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

Halifax: Quinpool Road is very cool!

Halifax’s Quinpool Road is a very cool place to flaneur.  Why? Because of its fun mix of old and new shops and buildings. No other street in Canada that I have visited has so many merchants with a 25+ year history on the same street.  

Quinpool Shoe Repair is just one many merchants who have called Quinpool home for decades.

Quinpool Shoe Repair is just one many merchants who have called Quinpool home for decades.

Quinpool’s Organic Earth Market has large stuffies hanging out in strange places throughout the store. Very cool.

Quinpool’s Organic Earth Market has large stuffies hanging out in strange places throughout the store. Very cool.

Old & New

At first glance, many might dismiss the street as being old and tired, especially if you are just driving by.  But if you get out of your car, or off the bus and walk along the sidewalk, you will begin to realize there is more to Quinpool Road than meets the eye. 

I think Jane Jacobs (an urban writer and activist who championed new, community-based approaches to planning from 1960 until her death in 2006), approve of how Quinpool Road is evolving with a nice mix of the old and the new.  

Halifax’s Quinpool Road is an eclectic mix of old and new “mom and pop” shops.

Halifax’s Quinpool Road is an eclectic mix of old and new “mom and pop” shops.

The Keep, Quinpool’s new mixed use condo project is just the beginning of a mega makeover.

The Keep, Quinpool’s new mixed use condo project is just the beginning of a mega makeover.

Quinpool is a walk back in time when inner city communities each had their own Main Street populated by “mom and pop” shops located in a hodge-podge of buildings. There is not designer furniture, street lights or public art. It is an authentic Main Street.

Quinpool is a walk back in time when inner city communities each had their own Main Street populated by “mom and pop” shops located in a hodge-podge of buildings. There is not designer furniture, street lights or public art. It is an authentic Main Street.

Old School  

Freeman’s Little New York restaurant and bar has been on Quinpool since 1956.  Open 24 hours, it remains a popular spot for those who want a late night pizza – to stay or go! A popular happy hour spot too, it is a great place to mix with locals.

Quinpool Road is home to perhaps Canada’s best shoe repair shop.  I am not kidding. Quinpool Shoe Repair has been operating in the same location since 1958.  I was immediately intrigued by the its blade sign that not only includes a shoe, but a skate too.  

Vintage skate sharpening machine at Quinpool Shoe Repair is very cool.

Vintage skate sharpening machine at Quinpool Shoe Repair is very cool.

Yes, inside sits an old skate sharpening machine that brought back memories of when I was a kid who used to drop off my skates at a house on the way to elementary school where an old guy (everyone is old when you are 7 or 8) sharpened them on a similar machine in his basement. I would pick them up on the way home.

Cost….30 cents I think!  But I digress.

Quinpool’s Shoe Repair shop is a walk back in time. Note the money on the cash register.

Quinpool’s Shoe Repair shop is a walk back in time. Note the money on the cash register.

Quinpool Shoe Repair often will do repairs while you wait.  While we were there, a lady brought in her shoes for a simple repair and was immediately asked, “Do you want to wait for them?”  

While the classic shoe repair shop aroma of leather and polish is in the air, this is no little “hole in the wall” shop.  Large, bright, clean and very well organized, including a six-foot long wall of shoe laces – there’s an immediate sense of pride of ownership and craftmanship when you walk in.

Quinpool’s Armore Tea Room, has been a Halifax landmark since 1958.  Its name harkens back to its early days. Today, it is best described as old fashioned diner serving all day breakfast (including homemade meatloaf, liver and onions) and great milkshakes. Open from 5 am to 8 pm daily, it remains old school with its “cash only” policy.

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 8.11.16 PM.png

Across the street from Armore is Canada’s first donair shop, “King of Donair” which opened there in 1973. In 2015, Halifax Regional Council proclaimed the donair the official food of Halifax.  

When I went in and said I was from Calgary, it was quickly pointed out that real donairs have only onions, tomatoes and a sweet and garlicky donair sauce, “none of that lettuce, pickles or cheese junk they add in Western Canada.”  You could tell the King is proud to have developed the original recipe.  

In addition to multiple locations in Halifax, King of Donair has expanded elsewhere in Eastern Canada, as well Western Canada - including Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. 

Backstory: Original owner, Peter Gamoulakos created the original 'doner' (what he called it briefly) with lamb topped with tzatziki. But Haligonians did not take to it. So Gamoulakos being an astute businessman, changed the protein to beef, developed the sweet garlicky sauce (using Carnation evaporated milk no less), changed the name to “donair” and a legend was born. He sold the store many years later and King of Donair has changed hands a couple of times since. Despite a few people trying to take credit for the donair, it remains Gamoulakos' legacy. 

Further up the “Road” is Aerobic First in what at first glance looks like an old, rather non-descript house (because that is what it is). However, curiosity made me walk in to discover a place packed with shoes, skis, boots and other sports wear equipment. Their claim to fame - “our staff are among the best shoe and boot fitters in Canada” according to their website and I believe them. I tried a few pairs on, but resisted as I really don’t need anymore flaneuring shoes.  The staff were very friendly and let me browse without feeling awkward. Eventually I struck up a conversation with one of the staff, who turned out to be the owner, who told me they have been in business on Quinpool since 1980. 

I really wish I needed new flaneuring shoes.  

Old houses make great boutique stores, cafes and restaurants.

Old houses make great boutique stores, cafes and restaurants.

Cool New Merchants 

Intermingled with the old timers on Quinpool are the “new kids on the road,” the cool new merchants. 

Sarah and Tom,” a Korean pop culture store recently opened on Quinpool, a sure sign that young people are moving in.  At first, I mistook it for a cool kid toy store. It all started when Sarah Milberry from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia went to Korea to teach English, met her husband Tom Yun (aka Tom) and together they decided to bring a bit of Korean retail culture to Canada – they have stores in Toronto and now Halifax.  I love today’s global world these days and how it leads to creating cool streets where a Korean toy store meets a skateboard shop. 

As just across the street from Sarah and Tom sits another new kid on the road, Pro Skate home of Halifax’s skateboarding community. But rather than the typical bohemian looking skater shop, Pro Skate has a friendly upscale atmosphere that even includes a micro café at the front with a few seats looking out onto the street. Very cool.   

