BVSA: Still Burning

Calgary has a lot going for it. One thing that many may not realize – even those like us who love the visual arts – is the Burns Visual Arts Society (BVAS). Established in 1979, it is the oldest, continuously operating artists’ cooperative in Canada with a mandate focused solely on providing affordable working studio space to professional artists. 

The  current members are currently celebrating their 35th anniversary with a multi-media exhibition, “Still Burning,” at PASSAGE, a contemporary art space in the off the beaten path Dominion Bridge Building in Ramsay (803-24 Avenue SE). Just opened today, the exhibition runs until January 15, 2015 and offers up an excellent full-colour catalogue with essays by curator Colleen Sharpe for just $20.  

Bev Tosh discussing her steel wire drawing "Tug of War." 

Still Burning

The exhibition includes the work of 20 artists and includes everything from painting (including one which is best viewed while lying flat on the floor – not to worry - blankets and pillows provided) to a wonderful steel wire figure drawing by Bev Tosh.

For me, one of the highlights was Shona Rae’s “Barbie Beast Wall Sconces” that integrated a found small animal skull, bear fur, wood, lamp and sterling silver cast doll parts.  I loved the shamanistic good vs. evil playfulness of the piece, with one being black and the other white.  

I was also attracted to the late Elizabeth Clark’s eight-foot dress made out of copper pot scrubbers and wire with its humorous title, “Chore Girl.” Sharpe’s essay tells the haunting story of Clark, in 2008, writing on the studio’s white board “I just wanted to let you know I was here.” The following day, she passed away suddenly. 

Shona Rae's "Barbie Beast Wall Scones" 11" H x 18"W X 7"D. 

Another view of "Barbie Beast Wall Sconces". 

Elizabeth Clark, "Chore Girl" 100" x18" x10" copper pot scubbers and wire. 

Close up of "Chore Girl."

Close up of "Chore Girl."

Brenda's Favourites

For Brenda, three works captured her imagination. Cecilia Gossen’s dual arch sculpture “Duet” inspired by the arches of the churches on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain appealed to her simplicity nature. Jane Packham’s assemblage “ICON II – Daniel’s REFUGE,” inspired by the Old Testament story of Daniel who’s prophecies got in thrown in the lion’s den where God saved him from certain death,  appealed to her fascination for and love of creating narrative vignettes using found objects. It was also lust when it came to Kim Bruce’s piece which consisted of three floating book shelves, each crowded with a series of encaustic, paperback-sized books shaped into letters that spelled out three works - Knowledge Empowers Absolutely - the title of the piece. That made her “top three” because of her love of typography.

Cecilia Gossen, Duet, graphite and acrylic on MDG and plexiglas, 30"H x 24"W x 5" D.  

Jaon Packman, " ICON II - Daniel's Refuge," mixed media assemblage, 55"H x 12.5"W x 6.25"D

Close up of "ICON II - Daniel's REFUGE."

Kim Bruce, "KNOWLEGE EMPOWERS ABSOLUTELY," encaustc on books, 48"Wx 33"H x 4"D

Close up of "EMPOWERS" shelf

BVAS History

BVAS was formed in February 1979 in Calgary by a group of artists who had studios in the Burns Building on Macleod Trail at 8th Avenue SW. Facing eviction due to the development of the entire block into the performing arts centre, the artists secured the upper floors of the Neilson Building (the first three floors were built in 1903 while the top two floors were added on in 1910) one block west on Stephen Avenue as their new space.

After flourishing on Stephen Avenue for the next 19 years, it, for a second time was faced with the need to find a new home. This time, the City’s plans for the convention centre’s expansion meant the block they were on was being redeveloped.

So, once again, in 2000, BVAS packed up and moved to Ramsay which has become a haven for Calgary’s creative community. Their current home consists of the entire two floors of a building at 828 – 24th Ave SE.

For 35 years, the BVAS has been home to painters, sculptors, photographers, jewellers, installation artists and conceptual creators.  By providing affordable studio space in a safe, stable environment, it has been and continues to be a creative incubator that nurtures artists and enables them to play a significant role in the evolution of Calgary as a major cultural centre.

Over 150 artists have called BVAS home at some point; several have become significant players on the national and international stage. Some alumni include: include: Dennis Burton, Mark Dicey, Greg Edmonson, Marjan Eggermont, Ron Kanashiro, Ron Moppett, Arthur Nishimura, Bill Rodgers, Naboru Sawai and Bev Tosh.

Community Leadership

Members of the Burns Visual Arts Society have taken an important leadership role in the Calgary arts community. Eleven years ago, members Cecilia Gossen and Celia Meade conceived the East Side Studio Crawl, an arts festival that has since become an annual civic arts event created to highlight and spotlight the talents of artists working in the communities of Ramsey and Inglewood. During the Crawl, artists open their studios to the public, providing a behind-the-scenes adventure through this colourful, rising art district. The reputation of the East Side Studio Crawl and its attendance continues to grow each year.

BVAS also hosts several yearly events such as the Studio Stomp in early summer, Alberta Culture Days and a Gem Event in late fall.

Award Winning

In 2012, member Shona Rae received “Best in Show in Superstition,” a national juried art exhibition in Toronto while another member, Louise Chong won the Niche 2008 Students’ Awards in Philadelphia.

As well, Bev Tosh’s many awards include the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Royal Academy of Arts (RCA) designation and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Today, twenty visual artists – from new graduates to seasoned veterans - work in the BVAS’ studios.          

For more information on BVAS or Still Burning, contact Cecilia Gossen ( or Carmen Bellingham (

By Richard White, September 19, 2014

BVAS building today. 

The Burns Building the original home of BVAS.

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild?

Richard White, September 15, 2014 

It wasn’t that long ago that suburban developers in Calgary created a new community master plan, presented it to city planners, got comments, made changes, held a one night community open house (if there was another community close by), integrated the community’s input and then got the  “go ahead” from the city. But no longer is one, or even a few open houses sufficient to get the City and the community’s approval for new developments – large or small.

