Shaw Millennium park upgrades will include a new climbing feature

Shaw Millennium Park is already one of the largest skateboarding draws in the city. But now, the concrete oasis will make room for a new feature: rocks. 

Three granite boulders from British Columbia are headed to Calgary soon

Shaw Millennium Park is in the process of implementing bouldering walls, which are expected to be open to the public by July. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Shaw Millennium Park is already one of the largest skateboarding draws in the city. But now, the concrete oasis will make room for a new feature: rocks. 

Experts at the City of Calgary have picked out three boulders from British Columbia to chisel into the city's first urban bouldering feature. 

Instead of heading to a gym or the mountains, Calgarians will soon be able to squeeze in a climb by hopping onto the CTrain and showing up downtown with their own crash pads. 

"We see that there's a need for these types of diverse structures in our parks," said project manager James Papineau. "We're always looking to make our parks attractive to people and accessible to all."

More than 35,000 people visit Shaw Millennium Park every year — and not just to skateboard. The park doubles as a venue for events and gives users access to basketball and beach volleyball courts. 

Carson Grant is comfortable in the bowl at Shaw Millennium Park but said he may not be as keen to try out bouldering. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Papineau said the city took inspiration from similar climbing features in Montreal and Quebec City. 

The granite rocks are about 4.2 metres tall. The plan is to set them up near the beach volleyball courts.

The rocks will offer routes for all skill levels and be free to use, but climbers will have to bring their own gear. Papineau said the city recommends a crash pad for safety. 

"The goal is to 3D scan all the rocks and then eventually produce an app that people can download on their phones with pictures of the rocks and the routes — the starting points, the endpoints, the hat, the handholds, and that type [of] stuff," Papineau said. 

Climbers, and some regular park users, said they think the bouldering walls will bring an extra element of vibrance to the park. 

While eight-year-old Carson Grant is a natural at rollerblading, dropping into bowls and landing tricks, he said climbing isn't his thing.

"I go in the bowls lots and I practice the bowls, and I don't really practice rock climbing." 

But, Grant added, if it keeps people out of his bowl so he can practice his moves — he's happy. 

A CTrain ride away

The beauty of Shaw Millennium Park, BMXer Steven Humeniuk said, is that you can just hop on the bike and go. For him, it's a second home. He can see climbers taking advantage of the easy and free access too. 

"I'm all for it," Humeniuk said. "I think it's good for the city." 

Bolder Climbing Community is bustling on a Thursday night. People of all ages sit on the edges of pads, planning their next move.

Owner Josh Muller said climbing has had ups and downs during the pandemic, but it's been a growing sport for years. 

"Climbing is blowing up as a sport — it's becoming a lot more popular every day," said Muller. "You can meet people, you can climb, you can problem solve. You don't need to be overly strong. Just need to have athletic literacy."

Bolder Climbing Community is gym in Calgary's Southeast. (Helen Pike/CBC)

While he considers the sport accessible, Muller said it's not free. There are barriers to entry. 

Gearing up to climb in the mountains can be a bit of a trek between the drive and hike. Muller said that having that amenity right downtown will make it easier for people to pursue the sport.

"Having something local in the city, I think it'll get a lot of attention and will be really popular," Muller said. 

The city will work with a consultant to set up the rock routes. It has already tapped experts to ensure that the boulders they've secured are the best possible choice for the job. 

Papineau hopes construction will wrap up in time for a July opening.


Helen Pike


Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.