Road Trip: Postcards From Alberta's Badlands & Ghost Towns

This summer we decided to explore some of the off-the-beaten path places in southern Alberta. Our first adventure was to Drumheller (where we haven’t been for decades) and to some of the small town “main streets” along the way, as well as the Badlands.  

This road trip strengthen our resolve to think outside the “city.”

Public Art?

Public Art?

More public art?

More public art?

HOPE….found this book sculpture at the Salvation Army in Drumheller.

HOPE….found this book sculpture at the Salvation Army in Drumheller.

Everybody loves a train ride!

Everybody loves a train ride!

First Stop: Irricana (population 1,216) 

Its name is a contraction of the words “irrigation canals” which are found in the area.  Settlement dates back to 1909 and it was incorporated as a village on June 9, 1911, by which time it had a post office, hotel and general store operated by the Irricana Trading Company.  Today, though the store’s building is still standing, is abandoned and much of the Main Street consists of vacant lots making it look like a ghost-town. While there are some attempts to add some colour and charm with murals, it seems a bit futile.  

However, just outside of town on the highway #9, sits a fun installation of farm equipment mounted high up on posts promoting, Pioneer Acres, where I am told you will find a dozen buildings filled with unique exhibits and artifacts from the early prairie pioneers.  Too bad those buildings weren’t located in the town along Main Street. 

Link:Pioneer Acres https://www.pioneeracres.ab.ca

The Irricana Hotel a reminder of the community’s once bustling Main Street. Today “Old Smoky” stands guard. The plaque says the horse was fabricated by Kevan Leycraft and donated by Melvin Brown to commemorate his residence in Irricana since 1952. He passed away in 1997.

The Irricana Hotel a reminder of the community’s once bustling Main Street. Today “Old Smoky” stands guard. The plaque says the horse was fabricated by Kevan Leycraft and donated by Melvin Brown to commemorate his residence in Irricana since 1952. He passed away in 1997.

Main Street Irricana.

Main Street Irricana.

One of several large paintings attached to the sides buildings in downtown Irricana to add some colour and charm. These were done by artists Leona Fraser in 2009.

One of several large paintings attached to the sides buildings in downtown Irricana to add some colour and charm. These were done by artists Leona Fraser in 2009.

Second Stop:  Beiseker (population 819) 

Lying in a belt of rich black soil, Beiseker was developed as an agricultural service centre. It was founded by the Calgary Colonization Company, whose purpose was to promote settlement by demonstrating the grain-growing potential of the area. The village is named after Thomas Beiseker, a partner and vice president of the company. The surrounding area became known as "World Wheat King Capital" because of its ability to grow wheat. Today, a  small park at the end of main street tells the history of the town. It even has a tiny sod house that you can explore. 

The village began to grow in 1910 when the branch line of the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. The Grand Trunk Pacific line - now owned by Canadian National Railway - was constructed in 1912 to the east of the central business district

With the construction and intersection of Highways 9, 72 and 806 being at the northeast edge of the village, Beiseker came to have a very favourable location in terms of road and rail access. Almost equidistant from Calgary and Drumheller, Beiseker began to emerge as a local service and trade centre for the surrounding rural agricultural area. 

Beiseker currently serves as a centre for local agricultural services including fertilizer, seed cleaning, and soil testing. There is a local UFA outlet, and a Canadian Malting Co. grain elevator serving farmers in the area. Local industries serve the oil patch.  

It is also home to the Canadian office of Lampson International, a large international company specializing in construction cranes and a biomedical incinerator which handles medical waste from hospitals in Alberta, Canada and internationally.  

Not unlike Irricana, wandering Beisker’s main street on a Saturday morning was akin to walking in a ghost town -  nobody on the streets, lots of the main street buildings are gone and those that remain look like they are struggling to survive.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

It is hard to imagine that people actually lived year round in these tiny homes. Put the new “Tiny Homes” trend into perspective.

It is hard to imagine that people actually lived year round in these tiny homes. Put the new “Tiny Homes” trend into perspective.

If you wander around the residential streets your will find these fun gnome fire hydrants. We have seen these before in small Alberta towns. Not sure if this is an Alberta thing, prairie thing or small towns everywhere. They sure are fun.

If you wander around the residential streets your will find these fun gnome fire hydrants. We have seen these before in small Alberta towns. Not sure if this is an Alberta thing, prairie thing or small towns everywhere. They sure are fun.

We decided to have a coffee and pastry at Arcada Cafe….great cinnamon buns…and we almost missed the fact they have a vintage arcade room in the back. A must see for anyone into old arcade games.

We decided to have a coffee and pastry at Arcada Cafe….great cinnamon buns…and we almost missed the fact they have a vintage arcade room in the back. A must see for anyone into old arcade games.

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the fun factor…

Love the fun factor…

Third Stop: Horseshoe Canyon Park 

 While not the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon sits just off Hwy 9, 17 km west of Drumheller in the Canadian Badlands. It is an eye-popping sight. Stand at the edge of this huge U-shaped canyon and try to imagine what it was like when the dinosaurs roamed a lush sub-tropical habitat some 70 million years ago. Today, marked trails guide your wandering down into the canyon to get a closer look at the different soils, rock formations and plants. There are even helicopter rides available on-site.  The park is free and there is lots of free parking. 

Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon

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Fourth Stop: Drumheller (population 7,982)

When we first moved to Alberta in the early ‘80s, Drumheller was best known as the home of the Drumheller Institution (aka prison). Opened in 1967 as a medium security facility, a minimum security facility was added in 1997. Today, it has a capacity of 704 (582 medium security and 122 minimum security). The Institution provides a stable economic and employment base for Drumheller and surrounding area. 

In the late 1980s, Drumheller became famous as a center for dinosaur tourism and research with the opening of the Tyrell Museum in 1985 (it subsequently received “Royal” status in 1990.  Located 6 km northwest from Drumheller, the museum is situated in the middle of the fossil-bearing strata of the Late Cretaceous Horseshoe Canyon Formationand holds 130,000 fossil specimens from the Alberta badlands, Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Egg Site.  In the first year it attracted over 500,000 visitors from over 100 countries. Today, it averages about 350,000 visitors annually. 

We opted to skip the museum (a new exhibition had just opened and it was a zoo) to flaneur downtown Drumheller. To our pleasant surprise, the downtown has several charming shops, restaurants - even a Saturday farmers’ market.  What impressed us most is how the city has capitalized on the dinosaur theme with fun creatures at every downtown corner making for great photo ops. We encounter several families exploring the downtown taking photos of the kids with the dinosaurs.

Love these fun cartoonish characters waiting for you to sit beside them. Perhaps cities take their public art programs too seriously. People just want to have fun….perhaps big cities take their public art too seriously?

Love these fun cartoonish characters waiting for you to sit beside them. Perhaps cities take their public art programs too seriously. People just want to have fun….perhaps big cities take their public art too seriously?

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Treasure hunters will enjoy Drumheller’s downtown art galleries and antique stores.

Treasure hunters will enjoy Drumheller’s downtown art galleries and antique stores.

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Couldn’t resist one more postcard of the fun benches. I preferred these to the World’s largest dinosaur (86 ft high and 151 feet long) that is located a few blocks from downtown.

Couldn’t resist one more postcard of the fun benches. I preferred these to the World’s largest dinosaur (86 ft high and 151 feet long) that is located a few blocks from downtown.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

How clever? All of the streets have not only old names but new dinosaur names. How fun!

How clever? All of the streets have not only old names but new dinosaur names. How fun!

Just outside of Drumheller on the way to Wayne is Asterroid a must stop for those who like ice cream. No road trip is complete with out an ice cream cone.

Just outside of Drumheller on the way to Wayne is Asterroid a must stop for those who like ice cream. No road trip is complete with out an ice cream cone.

 Fifth Stop: Wayne (population 40)

Wayne, located 10 km southeast of Drumheller was once a thriving coal mining town whose population is estimated to have reached a high of 10,000 in 1932. The last mine closed in 1957 and today it is home to about 40 diehard souls. Half the fun of visiting Wayne is navigating a winding road with 11 (no word of a lie)  one-lane bridges along a moon-like landscape to get there. 

In its heyday, Wayne had a school, hospital, hotel, theatre and several stores along its main street.  Today, all that remains is the Rosedeer Hotel which surprisingly still operates as a hotel and its Last Chance Saloon, now a popular watering hole for touring motorcycle groups.  The hotel has only 6 rooms, each with a different theme – Titanic, Golf, Harley, Miners, Honeymoon and Music Room.  

The Saloon often has live music and hosts the annual WayneStock music festival (this year’s festival is from August 30 to Sept 2, 2019).  While we were there the Maybellines were playing the afternoon set – it was magical. 

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Sixth Stop: East Coulee (population 148) 

We “passed” on stopping at the Hoodoos Park just east of Drumheller and proceeded directly to East Coulee and the Atlas Coal mine (a national historic site) site 16 km east of Drumheller. Once home to about 3,000 residents, its heyday was between 1920s and 1950s when, like Wayne, the coal mines were excavating hundreds of thousands of tons of coal.  Today, the old school has been converted into a museum which also hosts an annual spring music festival “SpringFest.”  Unfortunately we arrived just after 5 pm too late to get into the museum. 

The streets of East Coulee are lined with huge trees, giving it an oasis-like feeling compared to the barren surrounding landscape. The tiny miners’ homes are a reminder of how early pioneers lived in modest small homes, each probably housed six or more people.

Nothing is left of its main street except one large building that has been converted into a studio for the manufacturing of dinosaur-related items for museums, movie studios, parades and theme parks.  There is also a small gift shop with a lovely garden.  

Just across the river from East Coulee is The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site that operated from 1936 to 1979. It is the most complete historic coal mine in Canada and is home to the country's last standing wooden coal tipple. In fact, it’s  the largest still standing in North America. Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1989, it achieved  National Historic Site of Canada status in 2002. 

Various guided tour options exist. You can take a train ride through the site, walk up the tipple or tour the 210 foot underground conveyor tunnel. The facilities are open to visitors from May to Thanksgiving weekend. 

With not enough time to do a tour (we arrived 20 minutes before closing) we instead walked up the dead end road west of the parking lot where we had heard there was an art installation.  Sure enough, at the end of the road, stood dozens of five foot tall tree limbs with alien head-like nobs stuck in the ground with rock piles at their base to help them stay standing. Many of the limbs had various small trinkets hanging or sitting on them, creating a somber, graveyard sense of place.  There is no markings or signs indicating who did them, why there are there, which only adds to the mystique. 

You can hardly see the homes for the trees and shrubs in East Coulee. It is like time has passed this community by.

You can hardly see the homes for the trees and shrubs in East Coulee. It is like time has passed this community by.

We were shocked to find a gift shop in East Coulee.

We were shocked to find a gift shop in East Coulee.

All aboard….

All aboard….

Railway bridge from Atlas Coal mine to East Coulee and beyond.

Railway bridge from Atlas Coal mine to East Coulee and beyond.

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Atlas Coal mine site

Atlas Coal mine site

There is lots of mine artifacts next to the parking lot with information panels.

There is lots of mine artifacts next to the parking lot with information panels.

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Loved this coal dust sand box….

Loved this coal dust sand box….

Public Art?

Public Art?

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Seventh Stop: Rosebud (population 87) 

It was founded in the 1885 by James Wishart, while following the Gleichen Trail with his family on their way to Montana. Arriving in the dark, they awoke the next  morning to discover the river valley covered by wild roses- Alberta’s official flower. Wishart then reportedly said, "Here's the promised land; we go no further." 

The beauty of the valley has attracted many people throughout the years, from nature lovers to artists. Notable Canadian artists A. Y. Jackson and H. G. Glyde, members of the Group of Seven, spent the summer of 1944 painting in the area. 

 Over the years, farming and coal mining have been the primary industries. In 1972, the Severn Creek School was shut down as part of an Alberta-wide education consolidating process, forcing local children to be bussed to Standard and Drumheller.  This resulted in the closure of  many local businesses and the hamlet population dropping to under a dozen people. 

But at Easter 1973, a group of young adults from Calgary brought about 40 teenagers out and camped in the then empty mercantile building. This pilot event initially evolved into a summer camp funded by a grant from the Alberta government and then later, Rosebud Camp of the Arts supported by Crescent Heights Baptist Church in Calgary. 

In 1977, a high school was founded using the old buildings of the town as classrooms and emphasizing practical visual, music and the performing arts in its curriculum. In the 1980s, Rosebud School of the Arts began to operate theatre, which eventually developed into Rosebud Theatre and the school shifted its emphasis to post-secondary education. 

Today, Rosebud Theatre runs as a fully professional company that offers programming year round and is a tourist attraction drawing patrons largely from Calgary and Drumheller.  It has a few shops, an art gallery and an excellent museum along its two main streets.  There were probably a dozen people wandering the streets while we were there. There are even an inn and bed & breakfast accommodations for those not wanting to drive home after the theatre. 

While tourism might save Rosebud, it can’t save every small town and village in Alberta. 

Link: Rosebud Theatre 

Link: The Hamlet of Rosebud 

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The old hotel is now the offices for the Rosebud Theatre.

The old hotel is now the offices for the Rosebud Theatre.

The Rosebud Museum/Library has an extensive collection of early 20th century artifacts documenting the life of the early prairie settlers. Admission is FREE.

The Rosebud Museum/Library has an extensive collection of early 20th century artifacts documenting the life of the early prairie settlers. Admission is FREE.

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In the Library…the tag reads “Tailored by Suzanne est. 1952. Dress donated by Minnie Neufeld (Ziegler). Worn during the time Minnie waitressed for the Carolina a well-known restaurant in downtown Calgary. Off duty standards for dress and behaviour were very strict. No gum chewing, spitting or swearing in public.

