Window Licking Fun In Vancouver

Those of you who are regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blogs will know I love taking photos of urban street life in storefront windows. For me, it is the best format for “street photography” as I can be incognito.

I use the term “window licking” because it sounds a bit weird and fun at the same time. The term is from the French words for window shopping, which when translated literally into English is “window licking.”

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Window Licking History

“The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw an evolution in shopping spurred by a faster turnover of manufactured "fashionable" goods and an increase in department stores selling them. These shops pioneered new techniques of window display. Rather than piling their stock up - as had been common in markets and bazaars - they sold goods in mannered and self-conscious window displays, intended to sell nonessential goods.”

Link: Window Displays


There was a time when department stores would have full-time window dressers who like curators at a public art galleries, would research and carefully plan seasonal window displays to capture the pubilic’s imagination. To “wow” them to come into the store. This is still the case in fashion centres like New York, Paris, London and Milan, but not so much in places like Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg or Hamilton.

Selfridges in London has perhaps the most iconic storefront windows. Harry Selfridge the founder of one of the world’s signature department stores was adamant when designing his store in 1909 that it must have large windows facing the street. He even brought with him a widow dresser from the American department store Marshall Field’s which was noted for their window displays. Many of the early episodes of the TV show Mr. Selfridge focus on the importance of the windows as a means of attracting people into the store and the important role of the “window dresser” as part of the stores branding.

Today the use of street windows as a key marketing and sales tool has been forgotten by most retailers. As a result most “Main Street” experiences aren’t as much fun as they use to be.

Great cities are often defined by their great shopping or “High” streets. Places where the sidewalks are animated with people coming and going. Places, where the windows are carefully curated with art gallery-like exhibitions of objects. They can make a street become a tourist attraction.

Link: Video Selfridges Christmas window

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Vancouver Window Licking

I was pleasantly surprised to find the art of window dressing still very much alive in Vancouver, especially in the high end fashion shops along and near Alberni Street.

Link: Retailers Continue to descend on Vancouver’s Luxury Zone.

However, it wasn’t only Alberni Street. I found fun windows wherever I went from Strathcona to South Granville. Sure many of them were in upscale shops, but some of the more unique ones were in off the beaten path places like the BC Stamp Works. I found great windows in local grocery stores, as well as the Army & Navy store in New West.

Here are some of my favourite Vancouver windows….

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Last Word

In my opinion, cities today are placing too much attention (and money) on the design of the streetscape as a means of attracting people to their shopping streets. If landlords and retailer want to attract more people to visit their shops they would be far better off hiring a professional window dresser to create fun, funky and quirky windows on a regular basis - at least quarterly if not monthly.

If you like this blog you will like:

Window Licking in Paris

Window Licking in Chicago

Window Licking in Florence

A Walk In The Park: Stanley & Nose Hill

Every city should have a “must see / must do” experience.  Vancouver’s “must do” experience is to visit the city’s signature park - Stanley Park.  Indeed, it is a unique urban experience to be in the middle of an old growth forest on the edge of a downtown.  It is a walk back in time, when trees dominated the skyline, before Europeans arrived to create a city of tall glass towers that now dominates Vancouver’s peninsula skyline.  

For many, a walk in Stanley Park is the quintessential Vancouver experience.

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Walk In The Park

While recently spending a month exploring Vancouver, we took two leisurely walks in Stanley Park - one through the more natural interior and the other along the man-made sea wall that looks out into the vast space where sea meets sky.  

Soon after arriving back home to Calgary, friends suggested we get together and go for a walk, so I suggested Nose Hill Park.  

Why?

Partly because I had never walked the park - shame on me.  Partly because I wanted to compare the experience with Stanley Park knowing the two parks were polar opposites. And partly to help answer my ongoing question, “What role do parks play in defining a city?”  

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Stanley Park

Stanley Park, unlike most urban parks, is not the creation of a landscape architect’s masterplan but has evolved organically with most of the structures built between 1911 and 1937 under the supervision of Park Superintendent, W.S. Rawlings.  Much of the park remains heavily forested with an estimated half a million trees. But it also includes several man-made attractions including Vancouver Aquarium, a huge outdoor swimming pool, numerous playgrounds, two restaurants in historical buildings, a pitch and putt golf course and a large tennis facility.  It also home to one of the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America.  

Opened in 1888, the park is named after Lord Stanley, Canada’s sixth Governor General (yes, the same guy the Stanley Cup is named after) and it was designated a National Historic Site in 1988.   

It is a 4 square kilometer park at the end of a peninsula that juts out into the Burrard Inlet, a busy cargo and cruise ship passageway, as well as a recreational boating playground.  I had forgotten there is busy and noisy road through the middle of the park that links the City Centre to Vancouver’s north shore communities. 

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Nose Hill Park

Calgary’s Nose Hill Park, which covers 11 square kilometers (almost 3 times the size of Stanley Park) of rolling hills and native grasslands, is the antithesis of Stanley Park. In many ways, it is more natural than Stanley Park, as there are no attractions, not even a children’s playground.  It is a place to walk and ponder man’s place in nature. 

Historically, Nose Hill was an important site for Blackfoot Confederacy for not only was it was a place to hunt buffalo, but also a sacred place for ceremonies, and a lookout for weather and other dangers.  A recent marker representing a Siksikaitsitapi Circle signifies the world of the four nations who visited the hill - Akainai, Siksika, Piikani and Amskapipikuni.  

