Calgary: 59+ Free Fun Things To See & Do

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

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

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

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

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

Free Gardens

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

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

Link: Postcard from Reader Rock Garden

Link: Stop and smell the flowers in Silver Springs 

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

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

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Reader Rock Garden

Reader Rock Garden

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Devonian Gardens

Devonian Gardens

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

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

Free Museums

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

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

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

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

Link: Police Interpretive Centre

Link: Grain Academy & Museum

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Free Walks in the Parks

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

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

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

Harvie Passage fun

Harvie Passage fun

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Prince’s Island sculpture park

Prince’s Island sculpture park

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

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

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

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

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

 Free Art Galleries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary has a free public art map 

Link: Beltline Mural map 

Link: Stampede Art Walk Map

Link: Downtown’s Udderly Cow Pasture

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

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

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

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

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

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

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

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

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

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Street Markets 

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

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

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

Link: A Sunday walkabout in Hillhurst

Link: Where on Earth Did You Get That

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

 Live Music

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

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

Link: Nashville vs. Calgary: Music Cities

LInk: Hexter Pub

Link: Blues Can

Link: Ironwood

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

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

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

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

Free History Tours 

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

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

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

Link: Discover Calgary’s Secret Heritage Walking Tour

Link: City of Calgary Self-Guided Tour

Link:  WalkYYC Free Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

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

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

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

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

Free Wading  

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

Link: City of Calgary Wading Pool and Splash Parks

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

Memorial Park fountain fun.

Memorial Park fountain fun.

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

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

Free Skating

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

Link: Shaw Millennium Park

Link: Bowness Park

Link: City of Calgary outdoor rinks

Bowness Park skating fun

Bowness Park skating fun

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Free +15 Skywalks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Recreation 

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

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

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

Memorial Park stair challenge

Memorial Park stair challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

Link: Calgary: A Bow River Bike Ride

Link: Bridges Over The Bow

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

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

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historic Centre Street Bridge

Historic Centre Street Bridge

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

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

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

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

Free chaise lounge chairs

Free chaise lounge chairs

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

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

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

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

Central Library

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

 Link: Step Inside The World’s Most Futuristic Libraries

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

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

Free Train Ride

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

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

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

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

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Last Word 

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

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

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

The Streets of Calgary

Fun Calgary Restaurants

Uniquely Calgary Shopping Experiences

Calgary Military Museums

 

Rennie Museum: Dares to be different!

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

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

Catherine Opie, 700 Nimes Road exhibition

Catherine Opie, 700 Nimes Road exhibition

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

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

Saturday tour at Rennie Museum.

Saturday tour at Rennie Museum.

Collecting

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

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander Iolas

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

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

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Art & Object

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

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

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

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Importance of a tour guide

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

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

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



Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Glenbow: Paul Hardy A Stroke of Genius

Staircases as art!

Montreal Museum of Modern Art: The Human Hand

 

 

Uniquely Calgary Shopping Experiences

If you are visiting Calgary, perhaps new to Calgary or just want to get out of your shopping rut, here are some Everyday Tourist recommendations for uniquely Calgary shopping experiences.  

Even if you don’t like to shop, or don’t need to buy a souvenir each of these shops are interesting for their design, artifacts or the community that they are located in.

Alberta Boot, #50 - 50th Ave SE

Perhaps the quintessential Calgary shopping experience would be to buy a pair of locally made cowboy boots from Alberta Boots.  Clem Gerwing moved from the family farm in Saskatchewan to Calgary in 1963 and purchased a wholesale footwear company. For several years he sold Quebec, Mexican and American made boots.  Not happy with the quality, he decided the world’s best boots should be made in Calgary and so Alberta Boots was born in 1978.  The Gerwing family has since made boots for the likes of Will and Kate (yes, THAT Will and Kate), Tom Selleck, Brad Pitt, Kevin Costner, Owen Wilson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Fred Couples, Jerome Iginla, Gordie Howe, Paul Brandt, Keifer Sutherland and many other big names. 

Their huge store and factory in Calgary’s up and coming Manchester district is definitely worth a visit.  And a surprise – they don’t just make cowboy boots now!

