Calgary: Recreation Centre the new cathedral? 

With the opening of the 330,000 square foot Brookfield Residential YMCA at SETON Calgary now boasts the largest and second largest YMCAs in the world. Yes, the world!  The second largest is also in Calgary - Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge which opened in January 2018.   

 Both are more than just a YMCA, they serve as a mega community centers. 

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Recreation: The new religion?

In my opinion, recreation amenities are the key to creating successful communities today. More so than a grocery store, retail or restaurants. Why? Because in Calgary, recreation plays the biggest role in our everyday lives.  Most families have their kids in two or three recreational activities at any given time and weekends are spent at one or more recreation centres. Singles and young couples love to go to the gym, swim or participate in a yoga or spin class several times a week.  

It is almost like fitness is the new religion. 

My parents and grandparent’s generation never went to a gym, but nearly all of my friends 55+ years of age are actively engaged in recreational activities several times a week.  As for grocery shopping, we fit that in once or twice a week often on the way to or from recreational activities. 

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Recreation Centre: The New Cathedral

It is isn’t no coincidence the naming sponsor for many of Calgary’s new suburban YMCAs are real estate developers or home builders, as they realize the recreation center is to Calgary’s suburban communities, what the cathedral and historic town square is to European city centres. It is the gathering place for almost everyone living in the surrounding communities.  And like the European cathedral, the new centres are also architectural wonders. 

When I chat with suburban developers about urban development issues and trends they often remind me “they are not in the business of building homes, but developing communities.”  While having a park, playground and pathways used to be sufficient for creating new communities, today having a mega multi-use recreation centre is a must. 

In fact, I am surprised Calgary’s new inner-city communities - Currie, East Village and University District - don’t have a boutique recreation centre as part of their master plans. To be fair, both are very close to post-secondary campuses with large recreational facilities that might be used by residents.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Not A New Idea

Indeed, Calgary’s home builders have a long history with sponsoring community recreation centres.  The Trico Centre opened in 1983 as the Family Leisure Centre (they were called leisure centres back then), and was called that until 2008 when Trico Homes purchased the naming rights for $1.5 million.  Today, the 150,000 square feet building attracts over 1 million visitors per year. 

Backstory: The original building cost only $9.4 million dollars (there are single family homes that cost more today), but the 2010 addition of a new arena and other renovations cost $17.2 million.  While the Trico Centre doesn’t have a library inside, the Fish Creek Park Library sits next door and Southcentre Mall is across the street, creating a community hub. 

The South Fish Creek Complex, which opened in phases beginning in 2001, combines the Bishop O’Byrne High School, Shawnessy YMCA, Shawnessy Library, Chinook Learning Centre and South Fish Creek Recreation Association.  Then in 2015, the Association entered into a 10-year naming rights partnership with Cardel Homes, becoming Cardel Rec South.  

Cardel Place opened in 2004 in north-central Calgary and quickly become the heart and soul of Calgarians living in the city’s north central suburbs.  After the ten year naming relationship with Cardel Homes expired, both parties amicably agreed it was time for a new name. As a not-for-profit community facility, it was decided the new name needed to reflect its new vision of “raising healthier generations.” “VIVO” a Latin word meaning “with life and vigour,” was chosen with the subtext “for Healthier Generations.” 

In the northeast, the Genesis Centre opened in 2012 and quickly became the “living room” for over one million visitors each year from Calgary’s northeast communities. Genesis Land Corporation contributed five million dollars for the naming rights as part of the community’s $40 million dollar fundraising campaign for the $120 million, 250,000 square foot building. 

Another slightly more modest 94,000 square foot, Remington YMCA in Quarry Park opened in September 2016.  FYI: Remington Development is responsible for the ambitious vision of converting a gravel pit into a new master-planned, mixed-use urban community that integrates a major employment district (Imperial Oil moved its head office there in 2014) with a retail/recreational district and a residential district with a mix of single-family and multi-family homes.  

I am surprised a home builder hasn’t attached its name to the Westside Recreation Centre which opened in 2000 and ten years later completed a major renovation. 

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

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Last Word 

In the mid 20thcentury, separate buildings for arenas, indoor pools and other recreational activities were scattered around the city, rather than centralized. And, developers were busy building lakes and golf courses as the recreational amenities to attract home buyers. 

