Calgary: Exchanging “A Sense of Place” for “Endless Blandness”

As Calgarians, we have two organizations that fight to preserve historical buildings – Calgary Heritage Initiative and Calgary Heritage Authority. But to my knowledge, we do not have anyone that fights to keep our heritage front and center inside of our downtown buildings. I have watched in sorrow as places that once celebrated a sense of Calgary’s unique history and sense of place have been renovated to create blank walls and bland space” says Irene DeBoni in a recent email to me.   She then goes on to give me some examples.

“The Builders” by George Pratt used to sit in the lobby of the Western Canadian Place office tower downtown. Now it sits in the Inland Cement yard! How could this happen?

“The Builders” by George Pratt used to sit in the lobby of the Western Canadian Place office tower downtown. Now it sits in the Inland Cement yard! How could this happen?

Western Canadian Place Sculpture Gone

For many years there were copies of historical pictures taken from the Glenbow archives on the +15 level of Western Canadian Place.  They celebrated Calgary’s past - grain elevators and trains and oil wells; it was like a mini photography gallery. Unfortunately, they were taken out and replaced with a white wall and a ledge for people to sit at. Fine if all you want to do is look at your computer screen.  

Also gone from the middle the Western Canadian Place lobby is a large fountain sculpture “The Builders” by George Pratt, removed as part of a lobby renovation.  Supposedly it was in the way (of employee gatherings, I was told by an employee who works in the building.)  Really? How many of these actually occur in the public lobby? 

Back Story: Pratt’s website indicates that the work was commissioned by Husky Oil (the building’s major tenant) and Trizec (the buildings original owner) to illustrate the idea that both corporations were builders. Trizec in the actual sense as they build many office towers in downtown Calgary including Bankers Hall and Husky in the sense they help build the lives of people and the province.  

Ironically, driving to the Crossroads Farmers Market recently, my husband and I noticed the fountain is sitting in a fenced industrial yard, in “plain” view, but for all practicality hidden.  Surely, we could find a space for it downtown. What a waste.

Link: George Pratt The Granite Carver

George Pratt’s “The Builders” formerly located in the lobby of the Western Canadian Place.

George Pratt’s “The Builders” formerly located in the lobby of the Western Canadian Place.

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Pratt told me anyone could of had the sculpture for the cost of moving the piece out of the storage unit where it was being stored by QuadReal Property Group who currently manage Western Canadian Place. So Inland Cement took it and placed in in their yard. Pratt got a stipend to supervise the move and re-assembly.

Pratt told me anyone could of had the sculpture for the cost of moving the piece out of the storage unit where it was being stored by QuadReal Property Group who currently manage Western Canadian Place. So Inland Cement took it and placed in in their yard. Pratt got a stipend to supervise the move and re-assembly.

+15 Parade of Stampede Posters Gone  

The plus 15 level at the back of Centrium Place (from 6th and 7th Ave SW, between 2nd and 3rd Streets) once had approximately 100 historical Stampede posters that added colour, charm and history as you walked by.  I loved to look at these as I walked from building to building on my way to and from my downtown condo.  Unfortunately, many years ago, a few were vandalized and taken down (I thought for repair), but they never did return and then they all disappeared.  Now it is just bland off white wall.  How boring and what a missed opportunity to celebrate the history of the Calgary Stampede. 

Link: Why we love the parade of posters?

This is the Parade of Posters along the +15 corridor at Stampede Park. The downtown Parade of Posters looked much the same.

This is the Parade of Posters along the +15 corridor at Stampede Park. The downtown Parade of Posters looked much the same.

The old posters include lots of interesting information about the Stampede and how it brought world class entertainment to Calgary.

The old posters include lots of interesting information about the Stampede and how it brought world class entertainment to Calgary.

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Hyatt Regency Hotel Field of Fame Gone

I was so proud that the Hyatt for years chose to show that our history was important by including numerous western paintings throughout its lobby.  Also the restaurant was named Thompsons as the 1893 Thompson Bros. Block was integrated into the new hotel.  There was even an upside-down canoe built into the ceiling and behind the front desk a copy of the 1832 map showing David Thompson’s route across the country.  

But the piece de resistance for me was the fact that the Hyatt Hotel was one of the first places to host a “Field of Fame” to commemorate, recognize and honour those Calgarians that have made a significant contribution to the community and the city of Calgary. The Fields of Fame are groupings of structural steel, architecturally designed which are placed at prominent locations throughout the city to commemorate the accomplishments of those Calgarians who have made a lasting contribution to Calgary. 

Each Field of Fame includes six steel “sheaves of wheat”, thirteen feet high, symbolic of the prairies and the farm and ranching culture that formed the early backbone of the Calgary area. Each sheaf of wheat includes a brief history on the individual being honoured, with a photograph and wording designed to highlight the importance and significant contribution made by the particular individual to the fabric of the Calgary community.


For the past several years I have been part of a group that takes tourists and locals on free walking tours downtown.  The Hyatt was always part of my route because of its focus on Calgary.  Locals especially liked learning more about the people who have shaped Calgary over the past 100 years.


This past summer the Hyatt underwent a renovation.  While I totally understand the restaurant in its previous state often sat empty and changes had to be made, I don’t understand why the “placemaking” elements had to be reduced and, in many cases, actually removed.   

Gone are the wonderful ranching pictures that used to be in both the restaurant and the lounge areas.  But more importantly, gone is the Field of Fame.  Nobody in the hotel could even tell me where the plaques were taken.  Finally, someone in management returned my phone call and said they had been returned to the Champion Society.  When I expressed my sadness at this and my hope that no further action regarding the existing artwork would be taken, I was reminded that the Hyatt did not own the artwork, that it was only leased.   

Link: Alberta Champions

Unfortunately, the “Field of Fame” located at the McDougall Centre is hidden away amongst the trees at the back of this historic site. It would have been great at the front of the building as part of the site’s grand entrance. This location is even hidden from the nearby sidewalk.

Unfortunately, the “Field of Fame” located at the McDougall Centre is hidden away amongst the trees at the back of this historic site. It would have been great at the front of the building as part of the site’s grand entrance. This location is even hidden from the nearby sidewalk.

The “Field of Fame” at Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is in a much more prominent location.

The “Field of Fame” at Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is in a much more prominent location.

Maude Reily’s Sheaf

Maude Reily’s Sheaf

W.O. Mitchell’s sheaf

W.O. Mitchell’s sheaf

Everyday Tourist Note: 

I checked with the Alberta Champions Society re: missing the missing “Field of Champions” and found out it had to be moved as the new owner couldn’t integrate it with their new vision for the interior design of the hotel.  Too bad, very sad. This is a prime location next to the convention centre to tell the story of some of the individuals who have shaped the city of Calgary over the past 100+ years. 

I remember getting into trouble with the owners of the Hyatt Hotel when it first opened and I questioned why the lobby and rooms were full of art celebrating the Rocky Mountains, but had nothing celebrating downtown Calgary.  As the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association and a board member of Tourism Calgary I wanted them to showcase to visitors some of the many fun things to see and do downtown.  I was told the art was from the personal collection of Ron Mannix, the former owner of the hotel and “to mind my own business.”  

Too Much Corporate Blandness

Irene goes on to say, “My husband and I have always loved to travel.  When we go to cities, we like to see what makes them unique. We love to discover fun, off the beaten path things that make a city unique, rather than the obvious icons.   

I would like to urge the owners of Calgary’s downtown buildings to utilize their lobbies to celebrate Calgary’s history and the City of Calgary to utilize the +15 system to do the same.  If we want to attract more businesses to relocate to downtown and more people to live downtown, we must make our downtown a more interesting place to explore. 

We MUST work together to create a downtown that showcases Calgary’s unique sense of place, rather than transforming it into a generic corporate blandness, which many think it already is.  

While new buildings, structures and public art like the Central Library, Peace Bridge and "Wonderland" are great additions to our downtown, it is the little things, the unexpected surprises that sometimes have the biggest impact on visitors.   

Irene DeBoni
Member of Chinook Country Historical Society
Member of Historic Calgary Week Committee
TransAlta Retirees Walking Tour Group

Everyday Tourist Note:

I too have been noticing fun, interesting elements have been removed from the lobbies of Calgary’s downtown office buildings like the bison skeleton (a boy and his Dad found it in the cliff next to the Glenmore Reservoir) that was in the Sun Life building lobby for decades. When I asked where it has gone security told me management was renovating the lobby and the skeleton had been given to the Royal Alberta Museum.  This made me sad!

When I was in Winnipeg recently, I was impressed by how many businesses celebrate the city’s history and sense of place with photographs e.g. Boston Pizza (St. James) and Safeway (Osbourne Village) and the Salisbury House’s two mini-museums – Manitoba Sports (Portage location) and Manitoba Music (Pembina location).  

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Downtown Calgary also lost #29 Locomotive when CPR moved its headquarters from downtown to its historic Ogden Yards. This is understandable, but given the important role the CPR played in shaping our downtown and city there should be major train monument in a prominent location in our downtown. FYI: Every noon hour the trains whistle use to blow. It is the little things that make exploring urban places fun.

Downtown Calgary also lost #29 Locomotive when CPR moved its headquarters from downtown to its historic Ogden Yards. This is understandable, but given the important role the CPR played in shaping our downtown and city there should be major train monument in a prominent location in our downtown. FYI: Every noon hour the trains whistle use to blow. It is the little things that make exploring urban places fun.

I sure hope Calgary Parking Authority and the Downtown Association don’t decide to close the Udderly Art Pasture in the +15 of the Centennial Parkade.

I sure hope Calgary Parking Authority and the Downtown Association don’t decide to close the Udderly Art Pasture in the +15 of the Centennial Parkade.

Last Word

Calgary, we can, no we MUST do better to celebrate our unique history and sense of place. Come on corporate Calgary you can do better when renovating your lobbies to create something unique that reflects Calgary and not just some generic blandness.

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

Downtown Fun: Spokane vs Calgary

Flaneuring Calgary Stampede: Parade Of Posters

Fun Ideas For Downtown Calgary

FFQing Downtown Calgary’s Udderly Art Pasture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Downtown Calgary: "Looking Up" Tour!

One of the things I like to do when flaneuring downtown Calgary is to “look up” at how the buildings meet Calgary’s bold blue sky. While much of the discussion around our downtown is negative these days, I found looking at these photos to be quite uplifting. I like to see the glass as being three quarters full, rather than a quarter empty when I am downtown.

In selecting what photo to choose for this tour, I was reminded that Calgary’s downtown has some pretty amazing architecture and urban design.

Hope you enjoy this fun “Looking Up!” tour of downtown Calgary. Be sure to scroll to the end as I think I saved the best for last!

Old City Hall reflected in the Municipal Building.

Old City Hall reflected in the Municipal Building.

Chinese Cultural Centre ceiling.

Chinese Cultural Centre ceiling.

Calgary Tower

Calgary Tower

New Central Library staircase

New Central Library staircase

New Central Library reading room ceiling.

New Central Library reading room ceiling.

Chinatown and The Bow

Chinatown and The Bow

Brookfield Place

Brookfield Place

Doug Driediger mural “Giving Wings To The Dream.”

Doug Driediger mural “Giving Wings To The Dream.”

The Public Building, now home to the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

The Public Building, now home to the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

The back of the Grain Exchange Building

The back of the Grain Exchange Building

Windows: Old vs new.

Windows: Old vs new.

Oil rig workers on the back of the Petroleum Club. Doug Driediger mural.

Oil rig workers on the back of the Petroleum Club. Doug Driediger mural.

Church vs Capitalism?

Church vs Capitalism?

