Seton is a community under construction but it already has a heart
It's a soon-to-be neighbourhood but, visiting this part of southeast Calgary, I found a flood of humanity
Editor's Note: As part of CBC Calgary's Road Ahead series, we wanted to explore the places that will one day become C-Train stations along the new Green Line. We wanted to see the communities as they are now and look at what they might become. The Calgary Eyeopener's Angela Knight begins down south, in Seton.
When I ask her name, she says, "Everybody just calls me The Shoe Lady."
Once a month, every month, she sets up her pop-up shoe store on the main floor at the South Health Campus in Seton. She's tall with short, blonde hair and a clipped accent I can't quite place.
Scandinavian? Slav? From somewhere, now here.
She's dressed in a white turtleneck and black slacks. It's crisp. It's all she wears, she tells me later. It's her uniform, although she does like to change up the colour of the turtleneck. She stands behind a plain, wide, wooden display table. Boxes of shoes are laid out in front of her in neat little assortments.
The Shoe Lady is all business. And her business is here.
She sizes me up as I peruse the shoes. Buyer or looky-loo?
"What size?" she asks.
Yes, a buyer.
Pink zebra-striped clogs, floral patterned booties (sadly not my size), Italian leather sandals and orthopedic options, too — The Shoe Lady has got it covered.
"Twenty-six pairs," she says, when I ask about her all-time sales record. "To one person."
Welcome to Seton
She's part of the community in this hospital, one of thousands of people who come to this place every day.
The people who gather here shape its purpose, make it a place — doctors, nurses, patients, cleaning staff, receptionists, maintenance workers, and, yes, even the people selling stuff on the main floor.
The Shoe Lady has her own way of understanding health.
There's something that happens here, something interesting. Patients wander the main floor, this vast open space. Many just pass by the table. But, she says, when they stop, when they start looking and really check out the shoes, well, then, they're on the road to recovery.
This hospital, this place, is a community unto itself. Yet, soon, it will be the heart of a much larger community, one that does not yet fully exist but one that every day is breaking free from the soil.
Emerging. Revealing itself.
This is a new part of our city, being born.
This is Seton.
Rising from farmers' fields
Right now, it's a collection of buildings rising from what was a vast farm field.
On this particular day, there are half-built wooden condos, the steel skeleton of a recreation centre, the hint of a road not yet paved. It's all in the future tense.
It's being shaped, as is so much of our city, around a standard layout — a conglomeration, almost a jumble of big boxes, some built, some being built. There's a theatre, a grocery store, a drug store, the mandatory coffee shop and a couple of restaurants. They circle a parking lot.
An embrace of consumerism. But it's comforting. It's what we know.
And the surprise here? The people. For a half-formed place, a community in the making, there's a flood of humanity. This is the contradiction of Seton.
You see, there aren't a lot of people living here yet. There's a large seniors complex right near the hospital, and a couple more being built. And yes, there's a hotel for the out-of-towners who need to call it a night right here.
But the houses? The condos? They're only just hints — a glimpse of what's to come.
There's construction everywhere. For now, it feels like nowhere.
But it's a start. A beginning. A soon-to-be neighbourhood with a hospital as its bedrock.
This building, this huge creation, signals Seton like a lighthouse. It shimmers.
As you approach, the ombré blend of blues and golds, colours and hues shading into one another, make me feel like I'm looking at a wheat field. Prairie grass lit by the sky.
I find parking right outside the front doors. Free parking. I can't remember the last time I parked for free.
As an inner-city girl, I think what a welcome it is to this place.
A hospital like no other
When I pass through the massive, revolving doors and sweep into the lobby, I'm stunned. I don't know what I was expecting, but this isn't it.
The lobby is expansive, airy, and bright. It soars above you — open space, windows, the sky captured. I'm dizzy just from looking up.
Scattered under the vast space are low, funky, modular seats. Semi-circular conversation pits. Private spaces for a chat. A place to be seen.
It's modern, stylish. I feel like I'm in an airport lounge, not a hospital.
As I stand, I realize something is missing. There's no smell.
You know the one. Antiseptic. Clean, but failing to mask what's underneath.
I must look lost. And I'm blocking the door. A volunteer greeter saves me, casually waving from the information desk on the other side of the foyer. I wander over.
With their big "volunteer" buttons, vests and smiles saved for such moments, these people become my tour guides to this hospital community.
They seem to be so proud of where they are.
I'm told I have to check out the restaurant (with its own chef, don't you know?), the gift shop, the coffee shop, the fundraising community booths. And, while I was at it, would I like to buy a lottery ticket?
The gift shop window boasts a vibrant display of brightly coloured throw pillows. One says "Party," the other "Get Down" in glittering letters. Not exactly standard get-well fare.
Or is it? It gives me a lift.
Like a small town
Inside the gift shop, I find an eclectic mix of cruise wear and stuffed teddies, jewelry and cards. There are a bevy of volunteers gathered around the sales desk discussing the latest stock. Their excitement is contagious. I get the feeling they might be the store's best customers.
Shopping is a thing there, in the random corridors and unexpected niches. Along the hallways are information stands, with a list of community programs as long as my arm. I meet The Shoe Lady. I pass the community kitchen and the rather surprising climbing wall.
I stop by a table loaded with South Health Campus branded T-shirts, water bottles and other assorted swag. It's all to celebrate the hospital's fifth anniversary.
I know, right?
I couldn't believe this place has been here this long. The volunteers tell me the money raised will be used for their annual Stampede Breakfast, their Christmas party and other community get-togethers. They take so much pride in how many people come to these things. You can tell they really enjoy it.
This place, you sense, is like a small town.
But of all the things people told me about on this day, the one that everyone — and I mean everyone — mentioned was the art gallery up on the second floor. My last stop.
It's not really a room. It's more like a wide hallway. The vibe is positively chill. You can forget where you are.
I'm surprised at the number of pieces on display. Everywhere I look are paintings and photographs, portraits, landscapes, masks and bleached animal skulls.
All of the pieces were submitted by hospital staff. They are the artists.
It's a gallery built by the people who spend their working lives in this place. I hear a woman behind me talking to her daughter, showing her what she added to the walls. So proud.
In this exhibition, all that's really missing is a complimentary glass of Prosecco. I might just mention that to the information desk on the way out.
The universal community
As I leave through those massive, revolving doors, I emerge to find a huge lineup of vehicles.
Programs ending? Shifts changing? I'm not sure. But it looks like the rush to leave Seton this day is on.
But as I leave, I remember an earlier glimpse, as a door opened briefly, just for a second, of a patient in a bed.
And I remember, this is a hospital. A place of suffering and pain. But also a place of healing. A place most of us will touch as visitors for friends and loved ones, and perhaps as patients, ourselves.
There are few people who don't, at some point, end up, however briefly, a part of this community.
Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as we build the city we want — the city we need. It's the place for possibilities, a marketplace of ideas. Have an idea? Email us at: email@example.com