In the Library…the tag reads “Tailored by Suzanne est. 1952. Dress donated by Minnie Neufeld (Ziegler). Worn during the time Minnie waitressed for the Carolina a well-known restaurant in downtown Calgary. Off duty standards for dress and behaviour were very strict. No gum chewing, spitting or swearing in public.

While wandering the streets we found this house with an elaborate model railway in the front yard. The house next door was in the process of being remodelled to sell model railway pieces.

While wandering the streets we found this house with an elaborate model railway in the front yard. The house next door was in the process of being remodelled to sell model railway pieces.

Lesson Learned

On our way home, we chatted about how this road trip was a good reminder of how Alberta and the prairies have evolved over thousands of years from roaming dinosaurs, to nomadic indigenous people, to agricultural and resource pioneers (first coal, then oil and gas), to today’s corporate farming and resource development.  

It is good for us city folks to get out and explore the real towns and villages (not just the tourist attractions and tourist towns - aka Banff and Canmore) to get a better perspective of the world we share.  While much of the media attention these days is about the urbanization of Canada and decline of rural living, there are still a significant number of people living in rural Alberta communities - 656,048 according to 2016 Census of Canada.

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

Flaneuring Fun In Maple Creek

Delacour: Ghost Town or Golf Town

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Could Be Art Town

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Livability

After recently spending a month living in the middle of Vancouver’s City Centre, exploring its different communities and checking out its condo market, I kept asking myself – how can millennials afford to live there?

And, for that matter how can empty nesters retire there? 

Calgary’s has numerous chill spots like Cold Garden a craft brewery in Inglewood that makes its City Centre a very attractive place to live, work and play.

Calgary’s has numerous chill spots like Cold Garden a craft brewery in Inglewood that makes its City Centre a very attractive place to live, work and play.

Dude Chilling Park is just one of many parks and public spaces that makes Vancouver’s City Centre one of the best places in North America for urban living.

Dude Chilling Park is just one of many parks and public spaces that makes Vancouver’s City Centre one of the best places in North America for urban living.

Affordability

The cost of a used condo in Vancouver is about $1,000/square foot. Translated, this means a modest 750 square foot condo is going to cost you $750,000. If you want a new 1,300 square foot condo be prepared to pay $2,000/square foot or $2,600,000.  That is more than twice the cost of a similar condo in Calgary.  

While you expect to pay a premium to live in downtown Vancouver because of its climate and amenities like Stanley Park, beaches and sea wall, that’s still a pretty stiff price to pay.  

I came away feeling Calgary’s City Centre communities while not on par with Vancouver’s in the way of amenities are not that far behind in their evolution as urban villages and all of them have significant upside potential.  

In chatting with several people in Vancouver and Calgary over the past few months I have often heard Calgary’s City Centre being called a “hidden gem” when it comes to urban living with potential to get even better.  

Let’s compare Calgary’s urban communities with Vancouver’s. 

Food trucks help to animate public spaces throughout Vancouver’s City Centre.

Food trucks help to animate public spaces throughout Vancouver’s City Centre.

Calgary’s City Centre has an amazing patio scene.

Calgary’s City Centre has an amazing patio scene.

Calgary also has a great pedestrian mall that is part of a National Historic District.

Calgary also has a great pedestrian mall that is part of a National Historic District.

The stairs in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a popular place to chill and catch some sun.

The stairs in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a popular place to chill and catch some sun.

Calgary also has some pretty cool places to sit.

Calgary also has some pretty cool places to sit.

Vancouver’s City Centre has numerous high streets offering upscale and fun places to shop.

Vancouver’s City Centre has numerous high streets offering upscale and fun places to shop.

Calgary has its fair share of quirky places to shop, including NERD a shop in Inglewood that specializes in fashion and accessories for roller skating.

Calgary has its fair share of quirky places to shop, including NERD a shop in Inglewood that specializes in fashion and accessories for roller skating.

Vancouver’s City Centre has dozens of funky residential developments.

Vancouver’s City Centre has dozens of funky residential developments.

It doesn’t get much cooler than the front entrance to Pixel condo in Calgary’s Kensington Village.

It doesn’t get much cooler than the front entrance to Pixel condo in Calgary’s Kensington Village.

Unless it might be the Colours condo in Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

Unless it might be the Colours condo in Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

Vancouver has is fair share of fun strange red sculptures.

Vancouver has is fair share of fun strange red sculptures.

Calgary Peace Bridge is one of North America’s signature pedestrian bridges.

Calgary Peace Bridge is one of North America’s signature pedestrian bridges.

Vancouver Art Gallery has funky exhibitions.

Vancouver Art Gallery has funky exhibitions.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has fun exhibitions also.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has fun exhibitions also.

Calgary’s City Centre has tons of things to see and do.

Calgary’s City Centre has tons of things to see and do.

Vancouver House is that city’s newest weird and wacky architecture.

Vancouver House is that city’s newest weird and wacky architecture.

Calgary has its fair share of weird and wacky architecture and public art.

Calgary has its fair share of weird and wacky architecture and public art.

Beltline vs West End 

In many ways, Calgary’s Beltline is the equivalent of Vancouver’s West End, with its tree-lined streets populated by a mix of old single family homes, scattered amongst small mid-century apartments and new mega highrise towers. The Beltline’s 17thAve is akin to Robson Street but with less shopping and more patios.  Tenth and 11th Aves are the equivalent to Davie St and Beltline’s 1st, 4th, 8th, 11th and 14th Street pedestrian corridors are Vancouver’s Denman St.  The Beltline’s Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens is much nicer than the West End’s Roedde House Museum and grounds.  

Calgary’s Memorial Park is very similar to the West End’s Nelson Park in scale but Memorial Park is home to a historic library that includes a very cool musical instrument lending program.  But the Beltline can’t match the West End’s amazing Mole Hill community housing block that includes the preservation of several century homes and a quaint garden pathway.  Both communities are home to their city’s respective LGBTQ communities. 

Where Vancouver’s West End really shines is in its easy access to parks and pathways along English Bay and Stanley Park. While Calgary’s Beltliners are land locked with no direct access to a major park or the Bow and Elbow Rivers. 

Link: Beltline Embraces Density

It is hard to beat Vancouver’s English Bay as an urban playground.

It is hard to beat Vancouver’s English Bay as an urban playground.

Vancouver’s West End streets not only have lovely tree canopies, but also enchanting front yards that gives it a very residential sense of place.

Vancouver’s West End streets not only have lovely tree canopies, but also enchanting front yards that gives it a very residential sense of place.

Vancouver’s West End is a mix of modern and traditional architecture.

Vancouver’s West End is a mix of modern and traditional architecture.

Calgary’s Beltline also funky modern architecture like Mark on 10th, which also has a roof top with hot tub, BBQ, kitchen and lounge for residents to mix and mingle. And yes we have food truck too.

Calgary’s Beltline also funky modern architecture like Mark on 10th, which also has a roof top with hot tub, BBQ, kitchen and lounge for residents to mix and mingle. And yes we have food truck too.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is lined with sidewalk patios that make for great people watching.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is lined with sidewalk patios that make for great people watching.

17th Avenue also has a diverse independent cafe culture.

17th Avenue also has a diverse independent cafe culture.

Jim Deva Plaza is a fun place for people of all ages to hang out along Davie Street.

Jim Deva Plaza is a fun place for people of all ages to hang out along Davie Street.

The Beltline’s equivalent would be Tomkins Park.

The Beltline’s equivalent would be Tomkins Park.

Vancouver’s West End has funky bike racks.

Vancouver’s West End has funky bike racks.

Calgary’s Beltline also has funky bike racks.

Calgary’s Beltline also has funky bike racks.

The Beltine has several pedestrian oriented main streets with pubs, patios, shops and restaurants.

The Beltine has several pedestrian oriented main streets with pubs, patios, shops and restaurants.

While the Beltline may not have as many grocery stores at the West End it has two major grocery stores as well as several specialty grocers like Community Natural Foods.

While the Beltline may not have as many grocery stores at the West End it has two major grocery stores as well as several specialty grocers like Community Natural Foods.

East Village vs Yaletown 

 East Village and the proposed new alliance with Victoria Park and Stampede Park could well become Calgary’s equivalent to Vancouver’s Yaletown. Give it time.  Yaletown had a head start, its transformation into a funky place to live began in the early ‘90s. East Village’s mega makeover started about 15 years later.  

The master plans are surprisingly similar, build highrise residential development next to an iconic new library, along with some major sports and entertainment facilities and a multi-use pathway along the water and people will want to live there. 

Link: East Village a billion dollar work of art!

Vancouver’s signature central library in Yaletown.

Vancouver’s signature central library in Yaletown.

Calgary’s signature new central library in East Village

Calgary’s signature new central library in East Village

The ARC a new residential building in Yaletown has fun hole in the middle.

The ARC a new residential building in Yaletown has fun hole in the middle.

Calgary’s National Music Centre is the gateway between East Village and Victoria/Stampede Park.

Calgary’s National Music Centre is the gateway between East Village and Victoria/Stampede Park.

Calgary’s East Village has nothing to match Granville Street with its mix of bars, clubs, shops, hotels and offices.

Calgary’s East Village has nothing to match Granville Street with its mix of bars, clubs, shops, hotels and offices.

Yaletown’s pedestrian pathway is lined with residential buildings.

Yaletown’s pedestrian pathway is lined with residential buildings.

Calgary’s RiverWalk in East Village is a popular chill place.

Calgary’s RiverWalk in East Village is a popular chill place.

There are several parks located along Yaletown’s pathway.

There are several parks located along Yaletown’s pathway.

East Village Plaza is a poplar meeting place and the gateway to St. Patrick Island.

East Village Plaza is a poplar meeting place and the gateway to St. Patrick Island.

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is located next to East Village.

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is located next to East Village.

East Village’s skyline is changing rapidly with new residential towers being added every year..

East Village’s skyline is changing rapidly with new residential towers being added every year..

East Village’s Fort Calgary is a popular outdoor concert venue in the summer.

East Village’s Fort Calgary is a popular outdoor concert venue in the summer.

Eau Claire / Downtown West vs Coal Harbour

Eau Claire and Downtown West combined are Calgary’s equivalent to Coal Harbour with their modern high-rise residential towers lined up along the water’s edge.  In this case, the master plans differ.  Coal Harbour is home to Vancouver’s mega convention centre and cruise ship terminal making it a tourist hub, whereas Calgary’s Eau Claire/Downtown West is more focused on recreational amenities for residents including the Bow River pathway, Prince’s Island Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Eau Claire Y.  

Eau Claire and Downtown West have tremendous potential, especially if you add in West Village which could become a funky innovation campus for start-ups businesses, perhaps even the next Amazon, Google or Apple if we play our cards right. 

Link: Downtown West a quiet evolution

Vancouver’s Coal Harbour is a boater’s paradise.

Vancouver’s Coal Harbour is a boater’s paradise.

Calgary’s Eau Claire shoreline.

Calgary’s Eau Claire shoreline.

Calgary’s Downtown West shoreline.

Calgary’s Downtown West shoreline.

Coal Harbour’s waterfront pathway

Coal Harbour’s waterfront pathway

The new West Eau Claire Park pebble beach is the perfect sunset watching spot with the Peace Bridge on the horizon.

The new West Eau Claire Park pebble beach is the perfect sunset watching spot with the Peace Bridge on the horizon.

River surfing on the Bow River is popular at the Louise Bridge in Eau Claire

River surfing on the Bow River is popular at the Louise Bridge in Eau Claire

Calgary’s old science centre planetarium in West Downtown is currently being converted into a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old science centre planetarium in West Downtown is currently being converted into a public art gallery.

Calgary’s West Village has huge potential to become a vibrant urban village on the Bow River.

Calgary’s West Village has huge potential to become a vibrant urban village on the Bow River.

Shaw Millennium Park, combined with the new civic art gallery will become the heart of vibrant urban community in the near future. Photo credit: Canadian Society of Landscape Architects

Shaw Millennium Park, combined with the new civic art gallery will become the heart of vibrant urban community in the near future. Photo credit: Canadian Society of Landscape Architects

Across the Water 

Hillhurst, Sunnyside, Bridgeland and Crescent Heights being across water from downtown have many parallels to Vancouver’s Kitsilano and False Creek. “No way” you say! 

From an urban living perspective Calgary’s northsiders have two islands playgrounds. St. Patrick’s Island (which officially belongs to Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village) and St. George’s Island aka Calgary Zoo offer locals an urban playground for families that is hard to beat.  

Granville Island is the urban playground for those living in Kits and False Creek, however, Granville Island is more a tourist attraction than an amenity for residents. You can find fresh food at better prices in lots of places and without the crowds, than Granville’s Farmers’ Market. While Kitsilano’s 4th Street and West Broadway are its two pedestrian streets, Calgary’s north shore communities have 10th St and Kensington Road as their traditional main streets, with budding new main streets along Edmonton Trail, Centre Street and 8th Street.

While Calgary’s north shore communities don’t have the beaches of Kitsilano, they do have some lovely parks with stunning view of the mountains and the downtown skyline. 

Link: Calgary’s NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Calgary can’t match the Kitsilano beach.

Calgary can’t match the Kitsilano beach.

Calgarians like to dress up when then go fishing on the weekend.

Calgarians like to dress up when then go fishing on the weekend.

Kitsilano’s Main Street is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Kitsilano’s Main Street is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Kits is home to both a Whole Foods Market and Safeway grocery store.

