Everyday Tourist's Best Flaneur Finds of 2018

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you will have seen some of these photos as I often tweet out my “Best Flaneur Finds” when I get home from a day of wandering. Sometimes it is just one photo, sometimes as many as four.

I thought it would be fun to collect some of the best “Flaneur Finds” of 2018 in a blog and share with those who aren’t on Twitter.

Hope you enjoy!

Link: Ten Commandments Of A Flaneur

This huge rubric cube (sorry it isn’t functional, that would be very cool) in Calgary’s Beltline is a fun surprise to those driving and walking by.

This huge rubric cube (sorry it isn’t functional, that would be very cool) in Calgary’s Beltline is a fun surprise to those driving and walking by.

I had to smile when I found this Pegasus figure in the yard of a scaffolding warehouse in Calgary’s Manchester community. How clever? Is this public art? I say “Yes!”

I had to smile when I found this Pegasus figure in the yard of a scaffolding warehouse in Calgary’s Manchester community. How clever? Is this public art? I say “Yes!”

I love public art that is fun, clever and in unexpected places…more of this please in 2019!  Calgary’s  +15 indoor walkway was full of art, it is Canada’s most unique public art gallery.

I love public art that is fun, clever and in unexpected places…more of this please in 2019! Calgary’s +15 indoor walkway was full of art, it is Canada’s most unique public art gallery.

Loved this whirly-gig artwork along Atlanta’s Beltline multi-use pathway. Love to see more of this in 2019!

Loved this whirly-gig artwork along Atlanta’s Beltline multi-use pathway. Love to see more of this in 2019!

Further along Atlanta’s Beltline I found this banner on a construction site. Love to see more of this at construction sites….simple to do and thoughtful!

Further along Atlanta’s Beltline I found this banner on a construction site. Love to see more of this at construction sites….simple to do and thoughtful!

This mirrored cash machine on the plaza outside an Atlanta office building is a stroke of genius. It became an ever changing sculpture that animated the plaza is a way a static sculpture could never do. Why don’t we see more of this?

This mirrored cash machine on the plaza outside an Atlanta office building is a stroke of genius. It became an ever changing sculpture that animated the plaza is a way a static sculpture could never do. Why don’t we see more of this?

Downtown Calgary’s architecture is full of intriguing patterns, textures and juxtaposition. Remember to always look up!

Downtown Calgary’s architecture is full of intriguing patterns, textures and juxtaposition. Remember to always look up!

The patina and words on this door in Hamilton harkens back to a different time.

The patina and words on this door in Hamilton harkens back to a different time.

A free philosophy lesson in Saskatoon’s downtown warehouse district.

A free philosophy lesson in Saskatoon’s downtown warehouse district.

Found this friendly, front yard in Calgary’s Parkdale community. Love the free Little Libraries I find everywhere I go. I hope the addition of front yard seating will also catch on. How pedestrian friendly is this?

Found this friendly, front yard in Calgary’s Parkdale community. Love the free Little Libraries I find everywhere I go. I hope the addition of front yard seating will also catch on. How pedestrian friendly is this?

Love this play on the term “couch potato” by Regina artist, Victor Cicansky in the window at the Glenbow in downtown Calgary. It had a personal meaning for me as I have small Cicansky piece of a chair with a potato in our collection. I must get to the Glenbow more in 2019!

Love this play on the term “couch potato” by Regina artist, Victor Cicansky in the window at the Glenbow in downtown Calgary. It had a personal meaning for me as I have small Cicansky piece of a chair with a potato in our collection. I must get to the Glenbow more in 2019!

By chance I looked out the window of my financial advisor’s office in downtown Calgary and saw this amazing view of the sky-light of The Core shopping centre. It is the longest point supported structural skylight in the world. Not sure exactly what that means, but it is impressive inside and out. Remember to always look out the window in 2019!

By chance I looked out the window of my financial advisor’s office in downtown Calgary and saw this amazing view of the sky-light of The Core shopping centre. It is the longest point supported structural skylight in the world. Not sure exactly what that means, but it is impressive inside and out. Remember to always look out the window in 2019!

Speaking of windows, I love the giant abstract / surrealistic art created by the reflections in glass facades of contemporary office towers every time I wander downtown. They are like giant Dali paintings.

Speaking of windows, I love the giant abstract / surrealistic art created by the reflections in glass facades of contemporary office towers every time I wander downtown. They are like giant Dali paintings.

Found this little guy while golfing at Redwood Meadows. Yes golfing can be a flaneuring activity.

Found this little guy while golfing at Redwood Meadows. Yes golfing can be a flaneuring activity.

Went to explore a rock garden, found a cemetery and then this. Almost side by side were two similar graves one with my surname and one with that of our next door neighbour who we are very close to. Yikes….

Went to explore a rock garden, found a cemetery and then this. Almost side by side were two similar graves one with my surname and one with that of our next door neighbour who we are very close to. Yikes….

Found this carnival mask in the quaint Kensington Hardware store. One of the great things about flaneuring is find fun things in the strangest places.

Found this carnival mask in the quaint Kensington Hardware store. One of the great things about flaneuring is find fun things in the strangest places.

I didn’t remember taking this photo while on a walking tour of BUMP (Beltline Urban Mural Program). But when I got home and was flaneuring the photos I took that day I discovered this one and immediately thought “this could be the definitive portrait of happiness in the 21st century.”

I didn’t remember taking this photo while on a walking tour of BUMP (Beltline Urban Mural Program). But when I got home and was flaneuring the photos I took that day I discovered this one and immediately thought “this could be the definitive portrait of happiness in the 21st century.”

While wandering Inglewood’s funky Main Street I found this fun chair. Ironically, I have been looking for a Netflix binging chair for over a year. I didn’t have the balls to buy it!

While wandering Inglewood’s funky Main Street I found this fun chair. Ironically, I have been looking for a Netflix binging chair for over a year. I didn’t have the balls to buy it!

