City shoots down hope for Canada Day laser show
The installation at Shaw Millenium Park was a Canadian first when it was built back in 1999
Most people in Calgary don't know they exist — 24 pillars designed to shoot bright green laser beams 300 metres into the skies over downtown.
They were supposed to draw Calgarians to what was a new and exciting public landscape and skate park called Shaw Millennium Park, but the lasers were rarely used and soon forgotten.
Local skateboarders wanted the city to give a blast from the past and flip the switch on the installation this coming Canada Day for the country's 150th birthday celebrations.
"We could come skate here at night amongst the lasers, it would be a pretty fun thing to do," said Zev Klymochko with the Calgary Association of Skateboarding Enthusiasts (CASE).
"It's a mystery. People see these columns every time they use the park but they don't realize what they actually do," he said.
The laser installation was Canada's first permanent outdoor display when it was built.
It uses two 40-watt YAG lasers to create 24 beams that radiate from the top of a 35-foot tower toward a circle of metal pillars that shoot the beams skywards.
While it would make a dramatic backdrop for skaters to celebrate Canada 150, the city says the laser's days are sadly numbered.
"It's not going to happen, unfortunately," says Todd Reichardt with the City of Calgary.
"I wish it was as simple as turning on the light switch in my house, but it's a fairly complex set of infrastructure and there's infrastructure we'd have to upgrade from a capital point of view," he said.
The installation uses mirrors that would need to be replaced along with other upgrades. More importantly though is the change in air space activity over Calgary.
"Almost 18 years ago there wasn't a lot of planes flying over this part of the city and now the air traffic above here is more dense. It's a very strong laser and it goes right up into the sky," Reichardt said.
Back when the park was being built, the city had to work with Canadian authorities to make the airspace above the laser display off-limits to planes. They also agreed to use an aircraft spotter to keep a look out overhead when the lasers were active.
Reichard says the city is in the process of working on a downtown lighting plan and he's willing to talk to CASE about other lighting options for the park, including cheaper and much safer LED displays.