Peter Fidler, a Hudson Bay Company trader was the first European to visit Nose Hill in 1779 and traders continued to visit the site for the next 100 years. It was a popular place for early explorers and pioneers to experience Calgary’s Chinook winds that can raise the temperature in winter by 20 degrees Celsius in a matter of hours.  The buffalo herds that visited Nose Hill were decimated by 1879.  During Calgary’s construction boom in early 20thcentury brothels thrived on the hill.  By the 1970s the city’s had grown to the point where the site was ripe for residential development. 

Yes, Nose Hill Park almost didn’t happen! In 1971, Hartel Holdings who owned the land, planned to create a new residential community with outstanding views of the City and mountains.  However, a grassroots group of locals, consisting mostly of residents from the neighbouring North Haven community and individuals from the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society lobbied to protect the land from development.  It wasn’t until 1984 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the City had the right to purchase the land, that Nose Hill Park was realized. 

Wandering the park today, you can still find evidence of the early residential development and even some of the old vehicle trails (there were no roads) as it was a popular place for Calgarians to drive to for picnics and views of the mountains in the middle of the 20thcentury.  

Nose Hill is a place to see the big picture - to ponder how man and nature have worked together over the past 100 years and wonder about the future co-existence of city’s and nature. 

I am not sure anyone would think of Nose Hill as a “must see / must do experience” but I am thinking perhaps it should be.   As one of my fellow walkers said “what I think is unique about Nose Hill Park is that it visually and spiritually brings you into contact with the essence of Alberta - grasslands, foothills, vast open space, big blue sky and grandeur of the mountains – at a glance.  

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Collective Psyche

While wandering both Stanley Park and Nose Hill Park, I could help but wonder - Is a city’s collective psyche partly shaped by its geography and climate? 

 What does the lush forest of Stanley Park (and most of Vancouver for that matter) say about Vancouver’s sense of place vs the barren beauty of Nose Hill say about Calgary’s? 

Vancouver is known for its liberal attitudes, it is the birthplace of Greenpeace and home to many environmentalists. It is an international urban playground for tourists, millennials and empty nesters.  

Calgary, on the other hand, is seen as a pragmatic, provincial, conservative corporate city full of engineers.  It is a place where young people and families come to work hard and get ahead. Calgary is home to warm Chinooks winds one day and cold blizzards winds the next, echoing the city’s boom and bust economy.  

Link: How urban parks are bringing nature closer to home?

Link: What makes a good urban park?

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Last Word 

Then again, as one of my fellow Nose Hill walkers said, “A better geographical comparison would have been Stanley Park and Calgary’s Fish Creek Park.” Guess where I will be walking soon?

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

Parks are a MUST for urban living

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary: A brief history of Bow River Islands

The Pandrol Clip: Art vs Engineering

I bet most people just walk, drive or cycle by this object at the corner of 9th St and 4th Ave SW thinking that is just another piece of contemporary art. In fact, it is a huge Pandrol Clip that I have enjoyed for years as I walk over the Louise Bridge that connects downtown to Kensington Village.

A What? You ask?

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A Pandrol Clip?

The information panel next to the object says it is “an important component in keeping Calgary’s CTrain system together. The Pandrol Clip is part of a railway fastening system developed in 1959 by Norwegian railway engineer Per Pande Rolfsen.

Physically the clip weights less than two pounds and has a diameter of approximately 20 mm. However, this unique system offers a lightweight, low-cost rail fastener where spring and torsion works together to provide a high clamping force - each clip exerts a force of approximately two tonnes on the foot of the rail. This holds the rail foot in place, keeping the rail fastened to the underlying base-plate.

The proven benefits of the Pandrol Clip include a very long and virtually maintenance free life. It is safe, secure, can be inserted and removed manually and will continue to grip the rail under vibration. It is now used by hundreds of railways systems around the world.

But, can it also be considered art….

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Clip vs Figure vs Gate vs Frozen River vs Blue Ring vs Bloom

It has all the ingredients of sculpture - shape, space, form, line, texture. In fact it reminds me of bit of a Henry Moore reclining figure, as well as Kosso Eloul’s “Nova Gate” at the entrance to the old Nova Building downtown.

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

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Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads,  “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads, “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Last Word

I wonder how many other engineering objects there are like the Pandrol Clip that blur the boundary between form and function, object and art. Calgary is often called “The City of Engineers” as it has one of the highest per capital number of engineers in Canada, maybe the world.

Perhaps it is fitting that our public art and engineering communities are linked.

Sometimes Calgary’s urban design and arts communities refer to Calgary as a “city built by engineers” when frustrated by the City’s inability to embrace the arts, creativity and experimentation. Indeed, Calgary has a reputation (nationally and perhaps internationally) of being a bastion for pragmatic prairie conservatism.

Perhaps instead, we should be embracing our engineering culture and working together to create something unique. The Beakerhead festival that combines art, engineering and science was a great first step. We need to take few more steps….

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

Beakerhead Festival

Confessions of a public art juror

Do we need all of this public art?

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

 

Vancouver: The Barbershop Capital of Canada?

In every Canadian city I visit, I seem to discover it is the “capital city” of something. Halifax was the Capital City of Blade Signs. Saskatoon was the Capital City of Public Art. Lacombe: The Mural Capital of Canada.