Found this strange shadow sidewalk art in downtown Calgary across from the Bow office tower. It is created by the ornamental chain-linked fence that surrounds a future building site. Kudos to the developer (I expect with some push from the City) to create something more ornamental vs ordinary. More of this in 2019 please!

Found this strange shadow sidewalk art in downtown Calgary across from the Bow office tower. It is created by the ornamental chain-linked fence that surrounds a future building site. Kudos to the developer (I expect with some push from the City) to create something more ornamental vs ordinary. More of this in 2019 please!

Was wandering Hamilton’s City Centre when this guy rides his bike up on the sidewalk behind me and says “what are you doing?” I was taking photo of house with a funky porch. Turns out it was his sister’s place. We chatted about flaneuring and then I noticed his rings. I asked if I could take a photo of him and his rings and he was happy to oblige.

Was wandering Hamilton’s City Centre when this guy rides his bike up on the sidewalk behind me and says “what are you doing?” I was taking photo of house with a funky porch. Turns out it was his sister’s place. We chatted about flaneuring and then I noticed his rings. I asked if I could take a photo of him and his rings and he was happy to oblige.

I love flaneuring the books at thrift stores as you find the most amazing juxtaposition of ideas, images and ideologies - like this one in Saskatoon.

I love flaneuring the books at thrift stores as you find the most amazing juxtaposition of ideas, images and ideologies - like this one in Saskatoon.

Found this while flaneuring in Halifax. It was in the gallery space of the Provincial Archives building and struck a cord with me as I love colour. Ironically the text and fame are black except for the word “outside?” Is this the artist’s subtle statement? Flaneuring can be thought provoking.

Found this while flaneuring in Halifax. It was in the gallery space of the Provincial Archives building and struck a cord with me as I love colour. Ironically the text and fame are black except for the word “outside?” Is this the artist’s subtle statement? Flaneuring can be thought provoking.

Another provocative flaneur find from Calgary’s Inglewood community. I have probably wander this street a dozen or more times and never noticed this small 1918 church with its tiny plaque above the door. The quote says, “Lift up a standard for the people.” Isa 62:10. with two soldier-like figures trying to plant a flag with waves crashing around them. Enough said?

Another provocative flaneur find from Calgary’s Inglewood community. I have probably wander this street a dozen or more times and never noticed this small 1918 church with its tiny plaque above the door. The quote says, “Lift up a standard for the people.” Isa 62:10. with two soldier-like figures trying to plant a flag with waves crashing around them. Enough said?

Another book shelf find, this time at the new Central Library in downtown Calgary. This would make for an interesting 2019 reading project.

Another book shelf find, this time at the new Central Library in downtown Calgary. This would make for an interesting 2019 reading project.

Found this in a display case at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking, on the campus of the Georgia Tech in Atlanta. If you are in Atlanta, the museum is definitely worth a visit.

Found this in a display case at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking, on the campus of the Georgia Tech in Atlanta. If you are in Atlanta, the museum is definitely worth a visit.

Last Word

If you haven’t tried flaneuring, I would encourage you to do so in 2019.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Vivian Maier vs Everyday Tourist

Ever since I watched the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” on Netflix early this year, I have become more intrigued by the connection between being a flaneur, being an everyday tourist and being a street photographer.

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Maier’s life is a touching story of a nanny who loved to explore the streets wherever she lived or went. She took over 150,000 photos during her lifetime mostly of the streets of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles and a trip around the world on her own in 1959 and 1960. The photos were unknown and unpublished during her lifetime. Her work was only discovered in boxes and suitcases after her death. The story is compelling…

Link: You Tube link to “Finding Vivian Maier.”

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Colour vs Black & White

As an experiment I recently collected some of my street photographs from 2018 and a few from earlier years and started comparing them with Maier’s side-by-side. I was surprised to see how many times we had taken photos of similar subjects.

While all of my work is in colour, most of her’s is in black and white. I debated converting my photos to black and white so the comparison would be more apples to apples, but decided not to as my work has always been about colour.

However, there is one photo comparison at the end where both are black and white as I found a black and white photo I had taken that by chance echoed hers. Ironically they are both self-portraits.

It is interesting to compare and contrast the different perspectives, often Maier is closer too the people in the street, while I like to stand back. It is also interesting to compare how the street life has changed over the past 60+ years. It is hard to find a street photo today where there isn’t somebody with a cell phone.

This blog is in no way an attempt to suggest my photography is on par with Maier’s, but rather a personal experiment I wanted to document and share for feedback.

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I hope you enjoyed the cyber exhibition “Vivian Maier vs the Everyday Tourist” and will comment as you see fit.

Note: All of the Maier photos in this blog are screen shots taken from the Vivian Maier website which is worth exploring if you want to see more of her work.

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

Street Photography: Flaneuring in Berlin

Frankfurt’s Street Art Finds

Calgary vs Halifax: Urban Playgrounds

I expect it would come as a surprise to many Calgarians (and Canadians) to learn there are a significant number of similarities between Halifax, a port city created as a military base in 1749 and Calgary, a land-locked, prairie city established as a Northwest Mounted Police Fort in 1875.  

Both are becoming fun urban playgrounds.

Halifax’s telephone poles are plastered with posters promoting various fun events. They create a playful streetscape.

Halifax’s telephone poles are plastered with posters promoting various fun events. They create a playful streetscape.

Halifax’s Sunday Flea Market at the old Forum, is very similar to Calgary’s Hillhurst/Sunnyside Flea Market also on Sunday.

Halifax’s Sunday Flea Market at the old Forum, is very similar to Calgary’s Hillhurst/Sunnyside Flea Market also on Sunday.

No Grand Street

The first similarity I found was the lack of a grand, ceremonial main street with a boulevard.  After a bit of wandering downtown, I stumbled upon Halifax’s Argyle Street which looks a lot like Calgary’s Stephen Avenue with its pedestrian-friendly sidewalks full of patios.  