Urban surrealism

Urban surrealism

“Swarm” by Stuart Keeler is a swarm of leaf seeds commonly called “keys” integrated into the glass canopy of the 6th Street LRT Station on 7th Ave SW

“Swarm” by Stuart Keeler is a swarm of leaf seeds commonly called “keys” integrated into the glass canopy of the 6th Street LRT Station on 7th Ave SW

The outside roof of the Chinese Cultural centre

The outside roof of the Chinese Cultural centre

The 300 block of Stephen Avenue aka The Trees / The Pooper Scoopers

The 300 block of Stephen Avenue aka The Trees / The Pooper Scoopers

Old City Hall Clock Tower

Old City Hall Clock Tower

Luminous Crossing by Cliff Garten Studios is a multi-component artwork the includes 20 sculptures, two large scale towers and three hanging works at four LRT Stations on 7th Ave.

Luminous Crossing by Cliff Garten Studios is a multi-component artwork the includes 20 sculptures, two large scale towers and three hanging works at four LRT Stations on 7th Ave.

Historic Hudson’s Bay department store.

Historic Hudson’s Bay department store.

The Princeton & The Shaw

The Princeton & The Shaw

Nation Music Center facade creates a rich, colour field painting in the bright winter sun.

Nation Music Center facade creates a rich, colour field painting in the bright winter sun.

8th Street SW Underpass.

8th Street SW Underpass.

Old School

Old School

Chinatown Ornamentation

Chinatown Ornamentation

The Edison & The Tower

The Edison & The Tower

Stephen Avenue National Historic District has many hidden gems.

Stephen Avenue National Historic District has many hidden gems.

TRIO at the new Central Library, by Christian Moeller

TRIO at the new Central Library, by Christian Moeller

Hollinsworth Building & Bankers Hall

Hollinsworth Building & Bankers Hall

Burns Building: Ornamentation

Burns Building: Ornamentation

East Village Christmas fun.

East Village Christmas fun.

Urban densification?

Urban densification?

The Beltline Lookout

The Beltline Lookout

Light Bubbles

Light Bubbles

Between The Earth & The Sky- Measuring The Immeasurable by Jacqueline Metz and Nancy Chew at Bankers Hall southwest plaza.

Between The Earth & The Sky- Measuring The Immeasurable by Jacqueline Metz and Nancy Chew at Bankers Hall southwest plaza.

Day’s end…

Day’s end…

Centrium: The Jewel

Centrium: The Jewel

Olympic Plaza

Olympic Plaza

Lightening Bolt at The Bow

Lightening Bolt at The Bow

The Ghost

The Ghost

The Skyscraper

The Skyscraper

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Chinook Arc by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock.

Chinook Arc by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock.

Skyscraper 2

Skyscraper 2

Burns Building

Burns Building

Twilight 1

Twilight 1

Twilight 2

Twilight 2

Blue Hour

Blue Hour

Grain Exchange

Grain Exchange

Old vs New: Art Deco

Old vs New: Art Deco

Historic

Historic

Framed

Framed

Porte Cochere de Lumiere by Michael Hayden

Porte Cochere de Lumiere by Michael Hayden

“Wander” by Derek Besant, Centre Street LRT station canopy.

“Wander” by Derek Besant, Centre Street LRT station canopy.

Ripple

Ripple

Brutalism

Brutalism

Cubism

Cubism

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition

Skywalkers aka “Weather Vanes: by Colette Whiten and Paul Kipps, Bankers Hall southeast plaza

Skywalkers aka “Weather Vanes: by Colette Whiten and Paul Kipps, Bankers Hall southeast plaza

Cantilever

Cantilever

Prehistoric 1

Prehistoric 1

Prehistoric 2

Prehistoric 2

Urban Geometry

Urban Geometry

Rectangles

Rectangles

Triangles

Triangles

Twist

Twist

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Looking Up!

Looking Up!

Floating ideas….(this was not photoshopped)

Floating ideas….(this was not photoshopped)

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A good year?

A good year?

Old, Middle Age, New

Old, Middle Age, New

70s & 80s

70s & 80s

Big, Bold & Blue

Big, Bold & Blue

Something’s missing….

Something’s missing….

Luminous Crossing Towers

Luminous Crossing Towers

Radiant

Radiant

Strange but real…

Strange but real…

The Shadow

The Shadow

Old vs New

Old vs New

Golden hour

Golden hour

Crown

Crown

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Twilight 3

Twilight 3

Skylight

Skylight

The Edge

The Edge

Old vs New

Old vs New

Hidden history

Hidden history

John Ewen’s “Weaving Fence and Horn” frames of Calgary’s downtown skyline.

John Ewen’s “Weaving Fence and Horn” frames of Calgary’s downtown skyline.

Looking up the horn…

Looking up the horn…

Fun with Sadko

Fun with Sadko

Looking Up 2

Looking Up 2

I Heart Downtown (FYI: This photo was not photoshopped.)

I Heart Downtown (FYI: This photo was not photoshopped.)

Last Word

So next time you are downtown, be it Calgary or any other city make sure you look up. You will be surprised at what you discover. Personally, I love the juxtaposition of the old and new, the patterns and reflections and the surrealist light you find in downtowns.

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

Calgary Tower Playing Peek-a-boo!

Downtown: From Concrete Jungle to Glass Gallery

Calgary Buildings Designed By Calgarians

Calgary: Capturing The Art in ARchiTecture!

Dubai & Abu Dhabi: Urbanism On Steroids 

Harry Hiller is Faculty Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Calgary and specializes in the urban impact of mega-events like the Olympics and Expositions.  Recently, he visited the Dubai which will be hosting Expo 2020 and was blown away by how the UAE are creating amazing 21st century cities almost overnight. The hundreds of new buildings, the futuristic architecture, the innovation and “can do” attitude were mind boggling.  

It is a reminder that we NEED to be more aware of what is happening in other cities around the world.

In an email to me, Hiller referred to the what is happening In Dubai and Abu Dhabi as “URBANIZATION on STEROIDS!”  He agreed to allow it to be converted into a guest blog. 

Dubai’s Museum of the Future

Dubai’s Museum of the Future

Dubai is home to the world’s largest indoor ski hill. It is open year-round inside a mega shopping mall.

Dubai is home to the world’s largest indoor ski hill. It is open year-round inside a mega shopping mall.

The Apple store in Dubai is the largest and most luxurious in the world.

The Apple store in Dubai is the largest and most luxurious in the world.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

I am totally astounded, amazed, yet also perplexed by what we saw during our recent 10-day visit to UAE’s cities. In some ways, it doesn’t make any sense.  

 How does a small country about the size of Austria, in essentially a desert and a pile of sand, having periods of the year with temperatures 40 to 50 degrees Celsius, totally dependent on air conditioning, having limited fresh water requiring desalinization of sea water, producing very little of their own food, and a relatively small native population known as Emirati create thriving 21st century cities? 

How are they making Dubai and Abu Dhabi into a powerhouse and global city attracting capital, expertise, and people from all over the world?  How can one explain the level of post-modern architecture everywhere that makes your head spin? Buildings of every colour and shape imaginable shock your senses. Even the airport control tower in Abu Dhabi is built with an attractive curved swoop.  

How can you explain that 25% of all construction cranes in the world are located here? Where are all the people coming from to fill these buildings anyway? It really blows your mind.

Dubai’s population in 1990 was 472,701, today it is 4.2 million.

Dubai’s population in 1990 was 472,701, today it is 4.2 million.

What about all these high class hotels? I don’t know who does the ratings on number of stars but I was told and found some evidence online that the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi is the only 7-star hotel in the world.  Our friends took us there for camel burgers.

You are saying “WOW” multiple times every day.  And it has happened so fast…maybe the last 10-20 years or so.

Link: How you can stay in Abu Dhabi’s most luxurious hotel

Emirates Palace (hotel) in Dubai

Emirates Palace (hotel) in Dubai

Burj Al Arab Jumeriah hotel in Dubai

Burj Al Arab Jumeriah hotel in Dubai

Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects. The same firm that designed Eau Claire Estates condo and the new 707 Fifth office tower. It is surrounded by malls, hotels and condominiums in downtown Dubai.

Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects. The same firm that designed Eau Claire Estates condo and the new 707 Fifth office tower. It is surrounded by malls, hotels and condominiums in downtown Dubai.

UAE 101 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 by joining seven Emirates (an emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Arabic or Islamic monarch-styled emir. The term may also refer to a kingdom) into one country - the Abu Dhabi Emirate is the biggest in territorial size with the city of Abu Dhabi as its capital, but the Dubai Emirate is the most populated  (roughly 4 million people in 14 square miles growing from a population density 176 per square kilometer to 763 per square kilometer in 20 years!).  

While the territories that surround the two cities are larger than the cities themselves, they almost act as city states.  (Note: The other five Emirates are much smaller and not well-known). Something I never knew before is that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are only about a 90-minute drive apart on a highway that, at points, is 16 lanes across. 

Yes, there is significant oil in the region, especially in Abu Dhabi, but oil now only contributes about 5% to the economy of Dubai. It has become a major trade and financial center, and tourism has become huge.  

Dubai shares many similarities with Singapore, but the steroid level seems to be much more intense in Dubai.

Link: Hiller: Singapore: Dare To Be Different

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Dubai is a major shipping centre.

Dubai is a major shipping centre.

Dubai’s airport is one of the busiest in the world with 89 million passengers in 2018. It is like a huge shopping centre.

Dubai’s airport is one of the busiest in the world with 89 million passengers in 2018. It is like a huge shopping centre.

Dubai has the largest completely automated, driverless metro in the world.

Dubai has the largest completely automated, driverless metro in the world.

Diversification 

So, here is my take. Energy hydrocarbons have had two enormous second level consequences.  One is that oil revenue has been used to transform their economy and built environment in creative ways.  

One of the best illustrations is the establishment of new airlines, seemingly having come out of nowhere with  huge global implications.  Emirates (based in Dubai, founded in 1985) and Etihad (based in Abu Dhabi, founded in 2003) have taken the industry by storm, and now provide superior global service (and why Air Canada fights to restrain them from expanding beyond Toronto (and even lobbied to limited flights) to all other airlines.  

All flights go through the UAE which supports their goal to be a hub for finance, trade, and tourism.  And it works! From here, you can connect to anywhere in the world such as Moscow, Manchester, Milan, India, Asia, Australia in a matter of 5-6 hours (or less) in many cases.  

On the tourism side, people flying from London to Singapore for example break up what would otherwise be a long trip into two segments of six hours or so with a tourist stopover at one of many resorts/hotels in UAE enjoying the warm weather and beaches.  People also just for vacations from the UK or Germany and other parts of Europe in just four hours for guaranteed heat and sun. 

So, the vision was to put the UAE at the crossroads of trade and finance and attract people with a superior standard of living. I have already referred to spectacular architecture of which the 170-story Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building) is perhaps the most well-known.  But there are many, many more amazing buildings that symbolize a thriving economy. 

What really sticks out is how leisure has been commodified in spectacular ways.  Magnificent malls such as the Dubai Mall is not only known for its size (competing to be the world’s largest mall) but is a huge tourist attraction with its spectacular nightly presentation of the “world’s largest choreographed fountain.” The Emirates Mall with high end stores possesses the “world’s largest indoor ski hill.”  Other leisure attractions such as Ferrari World (with the steepest fastest 220 km/hr), largest roller coaster in the world, several fantastic water parks and theme parks like Legoland, Global Village, Warner Brothers etc. 

Abu Dhabi also has the stunning new Louvre (Yes, a branch of Paris’ Louvre), Opera House and Formula 1 race track – see what money will buy.  