In 2003, the City of Calgary adopted a community engagement (CE) policy called “Engage” that governs how both the City and developers must work with citizens (stakeholders) to ensure they are informed and engaged in all developments that impact their quality of life. Over the past 10+ years, community engagement has become more and more complex.  The City even has an “Engage Team” with a director and manager to ensure the proper engagement protocol has been followed not only by the private sector, but also by City departments.

The EngagementHub aka EngagementHug along 85th Street in the community of West Springs. 

The EngagementHub aka EngagementHug along 85th Street in the community of West Springs. 

EngagementHub  (EH)

At first, developers were hesitant to embrace the idea of CE, but today most developers understand the need to get community support before you go to City planners, not after.

I recently learned Truman Development Corp. has embraced the idea of CE to an extent never before seen in Calgary and I expect Canada, maybe North America.  This past April, they launched an information-rich website announcing plans for creating a new 96-acre urban village community called West District in the new community of West Springs.  (For comparison East Village is 113 acres in size.)  

Then in June they opened a purpose-built “EngagementHub” building on the 700 block of 85th Avenue SW.  This 2,000 square foot EngagementHub that looks like a hip café from the street, was open for four weeks in June/July to talk to the community about “neighbourhood building” principles, then for another four weeks in August/September to share visuals around a proposed vision based on previous input.  The plan is for it to be open again in October to present even more detailed information. That is a total of over 200 hours of pre-application open houses - and, this doesn’t include all of the private meetings that have taken place with individuals and the community associations!

Is this an example of “community engagement gone wild?” Have developers finally abandoned the 20th century “design and defend” model of community planning i.e. the developer and consultants spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars developing a master plan and then defend it to the public and planners.

The EH is full of large concept renderings of sample streetscapes with shops, restaurants and patios, as well as concepts for modern, Paris-scale condos (six to eight floors high) and park spaces.  There are also worktables and lots of urban design books for the public to leaf through and share their ideas on what West District should bring to their community.

While some would say Truman’s vision for West District is like Calgary’s Kensington shopping district, in fact, it is the other way around - West District is what Kensington is trying to become as it starts adding more condos into its mix of existing shops and single-family homes.

Perhaps a more fitting name for Truman’s EngagementHub might be the EngagementHug as Truman has totally embraced the idea of community buy-in upfront, not at or near the end of the approval process. 

I can’t help but think the developers who so clearly seek community input should be rewarded with an accelerated approval process.  If the community supports the development, why should the City delay its approval - especially given it won’t cost the city a penny to service the land. This is in fact a mega infill project.

Inside the Engagement Hub is a massing model of the proposed community, along with lots of display boards with facts, figures and pictures. 

Just a small section of the post-it board full of ideas and concerns left by visitors. 

Just a small section of the post-it board full of ideas and concerns left by visitors. 

A works station with survey questions and interactive presentation screen.

A works station with survey questions and interactive presentation screen.

Just a few of the resource books available for looking up ideas. 

Just a few of the resource books available for looking up ideas. 

Interactive video screen with all of the key information at a touch.

Interactive video screen with all of the key information at a touch.

West District At A Glance

West District is a 96-acre, master-planned new community in West Springs, at the corner of 85th Street SW and Old Banff Coach Road.  Truman’s vision is to create a new walkable, mixed-use community with 3,500 residences (that could house 7,000+ people), as well as 500,00 square feet of street retail (think Kensington Village) and 1.2 million square feet of office space employing about 5,265 people. This is significantly different than the 700 residences (for 1400 people) and about 200 jobs that the current zoning allows for. 

Truman’s vision fits perfectly with the City’s vision of walkable suburban development. In the past, new communities might have 3 to 5 units/acre. West Springs and nearby Cougar Ridge (WSCR) has a current density of only 3.1 units per acre.  West District’s plan calls for 36 units per acre, which, while 10 times the current density, would only increase the overall density of the WSCR to 5.3 units/acre, well below the City’s 8 units/acre benchmark for new suburban development.

You would think it would be difficult to sell the idea of a modest density, mixed-use community in the middle of an existing upscale, suburban single-family community like West Springs.  However, to date, while some have questioned the idea of an urban village in the suburbs, everyone seems to have appreciated the opportunity to participate in shaping the future of their community. It will be interesting to see how the vision evolves as it enters the final stages before submission to the City later this fall.

Kudos to Truman Development Corp., Intelligent Futures and CivicWorks Planning + Design for establishing a new benchmark for community engagement in Calgary. 

Conceptual condo rendering with ground floor shops and seven floors of residential. It should be noted that Truman is both the developer and builder so what you see should be what you get.  In most new communities, the developer creates the vision and then sells parcels of the land to builders who interpret the vision and often make changes from the conceptual drawings. 

Conceptual condo rendering with ground floor shops and seven floors of residential. It should be noted that Truman is both the developer and builder so what you see should be what you get.  In most new communities, the developer creates the vision and then sells parcels of the land to builders who interpret the vision and often make changes from the conceptual drawings. 

Proposed land use map for West District. Not how streets link with existing community to the east. 

Proposed land use map for West District. Not how streets link with existing community to the east. 

Map of the fragmented ownership of the West District site.  One of the issues the City has for development of the land on the west side of the city is fragmented ownership, which doesn't allow for comprehensive community planning. Truman has been able to get development agreements with all of the landowners, which then allowed them to develop an integrated community vision. 

Map of the fragmented ownership of the West District site.  One of the issues the City has for development of the land on the west side of the city is fragmented ownership, which doesn't allow for comprehensive community planning. Truman has been able to get development agreements with all of the landowners, which then allowed them to develop an integrated community vision. 

Last Word

More and more Calgary is seeing development of urban villages outside of the inner city – including Brookfield’s SETON in the southeast and Livingston in the far north. Traveling out to West Springs area is like traveling to a different city for an inner-city guy like me. Who knew that 85th Street is the new 4th Street with Mercato West, Vin Room West, Blue Door Oil & Vinegar and Ohh la la Patisserie? Maybe they will even host the Lilac Festival in the future!

With the predicted average of 20,000+ people moving to Calgary each year for the foreseeable future, the City and developers must find a way to work together to facilitate the approval of one of these urban villages every year, in addition to developments in new suburbs and inner-city communities.  

