Calgary Locations

A Heaven in Alberta

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A little info on Calgary

((Thanks Miz))


Cities in North America don't come much more glittering than CALGARY, a likeable place whose downtown skyscrapers soared almost overnight on the back of an oil boom in the 1970s to turn it into something of a Canadian Dallas.

The tight high-rise core is good for wandering, and contains the prestigious Glenbow Museum, while the wooden houses of the far-flung suburbs recall the city's pioneering frontier origins. These are further celebrated in the annual Calgary Stampede, a hugely popular cowboy carnival in which the whole town - and hordes of tourists - revel in a boots-and-stetson image that's still very much a way of life in the surrounding cattle country. Year-round you can dip into the city's lesser museums and historic sites, or take time out in its scattering of attractive city parks.

Some History
Modern Calgary is one of the West's largest and youngest cities, its 1,000,000-strong population having grown from almost nothing in barely 125 years. Long before the coming of outsiders, however, the area was the domain of the Blackfoot, who ranged over the site of present-day Calgary for several thousand years. More recently - about 300 years ago - they were joined by Sarcee and Stoney, tribes forced south by war from their northern heartlands. Traces of old campgrounds, buffalo kills and pictographs from all three tribes lie across the region, though these days tribal lands locally are confined to a few reserves.
Whites first began to gather around the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers at the end of the eighteenth century. Explorer David Thompson wintered here during his peregrinations, while the Palliser expedition spent time nearby en route for the Rockies. Settlers started arriving in force around 1860, when hunters moved into the region from the United States, where their prey, the buffalo, had been hunted to the edge of extinction. Herds still roamed the Alberta grasslands, attracting not only hunters but also whiskey traders, who plied their dubious wares among whites and Native Canadians alike. Trouble inevitably followed, leading to the creation of the West's first North West Mounted Police stockade at Fort Macleod. Soon after, in 1875, a second fort was built further north to curb the lawlessness of the whiskey traders. A year later it was christened Fort Calgary, taking its name from the Scottish birthplace of its assistant commissioner. The word calgary is the Gaelic for "clear running water", and it was felt that the ice-clear waters of the Bow and Elbow rivers were reminiscent of the "old country".

By 1883 a station had been built close to the fort, part of the new trans-Canadian railway. The township laid out nearby quickly attracted ranchers and British gentlemen farmers to its low, hilly bluffs - which are indeed strongly reminiscent of Scottish moors and lowlands - and cemented an enduring Anglo-Saxon cultural bias. Ranchers from the US - where pasture was heavily overgrazed - were further encouraged by an "open grazing" policy across the Alberta grasslands. Despite Calgary's modern-day cowboy life - most notably its famous annual Stampede - the Alberta cattle country has been described as more "mild West" than Wild West. Research suggests that there were just three recorded gunfights in the last century, and poorly executed ones at that.

By 1886 fires had wiped out most of the town's temporary wooded and tented buildings, leading to an edict declaring that all new buildings should be constructed in sandstone (for a while Calgary was known as "Sandstone City"). The fires proved no more than a minor historical hiccup and within just nine years of the railway's arrival Calgary achieved official city status, something it had taken rival Edmonton over 100 years to achieve. Edmonton was to have its revenge in 1910, when it was made Alberta's provincial capital.

Cattle and the coming of the railway generated exceptional growth, though the city's rise was to be nothing compared to the prosperity that followed the discovery of oil. The first strike, the famous Dingman's No. 1 Well, took place in 1914 in the nearby Turner Valley. An oil refinery opened in 1923, since when Calgary has rarely looked back. In the 25 years after 1950, its population doubled. When oil prices soared during the oil crisis of the 1970s the city exploded, becoming a world energy and financial centre. Calgary became headquarters for some four hundred oil and related businesses, had more American inhabitants than any other Canadian city, and for a while boasted the highest per capita income in Canada.

Falling commodity prices subsequently punctured the city's ballooning economy, but not before the city centre had been virtually rebuilt and acquired improved and oil-financed cultural, civic and other facilities. Better was to come when Calgary attracted the 1988 Winter Olympics, two weeks of much-remembered glory which - like the legacy of its oil and cattle riches - continue to lend the city the air of a brash, self-confident and apparently prospering boom town. Today the optimism is tempered, as elsewhere in Canada, by the notion of federal disintegration, much of Alberta and BC - with Calgary at the forefront - declaring their opposition to Québec's separatist ambitions. Much of the West, which still harbours a sense of a new frontier, is increasingly impatient with the "old" East, and happy - if election results are anything to go by - for an increasingly self-sufficient and Western-orientated role.