Dubai’s Expo 2020, the first ever in the Arab world, will be held in Dubai next year.  It will feature 192 country pavilions with three themes – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.  

FYI: Both Montreal and Vancouver benefited immensely from hosting a world Expo. While Calgary’s bid to host the 2005 Expo failed, the vision of a revitalized  East Village and Stampede Park which was part of the 2005 vision lived on and is currently being realized. A testimony to the powerful impact of thinking BIG and hosting major international events like an Expo or an Olympics can play in establishing a city as a world player. 

Oh yes! Their land reclamation projects have produced spectacular developments such as Palm Jumeirah where reclaimed land has been developed like fronds of a palm tree with water access for all housing built there. Even mosques such as the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, as much tourist attraction as houses of worship, hosts thousands of visitors every day because it is so spectacular.  No photo can ever do it justice.  

I could go on and on.  In other words, the oil money is being used to develop these two cities in ways otherwise not imaginable - physical changes with economic impact that reveal a new kind of city.

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Ferrari World theme park in Dubai.

Ferrari World theme park in Dubai.

Dubai’s Park & Resorts

Dubai’s Park & Resorts

Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm Hotel is one of over 600 hotels in the city including 113 five-star hotels. I don’t think Canada has 113 five-five star hotels. It is part of a huge housing development The Palm.

Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm Hotel is one of over 600 hotels in the city including 113 five-star hotels. I don’t think Canada has 113 five-five star hotels. It is part of a huge housing development The Palm.

The Palm is built on reclaimed land.

The Palm is built on reclaimed land.

Houses along the man-made beaches of The Palm.

Houses along the man-made beaches of The Palm.

Aerial view of The Palm development with high-rise, shopping, office buildings and Atlantis hotel.

Aerial view of The Palm development with high-rise, shopping, office buildings and Atlantis hotel.

Can Do Attitude 

The second major impact of what I call the “UAE renaissance” is the fostering of a “can-do” entrepreneurial attitude that goes far beyond what exists (or used to exist) in Calgary and Alberta. 

 I am not sure why or how this has happened but there is an attitude in Dubai and now Abu Dhabi “to be the best,” to compete with the rest of the world as financial, trade and tourism centre.  Not only is this reflected in the physical structures, but the goal is to be a leader in innovation and technology even in fields like health care and sustainability.  

Much of this apparently comes from the sheik leadership.  It was striking to see a ruling leader in the Middle East create inspirational quotes like: 

  • “Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in people. This is where true power lies, the power we value. This is what has convinced us to direct all our resources to build the individual, and to use the wealth which God has provided us in the service of the nation."            

  • "He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn."

  • "You are the real wealth, not the 3 million barrels of oil. You are the future of this nation’s security and safety net. We are in a good condition now but we want to establish the vision for 50 years ahead.”  

There are also quotes about women making up half the population and that they should not be kept in poverty or poorly educated.  Given our stereotypes, would you wouldn’t have expected this in the Middle East? And, how do you like this progressive indicator - people with handicaps are called “people of determination” and even labelled that way at special parking spots at the mall?

There are also real sustainability issues in the UAE. I heard much about directives from the Sheik about attacking sustainability concerns as a national goal – especially with  regard to the forthcoming Expo 2020 to prove they are a world leader. 

Expansion in innovative activity is particularly viewed as a deliberate attempt to create a thriving society beyond oil.  One example of innovation we saw was the harnessing of pedestrian foot traffic as a form of energy. In short, I did not expect this kind of attitude in the Middle East, especially given the instability elsewhere in the region.

People of Determination signage.

People of Determination signage.

Dubai’s old town’s souk continues to thrive even with all of the new developments.

Dubai’s old town’s souk continues to thrive even with all of the new developments.

Dubai’s souk is popular with locals, as well as tourist.

Dubai’s souk is popular with locals, as well as tourist.

Dubai is home to the world’s largest gold market.

Dubai is home to the world’s largest gold market.

You can still take a tradition water taxi in the harbour.

You can still take a tradition water taxi in the harbour.

Past vs Present

While there are clear signs of a more liberal consumerist society, faith and a strong moral code still prevail.  Prayer is still a part of daily public observance (it is interesting to hear the call to prayer even in the post-modern mega-mall) and traditional dress is still practiced even in modern business circles among the Emirati.  

But this leads to another critical point, namely that Emirati are considered the real citizens of the society and everyone else is considered temporary. Did you know that 80% of the population are considered expatriates (i.e. 1.5 million citizens, 8 million expats)?    

The UAE needs thousands of workers to do all this construction. Virtually all are expats from places like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. One construction company vice president that I met has  35,000 people on its payroll!  Customer service workers in retail are overwhelmingly from the Philippines. Professional workers are primarily from Europe. 

The big draw is no income tax! 

It is interesting that the government has promoted 2019 as the “year of tolerance” as a way of accepting population diversity. Expats are everywhere and are an overwhelming majority - a unique phenomenon on the face of the earth.  People are moving hear from all over the world even though they have no hope of citizenship or unqualified permanent residence. 

Dubai’s Grand Mosque: Grand Bur Dubai Masjid

Dubai’s Grand Mosque: Grand Bur Dubai Masjid

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi.

Engines Of Growth 

So, what does all this mean? To me Dubai and Abu Dhabi represent new engines of growth and change in the world – not unlike what has emerged in other small territories like Singapore and Hong Kong.  It is interesting to note they exist outside the control of more powerful world empires - US, Russia and China. 

They have become international players in their own right and demonstrate how local leaders with their own pools of capital can create new – an unexpected - centres of urban energy.   

How this all happens in the Middle East, a region otherwise in turmoil, is particularly compelling. Experiencing it in person serves as a critical reminder that things are happening elsewhere of which we often have only marginal awareness. 

Travel Tips

  • Coming here in September is still the hot time of year. It has been 40 degrees Celsius every day and about 32 at night. At home you put on your jacket when you go outside. Here it is the reverse (you often need covering inside because of AC).  When you go out, your glasses always fog up and off come the sweaters.  The best time to travel to this region is in our late fall, winter, or early spring.

  • English is everywhere and serves as the language of communication among all diverse groups.  These are orderly societies in which breaking the law is not tolerated. Speed on the highway? Expect a ticket by text within an hour. Taxis also are highly controlled and safe.

  • There are a lot of nice resorts in this area which are particularly well-priced in low season.  I would go back in a heartbeat even though it is a long flight from the west. It was fun being in the heat as long as air conditioning was available when you had enough.

  • If you are looking for excitement and a cultural experience, try a night safari where they take you to the desert for dune bashing with a 4x4 vehicle plus a meal and entertainment in a Bedouin village.  

Last Word

I felt compelled to document my visit to the UAE cities because what is happening in these cities is just another indication of how the contours of our world are changing.  It actually shocked me into trying to understand how and why this is happening. 

However, being here for ten days (we had been in Dubai before but only for a couple of days in transit) for a doctoral dissertation on the topic of sustainability and mega events using the Expo 2020 as a case study does not make me any kind of expert. This report is not meant to be definitive.  

Harry Hiller (Guest Blogger) 

Everyday Tourist Note:

What I received from Harry was an email with what he called his GRAM Report attached. Turns out it is a Hiller family tradition for everyone who travel to send out a report of their adventure to other family members to honour his mother “GRAM” who loved travel and lived vicariously through the travels of her family through “Gram Reports.”  She passed away at the age of 101, but her character inspires the Hiller family to this day, just like my 88 year old Mom’s (i.e. Queen of the Rails) travels continues to do for me and my family. 

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

Dubai’s Rapid Development

Is the rise Dubai and Abu Dhabi sustainable?

Calgary’s Learning City is blooming!

Eau Claire Estates linked to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa

 

 

 

 

Calgary's SoBow Trail: One Of The Best River Banks In North America!

I bet you have never heard of Calgary’s SoBow Trail? That’s probably because it isn’t an official trail, but it should be.  What is the SoBow Trail, you ask? It is the 12 km long south bank of the Bow River from Edworthy Park to Harvie Passage. 

While some of the land acquisition started in middle of the 20th century, the transformation of the Bow River’s south bank into an urban gem has accelerated over the past 25, to become an amazing collection of 20+ parks, plazas, pathways and bridges. 

In my estimation it has evolved into one of the best urban river banks in North America…maybe in the world. It is one of the reasons Caglary is the 5th best city to live in the world.

Don’t believe me? Read on…

The Bow River’s south bank as it enters the downtown’s western edge.

The Bow River’s south bank as it enters the downtown’s western edge.

No Master Plan 

To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a master plan for this development.  Rather, it’s been an organic evolution of several master plans - from Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s River Walk and St. Patrick’s Island plans to the City of Calgary’s Prince’s Island master plan and West Eau Claire and Public Realm Plan.

It seems like every few years, a new public space has been added to the Bow River’s south bank. 

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Let’s Take A Walk Along The SoBow Trail

The 169 hectare Edworthy Park (which also includes the Douglas Fir Trail, the most easterly site that the Douglas Fir tree grow and historic Lawrey Gardens) at the western edge of Calgary’s city centre will be our starting point..  It has a popular natural pebble beach and is a popular family picnic spot with hundreds of firepits and BBQs.  The park, once part of the huge Cochrane Ranche, was purchased by Thomas Edworthy in 1883 for the Edworthy homestead that included not only the family farm but sandstone quarries and other agricultural activities. It was later purchased in 1962 by the City of Calgary for the development of a park at the edge of the city.

The 169 hectare Edworthy Park (which also includes the Douglas Fir Trail, the most easterly site that the Douglas Fir tree grow and historic Lawrey Gardens) at the western edge of Calgary’s city centre will be our starting point..

It has a popular natural pebble beach and is a popular family picnic spot with hundreds of firepits and BBQs.

The park, once part of the huge Cochrane Ranche, was purchased by Thomas Edworthy in 1883 for the Edworthy homestead that included not only the family farm but sandstone quarries and other agricultural activities. It was later purchased in 1962 by the City of Calgary for the development of a park at the edge of the city.

The natural pebble beach at Edworthy Park.

The natural pebble beach at Edworthy Park.

John Lawrey settled in the area Calgary in 1882 buying the land east of Edworthy’s where he created a market garden to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the railway crews and other homesteaders. He died in 1904, but left the property to his nephews who continued to farm the land until the end of World War 1.  Today, it is a natural area with forest, meadows, ponds and a spectacular gravel bar that lets you walk out to the middle of the river.

John Lawrey settled in the area Calgary in 1882 buying the land east of Edworthy’s where he created a market garden to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the railway crews and other homesteaders. He died in 1904, but left the property to his nephews who continued to farm the land until the end of World War 1.

Today, it is a natural area with forest, meadows, ponds and a spectacular gravel bar that lets you walk out to the middle of the river.

The huge gravel bar in the Bow River is a popular spot for people to create rock formations like this one.

The huge gravel bar in the Bow River is a popular spot for people to create rock formations like this one.

As you continue walking east and you will discover a hidden sculpture park and beach volleyball courts. You have arrived at Pumphouse Park whose name pays tribute to the , Bow River Pumphouse No. which was an integral part of the City’s water supply system form 1913 to 1933.

As you continue walking east and you will discover a hidden sculpture park and beach volleyball courts. You have arrived at Pumphouse Park whose name pays tribute to the , Bow River Pumphouse No. which was an integral part of the City’s water supply system form 1913 to 1933.

Keep going east and you will walk under the Crowchild Trail bridge where you will find the charming Dave Freeze pedestrian bridge.

Keep going east and you will walk under the Crowchild Trail bridge where you will find the charming Dave Freeze pedestrian bridge.