And although I realize planning approval resources are tight, the City must find a way to expedite projects like West District that help fulfill the City’s vision of creating walkable new communities. It must not be delayed it in a heap of red tape.

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Beakerhead: Education coefficient needs improvement?

Richard White, September 14, 2014

Beakerhead's premise of a smash-up festival of science, engineering and art is perfect for Calgary with its plethora of engineers, geologists, software developers and IT people and our lust to become an international cultural centre.

However, what I saw (based on visiting a couple of sites during the day, one lecture and following many twitter feeds) was lots of sizzle (literally, it seemed to be all about the fire), but not a lot of substance.  I think I have some qualifications to make this statement as I have a MSc, have published scientific papers (all be it many decades ago) and for the past 30 years, I have been part of Calgary’s cultural scene.

Maybe I am old school, but when I went to the Stampede Grounds' smash-up site, I was expecting something more challenging and educational.  What I found was a playground full of loud adolescent students (I understand there are over 20,000 students participating in various Beakerhead events) having a lot of fun, but I am not sure what they were learning about art, science or engineering.  Back story: I also have experience establishing curriculum-based education programs. I didn’t see any notes being taken, no didactic information and no guided programs - it seemed like a free-for-all.

I didn’t see much that was challenging from an art, science or engineering perspective either. A solar-powered bike isn’t exactly new or innovative, neither is a warming hut with a wood stove or a couple of mini-homes. Although I was invited to drop by the site by an artist, I have no idea where the art was. It was more like a trade show. 

Maybe I just chose the wrong place and time as some of the evening pics on twitter looked much more animated and visually interesting.  

This fun, multi-armed robot was perhaps the most photographed and tweeted image of the festival (Photo Credit: Elred Naxela)

The burning man, as I called it, was very popular at the Stampede Grounds. Later learned it was The Gee Gnome, which explains the tacky pink flamingos, sand and fence; this was suppose to be a front yard setting with a fun gnome. I think? 

Net Blow-up created in Austria is billed the first self-supporting, climbable structure in the world.This spider web climbing structure was popular at the East Village site. (Photo Credit: Elred Naxela) 

A ride in the solar-powered tricycle was fun and probably second to the robot as the most photographed object.

A ride in the solar-powered tricycle was fun and probably second to the robot as the most photographed object.

The Spirit House by artist Califoria Jayson Fann is like a human-sized birdhouse turned on its side. It was only later in reading the Calgary Herald that I learned this was an art project as there was no information available that I could find. Maybe there was an App?

The Spirit House by artist Califoria Jayson Fann is like a human-sized birdhouse turned on its side. It was only later in reading the Calgary Herald that I learned this was an art project as there was no information available that I could find. Maybe there was an App?

These youth seemed to be having fun throwing the big dice up in the air and playing the classic game of snakes and ladders.

This tiny house/shed was cute but not really innovative. Yes, you could live in the space, but it really is no different than one of those summer trailer vacation homes that have been around for decades. 

Love the idea of warming huts that Winnipeg has implemented along the river at The Forks.  Good tourism plug for Winnipeg, but where is the science or the art?  Each winter The Forks has a call for proposals from designers to create unique warming huts like this one.

Low-tech, old school fun! 

Last Word

An old equation states "enlightenment = engagement + entertainment + education." I would say Beakerhead's engagement and entertainment value is very high, but there is an opportunity to enhance the educational coefficient.

Reader's comments:

CC wrote: "good points, seems a bit weak on the theory." 

CA wrote: "Beakerhead in Banff was about art and intellect. Now about spending grant money for a show. Still cool but has lost it's way."

JG wrote:  "My Grade 5 daughter and my husband went to Beakerhead on Saturday night. Their assessment is that it did meet expectations. Apparently, a U of C researcher was on site explaining the construction and mechanics of the fire-octopus. Also an explanation of laser cat and the collection of art that it shot out of its eyes. Perhaps the multiple venues and duration of events led to inconsistency of experience, but that's also a bonus as it allowed many people to take it in over a 5 day period. At the very least, it was able to draw Calgarians into different neighbourhoods they may otherwise not have a chance to visit."

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Beakerhead: Stevenson says "Adapt or die!"

Top 10 things heard at Mark Stevenson’s Beakerhead talk, “The future and what to do with it.”

#10     Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

#9       Happiness is finding something more important than you and dedicating your life to it.

#8       Think like an engineer, not like a politician.

#7       Police your cynicism. Cynicism is a recipe for being lazy.

#6       Embrace the evidence.

Calgary's Bow Tower meets its big blue sky!

Calgary's Bow Tower meets its big blue sky!

#5       How many people have you inspired?

#4       The most adaptable people, cities and cultures are the ones that will survive.

#3       Decline of the institution; rise of the individual.

#2       Stop being defined by what we own. Be defined by what we create.

#1       Did you ask a good question today? 

Lyon, France, public art.

Adapt or Die?

Stevenson’s talk was entertaining, engaging and educational. Like an extended TED talk it was perhaps too polished and slick - but maybe that is my cynicism showing through. 

From a Calgary perspective, he was very optimistic about our collective future given our plethora of engineers and our existing culture of energy research and development.

The take away message I got from Stevenson was that if Calgary can adapt its knowledge base from fossil fuels to solar, wind and alternate fuels over the next 25 years, we will continue to be one of the world’s leading cities. 

As I like to say, “life is just a continuous series of adaptations. 

By Richard White, September 12, 2014

Calgary's power hour or the march of the engineers (photo credit: Jeff Trost).

3Rs of walkable communities?

Guest Blog: Ross Aitken

In the inner city communities of many older cities you will often find old homes converted into funky shops and restaurants – places like Height/Ashbury, in San Francisco and Yorkville in Toronto immediately come to mind. While Calgary lacks the charm of a street of big old houses that have been converted into charming boutiques and bistros, there are some good examples of how old homes can become trendy places to shop and dine in Calgary.

