Window Licking Fun In Vancouver

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

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

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Window Licking History

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

Link: Window Displays


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

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

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

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

Link: Video Selfridges Christmas window

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Vancouver Window Licking

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

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

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

Here are some of my favourite Vancouver windows….

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Last Word

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

If you like this blog you will like:

Window Licking in Paris

Window Licking in Chicago

Window Licking in Florence

A Walk In The Park: Stanley & Nose Hill

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

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

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Walk In The Park

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

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

Why?

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

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Stanley Park

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

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

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

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Nose Hill Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collective Psyche

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

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

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

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

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

Link: What makes a good urban park?

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Last Word 

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

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

Parks are a MUST for urban living

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary: A brief history of Bow River Islands

The Pandrol Clip: Art vs Engineering

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

A What? You ask?

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A Pandrol Clip?

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

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

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

But, can it also be considered art….

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

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

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Beakerhead Festival

Confessions of a public art juror

Do we need all of this public art?

Calgary: 59+ Free Fun Things To See & Do

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

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

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

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

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

Free Gardens

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

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

Link: Postcard from Reader Rock Garden

Link: Stop and smell the flowers in Silver Springs 

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

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

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Reader Rock Garden

Reader Rock Garden

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Devonian Gardens

Devonian Gardens

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

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

Free Museums

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

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

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

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

Link: Police Interpretive Centre

Link: Grain Academy & Museum

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Free Walks in the Parks

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

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

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

Harvie Passage fun

Harvie Passage fun

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Prince’s Island sculpture park

Prince’s Island sculpture park

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

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

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

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

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

 Free Art Galleries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary has a free public art map 

Link: Beltline Mural map 

Link: Stampede Art Walk Map

Link: Downtown’s Udderly Cow Pasture

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

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

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

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

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

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

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

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

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

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Street Markets 

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

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

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

Link: A Sunday walkabout in Hillhurst

Link: Where on Earth Did You Get That

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

 Live Music

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

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

Link: Nashville vs. Calgary: Music Cities

LInk: Hexter Pub

Link: Blues Can

Link: Ironwood

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

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

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

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

Free History Tours 

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

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

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

Link: Discover Calgary’s Secret Heritage Walking Tour

Link: City of Calgary Self-Guided Tour

Link:  WalkYYC Free Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

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

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

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

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

Free Wading  

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

Link: City of Calgary Wading Pool and Splash Parks

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

Memorial Park fountain fun.

Memorial Park fountain fun.

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

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

Free Skating

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

Link: Shaw Millennium Park

Link: Bowness Park

Link: City of Calgary outdoor rinks

Bowness Park skating fun

Bowness Park skating fun

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Free +15 Skywalks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Recreation 

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

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

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

Memorial Park stair challenge

Memorial Park stair challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

Link: Calgary: A Bow River Bike Ride

Link: Bridges Over The Bow

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

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

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historic Centre Street Bridge

Historic Centre Street Bridge

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

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

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

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

Free chaise lounge chairs

Free chaise lounge chairs

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

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

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

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

Central Library

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

 Link: Step Inside The World’s Most Futuristic Libraries

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

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

Free Train Ride

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

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

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

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

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Last Word 

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

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

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

The Streets of Calgary

Fun Calgary Restaurants

Uniquely Calgary Shopping Experiences

Calgary Military Museums

 

Calgary developers love public art!

It is amazing what you can learn about public art by simply accepting an invitation to tour a fabrication plant in Calgary’s Foothills Industrial Park.  

Recently, Heavy Industries’ President Ryan Bessant invited me to tour their facility where they are creating humongous public artworks for internationally renowned artists with commissions in Los Angles, Boston, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon.

And yes, Calgary too.  

I learned that Calgary developers love to include public art as part of the branding and creating a unique identity for their new communities or new condo developments. And, It was a real eye opener to learn Calgary is becoming a hub for public art fabrication.