Halifax’s popular Morris East Restaurant + Wine Bar recently opened its third location in Quinpool Road’s The Keep, a mid-rise condo complex. While the restaurant has a full menu, whenever we walked by, it seemed more like a busy pizza parlour where the cool people hang out.  Every street needs a couple of good pizza places.  In fact, there probably should be a “Pizza Index” to measure street vitality i.e. the more pizza places, the more vitality.

Then there is the new home décor store, Zephyr Rug & Home that offers amazing rugs as well as contemporary Canadian, American and Italian furniture. With all the area’s new condos projects (recently opened, under construction and planned) in Halifax’s City Centre, Zephyr could be the catalyst for Quinpool to become a design district.  After all, Secord Gallery, one of the longest established art galleries and framing shops in Atlantic Canada dating back to 1979 is also on Quinpool. 

Looks like a children’s toy store to me….I was wrong!

Looks like a children’s toy store to me….I was wrong!

Eclectic Eats

 Quinpool has an amazing array of ethnic restaurants and grocery stores – Korean, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese and Chinese.  There is also a healthy independent café culture along the road with great names like Atomic Café, Heartwood Bakery and Café, Lucky Penny Coffee Co., Dilly Dally Coffee Café and Other Bean. And yes, a Starbucks and a Tim Horton’s too.  

Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s décor is as rich and yummy as its cheesecakes (see photo).  Open noon to 10 pm, it is cool a spot for a sweet afternoon delight or a nightcap. They offer a different selection of cheesecakes that very everyday.  My choices when I was there were: maple pumpkin, autumn apple, apple pecan and banana bread. My pick - maple pumpkin – decadent and I was not disappointed! 

Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s decor has a cheesecake richness.

Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s decor has a cheesecake richness.

Quinpool is home to an array of ethnic restaurants.

Quinpool is home to an array of ethnic restaurants.

Even the Time Hortons seems to fit into the retro feel of Quinpool.

Even the Time Hortons seems to fit into the retro feel of Quinpool.

Anchors

Quinpool Road is unique in that while it is mostly small “mom and pop” shops, one block is dominated by large format stores - Canadian Tire, Atlantic Superstore and Nova Scotia Liquor Store. Fortunately, the stores have street entrances with all the surface parking in the back, offering the best of both worlds - walkable at the front, drivable at the back. I wish more developers and big box stores would do this as it makes for a much better streetscape. That being said, the facades of all three stores are due for an update - it could become a very funky block.  

The Atlantica Hotel Halifax, a 230-room four star hotel located at the east end of Quinpool Road adds another dimension to the mix. Every good street needs a hotel or two.

The Canadian Tire and its sister big box stores provide the everyday needs of locals living near Quinpool.

The Canadian Tire and its sister big box stores provide the everyday needs of locals living near Quinpool.

In addition to the Atlantic Superstore, Quinpool has several ethnic grocery stores and a major health food store.

In addition to the Atlantic Superstore, Quinpool has several ethnic grocery stores and a major health food store.

Mixed-use Madness  

While Quinpool Road is currently surrounded mostly by modest homes, this is going to change. Like most urban streets in vibrant cities across North America, Quinpool is on the cusp of a mega-makeover.  

Recently completed is The Keep, an 8-floor, 74 unit residential project with ground floor retail - Starbucks, upscale outdoor retailer, (The Trail Shop which moved from its original home on Quinpool that it had occupied since 1968) and Morris Eats.  (FYI: A “keep” is the innermost and strongest structure or central tower of a castle. The name is a “metaphor for the strength of the building and its central location in Halifax” says The Keep’s website.) 

After 80 years, the art deco Oxford theatre closed in 2017 and was sold to a developer - a sure sign that change is in the wind for Quinpool Road.  

Other projects in the planning stages include the controversial The Willow Tree, a 25-floor residential building with street retail and the Drexel, an 15-floor mixed-use development. At Quinpool and Robie, plans are currently being finalized for an 18-floor condo tower on the site of the former Cruikshank’s Funeral Home, as well as an 11 and 22-floor residential tower next to it.

The addition of these new mixed-use condos projects should benefit existing merchants as well as add new retailers, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs to the mix of existing shops.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 2.19.40 PM.png

Last Word 

In 1960, Jane Jacobs, in her “The Death And Life of Great American Cities,” wrote the ideal mix for street vitality was to have “one third of the buildings new, one third old and one third middle aged.” 

While I realize streets must evolve, I hope it does so gradually so it doesn’t lose the charm of its older homes and buildings too quickly.  The cool mix of old and new, the chic and the shabby chic is an aesthetic worth keeping.   

If you like this blog, you will like:

Melrose: Phoenix’s emerging vintage district

Hamilton: James Street North a hidden gem

Vegas’ Crazy Container Park

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.

Hamilton: SuperCrawl is Super Fun


Hamilton’s SuperCrawl has evolved over the past 10 years into one of Canada’s biggest and best music/street festivals.  It is a great success story. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.22.47 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 9.59.36 AM.png

Grass Roots

It all started when a group of fledgling art galleries along James Street North (aka Little Portugal) decided to host an Art Crawl the second Friday of every month. This was not a particularly novel idea - most cities across North America had such event in the ‘90s and ‘00s. In Hamilton’s case, it started as an experiment to attract more people to downtown’s new arts district.  However, soon new restaurants, cafes and boutiques were popping up along James Street North and wanted to join in the fun. 

Each month, the Art Crawl grew in popularity. 

Then in 2009, as an experiment, the James Street North merchants convinced the City to close the street for their September Art Crawl so they could add stages for music and create a real street festival - hence the name “SuperCrawl!” The first year attracted 3,000 visitors; today SuperCrawl is an annual 3-day festival the second weekend in September that attracts over 200,000 visitors from across southern Ontario and beyond (i.e. more than the Tiger-Cats attract all season). 

In many ways, SuperCrawl has put Hamilton on the art scene map!  

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.13.59 AM.png

SuperCrawl 2018

After attending a regular Art Crawl a few years back and being impressed, I added the Super Crawl to my list of things to see.  This was the year.    

In 2018, this eight-block festival, had two major stages (75+ music and theatre performances), hundreds of artists’/makers’ tents, 15 fashion shows, a block of food trucks, several art installations and a family fun zone.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.23.19 AM.png

Music

The music program is very eclectic. This year’s program ranged from Broken Social Scene to Ian Thomas with the Hamilton All-Star Blues Band in the middle. Over the years, the festival has featured groups like Hamilton’s own Arkells (in 2014), to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (the late Jones being called the “female, James Brown” (in 2015). Other notables over the years - Sheepdog, Sam Roberts, Tanya Tagaq and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.   