The City

Downtown Calgary lies in a self-evident cluster of mirrored glass and polished granite facades bounded by the Bow River to the north, 9th Avenue to the south, Centre Street to the east and 8th Street to the west. A monument to oil money, the area is about as sleek as an urban centre can be: virtually everything is brand-new, and the modern architecture is easy on the eye. In fact the whole thing looks so modern that it's been used as a setting for several films, most notably Superman III. The city centre, so far as it has one, is traditionally 8th Avenue between 1st St SE and 3rd St SW, a largely pedestrianized area known as Stephen Avenue Mall.
Any city tour, though, should start with a trip to the Glenbow Museum, while a jaunt up the Calgary Tower, across the street, gives a literal overview of the Calgarian hinterland. Thereafter a good deal of the city lends itself to wandering on foot, whether around the mall-laden main streets or to Prince's Island, the nearest of many parks, and Kensington, the heart of Calgary's small alternative scene. The appeal of attractions further afield - Fort Calgary, Heritage Park and the Calgary Zoo - will depend on your historical and natural history inclinations. These sights, together with a crop of special interest museums, can be easily reached by bus or C-Train.

Fort Calgary

Fort Calgary, the city's historical nexus, stands at 750-9th Ave SE (daily 9am-5pm; shorter hours possible in winter; site free; interpretive centre $3; 290-1875), a manageable eight-block walk east of downtown; you could also take bus #1 to Forest Lawn, bus #14 (East Calgary) from 7th Avenue, or the C-Train free to City Hall and walk the remaining five blocks. Built in under six weeks by the North West Mounted Police in 1875, the fort was the germ of the present city, and remained operative as a police post until 1914, when it was sold - inevitably - to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The whole area remained buried under railway tracks and derelict warehouses until comparatively recently.
Period photographs in the adjoining interpretive centre provide a taste of how wild Calgary still was in 1876. Even more remarkable was the ground that men in the fort were expected to cover: the log stockade was a base for operations between Fort Macleod, 160km to the south, and the similar post at Edmonton, almost 400km to the north. It's not as if they had nothing to do: Crowfoot, most prominent of the great Blackfoot chiefs of the time, commented, "If the Police had not come to the country, where would we all be now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few of us indeed would have been left. The Police have protected us as the feathers of a bird protect it from the winter."

Only a few forlorn stumps of the original building remain, much having been torn down by the developers, and what survives is its site, now a pleasant forty-acre park contained in the angled crook of the Bow and Elbow rivers. Moves have recently been made to begin construction of an exact replica of the original log stockade. The interpretive centre traces Calgary's development with the aid of artefacts, audiovisual displays and "interpretive walks" along the river. Among the kinkier things on offer - and you may never get the chance again - is the opportunity to dress up as a Mountie.

Across the river to the east is Hunt House, built in 1876 for a Hudson's Bay official and believed to be Calgary's oldest building on its original site. Close by, at 750-9th Ave SE, on the same side of the Elbow River, is the renovated Deane House Historic Site and Restaurant (269-7747), built in 1906 by Mountie supremo Superintendent Richard Deane (free tours daily 11am-2pm). It subsequently served time as the home of an artists' cooperative, a boarding house and a stationmaster's house. Today it's a teahouse and restaurant.

Glenbow Museum

The excellent and eclectic collection of the Glenbow Museum is, the Stampede apart, the only sight for which you'd make a special journey to Calgary (mid-May to mid-Sept daily 9am-5pm; mid-Sept to mid-May Tues-Sun 9am-5pm; $8, free winter Thurs; 268-4100). Although it's opposite the Calgary Tower at 130-9th Ave SE, the main entrance is hidden alongside the Skyline Plaza complex a short way east down the street (there's another entrance from the Stephen Avenue Mall). Built in 1966, the no-expense-spared museum is a testament to sound civic priorities and the cultural benefits of booming oil revenues. Its three floors of displays make a fine introduction to the heritage of the Canadian west.
The permanent collection embraces the eclectic approach, starting with a section devoted to ritual and sacred art from around the world and an art gallery tracing the development of western Canadian indigenous art. Better still is the Images of the Indian section, an objective and fascinating look at the art that flowed back to Europe after white contact with native peoples. Two outlooks prevail - the romantic nineteenth-century image of the Indian as "noble savage", and the more forward-looking analysis of artists such as Paul Kane, a painter determined to make accurate representations of a people and culture before their assimilation by white expansion.