Boney in SETON is just one of dozens of public artworks commissioned by Calgary housing developers as part of branding their new community or new condo development as fun and unique.

Boney in SETON is just one of dozens of public artworks commissioned by Calgary housing developers as part of branding their new community or new condo development as fun and unique.

East Village has numerous whimsical public artworks throughout the village to help create a more pedestrian friendly community.

East Village has numerous whimsical public artworks throughout the village to help create a more pedestrian friendly community.

I loved this “LIV” sculpture at the entrance to Brookfield’s new community called Livingston at the northern edge of the city. It is a fun piece that is a play on the community’s name, as well as a call to action ie. “live at Livingston.” It also allows the public to interact with the piece by adding their lock to the piece as a symbol of their love and connection to the community.

I loved this “LIV” sculpture at the entrance to Brookfield’s new community called Livingston at the northern edge of the city. It is a fun piece that is a play on the community’s name, as well as a call to action ie. “live at Livingston.” It also allows the public to interact with the piece by adding their lock to the piece as a symbol of their love and connection to the community.

You could easily miss this sculpture that is at the entrance to the Xenex condo. If you go up close the piece is full of miniature figures and elements that create an fun fairytale like narrative.

You could easily miss this sculpture that is at the entrance to the Xenex condo. If you go up close the piece is full of miniature figures and elements that create an fun fairytale like narrative.

Also in the Beltline are these two horses at the entrance to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo.

Also in the Beltline are these two horses at the entrance to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo.

Harmony vs Carrington vs SETON

For example, Bordeaux Development commissioned Heavy Industries to manufacture and install “Cultivate” by Seattle-based artist Dan Corson for Harmony, their new community west of Calgary.  “Cultivate,” is three large steel sculptures with a rusted patina which makes them look like abandoned pieces of farming equipment at first glance.  While inspired by the shape of an old plow, they are ambiguous enough to also be seen as a crown, a harlequin hat or depending on the viewing angle, the wings of a bird of prey. Walk up close to discover the steel has hundreds of intricate thistle-shaped cut outs, that remind me of Matisse’s playful cut outs.  It is a simple, yet sophisticated piece that creates a unique and welcoming entrance to the community.  

Link: Cultivate: Making An Entrance

Cultivate glows at night like a campfire.

Cultivate glows at night like a campfire.

During the day Cultivate creates an inviting entrance to the Harmony a new estate community just west of Calgary.

During the day Cultivate creates an inviting entrance to the Harmony a new estate community just west of Calgary.

A second example is in Carrington, Mattamy Homes’ new community in Calgary’s northeast.  Mattamy partnered with NAK design who created and Heavy Industries who fabricated and installed an aspen tree-inspired sculpture that provides a fun canopy over the community’s skate park and playground, a popular community gathering place.  At night, its special lighting creates a warm welcoming entrance to the community.

Entrance artwork for Carrington a new community in NE Calgary. photo credit: Heavy Industries

Entrance artwork for Carrington a new community in NE Calgary. photo credit: Heavy Industries

At the base of one of the Carrington's public art pieces is a skatepark. credit: codaworx

At the base of one of the Carrington's public art pieces is a skatepark. credit: codaworx

Thirdly, Brookfield Residential has made a huge commitment to enhanced urban design as part of branding, their new master-planned community at the southeast edge of Calgary - SETON.  The striking white pavilion-like structure at the entrance to the community from Seton Boulevard at Seton Way shout out to everyone that this community is different. It is futuristic! There are several other public art works completed or in the works for SETON. “Boney,” a whimsical purple nine-foot dog that looks like a balloon animal kids get at festivals welcomes everyone walking through the small plaza at the entrance to the EFW Radiology building.  And, if you look up to the roof-top, you’ll see Boney’s bone. 

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SETON Entrance pavilion

SETON Entrance pavilion

SETON Entrance

SETON Entrance

Calgary: A Public Art Fabrication Hub

Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring is a street lamp installed in the middle of a bridge on a busy highway away from any pedestrian traffic.

Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring is a street lamp installed in the middle of a bridge on a busy highway away from any pedestrian traffic.

Heavy Industries are the guys responsible for fabricating the controversial “Travelling Light” (aka Giant Blue Ring) by Berlin, Germany-based art collective Inges Idee, as well as “Wonderland” (aka Giant White Head) by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. As a result of working with these famous international artists on Calgary projects, Heavy Industries have become their “go to” guys for building their artworks for other cities. 

Over the past 15 years, Bessant and his team have become more than just public art fabricators, they have become turn-key public art managers, working with clients from early concept development, to choosing the artist through to final installation. From a two-person business in 2003, they’re now at 70 full-time employees, and growing.

Currently, Heavy Industries is working with the artists and city administrators in Calgary, Edmonton and East Chicago to create new artworks as part of their public art programs. In addition, they are working with developers like Westbank Corp. (two pieces, one in Vancouver and one in Calgary), Mattamy Homes (new piece for the new Yorkville community in Calgary’s deep southwest) and Bordeaux Development (another piece for Harmony) and two pieces for Halifax developer Amour Group. 

Heavy Industries, along with Calgary’s two other public art fabricators - F&D Scene Changes and Studio Y – they are making Calgary a North American public art production centre.  This means public art is generating tax dollars, not just spending them.

One of the many huge work spaces at Heavy Industries.

One of the many huge work spaces at Heavy Industries.

Works in progress at Heavy Industries

Works in progress at Heavy Industries

Working on Wonderland at Heavy Industries

Working on Wonderland at Heavy Industries

Another work in progress Heavy Industries

Another work in progress Heavy Industries

Vancouver Condo Art

It is not just Calgary condo developers who love to use public art to enhance the curb appeal of their buildings. While flaneuring in Vancouver, I discovered many condos with interesting public art at their entrances including one of the most ambitious pieces of public art I have ever encountered.

On the side to the 43 floor The Charleston condo is a 416 foot tall and 30 foot wide painting by Vancouver artist Elizabeth McIntosh by developer Onni Group. The colourful artwork looks like a huge abstract lightening bolt. Titled “Finger Paint” the piece does have the innocence and playfulness of a child’s painting which is kinda ironic as their is a childcare facility in the building.

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Last Word

With almost every city around the world actively trying to become the next great design city with spectacular architecture, urban design and public art, the potential for Calgary to become a growing centre for public art design and manufacturing is huge.  Creating public art has become a high tech industry.  Long gone are the days of starving artists hand-crafting sculptures in their loft studios.  

While some might think Calgary’s public art program adopted back in 2004 has been a huge failure due to a couple of controversial pieces, overall it has been a huge success.  Today, public art is attached to almost every major new project in Calgary – public and private, inner-city or new community in the burbs. 

Be it Harmony, Carrington, SETON or East Village, Calgary developers are integrating public art into their master-planned communities as a means of creating a more welcoming, unique and attractive sense of place. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday April 27th 2019.

The latest piece of condo developer commissioned public art is located at Anthem’s Waterfront condo project along a pedestrian pathway that links the project to Sien Lok Park where there are several other public artworks.

The latest piece of condo developer commissioned public art is located at Anthem’s Waterfront condo project along a pedestrian pathway that links the project to Sien Lok Park where there are several other public artworks.

Vancouver: The Barbershop Capital of Canada?

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

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

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Barbershop are back

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

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

Link: History of Barber Pole

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

Link: Barbershops Art Back

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

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

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

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

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In Kitsilano these barbershops show up on google maps.

In Kitsilano these barbershops show up on google maps.

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

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

Tony

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

PS

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

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Vancouver: Everyday Utopia In Black & White

For many, street photography MUST be in black and white. As someone who loves colour I find it hard to see streets as black and white. I find it hard to see anything as black and white.