Continue eastward, go under the 14th Street bridge and you arrive at Nat Christie Park, a narrow strip of land between the pathway and 4th Avenue SW, that has been converted into a sculpture park. Here sits about a dozen artworks carved by members of the Stone Sculptures Guild of North America using local 60,000 year old Paskapoo sandstone. The Park is a legacy of the Group’s symposium held on Prince’s Island in 1998.

Continue eastward, go under the 14th Street bridge and you arrive at Nat Christie Park, a narrow strip of land between the pathway and 4th Avenue SW, that has been converted into a sculpture park. Here sits about a dozen artworks carved by members of the Stone Sculptures Guild of North America using local 60,000 year old Paskapoo sandstone. The Park is a legacy of the Group’s symposium held on Prince’s Island in 1998.

And just across the street is Shaw Millennium Park, a popular festival site and home to one of the largest public skateparks in the world - at 75,000 square feet. Other amenities include basketball and beach volleyball courts.

And just across the street is Shaw Millennium Park, a popular festival site and home to one of the largest public skateparks in the world - at 75,000 square feet. Other amenities include basketball and beach volleyball courts.

Here too you will notice the dome of the old Centennial Planetarium (designed by Calgary architectural firm McMillan Long and Associates in 1967) which recently reopened as a contemporary art gallery with plans for a major expansion and renovation.

Here too you will notice the dome of the old Centennial Planetarium (designed by Calgary architectural firm McMillan Long and Associates in 1967) which recently reopened as a contemporary art gallery with plans for a major expansion and renovation.

There is also the historic red bricked Mewata Armoury building built between 1915 and 1918. It is still home to local Militia Units, chiefly The  King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC)  and  The Calgary Highlanders , but also 15 (Edmonton) Field Ambulance Detachment Calgary, the 41 Canadian Brigade Group Influence Activities Company (attached to The King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC)) and various cadet organizations.

There is also the historic red bricked Mewata Armoury building built between 1915 and 1918. It is still home to local Militia Units, chiefly The King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC) and The Calgary Highlanders, but also 15 (Edmonton) Field Ambulance Detachment Calgary, the 41 Canadian Brigade Group Influence Activities Company (attached to The King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC)) and various cadet organizations.

But let’s keep going as there is lots more to see.  

Soon, we you’ll arrive at the historic Louise Bridge built in 1921 and named after Louise Cushing, the daughter of William Henry Cushing, Calgary’s Mayor from 1900 to 1901 (yes, just one year). Under the bridge is The Wave, where the Bow River current creates a natural wave perfect for river surfing. The Alberta River Surfing Association is working with Calgary-based Surf Anywhere to develop the area a world class river surfing park.

Soon, we you’ll arrive at the historic Louise Bridge built in 1921 and named after Louise Cushing, the daughter of William Henry Cushing, Calgary’s Mayor from 1900 to 1901 (yes, just one year). Under the bridge is The Wave, where the Bow River current creates a natural wave perfect for river surfing. The Alberta River Surfing Association is working with Calgary-based Surf Anywhere to develop the area a world class river surfing park.

A bit further and you are at new West Eau Claire Park at the south entrance to the iconic Peace Bridge designed (the latter by world renowned bridge designer Santiago Calatrava).  The $10.6 million park (30% of the budget was used for flood mitigation) designed by Calgary’s O2 Planning + Design is meant to simulate a river delta with cyclist, runners, walkers and now e-scooters being the “water” flowing off the Peace River onto the Bow River pathway using different streams.  The park also contains a subtle public artwork was created by Calgary-based artists Caitlind R.C Brown and Wayne Garrett who installed 12,000 brass “survey monuments” i.e. loonie sized brass coins throughout the delta each have simple messages collected by asking Calgarians along the pathway “where they are going or where they want to be?”

A bit further and you are at new West Eau Claire Park at the south entrance to the iconic Peace Bridge designed (the latter by world renowned bridge designer Santiago Calatrava).

The $10.6 million park (30% of the budget was used for flood mitigation) designed by Calgary’s O2 Planning + Design is meant to simulate a river delta with cyclist, runners, walkers and now e-scooters being the “water” flowing off the Peace River onto the Bow River pathway using different streams.

The park also contains a subtle public artwork was created by Calgary-based artists Caitlind R.C Brown and Wayne Garrett who installed 12,000 brass “survey monuments” i.e. loonie sized brass coins throughout the delta each have simple messages collected by asking Calgarians along the pathway “where they are going or where they want to be?”

You’ll also find here a new pebble beach with lovely lounge chairs to sit and watch the river flow by. It truly is a special place and a good example of how sophisticated Calgary’s urban design has become in the 21st century. The beach offers the perfect view of the Peace Bridge.

You’ll also find here a new pebble beach with lovely lounge chairs to sit and watch the river flow by. It truly is a special place and a good example of how sophisticated Calgary’s urban design has become in the 21st century. The beach offers the perfect view of the Peace Bridge.

The promenade from the West Eau Claire Park to Eau Claire Plaza is popular with Calgarians of all ages and background. Recently mega long benches were added as part of the new flood mitigation design.

The promenade from the West Eau Claire Park to Eau Claire Plaza is popular with Calgarians of all ages and background. Recently mega long benches were added as part of the new flood mitigation design.

But time to move on – and only a few strides away from the formal entrance to Prince’s Island and Eau Claire Plaza. Prince’s Island Park is named after Peter Prince who, in 1886, built the Eau Claire Lumber Mill at this site. He dug a channel in the river to bring the logs from the Bow River to the mill. The channel is now the Prince’s Island lagoon and it was instrumental in converting what was once a migrating gravel bar to more permanent island, resulting in the creation of the park. The City purchased the land from the Prince family in 1947 for a park.  The Park hosts many festivals not the least of which is Calgary’s International Folk Festival. As well you’ll discover the Chevron Learning Pathway, a small sculpture park and one of Calgary’s oldest and best restaurants - River Café. Urban Epicentre

But time to move on – and only a few strides away from the formal entrance to Prince’s Island and Eau Claire Plaza. Prince’s Island Park is named after Peter Prince who, in 1886, built the Eau Claire Lumber Mill at this site. He dug a channel in the river to bring the logs from the Bow River to the mill. The channel is now the Prince’s Island lagoon and it was instrumental in converting what was once a migrating gravel bar to more permanent island, resulting in the creation of the park. The City purchased the land from the Prince family in 1947 for a park.

The Park hosts many festivals not the least of which is Calgary’s International Folk Festival. As well you’ll discover the Chevron Learning Pathway, a small sculpture park and one of Calgary’s oldest and best restaurants - River Café. Urban Epicentre

Prince’s Island lagoon is a popular place to sit especially when the Calgary Folk Festival is happening on the island.

Prince’s Island lagoon is a popular place to sit especially when the Calgary Folk Festival is happening on the island.

Eau Claire Plaza, developed in the early 90s as park of Eau Claire Market is also home to numerous festivals and events including A Taste of Calgary food festival. It also has a popular wading pool and spray park for young families. It is the gateway into the downtown.

Eau Claire Plaza, developed in the early 90s as park of Eau Claire Market is also home to numerous festivals and events including A Taste of Calgary food festival. It also has a popular wading pool and spray park for young families. It is the gateway into the downtown.

Just a few steps eastward and you encounter a large propeller-like artifact the middle of the pathway. Indeed it is a propeller from a nameless arctic ship. The plaque explains that the propeller which served many years in the Arctic was donated to the City of Calgary by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) in 1993 to commemorate the fact that Arctic section of SNAME, was started in Calgary in 1980 to support arctic oil and gas exploration.

Just a few steps eastward and you encounter a large propeller-like artifact the middle of the pathway. Indeed it is a propeller from a nameless arctic ship. The plaque explains that the propeller which served many years in the Arctic was donated to the City of Calgary by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) in 1993 to commemorate the fact that Arctic section of SNAME, was started in Calgary in 1980 to support arctic oil and gas exploration.

Prince’s Island sculpture park.

Prince’s Island sculpture park.

Prince’s Island lagoon with Jaipur Bridge. The Jaipur Bridge which links the Eau Claire Plaza to Prince’s Island, was built in 1968 to honour Calgary’s sister city in India. Plans are currently being developed to replace the bridge in 2020 to accommodate the increased traffic.

Prince’s Island lagoon with Jaipur Bridge. The Jaipur Bridge which links the Eau Claire Plaza to Prince’s Island, was built in 1968 to honour Calgary’s sister city in India. Plans are currently being developed to replace the bridge in 2020 to accommodate the increased traffic.

Next stop - Sien Lok Park on the northern edge of Chinatown. This park, created in 1982 is Chinatown’s only green space. The cone-shaped sculpture in the middle of it, titled “In Search of Gold Mountain,” was sculpted by Chu Honsun using 15 tonnes of granite from Hopei Province in China. The park has several other interesting artworks and two majestic Chinese Lions. The park is very popular with the Canadian Geese, so be careful where you walk or sit!

Next stop - Sien Lok Park on the northern edge of Chinatown. This park, created in 1982 is Chinatown’s only green space. The cone-shaped sculpture in the middle of it, titled “In Search of Gold Mountain,” was sculpted by Chu Honsun using 15 tonnes of granite from Hopei Province in China. The park has several other interesting artworks and two majestic Chinese Lions. The park is very popular with the Canadian Geese, so be careful where you walk or sit!

The iconic 1916 Centre Street Bridge with its lions modelled after the bronze lions at Trafalgar Square, London, and then to the popular Jack & Jean Leslie RiverWalk, which winds its way along the Bow River’s edge to where it meets the Elbow River.

The iconic 1916 Centre Street Bridge with its lions modelled after the bronze lions at Trafalgar Square, London, and then to the popular Jack & Jean Leslie RiverWalk, which winds its way along the Bow River’s edge to where it meets the Elbow River.

As you pass under the Centre Street bridge don’t miss the decorative Chinatown fence.

As you pass under the Centre Street bridge don’t miss the decorative Chinatown fence.

As you stroll along the RiverWalk, you will also pass by the 1910 Reconciliation Bridge, originally named the Langevin Bridge after Hector-Louis Langevin, a founder of Canada’s confederation and one of the architects of the nefarious residential schools. It was decided in 2017, as part of Canada’s attempt to reconcile the injustices done to First Nation peoples to rename the bridge. The bridge is beautiful in the evening when it is lit up.

As you stroll along the RiverWalk, you will also pass by the 1910 Reconciliation Bridge, originally named the Langevin Bridge after Hector-Louis Langevin, a founder of Canada’s confederation and one of the architects of the nefarious residential schools. It was decided in 2017, as part of Canada’s attempt to reconcile the injustices done to First Nation peoples to rename the bridge. The bridge is beautiful in the evening when it is lit up.

East Village Renaissance

Continuing along the way you will find several lookout platforms, street art and sculptures before arriving at the historic Simmons Building, where you can get a Calgary-roasted Phil & Sebastian coffee, a tasty sandwich, something sweeter at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, or an upscale meal at Charbar, which has a spectacular rooftop patio offering great views of the Bow River.     

Immediately east of the Simmons building, sits the George C. King Bridge, sometimes called the skipping stone bridge, as its arches remind some of a stone skipping across the water.  Cross the bridge and you will discover the exquisite St. Patrick’s Island that has been a public space since the 1880s.  Today it has popular man-made pebble beach, playground, picnic and play areas and public art.  It is a popular spot for those floating the river to end their trip.   

RiverWalk as seen from the Charbar roof-top patio.

RiverWalk as seen from the Charbar roof-top patio.

East Village is an outdoor gallery with numerous sculptures and street artworks.

East Village is an outdoor gallery with numerous sculptures and street artworks.