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.14.39 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 9.58.54 AM.png
Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Fashion Shows 

One of the festival’s hidden gems is the fashion shows that showcase local designers.  I discovered this stage late on Saturday night. I loved the Cosplay Masquerade and was sorry to miss the Hamilton Vintage Community and The Thrifty Designer shows. Other interesting shows included Madjita: Indigenous Stories and Design and TroyBoy Drag Show.    

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.00.32 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.06.52 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.06.06 AM.png

Tents

I was surprised at the number of tents that filled up not only the street but every nook and cranny, creating a fun, flea market-like atmosphere.  From the usual artisans to people selling used records and books – there were treasures to be found.  

By day…

By day…

By night…

By night…

Food Trucks 

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.14.20 AM.png

In addition to the many restaurants along James St. North, there were 35+ food trucks.

The food trucks ranged from Hamilton’s famous Gorilla Cheese to one called The Flyin’ G’Nosh.  

I was intrigued by Buster’s Bloomin Onion Company’s truck with its huge multi-level trays each holding hundreds of whole peeled onions waiting to be battered, fried and served with Buster’s own chipotle mayo, peppercorn ranch dipping sauce or nacho cheese drizzle.  

I didn’t try them (I hate long lines) but given the long line-up, I bet they were good. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.04.21 AM.png

SuperCrawl also showcases how downtown Hamilton’s King William Street (one of the adjacent side streets) has evolved into a restaurant row with lovely patios.

In the evenings, it was like being on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue or perhaps in Montreal’s Plateau on a warm summer evening.  

And of course, there was candy floss (it wouldn’t be a street festival without it) and Tim Horton’s Coffee.  Kudos to Timmy’s for sponsoring the entire block that hosted the family fun activities.  

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.06.33 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.16.14 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 1.25.31 PM.png

Art Installations 

The art installations this year were a big disappointment.  I had seen photos of some of the past installations and was ready to be wowed.  Perhaps my expectation’s “bar” was set too high.  However, I was not alone in thinking the art installations looked junky - I overheard many people saying “this just looks like a pile of junk,” and in several cases, that literally is what they were. 

Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus.  There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus. There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement.  They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement. They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

Members of    Flagship Gallery    (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

Members of Flagship Gallery (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you.   I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you. I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

Circus Orange 

For the past four years, SuperCrawl has showcased Circus Orange, a local performance group that combines acrobatics and pyrotechnics into a fun family evening event. Think Cirque du Soleil up close and personal.  I was able to stand by the fence next to the performers on both nights with great views of the behind the stage warm-up and set-up, as well as watching the performance ringside.  A “front row seat” for FREE!

“It is not every company that can say they have a forensic gun expert working alongside a clown. Or, dancers who are also licensed pyrotechnicians and actors who happily dangle 80 feet in the air from industrial cranes. It is this kind of diversity that is our greatest asset and truly represents the Circus Orange company culture.” (Circus Orange website)

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.21.09 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.10.12 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.21.44 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.22.01 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.09.55 AM.png

Urban Renewal Spark

SuperCrawl is a good example of how festivals can serve as the catalyst for change - helping transform a tired and forgotten street and neighbourhood, to a trendy, vibrant urban playground.  

And, while James St N still has a long way to go, there is evidence of revitalization. New condos are being built; new shops and restaurants are joining the traditional Portuguese ones that have been there for many years.

There is a new fully leased WilliamThomas luxury student residence that will add 350+ students to the neighbourhood.  This 21-storey, 169-unit residence is named after the 1850s WilliamThomas building that was on the site until it had to be demolished in 2010 as it was falling down.  The four-storey façade of the original building along James St N was saved and reconstructed as part of the new student tower to enhance the pedestrian-friendliness of street.  At present, it is looking for a couple of new retail or restaurant tenants.  

One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

Last Word

If you are in the Hamilton area on the second Friday of any month, check out Art Crawl.  And if you love music/art festivals, I highly recommend you plan a weekend vacation in Hamilton and take in the entire festival.  And did I mention it is FREE!

While there you can also check out the Hamilton Art Gallery and the Cotton Factory two other fun art adventures.

There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Who?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

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

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

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

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

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futuristic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Tunnels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Joie de vivre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








POSTCARDS from BROOKLYN

Brooklyn has been on my list of places to go for a few years now as I have been reading and hearing lots of interesting things about its renaissance.  

Link: Brooklyn 101

I was a bit jealous when I recently learned my friend Tom Tittemore (architect and public art advocate) was heading to Brooklyn so I told him to take lots of photos and perhaps think about doing guest blog.  

And he did....
Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.06.43 PM.png

Postcards from Tom

I recently enjoyed my fifth visit to New York City, and planned a day visit to Brooklyn as part of my ambitious itinerary.  This Borough of NYC was a complete mystery to me, although walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time on New Year’s Day in 2015 provided some initial, fleeting glimpses.  Coney Island, Carol King and the Brooklyn Dodgers were some of the cultural references I had accumulated over the years relative to this renowned community.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.06.07 PM.png

Joined by my wife Carol, and dear friends Terry and Denise from Kitchener, I embarked on the ‘F’ subway mid-morning from the Rockefeller Station in Midtown Manhattan. Upon leaving the underground section beneath the East River, the ‘F’ line continued on an elevated platform for the better part of an hour, offering wonderful vistas of Brooklyn until we reached the end terminal at Coney Island.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.06.19 PM.png

The Atlantic Ocean, Brighton Beach, protruding wharves, the Boardwalk, embellished storefronts and rectangular designated ride ‘precincts’ define the ‘layered’ parti of this iconic midway.  I took a ride on the ‘Cyclone’, constructed in the late 1920s and a true Mecca for rollercoaster enthusiasts.  Enjoying the front seat solo, my smile changed quickly to a grimace once the G forces kicked in on the first vertical plunge.  Exhilarating!!