The best example would be the century old Cross House in Inglewood that has been converted into the Rouge restaurant. It is not only one of Calgary’s best restaurants, but in 2010 it ranked #60 in the S. Pellegrino’s top 100 restaurants in the world.  Not many Canadian cities can boast a world class restaurant in an iconic home built in 1891 for heroic local citizen – A.E. Cross was one of the big four who started the Calgary Stampede.

A good example of a house that has become a boutique is located in the Parkdale Loop.  “Where you ask?” Parkdale Loop is the cluster of shops just off of Parkdale Boulevard on Parkdale Crescent NW. The cul-de-sac is probably best know as the home of Lazy Loaf Café. But, also on the Loop is Chateau Country Lace a popular women’s boutique that has been around for years in what looks like a mid-century bungalow.

Another great example of a historic house that has become a restaurant is Laurier Lounge in the Beltine. This unassuming Tudor Revival house built in 1908 was the birthplace of George Stanley designer of the Canadian Flag.  But for as long as I can remember, it has been a popular restaurant and lounge, know for its tasty poutine.

Rouge restaurant in Inglewood, Calgary.

Chateau Country Lace, Parkdale Loop. Calgary.

Laurier Lounge, Beltline, Calgary. 

Integration vs Segregation

Recently, I was driving to Marda Loop and in order to bypass the bustling traffic on 33rd Street, I slipped over to 34th Avenue and discovered a half-block of old cottage homes mixed with new two-storey shops that look like modern infills that are home to variety of interesting shops including an upscale tailor and two hair salon. I am convinced this is the future of inner city retail in Calgary.

I am thinking the next evolution of inner city infilling could be like the 2000 block of 34th Avenue in Marda Loop with small shops that look like houses in scale and design being added to the mix of single family, duplex and small condo projects especially on busy transit corridors like Kensington Road in West Hillhurst. 

Cottage home in Marda Loop gets a new life as a business.

Cottage home in Marda Loop gets a new life as a business.

Several cottage homes in Marda Loop that have been converted to retail along with a new two-storey modern home purpose built for retail.

Better Walkscores

The city of Calgary’s vision is to enhance he walk score of every community in the city. This means more people walking to meet their everyday needs. If this is going to happen, it will mean the City will need to encourage the conversion of more inner city streets to become more like the Parkdale Loop, Marda Loop or the wonderful Britannia Plaza on 49th Avenue in Britannia.

While some might complain the new businesses will add more traffic to their inner-city community, remember they will also convert some drivers to pedestrians and cyclists. And, don’t worry about your property values – Britannia, Parkdale and Marda Loop’s property values have skyrocketed because of their mix of residential with retail and restaurants.

If we are truly serious about creating walkable communities we must allow for the integration of residential, retail and restaurants on the same block - not segregate them!

Ross is a RE/MAX realtor checkout his website

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Calgary: Urban Forest vs Tree Abuse?

By Richard White, September 6, 2014 (An edit version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "From bald prairie to urban forest," on September 6, 2014)

Recently, Toronto-based Lamb Development Corp. announced it would be creating orchard between the two condo towers on 12th Avenue next to Stampede.  I thought this was a strange idea being Calgary is not know as fruit belt by any stretch of the imagination. But after a little digging I learned that since 2009, the City of Calgary has been planting fruit trees and shrubs as part of a pilot community research orchard program.  The three pilot orchards are in Hillhurst-Sunnyside (50 trees), Baker Park (100+ trees) and Ralph Klein Park (no number given on city of Calgary website).  The first two focus mostly on apple trees, while the later will consist of a variety of pear trees.

The City of Calgary recommends two varieties of apple trees - Prairie Sun and Prairie Sensation, both are about six feet tall and produce about 20 lbs. of apples when mature.  The two varieties of pears recommended are “Ure” and “Early Gold.” The “Capilano” apricot is also recommended, as are several varieties of cherries.  Fruit bearing shrubs include the “Hinnomaki Red” gooseberry, American Hazelnuts, Honeyberries or Haskaps. 

A quick check of Calgary greenhouse and landscape websites confirmed that indeed, several other varieties of fruit trees would grow well in Calgary. In fact, I forgot but when we moved into our house in West Hillhurst (aka Grand Trunk) in there were two mature apple trees in the neighbour’s backyard that produced a massive amount of apples.  They removed the trees a few years later as the apples quickly drop to the ground, became very mushy very quickly, becoming “wasp magnets. They weren’t much good except for applesauce, which we ate a lot of that summer.

At this time, the City has no plans to create more community orchards, but interested individuals should contact their community association if they are interested. The city might consider facilitating an orchard in your community – could be in a pocket park, community garden or along the boulevard near your home.  The City even has an “orchard steward” program i.e. someone who takes an active role in caring for and maintaining an orchard by pruning, monitoring health and harvesting the fruit.

Silver Springs experimental orchard.

Apple tree on the front lawn of a century old home in Inglewood. 

Treeless Prairie

While digging I also found out a lot more about Calgary’s urban forest. Indeed, Calgary’s urban forest is a remarkable achievement given the City’s climate doesn’t naturally support trees.  It is estimated that 3% of trees in Calgary’s urban forest die annually.

Early photographs of Calgary show a treeless prairie landscape, however in the 1890s William Pearce, envisioned Calgary as a “city of trees,” developing an experimental farm with an irrigation system so he could grow more types of trees.  His home and farm is now known as Pearce Estates Park, located at the far east end of Inglewood where the Bow River turns south.

He also encouraged Calgarians to improve the appearance of the City by planting trees around their homes. And, in 1899, the City Council passed not only the first tree protection bylaws, but also started promoting tree planting.

Calgary before trees.

Mount Royal before trees.

Over $400M 

Today, Calgary boasts 445,000 trees in our groomed parks and boulevards, worth an estimated $400 million. The value of individual trees ranges from $300 to $33,000.  The most valuable trees are a pair of American Elms in Rideau Park.

In our natural areas, there are several million more trees – Weaslehead Flats alone having an estimated 3 million trees.

North Glenmore Park forest

This Bur Oak is a heritage tree on Crescent Road was planted in 1937.

Heritage Elm tree in the middle of a Stampede PARKing lot. 

The Sunnyside urban forest didn't exist 100 years ago. 