George C. King bridge aka Skipping Stone Bridge connects the SoBow Trail with St. Patrick’s Island.

George C. King bridge aka Skipping Stone Bridge connects the SoBow Trail with St. Patrick’s Island.

RiverWalk Plaza is a popular meeting and lingering place.

RiverWalk Plaza is a popular meeting and lingering place.

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach.

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach.

Bow & Elbow Confluence

But let’s keep going, as the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers awaits you. This is where  Calgary was first settled in 1875 by the North West Mounted Police, who built Fort Calgary which grew into the Calgary Barracks and by 1914, a flourishing city was developing.  The site eventually became an industrial area for the Canadian National Railway until 1974 when the City bought the site and in 1978, the Fort Calgary Interpretive Center opened.   

In 2006 a three-phase revitalization and redevelopment plan was adopted.  The first phase involving the restoration of the Deane house (one of Calgary’s best fine dining spots), restoration of the Hunt House and Metis Cabin (which was moved back to its original location from Calgary Brewery sit) have been completed. Phase 2, an interpretive art piece by Jill Anholt that references the walls of the original fort is also completed. Phase 3, currently underway includes an upgrade to the current museum and renovations of the 1888 Barracks. 

But let’s not linger too long as we still have 5 km to go.  Cross the Elbow River Traverse Bridge (opened in 2014) into Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest community, which today has many century old homes interspersed with modern new infills.  

Fort Calgary Barracks

Fort Calgary Barracks

Don’t be surprise if you find some people fishing in the river.

Don’t be surprise if you find some people fishing in the river.

You will also encounter a major bronze sculpture titled “Mountie on Horseback” done by Harry O’Hanlon in 1995 for Fort Calgary but moved to this site in 2015. It is placed high-up on a plinth giving the Mountie a commanding view Fort Calgary the birthplace of Calgary.

You will also encounter a major bronze sculpture titled “Mountie on Horseback” done by Harry O’Hanlon in 1995 for Fort Calgary but moved to this site in 2015. It is placed high-up on a plinth giving the Mountie a commanding view Fort Calgary the birthplace of Calgary.

Keep walking east and soon you will be at the new Zoo Bridge (opened 2017) that takes to the St. George’s Island and the Calgary Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

Keep walking east and soon you will be at the new Zoo Bridge (opened 2017) that takes to the St. George’s Island and the Calgary Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

However we are heading east, but not before checking out “The Wolfe and Sparrows” sculpture by Brandon Vickerd, a piece inspired by the 1898 statue of General James Wolfe sculpture by John Massey in Calgary’s Mount Royal community. From a distance, it looks like a typical realistic figurative bronze figure, but get up close to see \ the top of the sculpture is actually a flock of sparrows. The piece was conceived based on many conversations with community members who wanted something historical, yet contemporary. (Ironically General Wolfe never visited Calgary and his fame as the victorious British general in the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 1759 has nothing to do with Calgary. In 1759, the confluence of the Bow and Elbow River was a temporary summer meeting place for local First Nations.)

However we are heading east, but not before checking out “The Wolfe and Sparrows” sculpture by Brandon Vickerd, a piece inspired by the 1898 statue of General James Wolfe sculpture by John Massey in Calgary’s Mount Royal community. From a distance, it looks like a typical realistic figurative bronze figure, but get up close to see \ the top of the sculpture is actually a flock of sparrows. The piece was conceived based on many conversations with community members who wanted something historical, yet contemporary. (Ironically General Wolfe never visited Calgary and his fame as the victorious British general in the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 1759 has nothing to do with Calgary. In 1759, the confluence of the Bow and Elbow River was a temporary summer meeting place for local First Nations.)

Heading further east will take you through a nature area and eventual to Pearce Estate Park. This park, situated at the point where the Bow River takes a sharp turn south, is home to a large reconstructed wetland, as well as the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery and the Bow Habitat Visitor Centre.  A trout pond allows kids to try their hand at fishing, while the Discovery Centre’s aquariums where allow you to come eye-to-eye with over 20 of Alberta’s fish species, as well as other educational displays and a theatre.

Heading further east will take you through a nature area and eventual to Pearce Estate Park. This park, situated at the point where the Bow River takes a sharp turn south, is home to a large reconstructed wetland, as well as the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery and the Bow Habitat Visitor Centre.

A trout pond allows kids to try their hand at fishing, while the Discovery Centre’s aquariums where allow you to come eye-to-eye with over 20 of Alberta’s fish species, as well as other educational displays and a theatre.

Proceed further and you find yourself at the 36-hectare Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where you can wander and see how many of the 270 different birds known to frequent the area (Bald Eagles and Osprey) you can find. The Nature Centre is currently being expanded with completion expected in September 2020.

Proceed further and you find yourself at the 36-hectare Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where you can wander and see how many of the 270 different birds known to frequent the area (Bald Eagles and Osprey) you can find. The Nature Centre is currently being expanded with completion expected in September 2020.

The Sanctuary also includes the 1910 house of Colonel Walker, an officer of the first NWMP detachment that came to Calgary, who became one of the most influential civic figures in the City’s early years. He was declared Calgary’s “Citizen of the Century” in 1975. “Inglewood” was Walker’s name for his home and the moniker was soon applied by the public to the surrounding community.

The Sanctuary also includes the 1910 house of Colonel Walker, an officer of the first NWMP detachment that came to Calgary, who became one of the most influential civic figures in the City’s early years. He was declared Calgary’s “Citizen of the Century” in 1975. “Inglewood” was Walker’s name for his home and the moniker was soon applied by the public to the surrounding community.

The final destination is the Harvie Passage, a world-class white water passage recently rebuilt after the 2013 flood destroyed it. It now has two channels - one a low-water channel for inexperienced or novice rafters and paddlers and a high-water channel for experienced users. It is a place to see young kids developing their skills and Olympic calibre athletes perfecting theirs.

The final destination is the Harvie Passage, a world-class white water passage recently rebuilt after the 2013 flood destroyed it. It now has two channels - one a low-water channel for inexperienced or novice rafters and paddlers and a high-water channel for experienced users. It is a place to see young kids developing their skills and Olympic calibre athletes perfecting theirs.

And don’t miss the impressive public artwork by Lorna Jordan. Titled “Bow Passage Outlook,” it looks like a bunch of railway ties tossed on a hill. Kids love climbing the sculpture; couples and families love to sit on the beams, which if you climb to the top, offers a great view at the top of the majestic Bow River.

And don’t miss the impressive public artwork by Lorna Jordan. Titled “Bow Passage Outlook,” it looks like a bunch of railway ties tossed on a hill. Kids love climbing the sculpture; couples and families love to sit on the beams, which if you climb to the top, offers a great view at the top of the majestic Bow River.

The City of Calgary has a master plan called “Bend in the Bow” that will integrate the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Inglewood Wildlands, Pierce Estate Park, River Passage Park and Harvie Passage into one regional park. 

Last Word

The SoBow Trail is indeed a special place that deserves to be named and officially recognized as one of the best and most unique urban experiences in North America. It should be up there with San Antonio’s River Walk as a tourist attraction.

I love how SoBow Trail includes elements of Calgary’s past and present to create an urban sense of place within a nature setting. It is not a tacky contrived Disneyesque park, but something authentic and unique to Calgary. 

It’s high time to start promoting the SoBow Trail to locals and tourists alike as a “must do” fun day activity.

See YOU on the SoBow Trail….

See YOU on the SoBow Trail….

List of SoBow Parks, Plaza, Bridges etc: 

  1. Edworthy Park

  2. Douglas Fir Trail 

  3. Lawrey Gardens

  4. Pumphill Park

  5. Nat Christie Sculpture Park

  6. Shaw Millennium Park

  7. Contemporary Calgary 

  8. Louise Bridge

  9. The Wave

  10. West Eau Claire Park

  11. Peace Bridge 

  12. Prince’s Island Park 

  13. Eau Claire Plaza

  14. Sien Lok Park

  15. Centre Street Bridge

  16. Jean & Jean Leslie River Walk

  17. Reconciliation Bridge

  18. RiverWalk Plaza

  19. George King Bridge

  20. St. Patrick’s Island 

  21. Fort Calgary

  22. Elbow River Traverse Bridge

  23. St. George’s Island / Zoo

  24. Pearce Estate Park

  25. Inglewood Bridge Sanctuary

  26. Harvie Passage 

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

A Brief History Of The Bow River Islands

Calgary: Saturday Afternoon Bike Ride Fun

Calgary: City of pedestrian bridges

Stephen Avenue Walk Makeover (Part 2) Meet You on THE WALK?

It is laudable that the internationally renowned New York City based Gehl Studio has been engaged to lead the public consultation and creation of a much needed new design for Stephen Avenue Walk.

However it will take more than a mega makeover to capitalize on Stephen Avenue potential as a people place.  It will require:

  • the various cultural and corporate stakeholders working together to capitalize on the existing things to see and do, as well as creating new ones

  • a branding of Stephen Avenue Walk as a fun place for Calgarians to hang out, meet up and to bring visiting family and friends, as well as tourists

  • a paradigm shift in the thinking of all Stephen Avenue stakeholders, as well as Calgarians about how we perceive THE WALK

We will need to adopt a more “Meet you on THE WALK!” attitude!

Link: Stephen Avenue Walk Needs More Than Just A Makeover (Part 1)

Stephen Avenue Walk can be an amazing place during a weekday noon hour in summer when thousands of downtown office workers and tourist stroll the pedestrian mall. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Stephen Avenue Walk can be an amazing place during a weekday noon hour in summer when thousands of downtown office workers and tourist stroll the pedestrian mall. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Times Square before and after the Gehl Studio makeover. (Photo Credit Gehl Studio website)

Times Square before and after the Gehl Studio makeover. (Photo Credit Gehl Studio website)

Nobody expects Stephen Avenue to have the vitality of Times Square.

Gehl Studio is an off-shoot of Copenhagen’s Gehl Architects, founded by Jan Gehl who is considered by many as an urban placemaking guru.  Gehl’s mantra is “making cities for people,” meaning redesigning cities to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists, rather than cars.  

Gehl and his colleague’s claim to fame is the redesign of Times Square in 2009, creating a series of public plazas (which included removing traffic) to double the amount of pedestrian space.  

Today, Times Square’s pedestrian traffic is incredible – in part due to Gehl Studio’s redesign, but also in part because there are 50+ hotels within a few blocks. 

  • Nearly 380,000 pedestrians enter the heart of Times Square each day.

  • On the busiest days, Times Square has pedestrian counts as high as 450,000.

  •  Times Square stays busy late, with over 85,000 pedestrians between 7pm and 1am.

(December 2018, timessquarenyc.org)   

Heck, Stephen Avenue doesn’t have 85,000 pedestrians from 7am to 7 pm on weekdays when the 100+ office buildings nearby are full of workers.  On a regular day Times Square has three time the number of pedestrians than Calgary has downtown workers.

 While nobody expects Stephen Avenue to have the vitality of Times Square, in theory should be a vibrant place.

Aftercall, it has all of the ingredients of a people place - a major museum, a major performing arts centre, a convention centre, Olympic Plaza (numerous festivals and events), Devonian Gardens, historic and modern architecture, a historic department store, a mega indoor shopping centre (The Core), a major music venue (The Palace), access to a major public transit corridor and thousands of $2 evening and weekend parking spots. 

Stephen Avenue is home to one of Canada’s largest museums.

Stephen Avenue is home to one of Canada’s largest museums.

The historic Hudson’s Bay department store has the potential to become a unique shopping experience. Stephen Avenue needs several retail champions who can create a unique shopping experience.

