Glenbow’s Fabulous Free First Thursday Nights

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

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

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

First Thursday Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer: Offer free admission. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But $18 to visit the Glenbow? No way. 

Couple enjoying Chris Cran’s fun new works.

Couple enjoying Chris Cran’s fun new works.

Let’s get creative…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Glenbow’s Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a suggestion!

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Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

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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

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Boise: Freakn Fun in Freak Alley 


Calgary Buildings Designed By Calgarians 

Calgary, like most cities around the world, has become obsessed with the need to attract internationally renowned architects to make a name for itself. This got me wondering what role Calgary-based architects have played in shaping our city’s sense of place.  

Fred Valentine’s Nova/Nexen office tower is as edgy today as it was when it opened in 1982.

Fred Valentine’s Nova/Nexen office tower is as edgy today as it was when it opened in 1982.

Mike Power’s Bankers Hall twin towers have a storied history.

Mike Power’s Bankers Hall twin towers have a storied history.

Outsiders

While the City of Calgary and Calgary developers have engaged out of town architects for over 100 years, the recent obsession with international “starchitects” began in 2006 when London, UK’s Foster + Partners were engaged to design The Bow office. 

It continued with the hiring of Spanish architect Santiago Calitrava to design the Peace bridge, then Portland’s Allied Works Architecture for the National Music Centre and the American firm SOM architects to design the 707 Fifth office building.  

The list goes on. Brookfield Place - now Calgary’s tallest building - is the work of London, UK and Toronto-based architecture firm Arney Fender Katsalidis while the new Central Library is, the work of Norway’s architectural firm, Snohetta. The next star architect building is Telus Sky, designed by the current international young gun architect, Bjark Ingles and his colleagues at BIG architecture with offices in Copenhagen and New York City. 

No doubt these projects have helped put Calgary on the map of international design cities.  All have received international attention and won international awards. Calgary’s new central library was recently flagged by Architectural Digest as one of the “Nine Most Futuristic Libraries in the World.”   

Indeed, having internationally recognized, futuristic architecture comes in handy when trying to recruit leading edge firms to locate in Calgary. While it won’t close the deal, it sends a message to the world that Calgary is a fun, funky, forward thinking place to live, work and play.  

From right to left - Brookfield Place, TELUS Sky, Suncor Energy Centre and The Bow.

From right to left - Brookfield Place, TELUS Sky, Suncor Energy Centre and The Bow.

Back to local architects 

In each case above, the international architectural firm had to partner up with a local architectural firm (it is a City of Calgary requirement) to assist with the design, manage the logistics of meeting local building codes and approval processes, as well as provide local design knowledge relating to Calgary’s unique climate and history.   

All of these projects provided an opportunity for local architects (young and old) to learn more about what is happening in leading edge firms and benchmark their skills against some of the world’s most visionary designers.  And love it or hate it, it not only helps our design community evolve but stretches the public’s understanding of contemporary urban design too.  

That being said, I thought it would be interesting to profile some of the top buildings designed by Calgarians over the past 50 or so years.  To qualify the lead architect had to be Calgary-based when the building’s design was created.  Here are ten outstanding buildings designed by Calgarians in chronological order. 

Planetarium, 1967, Jack Long 

The late Jack Long is admired universally by Calgary’s architectural community for his championing of contemporary architecture.  His signature building is Calgary’s Centennial Planetarium, one of Canada’s best examples of “brutalism” architecture.  The term Brutalism is derived from the French term “beton brut” which means raw concrete.  Its heyday was in the ‘60s.   

Long, who passed away in 2001, was not only an architect, but also an activist and former City Councillor.  Born in Johnston, Pennsylvania, he set up his architectural practice in 1961 after working on many urban renewal projects in the U.S. including a stint with I.M. Pei, one of the most important architectural practices at that time. 

If you stand back and look at the Planetarium from the southeast, you can see how Long playfully integrated numerous flat rectangular planes that jut out at different angles with the dome in the background.  Long’s juxtaposition of shapes has all the design elements of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum built 30 years later in Bilboa, Spain, a building considered to be one of the iconic buildings of the 20th Century. 

I am not sure the average Calgarian or visitor would think of the old Calgary Planetarium as one of Calgary’s most architecturally significant buildings, but it is with almost every architect I have chatted with over the years.