Kits is home to both a Whole Foods Market and Safeway grocery store.

Kits is home to numerous great restaurants. We had a great lunch at Jam Cafe, where there is almost always a line-up.

Kits is home to numerous great restaurants. We had a great lunch at Jam Cafe, where there is almost always a line-up.

Kitsilano has several fun murals.

Kitsilano has several fun murals.

Vancouver’s City Centre is also home to Granville Island with its Public Market.

Vancouver’s City Centre is also home to Granville Island with its Public Market.

Vancouver’s False Creek residents enjoy easy access to the waterfront and Granville Island.

Vancouver’s False Creek residents enjoy easy access to the waterfront and Granville Island.

Calgary’s Crescent Height stairs not only offer a great workout but spectacular views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains..

Calgary’s Crescent Height stairs not only offer a great workout but spectacular views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains..

Tobogganing is popular with families in Bridgeland.

Tobogganing is popular with families in Bridgeland.

In Calgary’s City Centre there are street festivals pretty much ever weekend from May to September like this one outside Bridgland’s iconic Lukes Drug Mart a funky cafe, record store, grocery store, drugstore and post office.

In Calgary’s City Centre there are street festivals pretty much ever weekend from May to September like this one outside Bridgland’s iconic Lukes Drug Mart a funky cafe, record store, grocery store, drugstore and post office.

Bridgeland/Riverside has a tool lending library - how cool is that?

Bridgeland/Riverside has a tool lending library - how cool is that?

Coming soon to Bridgeland is the mixed-use Dominon project which will include a co-work space, as well as retail and restaurant.

Coming soon to Bridgeland is the mixed-use Dominon project which will include a co-work space, as well as retail and restaurant.

Calgary’s Kensington Village has two Main Street - 10th St and Kensington Road.

Calgary’s Kensington Village has two Main Street - 10th St and Kensington Road.

Kensington Village is home to the iconic Plaza theatre.

Kensington Village is home to the iconic Plaza theatre.

Kensington Village has numerous great restaurants with sidewalk summer patios.

Kensington Village has numerous great restaurants with sidewalk summer patios.

Kensington also has the fun Container Bar.

Kensington also has the fun Container Bar.

The Bow to Bluff along the LRT tracks in Sunnyside is now fully funded and will create a fun urban gathering space for all ages.

The Bow to Bluff along the LRT tracks in Sunnyside is now fully funded and will create a fun urban gathering space for all ages.

Funky new condos are popping up everywhere in and around Kensington Village.

Funky new condos are popping up everywhere in and around Kensington Village.

Mission vs South Granville

Mission/Erlton and 4th St SW is Calgary’s equivalent to Vancouver’s South Granville.  Both have a main street with upscale shops, galleries and restaurants, mixed in with some mid-rise residential development.  

Mission/Erlton residents have the added bonus of the Elbow River in their backyard and easy access to Stampede Park and Repsol Sports Centre.  

South Granville has more in the way of shops and galleries, as well as the historic Stanley Theatre for its residents to enjoy. 

Link: Mission is marvellous

The Stanley Theatre anchors South Granville street.

The Stanley Theatre anchors South Granville street.

South Granville has numerous mid-century apartments.

South Granville has numerous mid-century apartments.

The side street next to South Granville have lots of smaller apartments, very similar to those found in Calgary’s Mission and Cliff Bungalow.

The side street next to South Granville have lots of smaller apartments, very similar to those found in Calgary’s Mission and Cliff Bungalow.

Meinhardt has been been a Western Canadian culinary destination since it opened in 1996.

Meinhardt has been been a Western Canadian culinary destination since it opened in 1996.

Calgary’s summer festival season kicks off each year with the Lilac Festival along 4th Street in Mission.

Calgary’s summer festival season kicks off each year with the Lilac Festival along 4th Street in Mission.

River rafting along the Elbow River through Mission is popular in the summer.

River rafting along the Elbow River through Mission is popular in the summer.

Mission’s 4th Street is lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops.

Mission’s 4th Street is lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops.

Historic Districts

Inglewood / Ramsay with its historic main street has many of the attributes of Vancouver’s Gastown, without the hordes of tourist, that make living there a nightmare in the summer.  The 2010 completion of the historic Woodward department store site redevelopment was the catalyst for Gastown’s revitalization. It includes a mix of uses from affordable and market housing to SFU School for Contemporary Arts, from the National Film Board office to a grocery and drug store.  

Inglewood’s revitalization was the result of Main Street Program in the ‘90s that focused on the façade restoration of the historic buildings along 9thAvenue to create a mixed-use pedestrian street. More recently new commercial buildings like the Atlantic Avenue Arts Block and West Canadian Digital Imaging building become workplace anchors for its main street.   

As well, several recent condo developments, co-work spaces and numerous craft breweries have made Inglewood/Ramsay a very attractive place to live, work and play.   

Inglewood’s Calgary Brewery site and Ramsay’s Dominion Bridge site and the coming Green Line all have the potential to make Inglewood/Ramsay a model for 21stcentury urban living.

While Calgary’s Chinatown is much smaller than Vancouver’s, it benefits from not having the spillover of undesirable activities from East Hastings. 

Link: Inglewood Calgary’s most unique community

Vancouver’s Gastown is very popular with tourists.

Vancouver’s Gastown is very popular with tourists.

Gastown is becoming increasingly popular as a place to live with the redevelopment of the old Woodwards department store.

Gastown is becoming increasingly popular as a place to live with the redevelopment of the old Woodwards department store.

Gastown streets are not only filled with pedestrians but cars also.

Gastown streets are not only filled with pedestrians but cars also.

Inglewood is getting a mega makeover with several new mixed-use condo buildings along its main street.

Inglewood is getting a mega makeover with several new mixed-use condo buildings along its main street.

Inglewood is home to Canada’s Knifewear’s flagship store as well as numerous other independent shops, restaurants, pubs and shops.

Inglewood is home to Canada’s Knifewear’s flagship store as well as numerous other independent shops, restaurants, pubs and shops.

Inglewood is home to Recordland one of Canada’s biggest and best used record stores.

Inglewood is home to Recordland one of Canada’s biggest and best used record stores.

Inglewood is home to Calgary’s live music scene.

Inglewood is home to Calgary’s live music scene.

Inglewood’s Harvie Passage is fun for hikers, kayakers and bikers.

Inglewood’s Harvie Passage is fun for hikers, kayakers and bikers.

Gotta love public art that you can climb on like this one at Inglewood’s Harvie Passage

Gotta love public art that you can climb on like this one at Inglewood’s Harvie Passage

In My Opinion

As a place to live, Calgary’s City Centre offers as much to its residents in the way of festivals, entertainment, culture, restaurants, bars, shops, parks and pathways as does Vancouver’s. 

What Calgary is missing are the amazing array of urban grocery stores - big and small - that Vancouver offers. However, this is gradually being addressed with the opening of Urban Fare in the Beltline this year and City Market in East Village next year.

What really makes Calgary’s City Center MOST attractive as a place to live is its affordability not only compared to Vancouver, but also Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto.

Now is the perfect time for Calgary to attract more young techies from across North America (who can live anywhere) to establish their live/work lifestyles and grow their businesses here. 

What is needed is a clever marketing campaign that captures the imagination of young entrepreneurs re: why Calgary is perhaps the most affordable and livable urban playground in North America. 

Theodore is Calgary’s newest City Centre condo with homes starting at $290,000.

Theodore is Calgary’s newest City Centre condo with homes starting at $290,000.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on May 18, 2019.

 

 

Calgary: 59+ Free Fun Things To See & Do

Every travel blogger must have a list of fun things to see and do in his/her home town.  I can’t believe I haven’t done a list before.  Better late than never, right? 

Here are my picks for FREE things to see and do with links to websites and blogs that will give you more details. I have tried to make sure the information is correct at the time of posting (May 2019) but always best to check their website before you go.  

Note: This is not a complete list of free things, but just some of the ones I know and like.  If you have others, let me know and I will add to the list.  I am short on free things to do in the suburbs as I don’t frequent those communities as often as perhaps I should.

Tourists love Calgary’s parks, plazas, public art, markets, streets, museums, art galleries, trails, pathways, promenades, rivers etc etc…..

Tourists love Calgary’s parks, plazas, public art, markets, streets, museums, art galleries, trails, pathways, promenades, rivers etc etc…..

Free Gardens

Calgary has two rock gardens to wander – Reader and Senator Patrick Burns.  The Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs (totally a community volunteer initiative) and the historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House are both delightful places to wander. Best to visit these outdoor gardens from May to September. 

Calgary’s downtown boasts two lovely indoor gardens that can be enjoyed year round – Devonian Gardens (fourth floor of The Core shopping centre) and Jamieson Place’s winter garden.

Link: Postcard from Reader Rock Garden

Link: Stop and smell the flowers in Silver Springs 

In the summer, Olympic Plaza becomes Olympic Gardens with beautiful hanging baskets, trees and other ornamentation.

In the summer, Olympic Plaza becomes Olympic Gardens with beautiful hanging baskets, trees and other ornamentation.

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Reader Rock Garden

Reader Rock Garden

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Devonian Gardens

Devonian Gardens

Jamieson Place’s winter garden with three David Chihuly glass sculpture, infinity ponds and living wall.

Jamieson Place’s winter garden with three David Chihuly glass sculpture, infinity ponds and living wall.

Free Museums

The YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre is fun for everyone, with educational exhibits including The Forensic Lab, True Crime Stories, as well as Alberta’s largest collection of policing artifacts – uniforms, weapons and vehicles.  

At the Grain Academy & Museum (open Monday to Friday), learn about how the prairies were settled, early pioneer life and see the world’s largest model train display showing the movement of grain from the prairies to the terminals at Vancouver. 

In the lobby of their ATCO building at 11th Ave and 8th St SW is a mini museum with artifacts from the power industry.  Both Smithbilt Hats and Alberta Boots Company have a flagship stores that double as museums with lots of artifacts. 

And the Glenbow Museum is free the first Thursday of every month after 5 pm. 

Link: Police Interpretive Centre

Link: Grain Academy & Museum

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Free Walks in the Parks

While New York City has Central Park, Calgary has two huge parks – Nose Hill Park in the north and Fish Creek Park in the south.  Nose Hill, a natural prairie grassland park, offers spectacular 360 degree views of the prairies, city, foothills and mountains.  Fish Creek Provincial Park offers walks in a natural forest setting along a trickling creek.  These are just two of the over 5,000 parks in Calgary. 

Downtown’s Prince’s Island Park includes a small sculpture park, as well as the Chevron Learning Pathway (an innovative urban wetland environment) and fun children’s playground.  

Just a few kilometers from the City Centre is the Douglas Fir trail up the Bow River escarpment. This is the furthest east where Douglas Fir trees grow - truly a forest in the middle of the city.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a fun place to wander and see what birds, fish and mammals you can spot.  There is even a fishing pond for kids. A short walk away lies Harvie Passage where you might catch kayakers shooting the Bow River rapids. 

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

Link: Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary’s fishing pond. You can easily see the trout you are trying to catch.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary’s fishing pond. You can easily see the trout you are trying to catch.

Harvie Passage fun

Harvie Passage fun

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Prince’s Island sculpture park

Prince’s Island sculpture park

Calgary has over 5,000 parks offering lots of fun walks.

Calgary has over 5,000 parks offering lots of fun walks.

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

Fish Creek Park is one of the largest urban parks in Canada. It offers numerous trails, as well as the historic Bow Valley Ranche restaurant.

Fish Creek Park is one of the largest urban parks in Canada. It offers numerous trails, as well as the historic Bow Valley Ranche restaurant.

 Free Art Galleries

For those who like art, Calgary has lots of free things to see.  The downtown is literally a free public art gallery with 100s of artworks along the sidewalks, on the plazas and in the lobbies of the larger skyscrapers.  

On the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade you will discover a herd of colourful and playful, life-size cows.   The Udderly Art Pasture is the legacy from the Colourful Cows project in 2000, when over 100 cows grazed in the downtown.  In addition to the cows the pasture has several information panels that tell the story of Calgary’s most successful public art project to date. 

Highlights include works by modern Canadian master painters Bush, Riopelle and Shadbolt at Eighth Avenue Place and Dale Chihuly glass works in Jamieson Place. 

In Calgary City Centre office tower’s lobby hangs a huge expressionistic canvas drawing (32 feet by 16 feet) in its lobby of the Zeppelin by Saskatoon artist, Alison Norlen along with 19 other artworks in the building’s public space. 

The two towers for Bankers Hall have numerous artworks in the lobbies and outside entrances including several interactive Weather Vanes in the southeast lobby that you can actually turn.  

And don’t forget to ask at Eighth Avenue Place and City Centre for their booklet about their art program. 

Calgary also has three free public art galleries. The Esker Art Gallery in the Atlantic Avenue Block in Inglewood, the Nickle Art Gallery in the Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary and the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta Arts University (formerly called Alberta Collage of Art and Design or ACAD). All offer engaging exhibition programs. 

You should definitely check out cSpace a grand old sandstone school in Marda Loop that has been converted into artists studio, a craft gallery space and performance space. It is a fun place to explore with rotating exhibitions in the old school hallway. The preservation and repurposing of the building is exquisite.

The Beltline community just south of downtown has several murals that make for a fun walking tour, especially if you also visit the Beltline’s commercial galleries along the way – Gibson Fine Art, Herringer Kiss Gallery, Loch Gallery, Paul Kuhn, New Zones, Trepanier Baer and VivianArt.

Stampede Park also has numerous murals and artworks that are available for viewing year-round, including the Parade of Historical Posters on the 2nd floor walkway from the LRT Station to the Corral.  They too have an art walk map. 