The historic Hudson’s Bay department store has the potential to become a unique shopping experience. Stephen Avenue needs several retail champions who can create a unique shopping experience.

Stephen Avenue is home to Arts Commons a mega performing arts complex that includes a major concert hall as well as four other performance spaces. It is currently working on a $400M expansion program.

Stephen Avenue is home to Arts Commons a mega performing arts complex that includes a major concert hall as well as four other performance spaces. It is currently working on a $400M expansion program.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

While Stephen Avenue doesn't have a lot of hotels nearby there are several like the Hyatt Hotel. The Calgary Tower is also located just off of Stephen Avenue with its revolving restaurant.

While Stephen Avenue doesn't have a lot of hotels nearby there are several like the Hyatt Hotel. The Calgary Tower is also located just off of Stephen Avenue with its revolving restaurant.

Stephen Avenue Walk has a unique mix of historic and contemporary architecture, sometimes in the same complex.

Stephen Avenue Walk has a unique mix of historic and contemporary architecture, sometimes in the same complex.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue has the best collection of patios in Calgary, perhaps Western Canada. it should be as popular as Montreal’s Crescent Street.

Stephen Avenue has the best collection of patios in Calgary, perhaps Western Canada. it should be as popular as Montreal’s Crescent Street.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Stephen Avenue should be top of mind as the place for Calgarians to bring visiting family and friends for some unique fine dining.

Stephen Avenue should be top of mind as the place for Calgarians to bring visiting family and friends for some unique fine dining.

But it still struggles. Why?

Stephen Avenue lacks the density of residential, hotel and university/college development needed to make it animated in the evenings and weekends. Take Montreal’s Saint Catherine Street and Vancouver’s Robson Street - both are vibrant streets day and night, weekdays and weekends as they are surrounded by an equal mix of office, hotel and residential buildings, as well as numerous post-secondary campuses. In comparison, SAW is deserted in the evening and weekends because it is mostly surrounded by empty office buildings at that time.  

Even during the day office workers are there to work - not shop, visit art galleries, museums and tourist attractions. They aren’t there to stroll the streets like hotel tourist or students coming and going at all times of the day and night. Also most of the Calgary’s downtown hotels are business oriented, which means their guests are working all day (and sometimes evening) then heading home for the weekend. 

Great streets have a diverse mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, attractions and other pedestrian oriented businesses at street level.  Stephen Avenue is mostly a restaurant row, which means it can get busy at lunch hour weekdays and dinner time, but deserted afternoon, evenings and weekends.  

Combine this with the fact several of Stephen Avenue’s key corners being occupied by banks (not open in the evenings and weekends) and you don’t get the vitality you expect from your signature main street.  

On a positive note - the redevelopment of the old Scotia Bank pavilion into a retail restaurant food hall and a roof-top restaurant has the potential to help make Stephen Avenue a more unique entertainment destination.

The completion of the Telus Sky and the conversion of Baron building will add much needed residential development nearby. 

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs more small live music venues and street performers.

Stephen Avenue needs more small live music venues and street performers.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue Walk needs to capitalize on its National Historic District designation.

Stephen Avenue Walk needs to capitalize on its National Historic District designation.

Tough Competition 

While some blame Calgary’s +15 walkway for the lack of pedestrian activity, remember Saint Catherine street has an underground network of shopping centers that is larger than Calgary’s and is accessible by subway vs Calgary’s street level LRT system.  

Don’t blame the +15 - it is also dead evenings and weekends.  

One of the reasons Stephen Avenue struggles is the surrounding residential communities have their own pedestrian streets. This means those living near Stephen Avenue don’t see it as their urban playground. To make matters even worse, East Village will soon have its own indoor shopping mall and the new plans for Stampede Park will challenge Stephen Avenue as Calgary’s premier culture and entertainment district.  

Also when it comes to walkable public spaces, those living in the downtown core are more inclined to walk along the Bow pathways than head to Stephen Avenue, the latter being  a cold, dark and often windy place from October to April.  Multi-million dollar upgrades to the Bow River pathway over the past 10 years have transformed it into one of North America’s most attractive pedestrian strolls 

As well, the new Central Library downtown’s new “go to” public space, has no synergy with Stephen Avenue because it is hidden behind the Municipal Building.

Indeed, Stephen Avenue has become a bit of an orphan. 

East Village’s 5th & Third mixed-use project will have a Loblaws City Market, Olympia Liquor store, Shoppers Drug Mart, Winners, Scotiabank and more! I assume this means the Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk will close, but haven’t received confirmation. (photo credit, East Village website)

East Village’s 5th & Third mixed-use project will have a Loblaws City Market, Olympia Liquor store, Shoppers Drug Mart, Winners, Scotiabank and more! I assume this means the Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk will close, but haven’t received confirmation. (photo credit, East Village website)

Mission has its own collection of cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and fitness studios.

Mission has its own collection of cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and fitness studios.

There are dozens of fun places to hang out with friends in Calgary’s City Centre without going to Stephen Avenue Walk.

There are dozens of fun places to hang out with friends in Calgary’s City Centre without going to Stephen Avenue Walk.

Kensington Village has not one but two main streets full of shops and patios, with lots of sun.

Kensington Village has not one but two main streets full of shops and patios, with lots of sun.

The City Centre also has dozens of neighbourhood pubs like this one on First Street and craft breweries. Over the past 10+ years Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhood’s have created their own main streets, so no need to go to Stephen Avenue.

The City Centre also has dozens of neighbourhood pubs like this one on First Street and craft breweries. Over the past 10+ years Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhood’s have created their own main streets, so no need to go to Stephen Avenue.

Many of the neighbourhoods surrounding Stephen Avenue Walk have summer farmers’ markets, night markets and annual signature events.

Many of the neighbourhoods surrounding Stephen Avenue Walk have summer farmers’ markets, night markets and annual signature events.

Big Changes Needed

While a redesign of Stephen Avenue Walk will certainly help make it more pedestrian-friendly, what is really needed is a change in the tenant mix along the street and more collaboration and creativity between and by the merchants. 

Retailers and restauranteurs need to be more creative in attracting people to come to Stephen Avenue Walk. Some restaurants’ window are so dark you think they are closed when they are open.

Restauranteurs need to have the happiest happy hours in the city. They need to work together to develop special Stephen Avenue Walk food events.  Stephen Avenue needs to have its own signature event. The Santa Claus Parade us to be the kick off to the Christmas shopping season.  What about summer weekend patio parties? Maybe an annual summer sidewalk sale?  How about collaborating with the Glenbow’s Free First Thursdays specials? 

Stephen Avenue Walk needs some new street-front anchor tenants, ideally unique to Calgary like the new Simons store.  It is unfortunate Calgary-based Sport Chek didn’t create a flagship concept store on Stephen Avenue Walk when they had the chance. Unfortunately, when it comes to attracting major international retailers, Stephen Avenue Walk simply can’t compete with the likes of Chinook Centre, Market Mall or even The Core. 

The Glenbow Museum on Stephen Avenue Walk attracts thousands of people to their First Thursday Night program. Why not make it a Stephen Avenue Walk event, with neighbouring merchants having First Thursday specials.

The Glenbow Museum on Stephen Avenue Walk attracts thousands of people to their First Thursday Night program. Why not make it a Stephen Avenue Walk event, with neighbouring merchants having First Thursday specials.

Last Word

Yes, creating a new design for Stephen Avenue Walk will help make it more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists, but it won’t make it a vibrant street.  Street vitality happens when there are lots of things to see and do, for people of all ages, at all times of the day – everyday.

Good design is important, but it is secondary to the diversity of activities. 

In reality, there is only so much the City and Calgary Downtown Association can do to program the Stephen Avenue Walk with events and activities.  Great streets don’t need lots of programming, it is the inherent street life of locals and tourists mingling about that attracts people to not only want to go there, but to want to stop, linger and bring visiting family and friends.

Great streets must capture the imagination of locals.  

When was the last time you said to visiting family and friends, “we must take you to stroll Stephen Avenue to experience the great architecture, the unique shops, the theatres, concert hall, the museum, the restaurants and the nightlife.” 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on September 8, 2019.

Full Disclosure: As Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) from 1995 to 2005, my team was responsible for the programming and management of Stephen Avenue Walk. 

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

Glenbow’s Fabulous First Thursdays

Fixing Calgary’s Ghost Town Downtown

How to build a pedestrian friendly retail district?

 

Southern Alberta Road Trip: Folk Art & Architecture Postcards 

Recently we decided to take a three day road trip south from Calgary to Lethbridge, over to Waterton National Park and then home.  Along the way we dropped into numerous small towns and villages like Carseland, Vulcan, Carmongay, Barons, Nobleford, Picture Butte, Magrath, Cardston, Pincher Creek and Longview to check out their main streets, side streets and back alleys to see what fun surprises there might be.

We weren’t disappointed. We found some mega birdhouses, quirky, quasi public art, historic churches, artifacts and architecture and funky street signs. We began to call it the folk art and architecture tour.

Here are some postcards from our tour….   

Was surprise to find this fish monument celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town Carseland (population 525) which is near, but not next to the Bow River.

Was surprise to find this fish monument celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town Carseland (population 525) which is near, but not next to the Bow River.

Loved this quirky homemade birdhouse that combines traffic lights with railway cars. The entire front yard was like a folk art gallery.

Loved this quirky homemade birdhouse that combines traffic lights with railway cars. The entire front yard was like a folk art gallery.

The architecture of the Carseland School reminded me of the old wooden grain sheds that dot the prairies.

The architecture of the Carseland School reminded me of the old wooden grain sheds that dot the prairies.

Aspen Crossing at Mossleigh is a real hidden gem. The Aspen Crossing Railway is a heritage railway in Southern Alberta, southeast of Calgary. In 2002 the last CP train ran through Mossleigh, however, after 6 years of negotiations Jason Thornhill, the creator of Aspen Crossing, was successful in securing the rights to 14 miles of rail line. Today, you can enjoy Champagne Brunch, Dinner Theatre, High Tea or Aies on Rails while riding a vintage train. They even have a Circus Train. More info:  https://www.aspencrossing.com/railway

Aspen Crossing at Mossleigh is a real hidden gem. The Aspen Crossing Railway is a heritage railway in Southern Alberta, southeast of Calgary. In 2002 the last CP train ran through Mossleigh, however, after 6 years of negotiations Jason Thornhill, the creator of Aspen Crossing, was successful in securing the rights to 14 miles of rail line. Today, you can enjoy Champagne Brunch, Dinner Theatre, High Tea or Aies on Rails while riding a vintage train. They even have a Circus Train. More info: https://www.aspencrossing.com/railway

We enjoyed just wandering the grounds that includes several vintage railway cars, gift shop and greenhouse.

We enjoyed just wandering the grounds that includes several vintage railway cars, gift shop and greenhouse.

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The highlight of the Aspen Crossing visit was having a coffee in the Diefenbaker Dinaing Car. It was purchased from Chicago to become Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s “whistle-stop” rail car from 1958 to mid-1960. After 1962, John George Diefenbaker used the Pullman car as his private business car. Rumour has it, it once belonged to an “infamous gangster club.”

The highlight of the Aspen Crossing visit was having a coffee in the Diefenbaker Dinaing Car. It was purchased from Chicago to become Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s “whistle-stop” rail car from 1958 to mid-1960. After 1962, John George Diefenbaker used the Pullman car as his private business car. Rumour has it, it once belonged to an “infamous gangster club.”

Next Stop Vulcan (population 1,917), where the entire town has embraced the Star Trek theme as a means of attracting tourists and adding some fun to living there.