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Calgary Tower, 1968, Albert Dale

I expect that for many Calgarians, the Calgary Tower is one of their favourite pieces of architecture.  For a half century, it was not only the iconic symbol of Calgary’s futuristic thinking but arguably the most memorable image for tourists. It was (still is) one of our postcard buildings.  

It preceded North America’s most famous tower Toronto’s CN Tower (1976), and is taller than Seattle’s Space Needle.  It was Calgary’s tallest building until 1983 when the Petro Canada building (now Suncor Energy Centre) was completed. 

The column of the tower was built as an unprecedented continual pour of concrete that lasted 24 days at a rate of 25 ft per day. An amazing technical feat at that time.  

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I love the interplay of the Calgary Tower with neighbouring urban design elements.

I love the interplay of the Calgary Tower with neighbouring urban design elements.

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Nexen/Nova, office building, 1982, Fredrick Valentine 

The 37-storey Nexen Building, which opened in 1982, was designed by Valentine while he was with CPV Architects and Engineers.  Its unique, triangular-shape doesn’t comply with the downtown’s rectangular grid street pattern as it faces the corner on a diagonal, rather than flat with the street and avenue.  

When the chinook winds blow, the wind literally (and audibly) whistles as it passes by the building.  I have personally heard the whistle several times.  Its minimalist modernist design creates a sleek, razor-like edge that is amplified by its stainless steel façade.  Modern minimalist skyscraper design doesn’t get much edgier than this. 

After 40 years, the building still serves as the gateway into the downtown core from the west and looks as if it is brand new. 

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Nova Gate is by Toronto artist Kosso Eloul, guards the entrance to the building from 7th Avenue SW.

Nova Gate is by Toronto artist Kosso Eloul, guards the entrance to the building from 7th Avenue SW.

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Calgary Saddledome, 1983, Barry Graham

The Saddledome’s distinctive roof is an inverted hyperbolic paraboloid constructed of lightweight precast concrete panels suspended by a cable network grouted and post-tensioned to form a monolithic structure. Now that’s a mouthful! And yes, this is the same roof that gets blamed for why Calgary can’t host some major rock concerts as the roof won’t support some of the heavy equipment.

The building with its unique roof has become a postcard image of Calgary for Hockey Night In Canada and many other major events covered by the media as it perfectly frames the downtown skyline when viewing the city from Scotsman Hill.  The saddle-shaped roof is a powerful and very fitting expression of Calgary’s ranching history and western hospitality.

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Fish Creek Library, 1985, Ian McDougall & Ken Hutchinson

Somewhat hidden away at 11161 Bonaventure Drive sits the pyramidal Fish Creek Library, one of the city’s first contemporary suburban buildings. The pyramid is of two sections bridged by a massive skylight that allows Calgary’s brilliant sunshine to flood into the library in the winter.  The building references Calgary unique sense of place as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, the two elements of the pyramid suggesting the peaks of a mountain top, or perhaps shifting tectonic plates.  

It should be noted Calgary’s contemporary pyramid, while not identical to the famous Louvre Pyramid (designed by famous American architect firm I.M. Pei), preceded it by four years.  

The library was renovated by Calgary architect Jeremy Sturgess in 1990s.

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Bankers Hall, 1989, The Cohos Evamy Partnership

While Bankers Hall had numerous architects involved in its design, only Michael Powers was there from beginning to end.  Calgary architect Ric Singelton was very influential in determining the final design of the buildings and the “skeletons” on Stephen Avenue.

Look carefully, and you will notice the two postmodern twin towers are not identical but have subtle differences in window patterns, façade and the obvious different colour of their roof tops.  Gold and silver where chosen as these two precious metals have historically been associated with banking.  

Originally, the two towers were to look very different - the east tower was originally all silver and the west tower all gold. As well, originally the east tower was called the CIBC tower and the west tower the RBC tower.  While downtown has many two-tower projects, Bankers Hall is the only one where the two towers are the same height, a requirement insisted upon by the two banks.  

The controversial “white trees” sculptures on Stephen Avenue in front of Bankers Hall are in fact the “skeletons” of the original glass galleria that was to have enclosed the middle part of the block a part of the bonus density scheme that allowed two 50 storey office towers to be built on the block. Unfortunately, issues with firefighting eventually put a kibosh on the concept so it had to be adapted to what we see today.  The “skeletons” will have to come down if the City ever puts the LRT underground along 8th Avenue as originally planned.  