Link: Alberta Boot

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Aquila Books, 826 - 16th Avenue NW

 Who would think the little building with the blue awning on the TransCanada Highway (aka 16th Ave N) is home to one of North America’s best antiquarian bookstores?  Aquila specializes in books dealing with polar expeditions, Western Canadiana, mountaineering and the Canadian Pacific Railway. As much a museum as a bookstore, it is filled with antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards, scientific instruments and even an Inuit kayak hanging from the ceiling.  It is well worth the visit if you love history and/or books.

Link: Aquila Books

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Circa Glass, 1226A - 9th Ave SE

If you like eye candy, you will love Circa.  Owner and curator Brian Imeson has created a one-of-a-kind gallery in Canada that showcases mid-century modern art glass from around the world. A visit to Circa is an educational experience, as Imeson is more than willing to spend time sharing his vast knowledge of European art glass. 

A souvenir from Circa is something you will enjoy for a lifetime. 

Link: Circa Glass

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Crown Surplus, 1005 - 11st St SE

You could easily walk by the Crown Surplus site thinking it is just a junk shop filled with old army surplus equipment - not that there is anything wrong with that. Established in 1953 originally as R&S Surplus, Crown Surplus has a long history of selling decommissioned army equipment. But inside there is so much more. It is a military treasure hunters dream with stuff hanging from the ceiling and stuffed into every corner, but you can also find great outdoor clothing and equipment deals. 

Link: Crown Surplus 

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espy, 1009 9th Ave SE

Located in the timeless Atlantic Avenue Arts Block, espy is an affordable fashion boutique for women and men.  The staff pride themselves on being able to find their clients – no matter their size or age - the perfect pair of jeans. They specialize in the difficult, by carrying sizes from 00 to plus 16 for women and special sizes for men with long arms and long legs. 

Could there be a better souvenir of Calgary than a perfect fitting pair of blue jeans? And yes, they’re more than just jeans.

Link: espy

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Gravity Pope, 1126 - 17th Ave SE

Gravity Pope is a must visit for anyone interested in fashion and interior design.  The open multi-level floor plate with its 70s psychedelic design is simply dazzling with mirrors everywhere reflecting the light and objects to create a magical mystery tour.   A commissioned colorful art installation by artist Kristi Malakoff embellishes the visual feast.  And then there are 200 footwear brands displayed on pedestals like works of art.  

It is like an art installation that you might see at a major contemporary art gallery in London or New York – but this is one where you can take a “piece” home.

Link: Gravity Pope

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Heritage Poster & Music, 1316 - 11th Ave SW

Here you will find not only vintage vinyl, but new and out-of-print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, photos, movie posters and just about anything “music.” Holger Petersen of Stony Plain Records says, “Heritage Music has the best collection of Blues, Folk, Roots and Jazz records in Canada.” I don’t argue that.

Link: Heritage Posters

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Kent of Inglewood, 1319 - 9th Ave SE

Need a good axe? How about an old fashioned straight razor? You can get these and lots more at Kent of Inglewood man’s man store. Check out the Kent of Inglewood Boar Bristle Beard brush or their badger hair shaving brush.  There is also a barber on site where you can get a shave and a hair-cut, while others are exploring the shops of Inglewood.  

And yes, they have an entire wall of axes…. warning don’t try to shave with them.  And yes, they do offer shave classes.

Link:  Kent of Inglewood

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Knifewear, 1316 - 9th Ave SE

Across the street, along Inglewood’s main street you will find Knifewear’s museum-like flagship store that opened in 2008.  Owner Kevin Kent, (he also owns Kent of Inglewood), first fell in love with Japanese knives while working a sous-chef for the legendary chef Fergus Henderson at St. John’s restaurant in London, England.  Upon returning to Calgary in 2007, he began selling knives to Calgary chefs out of his backpack on his bike.  Today, he visits Japan a couple of times a year to learn more about the ancient art of knife-making and meet directly with the blacksmiths.  His staff are both enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. The dynamic mural on the wall is worth the visit alone.   

A Japanese knife will surely impress friends at your next dinner party. 

Link: Knifewear

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Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys, 1124 Kensington Rd NW

If you are a grandparent or love retro things, you will love Livingstone & Cavell. It is full of nostalgia-based toys, everything from shiny pedal cars to pick-up sticks, from toy soldiers to classic board games and wind-up tin toys. Livingstone & Cavell invites everyone to play again. Wind up a tin robot, twitch a marble with your thumb, play a few bars of “Happy Birthday” on a toy piano, and share your memories with friendly staff.  

Take home something educational for the grandkids and something fun for yourself. 