After a month of flaneuring the streets of Vancouver I think it might be “The Barbershop Capital of Canada.”

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Barbershop are back

Yes I know barbershops are making a comeback in cities across North America, but I am thinking Vancouver is way ahead of the curve. I haven’t done exhaustive research but based on my observations and recent visits to many Canada cities I am prepared to go out on a limb and declare it the “Barbershop Capital of Canada.”

Wherever we went in Vancouver, it seemed there were barbershops on every other block, be it downtown, Main Street, Yaletown, Denman or Kits. Some we the old traditional barbers with the barber pole and others were more modern. Some had sandwich boards with fun graphics and sayings that made me smile.

Link: History of Barber Pole

In doing a bit of research, I discovered not only that barbershops are back across North America, but that landlords love them as they are not impacted by online shopping as retailers are. This didn’t surprise me as one of the things I notice in Vancouver is that a lot of their ground floor retail seems to be hair and nails salons, as well as barbershops. There was one block where I counted 6 hair salons and one nail salon in a row - the merchant at the end of the block was a a Psychic Reader. Strange but true!

Link: Barbershops Art Back

Here are some photos of the various character barbershops I discovered while flaneuring the streets of Vancouver. I have included a couple of Google Maps to illustrate just how many barbershop there are in Vancouver’s trendy areas.

I hope you will enjoy. There is even a bit of a surprise at the end.

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All of these barber shops are within a five minute walk of where we were staying at the corner of Nelson and Burrand in downtown.

All of these barber shops are within a five minute walk of where we were staying at the corner of Nelson and Burrand in downtown.

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In Kitsilano these barbershops show up on google maps.

In Kitsilano these barbershops show up on google maps.

Everyday Tourist Reader Comment: One of my patients came in with a fresh haircut, looked like he had been to someone that knew what they were doing, so I asked him where he gets his haircut. He told me about Majidian Barbers, which he travelled across the city to go to, and that he and his buddies call Oran, the barber, "Scissorhands" because he cuts like the wind and barely talks. Since I was in need of a good barber and Majidian is around the corner from our place, I gave him a go and he did not disappoint! Thought I might lose an ear but I didn't, and I came out with a great cut!  Tony

Everyday Tourist Reader Comment: One of my patients came in with a fresh haircut, looked like he had been to someone that knew what they were doing, so I asked him where he gets his haircut. He told me about Majidian Barbers, which he travelled across the city to go to, and that he and his buddies call Oran, the barber, "Scissorhands" because he cuts like the wind and barely talks. Since I was in need of a good barber and Majidian is around the corner from our place, I gave him a go and he did not disappoint! Thought I might lose an ear but I didn't, and I came out with a great cut!

Tony

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Move west in downtown nearer to Stanley Park and Coal Harbour and here are the barbershops that populate Google Maps.

Move west in downtown nearer to Stanley Park and Coal Harbour and here are the barbershops that populate Google Maps.

Last Word

Everest Barbers which was just around the corner from where we were staying at Nelson and Burrard actually offers a membership. Not just one membership, but a Gold or Silver Membership.

The Gold Membership gets you unlimited haircuts and style, unlimited beard shaping and line-up, back next shave with shaving cream, hot towel after your haircut, complimentary beverage, use of an fragrance in the cologne bar and 10% discount on all product. Cost? $93/month, $270/3 months, $522/6 months or $950/year. That is like the cost of gym membership or yoga studio!

The poster says $18.25 per haircut, which means you are getting your hair cut 5 times a month. I barely get 5 hair cuts per year. There is obviously something happening in Vancouver when it comes to men’s grooming that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

One has to wonder if barbershops could be the future anchors of main streets? I know our little two-block 19th St NW Main Street in West Hillhurst has two barbershops.

PS

I was so impressed by Vancouver’s barbershops culture I decided to get a haircut before heading home. But rather than going to one of the professional barbershop I thought it would be interesting to get a haircut from a student at Vancouver Community College. To my surprise I was the female student’s first male haircut, but the instructor was great at supervising the cut. She did a few touch-ups and all was good.

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Avenida Village - Calgary’s Next Urban Village?

I have been visiting Avenida Village regularly over the past few years as it is home to Golf Traders and I still believe you can “buy” a golf game.  And, every time I visit, I think what a great place for an urban village as it already has an eclectic mix of shops and medical offices and is within walking distance to Canyon Meadows LRT Station and Southcentre Mall. 

Now it has a “Food Hall” it is ripe (pun intended) for a couple of mid-rise residential developments with restaurants and shops at street level to transform it into a 21st century urban village. And could the Food Hall concept help to revitalize other sites in Calgary like Eau Claire Market.

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A Little History

Avenida Village, built in the early 80s, was one of Calgary’s first big box developments.  Located next to Mcleod Trail just east of the Canyon Meadows LRT station, sits its five single storey white stucco buildings each with arched colonnades, creating a faux Mediterranean-village look (albeit without the signature red roofs).  Originally, each building had its own parking and was home to one major tenant (e.g. Sport Chek) or a few smaller tenants.  Now, it is a tired looking with most of the original tenants having left for new power centres decades ago. 