Fun Facts: 

If you look at the towers from afar, the shape of the roofs look like stylized cowboy hats.  

The east tower opened in 1989 the west tower didn’t open until 2000 – a result of downtown’s last major economic downturn.  In fact, some thought Bankers Halls’ East Tower would be the last office tower ever built in downtown Calgary.  For many years, Bankers Hall and the 300 west block of Stephen Avenue was known in commercial real estate circles as downtown’s “centre ice.” 

The original plans for Bankers Hall development with CIBC and RBC towers.

The original plans for Bankers Hall development with CIBC and RBC towers.

Original plans for Stephen Avenue called for two +15 bridges, one to Dome and one to Home towers on the other side of the street.

Original plans for Stephen Avenue called for two +15 bridges, one to Dome and one to Home towers on the other side of the street.

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The historic Canada Life Assurance Building, also know at the Hollingsworth Building built in 1913 was incorporated into the Bankers Hall project.

The historic Canada Life Assurance Building, also know at the Hollingsworth Building built in 1913 was incorporated into the Bankers Hall project.

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+15 and +30 pedestrian bridge links Bankers Hall to what was then called TD Square (another mixed-use two office tower, shopping complex). The bridge provides great views of Stephen Avenue.

+15 and +30 pedestrian bridge links Bankers Hall to what was then called TD Square (another mixed-use two office tower, shopping complex). The bridge provides great views of Stephen Avenue.

The white trees on Stephen Avenue create a unique sense of place. The larger white boots at the based were not part of the original design. The City of Calgary asked for them to added as a protection from being hit by cars.

The white trees on Stephen Avenue create a unique sense of place. The larger white boots at the based were not part of the original design. The City of Calgary asked for them to added as a protection from being hit by cars.

Stephen Avenue viewed from the +15 bridge

Stephen Avenue viewed from the +15 bridge

The trees at night.

The trees at night.

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Alberta Children’s Hospital, 2006, Jim Ebbels

The Alberta Children’s Hospital is Calgary’s most unique contemporary architectural story in that the design was a collaboration between Kasian’s design team lead by Jim Ebbels and an advisory group made up of children and their parents from the hospital.  

It was the children’s idea that the hospital have big windows and bright colours and ultimately resulted in its unique, Lego-like façade.  The vision was to create a child/family-friendly building inside and out - a place that was inviting rather than institutional; friendly rather than foreboding.  The result: a fun, playful design of not only the hospital but its parkade and surrounding landscape.  

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Even the parkade has a playful child-like sense of design.

Even the parkade has a playful child-like sense of design.

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The grounds around the hospital have huge picnic tables as part of a large creative playground.

The grounds around the hospital have huge picnic tables as part of a large creative playground.

Johnson – Cobbe Engineering Building, SAIT, 2012, Chito Pabustan and Vince Dods

For anyone interested in futuristic-looking architecture, one of the best places to visit in Calgary is the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) campus. Here you will find the Johnson – Cobbe Engineering Centre with its four-storey, shiny, spheroid-shaped element that looks like a spaceship is landing at the front door.  In reality, it is the Career Exploration Centre where Grade 9 and 10 students come to explore career options through different experiments.  

Its design serves as a bold statement of SAIT’s innovative, future-looking direction amongst the timeless, brick buildings of this century old campus. Be sure to give yourself lot of time to tour SAIT many other architecturally significant buildings, both old and new.

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Photo credit: Spectrum Marketing

Photo credit: Spectrum Marketing

3rd/4th Street LRT Station +15 Bridge, 2013, Jeremy Sturgess

The 3rd/4th St LRT Station is the most dramatic downtown station.  It not only serves as an LRT station but is a link between the Harley Hotchkiss Gardens and the +15 system.  Redesigned as part of a major upgrade of the 7th Avenue Transit Corridor LRT stations, to accommodate 4-cars trains, but make the entire transit corridor more pedestrian friendly. 

 The station includes a canopy that juts out over the +15 bridge with a grand pedestrian staircase that connects directly to the platform below. The curved shape of the glass roof of the bridge and canopy was inspired by the arches on the façade of the nearby Holt Renfrew building. The canopy then culminates in a large arch that shelters a balcony overlooking the lovely Hotchkiss Gardens with its galloping horses (aka Joe Fafard sculpture).  

Collectively, the station and the garden create a popular urban park in the middle of the downtown core - especially in the summer.

