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!

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

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

Glenbow: Stroke of Genius

Postcards: Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum

Edmonton is NOT kicking Calgary’s butt when it comes to urban revival? 

“It’s hard to say how Calgary fell so far behind Edmonton in downtown revival and major amenities. The trend just sort of crept up on us over the past half-dozen years, as Edmonton got a provincial art gallery, the Royal Alberta Museum, Rogers Place, massive additions to downtown MacEwan University, and much else. Not nearly as much was happening here,” wrote Don Braid in his December 19, 2018, Calgary Herald column.

Link: Braid: Calgary’s downtown is set to relaunch and maybe catch Edmonton

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Bigger Picture

I was surprised by Braid’s observation. Where is this negativity coming from? Was I that out of touch with what is happening in Edmonton? I recently spent four days exploring downtown Edmonton to see for myself.

A new arena and a few other developments should not be the measure downtown renewal.   If we look at the bigger picture when it comes to urban living amenities, Calgary has projects that match or exceed those of Edmonton’s.

Let’s have a look at Edmonton and Calgary’s urban revival projects since 2010, when Edmonton adopted a new Downtown Plan – the catalyst for its revival. 

Link: Capital City Downtown Plan 

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

Stantec Tower vs Telus Sky 

 Edmonton’s Stantec Tower and Calgary’s Telus Sky are both mixed-use buildings. Stantec’s first 29 floors are office space with its 30th to 66th floors being residential (454 homes) giving it a height of 251 meters. Coincidentally, Telus Sky also has 29 floors of offices, but only 29 floors of residential (326 homes) for a height of 221 meters.  Architecturally, they are polar opposites.  And while the rectangular, translucent glass Stantec Tower may be taller, Telus Sky, with its bold cubist twisting shape that narrows as it reaches skyward will be an architectural gem.  But wait, Calgary’s new sleek modernist Brookfield Place glass tower, is perhaps a better match for Stantec Tower both architecturally and is just 4 meters shorter.  

Bigger is not always better!

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

ICE District vs East Village

Edmonton’s ICE District, with its glittery new arena, two office towers, hotel/condo and public plaza (under construction), along with a new LRT station hopes to have 1,300 new homes completed by 2021.  

East Village’s The Bow, (twice the size of the Stantec Tower in square footage), two hotels, award-winning Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island Park, a beautiful community garden and playground, six new condo buildings (1,264 new homes and more to come) blows away the ICE district.  And that doesn’t even include the stunning Calgary’s stunning new central library and music museum! 

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Edmonton Centre vs The Core

There is simply no comparison between Edmonton’s tired indoor shopping centre and Calgary’s sunny, four-storey, The Core (redeveloped in 2011) which boast a dazzling, two-block long skylight and renovated Devonian Gardens.  The Core is home to a new Simons department store, while Edmonton’s two Simons stores are in the burbs. 

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

Quarters vs Bridgeland/Riverside 

Edmonton’s plans for the revival of The Quarters was more or less “put on ice” while the City focused on the ICE District.  One project was abandoned for 4 years, before Calgary-based Cidex Group recently came to the rescue and will build a 24-storey residential tower.

Calgary’s equivalent might be the master-planned redevelopment of Bridgeland, the result of the closing of the Calgary General Hospital.  Twelve new condos buildings will have been complete for a total of about 1,500 new homes that will accommodate 2,500 new residents, by the end of 2019.  Bridgeland/Riverside, with its revived main street, has evolved into one of Calgary’s most popular family communities over the past 10 years. Yes, families!

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

Churchill Square vs Olympic Plaza 

Both Edmonton’s Churchill Square and Calgary’s Olympic Plaza are the hearts of their respective city’s cultural district, as they are surrounded by a concert hall, theatres, museum, and City Halls.  

And while Edmonton has its funky new Art Gallery of Alberta building, I was not impressed by their exhibitions as I have been by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum’s recent exhibition programming.  The new $375 million Royal Alberta Museum was nice but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. Touring the lobby, I didn’t get the feeling this was a “must see” place.  For my money, the Glenbow offers the same art and history experience Edmonton has to offer. Programming trumps architecture. 

Similarly, Edmonton’s Win spear Concert Hall and Citadel Theatre and Calgary’s Art Commons offer pretty much the same experiences for those interested in the performing arts. When it comes to the literary arts, Edmonton is renovating its old library for $85 million into a shiny new building while Calgary spent $245 million on a new library building that has received international acclaim. 

Churchill Square is currently undergoing a mega makeover. Calgary is a few years behind with its cultural makeover, but a $400+ million makeover of Art Commons complex and Olympic Plaza is in the works.  There are also plans for a new public art gallery in Calgary’s old Science Centre/Planetarium at the west end of downtown. 