 But, fortunately, over the past few years, Avenida Village has become home to some trendy places like Pies Plus, YYC Cycle, Breathe Hot Yoga and Spectacular Eyewear, as well as an expanded Golf Traders. It has also become a bit of a medical hub with numerous health-related offices.  

And then, in Fall 2018, the Avenida Food Hall opened.  It could be the catalyst for a mega-makeover.  

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What is a Food Hall, you ask? 

It’s a hybrid between a farmers’ market, food court and restaurant.  Food Halls are designed to serve people as quickly as possible, but rather than franchised outlets serving bland food, the vendors are experienced, local food producers and chefs.  Don’t be surprised if Calgary superstar chef Duncan Ly of Foreign Concept himself serves up your order from Takori, his new Asian taco shop.  And yes, Food Halls also have vendors where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables to take away.  

Link: A World Of Food Awaits At Avenida Food Hall

The Food Hall could well be the game changer for Avenida Village’s future. Its 40 vendors are attracting thousands of people every weekend creating an urban buzz that is sure to bring more trendy shops. Think craft brewery, maybe a distillery, a major restaurant - perhaps a bike shop. 

I recently checked in with Strategic Group, the owners of Avenida Village to see if they had any plans to transform the site into a true mixed-use urban village.  Though Daorcey Le Bray, Strategic’s Director, Brand and Community was unable to provide details about plans for the site, I noticed they are removing the gas station at the south end and replacing it with a new building designed to become home for four new tenants.   

Given Strategic’s bullish approach to urban residential development in Calgary’s City Centre, it won’t take long for them to realize (if they haven’t already) Avenida Village is ripe for residential development.  

FYI: Strategic is currently building 1,000 new homes in multi-family buildings - including the conversion of the iconic Barron Building downtown into 94 residences.  They are quickly positioning themselves as a leader in urban multi-family residential development in Calgary.

Link: Avenida Food Hall

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Food Hall Madness

I couldn’t help but wonder where else in Calgary the Food Hall concept might work? Maybe Eau Claire Market? I know the concept didn’t work in the early ‘90s when it first opened, but it isn’t the ‘90s anymore. 

Today, Calgarians are much more into unique local food experiences. Also, there are many more people living and working near Eau Claire Market today 20 years ago. Case in point: Anthem’s mega Riverside project immediately east of Eau Claire Market alone provides 1,000+ homes that didn’t exist in the ‘90s. 

Yes, I know there are plans for a mega makeover of the site, but I am betting it is 5+ years before we see any new construction there.  Creating a Food Hall could be a wise move to add some much needed life into the building and surrounding community in the interim.  

Another possible site for a Food Hall might be the old Central Library downtown. Or, what about the old SEARS building at North Hill Shopping Centre?  It offers lots of parking and LRT access, as well as lots of new multi-family development nearby.  Future plans call for upscale residential development on the site, which could easily incorporate a food hall into its design. Why not experiment now?

What about Northland Mall? It was suppose to be home to Calgary’s first Whole Foods store. Perhaps a Food Hall with local producers, chefs and restauranteurs would be an even better way to revitalize the mall.

Ken Aylesworth, the master mind behind the Avenida Food Hall, was instrumental in the development of the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Symons Valley Ranch Market. Rumour has it he is close to announcing another new project soon.

FYI: The Calgary Farmer’s market will be opening a second location in 2020 in the new community of Greenwich across from Canada Olympic Park. It will have many of the elements of a Food Hall. 

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Last Word

Avenida Village could well become a shining example of how Calgary’s big box retail sites can and will evolve into mixed-use urban villages in the future.   

It will be interesting to see how - or even if - Strategic Group capitalizes on the success of their new Food Hall. What would be really exciting is if a master plan was developed which integrates the redevelopment of the four neighbouring car dealerships, Nutrien’s head office building and the Canyon Meadows Cinema into a model 21st century mixed-use urban development.  

Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan envisions the addition of hundreds of thousands of more people into established communities like Lake Bonavista and Canyon Meadows.  Avenida Village’s redevelopment provides a perfect opportunity to create a transit-oriented village in the middle of these two communities.    

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on March 30, 2019.  

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Fairy Tale Postcards from University of British Columbia

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

We found some amazing fun fairy tales books and illustrations.  

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Looking for hidden gems

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

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

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

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Had we struck out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Chung Collection

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

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

(excerpt from the exhibition brochure)

Link: Video The Chung Collection (definitely worth watching)

Link: UBC Rare Books The Chung Collection

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Everyday Tourist Travel Tips

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

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

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

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

UofC Hidden Gem: The Book Dissected

A-mazing University of New Mexico campus

University of Calgary’s public art gets no respect

University of Arizona: Resort or Research? 


Vancouver: Street Fun For Everyone

Did you know that back in th ‘90s the City of Vancouver actually created a Fun Coordinator position, because of criticism that the city was no fun? True story. I don’t believe the position still exists.

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From Humdrum to Fun

When I walk the street of cities I love to take photos of the fun things I see - things that make be smile and laugh. Quirky and funky things! Vancouver has not disappointed me.

Here are just a few examples of the fun photos that I have taken while flaneuring the streets of Vancouver over the past week.

Be sure to read to the end. The last example perhaps best illustrates how Vancouver has evolved from a humdrum city to a fun metropolis over the past 20+ years.

Vancouver’s luxury fashion retailers have great window designers. I wish more retailers would invest in creating fun windows that make you stop and look.