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Atlantic Avenue Art Block, 2014, Frank Kaspar

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block’s timeless design respects the historic brick façades of the early 20thcentury buildings along 9thAvenue while adding a contemporary twist with its wavy roof and glass corner.  The façade incorporates vertical design elements that makes it look as it is several different buildings rather than one massive building, creating a more human scale.  The continuous storefronts along 9thAvenue also enhance the pedestrian experience.  

Its name also pays homage to the history of Inglewood - 9thAve SE originally was called Atlantic Avenue. And “Art Block” not only relates to the fact the building is home to the Esker Foundation Art Gallery, but also to the fact that the building’s lobby is home to numerous artworks (even the staircase was designed by artists). The building is a fitting gateway to Inglewood, a community which has become a funky arts district with its art galleries, designer shops and live music venues.  

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Escalator is a collaboration between Calgary artists Chris Cran and Gord Ferguson. It consists of nine stainless steel structural elements that not only serve as supports for the staircase, but also sense of play in the lobby of the building that is full of other artworks.

Escalator is a collaboration between Calgary artists Chris Cran and Gord Ferguson. It consists of nine stainless steel structural elements that not only serve as supports for the staircase, but also sense of play in the lobby of the building that is full of other artworks.

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The Nest is a meeting room created by Calgary’s Heavy Industries in the middle of the Esker Art Gallery.

The Nest is a meeting room created by Calgary’s Heavy Industries in the middle of the Esker Art Gallery.

Even the lighting fixtures contribute to making the Atlantic Avenue Art Block a work of art.

Even the lighting fixtures contribute to making the Atlantic Avenue Art Block a work of art.

 Last Word

This is in no way a complete list of Calgary’s best buildings designed by Calgarians, but rather the 10 most often mentioned by the many architects spoke to while researching this piece.  As well, most of them are in very visible locations, so likely better known by most Calgarians.  

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

Capturing the art in Calgary’s ARchiTecture!

2015 Everyday Architectural Photos

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a Design City?

 

 

Everyday Street Windows Talking

One of the highlights of February in Calgary is the annual Exposure Festival which showcases the diversity of photography being done in Calgary and beyond with 38 exhibitions across the city.

As most of you know in a previous life I was a bit of a painter and then a curator at a public art gallery and I consider the photography in my blogs as important as the words. In honour of this year’s Exposure Festival I thought I would self-curate a photo essay of windows with words from various cities and towns I have flaneured.

It is as if each of the windows is talking to those who pass by. I hope you enjoy….

Link: Exposure Festival 2019

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Street Talk

After I selected these photos and loaded them to the blog site, I began to wonder if they should be organized in some way. Then it occurred to me that perhaps collectively the words might create a poem or some sort of BEAT story.

I left them as they were and here is the story they tell:

Rise and shine,

WROX

beauti-tone experts

Let your walking do the talking

Live work play

wearing 50 hats

in the cycle district

meet me at the bar

sweat every day

I’m outdoorsy

I drink my wine on a patio

Forget the rules

Lady Luck

If you like it, wear it,

Synonym

heaven’s boutique

Crumbs Cakery and Cafe

eat good…

Three Sister’s Day Spa

Social Room

Embrace the outdoors

Live near the ocean

love of beauty is taste

creation of beauty is art

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

Exposure 2018: Double Exposure

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

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.

Too Much Fun: Teapots to Hippos

One of the ten commandments of an “everyday tourist” is “thou shalt always look for an independent restaurant, retailer or café.”  Recently, while driving back from Edmonton to Calgary and needing a pitstop at Alberta’s famous “gasoline alley,” we looked for a local place to eat.

And, we were justly rewarded with a “too much fun” experience.

This Boler trailer teapot was one fo the first “too much fun” teapots I spotted at Glenn’s Family Restaurant.

This Boler trailer teapot was one fo the first “too much fun” teapots I spotted at Glenn’s Family Restaurant.

This one is for Tamara….

This one is for Tamara….

Glenn’s Family Restaurant

Just to be clear, for those who don’t know halfway between Calgary and Edmonton (distance 300 km) is a cluster of gas stations, fast food places and hotels that has been called “gasoline alley” for as long as anyone can remember.  There are probably a dozen gas stations, more than a dozen fast food restaurants and probably a baker’s dozen budget motels. Amongst the mostly chains, you can find a few unique gems.