For me, black and white photography always makes the street look more depressing, dark and sinister than I think they really are. However, for a challenge I thought I would create a black and white photo essay of the streets of Vancouver taken over 30 days at various times of the day and night.

I will let you decide if they are just as interesting, or more interesting, than the colour street photos I have used in a previous Vancouver blog Vancouver: Street Fun For Everyone

Tourists

Tourists

Balance

Balance

Explore

Explore

1997

1997

Ponder

Ponder

Inspire

Inspire

Strong

Strong

Twisted

Twisted

Ben

Ben

Moving

Moving

Wolf

Wolf

Jack

Jack

Sketch

Sketch

Window

Window

Friend

Friend

Shadow

Shadow

Face

Face

Galmour

Galmour

Suspended

Suspended

Pair

Pair

Want

Want

Need

Need

Crash

Crash

Stoop

Stoop

School

School

Tree

Tree

Branches

Branches

Bubbles

Bubbles

Garden

Garden

Triangle

Triangle

Wall

Wall

Steps

Steps

Love

Love

Passage

Passage

Reflections

Reflections

Totems

Totems

Arching

Arching

Arch

Arch

Collage

Collage

Baby

Baby

Balcony

Balcony

Escape

Escape

Sleep

Sleep

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

Dog

Dog

Alteration

Alteration

Fantasy

Fantasy

Don’t

Don’t

Colony

Colony

Metallica

Metallica

Blanket

Blanket

Safeway

Safeway

Alley

Alley

Revolution

Revolution

Silly

Silly

Scream

Scream

XXX

XXX

Stare

Stare

Cape

Cape

Bench

Bench

Notes

Notes

Exile

Exile

Hippy

Hippy

Nod

Nod

Utopia

Utopia

Avenida Village - Calgary’s Next Urban Village?

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

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

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A Little History

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

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

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

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What is a Food Hall, you ask? 

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

Link: A World Of Food Awaits At Avenida Food Hall

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

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

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

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

Link: Avenida Food Hall

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Food Hall Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Jane Jacobs' quintessential main street is located in Vancouver?

“Where is this perfect main street in Vancouver?” you ask. No it is not Robson Street. No, it is not Alberni Street. No, it is not South Granville Street. Nor, is it not Denman Street, Commercial Drive or Lonsdale Ave.

Ironically it is actually called “Main Street” and it is from East 7th Ave to 30th Ave. Yes, 23 blocks of continuous local boutiques, restaurants, cafes, grocery stores and services.

Jane Jacob’s would have loved Vancouver’s Main Street.

This is a typical block along Vancouver’s Main Street. It has just the right amount of charm and clutter, old and new, low and highbrow to create a fun walkable street that is full of useful shops that meet the everyday needs of locals.

This is a typical block along Vancouver’s Main Street. It has just the right amount of charm and clutter, old and new, low and highbrow to create a fun walkable street that is full of useful shops that meet the everyday needs of locals.

No Gentrification

There are few national chains, mostly “mom and pop” shops, which is exactly what Jacobs thought made for a great Main Street.

There are lots of doors on the street and windows to look at. There are thrift stores and used bookstores, mixed in with funky restaurants and small grocery stores. There is even a garage that still repair cars and a car dealership.

It has all of ingredients of a good Main Street that Jacob’s wrote about in her 1960s book “The Death and Live of Great American Cities.”

It is a nice mix of shops, cafes, restaurants and services - something for everyone! There are just a few new condos and nothing over four stories.

The side streets have a diversity of single family homes that still look like the original homes, with a few new infills and some renovations, but nothing as extensive as Calgary’s inner city communities where there are new infills on every block.

FYI: We didn’t see a lot of “For Lease” signs along Main Street, which is surely a healthy sign. And Kevin Kent of Knifewear tells me that he pays higher rent for his store in Vancouver, than for his stores in Calgary (Inglewood), Ottawa (Glebe) and Edmonton (Whyte Avenue). So the success of the street isn’t lower rents that makes it so attractive to local businesses.