Next Stop Vulcan (population 1,917), where the entire town has embraced the Star Trek theme as a means of attracting tourists and adding some fun to living there.

Even some of the lampposts have a Star Trek connection.

Even some of the lampposts have a Star Trek connection.

At first I thought this was public art as it looks like a series of grain elevators. But I quickly learned it is a Solar Park that is both fun and educational with its didactic panels. Love the linking of science, art and a park.

At first I thought this was public art as it looks like a series of grain elevators. But I quickly learned it is a Solar Park that is both fun and educational with its didactic panels. Love the linking of science, art and a park.

The park has several colourful light boxes.

The park has several colourful light boxes.

Found these all over town…this one was at the entrance to the Library. How fun!

Found these all over town…this one was at the entrance to the Library. How fun!

Many of the shop windows make some reference to Star Trek.

Many of the shop windows make some reference to Star Trek.

Even the crosswalks have a Star Trek link.

Even the crosswalks have a Star Trek link.

If you explore Vulcan a bit more you will find bizarre buildings like this one.

If you explore Vulcan a bit more you will find bizarre buildings like this one.

This is Vulcan’s Visitor Information Centre which includes a small Star Trek museum.

This is Vulcan’s Visitor Information Centre which includes a small Star Trek museum.

Driving by on the highway you see the model of the Starship Enterprise and a huge fun solar flower both foreshadowing what there is to see if you stop and explore the town.

Driving by on the highway you see the model of the Starship Enterprise and a huge fun solar flower both foreshadowing what there is to see if you stop and explore the town.

Next stop Carmangay (population 242), which is known for its fire tower. Link:  Village History

Next stop Carmangay (population 242), which is known for its fire tower. Link: Village History

At the entrance to Carmangay is a wind turbine blade lying on the ground that allows you to appreciate just how large they are. Also makes for a great piece of public art with its distinctive shape and soft flowing lines. A nice surprise.

At the entrance to Carmangay is a wind turbine blade lying on the ground that allows you to appreciate just how large they are. Also makes for a great piece of public art with its distinctive shape and soft flowing lines. A nice surprise.

We were surprise to find this well preserved church on a side street, it was a reminder of the importance of churches in establishing communities across the prairies a 100 years ago.

We were surprise to find this well preserved church on a side street, it was a reminder of the importance of churches in establishing communities across the prairies a 100 years ago.

I expect this was a garage, today it would make a great artist’s studio. We found several corner buildings with similar rounded form like this on our adventure.

I expect this was a garage, today it would make a great artist’s studio. We found several corner buildings with similar rounded form like this on our adventure.

Next stop Champion (population 317) where we found this enchanting birdhouse on one the side streets.

Next stop Champion (population 317) where we found this enchanting birdhouse on one the side streets.

Next stop Barons (population 341), which once had a lovely tree line boulevard for its main street. Today looks very much like a ghost town. It is the northern tip of what is know as the Palliser Triangle. It is perhaps most famous as being a filming location for a scene in the 1978 Superman film.

Next stop Barons (population 341), which once had a lovely tree line boulevard for its main street. Today looks very much like a ghost town. It is the northern tip of what is know as the Palliser Triangle. It is perhaps most famous as being a filming location for a scene in the 1978 Superman film.

Nature is slowly taking over this old motel on Main Street.

Nature is slowly taking over this old motel on Main Street.

Someone has tried to brighten up this building and main street with a mural, but it has seen better days.

Someone has tried to brighten up this building and main street with a mural, but it has seen better days.

The quilt-like mural is composed of blocks each with a name of a local family.

The quilt-like mural is composed of blocks each with a name of a local family.

Loved these hand cut steel street signs.

Loved these hand cut steel street signs.

This one made me think of my Mom who calls herself “The Queen of the Rails.”

This one made me think of my Mom who calls herself “The Queen of the Rails.”

Next stop Nobleford population 1,280 where we found this charming wooden train in a backyard. Nobleford has realized an amazing revitalization since 2005 with a population increase of 50%, a 300% increase in employment and possibly the lowest municipal taxes in Canada.

Next stop Nobleford population 1,280 where we found this charming wooden train in a backyard. Nobleford has realized an amazing revitalization since 2005 with a population increase of 50%, a 300% increase in employment and possibly the lowest municipal taxes in Canada.

Not sure if this is suppose to be folk art or some contemporary art installation about how we clutter our lives with things.

Not sure if this is suppose to be folk art or some contemporary art installation about how we clutter our lives with things.

This old ice cream parlour with its board walk in Picture Butte (population 1,810) caught our attention, but unfortunately it is closed.

This old ice cream parlour with its board walk in Picture Butte (population 1,810) caught our attention, but unfortunately it is closed.

However, we did find this folk art gate. We haven’t seen one like this before.

However, we did find this folk art gate. We haven’t seen one like this before.

After an over night stay in Lethbridge our next stop was Magrath (population 2,374) where we were greeted by its unique skyline.

After an over night stay in Lethbridge our next stop was Magrath (population 2,374) where we were greeted by its unique skyline.

Love how this modern grain elevator has a miniature historic grain elevator on the top, but with a rounded roof rather than a pointed pitched roof.

Love how this modern grain elevator has a miniature historic grain elevator on the top, but with a rounded roof rather than a pointed pitched roof.

I have never seen a Civic Ave in any town or city before.

I have never seen a Civic Ave in any town or city before.

What is it about small towns and fun fire hydrants. Some might see then a kitschy but I love them.

What is it about small towns and fun fire hydrants. Some might see then a kitschy but I love them.

Some might also see this mural as kitschy but I found it intriguing.

Some might also see this mural as kitschy but I found it intriguing.

Next stop Cardston population 3,585. This log house was built by Charles Ora Card who in the autumn of 1887 led the first group of Mormons from Utah to Canada. It was one of the first buildings in the new Cardston townsite and remained for many years the centre of Cardston’s development.

Next stop Cardston population 3,585. This log house was built by Charles Ora Card who in the autumn of 1887 led the first group of Mormons from Utah to Canada. It was one of the first buildings in the new Cardston townsite and remained for many years the centre of Cardston’s development.

Loved the oversized arches of the School Division building.

Loved the oversized arches of the School Division building.

Guess a coat of paint made this building the New Block.

Guess a coat of paint made this building the New Block.

Cardston’s lovely historic Main Street was deserted on Saturday morning as everyone was at church.

Cardston’s lovely historic Main Street was deserted on Saturday morning as everyone was at church.

The Art Deco theatre was the architectural highlight of the street.

The Art Deco theatre was the architectural highlight of the street.

This old hotel dominated Cardston’s Main Street like a ghost of past prosperity.

This old hotel dominated Cardston’s Main Street like a ghost of past prosperity.

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What a great name for a cafe….

What a great name for a cafe….

Not sure if I like the paint job or not, but love the rounded corner.

Not sure if I like the paint job or not, but love the rounded corner.

As the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association I ignited one of the first “Say No To Panhandlers” campaigns in Canada. You don’t hear much about panhandling problems anymore are there fewer or have we just accepted them.

As the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association I ignited one of the first “Say No To Panhandlers” campaigns in Canada. You don’t hear much about panhandling problems anymore are there fewer or have we just accepted them.

On Main Street was a charming Mormon bookstore. It was an very interesting place to explore as it had a very different vibe with everyone dressed up as they were going or coming from church. It also had some unique books like this one.

On Main Street was a charming Mormon bookstore. It was an very interesting place to explore as it had a very different vibe with everyone dressed up as they were going or coming from church. It also had some unique books like this one.

Perfect bench!

Perfect bench!

The clouds in the background created a surreal sense of place for the temple entrance.

The clouds in the background created a surreal sense of place for the temple entrance.

Sandstone buildings always have charm and warmth that makes them timeless.

Sandstone buildings always have charm and warmth that makes them timeless.

Next stop Waterton (population 104) and the majestic Prince of Wales hotel.

Next stop Waterton (population 104) and the majestic Prince of Wales hotel.

I think it would make a great birdhouse!

I think it would make a great birdhouse!

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Yes the hotel still uses room keys.

Yes the hotel still uses room keys.

Was surprised to find this 20th century artifact in downtown Waterton.

Was surprised to find this 20th century artifact in downtown Waterton.

One of the many charming cottages in Waterton.

One of the many charming cottages in Waterton.

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Love how the roof of the church mirrors the mountain behind. By design or chance?

Love how the roof of the church mirrors the mountain behind. By design or chance?

Classic mid century garage today not only serves the needs of vehicles, but also rents bikes and kayaks, as well as being a convenience store.

Classic mid century garage today not only serves the needs of vehicles, but also rents bikes and kayaks, as well as being a convenience store.

One of the reason for out trip was to experience the live music at the Twin Butte General Store that was recently written up as one of Alberta’s best honky-tonks.  Link: Searching for Calgary’s true country heart  We had front row seats, but I wouldn’t call it a real honky-tonk as it is more a restaurant than a live music venue - I’d take Calgary’s Blues Can any day. But if you are in the area it is a must stop as it is a quirky general store.

One of the reason for out trip was to experience the live music at the Twin Butte General Store that was recently written up as one of Alberta’s best honky-tonks. Link: Searching for Calgary’s true country heart We had front row seats, but I wouldn’t call it a real honky-tonk as it is more a restaurant than a live music venue - I’d take Calgary’s Blues Can any day. But if you are in the area it is a must stop as it is a quirky general store.

Twin Butte population 10.

Twin Butte population 10.

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Next stop Pincher Creek population 3,642 with its pleasant Main Street.

Next stop Pincher Creek population 3,642 with its pleasant Main Street.

This strange sculpture marks the entrance to downtown. The plaque gives no information on the artist or its significance. Turns out it is an enlarged pincer that would be used for trimming the feet of horses. Turns out in 1868 when a group of prospectors lost a pincer in the small creek at this location and in 1876 the North-West Mounted Police discovered the rusting tool in the creek and named the area Pincher Creek.

This strange sculpture marks the entrance to downtown. The plaque gives no information on the artist or its significance. Turns out it is an enlarged pincer that would be used for trimming the feet of horses. Turns out in 1868 when a group of prospectors lost a pincer in the small creek at this location and in 1876 the North-West Mounted Police discovered the rusting tool in the creek and named the area Pincher Creek.

it has the typical historic murals, as well as some surprises.

it has the typical historic murals, as well as some surprises.

Who let this cow out of the pasture? Is this one of Calgary’s “Udderly Art” cows? The cow is on the balcony of the historic King Edward Hotel.

Who let this cow out of the pasture? Is this one of Calgary’s “Udderly Art” cows? The cow is on the balcony of the historic King Edward Hotel.

Quilt shop window…

Quilt shop window…

Pincher Creek’s Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is definitely worth a visit. They had an amazing quilt show when we were there.

Pincher Creek’s Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is definitely worth a visit. They had an amazing quilt show when we were there.

There is lots of fun local history artifacts.

There is lots of fun local history artifacts.

The Museum also includes a village that is very much like Calgary’s Heritage Park but on a smaller scale.

The Museum also includes a village that is very much like Calgary’s Heritage Park but on a smaller scale.

I am a sucker for minimalist architecture.

I am a sucker for minimalist architecture.

I am also a sucker for brick and rounded corners.

I am also a sucker for brick and rounded corners.

Next stop Longview population 307 and a popular watering hole along Highway #22. The towns Main Street has two iconic hotels - Twin Cities Hotel and Blue Sky Motel. It has also become a bit of an artists colony with several art galleries and cafes.

Next stop Longview population 307 and a popular watering hole along Highway #22. The towns Main Street has two iconic hotels - Twin Cities Hotel and Blue Sky Motel. It has also become a bit of an artists colony with several art galleries and cafes.