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.04.30 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 11.59.38 AM.png

My return destination on the ‘F’ Line took us through the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, where I discovered Atlantic Avenue, an older distant cousin of 9th Avenue in Inglewood.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore nearby Brooklyn Heights Brownstone residential neighborhoods, nor the famed Brooklyn Museum.  Next time …

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 2.33.11 PM.png

Atlantic Avenue’s western end merges gracefully into the promenade of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, an inspiring redevelopment of the former Brooklyn dockyards.  A number of the former piers have been repurposed into popular recreation zones. Pier 3 is a soccer pitch and Pier 5 accommodates a number of short basketball courts.  Along the entire Parkway, tremendous vistas of lower Manhattan are presented, ending, of course, at the Brooklyn Bridge.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.05.33 PM.png

My second trek across the Bridge was every bit as memorable as the first.  Crowded, a bit dangerous with cyclist sharing the route – a complete New York experience.

The north-east ‘F’ Line concludes at the Jamaica Station in Queens.  Guess where I’m going next time I visit The Big Apple!

Lessons Learned

  1. The overall subway experience highlighted by the Rockefeller Centre station, the panoramic, above grade trip through Brooklyn itself, the middle / Coney Island Station, and the end / Grand Central Station made me think Calgary should aspire to having a light rail transit system with such iconic and memorable stations that invite people to simply travel the system for its own sake and explore the city.
  2. The development of Calgary’s Bow River promenade has the same basis as the Brooklyn Bridge Park, albeit on a significantly reduced scale: meandering beside a significant river, views to prominent and in most cases good architecture, places for rest and people watching, natural landscaping, higher density housing, complimentary pedestrian and cycling lanes, local history made it a very pleasant experience. 
  3. Brooklyn Bridge reminded me that sometimes, you need to invest in unique and iconic artifacts to celebrate the place where you live and make the basic needs of walking – memorable!

Tom Tittemore

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 12.00.00 PM.png

Now I'm really jealous...

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.31.08 PM.png

I'd love to flaneur DUMBO, short for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” which has become Brooklyn's most expensive neighborhood, as well as New York City's fourth-richest community overall owing to its large concentration of technology startups, its close proximity to Manhattan and its large number of former industrial buildings that have been converted into spacious luxury residential lofts.

The neighborhood currently serves as the corporate headquarters for e-commerce retailer Etsy, home furnishing store West Elm and Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG) architects who just happen to be the architects of Calgary’s newest signature building Telus Sky. 

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.19.29 PM.png

The Brooklyn Bridge is not only an architectural/engineering gem, it is a popular commuter route with 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists on weekdays and this total can swell to 30,000+ on weekends in the summer. It is often called the “Times Square In the Sky” because it is such a popular public space like Times Square. 

It is 1825m long or about 14 times the length of Calgary’s Peace Bridge.   This is on my "bucket list."

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 8.33.20 PM.png

I would also like to check out the Brooklyn Bridge Park to see how it compares to other river parks I have experienced in other cities from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, from Berlin to Calgary. 

And I love wandering residential urban streets, so Brooklyn Height's brownstones will be at the top of my list. 

Unlike Tom, when I go to Brooklyn it will be for at least a week, not a day. 

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

Chicago's Gold Coast: Stairways To Heaven

A FREE trip to NYC (Almost)

River Cruising in Chicago

 

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!

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.08.41 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.08.21 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.12.49 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.11.43 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.14.50 AM.png

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.12.19 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.15.19 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.12.28 AM.png

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

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.09.13 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.13.34 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.13.20 AM.png

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   

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.11.22 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.11.10 AM.png

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.
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.12.57 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.13.33 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.13.49 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.11.57 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.12.15 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.14.15 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.14.02 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 11.15.59 AM.png

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

Only In Calgary: Shelley & Richard's Picks

A burger doesn’t have to be just a burger. Nor is a cocktail just a cocktail. Under the right circumstances, a burger or a beer or even a sausage can reveal a lot about a city and its commitment to local businesses and good food.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 8.22.54 PM.png

Our Favourites?

When I emailed Shelley to ask for a list of her favourite local eateries, it opened a conversation about Calgary’s must-try foods. There are the obvious things that others have written about, such as ginger beef (invented in Calgary) and the Caesar, also a local invention.

But there are more, so many more local things to eat and drink in Calgary these days. This led to us doing a joint piece for City Palate of our favourite places to recommend.  

Here, are a few of the places we tell non-Calgarians about: 

Blackfoot Truck Shop is an authentic truck stop so be prepared to dine with a cast of characters. Come for the food (typical diner menu) but stay for the pies. Founded in 1956, this place is world famous for its sky-high (8 inches of meringue) flapper pie. Kids will love the model train that circles overhead.  1840 Ninth Avenue S.E. blackfootdiner.ca

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 10.38.51 PM.png

Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub/Buzzard’s Restaurant and Bar has been serving beer from around the world since 1985, and now there’s a big list of local brews, too. During the Calgary Stampede, however, Shelley takes out-of-town family looking for something they’ll never get at home: prairie oysters, only available the Testicle Festival. 140 10th Avenue SW, bottlescrewbill.com

Cannibale is a tiny cocktail bar-restaurant-barbershop. Yes, you can get a shave and a cocktail at the same time. Everything about this place is creative, but we can’t make it out the door without at least one Hanky Panky pre-prohibition cocktail. Cannibale raises the bar (pun intended) on bar food.  813 First Avenue NE, cannibale.ca

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 8.34.32 AM.png

Caesar’s Steak House and Lounge was founded in 1972 and is still family-owned. When you’re in need of some good Alberta beef, and you can’t be bothered to cook it yourself, this is the place to go. The steak is just as good as it was way back when, but, thanks to Alberta’s privatized liquor imports, the wine list is considerably better these days. 512 Fourth Avenue SW (the original location), caesarssteakhouse.com

Chicken on the Way has been serving chicken that is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside at its flagship Kensington location since 1958, but the corn fritters and handmade fries are musts, too. 1443 Kensington Road NW, chickenonthewaycalgary.ca

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 10.39.18 PM.png

Nick’s Steakhouse and Pizza opened in 1979, and when you walk in, you’ll wonder if anything has changed since then. (The answer: very little.) This is the place to go to celebratory pizza after a Calgary Stampeders win, or to mark the end of a term at the University of Calgary. It’s mobbed every Mother’s Day and Fridays and Saturday nights, too. 2430 Crowchild Trail NW, nickssteakandpizza.com