There are no fancy designer buildings, no special signage or ornamentation, just back-to-back pedestrian oriented shops.

There are no fancy designer buildings, no special signage or ornamentation, just back-to-back pedestrian oriented shops.

One of the few blocks with residential above the shops.

One of the few blocks with residential above the shops.

A typical side street is populated with single family homes, there are no low, mid or high rise buildings.

A typical side street is populated with single family homes, there are no low, mid or high rise buildings.

Postcards From Main Street

Every good Main Street has to have a diner.

Every good Main Street has to have a diner.

Independent cafes like The Liberty Bakery and Cafe at E 21st Street are scattered all along Main Street. In fact there are three cafe’s on this corner alone.

Independent cafes like The Liberty Bakery and Cafe at E 21st Street are scattered all along Main Street. In fact there are three cafe’s on this corner alone.

There are several used bookstores like this one. No I didn’t get lucky at this bookstore but I did the next day at Paper Hound Bookshop the next day - a signed copy of Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival.”

There are several used bookstores like this one. No I didn’t get lucky at this bookstore but I did the next day at Paper Hound Bookshop the next day - a signed copy of Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival.”

There are lots of good food places…

There are lots of good food places…

Main Street is home to a couple of neon signs like this one….a reminder of how the street has evolved with the times.

Main Street is home to a couple of neon signs like this one….a reminder of how the street has evolved with the times.

Their old post office has been converted into a special event space.

Their old post office has been converted into a special event space.

I counted 40+ typewriters at The Regional Assembly of Text stationary and card shop. They actually have a free night when they let people use the typewriters to create their own prose. I have added it to my calendar.

I counted 40+ typewriters at The Regional Assembly of Text stationary and card shop. They actually have a free night when they let people use the typewriters to create their own prose. I have added it to my calendar.

Yes it has the organic grocer offering Kombucha “that is not as expensive as you think,” but there are several older grocery stores that look like they have been there since the ‘60s.

Yes it has the organic grocer offering Kombucha “that is not as expensive as you think,” but there are several older grocery stores that look like they have been there since the ‘60s.

Sing Sing Beer Bar is a great spot for people watching and catching some afternoon rays…we certainly enjoyed their Happy Hour!

Sing Sing Beer Bar is a great spot for people watching and catching some afternoon rays…we certainly enjoyed their Happy Hour!

I included myself in this photo so you could appreciate how big this sock monkey aka Easter Bunny is. I love streets with quirky window displays.

I included myself in this photo so you could appreciate how big this sock monkey aka Easter Bunny is. I love streets with quirky window displays.

The Granville Island Toy Company opened a second location on Main Street in 2007.

The Granville Island Toy Company opened a second location on Main Street in 2007.

I am a sucker for shops with great blade signs.

I am a sucker for shops with great blade signs.

There are some great “window licking” photography opportunities along Main Street. A sure sign of a pedestrian friendly street.

There are some great “window licking” photography opportunities along Main Street. A sure sign of a pedestrian friendly street.

The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples offers a wide array of natural products. No those are not beer taps.

The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples offers a wide array of natural products. No those are not beer taps.

Even Calgary’s Kevin Kent chose Main Street for his Vancouver Knifewear store.

Even Calgary’s Kevin Kent chose Main Street for his Vancouver Knifewear store.

There are some great shop and restaurant names like this one and The Shameful Tiki Room.

There are some great shop and restaurant names like this one and The Shameful Tiki Room.

Marian Distribution Centre is a real throw back, with its selection of spiritual books and artifacts.

Marian Distribution Centre is a real throw back, with its selection of spiritual books and artifacts.

Main Street has a few antique stores, as well as a couple of thrift stores for those treasure hunters.

Main Street has a few antique stores, as well as a couple of thrift stores for those treasure hunters.

I love the simplicity of just closing off half a block of this side street to create a community gathering place. It is also a simple and effective way to prevent traffic from cutting through the neighbourhood.