Link: Calgary has a free public art map 

Link: Beltline Mural map 

Link: Stampede Art Walk Map

Link: Downtown’s Udderly Cow Pasture

Stampede Park has numerous murals and sculptures scattered throughout the park. At the entrance to the Park from the LRT Station on Macleod Trail is a contemporary tipi inspired sculpture - the semi-circle design depicts the historic iconography of the Kainai, Piikani, Siksika, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. The sculpture sits on the original site of Stampede’s Indian Village which was Sun Tree Park.

Stampede Park has numerous murals and sculptures scattered throughout the park. At the entrance to the Park from the LRT Station on Macleod Trail is a contemporary tipi inspired sculpture - the semi-circle design depicts the historic iconography of the Kainai, Piikani, Siksika, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. The sculpture sits on the original site of Stampede’s Indian Village which was Sun Tree Park.

Jack Shadbolt painting in the lobby of Eighth Avenue Place office tower is a great place to sit. There is a coffee shop right there.

Jack Shadbolt painting in the lobby of Eighth Avenue Place office tower is a great place to sit. There is a coffee shop right there.

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

There is public art on almost every block downtown, as well as in the lobbies of most office towers. Free artwalk!

There is public art on almost every block downtown, as well as in the lobbies of most office towers. Free artwalk!

Barclay Mall aka 3rd Street SW has numerous sandstone sculptures as it winds its way from Stephen Avenue to Prince’s Island.

Barclay Mall aka 3rd Street SW has numerous sandstone sculptures as it winds its way from Stephen Avenue to Prince’s Island.

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

The Esker Art Gallery has not only great exhibitions, but it is housed in a mixed-use building full of art.

The Esker Art Gallery has not only great exhibitions, but it is housed in a mixed-use building full of art.

For those interested in local art and design cSpace is a great place to visit as it has a diversity of studios from jewelry to fashion, as well as a craft shop and the main hallway is an intimate art gallery space.

For those interested in local art and design cSpace is a great place to visit as it has a diversity of studios from jewelry to fashion, as well as a craft shop and the main hallway is an intimate art gallery space.

There are numerous murals and street art scattered throughout Calgary’s City Centre, making it an outdoor art gallery.

There are numerous murals and street art scattered throughout Calgary’s City Centre, making it an outdoor art gallery.

Free Street Markets 

During the summer Calgary offers numerous street markets from 4th Streets Lilac Festival that attracts over 100,000 people to monthly Night Markets in historic Inglewood.

If you like the thrill of the hunt while mingling with locals, the Sunday morning Hillhurst Flea Market (Hillhurst Community Centre) is your place.  In the winter, the two gyms are full of treasures; in the summer the market spills out onto the plaza.  

Crossroads Market is a year-round farmers’ market, as well as antique and boutique market, with something for everyone.   

Link: A Sunday walkabout in Hillhurst

Link: Where on Earth Did You Get That

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

 Live Music

Calgary is home to not one, not two but three free Saturday afternoon blues jams – Blues Can, Ironwood and Mikey’s Juke Joint.  Beer is extra.  All three venues also have Sunday jams and live music Monday to Wednesday nights with no cover charge.  Tom Phillips’ Sunday afternoon jam at Mikey’s is about as authentic as it gets for country music jam.

The Ship & Anchor is not only Calgary’s iconic pub, but it also hosts live music especially on the weekends.  In Bowness, Hexters Pub has a fun Motown Jam on Sunday afternoons that will make you want to dance. 

Link: Nashville vs. Calgary: Music Cities

LInk: Hexter Pub

Link: Blues Can

Link: Ironwood

Tim Williams hosts the Saturday Blues Jam at the Blues Can. Wiliams won the 2014 International Blues Competition in Memphis not only as the best solo/duo performer, but as best guitarist.

Tim Williams hosts the Saturday Blues Jam at the Blues Can. Wiliams won the 2014 International Blues Competition in Memphis not only as the best solo/duo performer, but as best guitarist.

Ship & Anchor is always a good bet for local live music

Ship & Anchor is always a good bet for local live music

Free History Tours 

Stephen Avenue is a designated National Historic district with thirty plus early 20thcentury buildings along a 3 block stretch.  Information panels along the pedestrian mall help tell some of Calgary’s history. For more detailed information, get the City of Calgary printable self-guided tour map.

9thAvenue (originally known as Atlantic Avenue) is Calgary’s first main street.  Today it still has much of the charm it did early in the 20thcentury with its mix of shops, cafes and restaurants.   

Three proud Calgarians aka “Walk The YYC” with lots of travel experience offer both free and paid tours.  Check their website to see what they are offering.

Link: Discover Calgary’s Secret Heritage Walking Tour

Link: City of Calgary Self-Guided Tour

Link:  WalkYYC Free Tours

Stephen Avenue Walk (8th Avenue from 1st St SE to 3rd St SW) is lined with historical buildings from the early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue Walk (8th Avenue from 1st St SE to 3rd St SW) is lined with historical buildings from the early 20th century.

In the summer you will want to be on Stephen Avenue Walk at noon hour when 10,000+ people walk the walk. It is full of patios and vendors that create a festival-like atmosphere.

In the summer you will want to be on Stephen Avenue Walk at noon hour when 10,000+ people walk the walk. It is full of patios and vendors that create a festival-like atmosphere.

The Hudson’s Bay Company department store is the jewel of the Stephen Avenue Historic District..

The Hudson’s Bay Company department store is the jewel of the Stephen Avenue Historic District..

Memorial Park Library is just one of dozens of historic sandstone buildings in Calgary’s City Centre.

Memorial Park Library is just one of dozens of historic sandstone buildings in Calgary’s City Centre.

cSpace is a must see for anyone interested in historical preservation and repurposing. It is fun to visit anytime, but on Saturdays in the summer is has a farmers’ market that adds a nice buzz.

cSpace is a must see for anyone interested in historical preservation and repurposing. It is fun to visit anytime, but on Saturdays in the summer is has a farmers’ market that adds a nice buzz.

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

Exploring Calgary’s Chinatown is fun. Be sure not to miss the ceiling of the Chinatown Cultural Centre.

Exploring Calgary’s Chinatown is fun. Be sure not to miss the ceiling of the Chinatown Cultural Centre.

Walk around downtown and you will discover an intriguing mix of old and new architecture.

Walk around downtown and you will discover an intriguing mix of old and new architecture.

Free Wading  

In the summer, there is free wading (no lifeguards) in the Bow River at Edworthy Park and along the Elbow River at Stanley Park and Sandy Beach (which isn’t actually sandy).  Free wading pools can be found in Bowness Park, Eau Claire Plaza, Prairie Winds Park and Riley Park.  Memorial Park as some fun small fountains that kids love to run through.  

Link: City of Calgary Wading Pool and Splash Parks

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

Memorial Park fountain fun.

Memorial Park fountain fun.

There are pebble beaches all along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

There are pebble beaches all along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Free Skating

The Shaw Millennium Park has one of the world’s largest free public skate parks (skateboarding and BMX biking) – with separate areas for beginners, intermediates and experts.  In the winter, free ice skating at Bowness Park and Olympic Plaza is very popular.

Link: Shaw Millennium Park

Link: Bowness Park

Link: City of Calgary outdoor rinks

Bowness Park skating fun

Bowness Park skating fun

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Free +15 Skywalks

Explore Calgary’s +15 walkway, the world’s longest elevated indoor walkway (20km) with 60+ bridges connecting over 100 buildings in the downtown.  This is an especially great idea for a winter adventure when too cold to walk outside.  It is known as the Plus 15 because the bridges are 15 feet above the sidewalks. It is like a futuristic indoor city with shopping, cafes, gardens, hotels and lots of public art.  

Make it a treasure hunt. Without going outside, can you find the bush plane hanging from the ceiling (at Suncor Energy Centre) or the hanging Chihuly glass sculptures (over the infinity pool in Jamieson Place winter garden), the First Nations masks (in Devonian Gardens), the painted cows (in the Centennial Parkade) and the etched poetry on the glass (on the bridge from First Alberta Place)?  Don’t worry if you get lost.  Calgarians are very friendly and they will help you find your way.

Link: Calgary’s +15: Love It or Hate It?

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The Core Shopping Centre is the hub of the +15 system with four floors of shops.

The Core Shopping Centre is the hub of the +15 system with four floors of shops.

Bush Plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre office tower lobby.

Bush Plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre office tower lobby.

There are lots of cafes and places to grab a bite to eat while you explore the +15 maze.

There are lots of cafes and places to grab a bite to eat while you explore the +15 maze.

The +15 system is full of atriums that become an urban oasis in the winter. Brookfield Place Atrium.

The +15 system is full of atriums that become an urban oasis in the winter. Brookfield Place Atrium.

Some of the +15 bridges are like walking through a work of art like this one linking the Municipal Building to Arts Commons. Each of the 60+ bridges are different.

Some of the +15 bridges are like walking through a work of art like this one linking the Municipal Building to Arts Commons. Each of the 60+ bridges are different.

The + 15 is full of fun fountains, waterfalls, plazas, winter gardens and public art.

The + 15 is full of fun fountains, waterfalls, plazas, winter gardens and public art.

Free Recreation 

For a real challenge, join locals on the Memorial Drive stair climb.  There are 167 steps divided into 11 flights and make for a great workout whether you walk or run them! Maybe even take the “10 laps stair” challenge, starting at the bottom and finishing at the top.  Do it in under 17 minutes and you are an Olympic athlete. Supposedly, 28 to 35 minutes is average but personally I think if you can’t finish, you are average.

Calgary also offers over 1,000 km of free cycling, running and walking trails throughout the city. You are never very far from a pathway.  

For those who want a real challenge, there is the 130km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway pathway that that encircles circles the entire city. 

Memorial Park stair challenge

Memorial Park stair challenge

The climb to the top is worth it as it offer a spectacular view of the city’s skyline, the mountains and the Bow River valley.

The climb to the top is worth it as it offer a spectacular view of the city’s skyline, the mountains and the Bow River valley.

Running along the Bow River is a popular recreational activity with the Peace Bridge being one of the highlights.

Running along the Bow River is a popular recreational activity with the Peace Bridge being one of the highlights.

The Edworthy Park Hill challenge - run or ride - up or down!

The Edworthy Park Hill challenge - run or ride - up or down!

The Rotary Mattamy Greenway is family friendly with lots of playgrounds and other places to stop and play.

The Rotary Mattamy Greenway is family friendly with lots of playgrounds and other places to stop and play.

Free fly fishing along the Bow River - bring your equipment!

Free fly fishing along the Bow River - bring your equipment!

Bow River Promenade

The quintessential Calgary experience is to walk along the 3 km Fort Calgary to the 14th Street Bridge. Not only will you get to enjoy the majestic Bow River, but you will also discover the quaint linear Nat Christie Sculpture Park, The Wave (river surfing) at the 10th Street bridge, the iconic Peace Bridge by Santiago Calatrava, Barclay Plaza with its wading pool, Jaipur Bridge to Prince’s Island, catch a glimpse of the beautiful Chinatown Cultural Centre and Sien Lok park, the historic Centre Street Bridge with its majestic lions, the historic Simons Building in East Village and the very cool George King Bridge to St. Patrick’s Island with its pebble beach, public art and other amenities.  Final destination - Fort Calgary where the Elbow River flows into the Bow River.  

Along the way, enjoy Calgary’s stunning skyline with iconic towers by international architectural firms like Norman Foster, Bjarke Ingles (BIG) and SOM. In the summer, especially on weekends, you will be joined by hundreds of colourful rafts floating down the river. 

Link: Calgary: A Bow River Bike Ride

Link: Bridges Over The Bow

You will find lots of public art as you walk along the Bow River like these pieces near the 14th Street bridge.

You will find lots of public art as you walk along the Bow River like these pieces near the 14th Street bridge.

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

Enjoy a sunset at Eau Claire’s pebble beach with the Peace Bridge in the background.

Enjoy a sunset at Eau Claire’s pebble beach with the Peace Bridge in the background.

The Eau Claire Promenade is the perfect spot for a leisurely walk and some good people watching.

The Eau Claire Promenade is the perfect spot for a leisurely walk and some good people watching.

There are lots of great places to sit in Prince’s Island.

There are lots of great places to sit in Prince’s Island.

Historic Centre Street Bridge

Historic Centre Street Bridge

One of the best spots to stop along the Bow River for refreshments and people watch is at the Simmons Building in East Village.

One of the best spots to stop along the Bow River for refreshments and people watch is at the Simmons Building in East Village.

There is a great roof top patio on the roof of the Simmons building but it isn’t free.

There is a great roof top patio on the roof of the Simmons building but it isn’t free.

Free chaise lounge chairs

Free chaise lounge chairs

You never know what you will happen upon when exploring Calgary’s Bow River pathways.

You never know what you will happen upon when exploring Calgary’s Bow River pathways.

While walking along the Bow River you will find several pedestrian bridges allowing you to criss-cross back and forth to enjoy the river and downtown architecture from different perspectives.

While walking along the Bow River you will find several pedestrian bridges allowing you to criss-cross back and forth to enjoy the river and downtown architecture from different perspectives.

Central Library

Calgary’s newest free fun thing to do is to hang out at the new Central Library, stunning inside and out.  Built over a transit tunnel, kids will love watching the trains disappear and emerge from the tunnel from the brow of the building (shaped like a fly-fishing float boat or a luxury cruise ship).  There is also great children’s play area.  The TD Great Reading Room pays homage to the library tradition of having a communal place for patrons to read at long communal tables.  As well, the Calgary’s Story area will appeal to anyone interested in local history. Grab a book, find a chair and read to your heart’s content.