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Northlands Park vs Stampede Park 

While, the future of Edmonton’s Northlands Park is uncertain, Calgary’s Stampede Park flourishes - not only as home to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” but to numerous major events like Calgary Expo, one of Canada’s largest cosplay showcases.  

Quietly, Stampede Park has been evolving with new buildings like the Agrium Western Events Centre and its new Youth Campus that includes the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, Calgary Arts Academy, BMO Amphitheatre and ENMAX Park.  

The construction of three major condo towers is also evidence of the district’s quiet revival. Next step a major expansion of the BMO Centre. 

Plans for the revival of Stampede Park and Victoria Park Calgary over the next 20 years are WAY ahead of those for Northlands Park district. 

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

Urban Parks

While Edmonton undoubtedly has the most dramatic river valley, it is not easily accessible from its City Centre communities.  

In contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are both intimately linked to the everyday lives of those living in our City Centre thanks to constant improvement to the river pathways.  Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s Riverwalk, West Eau Claire Park and two spectacular pedestrian bridges.

Kudos to Edmonton’s City Council who boldly approved the expropriation of 18 lots in the middle of downtown to create a much-needed, 3-acre park, the equivalent of Calgary’s Harley Hotchkiss Gardens that opened a few years ago.  

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Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

Urban Living 

In addition to the above comparisons, Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s funky Inglewood community with its historic main street, Esker Gallery and new condo developments.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s Mission district or how Calgary’s Zoo and Telus Spark easily connect to our City Centre by LRT and pathways.  

Yes, I was impressed with how Edmonton has implemented its 2010 Downtown Plan which includes adding 12,200 new residential units by 2045.  To date an impressive 1500 new units have been completed and 858 are under construction with more proposed.

In Calgary one developer, Qualex Landmark alone has built 1300 units in the Beltline. Today, Calgary has a whopping 9,000+ residential units (75% of Edmonton’s goal) at various stages of development in its City Centre. 

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

Calgary & Edmonton both on the rise!

I am surprise at how a new arena can blind people into thinking Edmonton is booming and Calgary is declining because it doesn’t have one. For too long Calgary has measured the success of its downtown by the number of new office buildings and the number of people working downtown.  

A better measure of downtown revival is the number of new residential developments and the number of people choosing to live near the downtown core.  The fact the Beltline was the fastest growing community in Calgary last year and that there are several major residential developments under construction in our City Centre is testament to the fact Calgary’s downtown revival is on the rise, not decline. 

And, I am happy to report Edmonton’s downtown is also on the rise. In some cases Edmonton is ahead of Calgary when it comes to urban revival and in other cases Calgary is ahead of Edmonton.

Every city evolves in its own way.

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

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best river?

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

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

 

City Palate: Chinese’s Lunar New Year Festival 

For most Calgarians, New Year’s Eve is a night of celebration associated with drinking and partying, but for our Chinese community, it is a two-week celebration with food, family and wishes of good health and prosperity. Also called Spring Festival, it is celebrated from the first day of the first lunar month, which varies each year based on the Gregorian calendar.   

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Family Celebration

The first day, called Lunar New Year, is the most important day of the year for Chinese family reunions. The last day, is when the Lantern Festival takes place to signal the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations; this is when children go out at night carrying paper lanterns and solving riddles on the lanterns.   

Lunar New Year’s is traditionally celebrated at the oldest living family member’s home.  Typically, more than 10 dishes are prepared for the feast, though that number varies with the number of family members in attendance.  

Two weeks prior, much preparation happens - families clean their house of garbage and bad omens of the previous year and they wear new clothes and shoes to welcome in the new year. Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during the entire two weeks as the Chinese word for tangerine and orange sound like the words for luck and wealth respectively.

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Lunar New Year’s Dishes 101 

In most cultures, food plays a very important role in almost every annual holiday celebration, but perhaps none to the extent of the Chinese culture. 

It is customary on New Year’s Eve to serve fish at the end of the evening meal to symbolize a wish for abundance in the coming year. The word for fish “yu,” sounds like the Chinese words for “wish” and “abundance.”  The fish, served whole, with the head and tail attached, symbolizes a good beginning and ending of the coming year.

Spring rolls and egg rolls are served as they symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to that of gold bars.  

Lettuce wraps are popular because the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like “rising fortune.” Often, they are filled with dried oysters as the words for “dried oysters” sound like the word for “good.”

Lion’s Head Meatballs are popular as the “lion” represents power and strength in Chinese culture, while oversized meatballs symbolize family reunion.

Sweet and Sour Pork is popular with families hoping for a lot of grandchildren, as the Cantonese word for “sour” sounds like the word for “grandchildren.” 

Jai, a vegetable-only dish (also known as Buddha’s Delight) is popular on New Year’s day given the Buddhist tradition is that no animal or fish should be killed on the first day of the lunar year.  

And then there are “Longevity Noodles.” Symbolizing a long life, they are not to be cut!