Vancouver’s luxury fashion retailers have great window designers. I wish more retailers would invest in creating fun windows that make you stop and look.

If cities are going to commission public art to enhance the pedestrian experience, be sure that it is fun and accessible to the pedestrians, like this Joe Fafard piece.

If cities are going to commission public art to enhance the pedestrian experience, be sure that it is fun and accessible to the pedestrians, like this Joe Fafard piece.

This installation by artist Yue Minjun next to the pathway at English Bay titled “A-maze-ing Laughter,” brings a smile to people of all ages. It never fails!

This installation by artist Yue Minjun next to the pathway at English Bay titled “A-maze-ing Laughter,” brings a smile to people of all ages. It never fails!

Even the Vancouver Art Gallery has some fun art on their roof. There are four ships, one white, one black, one red and one yellow. I just thought they were fun, but turns out they are a very serious art installation by Ken Lum. The First Nations boat is red, the Fujian ghost ship is yellow, the Komagata Maru is black and Captain Vancouver’s ship is white. The boats point north, south, east and west as a directional compass, asking viewers to situate themselves within a larger geography. You could easily miss them…I have for years…

Even the Vancouver Art Gallery has some fun art on their roof. There are four ships, one white, one black, one red and one yellow. I just thought they were fun, but turns out they are a very serious art installation by Ken Lum. The First Nations boat is red, the Fujian ghost ship is yellow, the Komagata Maru is black and Captain Vancouver’s ship is white. The boats point north, south, east and west as a directional compass, asking viewers to situate themselves within a larger geography. You could easily miss them…I have for years…

This playful window changes every few seconds, creating a fun pop art exhibition as you walk by.

This playful window changes every few seconds, creating a fun pop art exhibition as you walk by.

I am not sure anyone is ever happy about having to do laundry, however I love shops with fun names.

I am not sure anyone is ever happy about having to do laundry, however I love shops with fun names.

Found this fun scarecrow and two others while cycling on the Arbutus Greenway. We need more scarecrows.

Found this fun scarecrow and two others while cycling on the Arbutus Greenway. We need more scarecrows.

Found this fun, tiny house/truck on East Hastings…

Found this fun, tiny house/truck on East Hastings…

These pink bike racks along Davie Street are too much fun.

These pink bike racks along Davie Street are too much fun.

While most of the umbrellas in Vancouver are black and boring, this one made me smile.

While most of the umbrellas in Vancouver are black and boring, this one made me smile.

Even TransLink joins in the fun with this snowman icon warning people to be careful on the stairs at the stations.  Seem strange that Vancouver would use a snowman - ironic humour?

Even TransLink joins in the fun with this snowman icon warning people to be careful on the stairs at the stations. Seem strange that Vancouver would use a snowman - ironic humour?

Discovered this fun building while on the bus on East Hastings…how clever. More of this please….

Discovered this fun building while on the bus on East Hastings…how clever. More of this please….

Even the buses in Vancouver are fun.

Even the buses in Vancouver are fun.

Was surprise to find an indoor basketball court as part of the redevelopment of the block with the old Woodward Department Store. These guys were having a fun pick-up game.

Was surprise to find an indoor basketball court as part of the redevelopment of the block with the old Woodward Department Store. These guys were having a fun pick-up game.

Vancouver is a great place for night walks. Found this fun urban design that I would probably have missed during the day.

Vancouver is a great place for night walks. Found this fun urban design that I would probably have missed during the day.

This VanCity bank window made me smile…

This VanCity bank window made me smile…

Sandwich boards can add some fun to the pedestrian experience.

Sandwich boards can add some fun to the pedestrian experience.

This fairy garden in the West End created from kids toy figures was delightful. I am thinking I have to create a fairy garden this spring to entertain the children being dropped off in front of our house for the Honey Bee Daycare across the street. I must practice what I preach.

This fairy garden in the West End created from kids toy figures was delightful. I am thinking I have to create a fairy garden this spring to entertain the children being dropped off in front of our house for the Honey Bee Daycare across the street. I must practice what I preach.

Keep your eyes on the ground and you will be rewarded with these fun mosaics at the corners in downtown.

Keep your eyes on the ground and you will be rewarded with these fun mosaics at the corners in downtown.

Even Vancouver’s homeless have a sense of humour. This person wrote 10+ different positive statements in colourful chalk on a street corner on Robson Street and then asked for donations. Gotta give him A for effort and A for creativity.

Even Vancouver’s homeless have a sense of humour. This person wrote 10+ different positive statements in colourful chalk on a street corner on Robson Street and then asked for donations. Gotta give him A for effort and A for creativity.

Forget the Baskets, Banners, Furniture & Art

While many cities spend big bucks trying to spruce up their shopping streets with banners, baskets of flowers, street furniture and public art to make them more pedestrian friendly, I think they would be far better off if the merchants took ownership for creating a great pedestrian experience by improving window displays and putting things out on the street. In addition, building owners could painted blank walls with murals or enhance their building’s facade with some fun colour.

Perhaps cities could give building and shop owners a tax break for their efforts as an incentive to create a fun pedestrian experience. Just an idea…

Not far away from Happy Laundry in Vancouver’s East Village (2230 East Hastings) you will find Dayton Shoe Factory that has been there since 1949. Originally established to make boots for loggers, today they fun custom boots for anyone. But that is not the real fun. If you look in the background you will see two beer taps. No they aren’t just for decoration or for special events. Anybody who comes in to look around can enjoy Dayton Shoe Factory’s own craft beer. Now how fun is that….