Today, there has been a paradigm shift to creating mega, integrated multi-user community centres that include not only an indoor arena with a couple of sheets of ice, but perhaps a curling rink, a couple of gyms, a pool, with separate areas for families and lane pool swimmers, as well as public library, art, dance, martial arts and yoga studios and meeting rooms.  

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

As one friend said to me recently, “we’ve come a long way from the neighbourhood outdoor skating rinks and pools with perhaps a small building as a change room.”  

Others have asked, “Is this a good thing?”

Today, the City and developers are thinking about community not as individual neighbourhoods based on subdivisions or even quadrants, but rather as districts based on logical boundaries like major roads, transit routes and geographic features.  

As Bob Dylan said in 1964, “For the times they are a-changin’.”  

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Calgary: NE is on the rise!

For many Calgarians, the NE quadrant (east of Deerfoot) is a bit of an unknown. Other than going to the airport, or speeding by on the Deerfoot, we rarely venture into the hodgepodge of residential communities, small shopping centres and business parks that make up Ward 5.

However, the future of Calgary could well be in the NE - Calgary’s Airport City!

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Eye Opener

I first became intrigued with Ward 5 when I went to the annual train show at the Genesis Centre a few years ago. I was shocked at the size and vibrancy of the centre. Then a friend introduced me to Afghan Kabob Cuisine, which he warned was nearly impossible to find. It was. But I enjoyed exploring the area’s maze of shopping centres and back alley shops, the restaurant, which sits next to the Apna-Punjab Sweets & Samosa, as well as several small industrial shops was an eye opener! 

Then earlier this year, when driving to the Canal at Delacour golf course, I was gob-smacked by the residential development - mix of single family, row houses and low-rise condos - along Country Hills Boulevard east of the Deerfoot.  New communities with intriguing names like – Redstone, Skyview Ranch and Cityscape lead me to do some research.  

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Taradale vs Beltline

I was surprised to learn the population of Taradale is just 15% less than the Beltline, Calgary’s most densely populated community and one that is full of highrise towers. The tallest building in Ward 5 is the 10-storey Homewood Suites Hotel. 

Obviously, you can create dense communities without highrises. While the rest of Calgary is trying to get used to the idea of living in denser communities, many Ward 5 residents are already there.  

For years we have heard about mixed-use master planned urban communities in many other parts to the city – Bridges, Currie, Greenwich, Quarry Park, SETON Trinity Village, University District, West District and Westman Village. But none in the NE.  It begs the question, “Why not?”

One of the major differences between Taradale and the Beltline is that it has much larger family sizes.

One of the major differences between Taradale and the Beltline is that it has much larger family sizes.

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Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

The rise of the NE 

While we all know about the fall of downtown, do we know about the rise of the northeast?  Despite the decline in the oil and gas sector, the Calgary International Airport experienced a 3.8% increase in passenger traffic from 2015 to 2017 and it is on pace for a whopping 7% increase in 2018, and cargo tonnage is up 9% since 2015.   

Kent Bacon, a principal at Avison Young says the northeast Calgary and Balzac area is a highly desirable location for warehouses companies because of its location - next to the TransCanada Highway, the CANAMEX corridor (Deerfoot/QE II highway) and the airport. The area is also one of only three foreign trade zones in Canada.  (FYI: foreign trade zones have tax and duty advantages for warehouse distribution centers.) Currently, there are 2.2 million square feet of new construction in Ward 5 - that’s 30% larger than The Bow. 

Ward 5 is also Calgary’s fastest growing ward. Over the past year, its population increased by 6,522 (2018 Census), almost double any other ward. This is amazing given about a third of the ward’s land mass is taken up by the airport and business/industrial parks. 

Recently, I sat down with Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal to learn more about Calgary’s unique NE communities.  Born and raised in Saddle Ridge, Chahal holds a Master’s degree in planning with his thesis titled, “Planning for Ethnic Diversity.”     

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Q: What are some of the Ward 5’s hidden gems? 

One would have to be the annual Nagar Kirtan Parade, Calgary’s second largest parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre in the community of Martindale. It attracted about 60,000 spectators in 2018. It features lots of singing and floats and everyone is invited - to watch or participate. 