As a good “everyday tourist” we looked for an independent restaurant where we thought we might find a heartier meal and eat amongst some locals. Without knowing what we were in for, we stumbled upon Glenn’s Family Restaurant at the south end of the alley. 

Yes there is even a custom Glenn’s Family Restaurant teapot.

Yes there is even a custom Glenn’s Family Restaurant teapot.

Teapot Surprise

It was a lively place on Saturday at about 10:30 am, but we were seated quickly. I immediately noticed that true to its name, this place had the feeling of an authentic “family” restaurant. In fact, it looked like a “grandma’s house” with knickknacks everywhere. Looking more closely, I realized it was a collection of very eclectic or some might say kitschy teapots.  For me they were simply “too much fun,” so I got out the phone and started taking pictures.

Soon, the manager came over and asked “can I help you?” Explaining that I was the “everyday tourist” he quickly offered to get any of the teapots down for me to see more closely.  I took a few more pics, then sat down to enjoy my Western Skillet meal with a huge tasty biscuit with Saskatoon berry syrup for dipping on the side (take that you grit-loving Southerners). 

After the meal, I decided to take more photos and the manager came up to me and said “do you want to see the really old ones in storage?” Yes, I did! But we were on a tight schedule so I said reluctantly “next time.” 

 But not before, noticing the wall of teas, I asked if he had any Lapsang Souchong tea and he said of course. What was I thinking, they have 200+ varieties of tea – the biggest selection in Alberta they claim. I asked about Tea Traders in Calgary, my favourite place to buy lapsang souchong and he said we probably have twice the selection.

Turns out the Manager was also the owner, Glenn Simon, the son of the original owner who opened the restaurant in 1986.  I also learned, the family owns the gift shop next door that was established by his Aunt Cindy (it use to be called Cindy’s Teapot Gallery & Gift shop). And, the Donut Mill two doors down (most Albertans living along the “Edmonton-Calgary Corridor” know it as the place with the huge windmill) is operated by Glenn’s son-in-law Parry Dyck, and daughter Michelle Dyck. There is truly a family affair happening on this stretch of gasoline alley!

The walls around the restaurant are lined with shelves showcasing Glenn’s kitschy teapot collection.

The walls around the restaurant are lined with shelves showcasing Glenn’s kitschy teapot collection.

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Glenn’s Great Wall Of Tea

Glenn’s Great Wall Of Tea

Cindy’s Teapot Gallery & Gift Shop

When I heard there were more teapots in the gift shop I had to check them out. Luckily my travel companions were also willing to come along for the fun.

Wowsers! The place was packed from floor to ceiling with not only teapots, cups and saucers but everything from kitschy animal sculptures to Lug travel accessories. It was a kaleidoscope of the colours and shapes that almost hurt the eye. 

But it was fun….

This is what you see upon entering Cindy’s….

This is what you see upon entering Cindy’s….

I not sure who the target market is for this large hippo ornament.

I not sure who the target market is for this large hippo ornament.

There are more Bolers and more teapots everywhere.

There are more Bolers and more teapots everywhere.

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Lesson Learned

Always look for the independent restaurant or retailer when you are travelling. You will almost always be rewarded with a fun experience.  

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

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

Art of Vintage: A Hidden Gem

Torrington: The Kitsch Capital of Alberta

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

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

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

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

Even the locals don’t like their public art.

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

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

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

Yes, Calgary has a major Jaume Plensa sculpture….

Yes, Calgary has a major Jaume Plensa sculpture….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is still just a frontier town. 

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

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

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

Link: Heritage Park  

Heritage Park (photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Heritage Park (photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley

Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley

Does this look like a frontier town to you?

Does this look like a frontier town to you?

The place is a concrete jungle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Park is popular couples spot….

Memorial Park is popular couples spot….

Does this look like a downtown with no green spaces?

Does this look like a downtown with no green spaces?

It has no hipster districts. 

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

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

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

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

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

Kensington Village is also popular with hipsters.

Kensington Village is also popular with hipsters.

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch hour in downtown Calgary.

Lunch hour in downtown Calgary.

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

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

Food Trucks on East Village’s Riverwalk.

Food Trucks on East Village’s Riverwalk.

Food Trucks on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Food Trucks on Stephen Avenue Walk.

There are no good places to eat.