It is home to Halifax’s shiny new convention centre and the iconic Neptune Theatre complex, not unlike Stephen Avenue’s Telus Convention Centre and Art Commons, our theatre complex.

Also, on Argyle Street is Halifax’s Grand Parade, a historic military parade square dating back to 1749, not unlike Calgary’s Olympic Plaza, albeit newer, anchoring the east end of Stephen Avenue. 

Halifax’s Argyle Street with its new convention centre office tower in the background has the mix of the old and the new reminded me of Calgary’s Stephen Avenue.

Halifax’s Argyle Street with its new convention centre office tower in the background has the mix of the old and the new reminded me of Calgary’s Stephen Avenue.

Historic information panels were scattered around the different City Centre neighbourhoods. It made for interesting flaneuring. Calgary does something similar on its electrical boxes.

Historic information panels were scattered around the different City Centre neighbourhoods. It made for interesting flaneuring. Calgary does something similar on its electrical boxes.

Hydrostone is charming neighbourhood with tree-lined boulevards and a quaint main street a fun place to flaneur.

Hydrostone is charming neighbourhood with tree-lined boulevards and a quaint main street a fun place to flaneur.

Urban Living 

Secondly, like Calgary, Halifax’s downtown is surrounded by several trendy residential communities each with their own main street, character and new condo buildings.   Spring Garden Road is a bit like Calgary’s Kensington, with its shops, restaurants and cafés along with its own urban park – Halifax Public Gardens, the equivalent of Kensington’s Riley Park.  

Then there’s Halifax’s North End Entertainment District, which has a lot in common with Calgary’s old Electric Avenue – a mix of bars, restaurants and cafes. The Local and Marquee Ballroom are popular live music venues, Propeller Brewing Company serves up some great beers and The Independent Mercantile Co would be right at home in Calgary’s design district. 

Quinpool Road, on the west side of Halifax’s downtown is like Calgary’s 17th Avenue SW in the 70s with its eclectic collection of “mom and pop” shops, many having been around since the 50s and 60s, yet on the cusp of change with numerous new shops opening and new condos in the works.   

Link: Quinpool is Cool

Then there is Halifax’s Hydrostone community, with the look and feel of Calgary’s Britannia Plaza, both feature an upscale one-block long main street of shops and restaurants, as well as a mix of new condos and old single family homes. It was named a Great Neighbourhood by The Canadian Institute of Planners in 2011.

The North End (not to be confused the North End Entertainment District) has much in common with Inglewood, with its mix of old and new shops including an Army & Navy Store that reminded me of Inglewood’s Crown Surplus store. And yes, the North End has craft breweries, a distillery and a cider shop that parallels Inglewood’s growing craft industries.

Spring Garden Road has a lovely mix of shops and architecture.

Spring Garden Road has a lovely mix of shops and architecture.

Halifax’s North End Entertainment District is in transition from a seedy to a funky street.

Halifax’s North End Entertainment District is in transition from a seedy to a funky street.

Agricola Street is Halifax’s hipster street.

Agricola Street is Halifax’s hipster street.

Halifax’s Public Garden is a lovely oasis in the middle of downtown even in late October. The Calgary equivalent is Riley Park.

Halifax’s Public Garden is a lovely oasis in the middle of downtown even in late October. The Calgary equivalent is Riley Park.

Downtown Attractions

Halifax’s Citadel shares much in common with Calgary’s Stampede Grounds/Fort Calgary area, both on the edge of downtown, each representing the historical beginning of their respective cities. While the Citadel sits on a hill overlooking the city and is impressive port, is certainly a more striking landmark than Fort Calgary, our Stampede Grounds are more integrated into the everyday life of its city with concerts, sporting and other events. 

Both cities have major waterfront attractions.  Halifax’s waterfront is home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration Pier 21, Seaport Farmer’s Market, Discovery Center, Cruise Ship Terminal and boardwalk shops.   

Calgary’s riverbanks (Bow & Elbow) are home to the Calgary Zoo, Telus Spark, Saddledome, Stampede Park and various river walks, promenades and pathways and three major parks (Shaw Millennium, Prince’s and St. Patrick Islands).

Halifax even has an iconic, funky new central library that is every bit as popular and spectacular as Calgary’s new central library.  With its at grade entrance and small plaza along Spring Garden Road, it is better integrated to its downtown.  It has two cafes, one at street level and a rooftop café with an outdoor patio that offers spectacular views of the city. Opened in 2014, it has already been the catalyst for two mixed-use developments, with street retail next door.  

The central library similarities don’t stop here. In both cities, the architects were not only chosen through an international design competition, but Scandinavian firms were chosen to work with a local firm.  Halifax chose local firm Fowler Bauld and Mitchell and Schmidt Hammer Lassen of Denmark and Calgary chose local firm DIALOG and Noregian firm Snohetta.  

At the Citadel these boys loved pretending they were soldiers.

At the Citadel these boys loved pretending they were soldiers.

Pier 21 Fun: Loved this installation at Pier 21 where you were invited to decorate your own mini piece of luggage and then hang it on the wall. Another installation was of luggage tags where visitors were invited to write their stories of immigration or thoughts about their Pier 21 experience and hang them on the wall.

Pier 21 Fun: Loved this installation at Pier 21 where you were invited to decorate your own mini piece of luggage and then hang it on the wall. Another installation was of luggage tags where visitors were invited to write their stories of immigration or thoughts about their Pier 21 experience and hang them on the wall.

Halifax’s Farmer’s Market is part of a huge urban renewal project that includes their Science Centre, Nova Scotia School of Art & Design, Pier 21 and Cruise Ship docks. It is the equivalent of Calgary’s East Village redevelopment.

Halifax’s Farmer’s Market is part of a huge urban renewal project that includes their Science Centre, Nova Scotia School of Art & Design, Pier 21 and Cruise Ship docks. It is the equivalent of Calgary’s East Village redevelopment.

