Calgary

The Red Mile recounted as the Flames get set for the NHL playoffs

The stretch of bars along 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary drew tens of thousands of hockey fans during the Flames' last run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004. We take a look back as Flames fans gear up again.

During the Flames' Stanley Cup run in 2004, the Red Mile became ground zero for exuberant fans

Ten of thousands of hockey fans take over 17th Avenue S.W. following a Calgary Flames playoff game in June 2004. (Mike Sturk/Canadian Press)

The year 2004 was miraculous for the Calgary Flames as they made their quest for the Stanley Cup, although it was ultimately unfulfilled.

The city's population was about 930,000.

The Red Mile in 2015, although it is quite empty during the day. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Flames' flags flew everywhere. Iginla and Kiprusoff jerseys were selling out. The city was awash in red.

But the place to go on game nights was a stretch of 17th Avenue S.W. dubbed the Red Mile. Business boomed for bars during that 61-day stretch and memorable Flames' Stanley Cup run.

"Game night was total pandemonium," recalls Wayne Leong, owner of Melrose Cafe and Bar. His establishment along 17th Avenue became the epicentre of the Red Mile.

In fact, Leong credits a friend in the media with coming up with the Red Mile term. 

"Her and I were talking on the phone and she says, Wayne what should we do? We could call it the Sea of Red? That's one option. How about calling it the Red Mile?" said Leong.

Origin of name

The name stuck and the legend grew through the four rounds of the playoff that year as the Flames kept winning.

Of course, a lot has changed since 2004. Thousands of newcomers have moved to Calgary and that has pushed the number of residents to well over the one million mark. The city has also become much more diverse, and perhaps younger. 

As Flames' fans prepare for playoff excitement after a six-year absence, talk of the Red Mile is heating up.

In a post on the weekend on the social media site Reddit, the legendary strip became the topic of conversation.

"New to Calgary. Now that the Flames are in the playoffs, can you explain your experience with the Red Mile? Bar/party recommendations welcomed!" wrote a person known as self.Calgary.

Dozens of responses have been posted since.

"One of my fave memories was walking down the middle of the street on a packed 17th Ave. We had managed to get through the crowd out front of Melrose and were walking west. We'd picked up a six pack after leaving the bar and were enjoying those," wrote MisterYYC_ of the 2004 revelry.

Surprising wins

Some on Reddit noted that the Red Mile phenomenon was really a spontaneous event. The Flames were not expected to do well in the 2004 playoffs. After each surprising win, the enthusiasm grew for the team. And the nightly crowds along the Red Mile swelled.

Some estimates put it as high was 100,000 after some games. Of course, there was the drinking, the altercations, and the flashing. One Reddit poster best described it as "Mardi Gras."

In 2014, Corbeaux Bakehouse replaced Melrose Bar and Cafe on the Red Mile. (Colin Hall/CBC)

But Leong remembers other things about The Red Mile from marching bands to Chinese dragon dancers.  

"I saw people with their kids, three- or four-years-old wearing their jerseys with their moms and dads wearing all the way up to seniors. Everyone was behind it. It was pretty amazing. The thing that was really interesting to me was the camaraderie of the city."

The Flames did qualify for the playoffs in the 2005-2008 seasons. Each time, they failed to advance past the first round. Consequently, the playoff enthusiasm in the city and along the Red Mile quickly dwindled.

On Wednesday night, the Flames will open the 2014-15 playoffs with a seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks. The first two games are in Vancouver. Still, Calgary police say they will have a greater presence along the Red Mile on game nights.

If the Flames move beyond the first round, excitement in the city will undoubtedly grow. But will the Red Mile experience change?

Melrose is no longer located at 730 17th Avenue S.W. The location is now home to a bakery and cafe. Other establishments are also new to the strip.

We watch with interest to see if the Red Mile is usurped as the playoff place to go in Calgary in 2015.

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