Peters’ Drive-In has been serving up great milkshakes since 1964. Today, this popular drive-through offers more than 25 flavours. Some are traditional; some (licorice-lime, toasted marshmallow), not so much. All the milkshakes are famous for being so thick, your cheeks hurt by the time you finish one. 219 Sixteenth Avenue NE, petersdrivein.com

Pulcinella serves up authentic Napoletana pizzas, as chef Domenic Tudda is one of only a handful of North Americans who are certified by Italy’s Associazione Pizzaioli Napolitani.  It is kind of like having the blessing of the Pope. Pulcinella offers more than 15 pizzas with names like Nduja Sausage, Crudo and Quattro Stagioni. We haven’t had one we didn’t like.  1147 Kensington Crescent NW, pulcinella.ca

The Ship & Anchor Pub’s patio is the place to be on a sunny Chinook afternoon in February, or any time during the summer. And if it’s raining? Head inside to watch football or live music, while enjoying a pint of Big Rock Trad and maybe some hand-cut fries and mayo. Minors welcome until 7 p.m. 534 17th Avenue SW, shipandanchor.com

Spolumbo’s was founded by three former CFL football players in 1991 and is famous for its sandwiches – cutlet parmigiana and Mama’s meatloaf sandwiches are very popular. But Richard’s favourite is the savoury meatball sandwich. Bring an extra shirt, as it can be very messy.  13 Ninth Ave SE, spolumbos.com

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 8.14.01 AM.png

Tea Trader is worth the climb up the stairs, as you are transcended from the new world to the old world. At any given time, Tea Trader has 100 to 160 teas in stock, imported directly from India, China, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Try Richard’s favourite Lapsang Souchong or pick up SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to make kombucha. 1228A Ninth Avenue SE 403-264-0728, teatrader.com

DSC06415.jpg

Last Word

Due to space restrictions for City Palette I couldn't include all of my favourite so I'd like to add a few more spots.

Lazy Loaf and Kettle in Parkdale has the best carrot cake I have ever tasted.  

Lazy Loaf and Kettle in Parkdale has the best carrot cake I have ever tasted.  

The original Village Ice Cream shop has not only great hand-made ice cream, but a funky urban patio.

The original Village Ice Cream shop has not only great hand-made ice cream, but a funky urban patio.

Speaking of great patios, Bonterra has the most romantic patio in Calgary. IMHO!

Speaking of great patios, Bonterra has the most romantic patio in Calgary. IMHO!

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 10.46.02 PM.png

No visit to Calgary is complete without a visit to Modern Jelly Doughnuts for their maple bacon doughnuts. 

The Chocolate Lab on Centre Street in Chinatown is my pick for chocolates.  They are like little works of art....and very tasty, you can't eat just one.

The Chocolate Lab on Centre Street in Chinatown is my pick for chocolates.  They are like little works of art....and very tasty, you can't eat just one.

My new favourite place is Jimmy's A&A on 20th Avenue NW. It is obviously the favourite place of lots of Calgarians. The shawarmas followed by a couple of baklavas always hit the spot. 

My new favourite place is Jimmy's A&A on 20th Avenue NW. It is obviously the favourite place of lots of Calgarians. The shawarmas followed by a couple of baklavas always hit the spot. 

FYI: 

Shelley Boettcher is a local food, wine and booze writer; find out more about her at drinkwithme.com or on Twitter @shelley_wine.

This blog was commissioned by City Palate for their 2018 July/August edition

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

Top Ten Places To Eat Like A Local In Cowtown!

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Restaurant Designs Express Calgary's Sense of Place

Saskatoon Stories: Picasso Birdhouses & Gory Puppets 

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

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

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

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

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

Picasso Birdhouses

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

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

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

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

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

Once a builder always a builder?

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

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

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

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

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

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 8.50.39 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 8.51.27 AM.png
Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 8.51.38 AM.png
The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

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

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

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

For more information: JR's Designer Birdhouses 

U of S: Timeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

A-Mazing Campus

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

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

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

Gory Puppets 

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

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

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

Puppets in various stages of completion.  

Puppets in various stages of completion. 

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

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

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

Taking a break....

Taking a break....

Hanging out....

Hanging out....

The rehearsal stage...

The rehearsal stage...

Secret UofS Museum

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.49.58 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 8.48.04 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 2.34.02 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 8.47.50 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.50.33 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.49.04 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.49.15 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.26.46 AM.png

Lessons Learned

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

#2 Always leave extra time to explore unexpected opportunities. 

#3 Don't be shy!

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

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Footnotes: University of Arizona 

University of New Mexico: A-Mazing 

Everyday Flaneuring Street Photo Fun

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog know that I love to flaneur everyday the streets and alleys wherever I am - be it for 10 minutes or 10 hours.   I also love to flaneur my photos several times a week - it is like a mini vacation.  

Here are some photos from a recent photo flaneur mostly from Calgary, Atlanta and Dublin, but there are a few other places thrown in. Can you tell which city they are from? 

And as they say "every picture tells a story" or "every picture is worth 1,000 words," so have fun making up stories and sharing them with me. 

But, PLEASE no more than 1,000 words. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 7.43.37 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 11.43.16 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.25.57 PM.png
E794CB56-78A7-4EDE-BA20-F17A08438231.JPG
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 7.40.19 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.06.28 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 7.35.58 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.26.27 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.33.35 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 9.31.22 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.27.30 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.28.12 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.11.31 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.17.16 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.16.46 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 5.17.33 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.17.43 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.10.35 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 7.35.01 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 10.29.01 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 10.24.27 PM.png

Last Word

I hope you have enjoyed your flaneur. If you would like to do some more flaneuring check out these links: 

Ten Commandments Of A Flaneur

The Best Flaneur Find Ever!

Flaneuring Fun In Hamilton

 

Staircases As Art

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

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Post Office, Mexico City

Post Office, Mexico City

Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

Colourful Staircases

Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

The Twist, Palm Springs, California

The Twist, Palm Springs, California

Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

Lions Park Station, Calgary

Lions Park Station, Calgary

Zion Park, Utah

Zion Park, Utah

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Emergency Staircases

Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California

Backstairs, Montreal 

Backstairs, Montreal 

Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

Black & White 

Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico City

Plateau, Montreal, 

Plateau, Montreal, 

West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

A Place To Sit

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Last Word

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

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

The curse of minimalism

Chicago: Gold Coast Staircases

Calgary: Best Places To Sit

 

Restaurant Designs Express Calgary's Sense of Place

When it comes to shaping a city, architects (building and landscape) and artists (public art, muralists) get the lion’s share of the media and public attention - good and bad. However, interior designers play an important role too, especially when it comes to restaurant design. After all, you probably only glance at a building or public artwork for a minute, maybe less, but you are in a restaurant for an hour or more.