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

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

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

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

Link: Avenue 25 best restaurants 2018

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

Link: Calgary’s Playful Restaurants

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

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

Bridgette’s Lounge is tres cool.

Bridgette’s Lounge is tres cool.

Yellow Door is like eating with Alice in Wonderland.

Yellow Door is like eating with Alice in Wonderland.

Calgary is a city of “Yahoos!”

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

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

Link: Stampede 2019

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

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

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There is no street life in Calgary.

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

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

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

Link: Calgary’s Power Hour

Noon hour on Stephen Avenue Walk….

Noon hour on Stephen Avenue Walk….

Cafe Beano in the winter….

Cafe Beano in the winter….

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

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

Calgary’s love to run in the streets….

Calgary’s love to run in the streets….

Calgary has no weird, wild, wacky architecture

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary’s Award Winning Architecture

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

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

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

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

Studio Bell aka National Music Centre has a jazzy design.

Studio Bell aka National Music Centre has a jazzy design.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary’s green beach….

Calgary’s green beach….

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

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

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

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

Canada Olympic Park offers some fun activities.

Canada Olympic Park offers some fun activities.

River Park is a popular dog park year-round .

River Park is a popular dog park year-round.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s original craft brewery dates back to 1892.

Calgary’s original craft brewery dates back to 1892.

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Calgary has no cycling infrastructure.

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Frostbike Review

Link: 10 Epic Bike Pathways In Calgary

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

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

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

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

Lime Bikes set up shop in Caglary in 2018.

Lime Bikes set up shop in Caglary in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t you just hate all this history…

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

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

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

Calgary War Museums

Calgary War Museums

Memorial Park Library opened in 1912 is a Carnegie Library.

Memorial Park Library opened in 1912 is a Carnegie Library.

Calgary Collegiate Institute, 1908

Calgary Collegiate Institute, 1908

There are no family-friendly tourist attractions in Calgary. 

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

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

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

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

Link: Where Magazine: 50 Things To Do With Kids in Calgary 

Calgary Zoo’s penguin walk is very popular with families.

Calgary Zoo’s penguin walk is very popular with families.

The Calgary Zoo’s Prehistoric Park is also very popular.

The Calgary Zoo’s Prehistoric Park is also very popular.

Calaway Park is fun for young families.

Calaway Park is fun for young families.

Kids love Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with its hands-on activities.

Kids love Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with its hands-on activities.

There are no beaches, lakes or oceans.

Yes, Calgary is landlocked but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of fun water activities.  River surf at the base of the Louise Bridge, float or paddle the Bow or Elbow Rivers, or sail or row in the Glenmore Reservoir. 

And while we don’t have any white sand beaches, we have pebble beaches that can be a lot of fun. Who doesn’t like to throw rocks in the water?

 Link: 21 Water Activities To Try in Calgary

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is popular with families

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is popular with families

Harvie Passage is popular for kayakers.

Harvie Passage is popular for kayakers.

Or you can go for a leisurely paddle along with the Bow or Elbow Rivers.

Or you can go for a leisurely paddle along with the Bow or Elbow Rivers.

Just another summer Sunday on the Elbow River.

Just another summer Sunday on the Elbow River.

Calgary is a one horse town.

It used to be.  But today, Calgary has a full calendar of eclectic festivals from the High Performance Rodeo theatre festival (kicks off the year off each) to Calgary Expo, (one of Canada’s largest cosplay festivals), SLED Island (contemporary music and arts) to summer Blues, Folk, Afrikadey, Taste of Calgary and Country Thunder festivals.  In the fall there is Beakerhead (a unique mash-up of science, art, engineering), Artwalk, Tattoo & Arts and Wordfest.  And if you decide to come in December, Zoolights is spectacular.  

There are also several street festivals with the biggest being the Lilac Festival along 4th Street SW in Mission that attracts over 100,000 people. It’s Calgary’s rite of spring. 

While the Calgary Stampede Parade is the biggest parade in town, the Nagar Kirtan and the Calgary Pride parades are colourful fun attracting thousands of participants and tens of thousands of spectators.  

Link: Calgary’s Festival Fun For Everyone!

Calgary’s rite of spring, the 4th Street Lilac Festival

Calgary’s rite of spring, the 4th Street Lilac Festival

Calgary’s Arab community takes over Olympic Plaza ever summer. Calgary is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada.