The second floor runs the gamut of western Canadian history and heritage, including an outstanding exhibit on First Nations or Native Canadian peoples. In the treaties section, hidden in a corner almost as if in shame, the museum text skates over the injustices with a glossary of simple facts. The original treaties are on display, and provide some eye-opening examples of incomprehensible jargon and legal gobbledegook. Many chiefs believed they were signing simple peace treaties, when in fact they were signing away land rights. All facets of native crafts are explored, with stunning displays of carving, costumes and jewellery and, whilst their emphasis is on the original inhabitants of Alberta, the collection also forays into the Inuit and the Métis - the latter being the offspring of native women and white fur traders, and the most marginalized group of all.

Following a historical chronology, the floor moves on to exhibits associated with the fur trade, Northwest Rebellion, the Canadian Pacific, pioneer life, ranching, cowboys, oil and wheat - each era illustrated by interesting and appropriate artefacts of the time - adding up to a glut of period paraphernalia that includes a terrifying exhibit of frontier dentistry, an absurdly comprehensive display of washing machines, and a solitary 1938 bra.

The eccentric top floor kicks off with a pointless display of Calgary Stampede merchandising, before moving on to a huge collection of military paraphernalia and a dazzling display of gems and minerals, said to be among the world's best. These exhibits are mainly for genre enthusiasts, though the gems are worth a look if only to see some of the extraordinary and beautiful things that come out of the drab mines that fuel so much of western Canada's economy.

Heritage Park Historical Village

A sixty-acre theme park centred on a reconstructed frontier village 16km southwest of downtown, Heritage Park (259-1900) replicates life in the Canadian West before 1914 and panders relentlessly to the myth of the "Wild West" (mid-May to early Sept daily 9am-5pm; early Sept to mid-Oct weekends and holidays 9am-5pm; $16 admission with rides, $10 without rides; free pancake breakfast with admission 9-10am). Full of family-oriented presentations and original costumes, this "heritage" offering - the largest of its type in Canada - is thorough enough for you never to feel obliged to see another.
The living, working museum comprises more than 150 restored buildings, all transported from other small-town locations. Each has been assigned to one of several communities - fur post, native village, homestead, farm and turn-of-the-century town - and most fulfil their original function. Thus you can see a working blacksmith, buy fresh bread, buy a local paper, go to church, even get married. Transport, too, is appropriate to the period - steam trains, trams, horse-drawn bus, stagecoaches and, the highlight, the restored paddlesteamer SS Moyie, which runs trips across the local reservoir. If you're here for the day you can pick up cakes and snacks from the traditional Alberta Bakery, or sit down to a full meal in the old-style Wainwright Hotel.

To get there by car, take either Elbow Drive or Macleod Trail south and turn right on Heritage Drive (the turnoff is marked by a huge, maroon steam engine); bus #53 makes the journey from downtown, or you can take the C-Train to Heritage Station and then bus #20 to Northmount.

Other Downtown Sights

The Calgary Tower (daily: mid-May to mid-Sept 7.30am-midnight; mid-Sept to mid-May 8am-11pm; $5.50), the city's favourite folly, is a good deal shorter and less imposing than the tourist material would have you believe. An obligatory tourist traipse, the 190-metre-tall salt cellar (762 steps if you don't take the lift) stands in a relatively dingy area at the corner of Centre Street-9th Ave SW, somewhat overshadowed by downtown's more recent sprouting, notably the nearby Petro-Canada towers, which stole its thunder in 1985. As a long-term landmark, however, it makes a good starting point for any tour of the city, the Observation Terrace offering outstanding views, especially on clear days, when the snowcapped Rockies fill the western horizon, with the ski-jump towers of the 1988 Canada Olympic Park in the middle distance. Up on the observation platform after your one-minute elevator ride you'll find a snack bar (reasonable), cocktail bar and revolving restaurant (expensive).
Any number of shopping malls lurk behind the soaring high-rises, most notably Toronto Dominion Square (8th Ave SW between 2nd and 3rd streets), the city's main shopping focus and the unlikely site of Devonian Gardens (daily 9am-9pm; free; 268-3888). Like something out of an idyllic urban Utopia, the three-acre indoor gardens support a lush sanctuary of streams, waterfalls and full-sized trees, no mean feat given that it's located on the fourth floor of a glass and concrete glitter palace (access by elevator). Around 20,000 plants round off the picture, comprising some 138 local and tropical species. Benches beside the garden's paths are perfect for picnicking on food bought in the takeaways below, while impromptu concerts are held on the small stages dotted around.