I love the simplicity of just closing off half a block of this side street to create a community gathering place. It is also a simple and effective way to prevent traffic from cutting through the neighbourhood.

This is the only other evidence of modernization of the street with a small pocket park and a strange red metal sculpture passageway that seems so popular these days. There are no special pedestrian crossing, no bump outs so drivers can see people trying to cross the road and no bike lanes. Everyone just seems to use common sense to make it work.

This is the only other evidence of modernization of the street with a small pocket park and a strange red metal sculpture passageway that seems so popular these days. There are no special pedestrian crossing, no bump outs so drivers can see people trying to cross the road and no bike lanes. Everyone just seems to use common sense to make it work.

Yes there is even an Exile on Main Street in Vancouver….

Yes there is even an Exile on Main Street in Vancouver….

This photo says it all…

This photo says it all…

Last Word

You will notice there are no fancy sidewalks. No designer furniture. Yes there are some banners, but for the most part the street and buildings have been left to age gracefully. There is something authentic about the street. It is not contrived as so many urban streets are today - trying to hard to be pedestrian friendly. One could ask can good Main Streets be planned or do they have to grow organically.

It has the right combination of old, middle-aged and new buildings and diversity of shops catering mostly to locals, with some destination shops thrown in for good measure.

I think Jane Jacobs' would have loved Vancouver’s Main Street. It is hard to believe there are still streets like this in Vancouver, where everything is being gentrified.

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

Calgary: 24 Main Streets Coming Soon?

Halifax: The blade sign capital of Canada

Window Licking in Portlandia



Vancouver: Street Fun For Everyone

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

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From Humdrum to Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the buses in Vancouver are fun.

Even the buses in Vancouver are fun.

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

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

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

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

This VanCity bank window made me smile…

This VanCity bank window made me smile…

Sandwich boards can add some fun to the pedestrian experience.

Sandwich boards can add some fun to the pedestrian experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forget the Baskets, Banners, Furniture & Art

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

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

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

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

Beltline Embraces Density 

Calgary’s Beltline has been growing in leaps and bounds since the community took the rather unusual step to develop its own vision document, “Blueprint for the Beltline” in 2003.

The vision - to create a vibrant community of 40,000 people by 2035. 

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Blueprint for success

Yes, the community produced its own vision, at its own cost and then presented it to the City.  And, while the “Blueprint for the Beltline” had no official status with the City, it served as the catalyst to get the City to approve a new Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan in 2006. Ultimately, it resulted in the amalgamation of Connaught and Victoria Park, two of Calgary’s oldest communities with a population base of 17,500.  

While the Blueprint identified the need for more amenities like green spaces, public realm improvements and character districts, it also embraced the idea that the community needed more density.  

Yes, you read right. They wanted more high-rises and mid-rises as a means of creating a vibrant community with lots of urban amenities - grocery stores, shops, pubs, clubs, lounges, galleries, festivals, bike lanes and great streets. 

So, while other communities protest new residential towers in their community, Beltliners have been embracing them for over a decade.  

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

Beltline is a walkable community….

Beltline is a walkable community….

Blueprint for success

Indeed, the Beltline’s evolution as Calgary’s premier urban neighbourhood has been outstanding.  It was Avenue Magazine’s Best Neighbourhood in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (slipping into second place in 2017). Last year, it was also Calgary’s fastest growing community with a population increase of 1,668, just edging out Saddleridge’s 1,656 newcomers.

This is definitely not a one year blip given the Beltline’s population has steadily increased by a healthy 3,530 since 2014 to 24,887.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beautifying the Beltline

And yes, with the increased density has come a variety of improvements – including the new Barb Scott Park and Thomson Family, a lovely renovation to Memorial Park, a dedicated bike lane along 12thAve SW, infrastructure and sidewalk improvements to 17thAvenue SW and the 13thAvenue Greenway. As well, over the past two summers, the Beltline has been transformed into an intriguing outdoor art gallery with 11 major murals.  