 Link: Step Inside The World’s Most Futuristic Libraries

Calgary’s new Central Library is being heralded as one of the most beautiful new buildings of 2018. photo credit Architectural Digest

Calgary’s new Central Library is being heralded as one of the most beautiful new buildings of 2018. photo credit Architectural Digest

Free Train Ride

Calgary’s LRT trains are free in the downtown, so walk from one end of downtown to the other (about 2km) and then take the train back. Or take the train both ways.  Kids love hopping on and off.  You can do it as many times as you want - for FREE.

Link Downtown Calgary’s 7th Ave Corridor: Good but not great!

Hop on and hop off the LRT in downtown Calgary as many times as you wish for free.

Hop on and hop off the LRT in downtown Calgary as many times as you wish for free.

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Last Word 

So, there you have some my picks for FREE fun things to see and do in Calgary.  I hope this list will be useful not only to anyone planning a visit toCalgary, but also to those who live in Calgary and have visiting family and friends looking for some fun things to do.

Remember, if you have others, let me know and I will add them to my list. 

Here are some links to other blogs that will be helpful to tourists or visiting family and friends looking for things to see and do.

The Streets of Calgary

Fun Calgary Restaurants

Uniquely Calgary Shopping Experiences

Calgary Military Museums

 

Rennie Museum: Dares to be different!

While most art museums allow you come and go as you wish, wandering the galleries at you own pace, this is not the case at the Rennie Museum in Vancouver. And that is a good thing. 

It is just one of ways the Rennie Museum dares to be different.

Catherine Opie, 700 Nimes Road exhibition

Catherine Opie, 700 Nimes Road exhibition

First off, the Rennie Museum isn’t a public art museum. It’s a private museum with rotating exhibitions from the extensive collection of international contemporary art of Vancouver art collector, Bob Rennie. Second, there is no curator of the exhibitions. Rather Rennie self-curates from his collection what pieces he wishes to exhibit.  Thirdly, the museum is only open on Saturdays and only to those making a reservation for one of the day’s tours. And it’s also always free! 

A bit elitist? Maybe? But, I love to explore off the beaten path places, which is the case for the Rennie given its unassuming location in Vancouver’s Chinatown - not exactly the place you would expect to find a contemporary art museum.  

Saturday tour at Rennie Museum.

Saturday tour at Rennie Museum.

Collecting

Spring 2019: Collected Works consists of four exhibitions featuring the works of four artists - Andrew Grassie, William E. Jones, Louise Lawler and Catherine Opie.  The common theme is portraying the spirit of collecting in our everyday lives.  There is also a secondary theme that speaks to the importance of objects to humans and how they often define a person. 

In the main floor gallery, hang four small scale paintings by Scottish painter Andrew Grassie that at first look like photographs because of their small size (25.7 x 33.3 cm)and life-like detail. 

On the opposite wall, is a selection of photographs by American artist Louise Lawler depicting art installed in various private and public settings, and which cleverly play off Grassie’s work, depicting art an art collector’s apartment and the same artworks in packing crates in a warehouse.

Personally, I related more to Lawler’s photos which seemed more intimate and voyeuristic compared to the rather mundane and esoteric Grassie paintings.

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Elizabeth Taylor

On the second floor are two other exhibition galleries and a video space.  The most interesting exhibition to me was that of American photographer Catherine Opie who was allowed access to Elizabeth Taylor’s home shortly before her passing.  The exhibition titled “700 Nimes Road (2010-2011)” (the title being Taylor’s home address) is an intimate portrait of Taylor’s life via the objects she collected and how she displayed them in her home.  Each photo is a vignette of Taylor’s everyday life, from her collection of shoes and cat, to her make-up table full of brushes.  Some reflect her glamorous life, but many are familiar things like photos of family and friends found in most homes. The twist being Taylor’s photos include people like Michael Jackson and one of the objects lying around is a letter from Paris Jackson.  Opie’s photos are a reminder not only of the importance of objects in everyone’s lives, but also how these objects document what is important to us and to some extent who we are. 

It was here I realized the value of our tour guide. A couple of Opie’s photographs of Taylor’s jewelry were very blurry, making me wonder why the artist kept these photos and why anyone would want to collect them.  I expect most visitors would have shaken their heads when they saw them and thought “anyone could do that!” and moved on quickly.  

However, our guide explained the works were intentionally out of focus as Opie wanted to convey that after a person dies, the memory of the person fades away; we lose focus and clarity of the them. How clever. I would never have figured that out.  It was just one of the many insights our guide provided during the tour.  It would have taken huge didactic panels to share all such insights.

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A complete list of the photos in the exhibition give you a sense of the objects Opie chose to photograph from everyday things to special mementos.

A complete list of the photos in the exhibition give you a sense of the objects Opie chose to photograph from everyday things to special mementos.

Alexander Iolas

In the second upper gallery was an exhibition of 22 photographs by American artist and filmmaker William E. Jones, depicting the Athens home of the iconic art dealer and collector Alexander Iolas, who had hoped one day it would become a museum.  The huge home housed over 10,000 ancient and contemporary artworks. However, the Greek government rejected the offer of his villa and collection and when he died in 1987 the collection was plundered, looted and the villa vandalized.  

Half of the Jones’ photos were taken in 1982 and half were taken in 2016 after Iolas had passed away and his home was in ruins. Jones’ photos successfully depict how Iolas lived an extraordinary life collecting and exhibiting the works of Duchamp, Warhol, Magritte, Ernst and sadly it all ended up in ruins. The exhibition also includes the 30-minute film “Fall into Ruin” (2017) which combines the photographs of Iolas’ home with shots of contemporary Athens and antiquities on display at the National Archaeological Museum, providing another layer of context of how art collections define time, place and person.  

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Art & Object

Also, in the large gallery with Jones’ photos is Louise Lawler’s huge black and white digital drawing titled “Pollock and Tureen” created in 2008.  The top of the piece is a computer-generated tracing of shapes of the paint drops of a Jackson Pollock drip painting creating a network of flowing lines and shapes that is both playful and perplexing.  At the bottom is an everyday tureen using the same technique which captures the shapes of light reflecting off the surface of the object. Together, it looks like an abstract still life - with the tureen sitting on a credenza with the Pollock painting on the wall behind.  It is impressive not only in size and simplicity of concept, but how it juxtapositions art and object. 

The piece exists as a digital file that can be printed on vinyl to any size for exhibition and then discarded at the end of the exhibition. In the Rennie Museum’s case the piece a humungous, I’d estimate it at 60’ by 30’. 

Sharing the gallery space with Jones’ photos of Iola’s 20thcentury masterpieces and century old antiquities, Lawler’s work reminds us of how modern artifacts have become much more disposable than those of previous generations. 

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Importance of a tour guide

Throughout the tour, our guide used the art to illustrate how almost all humans over time have been collectors of something and that on some level, we curate our own lives with the objects that we surround with. Whether it is collections of high-priced art or something as simple as a collection of seashells. She often posed open ended questions like: What do these objects say about us? What kind of portrait do they construct of their owners? We were left to ponder.

 Tour participants were asked to think about what happens to one’s objects when passes away.  Are they preciously packaged and sent off to high value auctions as was the case with Elizabeth Taylor's jewels? Or, do they become victims of carelessness and vandalism as was the case with Villa Iolas.  Or do they end up in thrift stores, garage sales and landfills?

Our tour guide, Fiorela Argueta who is currently finishing her BA in Art History at the University of British Columbia struck the right balance of enthusiasm and education. It was much better than reading dry didactic (and often too academic) information panels. 



Last Word

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I was told the reason the Rennie Museum is by tour only is that Bob Rennie wants people to have a thoughtful experience with the art and not just the quick “glance and go” experience so typical of many visitors to art galleries and museums.  I respect that.

Perhaps, “tour only” is something more galleries and museums should think about to create more value to their visitor experience.  Maybe instead of having somber-looking security guards positioned in every gallery, educators could be hired to give small group tours every 15 or 30 minutes and therefore no need for security.  Might commercial galleries benefit from at least offering to take visitors on a short say 5 minute, guided tour of the artworks rather than letting people aimlessly wander the gallery while they sit behind their desk? 

Spring 2019: Collected Works runs until June 15, 2019. The Rennie Museum is located in the Wing Sang Building, 51 East Pender Street, Vancouver. Expect your tour to last about an hour with time at the end to further explore the exhibitions and video on your own.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by Galleries West Magazine.

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

Glenbow: Paul Hardy A Stroke of Genius

Staircases as art!

Montreal Museum of Modern Art: The Human Hand

 

 

Fairy Tale Postcards from University of British Columbia

One of the things we love to do when visiting any city is to flaneur the university and college campuses. Why? Because we are almost always reward with a fun experience. A recent visit to the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) campus was certainly no exception.

We found some amazing fun fairy tales books and illustrations.  

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Looking for hidden gems

While most people visiting UBC would immediately head to the world renowned Museum of Anthropology (MOA), we decided to explore the rest of campus first – Student Centre, Alumni Centre, Arts Building, Belkin Art Gallery etc.  While we didn’t find any hidden treasures, we did get a private behind the stage tour from the Marketing Director at the Wood Theatre. 

We did end up at MOA but it didn’t grab our imagination so we continued to wander the campus as it was a lovely spring afternoon for flaneuring UBC’s inviting pedestrian malls. Soon we noticed dozens of students enjoying the sun in the amphitheatre space in front of what looked like the oldest building on campus. We decided to head in that direction, thinking old buildings often have interesting things to see inside.

To our disappointment only the façade was old, the inside had been renovated and added to.  

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Had we struck out?

Then we noticed two interesting display case in the lobby with some fun historical fairy tale books, from around the world with great illustrations. Looking around we realized there were six other display cases with more historical fairy tale books. This is exactly what we were looking for – something fun, quirky and unique.       

We continued to look around and found the dramatic John Nutting glass sculpture hanging from the ceiling in the staircase, but nothing else captured our attention so we headed for the exit.  Fortunately, as we were heading out we notice a sign saying Rare Book and Special Collections Library down stairs.   

We both immediately said “Let’s check it out” as we have been rewarded in rare book collection libraries before.  Eureka…not only were nine more display cases with curated fairy tale books vignettes from the UBC’s collection, but there was also a well curated exhibition of The Chung Collection chronicling early B.C. history, immigration and settlement and its link to the Canadian Pacific Railway.  

The Rare Book and Special Collections staff Chelsea Shriver and Hiller Goodspeed were amazingly helpful, sharing with us more information about the exhibitions, the library and the fact three graduate students at the UBC iSchool (Library, Archival and Information Studies) - Renee Gaudet, Karen Ng and Ashlynn Prasad - had curated the exhibition titled “Across Enchanted Lands: Universal Motifs in Illustrated Fairy Tales.”  Kudos to them as they did a great job creating vignettes that were entertaining, engaging, educational and enlightening.    

Here are some postcards from both exhibitions, I hope will give you a sense of the incredible scope of the exhibitions and detail of the illustrations. I apologize that some of the text and photos are cropped poorly but that was to avoid the glare from the lights and glass.

Each of the display cases had a text panel and then several books relating to the theme described in the panel. The displays also included hand painted red and gold colouring with origami like flowers and figures created by Dr. Kathie Shoemaker the exhibition supervisor.

Each of the display cases had a text panel and then several books relating to the theme described in the panel. The displays also included hand painted red and gold colouring with origami like flowers and figures created by Dr. Kathie Shoemaker the exhibition supervisor.

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The Chung Collection

When Wally Chung was just six years old he spent many hours in his father’s Victoria tailor shop. One thing in particular that fascinated him was a colourful poster of the Empress of Asia, the CP ship that brought his mother to Canada in 1919. It fired the boy’s imagination and inspired hime to start collecting.

Starting with clippings for his scrapbooks, Dr. Chung spent more than 60 years assembling on the most extensive collections of its kind in North America. The Chung Collection includes more than 25,000 rare items: documents, books, maps, posters, paintings, photographs, silver, glass, ceramic ware and other artifacts related to early B.C. history, immigration and settlement and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

(excerpt from the exhibition brochure)

Link: Video The Chung Collection (definitely worth watching)

Link: UBC Rare Books The Chung Collection

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Everyday Tourist Travel Tips

  1. If you are in Vancouver and have time you should definitely check out the Rare Book Library’s exhibitions at UBC.  The Chung Collection will probably still be there as it is a permanent exhibition, but the fairy tales book exhibition is only on until the end of May 2019. But I am sure it will be replaced by something equally as interesting.

  2. If you are visiting a new city you should always plan to spend a day at their major university or college campus wandering the buildings, opening doors and seeing what you can find behind them.

  3. And, if you haven’t visited the university or college campus in your city for a long time (or ever) you should think of doing so as they probably have some great things to see – rare books, public art, gallery/ museum exhibitions, architecture, gardens etc. 

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

UofC Hidden Gem: The Book Dissected

A-mazing University of New Mexico campus

University of Calgary’s public art gets no respect

University of Arizona: Resort or Research? 


 Glenbow’s Fabulous Free First Thursday Nights

I am guilty as anyone when it comes to only visiting the Glenbow when it’s free. I can’t remember the last time I paid admission to go to the Glenbow.  I even used to be part of the Calgary’s visual arts community! And I am pretty sure I am not alone as I can’t recall when a friend or colleague last said, “We were at the Glenbow and saw this amazing exhibition. You must go.” 