Another hidden gem is the Country Thunder music festival in Prairie Winds Park. It has become one of Calgary’s signature summer festivals.  Take a walk in Prairie Winds Park and you will find out what the NE is all about. It is a mix of Riley Park, Bowness Park and Nose Hill Park.  

Ward 5 is home to 20+ different religious institutions, with several having architecturally significant buildings. 

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Q: What are the biggest issues facing Ward 5 today? 

A: Bridging Calgary’s cultural gap. Ward 5 is Calgary’s most culturally diverse community with 50+ languages spoken.  It is home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada. We desperately need more programs and services to integrate newcomers our communities are home to about 50% of the City’s new immigrants.  

Diversity is our strength, but we also want to integrate into the broader Calgary community when it comes to working together to plan Calgary’s future. The City of Calgary is working on eliminating communication barriers through multilingual communication and engagement policies, however, there is still lots of work to do.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Q. Is there a transformative project(s) that you would like to see happen in the NE? 

The expansion of the LRT into our northern communities, as well to the airport is critical as Ward 5 residents are one of the City’s biggest users of transit. 

A second major recreation centre, library and multi-use sports fields would also be transformative as the Genesis Centre is currently operating at capacity. 

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

Q. Do you believe religion and family play a bigger role in the lives of Ward 5 residents than in other wards? 

Yes, I would say so - 86% of Ward 5 residents have religious beliefs vs only 68% in the rest of Calgary.  And for many residents, attending a religious institution is a daily, not a weekly experience.  

Family is also important to Ward 5 residents, with more than one generation living under one roof being the norm. The average number of residents per household is much higher in Ward 5 than the rest of Calgary.  

It is critical for the development industry and those at City Hall to understand the cultural and family dynamics of Ward 5 so our communities are designed to meet our unique market demand.

Q. Do you think the NE is under appreciated by Calgarians? 

Yes.  Most Calgarians don’t appreciate how Ward 5 is a growing logistics hub for Western Canada. The future of the logistics sector is very positive - with things such as autonomous vehicles, commercial drone deliveries and other artificial intelligence advancements.  Ward 5’s importance as one of Calgary’s economic hubs will continue to grow.  Look for Ward 5 to be home to some ground breaking innovations in the future.

While there are no conventional main streets, our communities are full of small businesses and entrepreneurs.  Ward 5 is home to 100+ small businesses catering to different flavors around the world, from meat stores to local grocery stores, 234 restaurants and 2,200+ businesses in total.  As of November 2018, 318 new businesses were licensed, of which 60% were home based. 

Grant Galpin, who’s lived in Ward 5 since 2000 and led the $35M community fundraising campaign for Ward 5’s Genesis Centre (their $120 million, 225,000 square foot “living room”) agrees with Chahal, saying “the growing entrepreneurial base in the NE is due to the fact the offshore education of newcomers is largely not recognized, so they turn to small business, to establish themselves.  The result is a creative, family-based, small business culture that is largely under appreciated by Calgarians, government, economic and cultural leaders.”

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Last Word 

Could it be that’s Calgary’s NE will take the lead in the diversification of Calgary’s economy over the next 25+ years? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on January 26, 2019.

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Billion Dollar Question: Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?

The City of Calgary has invested almost a half a billion dollars (that’s $500,000,000) over the past three years in four major new recreation centres – Brookfield Residential YMCA at Seton (largest YMCA in the world), Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge (second largest YMCA in the world), Remington YMCA in Quarry Park and Great Plains Recreation Facility (eastern edge of the city).  

Given this huge investment, one could ask, “Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?”

However, the recreational capital isn’t necessarily the one with the biggest recreational facilities, it could have good facilities overall, with few strengths and no major weaknesses.  Or it could be the city with the best recreational programs with the most participation.  

Not only is Calgary’s new Rocky Ridge YMCA is the second largest in North America, but it is also a bold architectural statement for those living in new communities on the northwest edge of the City.

Not only is Calgary’s new Rocky Ridge YMCA is the second largest in North America, but it is also a bold architectural statement for those living in new communities on the northwest edge of the City.

Calgary has been building iconic recreation centres since the early ‘80s. This is the Repsol Sports Centre built in 1983 for the Western Canada Summer Games.