Not far away from Happy Laundry in Vancouver’s East Village (2230 East Hastings) you will find Dayton Shoe Factory that has been there since 1949. Originally established to make boots for loggers, today they fun custom boots for anyone. But that is not the real fun. If you look in the background you will see two beer taps. No they aren’t just for decoration or for special events. Anybody who comes in to look around can enjoy Dayton Shoe Factory’s own craft beer. Now how fun is that….

Lacombe: Mural Capital of Alberta 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Murals to the rescue

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

Link: Best Outdoor Murals in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

More than just murals

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

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

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

Link: Lacombe Historical Resources

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

Link: Burman University

But I digress…

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

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

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Lacombe United Church

Lacombe United Church

Michener House

Michener House

Main Street

Main Street

Burma University

Burma University

Mural Capital of Alberta 

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

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

Link: Lacombe Regional Tourism Murals

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Meets Art Town

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

2018 Summer of Murals: Northern Hills

Boise: Freakn Fun in Freak Alley 


SAIT: Fun in the Chocolate Lab

We decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day a few days early this year. Why? Because earlier this month we received a mailer from SAIT’s The Highwood restaurant for 25% off.  We couldn’t pass up such a good deal.

It was too late to book for Valentine’s Day, so we picked another day.  

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Myth Busting

We often think about going to the Highwood but never do. Partly because we think it is always booked months ahead (more about that myth later) and partly because who plans that far ahead. 

Who says mail drops don’t work? Social media – bah humbug!

We timed our visit to SAIT so we would arrive about 45 minutes early, enabling us to flaneur a bit beforehand and maybe have a bit of an adventure. We weren’t disappointed.   

FYI: We love exploring post-secondary campuses wherever we travel, as we often find unexpected hidden gems. 

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Monkey Bread 

First, we checked out The Market Place where they sell pastries, breads, prepared soups, jams, sauces and other condiments, as well there is a butcher’s counter with fresh meats.  Everything was super fresh as students in the hospitality program prepare it daily.  

We couldn’t resist so we picked up a loaf of Coconut Curry bread, two Raspberry Monkey Bread tarts, some braised short ribs and stewing beef.  

Hearing we were headed for lunch at the Highwood, the very helpful student (no name tag) serving us was kind enough to offer to store our purchases so we could pick them up after lunch.  

That’s customer service.  

It was a good thing we decided to buy before lunch, as both the breads we bought were gone when we returned to pick up our treasures an hour later. 

But wait that is not the best part of the story… 

With still had time to wander, but thought we should head in the direction of The Highwood. Once at the building, instead of going straight up to the second floor restaurant, we took the stairs to the basement to see what we could find.  

Who wouldn’t be intrigued to explore…

Who wouldn’t be intrigued to explore…

OH My!

In the stairwell was a strange, intriguing wall mural that led us to believe there might be something downstairs.  When we turned the corner, we were face-to-face with a big window into the Chocolate Lab where a dozen or so students, were making some funky-looking candy sculptures. We looked in for a while (being the voyeurs that we are) getting some smiles from those within and then moved on.  

 We proceeded along the dingy, albeit very clean, hallway that looked almost abandoned.  It reminded Brenda of her University of Manitoba days, travelling through the dark and dingy tunnels from building to building to get from class to class.  

Soon we found The Butchery – no baker and no candlestick maker - but it was closed. We will be back on a Thursday – it’s the only day it is open.  We understand you can get some good deals on freshly butchered meats and some different cuts than you find at the grocery store. 

We continued down the hall lined with old, grey mid-century lockers and found the uniform room complete with an attendant to hand out clean uniforms.  I didn’t ask if I could try anything on.  

Moving on, we found a huge, well-lit but barren concrete tunnel leading to the next building - we think.  Or, was it a bomb shelter we joked. But alas, it was time to turn back.

Through the looking glass…

Through the looking glass…

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We did find some old artifacts and were tempted to take this clock home as it looked like it was headed to the landfill.

We did find some old artifacts and were tempted to take this clock home as it looked like it was headed to the landfill.

Eventually we arrived at the tunnel…wouldn’t this make a unique dining room?

Eventually we arrived at the tunnel…wouldn’t this make a unique dining room?

Now, the REAL fun begins! 

As we headed back, the door was open into Chocolate Lab so we decided to take a quick peek in as it looked like all the students were gone. We were quickly greeted and welcomed by Guy Vaugeois, SAIT’s pastry instructor.  

He immediately invited us to come in and have a look around.  He didn’t have to ask me twice.  I was on it like a dog on a bone, snapping pictures with my camera and iPhone like a mad tourist. 

Guy was most helpful spending time telling us all about the students’ current project and how the pastry program worked. And not only did he invite us to try some handmade chocolates, he quickly got us a container and filled it with chocolates insisting we take some home.  He even went so far as to invite us to come back again.  

You can bet we will take him up on his offer!  Free chocolates – we aren’t idiots!

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Found this guy hiding in the corner…

Found this guy hiding in the corner…

Each of these sculptures is slightly different…

Each of these sculptures is slightly different…

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Sweet….