Meryl McMaster’s “Dream Catcher” welcomes you to her provocative exhibition “Confluence” one of several worth seeing exhibitions on at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

Meryl McMaster’s “Dream Catcher” welcomes you to her provocative exhibition “Confluence” one of several worth seeing exhibitions on at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

First Thursday Fun

A visit to the Glenbow on March 7 for their “FREE First Thursday” (i.e. 5 to 9 pm the first Thursday of each month - thanks to sponsor Servus Credit Union) was very enlightening. The place was packed by 6:30 pm with over 700 people already having been through the Christian Dior feature exhibition (a fact direct from the security woman with the clicker in her hand). I’d guess there probably were a couple of hundred people in the gallery looking at the exhibition (not sure how you could see much as it was shoulder-to-shoulder people) and another couple of hundred in a line-up that snaked its way past three other exhibitions.  

It was so crowded, I almost thought I was in Disneyland. 

And, it wasn’t just the Dior exhibition that was busy. The entire museum was buzzing with hundreds of people of all ages, enjoying the other exhibits be it the Mavericks exhibitions on the third floor (that’s been there for 12 years), the exhibition of new works by Chris Cran, one of Calgary’s most respected visual artists or the historical art exhibitions.  I wonder how many, like me, came for the Dior exhibition like me, but weren’t going to wait in line.  No matter, they were looking at the art and seemed to be enjoying it.  

In fact, as it turned out, Zoltan Varadi, Glenbow’s Communication Specialist reports that over, 3,000 people visited the Glenbow after 5 pm that day, exceeding the average First Thursday attendance by 1,000 people.  

The Christian Dior exhibition is in the background the people in the foreground are the beginning of a long line-up of people waiting to get into the exhibition.

The Christian Dior exhibition is in the background the people in the foreground are the beginning of a long line-up of people waiting to get into the exhibition.

There is obviously a pent up demand to visit the Glenbow.  

I am pretty sure the Glenbow doesn’t look like this on the other Thursday nights, unless there is a free members and guest opening reception for a new blockbuster exhibition. In fact, if my math is correct (based on their 2018 Annual Report), the Glenbow’s average daily attendance is about 350 people (excluding school programs). 

Question: How do you go from 350 a day to 500 an hour?

Answer: Offer free admission. 

At any given time the Glenbow’s second floor art gallery offers several exhibitions on different aspect of the visual arts, from historical to contemporary.

At any given time the Glenbow’s second floor art gallery offers several exhibitions on different aspect of the visual arts, from historical to contemporary.

Kent Monkman’s installation titled, “The Rise and Fall of Civilization” with its three figures at the edge of a cliff makes multiple references to civilizations past and present.

Kent Monkman’s installation titled, “The Rise and Fall of Civilization” with its three figures at the edge of a cliff makes multiple references to civilizations past and present.

The exhibition of Blackfoot traditional clothing is a clever juxtaposition to the Christian Dior exhibition.

The exhibition of Blackfoot traditional clothing is a clever juxtaposition to the Christian Dior exhibition.

Obviously, people want to visit the Glenbow, just not pay for it, or at least not pay the current admission fees. 

Are admission fees too high?  Why won’t we pay $18 (adult), $12 (senior - 65+), $11 (youth - 7 to 17) or $45 (family – 2 adults and 4 kids)?  (Note: children under 6 are free.) Why don’t more Calgarians buy a Glenbow Membership $55 (adult), $75 (couple), $20 (student), $40 (senior), $65 (senior dual) and $90 (family).  Currently, only 2,700 of Calgary’s 559,000 households have Glenbow Memberships. That’s less than 1%. 

FYI: I think this schedule is unfair to single Calgarians.  If a couple can buy at membership for $75 then a single should get one for half that price - same for seniors. 

We don’t seem as price adverse for other recreational and entertainment activities. For example, most Calgarians willingly pay $14 for a 2 hour movie at the theatre? We don’t blink an eye to pay $20 for brunch or lunch at a restaurant. Heck, a good glass of wine at diner these days is $12. A round of golf is $50+ for four hours.  A drop in class at a good yoga studio is about $20 for 90 minutes. 

But $18 to visit the Glenbow? No way. 

Couple enjoying Chris Cran’s fun new works.

Couple enjoying Chris Cran’s fun new works.

Let’s get creative…

The Glenbow’s admission prices are slightly higher than those at Edmonton’s Art Gallery of Alberta and the Winnipeg Art Gallery but lower than those at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  It should be noted to that the Glenbow is both a public gallery AND history museum so visitors get two experiences for the price of one.  Perhaps there should be one price for the gallery, one for the museum and then a discounted combined price? 

  • I wonder what would happen if the Glenbow was free every day. Would that break the bank?  Would that create opportunities for more corporate sponsorships to make up for the loss admission revenue? 

  • What about experimenting with having every Thursday evening FREE? Would Servus Credit Union sponsor all of them? Or their could there be a different sponsor each week or each month?   

  • What about a free Family Sunday once a month. Yes, adults would have to bring a child under 18 to both get in free. What about free for all children under 18 all the time?  Don’t we want our children to be exposed to the visual arts and know about our local culture?

  • Maybe a couple of free teen days during the year.  Parents could drop them off at the Glenbow and then go do some shopping or have lunch downtown.  Win-win for downtown businesses! Perhaps the Calgary Downtown Association and the Chamber of Commerce might want to sponsor this one. 

  • What about 2-for-1 days?  Maybe a “pay what you want” day in the middle of the week - or one weekend a month.  Theatre Calgary offers a limited number of Pay-What-You-Can tickets on the first Saturday matinee during the run of each the five Mainstage productions.

  • What about a $2 lunch admission for downtown office workers? They aren’t going to pay $18 when they only have 50 minutes or so. 

  • What about $3 after 3 pm?  Happy hour pricing at an art gallery? Given the Gallery closes every day at 5pm (except Friday), this would give people 2 hours to view the exhibits – probably plenty of time for most people.  

  • What about using social media to announce fun special admission rates?  Maybe something like “Show this Glenbow tweet and get in for half price today or tomorrow.” 

  • Perhaps a monthly “Bring a Friend to the Glenbow” day for members.  It would be an added benefit for buying a membership and introduce more Calgarians to the Glenbow’s excellent exhibition and gift shop.  


On Location: Artists Explore A Sense of Place, curated by Sarah Todd provides a past and present overview of life in Canada.

On Location: Artists Explore A Sense of Place, curated by Sarah Todd provides a past and present overview of life in Canada.

Glenbow’s Conundrum

The Glenbow’s attendance has grown over the past five years, from 117,379 to 150,736 (Glenbow’s 2018 Annual Report). However, it begs the question: Has most of the growth been due to Free First Thursdays (2,000/mth X 12 = 24,000) since its introduction in 2016? 

The Glenbow also reports that 50,000+ of the 150,000 attendance is due to the Glenbow’s great school programs. Do the math and the actual paid museum admissions turn out to be about 75,000 (150,000 – 50,000 school tours and 24,000 Free Thursdays). In other words, just three times what is achieved in four hours on Thursday nights once a month.   

Here’s the conundrum. The Glenbow invests millions of dollars each year curating and presenting entertaining and enlightening exhibitions for which there is obviously a huge interest, but there is a huge barrier for people to see them – the price of admission.  At the same time, the Glenbow struggles to generate revenue as government grants have been frozen for many years and corporate donations are not easy to come by. So, they desperately need more admission revenue.  

This flies in the face of more free or discounted admission - or does it? Experimenting with a more creative admission schedule could result in more corporate sponsorship opportunities like the one with Servus Credit Union. Some of the above ideas could actually attract more paid visitors to the gallery (at a discounted price) who would never come at $18, so it means increased admission revenue. 

When Donna Livingstone was first appointed to the position of President and CEO of the Glenbow in May 2013, she said wanted to create “a new kind of art museum.”   In many ways she has done that when it comes to the exhibition, education, event programming and gift shop. 

But little has changed when it comes to admission fees.  Significant research has been done on the pros and cons of free and discounted admission, without any definitive conclusions as every gallery and museum has a different funding model and a different audience. Perhaps now is the time for the Glenbow to experiment with a creative admission fee schedule that would entice more Calgarians and tourists to visit our city’s largest and oldest cultural institution. 

An added benefit of having discounted admission more frequently – it would reduce the number of visitors on the Free First Thursdays, thereby making for a better experience as they have become too crowded. 

Just a suggestion!

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

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

Glenbow: Stroke of Genius

Postcards: Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum

Lacombe: Mural Capital of Alberta 

It seems like every town and hamlet in Alberta, Canada and North America has developed a mural program as a means of trying to attract tourists off the major highway and into town where they might spend a few bucks.  

In addition to attracting tourist, these mural programs can be the catalyst for fostering community pride in both the past and the present.  

In my opinion, fostering community pride is the most important aspect of sustaining community prosperity - be is a small town or a big city.  

Without civic pride, a town or city is destined to decline

Lacombe’s mural program is unique in that all of the murals are hidden in the downtown’s back lanes, rather than on side walls building that can be seen from the main street sidewalks.

Lacombe’s mural program is unique in that all of the murals are hidden in the downtown’s back lanes, rather than on side walls building that can be seen from the main street sidewalks.

I love that you can examine them close up to see the detail of the artist Tim Giles’ painting.

I love that you can examine them close up to see the detail of the artist Tim Giles’ painting.

While many mural programs are based on capturing the history of the community, Lacombe’s murals integrate the actual buildings into the mural so as you wander the alleys you begin to forget we live in the 21st century. I imagine, it is a bit like wander onto a movie set.

While many mural programs are based on capturing the history of the community, Lacombe’s murals integrate the actual buildings into the mural so as you wander the alleys you begin to forget we live in the 21st century. I imagine, it is a bit like wander onto a movie set.

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Murals to the rescue

The first town I remember to created a comprehensive curated mural program in Canada was Chemainus, BC back in 1981. The town’s lumber mill had closed and the town leaders looked to tourism to save the town.  It has been a huge success. Other towns followed - High River, Alberta just south of Calgary, Windsor, Nova Scotia and Huntsville, Ontario.  The later has 90 murals celebrating the work of the Canada’s Group of Seven (note to self, go to Huntsville next time you are in Ontario).  Even I, as an artist, got on the bandwagon, initiating the ill-fated Street Art For Gleichen project while living in Gleichen, Alberta back in 1983.   

Link: Best Outdoor Murals in Canada

Several years ago, I heard Lacombe (100 km south of Edmonton on the QEII highway) had a great mural program and made a mental note to check them out when I was in the neighbourhood. That is exactly what happened on a trip to Edmonton this past January.

There is something intriging about how the murals and the dumpsters are juxtaposed.

There is something intriging about how the murals and the dumpsters are juxtaposed.

Giles’ work successfully integrate the existing buildings into his murals to create a lovely narrative and realism.

Giles’ work successfully integrate the existing buildings into his murals to create a lovely narrative and realism.

More than just murals

Lacombe (population: 13,000) has a lovely historic downtown main street with lots of early 20th century buildings. Who knew they have six designated Provincial historic buildings and the most intact concentration of Edwardian buildings in the province? 

Lacombe has a rich history.  It is named after Father Albert Lacombe (1827 – 1916), a Roman Catholic Oblate missionary who is best known for brokering peace between the Cree and Blackfoot to allow the Canadian Pacific Railway to build Canada’s transcontinental railway. It is where Governor General Roland Michener (1967 to 1974) was born.  In 1907, the federal government set up the Lacombe Experimental Farm, establishing the town as the agricultural hub for the region.  And, it is home to Burma University, formerly the Seventh-day Adventist Canadian University College campus which can be traced back to 1909.  

There are some fun shops including a mid-century bowling alley that look like a hoot.  And they have not one, not two, but three museums – Flatiron Museum, Michener House Museum and Blacksmith Shop Museum. 

Link: Lacombe Historical Resources

Note to self: Next time you are in Lacombe area, give yourself more time so you can check out the Burman University campus and the museums. 

Link: Burman University

But I digress…

Next time I will definitely be booking a lane at Ambassador Lanes.

Next time I will definitely be booking a lane at Ambassador Lanes.

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Lacombe United Church

Lacombe United Church

Michener House

Michener House

Main Street

Main Street

Burma University

Burma University

Mural Capital of Alberta 

I was surprised to discover that most of the murals are done by one guy – Tim Giles. Giles, a self-taught artist, who comes from a family of artists, started creating murals in 2004 as part of Lacombe’s effort to win the Canada-wide “Communities in Bloom” contest.  He didn’t know if his first mural would be temporary or permanent, however they were well received and he was asked to do more.  

“More” meant he would eventually do 20+ murals – all in the back alleys of downtown Lacombe and all depicting the life of early area pioneers (from 1890 to 1910). In 2009, he completed another series of murals depicting life in the 1930s. Using archival photos of local street scenes, his painterly realism style of painting transformed Lacombe’s downtown alleys into a lovely, walk back in time.   

Link: Lacombe Regional Tourism Murals

I was surprised the murals were in such great shape given some are 15 years old. After some digging I learned why. In 2015, St. Albert, Alberta muralist Robert Murray was hired to restore the murals.  There are also new murals being added. Local sign painter turned artist, John Ellenberger (known as Little John) recently created a mural titled Clydesdale Parade based the Clydesdales were the common draft horse used for field work at the Lacombe Research Station.  

While wandering Lacombe’s alleys you quickly began to feel that you were actually wandering into the back yards of homes and businesses at the turn of the century.

While wandering Lacombe’s alleys you quickly began to feel that you were actually wandering into the back yards of homes and businesses at the turn of the century.