Collaborating with citizens

One of the key tree management tools of the City today is to collaborate and engage with citizens to enhance our urban forest with community awareness and education, tools and shared stewardship opportunities.   For example, the “Symbolic Tree Program” which allows you to commemorate a birthday, wedding, anniversary or any other day by planting a tree in a city park.

The BP BirthPlace Forest which between 2001 to 2009, planted trees over 50,000 trees at nine sites across the city to reflect the children born in the city each year.

The City also has a Planting Incentive Program (PIP) where the City will match 50% of the cost of a new tree to be planted on City-owned residential property. Choose the species of tree from the city’s approved tree list and once approved the City will does all the rest.

Silver Springs BP Birthplace Forest 

Calgary Tree Fun Facts

Urban trees are important not just for the aesthetics, shade and privacy, but they also help make Calgary the “cleanest city in the world” (2013 Mercer Global Financial and HR Consulting ranking). It was estimated that Calgary’s urban forest removes a total of 502 tons of pollutants each year, with an estimated value of almost $3 million (US Forest Service Urban Forest Effect Model: Calgary Study 1998).

Each year, the City removes 500 to 800 pioneer poplar trees i.e. those planted 75 to 100 years ago to as these trees are at the end of their lifespan and it allows opportunities for other trees to grow

One of the fun things to do when walking around inner-city communities is to play “Guest the cost of that tree!”  On almost every block there are one or more signs at each infill site indicating the value of the city trees on the lot.  The builder is responsible for protecting all city trees and if that isn’t possible they have to pay the city the amount posted to replace the trees.

In 1913, William Reader, Parks and Cemetery superintendent unsuccessfully (surprise, surprise) experimented with growing palm trees in pots in the summer in Central Memorial Park as well as around City Hall.  

Olympic Plaza trees

 Last Word

Sometimes I think Calgarians are in denial that we live in winter city.  I am often reminded of this when I pass by the struggling oak tree planted by the City in Grand Trunk Park across the street from my house. It, like many of the thousands of oak trees planted by the City; struggle to grow in a place not meant for trees - certainly not oak trees.  Could this be “tree abuse?”  In fact, some might say creating an urban forest in Calgary is “disturbing its natural ecosystem.”

This oak tree has been struggling to grow in West Hillhurst's Grand Trunk Park for over 10 years. It looks more like a sculptural piece than a tree. 

The streets of every inner city community in Calgary were strewn with fallen branches after the September 8 and 9th snow storm. Another reminder that we not only live on the treeless prairies, but on the edge of the Rockies.  

The streets of every inner city community in Calgary were strewn with fallen branches after the September 8 and 9th snow storm. Another reminder that we not only live on the treeless prairies, but on the edge of the Rockies.  

Stephen Avenue Trees? Sculptures? 

Urban forest provide a canopy over the street winter and summer.

Today, Calgary’s tree canopy is estimated to cover 7% of its over land mass. The goal is to increase this by 1% per decade to a 20% canopy.

In the summer, for those Calgarians living in established communities it is hard to imagine Calgary was a barren, treeless prairie landscape.  Yes, Mount Royal was a treeless hill less than 100 years ago!

To learn more about the City of Calgary’s Parks Urban Forest Strategic Plan, read the document at:

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Calgary's Audacious New Library

By Richard White, September 5, 2014 (An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald).

The idea of a new iconic central library has been around for decades (Vancouver got its iconic library in 1995, as did Denver and Seattle in 2004.  In fact, it was acknowledged at the Calgary Public Library Foundation’s preview that one of the reasons Councilor Druh Farrell originally decided to run for council in 2001 was to foster the development of a new central library.

She and others have been championing the idea tireless and today she is Council’s representative on the Calgary Public Library Board. Nobody can say the Library Board or Council has rushed into this project, it has been a slow painful process for some and for others a strategic struggle.

Finally the wait is over. 

Vancouver's iconic Central Library has been the envy of many Calgarians since it was built in 1995.

Vancouver's iconic Central Library has been the envy of many Calgarians since it was built in 1995.

Think Global Act Local

The new library's design team of Snohetta and DIALOG was announced in November 2013 and since then has been working hard to develop a design that will capture the attention of both Calgarians and the world.  It was a good choice as Calgary’s DIALOG team is headed up by Rob Adamson, who was born in Calgary, got his architectural degree from the University of Calgary and has spent his entire career in Calgary – he can obviously speak to Calgary’s sense of place.  His projects include the impressive TELUS Spark and the new international wing of the Calgary Airport. 

In addition, Fred Valentine one of Calgary’s most respected architects (architect for the NEXEN building) has also been advising the Library’s steering committee and Board with respect to design issues and opportunities. 

Craig Dykers heads up the Snohetta team in New York City who bring to the table a wealth of international library experience including the award winning Bibliotheca Alexandria.

The Design

The design team for Calgary’s new central library make no bones about it they have an audacious (their words not mine) vision: to create the best library in the world.  They were quick to that creating the best library is more than just about design, it is about being “right for this place and time.”  Craig Dykers of Snohetta argued, “Libraries are not about the building, the books or the information but about the people.”  He also noted that the best libraries must evolve with time and Calgary's new library must be able to do just that.

The inspiration and rationale for the design of the new library as unveiled at the Calgary Library Foundations’ Preview September 3rd and again at a sold out presentation (1,200 attendees) at the TELUS Convention Centre on September 4th is very complex.  Everything from the curve of the underground LRT tunnel to the Chinook arch were mentioned as factors influencing the building’s conceptual design.  

Rendering of the shape and massing of the proposed new downtown Library.

Rendering of the shape and massing of the proposed new downtown Library.

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Drift Boat?

What struck me most when looking at the rendering is that it looks like a boat.  At first I thought of a canoe but then it hit me – it looks like the drift boats that are used by fly fishermen on the Bow River. These boats have a flat bottoms with flared sides, a flat bow and pointed stern. They are designed to handle rough water and to allow fishermen to stand up in the boat, even in flowing water. Whether intentional or unintentional there are some interesting links to Calgary's sense of place (rivers) and culture (recreation).

Rendering of the new library's 3rd Street SE facade.