Halifax’s new Central Library reminded me of shipping containers being stacked one on top of another, which is a perfect metaphor for the city as it is a major container port.

Halifax’s new Central Library reminded me of shipping containers being stacked one on top of another, which is a perfect metaphor for the city as it is a major container port.

Brenda loved the plum kuchen at the Gingerbread Haus Bakery (1138 Queen Street) so much we went there four times. They have the freshest sandwiches we have tasted in a long time and tasty soups.

Brenda loved the plum kuchen at the Gingerbread Haus Bakery (1138 Queen Street) so much we went there four times. They have the freshest sandwiches we have tasted in a long time and tasty soups.

I had to try the Red Coats pastry.

I had to try the Red Coats pastry.

Is 400,000 a magic number?

The more I wandered around Halifax, the more it had the feeling of Calgary in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when our downtown was undergoing a mega transformation with construction on every block.  However, there is a big difference, instead of the 8 am to 6 pm weekday-oriented office buildings that dominate our downtown, Halifax is building residential right in the middle of its downtown.  

In addition, all of their urban pedestrian streets – Quinpool, Agricola, Gottingen and Spring Garden all have several new condos recently opened and more in the construction or planning stages on or nearby.  These new residential developments should enhance Halifax’s urban street life in the years to come. 

Everywhere we went in the City Centre, posted City signs notified neighbours of pending new mixed-use residential development applications. It was clear, Calgary isn’t the only place where tearing down 3 or 4 houses to build a new mid-rise condo in their place is happening.

It is interesting to note Calgary’s population in 1971 was just over 400,000 and Halifax’s today is also just over 400,000.  Perhaps there is something that happens when a city reaches the critical mass of 400,000 people that is the catalyst for urban renewal.  

The Halifax Commons is a huge park that has playing fields, a skateboard park and the Emera Oval that in is an ice skating oval in the winter and a roller blading, cycling oval in the summer. It even has FREE rentals for tourists who want to give it a try. The Caglary equivalent would be Shaw Millennium Park.

The Halifax Commons is a huge park that has playing fields, a skateboard park and the Emera Oval that in is an ice skating oval in the winter and a roller blading, cycling oval in the summer. It even has FREE rentals for tourists who want to give it a try. The Caglary equivalent would be Shaw Millennium Park.

Live music in the cafeteria at lunch at St. Mary’s University was a nice touch.

Live music in the cafeteria at lunch at St. Mary’s University was a nice touch.

Every Saturday afternoon Halifax’s Your Father’s Moustache restaurant hosts Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band from 4 to 8 pm. and has been for 25+ years. It reminded us of the Mike Clark band at Calgary’s Mikey’s on 12th or Tim Williams at Blues Can.

Every Saturday afternoon Halifax’s Your Father’s Moustache restaurant hosts Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band from 4 to 8 pm. and has been for 25+ years. It reminded us of the Mike Clark band at Calgary’s Mikey’s on 12th or Tim Williams at Blues Can.

Last Word

There is a definite sense of optimism in the air in Halifax. Posters were plastered on poles everywhere, advertising upcoming concerts, festivals and entertainment, sending a clear message that “things are happening here.”  

We got the feeling Halifax could well become Canada’s next “urban playground” - once they finish their mega makeover.

For more information on Halifax: Discover Halifax

For more information on Calgary: Tourism Calgary

Note: If you want to see photos and information on Calgary’s City Centre see the links below.

If you go:

We stayed a couple of nights at the Cambridges Suites Hotel which is very handy to downtown, Citadel, the waterfront and the Gingerbread Haus Bakery. Very comfy rooms and great breakfast.

We also stayed in a Airbnb on at 6034 Cunard St which was great for exploring the west and north sides of the City Centre - Quinpool and Agricola Streets and a lovely walk to Dalhousie and St. Mary’s universities and the Hydrostone district.

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

Calgary: The world’s most walkable city centre!

Calgary’s City Centre: One of the best in North America!

Calgary’s Everyday Tourist’s Off The Beaten path picks.

 

 

Jan Morris: Edmonton A Six-Day Week?

Never visit Edmonton in the winter!

This was Jan Morris’ warning in the prologue to her 1990 essay about the City of Champions for Saturday Night magazine. She arrived and it was “COLD, VERY COLD and while everyone was friendly and the city seemed to be handsome and all of her creative comforts were satisfied she felt defeated.”

The longer she stayed the more she wondered “why on earth would anyone want to live there and she left a day early.” 

Today Edmonton celebrates its long cold winters with its ice sculpture festival in Hawrelak Park. Today, Morris could have used Uber instead of renting a car to get there. I am sure she would be impressed with how Edmonton has evolved since the early ‘90s.

Today Edmonton celebrates its long cold winters with its ice sculpture festival in Hawrelak Park. Today, Morris could have used Uber instead of renting a car to get there. I am sure she would be impressed with how Edmonton has evolved since the early ‘90s.

Jan Who?

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. The series of essays on Canadian cities in her book “City To City” were commissioned for Saturday Night magazine.  

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?

This is from Edmonton’s Downtown Saturday street market from a few years back  .

This is from Edmonton’s Downtown Saturday street market from a few years back.

Poor First Impression 

It didn’t start well with her decision to attend the Full Moon Hootenanny at the John Janzen Nature Centre to listen to the hooting of owls and learn how to hoot herself. Blinded by snow flurries and baffled by the intersections, the city’s numbering of streets and avenues and the one-way bridges she couldn’t find the place. “I circled helplessly in the gloom.”   

The initial venture into local culture was a complete failure.  Not a good first impression, but read on as she has some nice things to say.

The second day wasn’t much better as she explored the city centre where the streets were half-deserted with only a few cars and trolley cars on the slippery streets and the subway stations looked abandoned. 

When she arrived at the downtown commercial district she thought, “I might be in Houston, Denver or almost any other provincial business city of the United States. The Legislature could easily be the capitol of one of the smaller American states and she notes it was American-designed. The unmistakably Canadian building, the venerable railway-baronial Macdonald Hotel was boarded up.” 