While some argue a well-designed restaurant doesn’t distract from the food and conversation, I say “bah hamburg!” Good restaurant design has numerous eye-catching components – features like a cool mural, a quirky bathroom, funky artwork, unique furniture or creative use of materials – all being common conversation starters. 

To make my point, I chose seven Calgary restaurants I believe combine great design (all by Calgary designers) and reflect Calgary’s personality, i.e. youthful, colourful and playful.

After I submitted my piece to City Palate, I discovered Nando's on 17th Avenue. It was like walking into an art installation at a contemporary art gallery.  To me it captured the sense of youth and play that epitomizes Caglary. 

After I submitted my piece to City Palate, I discovered Nando's on 17th Avenue. It was like walking into an art installation at a contemporary art gallery.  To me it captured the sense of youth and play that epitomizes Caglary. 

Yellow Door Bistro, 119 - 12 Ave SW

Yellow Door at Hotel Arts is a great example of creating fun eye candy. Full disclosure: yellow is my favourite colour.  Carl and Andrea Raimondi from Ingenium Designs created a space full of “delightful surprises,” the intent according to Fraser Abbott, Director of Business Development at Hotel Arts.  Beginning with the human-sized horse with lampshade on its head to the plastic, Lego-like chairs, this place is full of surprises. The colour yellow pops up everywhere - chairs, window shades and yes, the yellow door at the 12th Ave SW entrance. Yellow Door remains as fresh and playful as when it opened.

DSC04792_preview.jpg
Yellow Door 1_preview.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.28.49 AM.png

Home & Away Calgary Kitchen, 1331 - 17 Ave SW

I love 17th Avenue’s Home & Away Calgary Kitchen because it focuses mostly on local sports history.  It is not a cookie cutter sports bar that could be anywhere in North America.  Sarah Ward, one of Calgary’s busiest restaurant designers, was able to access and recycle the hardwood floor from the Deer Run Community Centre gym. The floorboards were installed randomly so the colourful basketball, volleyball and badminton markings pop out everywhere, creating an after the ticker tape-like parade atmosphere.

The feature wall, covered with 50 vintage skateboards from California, is clever given it’s located a few blocks from Shaw Millennium Park, home of one of the world’s largest public skate parks.

The subtle use of old trophy figures as tap handles is simply brilliant.

DSC04815_preview.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.27.23 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.27.57 AM.png

Bridgette Bar, 739 - 10th Ave SW

Bridgette Bar is divided into three rooms - the bar, the living room and the kitchen/dining room. Overall, the décor is an eclectic mix of artifacts, everything from two motorcycles to a large Chris Cran psychedelic artwork.  Many of the pieces are the personal property of Victor Choy, one of the owners who worked with Kelly Morrison of Frank Architecture to create Bridgette’s whimsical design.

The living room has an inviting mid century modern feel with its oval teak coffee table, wood accented chairs and retro hanging fireplace oh-so popular in the ‘70s. The most puckish artifacts are the many macramé pieces that adorn the dining room.

As they say, “everything that is old is new again.”

Bridgette Bar _preview.jpg
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.26.43 AM.png

RE:GRUB, 625 - 11Ave SW

RE:GRUB is a tiny space that packs a big punch, from the street art on its patio wall to the peacock blue and canary yellow interior colour scheme. You might want to leave your sunglasses on.  When you walk in you are immediately accosted by the cut-out metal barrels wonderfully transformed into chairs.  Quickly your eyes dart to the dramatic yellow rope strung from floor to ceiling creating a see-through wall separating the larger dining area from the entrance.

Once your eyes adjust to the bright colours, you notice one wall is actually made up of asphalt shingles. Yes, the same ones you see on the roofs of tens of thousands of Calgary homes.  Another wall is made from recycled warehouse pallets, as is the light fixture, chipboard walls and tabletops. The corrugated metal undersides of the counters add to this fun industrial chic vibe. 

RE:GRUB’s design is a collaborative effort of Lindsay O. Creative and owner Jose Azares.

ReGRUB_preview.jpg
DSC04857_preview.jpg

Alloy, 220 - 42 Ave SE

It has been said by many the McKinley Burkart-designed Alloy restaurant is one of the prettiest and coolest rooms in the city. Faux cherry blossom trees share the space with white decorative brick walls back lit with soft pink lighting.

The result: a light and airy, spring-like feel - no wonder Alloy is a popular wedding spot.

The six large white leather semi-circular banquettes with warm walnut tables in the center of the room are so popular there have literally been fights over who gets one.  Restaurants are often defined by their art. In Alloy’s case, it is the lunge’s harmless but very visually aggressive Mark Mullin abstract painting.  Perhaps too aggressive for some as one patron literally demanded another table because she “wasn’t going to face that painting that looks like intestines.”  Interestingly, the title of the piece is “Meltdown.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.21.13 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.23.31 AM.png

OEB, 222 - 5th Ave SW

John Gilchrist very fittingly describes OEB’s downtown location’s interior as “yolky” in his CBC review, others might think of it as “eggs gone wild” theme. The entire room is adorned with yolk yellow and egg white elements.  And the huge, egg-shaped booths are a modern twist on furniture designer Arne Jacobsen’s famous 1958 Egg chair.

Designed by Hribar Design Group, the interior has a definite mid-century feel with a contemporary twist, mixing uncluttered and sleek lines with geometric forms, strange juxtapositions and bold use of colour. The result: a cheerful and charming atmosphere. Overall, the design creates a visual vibrancy that mirrors the vitality of a packed restaurant at breakfast or brunch. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 11.40.10 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 11.54.08 PM.png

Foreign Concept, 1011 - 1st St. SW

Owner/chef Duncan Ly and designer Alykhan Velji worked together to create a colonial-inspired decor with sleek modernist elements for Foreign Concept. An immediate feeling of tranquility sets in as you enter and see the large mural of birds and butterflies playing in a garden behind the reception desk.