Calgary has been building iconic recreation centres since the early ‘80s. This is the Repsol Sports Centre built in 1983 for the Western Canada Summer Games.

Calgary’s 131 km Rotary Mattamy Greenway is a unique recreational experience.

Calgary’s 131 km Rotary Mattamy Greenway is a unique recreational experience.

And what do we mean by recreation? 

Judy Birdsell, one of the founders of IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health, reminded me that the definition of recreation is “any activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.”  She thinks we shouldn’t equate recreation with sports and fitness, but include everything from dancing to gardening, from quilting to reading.” Hmmm, perhaps it should also include flaneuring and dog walking too?

Calgary shines when it comes to community gardens, not sure about gardening, dance or quilting.  We had 169 community gardens as of July 2016, (Calgary Horticultural Society website); Edmonton had 80 as of July 2018 and City of Vancouver (not metro Vancouver) 110. 

Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas in our multi-use parks for Calgarians and their dogs to enjoy. In fact, “Calgary may have the largest number of off-leash areas and combined amount of off-leash space (more than 1,250 hectares) in North America,” says the City of Calgary website. Perhaps this is not surprising as Calgary has the highest per capita dog ownership in Canada with 1 dog for every 12 people, just ahead of Winnipeg and Edmonton (CTV New Winnipeg, March 29, 2017). 

The City of Calgary website also says we have “the most extensive urban pathways and bikeway network in North America.” Mary Kapusta, Director, Communications at the Calgary Public Library says the number of visitors to our 20 libraries is one also one of the highest in North America with 6.8 million visits, 688,000 active members, 14.6 million items in annually. That’s a whopping 14 books per person per year.

If we add in the cost of the new Central Library and National Music Centre (Birdsell says it is growing international trend for physicians to prescribe social or recreational activities to help patients with certain illnesses) to the $500,000,000 investment in mega recreation centres, we are almost a BILLION dollars (not all City of Caglary dollars).

Just sitting and watching the Bow River flow could be considered a recreational activity by some.

Just sitting and watching the Bow River flow could be considered a recreational activity by some.

Calgary is his home to one of the world’s largest public skate parks.

Calgary is his home to one of the world’s largest public skate parks.

Strolling Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour is a recreational activity for many.

Strolling Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour is a recreational activity for many.

Stopping to make a snowman just because you the mood strikes you as this couple did is also a recreational activity.

Stopping to make a snowman just because you the mood strikes you as this couple did is also a recreational activity.

Or chilling at a music festival is a recreational for some.

Or chilling at a music festival is a recreational for some.

Or it could be puttering in your backyard garden.

Or it could be puttering in your backyard garden.

Is bigger better? 

This then opens the door to question, “Should we be building mega multi-million dollar regional multi-use recreation complexes, or should the focus be on local facilities and programs that foster everyday activities and socialization with one’s immediate neighbours?”  

Cynthia Watson, Chief Evolution Officer at Vivo (formerly Cardel Place) notes her facility is a “gathering place for the community.  We are the afterschool place, the youth space, the older adult social connector, the health services touchpoint, the social entrepreneur incubator, the healthy living collaborator...oh and yes - we do have swimming lessons and fitness classes too!” home to a diversity of community, cultural, sport, faith-based, education and recreation groups.  

She adds, “Vivo is home to several older adult groups like SPRY in the Hills. It is a Girl Guide clubhouse, a Spirit of Math classroom and the Dawat E-Islamic Centre Calgary’s Friday afternoon prayer group worship space. And we are a meeting space for Northern Hills Connect a group of 25+ social entrepreneurs.”  

She notes “you get better economies of scale and operating efficiencies when you combine multiple uses in one facilities vs scattering several single-use facilities in different communities.  Larger facilities are also more cost effective from a staffing perspective.” 

Multi-use facilities are also more convenient for parents when little Johnny has a hockey game, older sister Sally can go to the library and Mom can have a coffee klatch with other parents or perhaps even do her own workout.  Watson thinks “the City did a good job when they started to combine traditional recreation centres with libraries and other activities.”  

Vivo’s catchment started with 75,000 people in 2004 and has grown to well over 145,000 today. It includes established communities like Northern Hills, Sandstone MacEwan, Beddington, Huntington Hills, Hidden Valley, growing communities like Evanston, Kincora, Sage Hill and new communities like Livingston and Carrington. 