Calgary’s Arab community takes over Olympic Plaza ever summer. Calgary is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada.

Shaw Millennium Park is busy every weekend in the summer with music and bike/skate festivals and competitions.

Shaw Millennium Park is busy every weekend in the summer with music and bike/skate festivals and competitions.

The shopping sucks.

 Maybe… if you are from a really big city or international tourist town, but Calgary holds its own with most cities.  There is downtown’s shopping corridor from the historic Hudson’s Bay department store to the modern Holt Renfrew designer department store. In between are over 200 shops.   

Chinook Mall is one of Canada’s biggest malls with Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Hudson’s Bay as the anchors for its 250+ stores.  The newest kid on the block is the CrossIron Mills outlet mall with 200+ specialty and outlet stores.  

If you are looking for local street shopping, you are in luck.  Calgary has several great local shops. In Inglewood there is Knifewear (Canada’s best selection of Japanese Knives) or Kent of Inglewood (“every man should have a stiff axe, a stiff cocktail and a perfect shave” says its website), NERD (a roller derby boutique), Circa Vintage Art Glass and Tea Traders to just name a few. 

Along 17th Avenue SW, you will want to check out Rubaiyat for its curated collection of home accessories and jewellery, Gravity Pope for unique shoes and fashions and Reid’s, a fun party/stationery store, as well as 100+ stores.  

In Kensington, don’t miss Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys, while in Mission, Masters Gallery is one of Canada’s best private art galleries and inspirati offers an expansive collection of fine linens. 

Link: Shopping In Calgary

Gravity Pope is a very fun place to shop, especially for shoes.

Gravity Pope is a very fun place to shop, especially for shoes.

Downtown’s The Core shopping centre with its huge skylight is three blocks long.

Downtown’s The Core shopping centre with its huge skylight is three blocks long.

CrossIron Mills is mega outlet shopping mall.

CrossIron Mills is mega outlet shopping mall.

Calgarians don’t know the difference between an espresso and instant coffee. 

Actually, that is not true. Calgary’s independent coffee culture dates back to the early 80s, well before Starbuck’s invasion.  In Kensington, Higher Ground café has been serving fine coffee since 1982, and The Roasterie has been roasting its own beans since 1984.  Café Beano has been a hit with Calgary’s bobo culture along Uptown 17thsince 1990.  

Today, Calgary is home to several homegrown roasters and cafes that make it one of the more interesting coffee cultures in North America. If you are a contemporary coffee aficionado, here are some caffeine hot spots. 

Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters started out as pop-up coffee shop at the Calgary Farmer’s Market in 2006. Today, is has several locations across the city including two unique sites in the downtown - one in the historic Hudson block on Stephen Avenue that it shares with the ATB bank/art gallery (how cool is that) and one in East Village’s trendy Simmons Building. 

In 2007, Café Rosso opened in the community of Ramsay in an old Dominion Bridge industrial building definitely off-the-beaten path. But they made it work and before you knew it, they had several locations around the city.  Not only that, in 2012 they started to experiment with roasting their own beans, which they now ship across Canada.  In 2018, one of the partners Cole Torode placed 5that the World Barista Championships.  Café Rosso, has a flagship café in the new National Music Centre.

In 2012, Jeremy Ho won the title of Best Barista in Canada and in 2014 his buddy Ben Put won the championship for the second year in a row, while working at Phil & Sebastian. Together they capitalized on their fame to create Monogram Coffee Co. that is both a custom roasterie and operates boutique cafes.

How to do you fix up the family’s tired old drug store? If you are Gareth Lukes, you add a café at the entrance, grocery in the basement, some shelves for records and other hip items and “voila” - hipster hangout.  This is exactly what he did in 2012 with the families Bridgeland drug store and he hasn’t looked back.   He was an early adopter of Portland’s Stumptown beans, but he continued to source new beans and still continues to do so.  He has just opened a flagship café in Calgary’s stunning new Central Library. 

If you are looking for an old school bohemian coffee house from the ‘60s, Calgary has two - Bell’s in Marda Loop and Weeds in Capitol Hill.  

 Link: Calgary: North America’s Newest Cafe City?

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Last Word

So, there you have it, 19 reasons NOT to visit Calgary in 2019.  

A big thanks to Buzzfeed for the idea for this satirical blog.  I saw their Twenty One Reasons You Should Never Visit Colombia and thought it would be fun to do something similar on Calgary.