Link: Beltline Urban Mural Project

In addition, all of the underpasses linking the Beltline with downtown are getting mega makeovers to make them more pedestrian-friendly, benefitting the many Beltliners who work downtown.  To date, the 8th and 2nd St SW and 4th St SE underpasses have been completed. 

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street Underpass before

8th Street Underpass before


Condo vs Rental 

In the early years of the Beltline renaissance, almost all of the new residential development were condominiums, of which some units were rentals.  However, over the past few years, most of the residential development has been purpose-built rental towers.  

And there are good reasons for the rise in rentals. 

Probably the major reason is that 74% of Calgary’s rental properties are pre 1979, meaning they lack the amenities today’s urban dwellers, be that an empty nester or young professional, are looking for. Things like an ensuite bathroom, larger closets, washer and dryer in the unit, high ceilings and an open concept layout.   Also, the new rental towers offer other desirable amenities like rooftop patios, BBQs and fire pits, games rooms, demonstration kitchens and even dog runs.

There are currently seven new purpose-built Beltline residential towers at various stages of development, representing about 1,500 new homes coming on stream over the next few years.

I toured the recently completed SODO tower (10thAve just west of 5th Street SW) and it is more like a hotel than an apartment.  Next up is One, Strategic Group’s 37-storey One tower with 379 new homes (201 - 10th Ave SE) including two luxury penthouse suites.  Also, under construction is phase one of Hines’ 500 Block two tower project (461 homes) at the corner of 4th St and 12th Ave SW and The Underwood, 192 homes at 202 - 14th Ave SW. 

Strategic Group is also finishing up the conversion of an older 7-storey office building across from the Midtown Co-op into a 65 funky residences, with rooftop amenities.  

All of these new purpose-built rental buildings are designed to meet the growing demand for urban rentals in Calgary’s fastest growing community.  

In addition, there are seven new condo towers, representing about 1,000 new homes, at various stages of development. This includes the recently completed Park Point, by Qualex Landmark (which has a second tower in the works) and the soon-to-be-occupied The Royal by Bosa Developments which includes a Canadian Tire urban format store and Urban Fare (opening soon).  The “new kid” under construction is Intergulf’s 11th+ 11thproject which, at 44-storeys will be the tallest building in the Beltline. 

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Last Word 

The addition of purpose-built rental towers in the Beltline should be good news for condo developers and owners, as today’s renter is probably tomorrow’s buyer.  In fact, the Canadian Home Builder’s Association’s Earncliffe National Poll documented that 79% of Canadian renters would like to own their own home (April 2018).  And, BILD Calgary Region’s survey (June 2018) found 75% of Calgarians think owning a home provides greater financial security.  

Great communities provide a diversity of housing options (rental and ownership) for people of all ages and backgrounds. It would remiss not to acknowledge the Beltline’s vision as Calgary’s premier urban community includes its fair share of social housing and services including the expansion of the Mustard Seed, the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre and the relocation of CUPS to the Beltline. 

The addition of 2,500 new homes (for about 4,000 new residents) over the next few years will keep the Beltline on track to achieving its path to a population of 40,000 by 2035.

Note: This blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos feature on March 9th, 2019.

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

Beltline: Calgary’s Hipster/Nester Community

BUMP: Beltline Urban Murals Project

Beautifying the Beltline




Lacombe: Mural Capital of Alberta 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Murals to the rescue

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

Link: Best Outdoor Murals in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

More than just murals

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

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

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

Link: Lacombe Historical Resources

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

Link: Burman University

But I digress…

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

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

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Lacombe United Church

Lacombe United Church

Michener House

Michener House

Main Street

Main Street

Burma University

Burma University

Mural Capital of Alberta 

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

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

Link: Lacombe Regional Tourism Murals

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Meets Art Town

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

2018 Summer of Murals: Northern Hills

Boise: Freakn Fun in Freak Alley 


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.