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Last Word

What I most loved about Lacombe’s mural program is that it gives visitors an immediate sense of the community’s pride not only in its history, but in its present and future. Rather than let their downtown decline as many smaller rural towns have done, they have kept theirs alive.

They are so proud of their mural they have proclaimed themselves, “The Mural Capital of Alberta.” And, who is going to argue with them?

Lacombe is great example of the importance of “civic pride.” If people are proud of where they live they will take ownership in it. They will ensure it’s streets, alleys and buildings are clean, safe and in good repair, which in turn will make the community an attractive place to live, work and play for themselves, as well as potential newcomers. 

If you ever find yourself in the Lacombe area, check out the murals and experience the community pride for yourself. Even if you have only 30 minutes. 

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

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Meets Art Town

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

2018 Summer of Murals: Northern Hills

Boise: Freakn Fun in Freak Alley 


Edmonton is NOT kicking Calgary’s butt when it comes to urban revival? 

“It’s hard to say how Calgary fell so far behind Edmonton in downtown revival and major amenities. The trend just sort of crept up on us over the past half-dozen years, as Edmonton got a provincial art gallery, the Royal Alberta Museum, Rogers Place, massive additions to downtown MacEwan University, and much else. Not nearly as much was happening here,” wrote Don Braid in his December 19, 2018, Calgary Herald column.

Link: Braid: Calgary’s downtown is set to relaunch and maybe catch Edmonton

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Bigger Picture

I was surprised by Braid’s observation. Where is this negativity coming from? Was I that out of touch with what is happening in Edmonton? I recently spent four days exploring downtown Edmonton to see for myself.

A new arena and a few other developments should not be the measure downtown renewal.   If we look at the bigger picture when it comes to urban living amenities, Calgary has projects that match or exceed those of Edmonton’s.

Let’s have a look at Edmonton and Calgary’s urban revival projects since 2010, when Edmonton adopted a new Downtown Plan – the catalyst for its revival. 

Link: Capital City Downtown Plan 

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

Stantec Tower vs Telus Sky 

 Edmonton’s Stantec Tower and Calgary’s Telus Sky are both mixed-use buildings. Stantec’s first 29 floors are office space with its 30th to 66th floors being residential (454 homes) giving it a height of 251 meters. Coincidentally, Telus Sky also has 29 floors of offices, but only 29 floors of residential (326 homes) for a height of 221 meters.  Architecturally, they are polar opposites.  And while the rectangular, translucent glass Stantec Tower may be taller, Telus Sky, with its bold cubist twisting shape that narrows as it reaches skyward will be an architectural gem.  But wait, Calgary’s new sleek modernist Brookfield Place glass tower, is perhaps a better match for Stantec Tower both architecturally and is just 4 meters shorter.  

Bigger is not always better!

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

ICE District vs East Village

Edmonton’s ICE District, with its glittery new arena, two office towers, hotel/condo and public plaza (under construction), along with a new LRT station hopes to have 1,300 new homes completed by 2021.  

East Village’s The Bow, (twice the size of the Stantec Tower in square footage), two hotels, award-winning Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island Park, a beautiful community garden and playground, six new condo buildings (1,264 new homes and more to come) blows away the ICE district.  And that doesn’t even include the stunning Calgary’s stunning new central library and music museum! 

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Edmonton Centre vs The Core

There is simply no comparison between Edmonton’s tired indoor shopping centre and Calgary’s sunny, four-storey, The Core (redeveloped in 2011) which boast a dazzling, two-block long skylight and renovated Devonian Gardens.  The Core is home to a new Simons department store, while Edmonton’s two Simons stores are in the burbs. 

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

Quarters vs Bridgeland/Riverside 

Edmonton’s plans for the revival of The Quarters was more or less “put on ice” while the City focused on the ICE District.  One project was abandoned for 4 years, before Calgary-based Cidex Group recently came to the rescue and will build a 24-storey residential tower.

Calgary’s equivalent might be the master-planned redevelopment of Bridgeland, the result of the closing of the Calgary General Hospital.  Twelve new condos buildings will have been complete for a total of about 1,500 new homes that will accommodate 2,500 new residents, by the end of 2019.  Bridgeland/Riverside, with its revived main street, has evolved into one of Calgary’s most popular family communities over the past 10 years. Yes, families!

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

Churchill Square vs Olympic Plaza 

Both Edmonton’s Churchill Square and Calgary’s Olympic Plaza are the hearts of their respective city’s cultural district, as they are surrounded by a concert hall, theatres, museum, and City Halls.  

And while Edmonton has its funky new Art Gallery of Alberta building, I was not impressed by their exhibitions as I have been by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum’s recent exhibition programming.  The new $375 million Royal Alberta Museum was nice but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. Touring the lobby, I didn’t get the feeling this was a “must see” place.  For my money, the Glenbow offers the same art and history experience Edmonton has to offer. Programming trumps architecture. 

Similarly, Edmonton’s Win spear Concert Hall and Citadel Theatre and Calgary’s Art Commons offer pretty much the same experiences for those interested in the performing arts. When it comes to the literary arts, Edmonton is renovating its old library for $85 million into a shiny new building while Calgary spent $245 million on a new library building that has received international acclaim. 

Churchill Square is currently undergoing a mega makeover. Calgary is a few years behind with its cultural makeover, but a $400+ million makeover of Art Commons complex and Olympic Plaza is in the works.  There are also plans for a new public art gallery in Calgary’s old Science Centre/Planetarium at the west end of downtown. 

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Northlands Park vs Stampede Park 

While, the future of Edmonton’s Northlands Park is uncertain, Calgary’s Stampede Park flourishes - not only as home to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” but to numerous major events like Calgary Expo, one of Canada’s largest cosplay showcases.  

Quietly, Stampede Park has been evolving with new buildings like the Agrium Western Events Centre and its new Youth Campus that includes the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, Calgary Arts Academy, BMO Amphitheatre and ENMAX Park.  

The construction of three major condo towers is also evidence of the district’s quiet revival. Next step a major expansion of the BMO Centre. 

Plans for the revival of Stampede Park and Victoria Park Calgary over the next 20 years are WAY ahead of those for Northlands Park district. 

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

Urban Parks

While Edmonton undoubtedly has the most dramatic river valley, it is not easily accessible from its City Centre communities.  

In contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are both intimately linked to the everyday lives of those living in our City Centre thanks to constant improvement to the river pathways.  Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s Riverwalk, West Eau Claire Park and two spectacular pedestrian bridges.

Kudos to Edmonton’s City Council who boldly approved the expropriation of 18 lots in the middle of downtown to create a much-needed, 3-acre park, the equivalent of Calgary’s Harley Hotchkiss Gardens that opened a few years ago.  

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Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

Urban Living 

In addition to the above comparisons, Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s funky Inglewood community with its historic main street, Esker Gallery and new condo developments.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s Mission district or how Calgary’s Zoo and Telus Spark easily connect to our City Centre by LRT and pathways.  

Yes, I was impressed with how Edmonton has implemented its 2010 Downtown Plan which includes adding 12,200 new residential units by 2045.  To date an impressive 1500 new units have been completed and 858 are under construction with more proposed.

In Calgary one developer, Qualex Landmark alone has built 1300 units in the Beltline. Today, Calgary has a whopping 9,000+ residential units (75% of Edmonton’s goal) at various stages of development in its City Centre. 

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

Calgary & Edmonton both on the rise!

I am surprise at how a new arena can blind people into thinking Edmonton is booming and Calgary is declining because it doesn’t have one. For too long Calgary has measured the success of its downtown by the number of new office buildings and the number of people working downtown.  

A better measure of downtown revival is the number of new residential developments and the number of people choosing to live near the downtown core.  The fact the Beltline was the fastest growing community in Calgary last year and that there are several major residential developments under construction in our City Centre is testament to the fact Calgary’s downtown revival is on the rise, not decline. 

And, I am happy to report Edmonton’s downtown is also on the rise. In some cases Edmonton is ahead of Calgary when it comes to urban revival and in other cases Calgary is ahead of Edmonton.

Every city evolves in its own way.

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

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best river?

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

19 Reasons NOT to visit Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2019

Back in 2014, Calgary, Alberta, Canada was one of the New York Times top 52 places to travel.  Calgary was lauded for its thriving public art scene, the Peace Bridge and of course, the Stampede.   

Calgary is no longer on that list. (After this blog was posted, Calgary got back on the NYT 2019 list, as a result of the opening of the new Central Library, not sure anyone would visit Calgary just to see a library). Their public art program has been ridiculed locally and internationally for some poor choices and its once thriving downtown is more like a ghost town with 25% office vacancy.  

I have compiled 19 reasons NOT to visit Calgary in 2019.

Even the locals don’t like their public art.

Calgarians’ hatred for their public art can be traced back to 2013 with the installation of a giant blue ring on the side of a highway bridge over some railway tracks in the middle of nowhere. Locals were outraged the City paid $470,000 for what amounted to a glorified lamppost to the European based inges indee art group.  Even the Mayor didn’t like it. 

The good news is Calgary is full of GREAT public art. The downtown has 100+ works of art scattered along its streets, plaza, parks and pathways.  There are hundreds more of museum quality art in the lobbies of downtown office buildings. It is literally one huge public art gallery.  

Link: Top 10 public artworks in Calgary???? 

Yes, Calgary has a major Jaume Plensa sculpture….

Yes, Calgary has a major Jaume Plensa sculpture….

And, yes Calgary also has three lovely Dale Chihuly sculptures in the winter garden of the Jamieson Place office building. FYI…there is also a Dennis Oppenheim piece around the corner.

And, yes Calgary also has three lovely Dale Chihuly sculptures in the winter garden of the Jamieson Place office building. FYI…there is also a Dennis Oppenheim piece around the corner.

In addition to the giant Blue Ring, we also have the giant Red Paper Clip located on the University of Calgary campus, creating a grand entrance to the Olympic Oval skating rink.

In addition to the giant Blue Ring, we also have the giant Red Paper Clip located on the University of Calgary campus, creating a grand entrance to the Olympic Oval skating rink.

This little guy loved the “Famous Five” sculpture in Olympic Plaza.

This little guy loved the “Famous Five” sculpture in Olympic Plaza.

One of the most popular things to do at the Calgary Stampede is to climb all over the “By The Banks Of The Bow” bronze sculpture.

One of the most popular things to do at the Calgary Stampede is to climb all over the “By The Banks Of The Bow” bronze sculpture.

In downtown Calgary there are artworks literally everywhere. FYI…these five hands by Derek Besant spell “DREAM.” How clever is that?

In downtown Calgary there are artworks literally everywhere. FYI…these five hands by Derek Besant spell “DREAM.” How clever is that?

I love this whimsical artwork in East Village along the Riverwalk.

I love this whimsical artwork in East Village along the Riverwalk.

Ah, yes here is the infamous “Travelling Light” aka Giant Blue Ring by inges indee (photo credit: inges indee)

Ah, yes here is the infamous “Travelling Light” aka Giant Blue Ring by inges indee (photo credit: inges indee)

It is still just a frontier town. 

This is kinda true. One of the city’s biggest tourist attractions is Heritage Park, Canada’s largest living history museum, situated in a picturesque 127-acre park on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. The park has over 100 exhibits, a passenger train with two working steam locomotives, an antique midway, an early 20th century main street and Gasoline Alley Museum showcasing and extensive collection of antique cars and related memorabilia. 

Still standing on Stephen Avenue, a national historic district is a small wooden building that survived the Calgary fire of 1886.  Early 20th century homes – Dean House and Cross House – are now upscale restaurants.

Today Calgary is a modern metropolis that is know better for its spectacular new buildings than its frontier shacks.   

Link: Heritage Park  

Heritage Park (photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Heritage Park (photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley

Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley

Does this look like a frontier town to you?

Does this look like a frontier town to you?

The place is a concrete jungle.

You will definitely think that if you entered downtown on the LRT train above Bow Trail high above the huge Shaw Millennium Park skate park (one of the largest free skate parks in the world).

And yes, some of the downtown buildings are bland concrete blocks, but Calgary’s City Centre is full of shiny glass towers that together create one of the best skylines of any city in North America.  The reflections created by the interplay of glass buildings create amazing surrealistic abstractions. 

And, the City Centre is actually full of some amazing green spaces, from Prince’s and St. Patrick’s Island parks in the middle of the Bow River to urban parks like Memorial Park and Riley Park in residential districts. 

Link: Calgary’s City Centre is one of the best in North America

Olympic Plaza is stunning in the summer. It is also nice in the winter with its skating rink.

Olympic Plaza is stunning in the summer. It is also nice in the winter with its skating rink.

Prince’s Island park both a festival park, as well as green space to sit and relax that is literally downtown.

Prince’s Island park both a festival park, as well as green space to sit and relax that is literally downtown.

Memorial Park is popular couples spot….

Memorial Park is popular couples spot….

Does this look like a downtown with no green spaces?

Does this look like a downtown with no green spaces?

It has no hipster districts. 

Sure, Calgary is more an engineer, banker, geologist city than a hip artsy city, but don’t let that fool you. Calgary’s GABEsters (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) know how to wear plaid, eat yogurt and do yoga.  

Fact is, Calgary has some great hipster districts – Beltline and Inglewood being the two best.  If you are looking for live music, check out the Ship & Anchor, Palominos or Ironwood. It if is music festivals you are into, you won’t want to miss Sled Island, the Calgary International Folk Festival or Country Thunder.  If you are into film, you won’t want to miss the Calgary International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival and Artifact Small Format Film Festival. There is also two arthouse cinemas – Globe Cinema and Plaza Theatre.

Link: Beltline: One of North America’s best hipster neighbourhoods

17th Ave is home to Calgary’s hipster street culture.