The popularity of Nian Gao cakes is due to their sweetness which symbolizes a rich, sweet life, their layers representing a rising abundance for the coming year, and the round shape signifying family reunion. 

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Chinese (Lunar) New Year In Calgary

Because Chinese New Year is traditionally a family event, it is most often celebrated at a restaurant.  However, if you are interested in experiencing a Chinese New Year’s Dinner in Calgary, your best bet is to get a ticket to the Sien Lok Society’s New Year Gala Celebration. This year’s dinner is on Saturday, February 2 at the Regency Palace restaurant.  This year is the 50th Anniversary, get your tickets early as it sells out quickly. 

Link: Sien Lok Society’s New Year Gala

Terry Wong, Executive Director of the Chinatown Business Improvement area suggests trying Silver Dragon, Golden Inn or Culture Centre restaurants for a traditional dinner. Tang Dynasty and Great Taste will have a Northern China style meal, while T Pot and Regency Palace are your best bet for “hot pot” fondue delicacies, while Calgary Court and U & Me offer a contemporary Hong Kong café twist. 

Two Penny on First Street SW in the Beltline is also a good bet. Last year they offered a Chinese New Year’s dinner banquet with dishes like Shanghai noodles, ling cod soup, crispy chicken, dim sum, gai lan, mandarin merengue tarts and more daily during the two week New Year’s celebration. Dinner guests were also treated to receiving the customary red envelopes with special prizes inside.  Though most of the prizes were small, one larger prize was given out each day.

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2019: Year of the Pig

Chinese (Lunar) New Year in 2019 is on Tuesday February 5thand it is the year of the Pig.  The Pig is the last animal in the Chinese zodiac and is part of a 12-year zodiac cycle. In fact, there are five types of Pigs – Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth which are part of a 60-year cycle.  2019 is the year of the Earth Pig.  People born in 1959 or 2019, are cooperative, communicative, popular among friends and punctual. They are born lucky in life and are well-versed in managing financial issues. Earth Pigs become are rich in middle age due to their hard work in earlier years and can expect to live in abundance during old age. (Note: Just because 2019 is the year of the Pig, doesn’t mean Chinese families will be extra pork dishes this year.) 

I am not aware of any other culture where food, language and symbolism are linked with family traditions as they are in Chinese culture. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of City Palate magazine.

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Join in the Calgary’s Chinatown Celebration

CISS - Chinatown Ice Sculpture Showcase February 5th at Open at 4pm, Reception at 5pm

To start the Chinese Spring Festival in Chinatown, the CDBIA is hosting its first ever 'Ice Sculpture and Carving Showcase'. Over 10 sculpture and carvings by three ice carvers from Harbin and Hong Kong China are expected to demonstrate their Chinese-based arts, culture and craftsmanship. This Showcase is made possible by sponsors from Hainan Airlines, HSBC Bank, the Calgary Flames and many more. 

This promises to be an eye-opening spectacular for all Calgarians, tourists and visitors. With Dragon and Lion Dance performances and other cultural demonstrations starting, please come join us to kick off Chinese Lunar New Year’s with CISS.

To enjoy the full experiences of CISS, come on down to James Short Park (4th Ave / Centre Street SW) on:

  • February 3-5 - Ice carving demonstration 10am - 6pm  (Gated entry, secured observation area)

  • February 6-10 - Ice sculpture / exhibit showcase:   9am - 9pm  (Gated, voluntary donation entry)

  • February 11-18 - Ice sculpture / exhibit showcase:   9am - 9pm  (Gated entry; weather permitting)

  • February 14-18 - Valentine Day Ice Sculpture:   9am - 9pm  (special event hosting 11am-2pm)If you like this blog, you will like these links:

CDBIA - Chinese Lunar New Year Gala Banquet Wednesday February 6th at 5:30 Reception, Networking, and CNY Dinner

Come join the merchants and leaders of Chinatown to celebrate the 2019 start of a great and prosperous new year. The CDBIA invites you to participate in our 2019 - Year of the Pig gala banquet at the Regency Palace Restaurant, Dragon City Mall, 4th Avenue / Centre Street SE.  In addition to the delicious 10-course banquet meal, the night promises a night of great cultural performances, arts and cultural demonstrations, ice carving demonstration and more.

Early arriving dinner guests are invited to view the CISS - Chinatown Ice Sculpture Showcase and meet the sponsors at a VIP tent. A Lion Dance team will then escort you to the banquet reception. Four lucky banquet attendees will win return flight Hainan Airline tickets to Beijing China and there will be other door prizes from the Calgary Flames and others.

PURCHASE TICKETS BY THURSDAY JANUARY 31st - 4PM; Tickets can be bought at www.chinatowncalgary.com/cny 

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

Calgary’s Chinatown Postcards

Are chinatowns still relevant in the 21st century?

Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone

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.