Rendering of the 3rd Street SE facade in the summer with the Municipal Building on the left. 

Rendering of the 3rd Street SE facade in the summer with the Municipal Building on the left. 

Yin Yang on 3rd Street SE

I was also struck by how similar the massing is to the Municipal Building that will run parallel to the new library on the west side of 3rd Street SE. Both are block-long horizontal mid-rise buildings in a downtown that is dominated by its verticalness.  Inside both buildings will have a floor to ceiling atriums as their dominant design feature.

The Municipal Building’s design is unique with a stepped façade on the west side, an obvious reference to the foothills and the mountains and a flat east façade, a design metaphor for the prairies. Dykers indicated he thought what defined our city’s unique sense of place is its position between the mountains and the prairies.

While nobody said it, I think there could be a nice “yin and yang” design materializing between the angular Municipal Building and the curved new library. I think there are also links with the design and massing of the new National Music Centre. The synergies between the three buildings could create something special from an urban placemaking perspective.

The façade of the proposed new library has a repeated geometric pattern that is in the shape of a house or shed. It creates an obvious scientific, mathematical or engineering visual impression.

This too might be appropriate as Paul McIntyre Royston, President & CEO of the Calgary Library Foundation announced the new library will have a Research Chair - a first for a public library in Canada.  He spoke of the new library as being an “incubator for research and ideas.” He also went on to say “all great cities have great libraries” and it was the team’s goal to create a great library for Calgarians and he wasn’t afraid to reiterate that vision is to “create the best library in the world”


The Municipal Building is a massive blue glass triangle sitting on top of a concrete rectangle. The historic sandstone city hall in the bottom right corner is still used as offices for Mayor, Council and meeting rooms. The building makes obvious references to the foothills, the big blue prairie sky and the powerful forces of faults, folds and shifting tectonic plates that formed the Canadian Rockies. 

The west facade of the Municipal Building alludes to Calgary's sense of place i.e. where the prairies meet the mountains; the triangular shape and stepped facade creates a unique shape. The glass facade creates wonderful reflections of the historic sandstone city hall building to the north east. 

From the northeast the Municipal Building has an intriguing profile as a result of its triangular shape that will contrast nicely with the propose new library's curved shape at the same corner.

From the northeast the Municipal Building has an intriguing profile as a result of its triangular shape that will contrast nicely with the propose new library's curved shape at the same corner.

This view of the Municipal Building from the east will disappear when the new library is built. 

This view of the Municipal Building from the east will disappear when the new library is built. 

Last Page

I like the fact the design is not something twisted, cantilevered or cubist, which seems to be all the rage these days. The shape and skin are intriguing with a sense of playfulness without being too silly.  I expect only time will tell if this is the right building for Calgary - today and in the future. 

The design of the Calgary’s new Central Library is off to a good start. I am glad it isn't imitative of other architecture as is so often the case in Calgary.

I hope that as the design evolves it will just keep getting better. Kudos to the design team, the Library and CMLC staff! 

Denver's Central Library designed by Michael Graves, in 1995. 

Seattle's Central Library designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, in 2004. 

Seattle's Central Library designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, in 2004. 

Calgary: Military Museums

By Richard White, September 4, 2014

Why is it that we wait until we have visiting family and friends to check out our local museums? I have been hearing great things about Calgary’s Military Museums for years. I drive by often and worked for five years almost across the street from it, yet I have never been in.  A few years ago when a history-loving nephew was visiting, I dropped him off and went to work, rather than joining him to tour the museum. Shame on me!

With my Mom visiting, we thought it would be an interesting activity for a Sunday afternoon. In fact last Sunday, we checked out the exhibitions at the Glenbow Museum, another place that I don’t make time to visit often enough.

The Military Museums lived up to it billing as a first class museum. It is actually seven small museums or exhibition spaces in one:

  1. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Museum and Archives
  2. The Calgary Highlanders Regimental Museum and Archives
  3. The King’s Own Calgary Regiment Museum
  4. Lord Strathcona’s Horse Museum
  5. Army Museum of Alberta
  6. Air Force Museum of Alberta
  7. Naval Museum of Alberta

In addition, there is also the Founder’s Gallery and a theatre space, all located in a decommissioned school with major addition.  Though not a signature building designed by a famous architect the building is more than adequate as a museum space. And quite refreshing to see how modestly repurposed building can become a major public attraction without spending 100s of millions of dollars.


The entrance to The Military Museums is subtle in design and statement.  

Once inside the museum your attention is immediately captured by a large mural that consists of 240 separate images.  Each image tells a story that you can read at the video terminal. 

I enjoyed the many personal quotes that captured the various wartime experiences.

I enjoyed the many personal quotes that captured the various wartime experiences.

It is good to be reminded that only 100 years ago Canada was a much different place psychologically. 

It is good to be reminded that only 100 years ago Canada was a much different place psychologically. 


The exhibitions are very text-based, well researched with lots of very interesting stories and factoids. There are excellent supporting artifacts, visuals and displays.  If you read all of the text and watch all of the videos, I expect you could be there all day.  There is a mind-boggling amount of information to read and absorb.

The one thing that seemed to be lacking were “hands-on” experiences for kids. Where was the opportunity to dress up like a soldier? Perhaps a chance to walk in a military trench with loud noises of simulated gunfire, bombs etc. What kid wouldn’t want to climb up onto one of the planes or amoured vehicles in the Naval Museum of Alberta? A lesson could be taken from the Calgary Stampede where kids climbing on the Canadian Armed Forces vehicles on display is a very popular activity.

There are numerous displays depicting life on the battlefield. 

There are numerous displays depicting life on the battlefield. 

The collection of medals is impressive.

The collection of medals is impressive.


The Naval Museum space is impressive.

Lessons Learned

One key lesson learned from the visit was the incredible role Canada and Calgarians played in WWI and WWII.  In many ways, Canada seemed to be a bigger player on the world stage 100 years ago than it is today. I had a similar aha moment at the Glenbow last week reading about the accomplishments of Lord Beaverbrook and his influence on the economy and politics of England in the early 20th century.