Blue Sky Motel.

Blue Sky Motel.

We were surprise to find The Film Experience Camera Store with its huge collection of film cameras and accessories. It literally has hundreds, maybe over a thousand vintage film cameras, lenses and accessories. It is rumoured to be the largest film camera store in Canada. Owner David Marshall is very friendly and knowledgeable. Next door is the Prairie Light Gallery that feature his photography ,as well as others.

We were surprise to find The Film Experience Camera Store with its huge collection of film cameras and accessories. It literally has hundreds, maybe over a thousand vintage film cameras, lenses and accessories. It is rumoured to be the largest film camera store in Canada. Owner David Marshall is very friendly and knowledgeable. Next door is the Prairie Light Gallery that feature his photography ,as well as others.

A blast from the past….

A blast from the past….

Our adventure ended as it began with a front yard full of pieces of folk art.

Our adventure ended as it began with a front yard full of pieces of folk art.

Salisbury House: Restaurant & Museum!

Though Salisbury House restaurants have been a Winnipeg icon for over 85 years, I somehow had never eaten there until a recent visit, despite having lived in Winnipeg for 14 months and visiting regularly since the early 80s. However while researching “best keep secrets” in Winnipeg for a recent visit,  I found out their Portage and Pembina restaurants have mini-museums in their lobbies.  

This was the catalyst I needed!

The iconic red roof of Salisbury House.

The iconic red roof of Salisbury House.

Salisbury House has always been very community oriented participating in community events like parades.

Salisbury House has always been very community oriented participating in community events like parades.

Sports & Music Museums

The Portage Avenue restaurant has several display cases with sports artifacts including hockey, football, baseball, curling and basketball.  While the Pembina Highway restaurant is a mini music hall of fame that even includes Burton Cummings piano.  Don’t believe me?

Here are the photos to prove it. 

The walls of every Salisbury House are full of photos that document the evolution of the restaurant over the past 85+ years.

The walls of every Salisbury House are full of photos that document the evolution of the restaurant over the past 85+ years.

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 Keep reading and you will find out….

What is a nip?

Who is Alex English?

The history of Rockola?

What is Zingo?

What Winnipeg band had golden records with the titles - Furnance Room, Silent Radar and Slomotion?

Who were the Winnipeg Whips?

Who is “Big Daddy?”

Like all good restaurants Salisbury House has a signature dessert. Read on for more details and fun story about their signature dessert.

Like all good restaurants Salisbury House has a signature dessert. Read on for more details and fun story about their signature dessert.

Salisbury House Sports Museum

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Salisbury House Manitoba Music Museum

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How many of these musicians can you name?

How many of these musicians can you name?

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This piano was give to Burton Cummings by Richard Moir. While located at Burton’s residence on Landsdowne Avenue Burton composed and played many tunes. some with his buddy, Gary “Big Daddy” MacLean of MacLean & MacLean, a popular Canadian Juno nominated musical-comedy duo.  It was purchased by Earl & Cheryl Barish at a live auction at the Winnipeg Convention Centre on Friday, July 27, 2001 during a benefit evening for Gary MacLean.

This piano was give to Burton Cummings by Richard Moir. While located at Burton’s residence on Landsdowne Avenue Burton composed and played many tunes. some with his buddy, Gary “Big Daddy” MacLean of MacLean & MacLean, a popular Canadian Juno nominated musical-comedy duo.

It was purchased by Earl & Cheryl Barish at a live auction at the Winnipeg Convention Centre on Friday, July 27, 2001 during a benefit evening for Gary MacLean.

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Donuts & Service

In addition to the lobby displays, the walls of every Salisbury House are plastered with fun historic photos of Salisbury House’s history, making them all a fun walk back in time. Link Salisbury House History https://www.salisburyhouse.ca/history

While nobody would confuse Salisbury House with fine dining, the food is good, prices great and the service outstanding.  When we asked for salad instead of french fries our waitress immediately said “Yes we can!!” No snooty look. No saying there will be a surcharge for the substitution. She was genuinely please to do it. 

And when we asked about the Tyler’s Hand Dipped Chocolate Iced Donut Sundae menu item and then later realizing we were full and would have to come back another time for dessert, she brought us a smaller version to share – no charge!  

That’s customer service. 

Salisbury House doesn’t just pay lip service to customer service, like so many restaurants.

Salisbury House doesn’t just pay lip service to customer service, like so many restaurants.

Indeed, the world has changed dramatically over the past 85+ years. Imagine have a cigar stand like this one in the Bus Depot at Hargrave and Graham.

Indeed, the world has changed dramatically over the past 85+ years. Imagine have a cigar stand like this one in the Bus Depot at Hargrave and Graham.

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In the days before iPads, family road trips involved playing games like Zingo!

In the days before iPads, family road trips involved playing games like Zingo!

Last Word

So, if you ever find yourself in Winnipeg and want a truly Winnipeg experience, definitely eat at Salisbury House preferably the one at 3315 Portage Avenue or 759 Pembina Highway. There are currently 9 fully service family restaurants, six of which are open 24 hours and five Sals Xpress restaurants.  

And make sure you leave room for dessert. 

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

Winnipeg vs Calgary: The Forks vs East Village

Winnipeg’s Old World Charm

Public Art Galleries: To Charge Or Not To Charge? 

Until recently, Regina’s Mackenzie Art Gallery was the only major public art gallery in Western Canada to offer free admission - to everyone, all the time. But starting June 10th 2019, it too started start charging - a $10 admission for non-members over the age of 17. 

Deborah Rush, Director of Communications at the Mackenzie informed me the primary reason for moving to a mandatory admission fee rather than by donation (pay what you wish) as had been the case prior, was NOT to generate more revenue, but to promote and increase memberships. Their goal is to double their membership to about 800, which will give them a stronger base to gather visitor feedback on existing and future programming.  

Memberships are $30 (individuals) and $55 (doubles).  This gets you unlimited visits to 10 exhibitions per year, as well as to numerous events (e.g. exhibition openings, artists’ and curators’ talks). 

They are lined up out the door and down the street on Tuesdays afternoons waiting for 5 pm when admission is by donation.

They are lined up out the door and down the street on Tuesdays afternoons waiting for 5 pm when admission is by donation.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum is packed on Free First Thursday nights.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum is packed on Free First Thursday nights.

Mandatory vs Donation vs Free

Admission and membership fees to Western Canadian public galleries are all over the map. This  shouldn’t be surprising given each has a different funding structure and offers members a different number of exhibitions, programs and amenities. I’ll spare you a cost per square foot or per exhibition analysis of admission fees and memberships across Western Canada.

Some would argue any institution receiving public funding should offer free access to the public on a regular basis.  Others would argue that if you make it free, you devalue the experience.  Surely, there must be a happy middle ground.

For Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, the middle ground is offering free admission to everyone the First Thursdays of each month from 5 to 9 pm.  While this token effort is appreciated, it is very restrictive and isn’t very family-friendly. Why not offer a free Saturday or Sunday per month in addition to an evening?   

The Glenbow’s free nights (sponsored by Servus Credit Union) attract, on average, 3,000+ people, making it the busiest day of the month and documenting there is a pent up demand to visit the museum if the price is right.  

The Edmonton’s Art Gallery of Alberta offers free access EVERY Thursday from 5 to 8 pm, while the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria offers free access all day the first Tuesday of every month, as well as complimentary admission to indigenous people at all times. In Saskatoon, the Remai Modern’s main floor gallery is always free and Rawlco Radio Ltd. sponsors free admission six times a year. Surprisingly, the Winnipeg Art Gallery doesn’t offer any weekly or monthly free admission to the public. 

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) has the most liberal free public access of any Western Canadian public gallery. It offers admission by donation every Tuesday (from 4 to 9 pm), as well as the first Monday of every month to seniors 65+ from 10 am to 1 pm. While technically you can get in free, you must go to the admission desk to get a ticket. No just dropping your money in the donation box when you enter or exit the galleries. It is difficult to give nothing when everyone else is donating.  While the suggested donation is $10, you can give a little or as much as you wish.  I saw people giving loonies and twonies, but most people were giving $5 per person.

The VAG’s “by donation” program is a huge success with line-ups out the door and down the block most Tuesdays evenings - even in the rain. What does this tell VAG gallery administration? It tells me the regular admission price of $24 for an adult and $20 for a senior is too high and $5 is probably closer to the right amount. 

When I emailed VAG media relations re: how long the Tuesday admission by donation has been happening, they said “at least 12 years, but nobody knew for sure.” When I asked how much in total visitors donated on Tuesday nights and Monday mornings compared to other days of the week and what the average donation was, I was told “we do not share this information at this time.”  

Obviously, the whole free/donate vs paid admission is a sensitive subject for gallery administration. The popularity of the “free or donation admission” programs demonstrates the existing fee structure is a barrier to public visitation. 

Admission fees are a critical source of revenue. The Glenbow generated a million dollars in admission fees in 2018, which represented about 12% of its annual revenues.  VAG, with its huge tourist population, generates over $3 million in admissions (or about 25% of its annual revenues).  This revenue would be difficult to replace.  

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VAG patron checks out the art on Seniors’ Day.

VAG patron checks out the art on Seniors’ Day.

Not every First Thursday at the Glenbow is packed.

Not every First Thursday at the Glenbow is packed.

Festival Experience

In chatting with VAG’s gift shop staff on a Tuesday night (where the line-up was too long for me to wait to get in), they thought people liked the lively festival atmosphere the gallery has on donation nights, when it is full of people who animate the galleries, rather than the sombre atmosphere of the gallery most days.  

An experienced gallery patron (who prefers to remain anonymous) thinks having only a few free/donation nights creates a sense of urgency to go to the Gallery on those nights.  He thought you would lose the “thrill of the deal” if you have multiple free/donation nights/days. 

Zoltan Varadi, Communications Specialist at the Glenbow told me many people come on Free Thursdays but can’t get in to see the blockbuster exhibition so they return another time, paying full admission and often bringing family members or friends with them.  I think they call that a “loss leader” in the retail world. 

The Glenbow’s galleries take on a different feel on First Thursdays with lots of people milling about.

The Glenbow’s galleries take on a different feel on First Thursdays with lots of people milling about.

New York vs Toronto

Western Canadian public art galleries are not alone in this mandatory fee vs donation admission debate. Major museums like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art moved to mandatory admission fees in 2018 after 48 years of a “pay what you wish,” policy, i.e. donation. 

In early May, the Art Gallery of Ontario announced a mega change to its mandatory admission fee policy – anyone 25 or younger now gets in FREE while anyone over 25 can purchase an annual pass for $35 which includes unlimited access to the galleries and special exhibitions.  It is important to note the annual pass doesn’t include other membership benefits like free coat check, discounts at the café and gift shop or early access to the exhibitions.  

It will be interesting to see how many of AGO’s current 100,000 members (more than all of the Western Canadian public art galleries combined) will opt to keep their individual memberships ($110/yr. vs the new $35 pass).

As well, the AGO is free every Wednesday night (from 6 to 9 pm) for collections galleries only with discounted admission fees to the special exhibition galleries and they offer complimentary general admission to all Indigenous Peoples. 

Last Word

I can’t help but wonder, “Is there a sweet spot where art galleries can maximize their number of visitors and their admission revenues?”  I realize there is no “one admission policy fits all.” 

Personally, I like the “admission-by-donation” policy. I don’t think admission should ever be free.  I also think there should be a minimum of one evening and one weekend day per month where admission is by donation.  

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

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

Glenbow’s Fabulous Free First Thursdays

Montreal Museum of Fine: The Human Hand

SAKS: Department store or art gallery

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