Calgary at a Crossroads

Editor's note: A long weekend like the Easter Weekend is a grand time to have a wander through the city, and visit the places that matter most to you. To stand still, and reflect on life, while reflecting on a favourite view of Calgary. We asked Richard White, Calgary's Urban Wanderer, to share a few of the places that mean the most to him. 

I first became aware of CBC News Calgary at a Crossroads project when someone tweeted me Angela Knight's piece "Are you a Calgarian – or do you just live here?"  

It is now almost four months later and I wonder, "Why do I love my adopted home so much?" 

When I was invited to share my five sacred places with Crossroads followers, it was a fun challenge.

In choosing these five places, I learned something about myself.

I learned I love places that link man and nature, that connect the past to the present. Places that make me wonder, ponder and contemplate my life and the world we all share.  

I like places with vistas, vitality, movement and energy. I like places that invite you to walk both alone and amongst others. I like places that are visually engaging.  

And yes, I like saying "Hi" to strangers.

Crescent Road Promenade

Crescent Road Promenade

'It was here I observed the great flood of 2013,' says Richard White of the Crescent Road Promenade, one of his sacred spaces in Calgary. (Richard White)

The obvious reason for choosing the Crescent Road Promenade is the spectacular view of the majestic Bow River, Prince's Island, the city's skyline and mountains.  It is a great place to reflect the past, the present and the future both personally and as a community. 

It is hard to believe Prince's Island that was once a gravel bar that would change in shape and size every spring, is now home to one of the world's best folk festivals. 

It was here I observed the great flood of 2013.  

Crescent Heights Road Promenade

'The obvious reason for choosing the Crescent Road Promenade is the spectacular view of the majestic Bow River, Prince’s Island, the city skyline and mountains,' says Richard White. (davebloggs007/Flickr)

It is difficult to imagine Eau Claire has evolved from a lumber mill, to a prostitute stroll, to the offices and homes for Calgary's rich and famous. 

It is hard to image in the summer when you look out at the expanse of green to realize there were no trees except for those hugging the shores of the Bow and Elbow rivers 100 years ago. 

Only 60 years ago the most prominent buildings downtown were the Palliser Hotel and Robin Hood Flour Mill. Only 50 years ago the Calgary Tower dominated the skyline.

It always amazes me how much Calgary changes every decade regardless of the booms and busts.

Crescent Heights Road Promenade

The view of downtown Calgary at night, shot from Crescent Heights. (davebloggs007/Flickr)

Memorial Park

Memorial Park and the library are special to me because I worked in the library building for 10 years and for two years lived across the street.  In many ways this is where my love affair with Calgary began.  Today you can enjoy a meal or an adult beverage at Boxwood Cafe, you can just sit and people watch or you can go inside and read a magazine and enjoy the 100-plus year ambience. 

Memorial Park Calgary

A photo of Memorial Park and Library in Calgary. 'In many ways this is where my love affair with Calgary began,' says Richard White. (Richard White)

I love when vision and chance unite.  

The land for Memorial Park was given to the city by the Canadian Pacific Railway for back taxes in 1911.  The next year the city hired William Reader, a visionary landscape architect to be the city's parks superintendent. 

Reader created a formal garden with a symmetrical layout, manicured lawns, a mix of domestic and exotic trees and plants, intricate bedding schemes and geometrical walking paths to provide a tranquil respite for urban dwellers (which it still is today). 

Memorial Park

Central Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park. (Getty Images)

Reader even attempted to grow palm trees in pots as part of creating a unique prairie park. He also planted thousands of trees each year around the city as he championed Calgary as a "City of Trees."  

The Memorial Library (the first in Alberta) is the vision of not a Calgarian, but of Pittsburg's philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who supported the development of libraries across North America.  

Memorial Park is the best place to sit and reflect on the past, present and the future. 


Memorial Park Library is the vision of not a Calgarian, but of Pittsburg’s philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who supported the development of libraries across North America. (Getty Images)

Power hour on Stephen Avenue

The manager of the Hudson Bay Company coined the term "power hour" in the '90s when I was with the Calgary Downtown Association.  

It refers to the 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. period (like rush hour it is not really an hour) from Monday to Friday when the store would do 80 per cent of its sales. 

Calgary feels like a big city during the power hour.

Stephen Avenue Power Hour

'For me the 'Power Hour' in the summer is when Stephen Avenue comes alive,' says Richard White. (Richard White)

For me the power hour in the summer is when Stephen Avenue comes alive. 

It is when thousands of rambunctious adults exit the office towers like kids from an elementary school to grab a good patio table or be first in line for their favourite hot dog vendor.  Others browse the merchant vendors, watch the buskers or just sit and people watch. It is an impromptu street festival. 

Calgary's downtown is unique in that its historic, cultural, corporate, shopping and dining districts all overlap on Stephen Avenue.  

It is where modern architecture meets century-old architecture, where pubs meet al fresco dining, where traditional bronze statues meet mammoth no-name futuristic and prehistoric looking sculptures. It is the epitome of urban diversity and density.

Stephen Avenue Calgary

'Calgary’s downtown is unique in that its historic, cultural, corporate, shopping and dining districts all overlap on Stephen Avenue,' says urban strategist Richard White. (Sean Marshall/Flickr)

River Park

I discovered River Park three years ago when we volunteered to house and dog sit for friends who lived on the park.  

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my dog walking, especially sharing in the pure joy of the dogs as they are allowed to roam free.  

Elbow River River Park

A photo of the Elbow River from River Park, another of Richard White's sacred spaces in the city. (Google)

I am always amazed at all the different shapes, sizes and colours of the dogs, yet they all still know that they are part of the same species and for the most part get along. 

We have Eric Harvie (Calgary oilman turned philanthropist, whose legacy includes the Glenbow, Calgary Zoo and Heritage Park) to thank for River Park as he donated the land (and cash) then called Sandy Beach West in 1948 for a park. 

People seem happier in this park than those I meet wandering sidewalks, plazas, pathways and other parks.  Upon reflection, I realized the happiness of the dogs was rubbing off on their owners. 

Calgary 6155 dog walk walking spring snow valley

Dog walkers at River Park in the southwest. (Jason Ronald)

I love how thousands of people and dogs parade down the one kilometer promenade in the middle of park every day even in winter. 

Today there are plans to redevelop the park, as the dogs and their owners have loved it to death. Literally there are large areas where there is no grass from all the walking. 

+15 Walkways

There is something voyeuristic about walking the +15 system and looking down on the people below and wondering — Where are they going?  What are they thinking? 

I also enjoy how artists, architects and developers have embraced the +15 to create "only in Calgary" places.  

Derek Besant's Daydream located on the bridge over 8th Avenue between 6th and 7th streets is like walking into a poem as there are dozens of images and statements like "Where does he fit into my life?" etched on the glass looking out to the street. 


The +15 walkway system connecting high-rise buildings and shops in downtown Calgary. (Getty Images)

In Jamieson Place there is a tranquil Winter Garden with three colourful and playful glass sculptures by world famous David Chihuly hung over infinity ponds, accompanied by a huge living wall inspired by the southern Alberta landscape. It truly is a hidden gem.
While many urban planners hate the +15, I and about 150,000 downtown workers love it. We have Harold Hanen to thank for the vision of an elevated pathway that would create a 20 km urban pathway connecting more than 100 buildings. 

Editor's note: So, those are Richard's 'sacred spaces'. Now to share yours. What place in Calgary touches your heart? Where do you feel most in touch with the city? What view makes you feel connected to this place we call home? Drop us a line in the comments section or on Facebookemail us, and feel free to post a photo.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.