Another aha moment came to me when I read a telegraph and realized it was not unlike a tweet in that the text was abbreviated to just the essential words.  While we always talk about how the world has changed, in some ways it is not that different. The abbreviations of a tweeter are similar to “shorthand” that was all the rage in offices in the mid 20th century.

You can look through a submarine periscope and see for miles....downtown looks like it is just a few waves away.

Another display that documents the hardships of life in the trenches. 

The science of shell making.

Outside there are several tanks and amoured vehicles, unfortunately you can't climb them.

Last Word

The Military Museums’ visit also reminded me that Calgary should have a Museum/Attractions Pass if it truly wants to be a tourist city. Why there is not a pass that allows a tourist to pay one fee to visit not only the Military Museums and the Glenbow, but Fort Calgary, Heritage Park, Calgary Tower, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, TELUS Spark and the Calgary Zoo is beyond me!  

Calgary has an impressive line-up of museums and attractions that are under appreciated locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. We really need market Calgary as a museum/attractions destination if we want to be more than just the gateway to the Rockies in the minds of tourists.

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary!

By Richard White, August 31, 2014. 

Since Calgary’s urban living renaissance began in the early ‘90s, Vancouver developers have been instrumental in shaping our city’s 21st century urban condo culture.  Vancouver’s Nat Bosa was one of the first developers to realize that Calgary’s downtown could more than just a place to work before heading back to the ‘burbs’ to live.  Today, his children - Ryan and Natalie Bosa - are championing the revitalization of East Village.

Calgary’s largest single condo development project to date  - Waterfront (eight buildings, 1,000+ condos and 1,200 parking stalls) on the old Greyhound bus barn site east of Eau Claire Market was the brainchild of Vancouver’s Anthem Properties. This developer also has a 5.4-acre site across from Erlton Station that could accommodate a similar scale project.

Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark, has almost single-handedly reshaped the Beltline with five condo projects including sold-out Mark on 10th which is currently under construction.  It just recently announced Park Point, a two-tower (500+ condos) in the heart of the Beltline north of Memorial Park; this means Qualex-Landmark will have built 1,500 new condos over the past 10 years.

The list of Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s urban condo culture doesn’t end there Bucci Development Ltd. is very active north of the Bow with mid-rise projects in Bridgeland and Kensington. Maple Project is responsible for Ten and UNO, both in lower Mount Royal, with plans for a high-rise apartment in the Beltline, as well as the redevelopment of the Highland Golf course.

Mark on 10th will establish a new benchmark for urban design in Calgary. It is fun, funky and quirky without being weird and wacky. 

The Waterfront condo project is the largest condo project in Calgary's history.

BOSA condos built in downtown's West End in the mid '90s. 

International Influence

More recently, Calgary’s new urban living renaissance has captured the interest of the global investment community.  Grosvenor, an urban development company based in London, England that dates back to 1677, identified Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto as the best three cities in the world for investment potential.  Currently, Grosvenor Americas based in Vancouver has three Calgary condo projects – Drake, Smith (Beltline) and Avenue (West End). 

Vancouver’s Concord Pacific (developers of the Vancouver Expo ’86 site), with ties to Hong Kong, recently announced they will be proceeding with their uber-chic Eau Claire condo project west of the Princeton.  Concord Pacific is associated with luxury condo communities with a reputation of choosing only the “best of the best” sites. Eau Claire and Mission are competing to see who will become the “Mount Royal of condo living.”

Toronto developers get some skin in the game

Toronto condo developers, though late in the Cowtown condo game, have hit the ground running.  Both FRAM+Slokker Real Estate Group and Lamb Development Corp. have entered the Calgary market in the past few years.  FRAM+Slokker is focused on East Village with three projects - First will be completed in 2015, Verve in 2016 and a site for an unnamed major retail, office and residential development has also been acquired.

Lamb has acquired two properties for development - one on 10th Ave SW next to the iconic Uptown Bottle Depot and one on 12th Avenue SE next to Stampede Park.  The latter named Orchard will be twin 31-storey towers with a one-acre apple orchard in the middle.

Rafiiville or Little Vancouver

Not only are Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s condo culture, but so are their Vancouver design and marketing teams.  Vancouver architect Road Rafii has had more influence on Calgary’s architectural look than any other architect over the past ten years. In 2001, the Vancouver Sun identified Rafii as one of the 10 architects who shaped Vancouver’s urban sense of place.  In 2014, you could say he has also shaped Calgary’s sense of place as he was the design architect for Calla, Drake, Luna, Mark on 10th, Nova, Stella and Waterfront condo projects. Perhaps we should rename the Beltline “Rafiiville.”

Grosvenor is also using a Vancouver architectural firm - James KM Cheng Architects - for its Avenue condo project in our downtown’s West End while Concord Pacific is using Vancouver “starchitects” Arthur Erickson and Peter Busby for their Eau Claire condo project. In addition, Busby + Will Architects are designing a complete redo of the Eau Claire Market site for Regina’s Harvard Properties.  Could our downtown Bow River condo district become “Little Vancouver.”

One would think the out-of-town developers don’t think much of Calgary’s architectural community. However, it is more a case of being more comfortable dealing with a design and marketing team they are familiar with.  However, Brad Lamb, President of Lamb Development Corp., quoted recently in the Financial Post in conjunction with the announcement of Concord Pacific’s Eau Claire condo project said, “there are a few true luxury, high-rise developments in Calgary, but their architectural styles can be best described as pedestrian.” Ouch!

Obviously, it is not a coincidence that Calgary’s downtown skyline is perhaps looking a bit like Vancouver’s given the number of high-rise Vancouver condo developers who are capitalizing on the residentialization of Calgary’s urban core.

A rendering of proposed Orchard condo with the apple tree orchard between the two towers. 

Fostering a sense of place

From an urban design perspective, I am not convinced Calgary is being well served by out-of-town developers as most of their architectural designs are not breaking any new ground and certainly not contributing to creating a “made-in Calgary” sense of place. However, I am anxiously awaiting the completion of Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th as it has potential to be a signature architectural statement for Calgary.