Sweet….

Sweet Lunch & Hot Tips!

Realizing it was 12:10 (our lunch reservation was for noon), we quickly thanked Guy and dashed upstairs to the Highwood for what was a lovely lunch, served by the charming Jose, who couldn’t do enough to please us. He also works at River Cafe (another great Calgary restaurant) so you might see him there.

Of course, the highlight for us were the desserts – the wonderful bread pudding and double lemon meringue. Works of art and very tasty too! 

FYI: I also couldn’t resist ordering a Singapore Sling in honour of Harry Hiller’s guest blog about Singapore last week.   

Here again, staff proved there is no shortage of hospitality in SAIT’s Hospitality Program.  Darwin Ens, Food and Beverage Instructor was most helpful when we asked a few questions.  

One of the biggest myths, we learned, is that you need to book a table weeks or months ahead. Turns out if you call the day of, you can probably get a table, maybe not if there are 8 or 10 of you, but two to four people can almost always be accommodated (best to call between 9 and 10 am). 

Darin also gave us a hot tip!  There is a special buffet that is only served on Thursdays, but not every Thursday due to special events, but if you have a chance, he says it is spectacular – just call ahead to make sure it is “Buffet Thursday.”

Reminder, The Highwood is only open September to April (school terms, so closed over the Christmas holidays and reading week and best to always phone first) and only Monday to Thursday (for dinner) and Monday to Friday (for lunch).  There are two set seating times the a la carte lunch (11:30 or noon) and three for the five course fixe menu dinner 6:00 pm, 6:30 or 7:00 pm.

Welcoming entrance to The Highwood - upscale casual.

Welcoming entrance to The Highwood - upscale casual.

What to choose…it all looks so good!

What to choose…it all looks so good!

My Double Lemon Meringue….

My Double Lemon Meringue….

Brenda’s Campfire aka date sticky pudding

Brenda’s Campfire aka date sticky pudding

Mine was good to the last three drops…

Mine was good to the last three drops…

Last Word

We made a commitment to explore the SAIT campus more often this year to see what other hidden gems await. And of course, to pick up some decadent treats and check out The Highwood’s “Buffet Thursday.”   

If you are visiting Calgary and looking for an off-the-beaten path experiences, we recommend you book yourself lunch or dinner at The Highwood and explore SAIT’s century old campus. 

Link: The Highwood

SAIT’s campus is a delightful mix of old and new architecture.

SAIT’s campus is a delightful mix of old and new architecture.

Singapore: Dare To Be Different!

Guest Blog: Harry Hiller is an urban sociologist professor at the University of Calgary.  He has travelled the world studying and speaking about city building from various perspectives.  He wrote the book “Urban Canada” in 2010, which is one of my go to reference books. 

A recent visit to Singapore shocked even this seasoned urbanist.

The outdoor Orchid Garden was one of the highlights of Hiller’s visit to Singapore.

The outdoor Orchid Garden was one of the highlights of Hiller’s visit to Singapore.

If you like pedestrian bridges, you will love Singapore; this is the Helix Bridge.

If you like pedestrian bridges, you will love Singapore; this is the Helix Bridge.

The Henderson Wave bridge is a unique experience.

The Henderson Wave bridge is a unique experience.

Singapore has been on our list for a long time because of its stellar reputation as a unique urban place so it was a must-see place to visit for me.  It has been said Singapore has been transformed completely from a third world city to a first world city in one generation and must be seen to be believed. 

 We are now believers.

So, what’s not to like? Singapore is the safest country in the world; the cleanest country in the world; the most expensive country in the world and the shiny newest country in the world with spectacular high rise architecture. 

It has also been called smartest city in the world because it has attracted such a highly creative labor force; is a hub for technology and research and has the third highest per capita GDP in the world. It is home the best airline in the world and the best airport in the world. Need I go on!

It is also a huge tourist destination and now we can see why.  This place has lived up to all our expectations and more.  It is the most English language friendly city in all of Asia.  

And, probably the most expensive.

Unparalled?

Singapore is the most spectacular post-modern city in the entire world with visitor opportunities that are unique and unparalleled.

As we have often said, you never really know a place until you have visited it. We really did not know much about Singapore and what we knew were vague generalizations.  

As most of you probably know, Singapore is a city-state island that is only 26 miles wide and 14 miles long.  It is one-quarter the size of Vancouver Island (which has about 750,000 people) whereas Singapore has 5.6 million people.  

It is bigger than Manhattan, but smaller than all five boroughs of NYC.  There is an incredible amount happening a small space.

It is mesmerizing. 

This is the Lotus Flower ArtScience Museum, designed by the Canadian architectural firm Moshe Safdie Architects.

This is the Lotus Flower ArtScience Museum, designed by the Canadian architectural firm Moshe Safdie Architects.

Unique Civil Servants

Our host from the National University of Singapore (just so you know I gave a couple of talks there) is a guy who is not only a sociologist but is also a Member of Parliament so he was able to give us many great insights into how this country works (both good and bad) as it is virtually a single party state and he is one of the few in opposition.  

One of the secrets according to him is the country has exceptional civil servants who work hard at being ahead of the curve when it comes to change, especially with commerce and technology. They have attracted head offices or regional head offices of hundreds of global corporations and the number of new impressive buildings to house them is not just impressive.