This was not a good start.

She did think Edmonton was a “forceful place” mostly because of the magnificent North Saskatchewan River. Adding, “The architecture is predominantly late Bauhaus with few post-modernist tomfooleries…seems to me to offer an urban vista of world class.” 

Edmonton has numerous parks and colour public art that I am sure Morris would enjoy if she visited today.

Edmonton has numerous parks and colour public art that I am sure Morris would enjoy if she visited today.

Strathcona to WEM to UofA

On the third day she “ignored downtown and went to the unmistakably indigenous quarter of Strathcona, whose very name struck me as allegorically of the country.” Here she found the archetypal prairie settlement of the 19th century, still recognizable and offers a homey contrast to the skyscraper clump in downtown. 

She loved Strathcona’s main street (Whyte Avenue) which still feels like a main street with grand old hotel, theatre, car dealerships, pinball arcade and various shops and restaurants. However, it offered her “no rumbustious vibration,” she sensed the “inherited strain of reserve to the Canadianness of Edmonton.” 

Morris found it strange that while the city swarms with every kind of foreigner it did not feel in the least like an immigrant city. “Even the few Indians I saw looked more integrated than most…it was hard to realize that only a few generations ago, Cree and Blackfoot lived in tribal panoply, pitching their tents on Whyte Avenue sometimes.”

“The Canadianness of the place worked on me rather slyly” she says, things like the destination names at the Greyhound Bus Station – Wandering River, Elk Point, Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House. She also met several interesting people that made her stay interesting. She noted her view out her hotel window was very Canadian in a “distinctly insidious way: the Great West Saddlery Co. Ltd., Café Budapest, W.C. Kay the Gold and Gem Merchants, the gentrified Boardwalk Market decorated with fairy lights, stacked office towers beyond, and the illuminated thermometer on a building across the street registering minus 27 degrees centigrade.”  

She acknowledges Edmonton’s one big international claim to fame is the West Edmonton Mall and so she decided to visit and judge for herself as someone had told her the Mall is “aimed at an average mental age of nine.” 

To her it is “mostly artificial, largely derivative, it is a very declaration of contemporary capitalism, the world-conquering ideology of our time. It is beyond nationality, beyond pretension actually, and however much you may detest it yourself, you must be a sourpuss indeed to resist the eager excitement in the faces of people young and old, for better or worse, as they enter its shameless enclave.” 

At the end of her fourth day she wondered “if the fantasy of West Edmonton Mall was the one thing in Edmonton that I really got the hang of.  For the rest of the city seemed to be losing, rather than gaining, clarity in my mind…so indeterminate does the civic message seem to be. Edmonton has few instantly recognizable features, and so far as I could see no very pronounced local characteristics.

People did not talk in a recognizably Edmonton way, or cook specifically Edmonton dishes…I noticed very few striking-looking people in Edmonton.” 

She concluded her rant with “sometimes I thought it the least Canadian of cities, in its lack of icons or traditions.” But then says “at other times I thought it the most Canadian of cities, but of an indistinct kind. I expected it to stand, temperamentally speaking, somewhere between Saskatoon and Calgary…in the end I concluded its character to be altogether unique!” 

This is followed by “Edmonton does not feel like a young city. There is nothing brash about it except the mall…it seemed to me a gradualist kind of place…Edmonton appears to have developed, through many a boom and many a bust, with persistent reasonableness.” 

She was not a big fan of the University of Alberta either, “the buildings look more or less indistinguishable from the apartment blocks and office buildings nearby.”   

She recognizes that Edmonton has always been a liberal city, a place of bureaucrats and academics. She also acknowledges “theatres abound, art galleries are two a penny, bookshops are nearly all within reach. The natural history dioramas in the provincial museum are the best I have ever seen. A professional symphony flourishes, there are several publishing houses, the Edmonton Journal isn’t bad and there is a lively film industry.” 

She concludes the essay with “For a city of its size Edmonton is cultivated not just by North American but by European standards. And yet it left me curiously indifferent – not cold exactly, except in a physical sense, but unengaged.”

Ultimately, she decided to leave a day early, hence the title of the essay “Edmonton, A Six-Day Week!” 

Edmonton’s nickname in the ‘90s was “Deadmonton.” Fortunately, Edmonton has got its mojo back today.

Edmonton’s nickname in the ‘90s was “Deadmonton.” Fortunately, Edmonton has got its mojo back today.

Edmonton’s downtown streetscapes have improved significantly since 1990.

Edmonton’s downtown streetscapes have improved significantly since 1990.

What was she thinking? 

In her essay, you can sense Morris’ frustration that she simply couldn’t understand the city’s sense of place, or why anyone would choose to live there. It is too bad she chose to visit in the winter, I am sure she would have had a completely different experience in the summer.  

Still I am surprised she wasn’t able to understand how the West Edmonton Mall (WEM) was a logically adaptation to winter, providing a warm and inviting place for shopping, entertainment and recreation.  How it became the city’s town square? How it usurped downtown as the city’s gathering place. How it reflected a city dominated by its new suburbs.  

I couldn’t help but wonder why she loved Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and hated WEM? Aren’t they pretty much the same thing?  In fact WEM, has a better mix of uses.

I also found it strange Morris was frustrated with the roads on her first day. I would have thought an experienced traveller would know anyone getting into a strange car and driving in a strange city almost always ends up getting lost and frustrated by the quirks of the city’s streets.

Add to that it was cold and snowing and one has to ask “what was she thinking?” 

The Art Gallery of Alberta adds some fun to Edmonton’s downtown.

The Art Gallery of Alberta adds some fun to Edmonton’s downtown.

Alberta’s Provincial Museum that Morris liked has moved downtown’s cultural district.

Alberta’s Provincial Museum that Morris liked has moved downtown’s cultural district.

Edmonton’s downtown is in the middle of a mega makeover with several new residential buildings.

