The picturesque city of Calgary, marks not only the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers but also a confluence of culture — a melting pot where cosmopolitan and Western aesthetics blend. This unique mix drives the tempo of the city, which has a slightly new tone since COVID-19, but hasn't lost a beat, as we discover with Calgarian fun-seeker Lily Frebourg.
Though Lily has lived in Calgary for not quite three years, the city and the surrounding area has become her muse in her work as a blogger. Since moving to Alberta from Europe, Lily has fervently documented every detail of her life living in the city, from the immigration process of her move, to her Costco hauls, the fabulous Calgary Pride Parade and, of course, Calgary’s best local ice cream. Lily’s YouTube channel, First Name Lily, features a variety of videos on her adventures in and around her new home and documents her gradual shift from city girl to outdoor explorer. Calgary tends to have that effect on people due to its proximity to the mountains.
As Alberta’s largest city, Calgary has all the hallmarks of a global metropolis — a world-class Orchestra, a bustling business and shopping centre and renowned eateries like Shokunin — but what sets it apart from the rest of the world’s major cities is the glacier-fed Bow River, a reliable source of enjoyment in uncertain times.
The Bow was the first thing Lily noticed on her maiden visit to Calgary — “the clean river and fresh air.” While “clean rivers and air” do not typically describe the large European cities that Lily grew up in, Calgary surpassed her expectations with its natural scenery. So much so that she decided to move there.
“I remember looking at the Bow River in Calgary — it just went straight through downtown,” says Lily. “It’s so clear. You can see every rock at the bottom of the river at certain times of the year. It's something that struck me as pretty unusual.”
The Bow River hugs Calgary’s downtown, painting the landscape with its clear, greenish turquoise hues. It can be crossed multiple times by various bridges that connect the city to the 1,000 kilometres of paved multi-use pathways, which also happen to constitute one of the most extensive path and bikeway networks in North America. These pathways are ideal for people seeking more space and safer ways to exercise. Lily, who recently learned to ride a bike during the pandemic, couldn’t be more pleased with the pathways.
“I always enjoyed using the paved pathways for walking and pushing the stroller when my kids were younger, but now that I ride and they are learning to ride, we can experience the pathways in a whole new way. Plus, there is plenty of room for practising.”
Another one of Lily’s recommended ways to ride — or, rather, float — through the city is by kayak, which is the ultimate social-distancing travel vessel. Lily recalls a trip with The Paddle Station and suggests the activity to others looking for a real adventure in Calgary.
“It is such an exhilarating thing to do on a hot summer’s day when the river is high, and it is just so cool to kayak through the city,”says Lily.
There are other ways to enjoy the river in Calgary, like taking a guided fly-fishing trip with Drift Out West Fly Fishing. No experience is needed, since founder and owner Quinn Soonias teaches everything his guests need to know. There is plenty of naturally occurring social distancing, giving guests of Soonias a reprieve without having to leave the city limits. Better yet, you can make it back in time for happy hour at the Dandy Brewery’s new parking lot turned patio.
A fly-fishing outing down the Bow River isn’t the kind of excursion Lily can take with her children at their age. However, Lily has discovered another exciting jaunt for her kids to take pleasure in — the Calgary Zoo. The zoo’s limited admission allows for good social distancing but provides unlimited fun for her two young girls — Tessa, 5, and Anais, 3.
“I know some young children really enjoy the animals. Mine ‘liked’ them last fall, but now they love them. The zoo has been so accommodating in terms of keeping safe distance and keeping everything clean. It was just such a wonderful experience for the girls.”
Her daughters’ favourite animals at the zoo? Lions.
Since COVID-19, Lily has also been taking advantage of the city’s green spaces, such as Bowness Park, Baker Park and Prince’s Island, where she has often delighted in picnics with her young ones.
“To me, this is the time to make memories,” says Lily, who wholeheartedly enjoys the extra time she gets to be with her family.
In the past, Lily might have watched the Canada Day fireworks from a picnic blanket at one of the green spaces in Calgary, but that didn’t happen this year due to the pandemic. However, Calgary’s vibrant music scene is getting creative to find ways for people to continue enjoying music responsibly like Heritage Park, which is still holding live music performances with socially distanced seating. That same creativity was seen in action for this year's Canada Day Celebration, when Lily and thousands of locals tuned into the City of Calgary's YouTube to watch a virtual concert at Studio Bell. The experience moved Lily.
“So many people gathered online to watch live music — something that would never happen on a regular Canada Day,” says Lily. “Just talking about it, I’m having goosebumps. The music was wonderful and it was incredible.”
Many things in Calgary that Lily holds dear haven’t changed with COVID-19, like the skyline and the fantastic buildings that make up the cityscape. One of her favourite places to visit downtown is the 12-metre-high bent-wire sculpture entitled “Wonderland” by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, which sits in front of the Bow Tower.
“I know it is a bit touristy, but I just love the Bow Tower,” says Lily. “It is definitely a must for visitors. Every time I pass by it, I think, ‘This is beautiful,’ and I smile and take a photo.”
Another aspect of Calgary that can never be altered by COVID-19 is the sunsets, which Lily cherishes.
“Crescent Heights is the best place to watch the sunset, hands down,” says Lily. “It’s not quite facing the sunset area, but I just love the lights coming from downtown. The reflections coming from the sunset through those big downtown buildings. It’s so beautiful that it’s just like the whole skyline is in the palm of your hands. I’ve still got a city girl in me. So, I will always love those skyscrapers and the views of the downtown skyline.”
It is hard not to feel the energy of the city when you watch the clouds dance off the mirrored buildings of downtown Calgary, which seem to melt into the mountains off in the west. Just like the river that flows through the city, as Calgary carries on and opens up, its heartbeat is as strong as ever.