Today it has approximately 1.3 million visitors a year, with plans in place for an $60 million 85,000 square foot addition due to the popularity of its facilities and programs. The expansion will include an indoor park that can be used in the winter by seniors who just want to walk without fear of falling on the ice, while young families can enjoy the playground as they do in the summer. The park will also accommodate festivals and events like movie-in-the-park in the winter adding another dimension to the community’s socialization.   

Watson said users are telling them “they want more flexible, social gathering places where they can come and go base on their own schedule.  Places where they can just hang out or do things in a less structured way.” 

When I chatted with Glenda Marr, Business Development Manager for the Genesis Center in the northeast, the story was the same – programs are popular, operating at capacity and looking at expansion.  In fact, many of Calgary’s older regional recreation centres as so popular they are operating at or near capacity and have plans for expansion. 

Large facilities like the Genesis Field House not only host sporting event, but events like the annual mega Train Show that takes over the entire facility.

Large facilities like the Genesis Field House not only host sporting event, but events like the annual mega Train Show that takes over the entire facility.

VIVO expansion plans include an indoor park with playground and field for casual play and relaxation by all ages.

VIVO expansion plans include an indoor park with playground and field for casual play and relaxation by all ages.

Recreation can be meeting a friend for coffee.

Recreation can be meeting a friend for coffee.

So, what does the City of Calgary think?

In discussion with James McLaughlin, Acting Director of Calgary Recreation, I was surprised to learn “there is currently no standard benchmarking in Canada regarding the recommended amount of recreation facilities per capita.” I was hoping there would be some definitive measurements like number of hockey rinks, swimming pools or sports fields or total square feet of recreational facilities per 100,000 people.  

I was also told any comparison gets complicated by the fact no city has a comprehensive collection of all the private, city and community facilities and their program participation.  

I did learn Calgary has developed a unique partnership model where the City of Calgary builds these new regional recreation centers, but they are operated by others like regional community associations or the YMCA.  Speaking of the YMCA, perhaps one of the most innovative recreational partnerships in Canada is at the South Health Campus (hospital) which also includes a YMCA.    

McLaughlin shared with me that 93% of Calgarians are satisfied with the City’s recreation programs and 92% are satisfied with our recreation facilities based on The City of Calgary’s 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey.  That’s impressive, almost hard to believe. 

This surprised me as I have heard from numerous parents and grandparents, of how poor our playing fields can be in the summer with dandelion infestation that makes the fields slippery and dangerous.  Others have said the grass is sometimes so long when the younger kids kick the ball it hardly moves.  I have also heard the cost of ice time in Calgary is significantly higher than in other cities because of a lack of rinks.  And yet others have told me that when they go to other cities for soccer, hockey and ringette tournaments, they are often surprised at how much better their facilities are than Calgary’s. The high satisfaction rating is also surprising given over the past year two City recreational centres have been closed due to roof issues.  

 McLaughlin shared “comparing recreational participation levels from city to city is difficult due to different demographics Calgary being a younger city you might expect its citizens to be more active.  However, Vancouver and Victoria have more retirees who often have more time to be active than parents working and raising a family.  It gets complicated.” 

Perhaps the most enlightening learning from McLaughlin was that recreation leaders in Calgary and other cities are moving away from focusing on sports and fitness and towards a more active living wellness model.   

Guess, Birdsell was correct and Watson and her colleagues are on the leading edge.  

Calgary also boast numerous private recreation facilities like the massive new Rocky Mountain Climbing centre just west of Canada Olympic Park. It is one of three Rocky Mountain Climbing centres in Calgary.

Calgary also boast numerous private recreation facilities like the massive new Rocky Mountain Climbing centre just west of Canada Olympic Park. It is one of three Rocky Mountain Climbing centres in Calgary.

Recreation can also include an afternoon of painting in the park.

Recreation can also include an afternoon of painting in the park.

Learning to fish is another recreational activity.

Learning to fish is another recreational activity.

Calgary has 22 city-maintained toboggan hills with many more community hills like this one in Bridgeland Riverside.

Calgary has 22 city-maintained toboggan hills with many more community hills like this one in Bridgeland Riverside.