Calgary pays homage to its oil industry in the small but oddly interesting Energeum plonked in the main lobby of the Energy Resources Building between 5th St and 6th St SW at 640-5th Ave SW (June-Aug daily except Sat 10.30am-4.30pm; Sept-May Mon-Fri same hours; free; 297-4293). Its audiovisual and presentational tricks take you through the formation, discovery and drilling for coal and oil. Alberta's peculiar and problematic oil sands are explained - granite-hard in winter, mud-soft in summer - and there are dollops of the stuff on hand for some infantile slopping around.

The Alberta Science Centre and Centennial Planetarium is located one block west of the 10th St SW C-Train at 701 at 11th Street and 7th Ave SW (daily: late May to early Sept 10am-8pm; early Sept to late May 10am-5pm; $8 for one show and exhibits or a double-feature evening dome show; 221-3700). Here you can look through the telescopes of its small observatory, which are trained nightly on the moon, planets and stars (weather permitting). Other daytime highlights here include the interactive exhibits of the Discovery Hall (these change regularly) and the planetarium, or Discovery Dome, North America's first multimedia theatre, complete with cinema picture images, computer graphics, slide-projected images and a vast speaker system. The on-site Pleiades Theatre offers a series of "mystery and murder plays" throughout the year. For details of current shows and exhibitions, call 221-3700. To get here, either walk the five blocks west from 6th Street if you're near the Energeum, or take the C-Train along 7th Ave SW and walk the last block.

Prince's Island, the Bow River and Kensington

Five minutes' walk north of downtown via a footbridge, Prince's Island is a popular but peaceful retreat offering plenty of trees, flowers, a snack bar, kids' playground and enough space to escape the incessant stream of joggers pounding the walkways. Between the island and downtown, at the north end of 3rd St SW (six blocks north of the free C-Train), the wonderful Eau Claire Market (264-6450, or 264-6460 for information) is a bright and deliberately brash warehouse mix of food and craft market, cinemas (including a 300-seat IMAX large-screen complex; $7 a show), buskers, restaurants, walkways and panoramic terraces. All in all it brings some heart to the concrete and glass of downtown - the large communal eating area, in particular, is a good place to people-watch and pick up bargain takeaway Chinese, Japanese, wholefood and burger snacks. The food market is open from 9am to 6pm, but the complex and restaurants are open until late. Note that the tremendous YMCA (269-6701) opposite the market at 101-3rd St SW has no rooms, though the superb Olympic-size swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, squash courts, running track and weights room are open to all (Mon-Fri 5.30am-10.30pm, weekends 7am-7.30pm; $8; increased admission Mon-Fri 11am-1.30pm and daily 4-6.30pm). Swimmers might be tempted by the broad, fast-flowing Bow River nearby, but it's for passive recreation only - the water is just two hours from its icy source in the Rockies - its dangers underlined by lurid signs on the banks. The river is the focus for Calgary's civilized and excellent 210-kilometre system of recreational walkways, asphalt paths (also available to cyclists) that generally parallel the main waterways: maps are available from the visitor centre.
Just east of the market and five blocks north of the C-Train at 197-1st St SW lies the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre (centre daily 9am-9pm, museum daily 11am-5pm; 262-5071), its big central dome modelled on the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and it claims to be one of the largest Chinese centres in Canada. It forms the focus for Calgary's modest Chinatown and 2,000-strong Chinese-Canadian population, most of whom are descendants of immigrants who came to work on the railways in the 1880s. It contains a small museum and gallery, and a gift shop and restaurant.

A twenty-minute jaunt along the walkway system from Prince's Island in the other direction from the market, Kensington is a lively nightlife centre of bars and restaurants focused on 10th St NW and Kensington Road. As alternative as Calgary gets, this is the city's self-proclaimed "People's Place", and the whiff of patchouli and counterculture hangs in the air despite a tide of encroaching gentrification. Shops here sell healing crystals and advertise yoga and personal-growth seminars, though the older cafés, bookshops and wholefood stores are beginning to give way to trinket shops. As an eating area, though, Kensington is gradually being superseded by the increasingly trendy section of 4th St SW, beyond 17th Avenue.

((For more info see our MB -link below- Under Specific Locations for real life Calgary landmarks and just fun places))

Love sucks. Sometimes it feels good. Sometimes it's just another way to bleed. -LKH