It is stunning!  

Link: Singapore: From Colonial backwater to high-tech city state

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Unique Housing 

Can you imagine that 90% of the population are home-owners (Calgary at about 72% is one of the highest in North America)? Most of them are flats in high rises where residents own their own unit (my friend’s place is 3 bedroom with 1500 sq. feet) but the land is owned by the government.  

Another spectacular thing I was interested in was a new experimental housing development called Pinnacle@Duxton that has been very successful and is being viewed as one answer to affordable housing issues in places where land is not readily available.  It is a series of seven 50 storey towers connected by skybridges and is home to about 10,000 people.  It may look gross to some but we visited it and it is aesthetically pleasing and very clean – as everything is in Singapore.

Link: Pinnacle@Duxton

Yes, this is public housing project.

Yes, this is public housing project.

Unique Religion

The government’s attitude to religion is also very interesting as they apparently go out of their way to ensure that all religions have suitable places to worship, as long as they don’t threaten the government in any way.  

We were particularly struck by the three Christian mega-churches that are based here, one of which is called New Creation with 40,000 members and the pastor is Joseph Prince who apparently is televised in North America now.  Their services are held in a performing arts center jointly constructed with the government since they need so much space and it is spectacular. Their cell group organization is apparently highly complex and efficient.  

Link: https://www.newcreation.org.sg/locations/#service-venues

New Creation Church makes a unique architectural statement that is both modern and traditional.

New Creation Church makes a unique architectural statement that is both modern and traditional.

Unique Attractions 

One of the almost unbelievable achievements of Singapore has been the ability to reclaim land from the sea to add 130 square kilometers of more territory to the city-state.  They have used this land for all kinds of purposes but one of the most stunning has been the construction of what is called Gardens by the Bay.

Words cannot describe it because it is so creative and post-modern that it knocks your socks off.  My jaw dropped to the ground.  

It includes Supertrees, a Flower Dome so unusual in layout and design that even a non-botanist like me can be impressed and a Cloud Forest is totally unique.  But that is not all.  

Remember earlier I had mentioned Singapore is a small territory with a densely settled population. Well we had two experiences with green spaces that were an unbelievable paradox.  First, the Botanical Garden and Park is the biggest park in Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

One of its biggest attractions is the 300-acre National Orchid Gardens.  In contrast to our previous experiences with botanical gardens that are indoors, Singapore’s is all outdoors and extremely elaborate. 

The other green space that blew us away was the nocturnal Zoo - it is unlike any zoo I had ever been to. We went on a night safari where we rode on a tram into the darkness for 40 minutes and observed everything from lions to elephants all in a natural unfenced environment.  It is only open from 7pm to midnight, but thousands of people show up every night. 

One of the highlights is a show called “Creatures of the Night” with a variety of animals taking part and a river safari.  

Link: https://www.visitsingapore.com/see-do-singapore/nature-wildlife/parks-gardens/gardens-by-the-bay/

Night Safari: Only in Singapore!

Night Safari: Only in Singapore!

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Singapore Botanical Gardens a 300-acre oasis.

Singapore Botanical Gardens a 300-acre oasis.

This man-made mechanical forest consists of 18 supertrees that act as vertical gardens, generating solar power, acting as air venting ducts for nearby conservatories, and collecting rainwater. To generate electricity, 11 of the supertrees are fitted with solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into energy, which provides lighting and aids water technology within the conservatories below.

This man-made mechanical forest consists of 18 supertrees that act as vertical gardens, generating solar power, acting as air venting ducts for nearby conservatories, and collecting rainwater. To generate electricity, 11 of the supertrees are fitted with solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into energy, which provides lighting and aids water technology within the conservatories below.

Unique Hotels

There is a new hotel there that is unlike anything you have ever seen before (and deliberately designed with a wow factor) including an infinity pool on the rooftop of Skypark hotel that looks like a surfboard perched above three 57 storey towers.

You can only use the infinity pool if you stay there, but we were allowed to go up to the observation deck if you promised to buy an outrageously expensive Singapore Sling.

LInk: https://www.visitsingapore.com/see-do-singapore/recreation-leisure/viewpoints/marina-bay-sands-skypark/

Skypark’s rooftop is out of this world.

Skypark’s rooftop is out of this world.

Singapore is definitely a futuristic city.

Singapore is definitely a futuristic city.

Last Word: Hiller

Singapore is leading the way when it comes to urban innovation. 

It is hard for us to think of Asian countries and cities leading the world when it comes to city building as we are so accustomed to thinking North America is the leader in everything. For me, Singapore brought home the point “the world is indeed changing, like we have never experienced before.”

Last Word: Everyday Tourist 

It should be pointed out that as a City State, Singapore is in a unique position when it comes to urban planning and economic development. They don’t have to deal with three levels of government, nor the extensive community consultation that Calgary and other cities have to deal with.

However, it is reminder Calgary must compete with places like Singapore for economic development, tourists etc. It means we must be more innovative than imitative when it comes to city building. Should we be imitating what other North American cities like Edmonton, Nashville, Denver or Columbus has or is doing, or should we DARE TO BE DIFFERENT!

How entrepreneurial is Calgary?

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

CBC: Design Wars Calgary vs Edmonton

Capturing the art in ARiTecture!

Chicago: Architecture River Cruise