Colourized floor-to-ceiling images of a Chinese man in one dining room and Vietnamese woman in the other create an old-world charm and acknowledge the importance of respecting the past.  The wall of antique moon cake moulds in the lounge adds an element of both past and playfulness.  Ly and Velji also make great use of the large sidewalk windows of its corner site, allowing patrons to enjoy the street theatre while dining.

DSC05195_preview.jpg
DSC05188_preview.jpg

Calgary: A Design City?

One could easily have chosen dozens of other Calgary restaurants with interesting and inventive designs – Model Milk, Teatros, Klein/Harris, Rouge, River Café or Vin Room at the airport immediately come to mind. 

Indeed, Calgary is becoming not only one of North America’s most interesting foodie cities, but also one of the most interesting design cities when it comes to architecture, public art (good, bad and ugly), public space, restaurant and retail design.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in May/June 2018 edition of City Palate

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

Calgary's Design District Revisited

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a Design City

 

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!

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.02.20 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.02.53 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.03.11 PM.png

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.03.34 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.04.06 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.34.03 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.04.39 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.06.48 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.07.38 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.07.11 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.07.50 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.08.05 PM.png

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.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.09.19 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.09.39 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.16.24 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.17.12 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.17.43 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.17.58 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.19.40 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.18.54 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 2.23.39 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.20.37 PM.png

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.22.08 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.22.32 PM.png

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.  

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 10.27.18 PM.png

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.22.56 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 1.23.46 PM.png

There is more...

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

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

Last Word

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

Backstory

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

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

Editor’s update: Since this blog was posted the University has created a website for some of their artworks. Link: UofC Public Art

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

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

"Trio" & "Fish" / A Missed Opportunity?

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) recently announced “Trio” and “Fish,” by German artist Christian Moeller as the newest additions to its growing public art collection. Both were met with unanimous approval by the 150 or so Calgarians at the unveiling held at the Dutton Theatre (soon be the old Calgary Central Library) and I saw only positive comments on Twitter. In chatting subsequently with several Calgarians everyone seems to like “Trio” and “Fish.”  

Moeller's computer rendering of what the Trio creatures will look like. 

Moeller's computer rendering of what the Trio creatures will look like. 

Once a curator, always a curator!

Having spent 10 years the Executive Director/Curator of the Muttart Public Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) in another life, I look at art projects with perhaps a different eye than most.

I also liked the pieces at first glance, but as Moeller was presenting the background on his two pieces of art, I began to think they are cute more than clever, more playful than provocative.  

I started to ask myself some questions.

  • Doesn’t Calgary already have enough cute, playful public art?
  • Do we need more thought-provoking pieces? 
  • Do we need more interactive and engaging public art?
Does Calgary have too much cute public art? Boney is a nine-foot high purple pooch.  This whimsical piece of art located in SETON, was designed by Inges Idee and has become a welcomed addition to SETON's urban streetscape.  Inge Idee also create the Blue Ring (aka Travelling Light) lamppost that is not well liked. You win some, you lose some?

Does Calgary have too much cute public art? Boney is a nine-foot high purple pooch.  This whimsical piece of art located in SETON, was designed by Inges Idee and has become a welcomed addition to SETON's urban streetscape.  Inge Idee also create the Blue Ring (aka Travelling Light) lamppost that is not well liked. You win some, you lose some?

Best Library In The World?

Then Bill Ptacek, Calgary Public Library’s CEO gave a passionate speech saying his vision is to “create the greatest public library in the world” and how public art is critical to that vision. He was emphatic the new library will have a strong indigenous presence as part of its placemaking.  (Councillor Druh Farrell, in her welcoming comments also made a point of referencing the role of the indigenous people in Calgary’s history.)

The light bulb went on! 

Why instead of an international competition for a public artwork, didn’t CMLC commission one or more indigenous artists to create art for the new library?

I am not aware of any major public artwork in Calgary by an indigenous artist.  A missed opportunity?

In chatting with a few visual art professionals, they wondered why Moeller was commissioned to create art for both the outdoor and indoor sites.  CMCL could have easily conducted an international competition for one of the sites and conducted an invitation competition to Canadian artists with an indigenous background for the other. 

But I digress.

Brian Jungen is an Canadian artist with an indigenous heritage who exhibits internationally. This piece is from an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. His work is very thought provoking and visually stunning.

Brian Jungen is an Canadian artist with an indigenous heritage who exhibits internationally. This piece is from an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. His work is very thought provoking and visually stunning.

CMLC / Library Update

After posting this, CMLC contacted me to say that Brian Jungen was actually one of the five finalists for the new Central Library commission. Calgary Public Library also commented on Twitter that they have three artists in residences (one dedicated to indigenous art) and Indigenous placemaking within the new library. 

Just by chance I also visited the new Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.  I was very impressed by its design and the funky studying and learning spaces provided.  But what really caught my attention was that some of the signage was in English and Blackfoot.  I am wondering if Calgary Public Library is thinking that they might do that also.  

Just one of many examples of the use of Blackfoot words at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.

Just one of many examples of the use of Blackfoot words at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.

 

What is "Trio?"

Moeller told the audience “Trio” is three, 10-meter tall cartoonish, alien-like characters inspired by the plastic Dunking Birds (aka Drinking Bird) that bob up and down to mimic the motion of a bird drinking. FYI: The heads and necks of Trio will oscillate back and forth by 25 degrees (20 degrees forward and 5 degrees back). Two of the sculptures will be located at the new Central Library’s west entrance and the other at the east entrance.

CMLC’s news release describes “Trio” as “a band of sisters engaged in an endless back and forth motion. Reminiscent of a cross between a hockey player and a ‘drinking bird,’ they perform a visual dialogue or choreography, rocking their tall upper bodies like an upside-down pendulum swinging through the open sky.”

The science behind the drinking bird dates back to Germany in the 1760s. More info:    Drinking Bird

The science behind the drinking bird dates back to Germany in the 1760s. More info: Drinking Bird

Street view of Trio (duo) at the west entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (duo) at the west entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (solo) at the east entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (solo) at the east entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

What is “Fish?”

Moeller’s second commissioned a huge artwork (45 ft. by 10 ft.) is made up of approximately 10,000 “books.” Well they are not actual books, as they don’t have titles, authors or writing in them.  The artist had the blank looks custom manufactured in 12 different coloured spines. Each quasi-book is strategically placed to create a pixelated close-up of the head of a huge reddish-orange fish staring back at you.   