Edmonton’s downtown is in the middle of a mega makeover with several new residential buildings.

Even Edmonton’s suburban transit hubs are fun.

Even Edmonton’s suburban transit hubs are fun.

Last Word

Morris found Edmonton to “disarmingly modest, in the biggest-west-of-Winnipeg mode.” This is not surprising as she finds all Canadian cities lacking in “bravado.” 

I wonder what she would think of Edmonton today with its shiny new downtown toys - arena, art gallery, museum, office and condo towers.  Surely, she would be impressed by how it has become one of North America’s best festival cities and how its river valley park system is one of the best in the world.  And I wonder what she would think of Edmonton’s current “ICE District” bravado?

Perhaps if she visited today, winter or summer, her essay would be titled Edmonton: An Eight-Day Week!

It is amazing how cities evolve.

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

Design Wars: Its Edmonton vs Calgary for the architecture cup

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best River Parks?

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

Downtown West: A Quiet Evolution

While Calgary’s Downtown’s East Village has been getting lots of attention for its amazing transformation, Downtown West is quietly being transformed into an urban village also.   

Downtown West is the gateway to Calgary’s City Centre by car, bike, transit or walking.

Downtown West is the gateway to Calgary’s City Centre by car, bike, transit or walking.

It is home to Shaw Millennium Park, that includes one of the best skate parks in the world.

It is home to Shaw Millennium Park, that includes one of the best skate parks in the world.

While Downtown West doesn’t have a fancy river pathway like Eau Claire or East Village, it does have a very functional pathway along the Bow River that includes the Nat Christie Park. The Downtown West pathway is popular place for Calgarians of all ages to stroll year-round .

While Downtown West doesn’t have a fancy river pathway like Eau Claire or East Village, it does have a very functional pathway along the Bow River that includes the Nat Christie Park. The Downtown West pathway is popular place for Calgarians of all ages to stroll year-round.

Bet you have never heard of the The Nat Christie Park or that it is home to The Stone Sculptor Guild of North America’s small art park with several intimate stone sculptures.

Bet you have never heard of the The Nat Christie Park or that it is home to The Stone Sculptor Guild of North America’s small art park with several intimate stone sculptures.

Downtown West’s quiet evolution is about to get a bit louder with the West Village project that is going to be another architectural landmark for Calgary.

Downtown West’s quiet evolution is about to get a bit louder with the West Village project that is going to be another architectural landmark for Calgary.

Hidden Gem

Indeed, East Village has lots of headline grabbing projects in East Village – the spectacular new library and museum, the mixed-use St. Patrick’s Island Park, bridge, riverwalk, the fun community garden and playground, as well as the shiny new condo towers. 

At the other end of downtown, Downtown West, has quietly been evolving since the mid ‘90s with new condos, parks and public art making it an ever more attractive place to “live and play.”  So much so, that over the next 10 years, it could become a hidden gem. But first it needs to sort out its name as some City documents refer to it as Downtown West, while others call it Downtown West End. The Community Association calls itself Downtown West so that is what I’m going with.   

Personally, I would love it if they renamed it Mewata, a Cree word for “pleasant place” or “to be happy.”  Seems appropriate to me.

Link: Downtown West Community Association

The University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus Building’s snake-like facade proceeded that of of East Village’s National Music Centre.

The University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus Building’s snake-like facade proceeded that of of East Village’s National Music Centre.

Downtown West was home to Calgary’s Planetarium and Science Centre, which is ear marked to become a public art gallery. It is the gateway into the downtown for LRT riders.

Downtown West was home to Calgary’s Planetarium and Science Centre, which is ear marked to become a public art gallery. It is the gateway into the downtown for LRT riders.

In 1911, Downtown West became the home of Mount Royal College on the parking lot on the north side of the LRT Station. In 1949, the college expanded adding the modern red brick Kerby Memorial Building that still stands today on the south side of the Station. The College moved to Lincoln park in 1972, the original building was demolished and the Kerby Memorial Building become the Kerby Centre for Seniors.  Backstory: Rev. George Kerby established the Methodist College in 1910, in what is now the Central United Church. It became the Mount Royal College when it wanted provincial accreditation. Rumour has it Premier Rutherford said it needed a new name so Kerby looked out the window and saw the new Mount Royal neighbourhood and suggest that should be the name. (credit: Historic Walks of Caglary, Harry M. Sanders)

In 1911, Downtown West became the home of Mount Royal College on the parking lot on the north side of the LRT Station. In 1949, the college expanded adding the modern red brick Kerby Memorial Building that still stands today on the south side of the Station. The College moved to Lincoln park in 1972, the original building was demolished and the Kerby Memorial Building become the Kerby Centre for Seniors.

Backstory: Rev. George Kerby established the Methodist College in 1910, in what is now the Central United Church. It became the Mount Royal College when it wanted provincial accreditation. Rumour has it Premier Rutherford said it needed a new name so Kerby looked out the window and saw the new Mount Royal neighbourhood and suggest that should be the name. (credit: Historic Walks of Caglary, Harry M. Sanders)

Downtown West 101

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Downtown West is the neighbourhood between 8th and 14th Streets SW and between the CPR tracks and the Bow River.  

It is home to University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus building, the historic Mewata Armoury, Shaw Millennium Park and the Kerby Centre. 

 Its two LRT Stations, (at 8th and 11th Street SW) give its residents connections to both LRT legs.  

Back in the late ‘90s, (i.e. long before East Village’s renaissance), new residential towers were popping up everywhere in Downtown West – including Axxis, Discovery Pointe, The Barclay and The Macleod at Riverwest, Five West and Tarjan Pointe. These were the first new residential developments in Calgary’s City Centre since the late ‘70s. 

One of the key developers to kickstart the ‘90s Downtown West condo craze was Vancouver’s Nat Bosa, father of Ryan Bosa, President of BOSA Development who today ironically is the leading condo developer in East Village (he is also building Royal condo in the Beltline).  The BOSA Development website’s section on Calgary proudly states, “In the mid-’90s we offered an alternative, delivering a series of five high-quality condominium developments in the downtown West End.”