17th Ave is home to Calgary’s hipster street culture.

Kensington Village is also popular with hipsters.

Kensington Village is also popular with hipsters.

Village Ice Cream’s patio in the parking lot is very popular with the Beltline hipsters in the summer.

Village Ice Cream’s patio in the parking lot is very popular with the Beltline hipsters in the summer.

It is more a “pick-up truck” than a “food truck” kinda town!

 This is true. Calgary is considered to be the pick-up truck capital of Canada, but they are not beat up old pick-ups, but luxury fully-loaded models. And while we might not be the “food truck” capital of Canada, we do have a healthy community of food trucks with fun names like Rolls Rice and Jane Bond BBQ. And you can get everything from Hawaiian, Mexican and Caribbean flavours at Awko Taco, to chorizo wrapped scotch eggs at Crack’d YYC to Venezuelan gluten-free dough stuffed pockets at Arepa Boss. 

Calgary even has a YYCFoodTrucks App that lets you find out where your favourite food truck any time that street food craving hits.  

Lunch hour in downtown Calgary.

Lunch hour in downtown Calgary.

On any given weekend a surface parking lot can become a music food truck venue.

On any given weekend a surface parking lot can become a music food truck venue.

Food Trucks on East Village’s Riverwalk.

Food Trucks on East Village’s Riverwalk.

Food Trucks on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Food Trucks on Stephen Avenue Walk.

There are no good places to eat.

While that might have true 20 years ago, it’s definitely false today.  Recently, 16 Calgary restaurants were included in Canada’s top 100 restaurants compiled by Open Table.  That was second to Toronto but ahead of Vancouver and Montreal.  And on a per capita basis Calgary was #1 in Canada.   

Calgary also routinely places restaurants on EnRoute magazine’s annual top 10 new restaurants in Canada list. 

Calgary has a great mix of restaurants - from traditional steak houses to contemporary fusion.  You can dine in a revolving restaurant 50-storeys above downtown, a rustic cottage on an island in the middle of the Bow River or in a 100+ year old house next to the Elbow River and Fort Calgary. 

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s long time food and restaurant guru, reviews almost 300 favourites, in his 8th edition of “My Favourite Restaurants (Calgary, Canmore and beyond),”

Link: Avenue 25 best restaurants 2018

Link: Top 10 Places To Eat Like A Local In Cowtown

Link: Calgary’s Playful Restaurants

Check out REgrub where everything but the food is recycled. How appropriate and fun is it to enjoy a meal in Calgary sitting in a barrel?

Check out REgrub where everything but the food is recycled. How appropriate and fun is it to enjoy a meal in Calgary sitting in a barrel?

Bridgette’s Lounge is tres cool.

Bridgette’s Lounge is tres cool.

Yellow Door is like eating with Alice in Wonderland.

Yellow Door is like eating with Alice in Wonderland.

Calgary is a city of “Yahoos!”

It is true, every year for 10 days in July, Calgarians from all walks of life get dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls and start yelling “yahoo” sometimes for no reason at all. They love to watch real cowboys climb up on wild horses and bulls, just to see how quickly they will get bucked off.  They love the annual Stampede Midway, the chuckwagon races, the Grandstand show, the agricultural exhibitions, the Western Art Show and the many, many concerts.   

The Calgary Stampede isn’t called the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” for nothing, it is literally seven festivals in one. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. 

Link: Stampede 2019

Calgary’s Stampede Park is home to millions of Yahoos each summer.

Calgary’s Stampede Park is home to millions of Yahoos each summer.

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There is no street life in Calgary.

True, Calgary doesn’t have the street life of big cities like New York, Chicago, Paris or London or even smaller European cities like Leipzig or Florence.  However, it’s not to say there aren’t pedestrian hot spots!

Check out downtown’s Power Hour (spring to fall) when 20,000+ downtown office workers invade Stephen Avenue Walk to shop, dine and stroll.   Or wander downtown’s 20-km maze of 60+ sky bridges (known by locals at the +15) that connect over 100 office, hotel, shopping and public buildings, joining thousands of others scurrying to get to meetings, grab a coffee or a bite to eat.  

Calgary also boasts several pedestrian streets worth exploring on the edge of downtown – 4thStreet in Mission, 17thAve SW from 4th St to 14thSt SW, Kensington Road and 10thStreet NW, as well as, 9thAvenue in Inglewood.  

Link: Calgary’s Power Hour

Noon hour on Stephen Avenue Walk….

Noon hour on Stephen Avenue Walk….

Cafe Beano in the winter….

Cafe Beano in the winter….

Ship & Anchor’s patio on 17th Ave is busy year-round….

Ship & Anchor’s patio on 17th Ave is busy year-round….

Calgary’s love to run in the streets….

Calgary’s love to run in the streets….

Calgary has no weird, wild, wacky architecture

You will hear people say that. Don’t believe them.  Calgary has some amazing contemporary architecture and urban design.  Some are by star international architects/artists like Bjarke Ingels (Telus Sky), Norman Foster (The Bow), Santiago Calatrava (Peace Bridge) and SOM Architects (707 Fifth), Allied Works Architecture (National Music Centre) and Calgary’s latest architectural gem the new Central Library by Snohetta.  

There are also architectural gems by local architects - Nexen Building by Fredrick Valentine, Jack Long’s Planetarium, Albert Dale’s iconic Calgary Tower and Barry Graham’s Saddledome. 

And there is Calgary’s +15 walkway system (60+ sky bridges), the brainchild of Bill Milne back in the early ‘70s that has since evolved to become a defining feature of Calgary’s unique sense of place.  It is Calgary’s subway, but instead of dark dingy tunnels, it has shiny, sunny bridges with lots of public art, cafes, food courts and shopping along the 20 kms of indoor walkways.  

Calgary’s downtown is home to some mega cathedral-like skylights be it Bankers Hall, Western Canada Place or Fifth Avenue Place, as well as the mega, three-block long Core shopping centre skylight.  Calgarians love to enjoy their 320+ days of sunshine, especially in the winter.  

Link: Calgary’s Award Winning Architecture

How about Cowtown’s arena with it’s saddle-shaped roof?

How about Cowtown’s arena with it’s saddle-shaped roof?

The Water Centre, looks a bit like the cross-section of a culvert.

The Water Centre, looks a bit like the cross-section of a culvert.

Studio Bell aka National Music Centre has a jazzy design.

Studio Bell aka National Music Centre has a jazzy design.

How about the Alberta Children’s Hospital that looks like the kids built it out of Legos?

How about the Alberta Children’s Hospital that looks like the kids built it out of Legos?

While this may look like a space ship has landed, in reality, it is the Career Exploration Centre, at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where Grade 9 and 10 students are invited to come and explore career options through different experiments.

While this may look like a space ship has landed, in reality, it is the Career Exploration Centre, at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where Grade 9 and 10 students are invited to come and explore career options through different experiments.

Calgary’s new Central Library and ‘80s Municipal Building create a strange couple.

Calgary’s new Central Library and ‘80s Municipal Building create a strange couple.

Calgary has too many parks. You can’t possibly visit them all.

Calgary boasts 5,200 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park, both being over three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park or New York’s Central Park.  Calgary also boasts three of the most picturesque urban parks in Canada - Prince’s Island Park, St. Patrick’s Island Park and Memorial Park.  Oh, and don’t forget the previously mentioned skatepark in Shaw Millennium Park and Rotary Challenger Park, the latter specifically designed for people with special needs. 

If you are a dog lover (and who isn’t these days), Calgary is home to over 150 designated dog parks making it the “dog park capital of North America.”  If you are visiting and are missing your dog, head to River Park to get your “fix” with literally hundreds of dogs walking their owners from sun-up to sun-down year-round. 

And, if you like rock gardens, Calgary has two - the historic Reader Rock Gardens, a designated national historic site with its lovely café and the Senator Patrick Burns Rock Gardens next to Riley Park.   

And if you want to meet local gardeners, check out the kilometer long Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs, created and maintained by community volunteers. 

Link: Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary’s green beach….

Calgary’s green beach….

The pond at Bowness Park is a great place to skate in the winter and paddle in the summer.

The pond at Bowness Park is a great place to skate in the winter and paddle in the summer.

Harvie Passage in the Bow River is popular with kayakers. It is next to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and close to the Calgary Zoo.

Harvie Passage in the Bow River is popular with kayakers. It is next to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and close to the Calgary Zoo.

Canada Olympic Park offers some fun activities.

Canada Olympic Park offers some fun activities.

River Park is a popular dog park year-round .

River Park is a popular dog park year-round.

Calgary has 905 km of multi-purpose pathways and 95 km of trails that are popular year-round.

Calgary has 905 km of multi-purpose pathways and 95 km of trails that are popular year-round.

In the summer, Calgary offers visitor two lovely rock gardens on the edge of the City Centre that are easy to get to by LRT.

In the summer, Calgary offers visitor two lovely rock gardens on the edge of the City Centre that are easy to get to by LRT.

Calgarians don’t know the difference between craft beer and arts & crafts.  

Not true. In fact, Calgary’s beer making history dates back to 1892, when the Calgary Brewery & Malting Co. was established in Inglewood (and it didn’t close until 1994). When it comes to artisan breweries, Calgary had one of Canada’s first, when Ed McNally opened Big Rock brewery in 1985. 

 Today, Calgary boasts 50+ craft breweries scattered around the city and just beyond.  Calgary is also home to several beer festivals including the Calgary International Beerfest and The Mashing Calgary.  The Craft Beer Market on 10thAve in the Beltline has 100 beers on tap, while one at Southcentre Mall has 120.  There is even an emerging Brewery Flats neighbourhood.

In addition, southern Alberta has 13 craft distilleries, including many award winners – one being Secret Barrel white rum which won silver at the 2018 New York Spirits Competition.  Downtown is also home to Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey, a unique store that sells 700 different whiskies, from the finest 60 year-old scotch to trendy Taiwanese and Japanese whiskey. 

Link: 17 Craft breweries to bring the gang to this summer

Calgary’s original craft brewery dates back to 1892.

Calgary’s original craft brewery dates back to 1892.

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Calgary has no cycling infrastructure.

While Calgary is no Amsterdam or Copenhagen when it comes to urban cycling infrastructure, it does have over 1,000 kilometers of mixed-use pathways. It even has the 138-km Rotary Mattamy pathways that encircles the city.  In the winter, over 400 km of paved pathways are cleared of snow.  

Three of the most popular rides - around the Glenmore Reservoir, along the Bow River from Harvie Rapids, through downtown to Edworthy Park and anywhere in Fish Creek Park. 

In 2019, Calgary will host the Winter Cycling Congress.  Local writer Tom Babin, literally wrote the book on winter cycling “Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling.”  

And, Calgary may well be home to the largest bike shop in North America - Bow Cycle.

Link: Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in North America?

Link: Frostbike Review

Link: 10 Epic Bike Pathways In Calgary

Calgary’s Riverwalk is such a popular cycling spot, these guys decided to set up a pop-up cafe.

Calgary’s Riverwalk is such a popular cycling spot, these guys decided to set up a pop-up cafe.

Families love Calgary’s 905 kilometres of multi-use pathways.

Families love Calgary’s 905 kilometres of multi-use pathways.

Lime Bikes set up shop in Caglary in 2018.

Lime Bikes set up shop in Caglary in 2018.

If you are a history buff, you will hate Calgary.

Sure, Calgary doesn’t have centuries old buildings and there haven’t been any world altering events happen, i.e. no wars, no great inventions and no really, really famous people were born here or lived here for long.  

But, yes we do have lots of history be it the Glenbow Museum or the National Music Centre, or how about Fort Calgary or Heritage Park with its antique car museum.  Did you know Calgary has the second largest War Museum in Canada?

Oh, and by the way, Calgary is home to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with 2,000+ artefacts and 12 galleries. It is a must see for sports fans.

Stephen Avenue a national historic district with its collection of turn-of-the-century buildings is like a walk back in time as is Inglewood’s 9thStreet (aka Atlantic Avenue) a lovely historic main street full of shops, cafes, galleries and restaurants.  

Calgary is also home to a lovely collection of early 20th century local Paskapoo sandstone buildings, from the old city hall to schools and the quaint Memorial Park Library.  

Don’t you just hate all this history…

Link: Discover Calgary’s past and present on foot. 

The Glenbow Museum curates some fun exhibitions like this Paul Hardy exhibition that combines contemporary and historical fashions.

The Glenbow Museum curates some fun exhibitions like this Paul Hardy exhibition that combines contemporary and historical fashions.

Calgary War Museums

Calgary War Museums

Memorial Park Library opened in 1912 is a Carnegie Library.

Memorial Park Library opened in 1912 is a Carnegie Library.

Calgary Collegiate Institute, 1908

Calgary Collegiate Institute, 1908

There are no family-friendly tourist attractions in Calgary. 

Think again! The Calgary Zoo is one of Canada’s best family attractions because it is very walkable and has lots unique things for kids to see and do - panda bears and penguins. Telus Spark (Science Centre) is not only an architectural gem but also has some great kids’ activities including a unique outdoor playground.  Side by side on the northeast edge of the downtown, the pair make for a fun family day or weekend.   

Bonus – If you are staying downtown, add to the adventure by taking the quick and easy train ride to the Zoo or Telus Spark. In fact, riding the LRT trains for a few hours as it weaves its way around the city can be a very fun adventure in itself for young children. 

The Glenbow’s hands-on activity room and its historical and modern exhibitions are a great indoor family-friendly option.  

 In the summer, young families will want to check out Calaway Park with its 32 family-friendly rides just a few minutes west of the City.