If I had to choose my favourite uniquely contemporary condo designs, I would pick ones designed by Calgary architectural firms. Arriva is probably my favourite - designed by BKDI. I have also come to admire what I like to call “The Chessmen” on Macleod Trail – SASSO and NUERA, designed by Calgary’s Abugov Kaspar Architects and Alura and Nuera, designed by Calgary’s S2 Architecture.  These condo towers make a modern, robust and masculine statement with their massing and mechanical design elements. To me they have an engineering look that reflects Calgary’s huge engineering community. 

Good architecture doesn’t have to shout out “Look at me! Look at me!” Rather, it just “stands out” over time as something interesting to look at.

These four condos by Cove Properties along Macleod Trail near Stampede Park have started to create a distinctive sense of place with their unique design. 

South of downtown on 17th Avenue red brick is more common as the facade material for high-rises and the design elements are more art deco and Manhattan like. 

The Beltline has an eclectic design sensibility, many of the new condos and apartments area adding an element of colour as part of their sense of place, like the Aura apartments across the street from the new Barb Scott Park. 

Condo living is in its infancy in YYC

“Condo living will soon be the norm in Calgary,” says Michael Ward, Senior VP & General Manager of Grosvenor Americas.  His rationale is that Calgary will have a very robust economy for the foreseeable future (although there will be periodic downturns) given its political stability and the large fixed costs and long-term commitments to the oil sands by both domestic and international firms.  This in turn will attract young professionals, not only from Canada but internationally to work in Calgary’s downtown office towers. He believes “living in condominiums is a preferred choice for an increasing number of young people, looking for affordable housing and centrally located.” 

He even postulates that “as seen in Vancouver, large parts of Europe and Asia, people are choosing to stay in condominiums after they form relationships and have families as they enjoy the convenience of living close to amenities, work and friends.”

Ward notes, “Condominium development has in the past garnered some bad publicity in Calgary, as smaller, opportunistic developers have walked away from half-finished projects through tough times and held on to purchasers’ deposits for years before commencing construction.”  He notes, “the fact Calgary is attracting major experienced national and international urban condo developers, means more condos will be completed on time with quality design and construction, which in turn will make condo living more attractive to more Calgarians.”  

For decades, Calgary has been predominantly a single-family home city, but over the past decade this has changed not only in the inner-city, but in the ‘burbs’ also.  For many the condo is the new ‘starter home.’ There are currently over 7,000 condos under construction across the city. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a- changin.” 

By Richard White. An edited version of this blog appeared in the September 2014 issue of Condo Living magazine, with the title " Cross Canada Connections." 

Condo from the 70s and 80s and 90s along the Elbow River in Mission.

In 1982, the Estate condo was built next to the historic Ranchmen's Club.  It was designed with town homes along the street with a tower above, nearly a decade before the podium and point tower became the Vancouver condo design craze. 

Calgarians: Where is your happy place?

Guest Blog: John Lewis, Intelligent Futures, a Calgary-based firm focusing on urbanism, sustainability and community engagement. 

What if we looked at our city from a perspective of what makes us happy?

Most of the time, discussion about the evolution of Calgary is focused on the negative and the controversial. While this kind of debate and dialogue is essential in a democracy, we also think it’s important to reflect on what is working well.

That’s why we created the #happyyc project.

We initiated #happyyc to find out what places make Calgarians happy. We think that by understanding the places that people love, planners, designers, architects, citizens and community organizations alike can help make more happy happen. For the last few months, we have been out on the streets of Calgary and online looking to find out what places make Calgarians happy. 

The idea of taking happiness seriously has been gaining traction in a number of fields – from Alberta economist Mark Aneilski’s book The Economics of Happiness to psychologist Martin Seligman’s work on authentic happiness to the Bhutan’s measurement of Gross National Happiness. At their core, all these examples are focused on what really matters to people and how to structure systems to enable these good things to occur. In the realm of cities, Charles Montgomery recently wrote Happy City, which investigates the linkages between urban design and happiness.

We wanted to take a look at our own city and hear from Calgarians about what places matter most to them. Using a simplified map and a single direction (“Map the spaces that are your happiest places!”) citizens are able to express the places that make them happy. We’re intentionally leaving it open – we’re not restricting the kinds of places that people can choose.

Could your happy place be window licking and dancing in the sidewalk ballet of one of Calgary's many animated streetscapes? 

Could your happy place be along the 700+ km of pathways?

Could it be Fish Creek Park or the new Greenway?

Could your happy place be one of our live music or theatre spaces?

What we’ve seen so far is both fascinating and beautiful. Natural spaces like the rivers, Nose Hill and the pathways are definitely treasured by our participants so far. And before we go into the in-depth analysis of responses, one thing is clear: Calgarians love to eat. The city’s eating establishments are very well represented. Neighbourhoods like Kensington and Inglewood are showing up very often as well.

We want to hear from YOU!

But we’re not done yet. We want to hear from as many Calgarians as possible – ideally, from at least one person in each of our communities across the city. Until October 1, we’re going to keep asking Calgarians to map their happy places. Once all the maps are in, we’ll analyze the responses and share the results with the community. This will give us all some great insights about the places in our city that matter most to us, along with some clues about the commonalities between them.

Perhaps you like shopping? Maybe you love our historic districts - Stephen Avenue and Inglewood?

Perhaps you have a secret spot in your community?

Could the local playground be your happy place?

Maybe you love one of our 5,000+ parks? Dog park? 

To share your thoughts, go to the HappyYYC and follow the three easy steps.

The more responses, the more insights we’ll all gain.

Step 1: Download and print a map by clicking here.

Step 2: Get our your pencils, pens, markers and/or crayons and map your happiest places.

Step 3: Send your map to the #happyyc project.

  • Option A: Mail it to us at: #happyyc  1221B Kensington Rd NW   Calgary AB   T2N 3P8
  • Option B: Scanning and emailing it to us at:
  • Option C: Uploading it to our site by clicking here
If you aren't a Calgarians, I still love to know where is your happy place. Just email me your happy place and perhaps a photo and I will add them to this post. 

If you aren't a Calgarians, I still love to know where is your happy place. Just email me your happy place and perhaps a photo and I will add them to this post.