store?

Museum or home store?

  Guess what kind of shop this was....

Guess what kind of shop this was....

  Windows as art....

Windows as art....

  Form & Function  

Form & Function  

Hot Tip #2  

Admission for the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM) is free every Thursday night and second Sunday of the month. It is a “must see” with its always entertaining and enlightening exhibitions.  It’s an easy and short walk from The Twist on the back roads through the charming Old Las Palmas community to get there.

  There is nothing weird, wild or wacky about PSAM, which makes it easy to enjoy the art and not get lost. 

There is nothing weird, wild or wacky about PSAM, which makes it easy to enjoy the art and not get lost. 

  Definitely the most imaginative exhibition I saw in 2017 was Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954–1969. This is Gyula Kosice's installation "La ciudad hidroespacial." 

Definitely the most imaginative exhibition I saw in 2017 was Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954–1969. This is Gyula Kosice's installation "La ciudad hidroespacial." 

 Carlos Curz-Diez's installation "Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color and Space." The three empty rooms and a hallway flooded with colored lights was like walking into a neon-light sign.  Disorienting and playful at the same time....

Carlos Curz-Diez's installation "Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color and Space." The three empty rooms and a hallway flooded with colored lights was like walking into a neon-light sign.  Disorienting and playful at the same time....

Backstory:

This exhibition is the first in-depth examination of the pioneering role played by South American artists in the international Kinetic Art movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Grounded by scholarly research into experimental art movements of the late 1940s and early 1950s in Buenos Aires, Caracas, and Rio de Janeiro, Kinesthesia begins its survey with the layered “vibrational” works created by Jesús Rafael Soto for the historic Le Mouvement exhibition at Galerie Denise René in Paris (1955) and goes on to explore more than fifty examples by nine artists.

The works of internationally well-known figures, such as Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gyula Kosice, and Julio Le Parc, along with Martha Boto, Horacio García-Rossi, Alejandro Otero, Abraham Palatnik, and Gregorio Vardánega, will be a discovery for most viewers in the United States. 

Kinesthesia makes a compelling case that although Paris remains the indisputable capital of Kinetic Art, much of the Latin American work thought to be in that category did not come into being as a consequence of the movement, but often anticipated, and unfolded in tandem with, the better-known European developments.

Twist Bikes

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We loved the Twist’s bright orange cruiser bikes that allowed us to explore the residential neighbourhoods nearby and further afield. Old Palmas and the Movie Colony communities just west and east of The Twist are full of classic mid-century modern homes – it’s like cycling through a copy of Architectural Digest.

We did the Palm Springs Mid-century Modern Architectural Self-guided Tour on bike: 

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Treasure Hunting Twist

Then another day we took the bikes and headed to the Antique District just south of Downtown where we found amazing treasure hunting at Revivals Thrift store, ECHO Vintage Furnishing (good prices, professionally curated), Antique Galleries of Palm Springs (huge) and Sunny Dunes Antique Mall.

  Echo Vintage Furnishings is heaven for mid-century lovers. 

Echo Vintage Furnishings is heaven for mid-century lovers. 

  Antique Galleries Palm Springs is packed with treasures on two floors.  

Antique Galleries Palm Springs is packed with treasures on two floors.  

  Imagine finding a grand piano at a thrift store.  

Imagine finding a grand piano at a thrift store. 

  Untitled, Jensen, 24" x 11" oil painting.  Picked up this artwork to add to our collection at the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs for $50 CDN. 

Untitled, Jensen, 24" x 11" oil painting.  Picked up this artwork to add to our collection at the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs for $50 CDN. 

Hot Tip #3

Check out Peninsula Pastries in the same outdoor mall as Revivals. It is a little bit of Paris in Palm Springs - the chocolate tongues are to die for.

  The chocolate tongues were worth every penny....

The chocolate tongues were worth every penny....

Transit Twist

Everybody told us we needed a car in Palm Springs. Nobody told us public transit can work just fine for tourists.  While the buses don’t run every 5-minutes, Google Maps can tell you when the next bus is so you just plan for that. Bonus: the cost is only 50 cents for seniors  (60+) and youth (5 to 17 years), $1 for adults while kids under 5 are FREE.  Ten-ride and 31-day passes are also available. We were able to take the bus to Cathedral City to check out the Goodwill and Revivals thrift stores, as well as Target and Trader Joes.  

Link: Sunline Transit

Hot Tip #4

There is also a free trolley service Thursday to Sunday, 11 am to 1 am called Palm Springs BUZZ.  Hop on and off as much as you wish. The BUZZ serves the City of Palm Springs by travelling down Palm Canyon Drive to Smoke Tree, and up Indian and Palm Canyons Drives to Via Escuela (that’s the simple description—there are some small detours off the main streets.)

LInk: BUZZ Route Map

  Yes everything in Palm Springs is playful and colourful....that is probably why it could become my happy place.

Yes everything in Palm Springs is playful and colourful....that is probably why it could become my happy place.

Last Word

We can hardly wait to get back to The Twist and Palm Springs. It could easily become an annual visit. 

Hot Tip #5

For those really hoping this blog would be about cocktails, we have recommendation on that too. Checkout Melvyn’s Sunday Afternoon Jam. It is right out of the ‘50s, you would swear the Rat Pack is somewhere in the building.  It is the perfect spot to order your favourite cocktail and enjoy some live music from the ‘50s.  I had a Black Russian for probably the first time in two decades.  FYI: I think there were still some patrons as well as the staff, have been hanging out here since the ‘50s.  Great people watching!

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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