Today, Downtown West it home to 2,757 Calgarians.  The community’s largest cohort is 25 to 34 year olds i.e. young professionals, who love the fact they can walk to work, run along the river and/or play at Shaw Millennium Park.  

Fast forward a decade or so later. Early in the 21stcentury, Downtown West development began to stagnate as other City Centre communities became more attractive– Beltline, East Village, Mission and Bridgeland.  In fact, there was no increase in the community’s population from 2009 to 2014, and an increased of only 470 since then.   

Unfortunately, Downtown West without a master plan to guide its development and a walkable main street to provide those important the everyday walkable amenities (e.g. grocery store, cafes, restaurants, medical services) is at a huge disadvantage compared to Calgary’s other City Centre communities. 

Several new condos were constructed in Downtown West in the ‘90s, creating a very urban streetscape.

Several new condos were constructed in Downtown West in the ‘90s, creating a very urban streetscape.

Unfortunately over the past 10 years many of the empty lots in Downtown West have not been maintained, however this is about to change.

Unfortunately over the past 10 years many of the empty lots in Downtown West have not been maintained, however this is about to change.

Mewata Armoury was completed in 1918 and is still used by several Arm Forces groups. It would make a great weekend farmers’ market.

Mewata Armoury was completed in 1918 and is still used by several Arm Forces groups. It would make a great weekend farmers’ market.

New Developments  

Until recently, that is. First, Grosvenor/Cressy completed phase one of their two tower upscale Avenue West project adding 195 new condos.  Then, La Caille completed Vogue, their art deco -inspired 36-storey project, adding 232 new condos. Cidex isactively building phase 1 of their Dubai-inspired West Village Towers (the project was co-designed by NORR’s Dubai and Calgary architectural teams), a three towers project that will see 575 new homes and 90,000 square feet of retail added to the community. 

In fact, West Village Towers could be a game changer for Downtown West if the retail space includes a urban grocery store and other key amenities to make urban living in the community more attractive. I do wonder thought about the confusing name “West Village” as this project not in West Village a proposed new community west of 14th Street SW several blocks away.  

In addition, a major $10 million redevelopment of Century Gardens is currently underway at the southeast edge of the community will provide a passive urban space that will complement Shaw Millennium Park. 

Link: Revitalizing Calgary’s Downtown West

Avenue West is Downtown West’s first luxury condo in many decades.

Avenue West is Downtown West’s first luxury condo in many decades.

West Village is destined to become one of Calgary’s architectural gems.

West Village is destined to become one of Calgary’s architectural gems.

The new Century Gardens will be more open and better linked to the streets. It will included a space for a cafe and will have a splash pond for families.

The new Century Gardens will be more open and better linked to the streets. It will included a space for a cafe and will have a splash pond for families.

East Village vs Downtown West 

The iconic Jack Long-designed Planetarium/Science Centre built in 1967 is about to become a new public art gallery. While not on the scale of East Village’s new Central Library or the National Music Centre, it will put Downtown West on Calgary’s art and cultural map.  While East Village has Calgary’s two new iconic buildings (Library and National Music Centre), West Village has Calgary’s best historic iconic building – Mewata Armouries.  It is like having a castle in your backyard! 

Shaw Millennium Park is home to numerous summer festivals, and the equivalent of East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island Park. 

While Downtown West doesn’t have a high profile public art program like East Village’s, the lovely Nat Christie Sculpture Park along the Bow River just east of the 14thStreet bridge and several other pieces scattered in the community definitely make it more attractive. 

Downtown West is not only well connected to the downtown, but it is within easy walking distance to Kensington with its shops and major grocery store, as well as to the Beltline and its tow two grocery stores. While East Village will be getting a grocery store eventually, it can’t match Downtown West’s array of grocery stores, including Kay’s, an independent grocery store and the “coming soon” Urban Fare in the Beltline. 

Like East Village’s N3 condo, which has no parking, Cidex Group has plans for “The Hat on 7th” building at the 11th Street LRT station with no parking. 

Millennium Park is a popular spot for photographers and painters.

Millennium Park is a popular spot for photographers and painters.

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Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 4.30.41 PM.png

Community involvement on the rise

The Downtown West Community Association was successful this past summer in lobbying the City to create three murals, a temporary park on land that is currently unused and the sprucing up of the small plaza next to the Avatamsaka Monastery as a means of making the community more attractive.  Proof positive that Downtown West’s residents are taking pride and ownership of their community’s future.  

Even without a master plan, a champion and the investment of mega tax dollars in infrastructure, public spaces and buildings, Downtown West has seen significant improvements over the past 25 years as a place to live and play.  Imagine what might happen as the community becomes even more involved in shaping its future. 

Downtown West has one of the most thought provoking new murals in the city on the side of the Attainable Homes building. Attainable homes is an organization that helps low income families buy homes and the child in the mural lives in one of their projects. How appropriate? The piece is titled “Chalk Drawing” and is by Jason Botkin.

Downtown West has one of the most thought provoking new murals in the city on the side of the Attainable Homes building. Attainable homes is an organization that helps low income families buy homes and the child in the mural lives in one of their projects. How appropriate? The piece is titled “Chalk Drawing” and is by Jason Botkin.

Bet you have never heard of Downtown West’s Poet Plaza! Yep this is it. It is small so you could easily miss it.

Bet you have never heard of Downtown West’s Poet Plaza! Yep this is it. It is small so you could easily miss it.

Poet Plaza is home to Ascension a public art work by INCIPIO MODO an artist collective founded by two sculptors, Danira Miralda and Edward Beltran from Mexico City.

Poet Plaza is home to Ascension a public art work by INCIPIO MODO an artist collective founded by two sculptors, Danira Miralda and Edward Beltran from Mexico City.