Link:  Livingstone & Cavell

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Map Town, 400 - 5 Avenue SW

When you're in the heart of downtown Calgary, there's a hidden gem that has been compared to the world's largest map store - Stanford's in London, England. Established in 1989, Map Town is Canada's largest map store offering 90,000 world, travel, country, topographic, landowner, provincial, nautical and aeronautical maps, as well as travel guides, traditional and solar globes, digital data for your GPS and novelty items. Map Town has delivered maps to over 99% of the postal and zip codes in Canada and the USA.  

There most unique map is an authentic Captain John Palliser's exploration of Western Canada in 1867. If it is still available it is yours for $28,000. Popular souvenirs include World Wall maps, and local hiking maps of the Canadian Rockies. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Link: MapTown.com

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Recordland 1208 - 9th Ave SE

Opened in 1979, Recordland boasts an inventory of over one million obscure, classic and new records, making its Canada’s largest record store. Visit on a weekday and you can browse to your heart’s content. Visit on a weekend and you will be rubbing elbows with Calgary’s many audiophiles as the place is packed with floor-to-ceiling shelves that are only about three feet apart. Look up to see and records decorating the ceiling.  

Link: Recordland

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Reid’s The Stationary Store, 710 - 17th Ave SW

Reid’s has been a fixture on 17th Avenue for over 25 years.  A party store in the front and stationary store in the back, it is a FUN place to explore. Jam-packed with balloons and piñatas and gag gifts, as well as designer items from Alessi and Riedel, and a huge selection of cards and specialty paper.  Serious pen collectors won’t want to miss their large selection of designer writing utensils from Mont Blanc to Faber-Castell, from Lamy to Cross.  

If you can’t find a souvenir here, you aren’t really trying.

Link: Reid’s 

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Rubaiyat, 722 17th Ave SW

Rubaiyat, established in 1973 has been one of the retail anchors on Calgary’s 17thAvenue main street, since it opened at its current location in 1980. The store is unique as it combines a hand-blown glass gallery with upscale jewellery, as well as home décor accessories and furniture (indoor and outdoor).  At any given time, there are works by over 800 artisans.  It even has its own Stained Glass Studio at 1913 - 10thAve SW - definitely worth a visit for off-the-beaten path shoppers.  

If you can’t find a souvenir here, you really don’t want a souvenir.  

Link: Rubaiyat

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Smithbilt Hats, 1015 - 11th St SE 

No visit to Calgary is complete without a visit to the Smithbilt Hats new store, museum and factory in Inglewood.  Founded in 1919, Smithbilt is the maker of the famous Calgary “white cowboy hats” that have been presented to visiting dignitaries as the City’s symbol of hospitality and friendship since the 1940s.  Today the store offers a range of hats and other western fashion accessories. You can even custom cowboy hat made for you. The shop is full of hat-making artifacts and if you are lucky you might even see in progress hat-making. 

Link: Smithbilt Hats

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The Chocolate Lab 202D Centre St. SE, 

This tiny off-the-beaten-path shop in Chinatown offers chocolates that are ALMOST “to0 pretty to eat.” They are works of art.  Several of The Chocolate Lab’s bonbons – Orange Dreamsicle, the L.L. Dean and the Lychee Rose have won awards at the International Chocolate Awards.  If you go to The Lab, be sure to leave some time to explore the surrounding quaint Chinatown. 

Link: Chocolate Lab

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World of Whiskey, 333 - 5th Ave SW, (+15 level, west of Petroleum Club) 

Explore over 850 different varieties of whisky at Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey store, one of the first whiskey-only stores in North America.  Here you will find rare vintages from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, India and France, including a 50-year old single malt Glenfiddich going for the price of a well-equipped car.  

No smoking jacket required. 

Link: World of Whiskey

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Last Word

Obviously, there are many other retailers I could have included in this list. If you are looking to further explore Calgary’s unique shopping scene, I would suggest you explore these five districts. 

  • Inglewood: Along 9thAvenue SE

  • Beltline: 17thAvenue SW

  • Kensington: 10thSt NW and Kensington Road

  • Design District: 11thAve SW

  • Downtown Hudson’s’ Bay to Holt Renfrew (+15 level and above)

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

Restaurants That Define Calgary’s Sense of Place

19 Reason’s Not To Visit Calgary in 2019

Calgary: History Capital of Canada