I wonder if this work is a comment on the meaninglessness of books in our digital world and the changing role of libraries.  I also wondered if the artist considered adding an interactive element – for example, allowing people to take out the books, write in them and return them.

The Fish, located on the far wall in the cafe area of the Calgary's new Central Library.

The Fish, located on the far wall in the cafe area of the Calgary's new Central Library.

The Selection Process

CMLC went to great effort to explain the comprehensive process involved in selecting Moeller for this commission – one that began with a “Request for Qualifications” from local, national and international artists, back in 2014.  This created a list of 239 artists, which was narrowed to 35 by a Volunteer Art Committee comprising of representatives from the community-at-large, ACAD, Glenbow, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Arts Development and an artist. 

Five artists were then chosen by the Committee to meet with the New Calgary Library (NCL) project team; Library staff and a local historian so they could better understand the NCL vision and Calgary’s sense of place. The five artists then developed their concepts and presented to the Committee. Moeller was ultimately chosen for the $2 million public art commission, a sum which is inclusive of all fees, expenses, fabrication, delivery and installation costs. 

CMLC is an arms length organization of the City and as such, is not bound by the City of Calgary’s Public Art Policy. However, they have always conducted a very professional and fair selection process for their public art, with the result being artworks enjoyed by the majority of Calgarians.

Cute? Clever? Captivating?

Susan Veres, senior vice president of strategy & business development describes the new public art as “a colourful, captivating concept that brings a playfulness to the library experience – a delightful sense of arrival and wonder for all visitors to enjoy, especially children.”

Moeller’s playful pieces will compliment CMLC’s existing permanent public art in East Village, which are also colourful and playful.

  • Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,” a colourful and delightful mosaic of 956,321 (no I didn’t count them) colourful tiny glass tiles (made in Germany) reflecting Calgary’s history. 
  • Julian Opie’s “Promenade,” which features several cartoon figures on an LED screen representing everyday Calgarians, as they stroll in endless circles around what looks like a mini downtown office tower. Ironically the piece is more accessible to those driving over the 5th Avenue flyover than to pedestrians on the street.
  • Michel de Broin’s “Bloom” which is made up of retro streetlights arranged to look like a giant flower located in St. Patrick’s Island on the banks of the Bow River.
Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,”in East Village.

Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,”in East Village.

As well, “Trio” and “Fish” will also fit nicely with Calgary’s other fun, funky and quirky downtown public art – Plensa’s “Wonderland,” a big white wire mesh head, the tall skinny naked dancing figures titled “Brotherhood of Man” by Mario Armengol, Sorel Etrog’s aliens, Sadko and Kabuki, as well as the folk art cows in the Centennial Parkade’s +15 Udderly Art Pasture.

Sadko and Kabuki on the street on the southwest corner of Bow Valley Square. 

Sadko and Kabuki on the street on the southwest corner of Bow Valley Square. 

Backstory

This is not the first time Moeller has been short-listed for a public art commission in Calgary.  Back in 2014, I was a juror for a public art piece to be commission for the Crowfoot LRT Station. One of the submissions was Moeller’s.  Ironically, his proposal was my choice for the site, but all the other jurors voted for Bill Pechet’s tree-like lampposts with yellow warning lights “leaves.” Not a bad choice, I just liked Moeller’s better.

I was surprised to see a version of Moeller’s Calgary’s proposal installed in the middle of a traffic circle in downtown Nashville this past October. I loved the piece, but the location wasn’t appropriate - the public couldn’t get up close to the 35 cedar poles, each 85 feet tall, that looks like a game of pick-up sticks with references to First Nation tent poles.  What I liked about Moeller “Stix” piece was I imagined kids at the LRT Station running around the poles playing tag and hide-and-seek. This could not happen at the Nashville traffic circle!

Moeller's "Stix" installation in Nashville. Public art needs to be in public spaces!

Moeller's "Stix" installation in Nashville. Public art needs to be in public spaces!

"Roger That" artwork at Crowfoot LRT Station by Bill Pichet. 

"Roger That" artwork at Crowfoot LRT Station by Bill Pichet. 

Chicago Envy

I am still envious of Chicago’s Millennium Park and its two iconic public artworks – Cloud Gate (by Anish Kapoor ) and Crown Fountain (by Jaume Plensa).  Both attract thousands of people daily to come, stay and interact with them. They are destinations in themselves, not just something to glance at and move on. 

However with a price tag of $23 million for Cloud Gate and $17 million for Crown Fountain, I expect I won’t see a work of art on this scale and scope in Calgary in my lifetime.  But we do have two special pedestrian bridges with similar price tags - the Peace Bridge at Prince’s Island and George King Bridge at St. Patricks’ Island.

Link: Putting the PUBLIC back into PUBLICart!

Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park attracts thousands of people of all ages to sit, play and splash. 

Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park attracts thousands of people of all ages to sit, play and splash. 

George King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island and Memorial Drive is like a work of art.

George King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island and Memorial Drive is like a work of art.

Last Word

I expect Moeller’s “Trio” and “Fish” will be loved by Calgarians.  While some will complain about the $2 million budget and some will complain “why wasn’t a Calgary or Canadian artist selected?” I think that will always happen.  You can’t make everyone happy and than includes me!

However, I do think we missed an opportunity to do something special by not working with Canada’s indigenous visual arts community to create a monumental work of art. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary's Top 10 Public Artworks?

Calgary's Audacious New Library

Calgary: East Village A Billion Dollar Work Of Art?

 

 

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Beltline

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

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

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

Beltline

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.42.41 AM.png

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 10.53.47 AM.png

Festivals/Events

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

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

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

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

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

Shops

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip.  

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip. 

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

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

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

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

Metrovino's   front door is in the back alley . 

Metrovino's front door is in the back alley

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage Posters and Music   is a must see for audiophiles. 

Heritage Posters and Music is a must see for audiophiles. 

Cafés

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

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

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

Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Art & Architecture

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.24.33 AM.png

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

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

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

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

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

FEC7ECD8-E5F2-485D-8A62-7DE61B236725.JPG

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.17.00 AM.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

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

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

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

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

Parks/Plaza/Pathways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness/Recreation

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

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

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

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

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

Pubs & Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

Fun/Funky/Quirky 

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

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

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

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