Game Changers 

A real game changer for Downtown West would be if the City and community work together on the redevelopment of the huge Louise Crossing site - currently an ugly surface parking lot on the southeast side of the Louise Bridge.  Technically the site is in Eau Claire but really should be part of Downtown West. At one time this site was considered for the new Central Library, while I believe some thought it might be a good home for an Opera House.  It could be (and should be) something special. 

The time has come to set up a steering committee to look at the biggest and best use of the site to create an attractive link between Downtown West End, Eau Claire and Kensington, as well as create another multi-user urban playground along the Bow River.   

It is also an opportunity to create a vibrant mixed-use TOD (transit-oriented development) around the 11th Street SW LRT station, given the Kerby Centre’s plans to relocate and its adjacent surface parking lot begging to be developed. 

The Louise Crossing site is waiting for an innovative and imaginative project that will make it the waterfront playground for not only Downtown West but the entire west side of the inner city. It would link Downtown West, Eau Claire and Kensington.

The Louise Crossing site is waiting for an innovative and imaginative project that will make it the waterfront playground for not only Downtown West but the entire west side of the inner city. It would link Downtown West, Eau Claire and Kensington.

The Downtown West LRT Station is also a prime site for development with a mix of retail, restaurants and residential.

The Downtown West LRT Station is also a prime site for development with a mix of retail, restaurants and residential.

The 8th St LRT Station is on the eastern edge of Downtown West.

The 8th St LRT Station is on the eastern edge of Downtown West.

Westmount Towers was completed in 1979 and sat alone for 15 years, until new condos were built in the mid 1990s. It is another example of a strange Downtown West building name as Westmount is the historic name for the community across the Bow River from Downtown West where the old CBC building was located.

Westmount Towers was completed in 1979 and sat alone for 15 years, until new condos were built in the mid 1990s. It is another example of a strange Downtown West building name as Westmount is the historic name for the community across the Bow River from Downtown West where the old CBC building was located.

Last Word

While East Village is shouting out “look at me,” Downtown West is quietly positioning itself to become the City Centre’s next vibrant urban village.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on Nov 17, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

Prosaic Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyranny   

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

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

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

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

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

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

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

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

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

PhDs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurants

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

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

The River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splash park along the river.

Splash park along the river.

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

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

Verandering?

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

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

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

Pioneer vigour 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroic to banal

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire mural from across the street.

The entire mural from across the street.

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Who?

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

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

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

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

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

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futuristic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Tunnels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Joie de vivre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








Hamilton's Corktown Tavern: A Magical Experience  

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

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

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Kitchen Party vs Blues Jam

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

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

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

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Irish Jam 

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

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

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Corktown 101

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

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary: Parades Celebrate Cowtown’s Cosmopolitan Culture 

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

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Calgary is no longer a “one horse town.”

Stampede Parade

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

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

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Calgary Pride Parade

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

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

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

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Nagar Kirtan Parade

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

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

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

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POW (Parade of Wonders) Parade

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

Everyday Tourist Does Calgary Expo

Colourful Stampede Postcards

Calgary's 2018 Festival Fun

Bark Art: Calgary & Boise?

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

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

Link: Arborglyphs 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

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

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

Mother Nature's Art

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

Boise vs Calgary: David vs Goliath 

Boise: Freaking Fun In Freak Alley

MBAM: The Human Hand

Staircases as art?

Welcome to the era of neuro-design?

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

It could happen!  It has happened?

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

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

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

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

Collaboration?

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

What did they learn? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rounded vs Rectangular 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise! Surprise!

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

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Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Red Flag 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architect says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are architects doing better job? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

Just asking?

Reader Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curse Of Minimalism

Calgary: A Pop Of Colour

Urban Design: Does Anybody Really Care?

 

 

Inner City Communities: Future = Past?

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

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

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

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

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

Walkability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need for the fancy community garden so popular today.

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

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

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playgrounds & Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is what we now call “active living.” 

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping wasn’t a hobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving vs Spending?

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

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

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

Community Garden vs Backyard Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of the grocery store?

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

Link: Death of grocery store

Link: Why Canada is wary of online grocery shopping.  

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

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

Link: Death of retail as we know it.

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

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

Link: City of Calgary Main Street Program

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Futurists?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postcards From Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden 

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

Enough said!

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Garden & Cemetery

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

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

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Not Always Rosy

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

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

Link: Friends of Reader Garden

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Food & Flowers

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

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

Link: Reader’s Garden Café   

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Tips

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

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

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

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Silver Springs Botanical Garden

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Name?

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

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

Urban Living Renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

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

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

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

Parks: A must for urban living!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small condo balconies are often more ornamental than functional. 

Small condo balconies are often more ornamental than functional. 

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

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

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

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

Link: Parks Improve Mental Health and Quality of Life 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Dog Parks!

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

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

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

Park / Art Park / Playground 

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

Who could ask for anything more?

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Hot Travel tip 

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

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

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

Beautifying The Beltline

Dog Parks Foster A Sense Of Community

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

University of Calgary’s Public Art Gets No Respect!

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

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

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

Plato, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos, marble, University of Calgary

Plato, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos, marble, University of Calgary

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

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

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

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

Self-Guided Tour

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

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

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

Bear / Just outside west entrance Libary

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

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

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Olympic Arch / Kinesiology Building B

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

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

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

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L-Straddle / Kinesiology Building A

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

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

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Brothers of the Wind & Skate Marks / Olympic Oval

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

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

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

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The Spire / North Entrance, The Oval

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

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

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Le Patineur de Vitesse / South Entrance, The Oval

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

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Goddess of Democracy / MacEwan Student Centre Lobby

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

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

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

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Nature is an Eternal Mystery / South Entrance,  EEEL Building

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

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

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Inside EEEL Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zipper / Lobby Science Theatres Building

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

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

 

Porcelain Mural  / Social Sciences Building

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

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

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Untitled (aka Prairie Chicken) / Swan Mall

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

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Atrium Awkwardness / Administration Building

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

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

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There is more...

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

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