ParticipACTION

So, being the recreational capital of Canada shouldn’t just be about the quality and quantity of facilities, it should also be about citizen participation in everyday activities.  So, are Calgarians the most active Canadians?  

Remember the federal government’s ParticipACTION (launched in 1971 ceased in 2001 and relaunched in 2017) whose shaming message was “the average Canadian adult was like a 60-year Swede old when it came to physical fitness?”  Its goal was to get Canadians off the couch and do something, even if just for 20 minutes.  While there is lots of information on how successful ParticiACTION was as an awareness program, it is less clear if adult Canadians are gaining on the 60-year old Swedes.  

According to data from the Canadian Community Health Survey,  26.7 per cent of Canadians were obese in 2015, up from 23.1 per cent in 2004 - not a good sign.  Another study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2017, documented that Canada ranks third from the bottom in how much we walk per day by a group of researchers who looked at smartphone data to see how much walking people do in 111 countries and tracked their steps over an average of 95 days.

Link:  Nature Worldwide physical activity data

 Stats Canada last documented the prevalence of obesity in major Canadian cities in 2012 and Calgary at 22.1% was higher than Toronto (20.2%), Victoria (19.6%), Vancouver (17.4%) and Kelowna’s was the lowest at 17.0%. But this doesn’t say how active the rest of us are. 

According to The Conference Board of Canada’s 2016 City Health Ranking, which looked at such aspects as life satisfaction, healthy lifestyles and access to health care, Saskatoon came out on top as Canada’s healthiest city, with Calgary second.  

 An Expedia blog in 2018 attempted to rank Canada’s most active cities based on average number of marathons and hiking trails, access to bike paths, trails and races, per capita and abundance of outdoor activities such as kayaking, canoeing.  Calgary came in 4thbeat out by Whistler #3, Golden #2 and Vancouver #1. 

Link: Active Cities In Canada Ranked

As stated earlier, the City of Calgary doesn’t have comprehensive stats that would include both visits to City, private and community traditional recreation facilities, as well as other non-work pursuits. However, most of Calgary’s 26 major recreation centers are operating at or near capacity for most of the year with several having plans for expansion – suggesting Calgarians are indeed very active.

So, while Calgary is not at the top of every health and wellness ranking, it is near the top so it could be in the running for being the “recreational capital of Canada.”

Let’s dig deeper! 

It is impossible to track all of the neighbourhood events in Calgary or any other city for that matter.

It is impossible to track all of the neighbourhood events in Calgary or any other city for that matter.

For some people surfing the Bow River Wave is recreational.

For some people surfing the Bow River Wave is recreational.

This family is off to the Riley Park wading pool.

This family is off to the Riley Park wading pool.

Who ever heard of a dog park in the ‘70s?  

Today, literally tens of thousands of Calgarians religiously walking their dog(s), often more than once.  As stated earlier, Calgary is the dog park capital of North American and has the highest dog ownership in Canada. 

This is nothing to sniff at. 

Daily dog walking is one of the best active living habits urban dwellers can have and it is the cheapest one for the City to provide.  A British study published in the BMC Public Health Journal in 2017 showed the dog owners average 22 minutes more walking per day, than those who don’t have a dog. And while the study acknowledged some were just dawdling, many were walking at a pace that provide as much health benefits as running.  

Could it be that dog walking and dog parks, not the mega recreation center make “Calgary, the recreational capital of Canada” or should I say “active living capital of Canada.”  

Walking the dog in one of Calgary’s many dog parks might just be what qualifies Calgary as “the recreation capital of Canada.”

Walking the dog in one of Calgary’s many dog parks might just be what qualifies Calgary as “the recreation capital of Canada.”

Strong Case

I don’t think anyone knows definitively what Canadian city has the best overall recreational facilities and programs, or which city has the most active citizens.  

But I am guessing our old and new multi-purpose, mega recreation, community, leisure centres with their millions of visitors each year place Calgary near the top.  Add in 5,000+ parks, largest urban pathway system, community gardens and a library system that one of the busiest in Canada and Calgary could make a strong case for being “the recreational capital of Canada.”  

In addition, I challenge any major Canadian city to beat the 90+% satisfaction rating Calgarians give their recreation programs and facilities.  Even if I do find the number hard to believe.

It is no wonder Calgary is one of the most livable cities in the world.  

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